Week in politics: Biden tries for diplomacy with Russia; Trump faces legal challenges
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Biden was direct at a press conference yesterday when he was asked if he believes President Putin has decided to invade within days.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To be clear, you are convinced that - you are convinced that President Putin is going to invade Ukraine. Is that what you just said a few moments ago?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes, I did. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So is diplomacy off the table then?
BIDEN: No, all - until he does, diplomacy is always a possibility.
SIMON: We turn now to NPR's Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: The president didn't leave much room for doubt, did he?
ELVING: You know, Biden's all-in on this, Scott. He may not be right, but he is all-in. That strongly suggests that the U.S. intelligence agencies are telling him that the invasion is all but underway, that the troops and the tanks and the aircraft already have their orders and the borders will be breached in the days or perhaps just hours ahead.
We saw Putin do what now appears to have been a head fake at midweek, saying he was pulling some troops back while deploying others. And, of course, it turned out he was deploying far more others to the borders. So Putin was falsely claiming to be de-escalating, even as his computer weapons unleashed an unprecedented denial-of-service attack against the private of computers in Ukraine. This is the new face of war in the 21st century.
SIMON: President Biden did say a diplomatic solution is still possible. Do you see that on the horizon?
ELVING: Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have arranged to have talks next week. That's assuming, of course, that the war has not already begun by then.
SIMON: And I have to ask, in light of history, is there any possibility that this U.S. version of events is wrong in the way it was in 2003 with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to be there, or in 1964 with attacks in the Gulf of Tonkin?
ELVING: The accuracy of what our intelligence services produce is one question. The real questions arise in the use of that intel product. Now, in 2002 and 2003 we saw the intel product miscast and misused to justify a war the administration at that time wanted to make against Iraq. In the 1964 case, we saw intel used quite selectively to justify escalation of the war in Vietnam. So it's the old question, to what purpose? To what end are you putting that intel? In this case, is it being used to build an aggressive case, as in Iraq or Vietnam, or is it being used to reveal the reality of what Russia is up to in the fog of their own narrative?
SIMON: And as these events unfold, more legal complications for former President Trump.
ELVING: Yes. While President Biden has been shouldering the burdens of the world, former President Trump has been bearing the burdens of being Donald Trump. Several adverse rulings this week. Just yesterday, a court ruled that he had no immunity from a civil lawsuit that's been filed by a number of House members. That suit accused him of inciting the January 6 riot that attacked the Capitol. And earlier in the week, a state Supreme Court justice in New York said that New York's attorney general can question Trump under oath, along with his son Donald Jr. and his daughter Ivanka, about the financial reports of the Trump Organization going back over the years.
And earlier in the week still - and this may be the most serious of all, Scott - Trump's accounting firm formally distanced itself from the Trump Organization's financial statements, calling them unreliable.
SIMON: Finally, San Francisco residents voted to recall three members of the city's school board this week, who they thought hadn't been trying to reopen schools during COVID, that spent too much time trying to rename them. Are national Democrats seeing a message in this and maybe other events heading into midterms?
ELVING: Yes, there seems to be a building national trend here in some of the most liberal cities in the country. Let's call it pushback from within the progressive coalition. Sometimes activists in the vanguard want to go further than their rank and file really want to go. And in this case, we're seeing the pushback, especially among members of racial and ethnic minorities - people that Democrats have in recent cycles often taken for granted.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.