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A Very Intensive Week For Politics In The News

Aug 23, 2018
Originally published on August 23, 2018 9:40 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And when it comes to politics, it's fair to say it's been one heck of a week. And of course, all of this - the Cohen plea, the Manafort conviction, a whole lot more - it's all happening less than three months before voters head to the polls for the midterms. So how might these latest revelations play out in that vote? NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is here.

Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. So the big storylines this week - the president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort convicted on tax and bank fraud charges; the president's former lawyer Michael Cohen pleads guilty. How are Republicans in particular responding to this?

MONTANARO: Well, they're mostly staying quiet, or they're backing up the president. They're trying to separate him from Manafort and Cohen, saying that he's - you know, that this wasn't really tied to Russia and the campaign. You know, instead, what's gotten a lot more attention in conservative circles is the suspected murder of a 20-year-old college student in Iowa, Mollie Tibbetts.

MARTIN: Right.

MONTANARO: Authorities say an immigrant from Mexico admitted to killing her. Emotions around this case, though, of course, have been really high, obviously, but her death has become a political flashpoint. We saw the president mentioning it at a rally in West Virginia and then did so again yesterday in a video filmed outside the White House released on social media, and tying that - tying what happened to lax immigration laws. He said that Americans need to vote in more Republicans this fall to tighten those laws. It's a clear political strategy. I mean, just look at what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, said yesterday. He said that if Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in big trouble.

MARTIN: At the same time, you've got Paul Manafort found guilty on eight of 18 counts of tax and bank fraud. He goes back to court.

MONTANARO: Yeah, absolutely. That's right. And we saw a juror yesterday come out on Fox News saying that there was one holdout. And that's important because, you know, the prosecutors in this case are supposed to tell the judge next week if they're going to pursue retrying Paul Manafort on those 10 charges the jury couldn't come to a decision on. And Manafort faces another trial here in Washington next month, so he's going to be back in the news as the fall election campaign kicks into high gear.

MARTIN: Although it's - I mean, Domenico, do people vote on that? I mean, does anyone care what Paul Manafort did? Any way to measure that?

MONTANARO: Well, certainly, Democrats are pushing hard on a message of corruption and wrongdoing among Republicans. You know, it's not just about the Russia investigation. They call attention to two Republicans, for example, this past month who were indicted and various Trump administration scandals that we've covered. You know, of course, scandal like this can cut both ways. You've got Bob Menendez in New Jersey, a Democrat, who is facing a tougher than expected re-election after he faced charges of corruption. That ended in a mistrial. But Democrats think this is something that they can run on, and it's something that worked for them 2006, and they're hoping it works again.

MARTIN: But does talking about wrongdoing on behalf of Republicans, the president - does that force Democrats to take a position on impeachment? I mean, aren't their voters going to want to know where they stand on that?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, it could. And, of course, reporters want to know, too. And it's a question they've certainly been facing a lot, especially after the Manafort and Cohen duel legal blows. You know, most Democrats in Washington are trying to say that the Mueller investigation needs to play out before they make any kind of decision, obviously. And on the campaign trail, they're really not focused on this too much. They talk about - far more about health care costs and wage disparities. You know, Democratic operatives really think that there's no reason to talk about it because it's so in the ether. Might be hard to do, though, to continue doing it, especially as the base, you know, continues to really want to impeach the president. That's music to Republicans' ears, quite frankly. We saw Sarah Sanders mention it in the White House yesterday - the press secretary. They want to paint Democrats as extreme. And we're going to watch the Democratic National Committee today in Chicago. They have their meeting, and we're going to see if they mention anything about it.

MARTIN: Domenico Montanaro, NPR's lead political editor. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.