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News Brief: Impeachment Trial, Trump Peace Plan, Weinstein Trial

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today, the White House legal team concludes its defense of the president. So what have they said so far?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Well, we can start with what they are not saying. Yesterday, the president's lawyers barely mentioned news from a former national security adviser. A book manuscript by John Bolton says the president explicitly linked freezing military aid to Ukraine with his demands for investigations of political rivals.

It is not clear if the Senate majority will ever allow Bolton to testify. And in his absence, the president's lawyers said Democrats have failed to make a case. White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin spoke on the Senate floor.

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PATRICK PHILBIN: The record that the House Democrats collected through that process already shows that the president did nothing wrong. It already exonerates the president.

INSKEEP: The defense team also changed focus, criticizing former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is with us in studio. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK. So we heard a little bit there from White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin. What else did the president's defense team argue yesterday? What was the main thrust?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, they flushed out their main points, arguing that the House's case is flawed, filled with holes, assumptions and basically driven by politics. And White House lawyer Patrick Philbin also argued against adding new evidence and said that would set a bad precedent.

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PHILBIN: And there'll be a lot more impeachments coming because it's a lot easier to do an impeachment if you don't have to follow due process and can come here and expect the Senate to do the work that the House didn't do.

ORDOÑEZ: I should add that fact-checkers like the group PolitiFact say every impeachment trial included witnesses.

KING: OK. So that was the main thrust of the argument. But then also the Biden family came up yesterday, as Steve said, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Yes. You know, they promised to take on the Bidens - Biden and his son, Hunter - and they did, zeroing in on allegations of a conflict of interest. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi laid out the case. She detailed Hunter Biden's time on the board of a Ukraine energy company known as Burisma and how the timing fit together with the former vice president's work in Ukraine.

She also played video from witnesses in the impeachment inquiry who testified that they found Hunter Biden's role on the board troubling. Meanwhile, Biden is on the campaign trail in Iowa. He and his team are dismissing this and saying these allegations have been repeatedly debunked.

KING: OK. So that was what happened yesterday in the Senate. Let's leave the Senate for a second. We've got this allegation by John Bolton and his unpublished book. New York Times broke this story. Bolton says President Trump held up security aid to Ukraine because he wanted this investigation. In the Senate, they didn't say much. The president's defense team didn't say much. What did the president say?

ORDOÑEZ: The president said that this never happened. He really came out firing yesterday, saying that he never tied the investigation to the holdup of the fund. I should say that after hours of testimony, Alan Dershowitz, Trump's attorney, did finally bring it up in the trial.

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ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense. That is clear from the history. That is clear from the language of the Constitution.

ORDOÑEZ: I should also note that Vice President Mike Pence also spoke out. He said, via his office, that he was not asked by the president to raise the Biden family in conversations with the Ukraine president. And Trump's chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, added in a statement that he never heard Bolton ever raise any concerns about the aid.

KING: OK. And just quickly - the big outstanding question is, will we hear from witnesses? When will we know?

ORDOÑEZ: The answer is likely on Friday. We're talking to Republican senators. They expect that vote to be on Friday. And they expect a lively discussion until then.

KING: Lively. NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

KING: And for more coverage on today's impeachment hearing, make sure that you check out NPR's Politics Podcast. They will have it all.

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KING: The White House is expected to release a proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians later today.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has been working on this for years. The president spoke of the plan yesterday at the White House with Israel's visiting prime minister at his side.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is a plan that's very important to peace in the Middle East. No matter where I went, they say Israel and the Palestinians, they have to make peace before you can really have peace in the Middle East.

INSKEEP: The White House has worked closely with Israel on this peace initiative but with almost no input from the Palestinian side. So what now?

KING: Reporter Naomi Zeveloff is on the line from Tel Aviv to help answer some of that. Hey, Naomi.

NAOMI ZEVELOFF: Hi.

KING: What do we know about this plan so far? What's in it?

ZEVELOFF: Well, the plan hasn't been officially released, so we can't say what's in it for sure. But the issues are pretty clear. What's the status of East Jerusalem? Is there an end to the occupation in the West Bank and an independent state proposed for the Palestinians? What's going to happen to Israel's West Bank settlements?

And the expectation in the past was that Israel would get security and the Palestinians would get an end to the occupation and that this would eventually lead to an independent Palestinian state. But the Trump administration has hinted that it's no longer bound to the two-state idea.

KING: You know, as Steve mentioned, Jared Kushner has been working on this for years. So why is this happening right now?

ZEVELOFF: Well, Israeli commentators are saying that the timing is political. Israel is about to have its third election in less than a year. And Netanyahu is facing criminal charges. And Trump is on trial in the Senate. And this allows both of them to talk about something else.

