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What Trump's Whistleblower Tweets Say About The White House's Defense Strategy


President Trump spent much of his weekend tweeting - tweeting attacks on the whistleblower who raised concerns about his phone call with Ukraine's president, on House Democrats investigating that call and on the media reporting it.


The president's aides and closest congressional allies have taken this message to the cable networks. Here to talk about what these messages say about President Trump's defense strategy is NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Welcome back.


CORNISH: I want to walk through the most frequent defenses that we've been hearing one by one. And to start, here is White House adviser Stephen Miller on Fox News this weekend talking about the political motivations of the whistleblower.


STEPHEN MILLER: A partisan hit job does not make you a whistleblower just because you go through the Whistleblower Protection Act.

CORNISH: We do not know the identity of the whistleblower. So Tam, help us understand why Miller is making this claim.

KEITH: Well, the thing that Miller is hanging this on is a letter that the intelligence community inspector general sent that describes both the whistleblower and the complaint. He says that there were indications of some arguable political bias on the part of the complaintant (ph) in favor of a rival political candidate. But - and the next part is really important, he says - such evidence did not change my determination that the complaint relating to the urgent concern appears credible, particularly given the other information the inspector general obtained during its preliminary review. And Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, also attested to the validity of that claim in congressional testimony last week.


JOSEPH MAGUIRE: I want to stress that I believe that the whistleblower and the inspector general have acted in good faith throughout. I have every reason to believe that they have done everything by the book and followed the law.

KEITH: And one other thing to point out here is that the whistleblower's complaint has largely been validated by other evidence that's come out, most particularly that rough call log or transcript of the call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy on July 25.

CORNISH: Another claim people would be hearing, for example from Congressman Jim Jordan - he was on our air last week - the idea that the account of the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's leader didn't have anything wrong or troubling in it.


JIM JORDAN: When you read the transcript, there is nothing there. Even the Democrat chairmen have indicated, Audie, that there was no quid pro quo. The president doesn't talk about any foreign aid. Even the president of Ukraine, Mr. Zelenskiy, has said he was not pushed in any way.

CORNISH: Why underscore quid pro quo? We hear that a lot.

KEITH: Well, the reason to underscore that - the reason the president's allies are underscoring that is because they can hang a little something there. They can't say that the president didn't ask Zelenskiy to investigate Biden because President Trump did. That is all there in the call log.

But just to fact check what Jordan said a little bit - they did talk about military aid. In the call log, Zelenskiy says, we're almost ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for defense purposes. They can't buy them without assistance from the U.S. and permission from the U.S. The very next sentence, President Trump comes in and he says, I would like you to do us a favor, though. Then he goes into talking about a debunked conspiracy theory about servers being in Ukraine. But pretty quickly thereafter, he starts talking about Vice President Biden.

CORNISH: I want to talk more about that because just about every defense coming out of the White House leads back to Vice President Joe Biden. What do we know?

KEITH: Well, what we do know is that Joe Biden pressed for the top prosecutor in Ukraine to be fired. He was acting in concert with U.S. policy at the time and numerous allies. And it just simply doesn't match up with the way President Trump and his allies have been describing it. Vice President Biden was not trying to help his son, who was serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. The complaint with the prosecutor that Biden was asking to be fired - the complaint was that he wasn't investigating corruption and that he wasn't investigating companies like the one that Biden's son worked for.

CORNISH: So the goal of bringing it up?

KEITH: The goal of bringing it up is to muddy the waters and to, even in the process of fact-checking it, to have Vice President Biden's name in the same sentence as corruption.

CORNISH: President Trump has always been his most effective defender. Right? He can defend himself. He can do it on Twitter, and he's been tweeting like crazy all weekend. How has he been responding? Or what kind of effect has it had on the discussion?

KEITH: Well, he has tweeted more than 80 times just over the weekend, which is a lot of tweets even by his standards. And some of them were pretty extreme, including saying that a member of Congress should be investigated for treason and suggesting that if he were impeached, it would lead to civil war. That was a tweet of a quote of someone saying that, but the president was still amplifying it.

CORNISH: Looking forward, what are you going to be listening for from the various surrogates or even the president himself?

KEITH: Well, I'm definitely watching to see whether the president forms an apparatus around him to defend him or whether it continues to be a tweet here, a tweet there and sending members of Congress out to be interviewed based on talking points that are not fully moored to reality.

CORNISH: That's NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks for sharing this analysis.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.

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