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Week in politics: Georgia Senate debate; Jan 6. committee decision to subpoena Trump

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Joined now by NPR's senior editor and correspondent, Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: Ron, what difference do debates make these days? There's so many different options for people to screen, entertainment as well as politics.

ELVING: Oh, indeed. But debates can make a difference, especially when the candidates are still relatively new to politics. And that's true of both candidates in Georgia, really. It's the first time that both major parties have Senate nominees who are African Americans - one, of course, the current senator, Raphael Warnock, a prominent Black minister, the other the football legend Herschel Walker.

Now, Walker went into this debate as an outspoken opponent of abortion rights, an outspoken abortion foe who has nonetheless faced acute accusations of having paid for an abortion for his girlfriend, which he denies. Walker is one of several Senate nominees around the country who won their nominations with the help of former President Trump. So here, as elsewhere, this election will be seen as a test of Trump's continued strength and his potential electability if he runs again in 2024.

SIMON: And, of course, this very week, the January 6 panel on Thursday voted 9-0 - unanimously - to subpoena the former president to testify for the panel. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson here explains why he was subpoenaed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: He is the one person at the center of the story of what happened on January 6. So we want to hear from him.

SIMON: The former president is unlikely to show, we're told. Where does that leave the investigation?

ELVING: No matter how much information they bring out or how much attention they get, the ultimate impact of a congressional hearing depends on people who are not in Congress. It depends on prosecutors and judges, people in the executive and judicial branches of the government. Without prosecutions, this will all have just been an exercise, a useful one, perhaps, informative and enlightening. But if it does not alter the arc of the Trump phenomenon, it will have been mostly just an exercise.

You know, the Senate Watergate hearings way back didn't do Nixon in, except insofar as they revealed the existence of tape recordings of White House conversations. It was up to the independent prosecutor who surprised many people with his pursuit of those tapes as evidence and the federal judiciary right up to the Supreme Court to hold that prosecutor's evidence as admissible and to uphold that prosecutor's rights. That was what forced Nixon to resign. So bottom line right now - it's up to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

SIMON: Donald Trump responded on his own social media platform and, perhaps not surprisingly, dismisses the committee's request. He calls the investigation, quote, "a total bust." There are no legal consequences for him just ignoring, blowing off a subpoena?

ELVING: There could be, but probably not in this case. For example, the Justice Department has declined to prosecute a contempt of Congress charge against former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. He defied his subpoena, claiming executive privilege. And that's what Trump will ultimately probably do. He may think he wants to come in and joust with the committee on live primetime TV on his own terms, but his lawyers know that he would be under oath and in imminent danger of committing perjury, which would be easier to prosecute. So it's highly unlikely he will appear.

SIMON: Former president's struggle to have a special master, Judge Raymond Dearie, have access to documents the FBI took from his Mar-a-Lago estate suffered a setback before the Supreme Court this week, didn't it?

ELVING: Yes, and this, too, was unanimous. At least there were no recorded dissents. Trump's lawyers may well have hoped that this request for, quote, "emergency relief," unquote, would be handled on an emergency basis by just one Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas. He would usually have jurisdiction over emergency petitions from this part of the country. But Justice Thomas passed it on to the full court to decide.

The full court response was one sentence long, and a rather dismissive sentence at that. So last night, the Justice Department asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to simply dismiss the special master and end the review of these documents ordered last month by a lower court in Georgia. That was a rather bold move by a justice. That suggests they think they may have the upper hand here.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

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.