Week in politics: A closer look at Trump's case, Clarence Thomas revelations
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
You probably saw the photos - Donald Trump, former president of the United States, sitting in a New York courtroom Tuesday, facing a 34-count felony indictment. He pleaded not guilty, flew back to Florida to make a 25-minute statement that same night, reviving many of his old grievances, repeating false claims of election interference. 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: Let me ask first about the indictment. Even some of Donald Trump's critics, including Senator Mitt Romney and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, seem to have their doubts about the strength of the case. Do you think they have a point?
ELVING: They might. There are links within the case that defense attorneys can attack. There are links that escalate what appear to be misdemeanors - falsifying financial filings - into 34 felony charges, as you say. We have not seen all of the case, however, and we have not seen all of the evidence at this point. District Attorney Alvin Bragg may have a high card he is not showing. But for now, it seems fair to say that in this case, it's less compelling than the one in Georgia involving Trump's efforts to alter the vote count in that state. And it does not look as provable as the federal case that's based on the documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate and the role that Trump played on January 6. So those cases involve visible and audible evidence more people can easily relate to.
SIMON: ProPublica investigation this week found that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did not disclose posh vacations and flights on private planes paid for by a billionaire friend. The justice released a statement yesterday saying he was advised this sort of personal hospitality is not reportable. Are there avenues for investigation for an ethics violation involving a Supreme Court justice?
ELVING: Yes, there is an avenue, and there is enough will to investigate and legislate on these revelations, at least in the Senate. And Thomas says he did not have to report these trips because he and his wife and Harlan Crow were great friends and that these gifts were therefore exempt. He also said that he had never ruled on anything directly affecting Crow. And now that the Supreme Court has changed its own guidelines on accepting gifts, he will respect those new guidelines going forward. So it's not yet clear what consequences might be involved here. The high court does not have a mechanism for removing a justice. It doesn't really even subject itself to the rules it subjects other federal judges to. And while Congress can impeach a federal judge, it's never done that at the Supreme Court level.
SIMON: The Tennessee House of Representatives this week expelled two of their own duly elected members over participating in gun control protests on the House floor last month. Their offense was that they spoke without being recognized. Both representatives who were expelled are Black; a third, a white representative, was not voted out. What are the implications here?
ELVING: You know, the Republican leaders in that legislative body insist there was no racial animus here, just discipline for members who joined in a protest, brought it to the floor of the chamber, spoke when they weren't to be speaking. But the visuals could not be worse, and the impression created is going to be hard to erase. In the short term, it looks like the two expelled members will be back in pretty short order. Justin Jones from Nashville may be reinstated by his local authority, the Metropolitan Council there in Davidson County, as soon as next week. They've scheduled a special meeting for Monday. His colleague, Justin Pearson, is from Memphis and would need to be reinstated by the Shelby County Commission there. They could meet next week as well. So the two could be back on an interim basis until a special can be held later this year. And both would be heavy favorites for reelection at that time.
SIMON: And, Ron, let me get your estimation this week about the significance of elections in Wisconsin where Democrats voted in a liberal judge, and that flipped control of the state Supreme Court there.
ELVING: It was a stunning outcome, Scott, a double-digit win in a race that was thought to be close. Two big impacts here - the new court majority in Wisconsin is expected to overturn Wisconsin's current abortion ban, a law that dates to 1849 and that took effect when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Roe v. Wade. The new court is expected to strike down one of the most egregious gerrymandering cases in recent years as well. That's allowed Republicans to hold supermajorities in the state legislature with only half the statewide vote or less. People may become more aware of gerrymandering in elections going forward.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.