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Week In Politics: No-Show AG Barr; Trump Has 'Very Productive' Call With Putin


President Trump stands by his attorney general. Bill Barr took on a Senate committee to defend his summary of the Mueller report, even though Robert Mueller says he didn't get it right. Speaker Pelosi bluntly denounced the Barr testimony as lies, and then the attorney general didn't appear before a House committee. Ron Elving, senior Washington editor and correspondent, joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Glad to appear with you, Scott.

SIMON: Oh (laughter) we have a bucket of fried chicken with your name on it here, my friend. In the maelstrom of all this political back and forth, the president had an hour-long phone call with Vladimir Putin yesterday, said it was very productive.

ELVING: The president gave us the agenda for that talk in a tweet. He said they talked about trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, nuclear arms control and then the, quote, "Russia hoax." Now, that last phrase is a characterization of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. And it's been a characterization both Putin and Trump have been pushing for several years now. Of course, it's been flatly contradicted by the consensus of all U.S. intelligence agencies and the report of special counsel Robert Mueller. They all say it's no hoax. The Russians interfered in fact. So we can see why Putin denies all this. What's amazing is that Trump continues to take his word for it or at least say he does.

SIMON: Attorney General Barr had a, as we noted, contentious hearing in the Senate and then didn't show up in the House, leading to some pictures of buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken that I believe Congressman Cohen seemed to enjoy chomping down on and angry words.

ELVING: Yes. The attorney general said he would testify to House members but not if the committee was going to use practicing lawyers to question him, ask him courtroom-style questions, try to pin him down about the report that he's taken to calling his baby. This attorney general has been working hard to protect the president, or at least the office of the presidency, from the bad things in the Mueller report while repeatedly emphasizing there's no provable case of conspiracy with criminal content. And he does not want to get into a discussion of obstruction of justice, even though Mueller cited 10 potential cases of obstruction in his report.

SIMON: Is this a certain amount of showing profile and posture on each side right now? Or will the House take action to compel the attorney general to testify? Because Speaker Pelosi did not mince words this week. She said that he had straight out lied to the Senate.

ELVING: Lying to Congress is a crime, and refusal to comply with a subpoena - should the House issue a subpoena, which it may - is also something that can result in severe implications of a legal nature. And we are heading into weeks and months of confrontations, Scott. The House is simply not going to fold its case, or its multiple cases, just because the president doesn't want to cooperate or allow his aides and former aides to cooperate. And he's even trying to stop people who don't work for him anymore. This is what's called stonewalling. And this White House is stonewalling so aggressively, it suggests a desire to goad the House with greater and greater confrontations.

SIMON: Which surprised me a little bit that the president spoke so much about Vladimir Putin yesterday when he met with the press in the Oval Office when you'd think he'd want to talk about the job numbers.

ELVING: One hundred three months of job growth in a row - it's a new record. And now we should note that three-fourths of those months were under President Obama. But a good economy is a traveling trophy, and President Trump owns it now. Even inflation seems to be staying low. So this is a positive message that Republicans love and wish the president would focus on more exclusively or even more often than he does.

SIMON: Ron Elving - senior Washington editor and correspondent. Thanks so much for being with us, Ron.

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

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.