tv Washington Week PBS July 21, 2017 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT
>> disruptions and eruptions. president trump looks to box in rocket mueller's russia investigation and a staff shakeup rocks the west ring. i'm rob robert. we explore the looming showdown over pardons, conflicts of interests and trump family finances. tonight on "washington week." bombshell reports reveal the president's legal team is looking to blunt the russia investigation. scouring robert muler and his investigators. looking for conflicts of interest they can use to discredit the investigation. mr. trump is also exploring his authority to pardon aides, family members and even himself, as mueller checks trump's business transactions, the president issues a warning --
his family's personal finances should be offlimit. >> looking at your if i thans and your family's finance unrelated to russia. is that a red line? >> i would say yes. >> by the way, i would say i don't -- i mean, it's possible for a condo or something. somebody from russia buys a condo, who knows? robert: and inside the white house, sudden statue changes. the spokesman exits as a wall street player comes in. we explore it all with peter baker of "the new york times," molly ball of "the atlantic," and dan balz of the "washington post." >> celebrating 50 years, this is "washington week." funding is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive.
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washington, moderator robert costa. robert: good evening. president trump's first six months have been defined by executive orders, a stalemate over health care and russia. he has governed as he campaigned. independently, defiantly and often with controversy. the one constant, that shadow cast by the ongoing investigations into russia's election meddling. the president shared his frustrations with the "new york times" this week in an overwhelm office interview. he requested the -- quelled the scope of his counsel and called out his own attorney general, jeff saysings -- sessions. >> so jeff sessions takes the job, gets into the job. recuses himself, which frankly i think the very unfair to the president. how do you take a job and then recuse yourself? robert: sessions was the first sitting senator to endorse
trump's candidacy. he says he will continue doing his job. >> active honor of serving as attorney general. it's something that goes beyond any thought i would have ever had for myself and i plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate. robert: been but another high-profile member of the presidents team handed in his resignation too. white house price -- press secretary sean spicer resigned over the hiring of anthony scaramucci, a wall street financier. attorney general jeff sessions, now the resignation of sean spicer. >> beyond that he expressed disappointment at deputy attorney general, the acting fick director, a number of others this week. his legal team seems to be in something of an you roar. the spokesman for his personal leaguing -- legal team also
resigned. this is a big week and shows the white house hasn't yet gotten its footing. he hopes that the hiring of anthony scaramucci will help but instead of solving the tribal conflicts it seems to bait them. priebus, the chief of staff was said to be against the hiring of scaramucci. others might have also been osupposed. -- opposed. robert: is he trying to contain with the legal team, dan, all this unfolding drama on the russia investigation and politically to find his foot something dan: politically it will be difficult to find his footing as long as the rub -- russia investigation goes on and i think he understands that. it's clear that he sees the russian investigation as getting in the way of everything else he would like to do or believes he would be able to do. it appears as though he is
looking for a way to provoke some kind of conflict. in all kinds of ways he seems to be moving toward what could be a huge collision with the special counsel. molly: a president trying to contain the damage of an ongoing scandal doesn't tweet about it constantly, doesn't call "new york times" reporters into the oval office to talk about it for an hour and say a lot of things that seem to get him in deeper trouble. sort of pointing a neon sign for the prosecutors where they shouldn't look. part of the problem that sean pies intoer and everyone else around the president has had is trump isn't interested himself in fixing the problem. he seize this as a communications problem, it's all the people around him who are not fighting for him hard enough. robert: peter, you were up close with the president in the oval
office in that "new york times" sbufment was he the one who kept bringing up russia? peter: we saw him after having lunch with the republican senators to talk about health care. if i could revive a bill everyone else seems to think is dead. he was no in a good move. debate seem agitated or upset. he talked about the economy doing well. he said the stock markets were up. he seemed in a good model. we were the ones who brought up russia. any other president i think would have said i can't talk about that but let me tell you about health care or infrastructure. he made no move to move the subject back to the chosen talking points. he wanted to talk about it. this is what we've seen for six months. staff may want him to focus on this or that. he likes the fight. he wants to have the fight. he wants to engage in the fight.
