"Shields and Brooks on Mueller developments and congressional dynamics" PBS NewsHour 11/30/2018
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks analyze the week in politics, including recent developments in the special counsel’s investigations, party dynamics after the midterm elections and the “impressive” strength shown by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) in her quest to become House Speaker.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): It has been a momentous week in the Mueller investigation.
To help us better understand the broader implications, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Hello to both of you.
So, as we just heard in Lisa's conversation, we have been watching the story all week, Mark, a lot of the information out there, a lot of it from Mr. Mueller himself, a lot more reported in the media, not confirmed yet.
What does it all add up to right now, to you?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: I think it adds up to gravity. I think it adds up to anxiety. I think it adds up to nervousness on the part of the administration, and particularly the White House.
I think, Judy, what we saw is that the President's personal attorney testifying in court, with Mr.Mueller's own ratification of his testimony, that all the way through the nominating process in 2016, right up to the eve of the convention, by the time Donald Trump had sewed up the nomination, that they were actively — he, Mr.Cohen and others were actively seeking to establish a signature property in Moscow, an ambition, as we just heard in the previous segment, of Donald Trump for more than 30 years, and in spite of Donald Trump's denials to this effect, that he said there was no such thing going on.
And I think is — I think it becomes serious that he lied to the American people throughout the campaign of 2016, now becomes, I think, a matter of at least public debate, if not presumption.
Judy Woodruff: But, David, the President is saying, but no deal developed, there was no hotel built. So is there really anything here to see?
David Brooks, New York Times: There's got to be something.
One of the things that strikes me about this investigation is that it's like a million pieces out there. There's like the Julian Assange piece, the Moscow deal piece, the tax piece, the Roger Stone, whatever he was doing, piece, paying off strippers. There's just a million pieces in this investigation. And we don't which will open on any given day.
And so that tells me that this is going to occupy the Trump presidency for a long time and probably dominate the Trump presidency for the next little while.
The second thing I think what we're learning from the Cohen — what we have learned from Michael Cohen is that Trump was probably more involved in a lot of these things than we knew before, that it wasn't just some minions off somewhere. Trump seems to have been involved in these calls and things like that.
The thing that — the crucial thing that I don't know is, when he's accused of something, he just shifts the goalposts, which is to say, he re-norms.
Mark Shields: Yes.
David Brooks: So, you say, oh, you were lying during the campaign? And he said, yes, yes, I was doing that. Fine.
You might have been compromised in Moscow to get a business deal. Yes, well, you know, that's business. That's what I was doing.
So every time he does something that any past administration would have thought, this is shocking and appalling, I'm ashamed of myself, he's completely unashamed of himself.
And so the question to me becomes — Richard Nixon was forced to reside, sort of over obstruction of justice . Suppose there's an obstruction of justice case here. Have our norms so changed that is no longer a political death sentence? And that may have happened.
Mark Shields: Yes, I think David raises a good point.
I think our — I hope and believe our norms have been changed. There's no question that Donald Trump is a mutant. I mean, he has no embarrassment gene. There's no way in the world…
Judy Woodruff: Did you say mutant?
Mark Shields: A mutant. He really is.
I mean, he's aberrational. I mean, he's not embarrassed. I mean, Richard Nixon, on tape, said, we could do this, but it was wrong, it would be wrong, and we know what's wrong.
That doesn't — that's not a construction, a sentence that would pass Donald Trump's lips. I mean, that is — it isn't the question. It's transactional? Is it to my advantage? Is it to my disadvantage? That's — that's how he sees — that is his morality. Does it enhance him? Does it in any way diminish him, which, of course, is the original and most grievous of all sins?
So I do think that our norms, I hope, have not been hopelessly impaired or damaged. And don't forget that it was, in fact, the — David is right — obstruction of justice in both the cases of Bill Clinton's impeachment, attempting to influence witnesses and how they testify, and Richard Nixon's.
So, I mean, these are serious offenses. And there are precedents for pursuing that.
David Brooks: But it seems to me this is the hardest thing for the Mueller team, is that there's a lot of prosecutorial discretion involved in these things.
At what point do we go out and say, this is enough to really challenge the President in some fundamental, existential way? And do — at what point do they think we have enough to really go out in this aggressive way? And what point do they think, no, this will just turn into a political circus?
And so the political — the norms of the culture are going to affect how Mueller is going to make that decision.
Judy Woodruff: So you really — you believe the President is changing, may be changing the norm, the cultural moral norms of this country?
David Brooks: He's being doing it since he walked on the stage.
David Brooks: I mean, that first Republican debate, he was talking about things no President ever talked about, insulting other people's looks.
And so it's just been a continual process of that. And, at some point, the norm runs into law. But, again, the law has this area of discretion that Mueller is going to have to make that case.
The thing — the thing that's hanging out there is, there's just so much. And then Mueller has — I mean, it's not really even about collusion with the Russians anymore. There's just so much out there that this person has been involved in for the past 20 years. And we just don't know what's going to spring up tomorrow.