"Shields and Brooks on Russia investigation questions, Trump's joint address" PBS NewsHour 3/3/2017
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's news, including revelations about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' meeting with the Russian ambassador and the core question of the Trump administration's connections to Russia, plus takeaways from President Trump's address to a joint session of Congress.
JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour): From a joint address to Congress to the recusal of the Attorney General, it's been a big week.
To help make sense of it all, the analysis of Shields And brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
So, I thought we were going to be talking tonight, first of all, about the President's address.
But, David, Russia, Russia, Russia, it just doesn't go away. We now have the Attorney General of the United States having to recuse himself from any investigation into what happened with the Trump campaign.
What do you make of all this?
DAVID BROOKS, New York Times: This is like Napoleon and the Russian winter.
It's just coming in droves for the past few months, just Russian issues. Now, I would draw a distinction between Sessions and a lot of the other stuff. So far, we don't know if Sessions had any substantive contacts on the campaign stuff or anything that might be really incriminating.
And it's worth remembering he was asked specifically did he talk to Russians about campaign stuff. And so there are a lot of pointless meetings in Washington. And he could have just had pointless meeting to see the ambassador. If he had something nefarious, would they really have done it in the Senate office?
So, I'm not sure the Sessions stuff will rise to scandal level. I think he was right to recuse himself.
On the other hand, on the general Trump world, there is contact after contact with the Russians, and some of them which are fishy. And the two questions that I'm wondering about — and I'm not sure we will ever know the answer — the first is the obvious one. Did they have contact with Russians on their campaign meddling?
But the second and the more troubling one is, who's been investing in Donald Trump's companies for all these years? Does he owe somebody something? Should we know about that? And why didn't he release his taxes? Is Russia at the heart of that as well?
And so until we get to an answer of — and this is why taxes get released, so you can know if somebody is really in debt to some other foreign power. And we don't know the answer to that because of his secrecy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, those are questions that we're unlikely to get the answers to any time soon.
MARK SHIELDS, syndicated columnist: Well, under the status quo, I think that is true. And I think the questions David asks are salient and important.
As far as Senator Sessions is concerned, Judy, it follows the pattern that these come out after there's a press report. It happened with General Flynn. And unlike General Flynn, where there really is strong, more than suspicion, that he discussed policy and actions with the Russian ambassador, I don't think anybody who knows Jeff Sessions thinks that's the case.
But there is one question that just demands an answer. And that is, he testifies before Al Franken. Yes, it's a rambling question. But then Pat Leahy, the senior senator, pro-tem of the Senate, writes it out in longhand, any contacts from campaign post-election?
Now, you leave that hearing, you give that answer, you go back to your office, staff people are with you, your scheduler is with you, your press person is with you. Why not just come out and say, hey, look, this was — I did have these meetings with the ambassador?
And the question, why? Why does it have to come out this way? And it does. It does fit a pattern. There's no two ways about it. And I think it's a disturbing pattern. It's a distressing pattern.
And whether it's Roger Stone or Carter Page or — I mean, these are not attractive, appealing people, whether it's Paul Manafort and his Russian contacts.
It's not a question simply of dealing with Russia. It's a question that we have now 17 intelligence agencies in the United States of America unanimously agreeing that Russia meddled in this — and tried to discredit our democratic process.
So, I mean, you know, that's whom they were dealing with. It wasn't a question of just making a quick buck.-----MARK SHIELDS: Well, they have made a calculation, a political calculation. It’s hard to argue with it.
It’s a Republican Congress. He’s playing very much to his base. He’s not expanding his base. He’s not reaching across the divide, except by not insulting. But he is catering to and holding and speaking to and speaking for his base, those who supported him.
So, he’s 85 or 87 to nine among Republicans. As long as he’s there, OK, as long as his numbers are that high, Republicans are going to fall in line. They’re going to support him, or they’re going to at least think two or three times before breaking with him.
But, Judy, there is no sense of how he’s going to pay for any of this. And there’s no sense of the specifics. We have no more specific idea on what he wants to do on tax cuts and tax reform than we had before the speech.
DAVID BROOKS: Yes.
If they can find the health care plan under the magic sofa cushion in the Capitol, wherever it’s hiding, they’re going to find a lot of opposition on the right. And this is actually going to be a trope of the Trump administration.
If they ever actually come up with an agenda, there is going to be a lot of people on his right who are Republicans who are going to be very unhappy with the levels of spending or even the levels of tax cuts — or tax credits in the health care plan.
So, I think, on substantive matters on a lot of these issues, they’re going to have a big issue, big problem. And, secondly, a lot of these programs, like the health care, it shifts risk down to the individuals.
MARK SHIELDS: It does.
DAVID BROOKS: And I happen to think it could create good markets and reduce costs. But you’re definitely shifting risk.
And a lot of Americans are like, I have got enough risk in life. No thank you.
And I think that is going to come back.