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Week In Politics: The Many Investigations Into The Trump Administration


OK, well, as we just heard, there were a lot of developments this week involving investigations around President Trump - the three-year prison sentence for Trump's former private lawyer Michael Cohen, the prosecution agreement with the parent company of National Enquirer and last night's revelation that prosecutors are looking into whether inauguration funds were redirected to the Trump Organization.

To talk about these developments and other big political stories of the week, I'm joined here in our NPR West studios by Leon Krauze of Univision. Welcome.


SHAPIRO: And John Phillips of the Orange County Register, good to have you back as well.

KRAUZE: Welcome to California.

SHAPIRO: There are so many investigations, guilty pleas, prison time. John, do you see a net closing around President Trump's inner circle?

JOHN PHILLIPS: Well, I certainly see Michael Cohen selling access, whether you're talking about the inauguration committee or Stormy Daniels. He's the source. And if he's the source, I would hope that they would have corroborating evidence.

SHAPIRO: It seems like that's what they got from the National Enquirer...


SHAPIRO: ...Parent company, right?

PHILLIPS: If Michael Cohen's the source and he says it's 1 o'clock in the afternoon, I want to go out and take a look at the position of the sun. One thing that I'm looking very closely at this week is the Michael Flynn judge. I'm not talking about the sentencing. I'm talking about what he says. He was the judge, if you go back far enough, that presided over the Ted Stevens case, and he excoriated...

SHAPIRO: Ted Stevens, the Republican senator from Alaska.

PHILLIPS: That's right - and excoriated the prosecution for withholding evidence. If he comes down hard on Mueller, Comey at all, that could politically put them in a tough situation and might benefit the president.

SHAPIRO: But Leon, it seems like there are so many different investigations, whether we're talking about the Southern District of New York or the Mueller team or the state of New York, that appointing at any one place as a problem or not for the president overlooks the fact that there is a phalanx of prosecutors closing in on people associated with Trump.

KRAUZE: Listen, Ari. I think that the answer to your original question is, yes, the situation surrounding the president reminds me of Fortnite, this video game that you just told me you don't play. I do play it because I play with my 10-year-old son. This idea of a storm surrounding an island, slowly closing in on the players - that's what the Trump situation seems to be like to me. I think the next two years will very likely be the most complex we have seen in American political life and at least 30 years. I think the story will not be the economy. It will not be immigration. I think the story will be the way Trump and America's political institutions handle the fallout of that Fortnite-like storm.

SHAPIRO: Well, one person who did seem to lock up a job title this week was Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who appeared to secure her future as House speaker after a remarkable back and forth with the president in the Oval Office about a possible government shutdown.


NANCY PELOSI: Mr. President, please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats who just won a big victory. But let me...

SHAPIRO: There was an interesting Washington Post column that caught my eye this week about Pelosi playing into a sort of feisty grandma meme that people love. Think Bruce (ph) - Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But at the same time, this column by Monica Hesse pointed out the sexism inherent in this, saying male politicians don't age into feisty grandfathers in the public's eye. They get to age into statesmen. I realize the three of us in this room are all male, but John, what did you make of this analysis and of Pelosi's week more broadly?

PHILLIPS: I don't see Nancy Pelosi as a feisty grandma. I see her as a woman who understands power. Her father was the mayor of Baltimore, Thomas D'Alesandro. She came up through San Francisco politics very close to the Burton political machine. Phil Burton probably would have been speaker of the House had he not died so young. On her deathbed after she succeeded her husband, Sala Burton asked Nancy Pelosi to run for the seat.

What was surprising about that exchange is Nancy Pelosi is not known for being good on television. She's not known for being good giving speeches. Every time she goes on TV, it's like watching a drunk man drive down an icy road. She had a good performance during that exchange with President Trump, and I think it's causing a lot of people to look at her differently than they did before.

SHAPIRO: Leon, what do you make of this?

KRAUZE: I think it's very telling of the times we live in, no? I mean, she had a 30 percent approval in the RealClearPolitics poll average before the election. Now she faces off with Donald Trump in front of the cameras, and that's all it takes for her to take social media by storm. It turned her into a meme maker, this sort of aspirational figure. The red coat she was wearing is all the rage.

SHAPIRO: Has been reissued.

KRAUZE: The company that makes it apparently is planning to relaunch it, exactly. In a way, you know - and this is unfair in many ways, but it's a perfect metaphor for politics in a time of Trump. No, it's not substance but theatrics that seem to matter.

SHAPIRO: Leon Krauze of Univision and Slate, thanks for coming into the studio again.

KRAUZE: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: John Phillips of the Orange County Register and KABC, great to have you back here as well.

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