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Week In Politics: Impeachment Inquiry Developments


And we're going to stay with the impeachment inquiry for our weekly politics chat because - let us face it - no one, at least here in Washington, is talking about anything else (laughter). With me now is Mary Katharine Ham of CNN and E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post. Welcome, you two.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

MARY KATHARINE HAM: Hi. Glad to be here.

KELLY: So my plan is - yeah, we're glad to have you with us. We're going to take this day by day to track what we have learned and why it matters. I had to go back and look what happened on Monday because it was so many zillions of news cycles ago (laughter). But we rolled into Monday with the president having spent the weekend firing off dozens and dozens of tweets. Among them, he called for Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee to be questioned for treason. Monday was also the day that House Democrats subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani. Mary Katharine, you start. How did this all set the stage for the week?

HAM: Well, I think the first thing it did is something that Trump often does, which is be a terrible - perhaps the worst - character witness for himself, via his Twitter feed. And that will matter as this plays out because a lot of impeachment calculations are based on polls, based on how people are feeling, how the public is feeling. And they will continue to feel more like there's something wrong with his behavior if he continues to act in a way that indicates there's something wrong with his behavior, and he does it very publicly and very loudly. And so I think he's set the table for the week, being tumultuous in that way and people seeing it that way.

KELLY: E.J., I'm going to give you Tuesday, which brought an intense focus on the Attorney General Bill Barr, what role he has been playing. Tuesday was also the day this brawl broke out between the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and House Democrats, with Pompeo saying, I'm - you know, I don't want testimony to go ahead from State Department personnel because you're going to intimidate and bully them. What stood out to you?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, it's remarkable to hear anybody in this administration talk about - my God, someone else is bullying someone. But I think this - that's when you really start to see drip, drip, drip becomes a flood. It's very dangerous for Trump on a number of levels to have two top cabinet officials pulled into this. The more top officials get into this, the more dangerous it is for him because they may want to turn on him at some point...

KELLY: Yeah.

DIONNE: ...To protect themselves. It also makes the whole administration look corrupt. And I think that was the beginning of other actions, which we'll get into, where you saw that this call that Trump had that we had the readout for was not an isolated event, that this actually - they started involving diplomats, many of whom thought this was all a very bad idea.

KELLY: You're bringing us to Wednesday, the day that President Trump held a press conference, a memorable press conference with the visiting president of Finland. This was also the day that Joe Biden really came out swinging. Let's have a listen.


JOE BIDEN: I don't care how much money you spend, Mr. President, or how dirty the attacks get; Trump knows there are no truths in the charges against me - none, zero.

KELLY: Mary Katharine Ham, this is a point worth not losing sight of in the midst of all this. No evidence has emerged, concrete evidence, that Joe Biden or his son did anything wrong here.

HAM: Right. So this to me highlights, despite the fact that Trump was very - we'll just say ridiculous at the press conference (laughter), it highlights some of the risks for Democrats, which exist here. One is that Trump, for all of his faults, he can elevate some issue he has with an opponent over and over and over and over again and will never stop. This is what will happen with the Joe Biden issue, such that some people wonder, OK, is there any there there (ph)? Now, there may be the appearance of a conflict of interest, but this is largely debunked as a huge controversy, right? But he will have to keep addressing it.

No. 2 - Schiff behooves himself by being very, very down the line and truthful about exactly his interactions with everyone. If he says he didn't talk to the whistleblower and in fact he did, he sends the message that this is exactly how Trump characterizes it, and that will fuel the other side of this argument.

KELLY: Speaking of fueling arguments, by Thursday we had President Trump moving on to calling on China to investigate Biden. We also had Kurt Volker, who as we heard a few minutes ago became the first witness to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. By Thursday, E.J., (laughter) where was your head, beyond exploding? I mean, how have we advanced our knowledge of what all this - has happened and what it means?

DIONNE: Well, the difference between this and the Mueller investigation is, day after day, the Trump administration and Trump himself are proving the case of their opponents. Here is a man who says his whole thing is to be really tough on China. And by the way, there are a lot of Democrats who agree we need to be tough on China. But he seems to be saying, but gee, maybe if they investigate Joe Biden, and there is no evidence - none, zero - of any of the charges that he is trying to get out there about Joe Biden and China, let alone the other - let alone Ukraine, he is just handing such an enormous gift to his opponents.

And that is what - which we'll get to today - what really unleashed Mitt Romney, who criticized Trump in terms we haven't seen before. He said...

KELLY: One of the few Republican voices we've heard doing so, yeah.

DIONNE: Yeah. He said it was wrong and appalling to do what Trump did in China. And you wonder will Romney be isolated, or is this the beginning of a dam breaking?

KELLY: Well, let me give you each a quick last word. On Friday, still a moving target, we have the Intelligence Community inspector general testifying behind closed doors and, of course, all these text messages now out in public. Quick takeaway from each of you for the week. Mary Katharine?

HAM: Yeah, I would say Romney is correct; it's wrong and appalling. And I think he almost acts as if - to make his first act even worse by adding onto it, as he's going along. And two - the thing that I'm taking away from the week is you do see a shift in polling on impeachment, and that will matter.

KELLY: A shift in favor of the Democrats. E.J., last word?

DIONNE: I think that there - Trump has a smaller base than people realize. I think there are a lot of people who voted for Trump who are quietly looking at this, looking at his behavior, looking at the outrageous things he has said, starting to get at least one Republican voice like Romney saying, enough already - I think it became much more dangerous this week for Donald Trump.

KELLY: That is E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Mary Katharine Ham of CNN wrapping up the week in politics. Thanks, you two.

DIONNE: Thank you.

HAM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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