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Political Roundup: The Whistleblower, The Democrats And The White House


This much we know - last month, a whistleblower filed a complaint that was deemed a matter of urgent concern by the intelligence community's inspector general. Multiple news organizations have reported that the complaint was prompted, at least in part, by a phone conversation between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. But the Trump administration has refused to share the complaint with Congress, as the law generally requires. And that's led to yet another bitter standoff between congressional Democrats and the White House. Let's talk about that with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Melissa.

BLOCK: And as the reporting goes in The Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, in this phone call, President Trump was pushing the new Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden's son for his business dealings in Ukraine.

LIASSON: That's right. According to these reports, he wanted the Ukrainian government to dig up some dirt that he could use against Joe Biden, who's a potential opponent of his in the 2020 race. And according to the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, there was an Ukrainian company that Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, sat on the board of. And Giuliani has charged that Joe Biden, when he was vice president - he somehow intervened or put pressure on the Ukrainian government to drop an investigation into his son. These charges have been proved meritless, according to the Ukrainians. But the president wanted this investigation reopened. According to these reports, the content of the conversation was worrisome enough to this whistleblower that he or she filed a formal complaint.

BLOCK: Let's step back just a little bit more and think about how this fits in with the pattern of other controversies we've seen with the Trump administration - for example, questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin, allegations of obstruction of justice around the Russia investigation.

LIASSON: Well, this fits in because the president and Rudy Giuliani have both said that they would be happy to take information from a foreign government. Now the allegation is that he pressured a foreign government to try to develop some negative information on a potential opponent. This was to a foreign government who was vulnerable to Russian aggression, desperate for American help. And there's another wrinkle to this. There was $250 million in military assistance that had been appropriated by Congress. And for some reason, after this phone call, it was held up. Why was the White House holding up that aid?

BLOCK: Right. Was there a quid pro quo?

LIASSON: Was there a quid pro quo.

BLOCK: Well, all of this has congressional Democrats - many of them - fit to be tied. They say if this is true, if this isn't an impeachable offense, what is? How much pressure is that putting on the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi?

LIASSON: I don't know if the House speaker is feeling any more pressure about impeachment. She clearly wants an investigation first. I think the Democrats in the House will fight hard to get a transcript of the call, a copy of the whistleblower complaint. And this is something that's easier for them to investigate than the Russia allegations because it's one piece of evidence. It's a phone call. And it directly involves the president of the United States, as opposed to the Trump campaign.

BLOCK: Mara, this does fit in with a pattern of stonewalling that we've seen by the executive branch under President Trump. And it raises a lot of serious questions about executive overreach.

LIASSON: It certainly does. And many Democrats feel this is a classic example of abuse of power. The president has been very clear that he feels he can pretty much do whatever he wants. He said, I can do anything I want. This - Article II of the Constitution lets me do anything I want. It's kind of the Richard Nixon defense - if the president does it, it can't be illegal. He has said, it doesn't matter what I said in the phone call. He's never actually denied these charges. And Donald Trump is a kind of stress test on democratic institutions. He doesn't believe that Congress has a check-and-balance power over the executive branch. His attorney general, Bill Barr, certainly doesn't believe that. And he has set up yet another separation-of-powers clash as Congress and the White House fight over whether or not Congress can have access to the information about this phone call.

BLOCK: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.