MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's go from the actual storm to the political one that started here in Washington, D.C., late last night when the White House made a series of announcements that have provoked a tremendous uproar. Here to tell us about that is NPR's lead political editor, Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, let's start with the pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Now, the president telegraphed pretty clearly that he was going to do this at that rally in Phoenix on Tuesday.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But - but I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy. Is that OK? All right?
MARTIN: But safe to say the president still caused controversy announcing the pardon late last night while many people were focused on dealing with Hurricane Harvey. So, Domenico, can you just give us a sense of the reaction to this?
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Look, that was certainly the time to do it. In Washington, it's the classic Friday night dump, which we've gotten more accustomed to during the Trump presidency, some people calling it Trump o'clock, you know, with all of this going on. But yeah, you know, this is - the reaction to this has been one that's been eyebrow-raising, to say, oh, OK, if President Trump is willing to use the pardon power here, when else might he use it?
MARTIN: So of course, he was - Sheriff Arpaio was one of President Trump's early supporters. They share views on immigration and things like questioning President Obama's birth. So you could argue, you know, he's bailing out a longtime friend and supporter. But is there a broader significance to this in your view and in your reporting?
MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, we know that President Trump's already looked into whether or not he can pardon himself and what the mechanics are of pardoning others who are close to him. And all that was in the - is in the context of the investigation into coordination with Russia being conducted by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who's now the person in charge of that - of that investigation.
We know that the investigation, that Mueller's investigation's ramping up with subpoenas into various lobbying firms around Washington. The focus of those subpoenas appears to be former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
So what Trump did and how he did it was very unusual in pardoning Sheriff Arpaio. And he seems to be sending a very strong signal with this to Mueller, that this unrelated pardon, he won't - might not be shy about using that pardon power if it came down to it.
MARTIN: Let me just mention that later in this program we're actually going to speak with the current Maricopa County sheriff, Paul Penzone. And we want to hear more about how this is - reaction to this where - in Arizona. But let's move on to another big story out of the White House. White House adviser Sebastian Gorka is out. Now, this comes a week after White House chief strategist Steve Bannon resigned. So what can you tell us about that?
MONTANARO: And this is such a juicy story, too. I mean, you know, there's been some dispute between Gorka and the White House about what actually happened here. Gorka issued a letter expressing unhappiness with the president's speech on Afghanistan, particularly for not using the phrase radical Islamic terrorism. This is a huge thing for Gorka and someone like Steve Bannon, who he was directly aligned with, who believed that Islam was coordinating against the Western world.
And Gorka wrote that, quote, "it is clear to me that the forces that do not support the MAGA promise are for now ascendant within the White House." He added, outside yourself, the individuals who most embodied and represented the policies that will make America great again have been internally countered, systematically removed or undermined in recent months. He said that's why he's resigning.
The White House said very bluntly he did not resign, that he was fired. And Gorka, you know, like I said, very much aligned with Steve Bannon. And his letter is like a footsoldier, Michel, retreating on a battlefield, shaking his fist and saying, you haven't heard the last of us.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of the battlefield, one more action last night. We only have a little less than a minute to talk about this. The president signed a presidential memo instructing the Defense department to stop accepting transgender people into the military. Can you talk about that as briefly as you can?
MONTANARO: Heck of a Friday night because this went down last night as well. Trump signed this memo on a policy that would ban transgender service members from joining the armed services. It would also halt any Department of Defense or DHS money from being used for new sex-change surgeries. There's a little bit of wiggle room in here because the Defense department had - has some latitude on what to do with transgender service members currently serving. And they have about six months to try to get in a new implementation plan, Michel.
MARTIN: There's a lot to talk about there. That's NPR's lead political editor, Domenico Montanaro. Thank you.
MONTANARO: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
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