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Week In Politics: New Notes Further Show Trump's Attempt To Stop Transfer Of Power

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some dramatic reports this week about Donald Trump trying to subvert the results of the 2020 election and slight signs that some of his own Republicans may be willing to distance themselves from him. Joined now by NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Let's begin with those handwritten notes taken by a former Justice Department official - this is right after the 2020 election - detailing the pressure President Trump then was applying to the DOJ, notes about phone calls that include this sentence, quote, "just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me."

ELVING: This is serious business, Scott. These are notes from a phone call top justice officials had with the then-president on December 27, well after votes had been certified by the governors of all 50 states and nearly two weeks after the Electoral College had voted decisively. Yet, here was Trump still trying to get someone in the Justice Department to help him overturn the election. The officials told him in no uncertain terms that they had looked hard and found no corruption. So Trump replied, just say it was corrupt; leave the rest to me. He wanted something he and his allies in Congress could use to disrupt the constitutional transfer of power.

This is the same time period when we know Trump was trying to bully appointed and elected Republican officials in the states in a similar fashion. So there is a case to be made that all of this violates not only his oath to uphold the Constitution, but other state and federal laws as well.

SIMON: Department of Justice also said yesterday the Treasury Department must furnish - that was the phrase - six years of Donald Trump's tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been trying to see those returns since 2019. Is this going to happen now?

ELVING: Yes, so it would seem. But don't expect to see Trump's 1040 form in the Sunday paper tomorrow. It's still going to be a while before it's all made public, if indeed it ever is. Trump can go to court and at least delay the process. Yet, there is more reason now than ever to believe that these records will be furnished, at least to the House Ways and Means Committee. And eventually, at some point reasonably soon, relevant parts should be part of the public record.

SIMON: Donald Trump seems to conspicuously enjoy exercising influence over the Republican Party. There are people who visit him at Mar-a-Lago and try and receive his political blessing. This week, were there some signs that his influence isn't ironclad?

ELVING: There have been some disturbances in the force, the force that is Trumpism and that holds so many Republicans in its grip. Earlier this week, a Republican candidate for Congress whom Trump had strongly supported lost in a special election runoff in Texas. The winner was a more moderate Republican whom Trump did not endorse. So there are always lots of factors in any special election, but Trump had been assumed to be the controlling factor here, so it did get people's attention.

Then at midweek, on Wednesday we saw 17 Republicans in the Senate defy Trump's instructions and vote to proceed with a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Now, Trump wanted an infrastructure bill when he was in office, but a bill now before the Senate he calls socialism and a big, beautiful gift to Biden. So Trump had roundly denounced any Republican who might vote for it, yet 17 did.

SIMON: Ron, you said the magic word, (imitating buzzer) infrastructure. Is there more indications that massive bipartisan infrastructure bill is moving forward now in the Senate? Will it get to the House? How much momentum does it have?

ELVING: It suddenly has quite a bit, Scott, mainly because it helps senators in both parties do something good for their home states and something good for their own reelection prospects. Now, we should remember that this bill has been greatly reduced since its introduction, cut roughly in half in its overall scope. It's a bitter pill for many progressives to accept the reductions in their priorities, especially as they pertain to climate change. But right now, this looks like the place where the center could hold and the deal-makers in both parties can win.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

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