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Week In Politics: The Impeachment Inquiry And Rep. Elijah Cummings' Funeral

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And we're going to pick up there with our Week in Politics chat. We're going to stay with the news of what's happening in the Justice Department. First, we're going to have Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

Welcome back.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thanks so much.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Hello to you.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello to you.

CORNISH: The questions raised by Ryan at the end of this piece is that this, which would be a criminal investigation led by a career prosecutor, is, again, a politically kind of weaponized investigation. Susan, is that a valid concern?

GLASSER: Well - two thoughts. One, obviously, the direct personal role that the attorney general of the United States is playing in what's so clearly is a very politicized investigation, including flying around the world to Italy and to other countries, getting - seeking their participation in an inquiry that our U.S. allies have questioned the basis for - highly unusual. And if they wanted to have an outcome, whatever it's going to be, that inspires faith across a broad American political spectrum, this is not the way to go about handling it.

And so you got to wonder also about the timing. This has been a bombshell week in terms of testimony that directly implicates the president and the impeachment inquiry, and I think it's very interesting that this news of the, quote, unquote, "upgrading" of this Justice Department investigation is happening at the same time.

CORNISH: David, the point of this to you.

BROOKS: Well, why would the Trump administration ever politicize a government agency? I mean, they've done the State Department. They might as well do Justice. I think a plausible...

CORNISH: For the listener at home, this is David Brooks' sarcasm.

BROOKS: Yes, this is sarcasm.

CORNISH: Just want to make that clear.

BROOKS: You know, a plausible storyline to me is that Trump and Barr have a bee in their bonnet that we need to get behind - into the deep state who's trying to undermine us. Somebody more responsible within the Justice Department said, well, let's at least pick an honorable person to run this thing, and they got Durham as a way to please the bosses. We're going to criminalize - investigate this, but we're not going to go totally haywire. That would be a plausible way to look at this.

CORNISH: I want to move on to something, Susan, you alluded to, which is the big story of the week, which is the movement in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. He began the week challenging Republicans to, quote, "get tougher and fight," and then some House Republicans took him up on that. Here's Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

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MATT GAETZ: We're going to go and see if we can get inside, so let's see if we can get in.

CORNISH: So Gaetz and others barge into the secure suite where proceedings were happening. They delayed a deposition, but proceedings aren't slowing down. Here's California Democrat Eric Swalwell.

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ERIC SWALWELL: The tactics are a response to just damaging and pulverizing testimony yesterday, but they will not stop us in pursuing the truth.

CORNISH: Referring to testimony, I believe, from William Taylor, the ambassador, talking about what he saw happen when it comes to Ukraine. David, is this a fair point somehow - Republicans complaining that only testimony damaging to the president is being made public?

BROOKS: No, that part's not fair. What you've got to do in an investigation in private first before you can lay it out in public - and so I understand that process. The Taylor testimony certainly was pulverizing for Republicans. Republicans and the Republican establishment have taken a series of body blows over Syria and over this. You see them saying to each other, this is terrible. This is terrible.

CORNISH: And we should say Taylor said to the committee that, essentially, there was a kind of shadow diplomacy, that a trio of supporters of the president were working towards their own agenda on Ukraine.

BROOKS: Yeah. This wasn't just one phone call. It was a three-month - a steady three-month campaign. What's interesting to me is watching the politics of this. Support for impeachment has risen nationally. It is not risen in the swing states, so it's underwater by 10 percentage points in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania. And so it's moving a lot of people to think impeachment's the right thing to do but not necessarily in the states that really matter most.

CORNISH: Susan, to you. David used the word pulverizing. Where do you fall on kind of what happened this week?

GLASSER: Well, look. I think Ambassador Taylor's testimony is the heart of the inquiry, and he is a first-person participant in many of these meetings and actions. And what he described is something fairly devastating - a plot at which the president himself was at the center of, bringing his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani into it and explicitly linking in this testimony the withholding of nearly $400 million in U.S. military assistance to a decree of the president not only that the Ukrainians should investigate Joe Biden and his son as well as the 2016 election but also that the president of Ukraine, according to this testimony, should personally announce these inquiries in order to, as Trump put it, put him in a public box. So that's fairly devastating testimony.

I would just say quickly on the Republicans thing, it's a PR stunt. That's all it is. It's succeeded in the sense that we're talking about it. People don't even seem to understand Republicans have been participating in the process behind closed doors. Forty-five members of Congress who are Republicans are members of one of these three committees. They have been in all of the depositions. Republicans have been asking questions.

CORNISH: I also want to say something about Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings. Many political leaders came together to speak highly of him at his funeral. He is lying in state as we've reported. Susan, what do you think is part of his legacy?

GLASSER: Well, first of all, it's just a remarkable outpouring we've seen. It's fascinating that Congressman Cummings is the first African American elected official ever to be given the honor of lying in state in the Capitol - very moving outpouring, including from some of his Republican friends across the aisle. His friend Congressman Mark Meadows spoke yesterday. Today, of course, you saw Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama - just this sort of, like, moment to come together and to think about, you know, what was represented. His final fight, of course, was this impeachment inquiry.

CORNISH: David?

BROOKS: Yeah. One of the things that's marked his whole career was his close friendships with the Republicans - not only with Democrats but having conversations not only with Meadows and others where they would talk about each other's lives, each other's struggles and come to tears with each other - so that kind of graciousness is fading. And then the second, the - I'm just remembering the Freddie Gray episodes when he was the eulogist at Freddie Gray's funeral and was incredibly eloquent, incredibly forceful. And then when the riots happened, he got out on a bullhorn and tried to say, we're going to fight this, but we're going to fight this the right way.

CORNISH: Here's his wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, today.

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MAYA ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: One thing you do not know about Congressman Cummings - he was a man of soul and spirit. He felt very deeply. He was very empathetic. It was one of his greatest gifts. And it was one of the sources of his ability to be a public servant and a man of the people. And so with that, to have the week's activities basically be laid out in such a glorious way - to be a tribute to the great man that he was, to the great legacy that he left, to be the first African American to ever - congressman to ever lie in state in the U.S. Capitol.

CORNISH: We want to just say one more thing about this, which is that everyone discussed it as a moment of bipartisanship. Did that feel real?

GLASSER: You know, it's not a bipartisan moment in American life right now, unfortunately. And, you know, I think Congressman Cummings' final act, you know, really was to be one of the three chairmen presiding over this impeachment inquiry, which is going to further rip the country apart.

CORNISH: That's Susan Glasser of The New Yorker and David Brooks of The New York Times.

Thank you both. Have a good weekend.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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