tv Washington Week PBS January 26, 2018 7:30pm-8:01pm PST
robert: a presidential order months ago up-ends washington this week. i'm robert costa. president trump's handling of robert mueller's russia probe once again front and center. all as he makes his sales pitch to the world, tonight on "washington week." president trump: very excited. robert: president trump's debut at a global summit is overshadowed by bombshell reports that he demanded the firing of special counsel robert mueller. president trump: fake news, folks. robert: one of the president's confidante's, news max c.e.o. chris ruddy, told the "pbs newshour" last june, that mr. trump was actively considering firing mueller. >> i think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. i think he's weighing that option. robert: and there are new reports that at least 20 current
and former white house staffers have spoken with mueller's team. it all comes as the senate intelligence committee prepares to release transcripts of interviews with donald trump jr. and jared kushner. some republican critics of the russia probe are raising questions about the integrity of the f.b.i. the democratic response to reports of a secret club of anti-trump agents -- >> paranoia, delusion. why? robert: plus, president trump strikes a more inclusive tone on his america-first doctrine. president trump: the america first does not mean america alone. robert: we will get insights and analysis from brian bennett of the "los angeles times," yian emmy of cnbc, jake sherman,
michael crowley, and jake sherman. >> celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow. some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> on a cruise with american cruise lines, you can experience historic destinations along the mississippi river, the columbia river, and across the united states. american cruise lines fleet of small ships.
explore american landmarks, local culters, and calm waterways. american cruise lines, proud sponsor of "washington week." >> additional funding is provided by newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, from washington, moderator, robert costa. robert:good evening. new developments in the russia story with multiple outlets reporting that president trump ordered the firing of robert mueller just weeks after he was
appointed special counsel. that revelation comes amid reports that mueller's probe has engaged with top officials in the white house and the cabinet. 20 white house staffers have voluntarily talked with the special counsel. he has also spoken with attorney general jeff sessions, c.i.a. director mike pompeo and former f.b.i. director james comey, among others. the "new york times" broke the story that president trump ordered white house counsel to fire mueller last june based on what he called conflicts of interest. mcgin refused and threatened to quit. here's what the president said last august when he was asked if he considered the dismissal. president trump: i haven't given it any thought. i have been rhythm -- reading about it from you people, you say, oh, i'm going to dismiss him. no, i'm not dismissing anybody.
robert: white house lawyer ty cobb responded with a brief statement. "we decline to comment out of respect for the special counsel and its process." joining me now are investigative reporters mark mazzetti, "new york times" and carol leonnig, "the washington post." mark, your colleagues, michael schmidt and maggie haberman broke the story this week about president trump's demand. just how far did he go and what are the implications for the mueller probe? mark: as they reported, the president pushed his white house counsel, don mcgin, last june, to fire special counsel robert mueller, giving a number of reasons for why he thought mueller had a conflict of interest and couldn't oversee the probe, but recall that this was the time that mueller was -- it was publicly reported that mueller was directly focused on trump in the investigation. he was actually investigating
possible obstruction of justice as part of his broad russia investigation. i think the timing is quite interesting and despite mcgahn pushing back and not ultimately following through on what the president wanted clearly shows the president's intent to get rid of mueller and concern possibly about what mueller was doing. robert: that question of intent hovers over all of this. what's next for the white house counsel, don mcgahn, confidante of the president. should we be expecting him to be asked to testify on capitol hill? carol: i don't know if that testimony is the central point. there may be people who want to ask him that exact thing but what's interesting is what he already told special counsel bob mueller. we there were when we saw him enter the special counsel's office for his interview and it strikes me that what he's already told the federal investigators looms large over the president as he faces his interview in the coming two to
