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The Week In Politics: Whistleblower Complaint Against Trump


President Trump has scoffed at whistleblower complaints about his interactions with a foreign government as a partisan attack. The complaint was submitted to the inspector general of the intelligence community, but the administration has stopped the IG from sharing it with Congress, as is required by law. The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, warned this could have serious repercussions.

To give us the latest on this and the week's other Washington, D.C. headlines, we're joined by NPR senior Washington, D.C. editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: And why don't we begin by laying out what's been reported about this whistleblower complaint.

ELVING: Various reports have agreed that this complaint pertains to a conversation that President Trump had with a foreign leader this summer. Well, very quickly, various news organizations came to focus on a call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine, who was very newly elected at the time. That took place on July 25 at a time when Ukraine was expecting to receive $250 million in weapons support and military aid from the United States, money that had already been approved by Congress, strongly supported by both parties there and also by military leaders but was held up by the White House for review of what was called concern over America first alignment of interests between us and our allies and burden-sharing by our allies.

But we also know there had been months of effort already by the president and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get Ukraine to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden's son, Hunter, in Ukraine.

SIMON: What does this say about how the Trump presidency has been conducted?

ELVING: There is a personal element to the way this presidency is being conducted. It's been widely noted that it's not run on the model of its predecessors in either party. There's no permanent chief of staff. And many other senior positions are held in acting status without Senate confirmation.

In essence, the president has converted the vast executive branch into a version of his own Trump Organization, his private business. It's run by him at the top with dozens and hundreds of others essentially in compliance with whatever he says. And that really begins with the attorney general, William Barr, who has become the enabler-in-chief. And on his authority, the administration is stonewalling every request for documents or testimony or cooperation of any sort.

SIMON: Whether or not we are able to hear from the whistleblower in person, does this give more strength to those in Congress who have been arguing in favor of impeachment?

ELVING: It certainly adds a new line of attack, another subject for lawsuits on top of all the lawsuits Congress has already filed trying to get access to documents it says it's entitled to. The administration says they are not. It does seem to change the calculus a bit. But in another sense, it may not because much of the public seems immune to these kinds of stories. They don't seem to stick to the president. They come one right after another. And at least so far, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi still says she wants to get more of the public behind impeachment before she goes there. And impeachment is still well south of 50% approval.

SIMON: Now, of course, the president is confronting an awful lot at the moment, isn't he? I mean...

ELVING: He is...

SIMON: ...Outside of this.

ELVING: Yes. Well, there's another crisis looming with the attack on Saudi Arabia's energy facilities, an attack that the United States is attributing to Iran. And that's a crisis because that country, crushed under U.S. sanctions, has been seeking ways to get the attention of U.S. allies and force some kind of global negotiation to raise those sanctions. The latest move by the United States to shore up Saudi defenses, just announced last - last night - is a rather modest, measured response, at least so far. It may lower the tension, but it does not diffuse the crisis.

SIMON: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Thanks so much for being with us.

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