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Week In Politics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A week of blunt testimony and public displays, so we'll try to put some blunt questions in public to Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent. Ron, thanks for being with us.

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

SIMON: Ambassador William B. Taylor didn't use the phrase quid pro quo. But, Ron, in English, what did he say in his opening statement that Democrats, even some Republicans, said this week they found injurious to the president?

ELVING: Taylor said the president wanted the Ukrainian leader to announce in public that he was investigating two conspiracy theories - one about the 2016 election, one about Joe and Hunter Biden - theories supported by no independent investigation whatsoever. Taylor said these marching orders came to the top U.S. officials in Ukraine from the president.

And here's the real point. Ambassador Taylor said President Trump made it clear that, quote, "everything" about the U.S. relationship with Ukraine was contingent on this, including the military aid Ukraine desperately needs to fend off Russian incursions on their frontier. You don't have to be a Latin speaker, Scott, to call that a textbook quid pro quo.

SIMON: And even some Republicans were openly rattled, weren't they?

ELVING: In varying degrees, yes, because now they were hearing precisely what they'd said they needed to hear. So the dots were not just being connected in this case; they were being hard-wired together.

SIMON: And in response, there are a group of Republican House members who - I don't know the term of art - walked, stormed, barged into a secure House committee room. Three House committees were preparing to hear testimony from Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense. Now, first, a lot of them could've just walked into the meeting without making such a show of it, right?

ELVING: That's correct, yes. You know, it's important to note that these three committees conducting this inquiry have nearly 50 Republican members, all of whom are entitled to be inside the closed-door hearings. And indeed, most of those Republicans have been attending the closed-door sessions. Although, as you say, on this occasion, roughly a dozen of them who could've been inside the hearing chose instead to swell the ranks of the protesters outside.

SIMON: And did they violate security protocol by bringing cellphones into a secure conference room?

ELVING: They did. Apparently by using their cellphones to live tweet their protest in real time, they exposed anything in the secure area to any spying agency that may have gained access to one of those lawmakers' phones.

SIMON: Ron, based on testimony that's already known, do you believe Republican House members really want more public hearings or just to use it as an issue for the moment?

ELVING: The Republicans want more than just public hearings, which will happen in the next phase. But hearings that they want would give them the right to call witnesses of their own and have more control over the proceedings in general. And that is much less likely to happen.

SIMON: Federal judge yesterday ruled the Justice Department must release grand jury testimony that Robert Mueller secured as part of his investigation into Russia's attempts to undermine the 2016 election. What do we have reason to believe might be there?

ELVING: You remember back when the Mueller report first came out? They redacted some of the names of people who had been mentioned in grand jury testimony, so one element might be some of those names. And those might be of interest to the impeachment inquiry. But perhaps the most important part of the ruling yesterday was that the current impeachment inquiry in Congress is legal and constitutionally legitimate and its subpoenas have the full force of law.

SIMON: Which will provide even more impetus to the investigations going on.

ELVING: Indeed, it will.

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

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