Week In Politics: President Trump Prepares For 1st Campaign Rally In Nearly 3 Months

Jun 20, 2020
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Friday night confrontation - Attorney General Barr said at 9 p.m. last night that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney from Manhattan, is resigning. By 11, Mr. Berman said, I have not resigned and have no intention of resigning. Until then, our investigations will move forward. And those include several former Trump associates. Also, rally in Tulsa tonight. It comes at a time - for President Trump, it comes at a time when the country's still very much in the grips of a pandemic - mass unemployment and protests over racial injustice. With us, as he is most weeks, NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: What do you make of this abrupt - I don't know if I can call it a firing 'cause he's not gone.

ELVING: Technically, he hasn't been fired, although the president could fire him outright if it comes to that. But last night, Berman's immediate boss, William Barr, the attorney general, sent out this press release saying, as you said, Berman was stepping down. Well, Berman responded immediately that he wasn't stepping anywhere and had no plans to do so and that he would have to see the Senate confirm a successor first. Now, we should remember this is the guy who sent Michael Cohen to prison. Michael Cohen was the president's personal attorney. And he's been investigating a couple of associates of Rudy Giuliani, whose case is still pending. And, of course, Rudy Giuliani is also a personal attorney for President Trump. But there have been a number of other high-profile people that he has also prosecuted, including Jeffrey Epstein. So this has been a major figure. Berman is a major figure in the world of the Justice Department. And he has had some very large cases. And it will be interesting to see how this plays out and how the Senate reacts.

SIMON: Well, does it throw it in the lap of the Senate unless they outright fire him?

ELVING: Unless they outright fire him. But, of course, the Senate also has to confirm a successor whenever that happens, whether Berman's still there or not. And the president has a chosen successor. That's Jay Clayton, who's been the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. And he would presumably be the person the Senate was considering. But the Senate would also at that point want to know what happened to the last guy.

SIMON: Yeah. And Attorney General Barr would be called to testify?

ELVING: We would assume. We would assume, and that will, be, obviously a very high-profile bit of testimony.

SIMON: OK. I don't know a better way to say it. Bolton book - what's in it? Tell us.

ELVING: Of all the tell-all books - and I've tried to read them all, Scott - this one may have had the most to tell, at least of the books we've seen so far. Now, John Bolton was the former national security adviser. He's been around in Washington for decades and decades. And he has written a devastating portrait of his 17 months in that office under President Trump, saying, in essence, that Trump does not care about anything in the world but his own reelection, including the foreign policy confrontations of the United States, his interests with those of North Korea and China and Iran and Russia. That is all a matter of finding help for his own reelection - and that he's willing to subordinate any other policy question to it, including - and he gets this from one of the interpreters because only the interpreters were allowed in to hear President Trump talking to President Xi - he said to President Xi, according to Bolton, that it was fine with him if the Chinese cracked down on dissent and crushed the independence of various groups and sent Uighurs - the people we know as a minority group, Muslim group in China - people we know as the Uighurs - to prison camps. And all he really wanted - and we learned this on a different page of the book - what he really wanted was for Xi to buy a lot of farm produce from swing states, such as Iowa.

SIMON: And the president has a campaign rally tonight in Tulsa, despite many cautions from public health officials to avoid indoor crowds and in a state that's seen a recent spike in COVID cases.

ELVING: Indeed. Tulsa had its worst day of new cases thus far. We are still at something like a plateau in terms of new cases around the country. Thousands and thousands of cases - new cases every day. But the president has felt that he was being unfairly restricted, and he felt that he had to get out there and get his campaign back and running. And this rally is a symbol for all that, will feature him front and center, energize and rally his supporters. And it will provide a counternarrative to what people may be hearing about the election from all those polls that have been showing him behind, even way behind in some polls, and his approval number below 40%.

SIMON: And another rally in Phoenix, another state, by the way, that's had an upsurge. The president seems to be going against everything his task force had advised.

ELVING: Yes, both doctors Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci have expressed concerns about these rallies, advising against these types of indoor mass gatherings. And there was even a lawsuit in Tulsa. But the Oklahoma Supreme Court said, well, these are guidelines. They're not absolutely laws. So if people want to go in and take their own chances, that's OK.

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

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