robert: let's listen to anthony scaramucci for a second. he had his debut today at the white house at a news conference and to peter's point, if the president is looking for a fighter, he seems to have found one. >> the president has really good karma and the world turns back to him. he's genuinely a wonderful human member and -- being and i think as members of congress get more comfortable with him they're going to let him lead them to the right things for the american people. robert: a wall street personality is this is -- the presence that can come in and steady this white house? >> maybe and i think we should all give him an opportunity to do that but i think you're dealing with a president who in the end makes his own decisions. whether he's the communicator in chief, the chief of staff in chief. he makes those decisions and he
makes them impulsively, which means that anybody who is serving him as very little ability to proactively prevent those things from happening. we've seen this time and time again. the president goes into an interview and says thing that his statue has no anticipation that he's going to do. the other element is that the president in one way or another seems to believe that if you just get the right people in the right places these problems will begin to melt away. when, in fact, the problem is the problems, not the people around him. robert: i was truck by the fact in this interview, people think we lead him down the primrose path by asking him these questions and he can't help himself. he's more disciplined than we give him credit for. we asked repeatedly what he would do with robert mueller if he crossed the line and he repeatedly didn't say what we
expected to him to say, i'd fire him. whereas with jeff sessions, he did go there. he did choose to say i wouldn't have appointed this guy had i known i was going to recuse myself. he did showplaces where we would rule off talking about and places he dialed decided to go down. robert: why was that? why is the president, if he's interested in firing middle schooler, not interested in firing the special -- mueller, not interested in firing the special counsel, sit because of the political cost? molly: i don't know but there is a message he intends to drive. it's just that the message that he wants to send is a message to the investigators who are conducting this investigation. he wants them to know he is watching. i think he wants them to be a bit intimidated. he wants them to know there is
research on the special counsel. he wants to know this threat that's not quite a threat over mull mowler and the special investigation. -- mueller and the special investigation. i think anyone who knows bob muler and has followed his career would not think he would be intimidated by that. robert: did he want the attorney general to feel the heat as well? molly: he clearly did. robert: it's striking that the attorney general, jeff sessions, decides not to resign even though the president rebuked him. >> february or march, the attorney general recused himself from this investigation. since then they worked on a lot of issues where they agree. they agree closely on immigration, criminal sentencing and a lot of things but in is sticking in the president's craw. i've never heard a president say that about an attorney general. >> i was going to go back to one of the points that molly just
made about the veiled threats. it's a common tact they can the president uses and he doesn't necessarily follow through on it. whether it's talking about north korea or talking about legislators. he will suggest certain things but doesn't really act on them in any real time. i think at a point people let it wash fast them. if you're bob muler and his team i'm sure you're take it all in. >> bob mueller has nothing to lose. f.b.i. director for 1 years. if he were fired tomorrow, it would be fine. robert: the president keeps talking about containing the special counsel and having research about the investigators but the republican party isn't falling in line with this white house strategy. molly: that's right. people keep asking when are the republicans in congress going to turn on trump and go hard
against him? i don't think they have any motivation or inclination to do that. they are starting to turn on each other. part of what you're save seeing as one of my colleagues called republican-on-republican in the capitol. they're taking it out on their approximate targets. the senator firing at the house. the house firing at the senator -- senate and the end result is a complete stalemate. to where the republicans really naught that having consolidated control of the congress and the white house would mean this could really implement an agenda, there habilitate been a single piece of major legislation signed by the president in part because they don't feel they have strong leadership, strong direction. robert: you're seeing ink lingses of how the republicans are a little fed up with this russian issue. donald trump jr., who had the
meeting last summer with the russian lawyer, they're going to meet privately with the senate judiciary committee. you see republicans on capitol hill being proactive in pursuing these things. >> you're right. that's a big deal and jeff sessions could be in further trouble in the same thing. your prepare is reporting tonight that the ambassador from russia actually did talk about campaign-related things with jeff sessions last year when he was a surrogate for the campaign. contrary to the assertions that general sessions has made. this has not played out yet. robert: is sessions because of this new post story and because of his stance from the president, is his time perhaps limitsed in the cabinet or is this an administration where you can have these kinds of tensions and still linger on? >> i would say it's the latter rather than the fovement people
have these situations. they seem compromised or humiliated. they stay in their jobs somewhat indefinitely. this latest story about jeff sessions will put him in trouble again. i'm sure he will argue that kizliak could say whatever he wanted to to his leaders in moscow but that was a lie and wasn't the days and how do you disprove it? it's going to put him in further hot water. i think peter is right that he has things he's doing that are in concert with the president. he's going to try to get things done. and with everybody around the president, they want to push this to the side. republicans on the hill wants to push this aside and try to move ahead. >> donald trump likes to keep people around him off balance. i think you're right, people have learned that you can stick around for an awful long time even if he's publicly -- steve
bannon is still there. prince rebound us is still there. kellyanne conway is still there and so forth. corey was fired last year but he's sort of still back. >> the most public person in some respects besides the president, sean spicer. he has become a national select because of his betrails on "saturday night live." he stepped away. he had enough at six months. molly: that's interesting because he wasn't fired. he quit and trump was surprised. trump thought that even though he might have said this was a bridge too far, he didn't expect him to leave because trump use -- views this as a sort of endurance contest where he can keep giving people more and more crap, if i can say that on public television and they keep taking it. as peter said at the top of the show he has governed very much as he campaigned.