three weeks, soon to be scheduled interview. did mcgahn say the president pressured me to fire someone, and i threw down the gauntlet? how does don mcgahn, the white house counsel, describe that? that will be gripping testimony. robert: a fol that, if you think about mcgahn going to meet with the mueller team, is it unusual to have this kind of cooperation from a white house that's under scrutiny? carol: i think it is unusual how many aides have volunteered for an interview that are very, very much the inner circle of donald trump's white house. imagine the white house counsel being used as a witness against you on a case, whether it's a charge or not, a case of obstruction. that's very striking. but ultimately the white house aides and advisers don't have a choice. if robert mueller and his team want your cooperation, they'll
either get it voluntarily or they'll get it through a subpoena, as evidenced by the one they served on senior adviser, former senior adviser steve bannon, when he declined to have an f.b.i. interview when agents visited his home earlier this month. robert: mark, when we look at this incident, how does it fit into the broader mueller investigation with regard to possible obstruction of justice? because the mueller investigation, as we know, was started about russia interference and the election but it seems the scope has broadened? mark: yeah, and it's also, i think, dangerous, to try to read too much into any one incident or thing that's reported as signaling what mueller is or is not doing but i think what we've learned the last couple of weeks about his interview of jeff sessions, some other interviews, indicates that clearly he is focused as one part of the
investigation, on a possible case of obstruction against the president. we reported this week that he interviewed sessions last week and was particularly interested in the question of the firing of comey, and other matters that might play into this overall category of obstruction of justice. however, when you look at the sessions testimony, of course, sessions would be able to speak to not only what the president did since taking office, because sessions was attorney general, but he was also questioned about what happened during the campaign because sessions was a campaign adviser and this goes to the other half of the mueller inquiry, which is, was there any collusion between the trump campaign and the russians and since sessions was in so many of those meetings discussing these topics, certainly mueller wants to know about that, as well. robert: carol, what does that mean for the presidential interview that hasn't happened yet? the president strolled down the halls of the west wing to his
chief of staff office to say he would be willing to meet with the mueller team. is that going to happen or not? carol: the president's lawyers have told me they're ultimately leaning towards having their client, the first client, be interviewed by bob mueller's team. but they'll make that decision as they negotiate the terms. they felt that the president spoke sort of off the cuff and maybe a little prematurely by offering that interview. i think that it will be fascinating because i wonder if really the president realizes how many people have been interviewed, that he's spoken to directly about some of these instances, like his interest in firing comey, his interest in sessions stepping down or being forced out, his interest in mueller being removed. i wonder if he really has a sense from his team or from his memory, about how many times he's brought up these things,
because all of that information is now in the hands of bob mueller. robert: mark, final read on where president trump stands -- is he leaning towards sitting down with the mueller team or is he going to fight back, as he said to reporters this week? mark: i think it's fascinating, to carol's point, that there's an ongoing negotiation here and clearly his lawyers were worried about losing leverage in the negotiation when the president just comes out and says it. take the president at his word and that he does want to talk to mueller, he thinks that he can -- he can negotiate with mueller or he can give himself a clean bill of health. but as carol's pointed out, he has no sense of what has come before him, what else people have testified to and the biggest concern or one of the biggest concerns of his lawyers would be perjury and that this is a perjury trap. so the lawyers did try to walk it back a little bit. i do think something certainly will happen but this will be a
bit of a back-and-forth. robert: the president will also probably pay attention to what's published in the "new york times" and "the washington post." what a great war for our country to have all this reporting this week. mark mazzetti, "new york times," and carol leonnig, "the washington post." republicans have supported mueller in his investigation saying he's an honest man doing his duty but this twist, it could raise questions about whether the president was trying to fire him and whether republicans will respond. jake, that's the question on capitol hill. how do republicans, who you cover every day in congress, respond to this news? jake: they've said back, a little bit back and forth, that they would pass legislation to ensure mueller doesn't get canned. lindsey graham -- these aren't -- these are people who are friendly with the president -- have said they want to protect mueller, they want to protect the government and the investigation. they've not done so yet. and we'll see if they do.
