"Shields and Brooks on James Comey’s tell-all, Paul Ryan’s retirement" PBS NewsHour 4/13/2018
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join John Yang to discuss the week’s news, including James Comey’s memoir detailing his interactions with and impressions of President Trump, what House Speaker Paul Ryan’s retirement means for the GOP and the pardoning of Scooter Libby.
John Yang (NewsHour): But first to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks, who joins us tonight from San Francisco.
Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
We have a lot of talk about the new book by James Comey. He talks about — describes the President as being unethical, untethered to the truth, and describes his presidency as a forest fire.
David, let me start with you.
What — from what you have read of the reporting and the excerpts, what’s your takeaway?
David Brooks, New York Times: Well, I think President Trump has done a pretty good job of confirming everything Comey said by his tweets today. I mean, the word slimeball shouldn’t be coming out of the White House.
I think it’s aptly titled. One of the things we see in this book is a guy who is like, frankly, a lot of people who work in government in Washington as part of the career civil service, that their loyalty is not to red and blue. And we’re used to covering politics as a red and blue tribal war.
But their loyalty is to their profession, to their agency, to their institution, to some other set of standards. And they get in the middle of red-blue fights and they probably have their own personal opinions, but Comey seems to be a guy who has loyalties to other things.
And he’s offended Democrats mightily. He’s offended the Republican President mightily. And I think he passes the smell test, by and large. And I so think he’s honest that it could — it’s quite possible that Donald Trump didn’t do anything criminal here, but did do something mafioso-like. And that’s, frankly, not a completely new revelation.
John Yang: Mark?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: I think David makes a very good point about Jim Comey, who has been a rather remarkable public servant for a long time and then found himself, in 2016, on the receiving end of vilification from both candidates, from the Clinton people for his handling of the e-mail matter right up to the Election Day, and by the Trump people since and then his firing.
And the President’s adding to the sort of annals of American Presidential rhetoric this week, along with malice toward none and charity toward all, and the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, to a weak and untruthful slimeball is what he’s called James Comey.
I do think that this is not to be confused with the “Fire and Fury” book, which was great gossip and great anecdotage. This is the testimony, straightforwardly, on the record, of a rather remarkable public servant who kept notes on everything and gives his own testimony. It’s not hearsay. This is what he says.
And I think it will be given great attention. It’s already gotten great sales. And it will become part of the national dialogue, and much to the consternation of the President.
John Yang: David, I have got to ask you. There is so much of what has been said about this in the press is talking about the sort of personal comments and personal observations about the President, the size of his hands, the complexion, orange tone to his — hue to his face.
It sort of feels like — does it feel to you that Comey is goading the President in a way?
David Brooks: Not really.
And that reads to me like novelistic detail. One of the things we know about Comey is, he’s a serious reader. He’s a big fan of Reinhold Niebuhr, as am I. And so I think he was trying to write a book which had some literary detail that 'you are there.'
I do think, in general, from what I have read of the book and the excerpts, it passes the smell test. One important moment for me was his description of his handling of the Clinton e-mails.
And now he says, my goal consciously wasn’t to let politics influence my decision. But he allows — and this is him showing some vulnerability — he allows the possibility that the thought of her winning election and then having the e-mail investigation come out might seem illegitimate to people.
And he didn’t want her to be elected and then something new comes out right after the election. He thought that might hurt the institution of the Presidency. And so he allows that possibility could have had some unconscious influence on him.
And that strikes me as a man who is looking at himself and saying, is it possible I messed up? Is it possible I was influenced in ways that I wasn’t consciously aware of? That strikes me, by the standards of Washington memoirs, as a reasonably high level of honesty.
Mark Shields: And I think one thing that we will see is, he is a very effective witness on his own behalf. And he’s going — it’s full-court press.
There’s going to be media coverage. He will be on the “NewsHour.” He will be on the networks. He will be everywhere. And he will be answering all the questions, and he will influence, if not drive, much of the conversation for the next couple of weeks.