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Week in politics: New indictments for Trump; Biden hosts Japan and South Korea

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The indictments keep coming. A grand jury in Fulton County, Ga., charged former President Donald Trump and 18 of his associates with a scheme to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 election in that state. Donald Trump now faces 91 criminal indictments in state and federal courts as he runs for president in 2024. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Ninety-eight pages in the Georgia indictment. Several names stand out - Rudy Giuliani, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Donald Trump's lawyers say the charges are so extensive, they want the trial to be delayed until 2026. Isn't it hard for a court to avoid granting a delay to a defendant whose lawyers say, look - this is the time we need to mount the lawful defense to which any and every client's entitled?

ELVING: Within reason, yes. But courts will have to decide what's reasonable. The Justice Department wants to go to trial in the first week of the new year - that would be on Trump's effort to overturn the election. Fani Willis, the state prosecutor in Georgia, has set a tentative trial date of March of 2024. Now, both of those may be unrealistic, but they are a lot closer to reality than that suggestion you mentioned from Trump's lawyers. They want the most serious federal charges to wait until April of 2026, 2 1/2 years from now. So there will be negotiations. And many legal briefs will be filed before this is resolved.

SIMON: And Fulton County Sheriff's Office is investigating threats made on far-right websites against individual grand jurors. As NPR has reported, their full names, ages, addresses also appeared on those sites. That sounds ominous.

ELVING: It does, indeed. And it augurs a season of harassment and possibly worse. The targets may be jurors or witnesses, others involved in the administration of criminal justice. This is a fundamental insult to the legal system. It's a threat that officials take very seriously. The FBI is now involved in investigating it, as well. And this is what Trump had to say about it when he spoke of it for the first time on Fox Business Network Thursday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: They want to silence you, and they mean silence. They are - I think they're sick people. I think they are people that have no idea how the world works, and they have no idea the anger they cause.

ELVING: Two things going on here, Scott. One, Trump is creating a story of his own, a sophisticated counternarrative to the criminal indictments that are piling up. And he is trying to convince his followers that he is not the only victim but that they, too, are in the crosshairs of a government out of control. This ability he has to sell that sort of thing has been a key to his success.

SIMON: First Republican primary debate on Wednesday. It appears right now it will be Donald Trump-less. New York Times reported instead, he's going to have an interview with Tucker Carlson. How does this affect the potential impact of the debate?

ELVING: Well, we have to watch this space and see what actually happens on Wednesday night. It's conceivable that Fox will take exception to having Tucker Carlson counterprogram them in this fashion because, after all, they have paid him a great deal of money to walk away from his contract and to not compete. But we'll see what happens. This, too, is part of that creation of an alternative reality that Trump seems to be so good at. And who would really expect Trump to debate with this very overshadowed challengers? What does he have to gain from a debate when he's running 40 points, roughly, ahead of the nearest of the other candidates on stage in Milwaukee? There's a new poll out this morning that shows that Ron DeSantis has fallen to 10% among Republicans and is now tied with Vivek Ramaswamy.

SIMON: Meanwhile, President Biden is hosting the leaders of Japan and South Korea at Camp David, the first time the president has invited foreign leaders there since he was inaugurated.

ELVING: That is right. It's the first time Camp David has been used for something like this since 2015. And in this case, we are creating and elevating this new tripartite relationship with these allies. But it's also great domestic politics for them in their respective home countries. And it elevates Joe Biden's presidency to use this setting and this language for an agreement he can call, as they have, the Camp David Principles. Now, that recalls the Camp David Accords, the Middle East peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that was the highlight of Jimmy Carter's presidency all these years ago.

SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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.