i think as we all know, doing anything proactive in washington is very rare. robert: is there republican support that could grow in the coming days for the bills to protect mueller? jake: that's a good question. probably not. i think that would be difficult to get that through the house where you have a conservative wing of the party that would like to see mueller go, who thinks he's a quack. you have some of the conservative republicans, many in the house freedom caucus, who are on tv pushing all sorts of conspiracy theories about mueller and the f.b.i. and about the investigative process in this country. >> i think that's exactly the thing that increases the stakes for the midterm elections. if the senate or the house flips in the midterm elections and you know that in the first elections after a new president is elected, oftentimes there's a wave election so i know the republicans are nervous about that and if the democrats gain
control of one of the houses, suddenly you have investigative committees and momentum to pass legislation to do things like protect mueller, like increase the powers of independent council. robert: could it be more than that, brian? are the democrats prepared if they take the the house, because of the president's conduct, are they ready to move on impeachment? brian: there are democrats that are holding off out there and they don't want tom stire out in california. they want to keep the focus on the russia investigation and not take the step of impeachment, that it's too early. but it might be something they bring up in a year or two. robert: there's a policy question overhanging this discussion about u.s. sanctions on russia. where does that stand? yian: the trump administration has tried to show it's willing to take a strong stand against russia. just today, the treasury
department issued sanctions against 30 officials and firms in both russia and ukraine who supported russia's invasion of crimea. so that was a first step. but what everyone is really waiting for is the treasury department, next week, release a report that's supposed to pave the way for perhaps more onerous sanctions that would be targeted potentially against russian officials, against russia's top business leaders. and that would be the sanctions that are related to the bill that congress passed in august requiring the administration to pass sanctions on russia because russia's alleged interference in the 2016 elections. now, russia says that these sanctions are absurd, that they're not working. in fact, this economy is growing. it's expected to grow 3% next year. so it's unclear exactly how much of a direct effect some of these sanctions will have and how effective they will be in ensuring that russia feels the
economic pain that the u.s. is hoping to impose to avoid a more direct political involvement. robert: michael, you've been editing stories about devin nunes, republican of california. we have been talking about the clamor on the right about mueller's credibility. how far is he going to take this memo he has yet to release? michael: looks like he'll push it far. if you're following conservative media only, you might barely even know that trump threatened or tried to fire robert mueller in june. what you would be following is the supposed real scandal which is that the justice department and f.b.i. are tainted with anti-trump bias and that officials there basically let their supposed hatred for trump poison the initial investigation which, through a chain of events, has led to special counsel robert mueller, including an initial surveillance warrant issued against carter page, trump foreign policy adviser. it's a complicated story.
but to boil it down, republicans on the house intelligence committee led by devin nunes have compiled a secret memo -- you have to go in and read it if you're a member of congress -- that purports to expose how the bias launched the investigation at the justice department and f.b.i. so what nunes and republicans in the house want to do is release this memo to the public, even though the justice department has said there would be terrible consequences. i believe in a letter from a senior justice department official, it would reckless to put that out because it could threaten sources and methods. if and when the house threatens to do this, it goes to donald trump's desk and trump decides whether or not to make the memo public. you have the justice department saying don't do it. trump's son, donald jr., has tweeted 35 times at least on this one issue. trump will be the decider.
robert: that's happening in in e house, jake, where you live, in washington, covering the u.s. house. we used to hear from house republicans that the president never fires mueller, that's a red line. is that still the case? jake: no, but on this memo, this came up in the government funding debate. conservatives pushed the speaker and the majority leader to release the memo as a condition for their support for keeping the government open. in the house, it's not a red line, firing mueller at all. and i really do think in the coming weeks and months there will be a flash point and there will be some sort of movement toward the top of the party. the lindsey grahams and paul ryan's of the world, to pass something like this. >> it's really important to note that the democrats call this memo misleading and distortion of the underlying intelligence and say it does not show bias and it's important that people understand, the democratic position is that this is a cynical stunt by republicans to undermine the credibility of the
russia probes. >> and a lot of tension between the democrats and republicans on the committee because of this investigation. robert: while this is happening at home, president trump took his america first message directly to the people he has cast has villains in his rise to political power -- banking titans, corporate bosses and international leaders who have spent years preaching the virtues of global integration. this week, he showed up as the president of a superpower and to a standing-room-only crowd, he made his pitch. president trump: the stock market is smashing one record after another and has added more than $7 trillion in new wealth since my election. consumer confidence, business confidence and manufacturing confidence are the highest they have been in many decades. america is open for business. robert: many world leaders hear that america-first message as one that promotes isolationism
