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Week In Politics: Manafort Trial, Kochs, Kavanaugh


Paul Manafort is in the dock. The Koch brothers are on the outs. Donald Trump is in control. And who knows when Brett Kavanaugh will get his vote? Maybe Ron Elving does. NPR senior editor and correspondent, Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The first week of the Manafort trial - let me ask you. The president's 2016 campaign chairman, a longtime lobbyist - he's being accused of tax evasion and bank fraud. Our justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, elsewhere in the show, is going to talk about the trial, too, including the ostrich skin coat. What struck you as you heard her reporting this week and gazed at those courtroom sketches?

ELVING: The first thing may have been how lucky we all are to have Carrie Johnson. But beyond that, this trial makes the Mueller investigation real, makes the evidence visible and palpable in real time. Prosecutors say Manafort made tens of millions of dollars working for foreign politicians, including some who were friendly to Moscow. And he had the source of that money in a web - he hid the source of that money in a web of companies and accounts. He told the IRS it came from loans.

SIMON: And this is just trial number one, right? He goes on trial as soon as next month, I believe, too.

ELVING: Yes. Another trial in a separate federal court on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent when he was working for these foreign governments. Now, that's a federal crime under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA.

SIMON: Now, as you have heard, Paul Manafort - let me put it this way. He worked for some foreign leaders you probably wouldn't want to invite home for dinner. Now, that, in and itself, isn't a crime, but it bears some examination, doesn't it?

ELVING: Indeed, he worked for some autocratic strongmen, as we call them, who have dealt harshly with their critics and political opponents and, presumably, with people who crossed them.

SIMON: We saw a rift open wider this week. The Koch brothers, who, of course, have been major donors to many Republican causes and candidates - not President Trump, it must be said. They said they're going to be a little more choosy in the future with their money. They might even back some Democrats. President Trump called them a total joke, says their network is, quote, "overrated."

ELVING: Yes. If we can still be stunned, this was stunning, especially because the Trump tweets were so harshly personal. He was mocking these guys who have pledged $400 million for the 2018 elections. Trump said he had made them much richer with his tax cuts, which is true, by the way, but a little off-message regarding who made out under those tax cuts. The beef here is that the Kochs are pro-immigration. And they are pro-trade. And they hate tariffs, and they also hate government spending and deficits and debt, which have all grown enormously in the last 18 months.

SIMON: At the same time, more demonstration this week that President Trump is popular with most of his party, and the Republican Party has become the party of Donald Trump.

ELVING: Yes. Exhibit A - the Tennessee primary this week. Congresswoman Diane Black, highly respected head of the House budget committee, lost her bid for the Republican nomination for governor to a businessman named Bill Lee. Few doubt that she would have won if she had had Trump's endorsement. Now, we should be clear - she was not a critic of the president. She sang his praises as often as she could. But she didn't have his seal of approval, and that seems to have proven fatal.

SIMON: Before we move on, we want to note - the Koch brothers have contributed to NPR. President's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh - we keep hearing he's a shoo-in, so why hasn't he been shooed in already?

ELVING: They're trying. The Senate judiciary committee is expected to hold its confirmation hearings next month. But they've also asked for all the documents relevant to his career in the White House in the George W. Bush years. That's nearly a million pages of documents. The National Archives says it can't respond that fast.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for