"Shields and Brooks on Trump’s attempt to FireMueller, ‘America first’ at Davos" PBS NewsHour 1/26/2018
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the news that President Trump had ordered the dismissal of special counsel Robert Mueller but dropped the request when the White House counsel refused, Republican efforts to undermine the FBI, Trump’s speech at Davos, and the latest immigration plan.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): Well, these reports that we have been discussing with Jack Goldsmith brings us to our weekly analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, and David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times.
You heard what Jack Goldsmith had to say. And I know you have been following this story all week.
Mark, what do we make of it?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the previous speaker. I thought he spoke very informed and persuasively on the subject, Judy.
Just from a straight political perspective, you wonder why it took seven months. The idea that several months…
Judy Woodruff: You mean for this to come out.
Mark Shields: To come out. It’s just rather remarkable in Washington.
And so the first question we ask is, why now? And is it because there was a concern that the President was going to try and do something like this again to head him off at the pass, to try to vertebrae transplant for Republicans on the Hill, who have not stood up to the President or stood up for Robert Mueller as the special counsel?
It’s everything that Jack Goldsmith described it.
Judy Woodruff: How do you read all this?
David Brooks, New York Times: Yes.
First, it should be pointed out that White House staff has repeatedly said there was no effort to fire Mueller, when they clearly have been lying for months about that.
Mark Shields: That’s right. Yes.
David Brooks: And that’s…
Mark Shields: And the President.
David Brooks:It’s always kind of shocking when people just straight-up lie.
Mark Shields: That’s right.
David Brooks: It happens to us in our profession all the time, but it’s still kind of shocking.
I have to say, I was in Dayton, Ohio, this morning. And a friend said, in this presidency, I’m just stunned every day. I’m stunned every hour. And at some point, you get out of stunned. There’s no more stun.
And I found this when I saw our story. If I had seen that story seven or eight months ago, I would have been, oh, I can’t believe this is happening. Now I’m inured. I’m used to it. I have been numbed.
And I came to think, even if he fired Mueller, maybe we’re all just — we’re like, we have been numbed to the things that happen and nobody gets upset anymore. I think people would get upset if he actually did try to fire Mueller, but we have defined deviancy down and gotten used to a set of behavior that would have been shocking to us a year ago.
Judy Woodruff: Well, there is a lot of…
Mark Shields:Just to David’s point, deserved to be underlined, imagine any President, imagine George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, or Barack Obama, that The Wall Street Journal reported that his lawyer had paid $130,000 to a porn star not to reveal that they’d had an illicit adulterous sexual encounter.
And, you know, that’s The Wall Street Journal. I mean, that’s not some left-wing publication. And that would have been — it would have kept FOX going 24/7 if it was alleged of Barack Obama. And it does. It’s somewhere on page three.
David Brooks: Yes. That passed without a ripple, yes.
Judy Woodruff: But what we have here, though, David, or — and in addition to that, is an extraordinary situation, where there is just a lot of guessing going on about whether the President has given up on trying to fire Bob Mueller.
Is he going to talk to him or not? Are we just hanging in suspension while we wait for the Mueller investigation?
David Brooks: Yes, with Donald Trump, it’s really hard to distinguish sound from signal. Because he’s so impulsive, things are floating in all directions.
And are things a passing mood, or is it a designed intent to achieve some goal? What struck me about the story was that he didn’t just say, fire that guy Mueller. He had actually done some homework, or somebody had done some homework, and he had three 'legal' arguments about why it was the right thing to do.
That suggests it’s more than just a guy waking up in a bad mood and tweeting out something. It was an actual effort.
But as Jack Goldsmith said, it is striking how the White House staff seems to be getting better at sort of managing around him, and is devising strategies to keep him from self-destructing.
Judy Woodruff: It is speculation, Mark, but if the President were to fire or ask others in his administration to fire Robert Mueller, what would the reaction be, you think?
Mark Shields: I think there would be a firestorm at this point.
How long and how intense, I don’t know, because I remain just perplexed at the limit of the finite limits of our outrage, or our sense of outrage, Judy.
And, I mean, the three reasons that David mentioned, one was that Bob Mueller had a quarrel at a Donald Trump country club over the fees charged. Second was that Bob Mueller’s law firm had represented Jared Kushner, totally disassociated items.
And the third was that Donald Trump, the President, had invited Bob Mueller in to be interviewed for FBI director, and therefore there was a — there’s somebody there serving him up stuff, but it’s this kind of stuff.
But I think it really comes down to, who’s going to stand with him? And I look at the Republicans on the Hill and, you know, the lack, the tower of Jell-O that is the speaker of the House. As Jack Goldsmith pointed out, Devin Nunes is out of control.
Judy Woodruff: Well, that’s what I want to ask you both about.
I asked Jack Goldsmith, could this campaign, this effort by some Republicans in the House and with support from the White House to undermine the FBI, could that have a long-lasting effect on the Justice Department in the end?
David Brooks: Yes, I think so.
One of the things that people should know is that there are honest brokers in Washington. There are career people who really do their job, and they try to be good umpires. And some of those people, by the way, have private political opinions, but they leave that at the door when they go to work.
And the FBI is filled with honest brokers, the Congressional Budget Office. There are a lot of agencies that are filled with honest brokers, and the idea that everybody in this city is a politician is just not true. It’s always amazing to me that a lot of people in government, they are not actually that political. They believe in the public service and they try to do their jobs, but they’re not sort of super political people.
They just believe in public service. But there’s been a campaign to say, no, those doesn’t exist, it’s all politics, everybody is partisan.
And the people who are partisan have trouble understanding people who are not. There was an interesting moment on Sean Hannity's show last night. When it came out that this story came out, he said, oh, it didn’t happen, Sean Hannity said. He denied it ever happen.
And then some FOX journalists confirmed that it did happen. And so then he turned around, well, it did happen, but Trump was absolutely right to do it.
So there was one 180. And then Trump turned around and said, oh, it’s fake news, and then so Hannity did another 180, his third 180 — he’s getting — it’s like figure skating — and he said, it never happened.
And so FOX can do a party-line switch and do — are Republicans willing to stand up to that? That’s an open question.
Judy Woodruff: And the question is, what’s the effect on the public servants?
Mark Shields: It’s corrosive. And it’s corrosive.
How long has it been since the President has said, public service is a noble calling, that you’re doing the public’s business, that we’re grateful to you, that you’re a patriot for your public service and the contribution you’re making?
The idea, Judy, that the FBI, made up of professional law enforcement people, is a hornet’s nest of bleeding-heart, knee-jerk liberal lefties, which is what Trey Gowdy and these people are selling, is that somehow there is a great cabal, left-wing.
First of all, they’re not political. And the ones who have run for public office have overwhelmingly runs as conservative Republicans, as sort of law and order candidates. So it’s just — it’s not only harmful.
Donald Trump, to use the fake news — I mean, he is the boy who called wolf now on this. He’s calling fake news the charge today. And I think he’s overusing that term.