and protectionism. >> i think it represents the view of the of the world that takes a view that globalization on intls a -- balance is a good thing in davos but america is moving away from that path. robert: is this a new donald trump? steve bannon indicated nationalism inside the administration. was this a different tone? >> he did bring the america-first message. breitbart had good reviews of trump's speech, which was surprising. seems that he walked the line, he brought the message up of america-first, we'll serve self interest, but it was a moderated tone and he hasn't blown up any of the major trade deals, still playing footsy with nafta. i think his presence there reassured people in davos in the
room. just a year before at davos, the discussion was also about trump. he wasn't there, but a lot of the leaders there were nervous trump was going to really upset global markets and launch a trade war with a bunch of very serious trade practices. and that hasn't happened yet. he's really just been nibbling around the edges on those things and i think his presence there reassured the people in the room that he wasn't going to do anything major to upset global markets while at the same time projecting his america first message to his base. robert: yian, he was touting the u.s. stock market, but what's the broader view of the policy implications brian mentioned? yian: i think this was an opportunity for president trump to play a role he hasn't been able to play in a role in the u.s., c.e.o.-in-chief, ever since his business council in america was disbanded, you haven't seen the parade of corporate titans coming to the
white house, sitting around the board room table, as they were in davos. so that's a stage and situation i think that president trump feels like it plays to his strengths and you're hearing a lot of optimism from the business community because the rhetoric that he used during the campaign trail, the populace, isolationist rhetoric, has not turned into reality. he did withdraw from t.p.p. but that was already dead. as you mentioned, he still has has -- is still renegotiating nafta and by and large, they're excited about tax cuts. that's the president's biggest legislative achievement, something that big businesses will directly benefit from. robert: michael? michael: yes, the rich are getting richer and there's a real irony. first of all, what's amazing, donald trump was never invited to davos before he was president and for him this must be vindication. they have to listen to me because i'm the most powerful man in the world now and they didn't want me before. robert: you could see it when he
was walking around, he loved the attention. michael: that's what he's all about but at the same time i'm sure there's burning insecurity about whether or not they really respect him. this will never end with donald trump. robert:we're not psychologists. michael: he was remarkably temperate and compared to the trump of the campaign, who was running ads about global elite out to get the working man, here he is in davos, applauded, talking about how everyone is getting rich and can get richer. it seems such a far cry from the steve bannon vision. robert: what does his base make of this? yian: it's a bit of a stick in the eye because he's able to project the america-first message although he added the phrase "america first, but not america alone" and said even though i was elected on a populace wave, we have a strong economy in the u.s., stock
market has reached record highs, unemployment at a record low, so even though all the things you guys said last year would happen when i was elected, didn't come to pass, and in fact, america's economy is looking stronger than it did before. robert: he doesn't act on many trade deals because he fears the stock market would react poorly. >> exactly and there is talk about what could happen in the midterms. the best thing any president could have going for him is a strong economy, falling unemployment rate. he has that wind at his back and he loves it. i expect a huge portion of his state-of-the-union speech next week will be about. >> that we saw a little bit of the donald trump from the campaign trail at davos. it wasn't in his remarks, temperate, at the end, when he said the news media was vicious and fake. robert: thanks for being with us. stay tuned for the "washington week" extra. we'll hang around and will be on most pbs stations.
watch judy woodruff and the "pbs newshour" for the state-of-the-union address next week. i'm robert costa, thanks for joining us. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow. some call them veterans.
we call them part of our team. >> american cruise lines, proud sponsor of "washington week." >> additional funding is provided by newman's own foundation, donating all profits from newman's own food products to charity and nourishing the common good. the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation. koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation, committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities. the corporation for public broadcasting, and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. thank you. >> you'r
narrator: in the summer of 1917, at dks up and down the eastern seaboard, thousands of american soldiers boarded ships bound for france. they were the vanguard of a new american army, about to enter the most destructive war the world had ever known. man: it's a watershed in american history. the united states goes from being the country on the other side of the ocean to being the preeminent world power. narrator: for president woodrow wilson, the war was a crusade "to make the world safe for democracy,"