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Politics chat: Congress wants answers to Trump's role in the insurrection

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The raising of the debt ceiling and the fight over which provisions of the infrastructure bill survive have been taking up a lot of oxygen here in Washington, D.C. But this past week, another story came back into the spotlight - the role of former President Donald Trump in the violent January 6 attack on the Capitol. Congress wants answers. Trump and his former aides are pushing back. And it looks like things are headed for a major showdown. We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hello, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lots of movement on this story - let's recap. Congress has subpoenaed depositions from former Trump officials, including Steve Bannon, Dan Scavino. But they've refused to provide them. What do lawmakers hope to learn from those depositions - which will be closed, by the way - assuming they're provided?

LIASSON: They want to learn what context, if any, the Trump White House had with the January 6 insurrectionists. And Trump, of course, has told all of his former advisers not to cooperate. He's claiming executive privilege. Last week, President Biden - as the current president, he controls the National Archives - rejected that claim of privilege, says it usually doesn't cover ex-presidents. Steve Bannon wasn't even working in the White House in 2020. He left in 2017, so it's unclear how he's even arguably covered by privilege. So there's going to be a big legal fight over this, whether they have to testify or not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. I mean, the January 6 commission though isn't the only committee looking into this. There was also an interim Senate judiciary report detailing Trump's attempt to get the Justice Department to help him overturn the results of the 2020 election.

LIASSON: That's right. The committee took testimony from former Trump Justice Department officials who told them that then-President Trump told them that if they didn't help him overturn the election results, he would fire them and replace them with people who would. Then-Acting Attorney Jeffrey Rosen told the committee that on January 3 - this is just three days before the attacks - Trump said, one thing we know is you, Rosen, aren't going to do anything to overturn the election. And of course, that January 6 attack three days later took place just as Congress was in the process of finalizing President Biden's - certifying President Biden's victory.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, there's a lot going on here because now even former Vice President Mike Pence appears to be downplaying the January 6 attacks. Pence told Fox's Sean Hannity on Monday that media attention on that day is intended to, quote, "distract from the Biden administration's failed agenda" and to, quote, "demean the character of Trump supporters." I mean, that's remarkable, given that some of the rioters were calling for his hanging.

LIASSON: That's right. They were chanting, hang Mike Pence. They had set up a gallows outside the Capitol. He had to be removed by security agents. But yes. He says, now the media wants to focus on, quote, "just one day." But Pence is a model of how you mold yourself to the new reality of the Republican Party, which is that Trump is the leader. He wants unquestioning loyalty. The litmus test for that loyalty is adherence to this lie that the 2020 election was stolen. And Pence wants to run for president in 2024, and he's been trying to figure out how to get back into the good graces of Donald Trump.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And in the middle of all this, speaking of former President Donald Trump, he held a rally in Iowa last night.

LIASSON: That's right. He's in Iowa. Iowa, of course, is the first stop in running for president. Any Republican who sets foot in Iowa is going to generate talk about his presidential ambitions. And Trump, at least for now, wants to keep the idea alive that he might - probably will run for president. Whether he does at the end almost doesn't matter. But he said last night that the single biggest issue for him and his supporters is talking about the election fraud of the 2020 presidential election.

There is no - was no fraud, but he keeps on talking about it. It's a way that he can continue to exercise his power as the most important Republican in the United States. He freezes the presidential field for 2024. But he also continues to make this fraudulent claim that 2020 was stolen the No. 1 issue for the Republican Party. And he further undermines Americans' faith in free and fair elections. If you don't believe the ballot is legitimate, you don't believe in American democracy.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thank you so much.

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