Week in politics: Trump under investigation; Ukraine and COVID funds up in the air
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Congress is busy considering a number of measures, including latest Ukraine aid package requested by President Biden of $33 billion - also, another COVID aid package. The New York grand jury investigation into former President Donald Trump's business practices has wrapped up with no news from those proceedings. NPR's 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: And let's begin with that New York grand jury. Does not seem to be much of a chance of an indictment, does there?
ELVING: No. The prosecutors took three years lining up what looked like key witnesses, but it never got to the point of seeking an indictment from a grand jury, which, as you say, has now expired. Now, we know that there's a new district attorney took office in Manhattan over the winter, Alvin Bragg. And he seems to have different concerns and priorities which would lead him to devote the resources of his office to other matters. Leaders of the Trump investigation have resigned, and Bragg could impanel another grand jury, but he has not said he will. And meanwhile, there's still a civil case going forward regarding the Trump Organization's business practices in New York. And a judge in that case this week held Trump in contempt for withholding information. But for now, the criminal case seems on hold.
SIMON: Another grand jury is being formed right now in Georgia to consider charging Donald Trump for his attempts to pressure state officials to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections in that state. What do we know?
ELVING: This case is at the opposite end of the grand jury process. In a sense, it's just getting started. We know Trump and his attorneys tried in various ways to cast doubt on the 2020 election results. One especially gaudy gambit was in Georgia, where we have that famous audiotape of Trump urging Georgia's secretary of state to find another 12,000 votes for him so he could win that state. Now, the prosecuting attorney in Georgia has said that tape is part of the case, and having a grand jury will enable the prosecution to issue subpoenas. But we don't expect those to go out until after the Georgia primary elections next month.
SIMON: President Biden wants more aid for Ukraine. Any significant opposition to it in Congress?
ELVING: Ukraine aid is still broadly popular on the Hill, and this $33 billion should be no exception. There were 69 votes in the House against the Ukraine aid that was voted on last month. Most of those were Republicans. Some said they didn't like the way the aid was packaged with other things or the risks involved in escalating the conflict. Others said we needed to recalibrate our support for a country that's not even in NATO, and we needed to stop trying to be the world's policeman.
SIMON: Tell me about some talk about trying to tie this bill to another one for additional COVID spending. That has significantly more opposition, right?
ELVING: Yes. In fact, that's the real question mark for the Ukraine aid. Will it be yoked with the COVID spending, which has far less bipartisan support? In fact, some of the senior Senate Republicans have already forced this round of COVID aid to come down from a $22 billion request to 10 billion. And even that amount is in doubt if it comes to the floor by itself. That's why Speaker Pelosi would like to see Ukraine and COVID aid combined. But Republicans say we've already spent too much responding to COVID. There are billions in the pipeline yet to be spent, and fresh money could be further fuel for inflation. Still, without this aid, Scott, there will be people lacking vaccines and therapeutics, and the agencies that have been fighting this pandemic would be squeezed as well.
SIMON: We have half a minute left. What's going on with the economy?
ELVING: (Laughter) Ah, what a wild week in the world of economic forecasting and the world of the stock market. The major indices plunged on Wednesday, skyrocketed on Thursday, fell off the table entirely on Friday. And some of this may be the slowdown in the economy in the first quarter. It could be fear of inflation, higher interest rates or even a recession on the horizon. But analysts do seem to agree that the market's extreme volatility is a response to uncertainty. And weeks like this one can only add to that.
SIMON: NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.