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Week in politics: Assessing the aftermath of Trump's indictment

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MIKE PENCE: Let's be clear on this point. It wasn't just that they asked for a pause. The president specifically asked me, and his gaggle of crackpot lawyers asked me, to literally reject votes.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Fox News speaking about the indictment of former President Trump and statements by a Trump lawyer that Pence had just been asked to pause the vote count. NPR's Washington 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: And, Ron, much sharper comments from Mr. Pence about the man he used to work for.

ELVING: Yes, the falling out of the old running mates is one of the more interesting subplots in this whole tale. Pence is no longer saying he simply disagreed with Trump about what happened on January 6. He is contradicting him on the facts and starting to sound more like a potential star witness for the prosecution, special counsel Jack Smith. We should note that this is happening as Pence struggles to gain traction against Trump on the campaign trail.

SIMON: A development last night in the criminal case against Trump in Washington, D.C., wasn't there?

ELVING: Yes, the former president posted on social media, quote, "if you go after me, I'm coming after you," in all caps. And the Justice Department wasted no time asking the federal judge overseeing the case to issue a protective order against Trump. Now, this is not the same as a gag order, where he couldn't discuss the case at all. But the prosecution is about to share a great deal of information with the defense - confidential information, grand jury testimony and the like. And the judge does not want to see that splashed out on social media.

And, you know, it's another development in what has been an extraordinary week. We have never seen another president arraigned on criminal charges, but we have seen a president named in a criminal indictment, Scott. Some of us still remember Watergate in 1974, when a special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, indicted seven aides and advisers to President Richard Nixon. Didn't charge Nixon, who was in office at the time, but he did name him, Richard Nixon, as an unindicted co-conspirator. And these days, it's fascinating to review some of what Nixon said at the time in media interviews and in grand jury testimony after he left office, talking about, well, selective prosecution, how his predecessors had done worse things than him. He said presidents had special powers to protect national security and that certain things that were crimes were not illegal if done by the president. And we've already heard some of these themes from Trump and his lawyers. And we can expect more in the months to come.

SIMON: Here's the former president just after his arraignment on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport.

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DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much. This is a very sad day for America. And it was also very sad driving through Washington, D.C., and seeing the filth and the decay and all of the broken buildings and walls and the graffiti. This is not the place that I left.

SIMON: Ron, you asked us to play that moment. Why?

ELVING: It's a good illustration of the way Trump extends his version of reality and tries to impose it on the real world. He did not go on a driving tour around the city of Washington, D.C. And much has changed over many years. He may have been describing a scene that was existing many years ago. But just about all that's changed in the last two years is that his name has come off that hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. He does have a tendency to describe what he sees in his mind's eye that fits his preferred view of reality. And he does it in the belief that relatively few will have the information to challenge him. Millions will accept it because they believe in him and prefer the world as he describes it, his version of events and realities. That's what makes him powerful.

SIMON: And he'll be a part of our national life whatever happens in the court.

ELVING: You know, I wouldn't want to use the word naive, but it's best for those who would like to see this era end to moderate their expectations. Trump has become more than just another politician. He is something larger and more enduring. He's a sword and a shield in the minds of millions of Americans who believe in him and place great confidence in him. That's not going to be shaken by any number of indictments or even convictions. So whether he holds office again or not, the Trump phenomenon is going to be with us for some time to come.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thank you.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.