this was the pattern. constant conflict all the around him this feuding cloud of personalities. he gins it up. it's very reality-show-like. >> we were talking with a white house person that and said looking back at the campaign, they look at it as the team was together. where they were actually more o-- cohesive than they can remember and today it's gotten so much worse. >> part of that was it was a much smaller, tighter team. as a campaign you have the ability to control events a little bit more, probably a lot more than you do in a white house. stuff comes at you and in this white house that russia thing keeps coming. >> when you look at the spicer farture, it's not just about sean spicer as a person but what it reveals about trump's relationship with the republican party.
rinse priebus and -- are the symbols. the confirmation of judge core such. they've had this russia crowd. the republican party i think perhaps is having its own problems right now. molly: taking a a -- apart a lot of executive actions by the obama administration and then the deregulation bills that the congress has passed thofmentse are the bills they'll point to when you ask them what they've done so far. it was a preexisting condition of trump coming along and you can argue that trump exploited them to get the nomination but he hasn't done anything to settle those zpulets. he doesn't have a clear enough position that he would bring everybody around -- everybody knows he wants a win on health care but nobody wants -- knows
what he wants in the bill. he has them at the rose garden one day. the next day he turns around and calls them mean. kind of like his staff, they're always tiptoeing around on eggshells. as a congressman told me this week, yes, republicans were divided. that's nothing new. there was one thing that couch united the plan and that was leadership from the president. robert: peter, turning back to russia for a second. when i read through your transcript with your colleagues, how nervous is this white house about mueller's pursuit of the trump family's financial railroads ro, about trump sorks with russia over the years. russia purchase of trump properties is. this issue truly the red line that's going to make this situation erupt even further? peter: i think you heard it in that clip that you played. i have nothing to do with
russia. maybe some condos. it was an almost disjointed explanation of what financial ties he did or didn't have with russia, trying to suggest he has none when in fact there have been purchase of these condos that are sizable, millions of familiars and i think they're very worried about that. it was the finances that got him to say -- robert: and perhaps the tax returns. do we know if mueller has access to tax returns? peter: we think that we can get him but i'm not an expert on that. we have no indication so far that he's gotten them. peter: mueller has hired some people on that team who have expertise in financial forensics, in a sense. that had to worry the president and gerald kushner as well and to the steblets that this investigation widings and -- wild and go into that area as well as other areas we know
they're pursuing, that has to cut very clowe to the president. he's been very private about those finances, very guarded with any real details about hem. who knows what's there but if he thinks that there's a team of prosecutors combing through all the of that and s&ping and gathering records, -- subpoenaing and gathering records, that's going to keep him on edge. robert: who really speaks for the president. is -- white house? is it the president himself? the longtime personal lawyer being pushed aside. is it the president himself? molly: it is the president and i think everyone around him knows that they are going to have to scramble to adjust to anything that he puts out. he does have these many unfiltered channels of communication that he refuses to put down and i know there are people that have declined to work for the white house because
they know there's no guarantee that the president won't sort of step all over their toes. but he also, as we know, watches a lot of television. i don't know if he watches pbs on friday night but he does like a watch of cable tv and he likes to hear myself sort of reflected back to him. he likes someone like a kellyanne connie. a say seculo, the personal lawyer who has fall than statue -- rise than stature buzz he fights for the president. robert: molly, i assume all political junkies are watching. what kind of political capital does this president have with russia headaching over him? peter: in your paper's poll, 36% is the lowest rating any president has ever had in this point in their presidency. obviously it gives you a real
head wind you're fighting against. he pointed out that president obama hadn't gotten his health care bill passed at this point in his presidency. that, in fact, most first-year president don't necessarily have their biggest accomplishments legislatively in the first six months. the problem is nobody can see the path to get there. do they keep going on health care, do they move on to tax cuts and infrastructure? republicans are restless and about to head home at some point for an august recess where they'll have to face voters and explain what they've been up to. robert: final thoughts? >> i would have to say that to the degree he has political capital and he does, is the base that elected him president. they are still very much with him and that provides for him some bouncy as he takes on all
these other battles. he thinks he's doing for them -- they think he's doing for hem -- them what he's trying to do and is being frilet -- frustrated by all these other forces. robert: the president has karma, as was said. we'll see. before we go, we want to pause tonight to send our thoughts and prayers out to arizona senator john mccain. the 2008 republican presidential nominee is battling brain cancer. it was discovered during surgery to remove a blood clot from above his left eye. mccain, an 80-year-old former navy pilot survived five and a half years as a prisoner of war in vietnam. heart warm words of support came from politicians on both sides of the aisle. mccain wrote -- i greatly
appreciate the outpouring of support. unfortunately for my sparring partners in congress, bill back soon so stand by. god speed, president mccain. we'll talk about republican efforts to resuscitate health care reform next time and why president trump is blaming kratz for the collapse of the senate bill this week. until next time, i'm robert costa. thanks. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- we've all been affected by cancer. some way, somehow. dina farwer sanser institute is pursuing breakthroughs every day
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