Week In Politics

Oct 5, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

High-profile testimony this week in the Ukraine controversy. First, former Special Envoy Kurt Volker testified for nine and a half hours. He shared some text messages that appear problematic for the president. And intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson testified for seven hours. He is the Trump appointee who found the whistleblower complaint against the president credible and urgent.

NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us now. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What stands out to you in what we've seen so far, or know about so far, from these interviews and the text messages released?

ELVING: It all adds up to evidence - remarkably visible evidence - that the president ran a pressure campaign to get the Ukraine government to investigate Joe Biden to make Biden look corrupt. Now, there is now evidence that this pressure involved the military aid that had been approved by both parties in Congress. This is aid the Ukrainians were counting on to continue resisting Russian encroachment on their territory. And this new evidence is coming from inside Trump's own State Department, bolstering the allegations at the heart of the impeachment inquiry - the charge that he used the powers of the presidency to pressure a foreign government to aid his re-election campaign in violation and defiance of the law.

SIMON: The president also called on China to look into the Bidens. That's not from a text. That's not a leak from one official to another. He said it to cameras and microphones at the White House.

ELVING: Yes, refreshing in a way, rather breathtaking and appalling as well. The president was saying, in effect, if you have a problem with me leaning on a foreign leader this way in private, watch while I do it in the full light of day. It reminded some of us of that famous comment a few years ago about - well, that Trump made about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing his hardcore supporters.

SIMON: Well, then what do you make of the Republican defense of the president so far, including this one from someone who once ran against him - and it was bitter between them for a while - the senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, who was asked about the propriety of the president's request to China?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MARCO RUBIO: I don't know if that's a real request or him just needling the press, knowing that you guys were going to get outraged by it. He's gotten - he's pretty good at getting everybody fired up, and he's been doing that for a while. And the media responded right on task.

SIMON: So Senator Rubio's essentially saying (laughter) you can't believe what the president says, but what kind of idiots are you?

ELVING: You know, he might have added that Trump is also good at coming up with fresh provocations as distractions - he should know that himself - new outrages if you will, at least things that are outrageous to some. One example is the announcement that immigrants - this is just from last night...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: ...Immigrants are going to have to have health insurance before they can come to America, before they can get visas.

Now, back to the seriousness of that request to China. Let's ask the Chinese. They're coming to Washington this month for talks aimed at ending this trade war that's affecting the global economy. Will they regard these comments as just a dig at the American media? Or will it seem more like a signal to them, perhaps a price tag on an overarching trade agreement? Again, the context is the key. In that same outdoor eruption, the president said he had, quote, "tremendous power," unquote, in the current negotiations with China. He all but taunted them as he dangled this inducement as if he were saying - if you want that deal you need so badly, help me with this little problem I have.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.