Week In Politics

Oct 28, 2017
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This week we learned that, first, a wealthy conservative donor and, later, the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee funded some of the research that surfaced in the explosive Trump dossier. And over the next few days, three committees in Congress will hear from Facebook, Google and Twitter, pressing them about how Russia used their networks to influence the 2016 election. Also, we're expecting some more moves from Republicans toward a tax overhaul.

The week in politics - Ron Elving, NPR's senior political editor and correspondent joins me to try to make sense of all of this. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let's start with the so-called Trump dossier. This is a file that surfaced after the election, detailing ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It also included some racy claims. Earlier this week, we learned that the Clinton campaign paid for the research. But then we discovered another wrinkle, right? The conservative website, the Washington Free Beacon, originally funded the research - funded by billionaire Paul Singer - got this research ball rolling with the Fusion GPS research company.

All right, try to unpack that for us, Ron. What can we conclude?

ELVING: We can conclude that a lot of politicians who were running against Donald Trump in 2015, 2016 were interested in finding out more about everything he might have done. And this apparently started on the Republican side during the primaries. Mr. Singer was a backer of Marco Rubio at one point, and then they kind of dropped it on that side when Donald Trump became their nominee de facto.

And the Democrats picked it up. And they have funded some of this research through Fusion GPS. Now we should say that there was more research done later by a former British spy, and then this kind of circulated around town. It came out on BuzzFeed in January. That's when everybody got started talking about it.

And let's just say, it was a fishing expedition. It was financed by Trump's opponents in both parties. Some fishing expeditions do come back with fish. And if this one actually did and some of that finds its way into the hands of special independent prosecutor Bob Mueller's investigators, then the dossier might, in some sense, inform their questions about Russian interference because all of this was about Trump's ties to people in Russia.

BLOCK: Right. And those questions about Russian interference will also be front and center in the upcoming hearings that we mentioned for the tech giants - Facebook, Twitter and Google executives who are going to be before Congress over two days this coming week. What will they be grilled about?

ELVING: You know, in recent days, we have learned a good deal more about how extensive the Russian involvement in social media was, particularly the number of ads running on Facebook and how they were targeted. And some of this was using some of the people in Facebook who work with advertisers - big advertisers - and who help you target exactly the people you're trying to reach.

So this might have been - it appears to have been one of the main ways in which these Russian elements were trying to put a big thumb on the scale in the 2016 election.

BLOCK: Let's wrap up, Ron, by talking about taxes. The House wants to try to pass a tax bill - an overhaul bill - by Thanksgiving. What can we look forward to there?

ELVING: This week, we should see the pigs start coming out of the poke. The tax chairman on the House side, Republican Kevin Brady, is going to show us what his details show - legislative language. We're going to find out really who's going to be paying more, who's going to be paying less. And that could really kick off some political fallout.

BLOCK: Right because, obviously, the devil is in the details. And the vote could be very slim, at least on the Senate side, right? They can't afford to lose many at all.

ELVING: That's right. Maybe they can lose 2 and still prevail in the Senate because their margin is basically 2. But we've got Rand Paul from Kentucky and Bob Corker of Tennessee both saying they don't want to add to the deficit. As it stands now, this plan would add 1.5 trillion to the national debt.

BLOCK: And they're trying to fast-track that through Congress. NPR's senior editor and correspondent, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.

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