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Week in politics: Mar-a-Lago filings; Steve Bannon indicted; midterm voter sentiment

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And we're going to turn now to NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving to chew over the week in politics. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What should we make of these conflicting proposals?

ELVING: You know, there's a lot to be wrapping our heads around here. The Trump-friendly ruling from Judge Aileen Cannon, his appointee, is getting a no-holds-barred challenge right now not just from the DOJ, but from many legal experts including Trump's own former attorney general, William Barr. Even he says it ought to be overturned on appeal. Judge Cannon apparently thought the government and the Trump lawyers could come back with a list of special master candidates acceptable to both sides.

Well, that didn't happen. Maybe the biggest deal here is the time frame proposed for the special master to finish. The DOJ wants it done in a month. The Trump lawyers want 90 days. More delay may serve Trump's personal case. But keeping the focus on these documents may not be the best thing for Republicans as we grind through the fall election season.

SIMON: And this week, Steve Bannon, Trump's former strategist, indicted on money laundering and conspiracy charges - he has pleaded not guilty. This is the third time he has been indicted. How serious is this set of charges especially now that he probably wouldn't be pardoned by the current president?

ELVING: Right. We can assume President Biden would not be inclined to pardon Bannon for anything. Even if he wanted to, these are state charges beyond the purview of the federal pardon. So Bannon may have to face the music this time. If he's brought to trial and convicted by a jury, he could face five to 15 years for this scheme to raise money for a privately financed wall on the southern border. Whenever a Trump associate or former associate gets indicted, there are questions about pressure to flip or testify against Trump or provide some missing piece of crucial evidence. We have no reason to think Bannon has such evidence or would provide it if he did. And meanwhile, he has also been found guilty of contempt of Congress for defying the Jan. 6th committee subpoena earlier this year, and he'll be sentenced for that next month.

SIMON: Midterms in less than two months. You probably have a calendar at home. You pull off the days. What factors do you think might be at work on issues that could be important to voters?

ELVING: Better economic news on inflation and economic growth - that would be good news for democrats, and we've been seeing it for a month or two. We'll see what happens next. There's also been a lot of attention paid to the travails of Trump-endorsed Senate candidates who have had disappointing polls and fundraising scores. But Democrats are worried about a couple of their own seats in the West. Catherine Cortez Masto seeking a second term in Nevada - she's up against Adam Laxalt, a Republican endorsed by Trump with a great Nevada political name. On the other hand, you know, Ohio - excuse me, in Colorado, Joe O'Dea is not a Trump guy. He's rather a moderate Republican and has narrowed the gap with two-term incumbent Michael Bennet. Republicans also like their candidate in Washington state against five-term incumbent Patty Murray, but that one still looks pretty blue.

SIMON: Ukraine's made what seem to be some solid advances against Russian forces. Russia doesn't want to talk, and neither does Ukraine, for that matter.

ELVING: The question for Putin is how long his troops, with their low morale, can hold out against inspired Ukrainian fighters who seem to be getting the upper hand just now. U.S. intelligence estimates that Russian casualties after just six months are beginning to approach the range of what the U.S. lost in Vietnam in 15 years. So the question for Ukraine is how long its European allies can hold out against the cutoff of Russian natural gas. It's stalling their economies. It will soon be freezing their people. So we're all wondering which side gets forced to the negotiating table in a posture of relative weakness.

SIMON: Queen Elizabeth II - most Britons have never known another monarch. Under her rule, the British Empire disappeared. The voluntary British Commonwealth has flourished. What are your thoughts?

ELVING: Oh, the saturation in news coverage in this country is pretty amazing. Maybe it's nostalgia, longing for a simpler story, something between reality and storybook fantasy. In real life, Queen Elizabeth was a seemingly nice English lady who bore a big ceremonial burden with dignity for 70 years. But she was the queen for so long - all of my life and yours and everyone else's. She was like the Rock of Gibraltar in our imagination, so the world seems a little less familiar today.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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

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.