MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump offered a parting shot today as he left the White House for a three-day trip to London.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And you know it's a hoax. It's an absolute disgrace what they're doing to our country.
KELLY: He was talking impeachment, which heats up again this week. The action shifts now to the House Judiciary Committee, which is set to draft and debate articles of impeachment and which is planning an open hearing on Wednesday, a hearing in which the White House says it will not participate. So why not? - a question I want to put to Steven Groves. He is special assistant to President Trump, and he joins us now from the White House. Mr. Groves, welcome.
STEVEN GROVES: Thanks for having me on, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So why not show up on Wednesday, mount a defense?
GROVES: Well, the White House counsel set out in detail why the White House isn't participating in this particular hearing. And it really boils down to, you know, we're not given much notice to plan or prepare for any hearing. We don't know who the witnesses at this hearing will be. And, you know, how does one even prepare for that? All we're told is this is going to be a discussion about, you know, constitutional issues.
So even if we knew who the witnesses were, this is going to be some type of constitutional law seminar. And not knowing who the witnesses are and not having sufficient time to prepare for it, it just didn't make sense for the president to ask any counsel on his behalf to attend the hearing. Of course, the president himself will be over in London attending a NATO conference...
GROVES: ...And will not be able to really watch this.
KELLY: Let me pick up on the first thing you said there, which is that you were not given much notice, that you have had insufficient time. If you had more time, if they gave you a few more days' notice, what would that give you time to do? Would you then be willing to provide witnesses and documents?
GROVES: Well, we haven't been asked whether - we haven't even been asked whether we would like to have witnesses. Of course, the more time we would have, the more we would have to be able to identify such a witness. But Chairman Nadler hasn't even made that an option for this first hearing. They're really in quite a big of a hurry here. And so they've got a deadline.
KELLY: But to the central question which has come from the White House, the complaint that the White House has made is that you have not been allowed to participate; you have not been allowed to ask questions. They're inviting you to come participate; they're inviting you to take questions. Why not say yes?
GROVES: Because the questions that would be put to these constitutional law scholars have nothing to do with the facts of the case. All of the actual...
KELLY: You're talking just to insert the four witnesses that they are preparing to call on Wednesday. We don't know the actual names of those witnesses. Go on.
GROVES: Yeah (laughter). We don't know their names or what they're going to say; we only know that they're there to debate whether something is a high crime or misdemeanor. Where a counsel to the president would be useful is when we were having these Schiff hearings, where there were fact witnesses who were testifying...
KELLY: Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
GROVES: That's correct. I'm sorry. I'll try to fill these in a little bit better (laughter).
KELLY: No, you're fine. We got you. Please go.
GROVES: You know, all of the people who were testifying about phone calls and aid being released or aid being held, that all happened in Chairman Schiff's Intelligence Committee hearings, either the ones behind the closed doors or the ones that were public. No chance was given for the president to have counsel participate in those fact hearings, in order to cross-examine those witnesses. That's where it would have been very useful to allow the president to participate. But the House Democrats made a decision that that was not going to be the case.
KELLY: As you look ahead to the Judiciary Committee, the deadline we're all eyeing now is the end of the week - Friday, 5 p.m. This is the deadline for the White House to let Chairman Nadler know whether the White House will participate at all in any part of the hearings. Are you ruling that out?
GROVES: Well, the White House will, of course, respond to that letter. But honestly, I don't know how we're going to do that. Again, Chairman Nadler is talking about hypothetical future hearings that have not been set for witnesses that have not been identified on topics that have not been identified.
So in the White House's letter to Chairman Nadler, we're asking for a little of assistance. We're like, if you want us to be able to intelligently respond to this letter by Friday, could you please give us a little information regarding whether fact witnesses are going to be asked to be witnesses at this hearing. Whether or not the White House is going to...
KELLY: And I suppose in the moments we have left - yes.
KELLY: What are the details you need? If you got the names of these three - of these four witnesses on Wednesday, for example, would you then be willing to participate?
GROVES: Well, that's purely just a hypothetical at this time, Mary Louise. We haven't been given any names.
KELLY: Well, we'll get those names between now and Wednesday, presumably.
GROVES: Well, at what point does the White House have the chance to properly examine the opinions of these witnesses and properly prepare to cross-examine them? Those names - back during the Clinton hearing, the - President Clinton had 2 1/2 weeks in order to prepare for these very types of witnesses. So we would just ask to be given maybe 2 1/2 days. But we're not even going to get that under this completely unfair process.
KELLY: We will leave it there. That's Steven Groves, White House deputy press secretary. Thank you.
GROVES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.