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Sunday Politics


The deepening rift between Congress and the president has been the source of much opining, table-pounding and grandstanding on cable news. Attorney General Bill Barr tried to make light of it on Thursday.


BILL BARR: You like records. This must be a record of attorney general being proposed for contempt within 100 days of taking office.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: For more, our own Mara Liasson is with us. Welcome, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Nancy Pelosi said last week that the president is goading the Democrats into an impeachment process. Is that hyperbole, or is that something the president wants?

LIASSON: No president wants to be impeached. But if you have a divided Congress, the president knows that he will be acquitted by the Republican Senate if the Democratic House impeaches him. So in that sense, the outcome of an impeachment process would be usable for him in an election because he could wave the flag of acquittal all the way to November 2020.

And Nancy Pelosi seems to agree. She has said if you can't remove the president from office, what's the point of starting the impeachment process? Just continue investigating him, and show the public what they find.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Mara, hasn't every president clashed with Congress when it is controlled by the opposing party? Why has there been so much talk among pundits about a, quote, "constitutional crisis"?

LIASSON: I wouldn't call this a crisis. I think a crisis occurs when, for instance, the Supreme Court tells a president to do something and he refuses. I think this is a confrontation we have had something like this before. Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, for instance, was held in contempt by a Republican Congress. What's different now is just the breadth of the non-cooperation. As the president said, we're fighting all the subpoenas. The Washington Post counted 20 investigations that the president is refusing to cooperate with. And this is across the board. This is not just the Mueller report. It's Trump's tax returns to immigration policy, where the administration has refused to turn over documents or witnesses or even sued outside companies, like Trump's accounting firm to prevent them from cooperating.

So, you know, the president said in an interview with The Washington Post, I don't want people testifying to a party. He doesn't really see Congress as a coequal branch of government. And that is the bigger principle at stake here. I think this will eventually be resolved by the courts. There are supposed to be three, quote, "coequal" branches of government. And each one is supposed to respect the power of the other. But how this is ultimately resolved will determine the relative balance of power between the legislative branch and the executive branch, I think, for a very long time - long after Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Mara, I have to bring this up. There was something really odd that played out this week with the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, where he prepared to go to Ukraine. What happened there?

LIASSON: Yeah, this is an incredible story. This is - Rudy Giuliani, of course, is the president's private lawyer. He has said in the past that there is nothing wrong with the campaign using hacked emails from Russia. And he was planning a trip to Ukraine to encourage the Ukrainian prosecutors there to look into the business dealings of Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden. He told The New York Times that there was nothing illegal about this, although he said some people could call it improper. That's the new bar here, all those things that are improper but not necessarily illegal.

So it sounded like the Trump campaign wanted foreign governments to help them again. And then the president told Politico that it was appropriate for him to speak to Attorney General Barr about opening investigations into the Biden family. He said this could be a very big situation. So this is another democratic - little D democratic - norm being undermined because American presidents are not supposed to pressure the Justice Department to investigate their political opponents.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think Rudy Giuliani, though, at the end did say that he wasn't going to go.

LIASSON: Yes, he wasn't going to go.


LIASSON: Yes, he ended up saying he wasn't going to go because he said it was all a setup, and the Ukrainian government was filled with Trump opponents.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There you go. Mara Liasson, our national political correspondent, thanks so much.

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

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.