"Shields and Brooks on Cohen filings and Bush’s legacy" PBS NewsHour 12/7/2018
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week’s political news, including the latest court filings on Michael Cohen, President Trump’s new nominees, and the legacy of George H.W. Bush.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): This week, our nation mourned a President, and got a better glimpse of the investigation into the current commander in chief and his ties to Russia.
There is a lot to unpack tonight with Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Hello to both of you. So, there's a lot of news tonight. It's Friday, as we have seen on a lot of Fridays, David.
The special counsel, Robert Mueller, and not only he, but the Southern District of New York, the prosecutors there, have made public what they call filings that detail activities by people who are close to the President, specifically Michael Cohen, who's his former lawyer. And later on, we had another filing about Paul Manafort.
We have been listening, trying to — rapidly reading through this. What do we think it adds up to? What does it tell us?
David Brooks, New York Times: First, these guys are not very good cooperators. If you're going to cooperate, cooperate.
But Manafort is going to jail probably for the rest of his life, and Cohen is getting a healthy sentence, because he sort of semi-cooperated, something like that.
But I think what we're seeing is the pace ramp up on a lot of fronts. They are clearly interested, and they're more contacts than we knew with Russia in 2015 with the campaign, the so-called synergy they apparently found, and then especially the business dealings, Trump's dealings in Moscow.
And my instinct is that there's going to be a lot more investigation into business than there is into Russia collusion. There's just a lot more there.
And the other sense you get is a lot of Republicans are looking at this White House, and they are seeing an administration under a lot of judicial and legal threat and a lot under political threat, and they see a White House Counsel's Office that is denuded of authority and people.
And then what they call the membrane around Trump is failing. And the membrane is the group of people they put around Trump to protect him from themselves. And over the years, the Hope Hicks of the world and maybe in the next few days the John Kellys of the world are going and gone.
And so you see a Trump unprotected from himself. And you're beginning to see a lot of Republicans who are looking seriously at 2019, with a lot of Fridays like this one, and Trump really hurting himself and maybe not serving out the term.
Judy Woodruff: It's a lot, Mark.
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: It is.
Judy Woodruff: What do you — I mean, start with the filings, though. What do you see here? Are we — what are we learning?
Mark Shields: Well, I mean, I don't know, Judy.
I look at Michael Cohen. And he turned over computers. He turned over tapes. He turned over everything. He turned over his life. He had a public conversion to virtue. And it saved him a year, it looks like. I mean, that's what it looks like anyway to the layman from the outside. It certainly doesn't look like he's skating by any means.
So, I'm not sure if he gave what he thought he was giving or what they thought he was giving or whether there was a miscommunication. I don't know. But it did not seem like a major reduction to me.
Judy Woodruff: It's not clear.
Mark Shields: No, it's not clear. It's not clear. And I don't pretend to be an authority on it.
I would say that Manafort is looking at a difficult choice. I mean, it looks like he was trying to keep channels open to the White House, where the ultimate executive pardon lies, and with a mercurial President, and got caught at it. That's what it appears to be.
Judy Woodruff: And David's reporting on what he's hearing from Republicans expressing concern about the kind of pressure the President is — not that he hasn't been under pressure, but that it now seems to be coming together in a way that he — that is serious.
Mark Shields: Yah, I'm not......
I have yet to see that kind of independence on the part of Republicans. I have seen the concern there, but it's Donald Trump's party. It really is. I mean, there's no question. It's the Mark Sanford experience of 2018 that has burnt into the mind and the consciousness of every Republican who is looking at 2020.
That is the idea that Donald Trump, with just the snap of a finger or an unfortunate or unflattering comment, can cost you renomination in your own Republican primary. Sanford had been a governor, been a member of the House, and just by Trump's kind of dismissive lost the primary.
And it made no difference that his party ended up losing the general. That's where the concern is. I do not see that streak of independence, other than by those who are leaving. I have yet to see it among those who are looking to 2020.
David Brooks: I didn't say in public. Yet they're still afraid. They know how it's Trump's party.
Mark Shields: Yes.
David Brooks: But in private, it took them a while to really digest the election results and what it meant that Democrats control the House.
And then — and so what you see is that there's going to ramp up the political pressure. The Southern District may be more important than Mueller. You just got a legal — and then there's more fear, worry, almost mania, in the White House, as they feel all the safety guardrails coming out.
And so they really don't know what's going to happen. And to me, the including thing — the crucial thing over the next year — or a crucial thing — is how the base Republicans react if there are indictments, if there is a political catastrophe, if people start leaving the White House in droves.
The Republican base is still very pro-Trump. On the talk radio circuit, they're getting rid of anyone like Mike Medved, who is a radio — right-wing conservative radio jockey who is not pro-Trump. They're replacing him with pro-Trump.
"The Weekly Standard," a magazine I used to work at, it may be closed because it's not sufficiently pro-Trump.
So what you see is the Republican base going so pro-Trump, at the exact moment when it's possible the wheels are coming off the whole thing.
Judy Woodruff: And Mark?
Mark Shields: I mean, they're really slow learners, Judy, Republicans are.
I mean, they lost the midterms by more votes than any midterm election in the history of the country, all right? The Republicans got fewer. Democrats got more votes.
I mean, I don't know what point has to be driven home to them. Donald Trump announced the day after election it was a great victory. That's 40 seats later. And with North Carolina 9 still hanging in the balance, it could be 41 seats later.
So I don't know what they — they lost 324 house seats, state legislative seats. I mean, it was a pretty stinging rebuke of the sitting administration.