SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump turned up the heat on the immigration debate to scalding this week. Official after official in Department of Homeland Securities (ph) was shown the door. And the president said he is, quote, “giving strong considerations to placing illegal immigrants in sanctuary cities only,” unquote, and said bluntly it was political retribution directed at Democrats. NPR’s Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: Sanctuary cities – cities where local law enforcements decided that they’ll limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. Is this threatened mass migration into sanctuary cities even legally or technically possible?
ELVING: Hard to imagine it could be, Scott. And, you know, Homeland Security officials had been denying this idea was really under consideration right up until the president said he was still thinking about it. So it was much like the way he threatened to close the border earlier this month, then said he’d wait a year, then said he was still thinking about doing that, too. So look. In all likelihood, the president does know that these are just rhetorical devices. But he sees how they dominate the discussion. And they reassure anyone who might have doubted this president will go on trying to win his border crisis with ever more extreme measures to punish the migrants and their defenders.
SIMON: What do you think the shake-up in leadership at the depart – by the Department of Homeland Security indicates? I mean, there are more acting – there’s more acting – people with the title acting in it than at the, you know, actors studio in New York.
ELVING: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen resigned under pressure. The undersecretary for management resigned. Trump also removed the Secret Service director. Acting is, as you suggest, now the first word in the title for much of the cabinet, too. And that’s far from ideal for those officials or for the government. But they also do not have to go before the Senate for confirmation hearings or to answer questions. And that’s a trade-off that the president apparently likes.
SIMON: We didn’t get the Mueller report this week, redacted or otherwise, but Attorney General Barr still managed to keep his name in the news.
ELVING: An extraordinary performance in front of the House Judiciary Committee one day, followed by a truly stunning one in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee the next. The attorney general said spying occurred on the Trump campaign in 2016, but offered no indication of why he thought so or who might have done it and then said it was possible there was reason for surveillance, but he hadn’t gotten all the information yet. So Barr is supposed to be the steady hand here. He’s a veteran. He’s been attorney general before. So it was amazing to hear him make such statements without having that information.
SIMON: We’ll note Treasury Department now says that, for the moment, it won’t comply with congressional requests to hand over President Trump’s tax returns. And Julian Assange, arrested after Ecuador turned him out of their embassy in London. For those who worried, and I was among them, his cat was apparently resettled last year in a more conventional home. President Trump was once a big fan of Julian Assange’s, wasn’t he?
ELVING: Said he was. Trump repeatedly said, I love WikiLeaks at his rallies during the campaign. That was when Assange was involved in hacking the Democrats’ national committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign and so on. Now the immediate charge Assange is facing has to do with the hacking of a Pentagon computer nearly a decade ago – totally different matter – exposing half a million U.S. documents. But since that time, Assange has also been busy, even from his refuge in the embassy, as we know. And there could be more charges. And there could be more revelations about Mr. Assange coming. All we know is, at this point, it capped a wild week at the White House.
SIMON: NPR’s Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
SIMON: And we will note that Julian Assange has been acclaimed by some as a champion of free speech but also assailed as a stooge for Vladimir Putin and an indiscriminate and unscrupulous hacker. He now faces extradition to the United States, where he’s been charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.