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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: How Likely Are Efforts To Remove Trump To Succeed?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

So what might any consequences for the president be after this week's assault on the nation's Capitol? NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thank you.

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

SIMON: Donald Trump has little more than a week left in office. Senator Murkowski of Alaska called on him to resign yesterday. Democrats in the House are working up articles of impeachment. There has been talk about the 25th Amendment being invoked. Any chance any of these efforts may succeed before President Trump does one or more of the things that they fear he might?

ELVING: We are not likely to see the 25th Amendment, Scott. It's never been used except for a matter of hours for medical situations. And resignation would not seem to be in President Trump's nature. So unless Vice President Pence decides to push for it, there does not seem to be enough motivation within the Cabinet to remove him using the 25th Amendment.

That leaves impeachment. And the single article has already been drafted - impeachment for inciting violence against the government of the United States. And the Democrats seem resolved to press for it on Monday. They would have the votes in the House. But, of course, the Senate would have to follow suit. That seems unlikely before the scheduled transfer of power on January 20. But we could see a return to the issue after that when Trump is gone with the idea of barring him from federal office for life. That historically has been done in a few cases of federal judges who had been impeached and removed.

SIMON: A jarring, bracing note this week when Speaker Pelosi asked the Pentagon about what the options there were for keeping President Trump's hand off the nuclear trigger.

ELVING: The Pentagon will only say that she called and a conversation took place. But Pelosi was clearly shaken by Wednesday's traumatic events, and she is deeply concerned about what else Trump or perhaps some of his followers might be capable of in these final days.

SIMON: Let me separate that out. What can the president do, say even this weekend - pardons, for example?

ELVING: Yes, he has already issued a slew of pardons. Many consider some of those to be unsavory, including for his former associates who had pled guilty to lying to the FBI and were about to be sentenced to prison. He has pardoned individuals who killed civilians in Iraq while on contract with the U.S. military. And there is a general expectation he will pardon members of his family and quite possibly himself while he still can, although the actual legal effect of a self-pardon has never been tried and remains very much a matter of debate.

SIMON: What could he face as a private citizen?

ELVING: That question will probably dominate his thinking in his last days in office, Scott. Legal machinery is already working in New York state, possibly elsewhere, fashioning cases to hold him accountable, perhaps for tax deficiencies. There have been allegations of bank fraud, misrepresentations about his properties, among other possible charges. And state charges would be unaffected by his pardon power, which is strictly for federal crimes. And let's not forget that just last weekend, Trump got on a phone, was taped with the Georgia secretary of state pressuring that official to, quote, "find," unquote, enough votes so that Trump could win. That may well be a prosecutable offense as well.

SIMON: And in the meantime, which is an extraordinary way of beginning the sentence, this country is still in extraordinary crisis. The number of coronavirus deaths rises. The number of infections are on the rise. The economic crisis deepens. There's been an extraordinary Russian hacking of security services. We could go on. The coronavirus vaccine rollout has been slow and insufficient. Is President Trump paying attention?

ELVING: Ah, yes, the reality check of it all. We do have 4,000 people dying in a single day now. Last month, the economy lost jobs for the first time in eight months. And as you say, the computer systems of our government and other major institutions are under cyberattack from Russia. There is a lot that a president might want to prioritize right now other than his own personal fate.

SIMON: Has Vice President Pence become the real president in all but name for the federal government and the military?

ELVING: He certainly has gotten an upgrade in terms of his independence and his integrity. That would be in recognition of his handling of the situation on Wednesday night when he was counting the Electoral College votes, weathering the wrath of the protesters and the president. But where is he now? Is he with Trump or is he not? That will be answered in the week ahead, and that will have a profound effect on what the Congress does and what happens to Donald Trump in the future.

SIMON: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks for - nobody better to talk to on this extraordinary week. I'm glad you're with us. Take care, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.