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Week In Politics


The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says she was pushed out at the behest of Rudy Giuliani while associates of Rudy Giuliani were arrested on their way out of the country. And the president has decided to allow one U.S. ally, Turkey, to move against another, the Kurdish militia in Syria. Now the two are exchanging gunfire with U.S. troops in the crossfire.

Ron Elving joins us now, our senior Washington editor and correspondent. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: More testimony in the House impeachment inquiry this week - more, of course, on Monday. What have we learned so far?

ELVING: We're learning there was a lot more behind that whistleblower complaint that kick-started impeachment, a lot more than just a singular filmed phone call between two presidents. We're seeing evidence of a concerted campaign to remake the politics of Ukraine, not to serve longtime U.S. policy goals necessarily, but to serve the goals of certain clients of Rudy Giuliani, the man you mentioned, who is, of course, the president's personal attorney.

Now according to that testimony on Friday, this would have included a sustained effort to remove the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer who had a record of fighting corruption in that country, but who also had a record of refusing to cooperate with Rudy Giuliani.

SIMON: And then arrest - two arrests at Dulles Airport, not far from Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and a report now by the New York Times that Mr. Giuliani is under investigation for his work in and around Ukraine. This is separate from the House inquiry, isn't it, or is it?

ELVING: Yes, it is. Now we have those indelible mug shots to hold in our minds. These arrests are quite separate, as you say, from the House inquiry. But they are not unrelated. This particular arrest is the work of the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York. These are Justice Department attorneys, who had been tracking these two individuals suspected of violating campaign finance laws in the United States. They were, as you say, associates of Rudy Giuliani. And they had lunch (laughter) with Giuliani at the Trump Hotel in Washington just before heading to Dulles with tickets to flee the country. Now these are people born in the old Soviet Union and people who are channeling money, as you say, from Russia.

SIMON: Wondered what they had for lunch and, you know, did it go down very well. In any event, Speaker Pelosi reportedly favored an impeachment inquiry narrowly focused, if I might put it this way, on the allegation that Donald Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine until they gave him political ammo against Joe Biden. Is it possible to keep this inquiry quite so narrow now?

ELVING: It's hard to imagine that these connections are not going to be made at some point in this whole investigation and, of course, in what's going on in the committees in Congress and particularly when we eventually get to the House Judiciary Committee. Now these associates of Rudy Giuliani have direct links to Russia, and they are evidence of Russia's intense interest in everything that happens in Ukraine. Remember; that too was part of the old Soviet Union. And Russians have already seized part of that country, known as Crimea. And they're infiltrating other parts as well along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia.

SIMON: At a time when the president needs his Republican allies in the Senate, should there be an impeachment, why would he withdraw - politically, if nothing else - U.S. troops that kept Turkey from doing exactly what's happening now - going after Kurdish troops and civilians? And that has earned stinging criticism from many Republicans, beginning with Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell.

ELVING: This may be the hardest thing to understand, Scott. As you say, this week was a time Donald Trump needed all of his party united behind him, all of the choir on the same page of the hymn book. But instead, he prompted the biggest blowback he's had yet from precisely the people he relies on the most. So it seems to make no sense from Trump's perspective. The president explained that he had promised for a long time to end the U.S. role in what he calls endless wars in the Middle East.

So why now? Whose timetable is this? It's clearly not Trump's. Was it the Turkish president's timetable, part of his campaign against the Kurds? Why would that make it the agenda of the U.S. president? We do know that Russia would like to isolate Turkey from its NATO neighbors and allies, just as it would like to weaken U.S. support of Ukraine. So all this does seem to be working rather well from the perspective of the president of that country.

SIMON: NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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 NPR.org.