Week In Politics
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
An inquiry into the impeachment of President Trump began this week for all practical purposes. The House Intelligence Committee inquiring into what the president said during a phone call in July with the new president of Ukraine. We're joined now by NPR's Senior Washington Editor and Correspondent, Ron Elving. Ron, quite a week, wasn't it?
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Indeed, Scott, good to be with you.
SIMON: What moved events into high gear this week, maybe we could all benefit from hearing that rundown for us.
ELVING: The moment people may well remember as they look back on this week would be the moment as a speaker of the House in the capital on Tuesday afternoon announced this was a formal impeachment inquiry. We'd heard similar talk arounds previous investigations at the committee level. But here was Speaker Nancy Pelosi making it official and doing it in dramatic fashion - expressing the will of the overwhelming majority of Democrats in the House, bringing along even those newly-elected members in swing districts, people with backgrounds and national security, people who had been reluctant but now felt pushed past their limit. So after two years of people asking, what might happen, suddenly this was actually happening.
SIMON: And of course the next morning, the White House released a rough transcript, a summary, I guess, it's called of that phone conversation. It's become like "Rashomon." This being NPR, I'll explain the Japanese film with different viewpoints (laughter), where different people see different things, don't they?
ELVING: Indeed. And some cases you have to wonder, have they really read this transcript? But let's just say that it fires people's imaginations and in some people's case, they fill in all the blanks and connect all the dots, and they can hear exactly what's going on. And in other cases, people can imagine something completely innocent and something that is completely different. But given the context of the $400 million - absolutely existential to the survival of Ukraine, hanging fire at the moment of this conversation and approved by Congress and the State Department and the Pentagon - both parties - everyone onboard suddenly held up by the White House, given that all that was the background of this late night call, it's hard to say it's just a policy chat or a friendly call when the president brings up what he calls a favor. But everyone should read the rough transcript for themselves. And it is a rough transcript. It is not the actual conversation. Everyone should read the whistleblower's complaint. It is not a big tome like the Mueller Report. Everyone should read it. No one should be put off by claims that there's nothing to see here.
SIMON: And then Thursday, the release of that whistleblower's complaint, which you mentioned - easy to read and compelling to read. And then testimony from the acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. And the revelations about how that complaint had been handled. And in fact where the phone summary had been stored.
ELVING: Quite a trifecta - more news than even 24/7 news can handle. Joseph Maguire was the man caught between the ultimate rock and the ultimate hard place - trying to explain why he went to the White House and the Justice Department with this extraordinary whistleblower complaint and all of its credibility. And the inspector general saying it was urgent and serious, instead of going straight to Congress as the law requires, and in all of his predecessors as Director of National Intelligence have done. But, you know, when the country saw the 12 page whistleblower complaint, I think they could see why Maguire was so blown away, not only by the phone call, as you say, but the lengths to which the White House had already gone to hide the full transcript and record of this conversation from anyone's view.
SIMON: Overnight development reported by The Washington Post, Ron, is that May, I guess, 2017 conversation between the president and the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the U.S. in the Oval Office. He apparently said, according to The Post, I'm not concerned about reports that that Russia meddled in the election because the United States has done that in countries all over the world.
ELVING: An extraordinary thing for the president to say - whether it would be true or not, an extraordinary thing for a president to say and also disturbing of course for the president to say that he didn't have a problem with the Russians meddling in an election that he had won, especially given that he had already been informed the Russians were meddling on his behalf. They were interfering, not in a neutral, sort of, way, just to show that democracy didn't really work so well in the United States, as we like to think. But also to hurt Hillary Clinton, and that was clear from the beginning.
SIMON: NPR's Senior Washington Editor and Correspondent, Ron Elving. Thanks so much - big times ahead. Thanks so much, Ron.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.