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Insights From An Impeachment Manager During Bill Clinton Proceedings

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Washington is full of negotiating, spinning and finger-pointing before the expected House vote on impeachment tomorrow. If Democrats have the votes as expected, a Senate trial will follow in January. Today Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer's request for witnesses in a Senate trial.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: The House chose this road. It's their duty to investigate. It's their duty to meet the very high bar for undoing a national election.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Schumer was hoping to get White House officials that refused to participate in the House to testify in the Senate. Meanwhile, President Trump sent a long letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, objecting to the impeachment process. In it, he accused Democrats of interfering in America's elections and subverting America's democracy.

SHAPIRO: In the Senate, a team of House Democrats known as impeachment managers will present the case against President Trump. Two decades ago, Chris Cannon was one of the impeachment managers in the case against President Bill Clinton, and the former Republican congressman from Utah joins us now.

Welcome.

CHRIS CANNON: Hello.

SHAPIRO: What is the job description of an impeachment manager?

CANNON: Well, it's kind of vague and depends a great deal on the Senate and the rules they set. But an impeachment manager is essentially a prosecutor, a guy who presents a criminal case or a litigator who presents a case in a civil situation.

SHAPIRO: And how much guidance does the Constitution actually give about the role of these managers?

CANNON: Almost zero.

SHAPIRO: OK.

CANNON: There is a requirement that it go to the Senate if the president is impeached for a trial, and the House managers are in charge of how they present the material in the Senate.

SHAPIRO: OK, so Congress has a lot of freedom to set the rules here, and we're already hearing some rumblings about what this might look like in the new year in the Senate with President Trump. Compare that to what you experienced 20 years ago with President Clinton.

CANNON: One of the fascinating differences today is that, in the case of the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Senate decided to set rules. And what that essentially became was a question-answer situation where senators ask questions and the managers answer those questions, and then the defense team for the president also answers those questions. So there's no presentation of a case.

SHAPIRO: You're just kind of a Q&A.

CANNON: I personally found it ridiculous.

SHAPIRO: You found it ridiculous. Why?

CANNON: Ridiculous because a trial actually has meaning in the Anglo-American constitutional system. It means that you present witnesses, that the defendant has the right to confront those witnesses and that you have examination, cross-examination, presentation of evidence and then a decision. In this case, all you had were random questions from people who were embarrassed about the underlying issues.

SHAPIRO: Embarrassed because it was sexual in nature.

CANNON: Yeah, right - as opposed to the crimes which were alleged and which got very little mention. And you could have three possible outcomes - a trial, which is basically a debate, and a vote that may result in no presentation of evidence. At the other extreme, you'd have a full trial where you would have witnesses and examination by the managers and then cross-examination by the president and then witnesses called by the president and cross-examined by the managers. And all the issues that the president is convinced vindicate him would probably come out, and that is probably a risky process. And so I suspect that it's going to be something less than that, but it's up to the senators to decide.

SHAPIRO: Several of the people who manage Clinton's impeachment went on to much higher-profile roles in politics. If a friend asked you for advice on whether or not to take a job like this, what would you tell them?

CANNON: I think this is going to be a really miserable experience for a Democrat impeachment manager because they're going to be subject to the regulations of the Senate, and I don't think those are going to be favorable to even the most eloquent and articulate of prosecutors.

SHAPIRO: That's former Republican Congressman of Utah Chris Cannon. He was an impeachment manager in the trial of President Bill Clinton.

Thank you very much.

CANNON: A pleasure, my friend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.