And in fact, today, Israel's Parliament was supposed to start debating Netanyahu's request for immunity. But this morning, he dropped that request because he says he doesn't want it to be a distraction from this historic day. But commentators are saying he probably would have lost the request anyway.

KING: Israelis were deeply involved in this negotiation from the beginning - Palestinians were early on, but then they pulled out. Can you explain why they left the negotiation and what they're saying about this today?

ZEVELOFF: Well, Palestinians rejected this plan ahead of time because they have zero trust in this administration after Trump recognized Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its capital and moved the embassy there from Tel Aviv in 2018. And Palestinians, of course, also want part of Jerusalem for their capital.

And they cut ties with the White House over that embassy move. And then Trump made punishing cuts in foreign aid for things like food and medical care in the West Bank and Gaza. And so now Palestinians are saying that they won't be bullied into accepting this deal that they had no part in.

KING: If that's the case, is this thing dead in the water?

ZEVELOFF: Well, it's hard to tell. Palestinians are asking ambassadors from Arab countries not to attend the unveiling. And Kushner supposedly sees their support as important. So if it comes out and the Israelis endorse it and the Palestinians reject it, it's possible that Netanyahu could pursue a totally unilateral course.

He already said he wants to annex West Bank settlements in the Jordan Valley. And the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, these are the areas where Palestinians and much of the international community want a Palestinian state. So this could end that hope, and we don't know what would happen then.

KING: OK. A lot to be answered. Reporter Naomi Zeveloff in Tel Aviv, thank you so much.

ZEVELOFF: Thank you.

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KING: OK. Before we get to this next story, we should let you know that we will be talking about sexual assault, and it might be disturbing to some of you. We are talking about Harvey Weinstein's trial, which continues in Manhattan this week.

INSKEEP: He's the man behind films like "Shakespeare In Love" and "Goodwill Hunting" and has been accused of sexually abusive behavior by more than 80 women. He is charged with five counts of rape and sexual assault against two women in New York. Last week, actress Annabella Sciorra took the stand to allege that he raped her in the winter of 1993-'94. Yesterday, it was an accuser named Miriam Haley. She is one of the women whose accusations are charged in this case.

KING: NPR's Rose Friedman was in the courthouse yesterday. She's on the line now from New York. Good morning, Rose.

ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Miriam Haley is not a household name like some of Harvey Weinstein's accusers. Tell us about her.

FRIEDMAN: Yeah. She grew up in Sweden. She got a job working as a personal assistant for a producer named Michael White. He did movies like Monty Python's "Holy Grail" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." He introduced her to Harvey Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. Then his health went downhill, and Haley was basically out of work.

So she ran into Weinstein again at Cannes. By that point, she's in her late 20s. And she asked if he could help her out. She said she'd been planning on moving to New York anyway. So he offered her a few weeks on "Project Runway," which his company was making, and she accepted.

KING: And then what did she testify that Harvey Weinstein did to her?

FRIEDMAN: It was a disturbing story. She cried a couple times while she told it. It's tough to listen to and, honestly, kind of tough to talk about. She described a kind of escalating series of behaviors from Weinstein. At their first meeting in a hotel, he asked her for a massage, which she said felt humiliating to her. Then on another occasion, he offered her a ride home and tried to enter her apartment. After that, he showed up at her apartment unannounced. These were all under the pretext of business meetings, which the prosecution was careful to point out often happen in hotels in the entertainment business. Finally, Haley says Weinstein invited her to his own home where she says they were chatting uneventfully on the couch when he lunged at her and began trying to kiss her.

So in court, she said, no, no, no. I don't want this to happen. But she says he forced her into a bedroom where he got on top of her. She says, he pushed me down. He held me by my arms and said, no, stay like that. And I said, no, no, and at that point started realizing what was actually happening. And I'm being raped. She says he performed oral sex on her. She said the whole time she was kicking and squirming. She asked him to stop. At some point, she says she told him she had her period. She says he pulled out her tampon and continued.

KING: OK. So graphic and distressing testimony. Harvey Weinstein's defense team had an opportunity to respond. What did they say?

FRIEDMAN: They pointed out that Haley continued to interact with Weinstein. She actually described another sexual encounter that she said was unwanted but that she didn't physically resist. Haley and Weinstein also continued to email each other for years after the alleged assault. So the defense was able to use those emails to try to prove that no assault had happened, that the sex was consensual.

They showed emails of her reaching out to ask for work, setting up meetings to pitch ideas. She also accepted an airline ticket and ended an email with the words, lots of love. At one point, Weinstein's lawyer, Damon Cheronis, asked, isn't the reason you felt comfortable dealing with Harvey Weinstein and sending Harvey Weinstein emails because he never sexually assaulted you? - so clearly an attempt by his defense to sow some doubt in the jury's mind.

KING: All right. And this trial continues. NPR's Rose Friedman reporting from New York. Rose, thanks so much.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.