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White House Defense Team Comments On Trump Acquittal


We're going to continue our conversation about the impact of the impeachment vote. And to do that, I'm joined by Louisiana Republican Congressman Mike Johnson. He served on President Trump's impeachment defense team. He joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Welcome to the program.

MIKE JOHNSON: Hi, Audie - great to be with you.

CORNISH: As we've been saying all afternoon, the president has been acquitted. People are noting, however, that he lost his support of Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who expressed skepticism about the argument that President Trump's actions were motivated by a desire to root out corruption. Here's Romney earlier today.


MITT ROMNEY: There's no question in my mind that were their names not Biden, the president would never have done what he did.

CORNISH: Romney went on to vote guilty in the article of impeachment on abuse of power. Can you talk about - can you give a response to what Romney had to say today?

JOHNSON: Well, with respect to Senator Romney, every other Republican in the U.S. Senate and all Republicans in the House - and even some Democrats in the House - disagreed with that assessment. They saw the articles as what they were. They were weak on their face. There was no real evidence or facts to back it up. And we have to remember that the House Democrats advanced this impeachment inquiry - this investigation - 30 times faster than the Clinton impeachment proceedings because they were in a hurry. And they did a shoddy job with it, and this was the ultimate result. And I think the record speaks for itself.

CORNISH: Your - can you give us a response to the idea coming from Republicans, like the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., calling for Romney to be expelled from the party somehow for voting to convict? Is that appropriate?

JOHNSON: Well, look. That's ultimately up to the people in the state of Utah. They'll have to make that decision. I do believe that there are probably a lot of Republicans who are very disappointed in their senator today, and he'll have to face the music on that, so to speak. You know, he said that in his remarks. He knew there would be a price to pay for it. But that's how our system works. That's kind of the beauty of it. And the people do get to decide ultimately on the presidency and on their senators.

CORNISH: You've said that you expect this impeachment has opened the door to future impeachments going forward. Your colleague in the - Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst suggested at one point that if former Vice President Joe Biden is elected, that he should be impeached for his dealings in Ukraine. And she says those remarks were taken out of context. But it gets to the larger point of whether impeachment will be used as a political weapon. And do you see a future like that?

JOHNSON: I'm gravely concerned about him. My background is in constitutional law. I litigated these cases in courts for 20 years before I got to Congress, and I put great weight in what the founders, the framers of our Constitution said. And they warned us very specifically against single-party impeachments like this. They did not want the impeachment provision of the Constitution to be weaponized. And when you open that Pandora's box...

CORNISH: But do you think the Republican Party is also taking away that message? I mean, do you think that you see a party that is saying, OK, we'll be more cautious going forward; we don't want to do what Democrats did?

JOHNSON: Well, look. I and others are going to try to be the voices of reason and history and tradition on that. And I hope that that voice is welcomed. I don't know. I do know that this is a dangerous road for us. And I think there are people on both sides who will now look to impeach every president going forward the first time they make a phone call that's unpopular or a policy decision that people disagree with. That's not what the impeachment clause was designed to do. And now the bar has been placed so low that I really do fear for the future.

CORNISH: That's Louisiana Republican Congressman Mike Johnson. He was one of the House Republicans who advised President Trump's defense team.

Thank you for your time.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAGABON'S "MAL A L'AISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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