tv David Priess How to Get Rid of a President CSPAN December 23, 2018 5:58pm-6:44pm EST
without further ado please join me to welcome david priess. [applause] . >> thank you. thank you very much. welcome. it's too bad the test tonight is so untimely it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to get rid of a president these days. but i met david when he was working on the president book of secrets when he had the presidential daily brief the cia top-secret and the summary of what's happening in the world every day and i recommend that book to you as well but he reached out to me
because i was writing a book called the gatekeepers so we compared notes on presidential secrets i have no idea how he found me but that is david as you would expect of somebody who comes out of the cia, he is resourceful, thorough and persuasive we are here tonight to talk about how to get rid of a president or an unfit chief executive. by the way it's not a manual how to boot through the 25th amendment or impeachment of the house or conviction in the senate but thoroughly engrossing and entertaining history of our fraught relationship with our presidents and all the various ways, fair and foul we have dealt with them when we get sick of them. so let me begin.
you don't come from academia or the white house press corps but the intelligence community. cia officers are not supposed rory about removing presidents. at least not american presidents. so what led you to this quick. >> former cia officer that the first book you mentioned the president book of secrets was really about presidents behaving well because it was a story largely that receive a daily intelligence report, internalize it to process information then decide how to make choices sounded better than others that i needed to balance that
and then sometimes they don't like breaking bad are behaving badly i also realize that i learned a lot about moderate presidents i still knew almost nothing of our nation's history, but yet when it comes to something as momentous as removing a president you need all the history what we have gone through before as a country i certainly did not know the history well enough also i am a political scientist and a need that to use those political systems what can i apply from what i have learned in their own countries and what we look like? . >> other than impeachment and conviction and the 25th amendment, what are some of
the ways we get rid of presidents through history? . >> those are addressed in the book they are constitutional methods for getting rid of a president but i take removal and a wide definition the founder for how to get rid of a president you vote them out you have an election four years later and then if you don't like them you say you are fired. we have done that with ten presidents have been moved in the election but you don't have to wait to an election the other method having a party reject the candidate a president who wants to stay in office but the president's own party says we have tried this and we don't want to go with you anymore.
and this is happened many times throughout history as well. not recently. both of those are not as common as they used to be we've had several two-term presidents which is unique except at the beginning of the republic. also we have not had anyone removed by their own party or rejected by their own party. george h.w. bush is the last one to face a serious primary challenge but that did not remove him from the ballot. what if you don't want to wait for the party? there is a more nefarious method it is not technically a removal taking out the office is taking the office where you leave the person in office that removes some of their powers or restrict them so much they are president in name only. at one extreme this is just
good politics the congress restricting what the president does but with another extreme it is sabotaged from with own one - - within like a presidents own advisers taking memos off of his desk so he cannot sign them. we see this has happened. and other nefarious method is assassination and nothing that we recommend that due to our own ability one person that this should not be alive. but i call it preemptive removal that if they look like they are destined for the office if they say it can be trouble to remove them as they are in office let's create a
scandal to make sure that person never reaches office in the first place i talk about henry clay he should have the best resume probably in all of american history but yet jackson did sound pretty dirty things to keep them out of office. just like hillary clinton and russian information warfare but to back them and stack them where does that leave us and what options do we have four bad presidents? . >> you have a favorite story of malfeasance? . >> we have had a lot of bad presidents but it was funny learning that in the 18 hundreds all white males most with facial hair which we
don't remember all the names of and i realize why because they were bad. they were not very good at their job one example is john tyler president 1841 when harrison died and he does such a bad job to manage his own adoptive party he is the first president to have several things happen because of henry clay had a national bank bill he wanted past according to the philosophy of the party but he vetoed the bill which was not normal based on policy disagreements so they advise the bill and he vetoed that after they wrote it all hell broke loose first of all, john
tyler was the first to have his cabinet resign almost all of them left him. the party itself voted him out. not just renominated although that was the third thing they said you're not even a part of our party anymore and forth the first president who wanted to stay in office but did not get the nomination of his party. he had the impeachment resolution brought against him but a resolution dropped in the house because he would not even agree to what he agreed to that sounds like a bad president to me. >> what was the most surprising thing you learned while researching your book? .
>> something i was not prepared for with a journal of nervous and psychological disorders that was a medical journal where scientists had looked at all of the available evidence in medical histories for presidents and in 2006 more than one quarter of all presidents up to that point had what they saw was clue evidence one or more psychiatric disorders more common with severe depression the white house can be a dark and lonely place in the best of times but then those cases that i write about franklin pierce was elected right before he was inaugurated there was a train accident that he and his wife and young son were in but his son was crushed they saw his nearly
decapitated head and it put a darkness over his term abraham lincoln suffered several bouts of depression put on suicide watch by his friends. calvin coolidge even within the white house at that point he said when he died the power and the glory of the presidency died with him. that is showing how lonely that office can be a make you less effective as a president removing you through incapacitation through severe depression. fast-forward a little bit to talk about our current president donald trump is not
the only president thinking he's coming in this mode - - the smartest guy in the room most get over that have there been any other presidents quite like donald trump? . >> it depends on what you mean by like. we did have a president we did have a president of what donald trump is called, racist, stubborn, diffit to get along with mocking to his own allies as well as enemies, that was andrew johnson succeeding lincoln in the first president to be impeached no doubt due to those very traits. and obstinate man but also richard nixon in terms of viewing the power of the presidency with the abuse of power but nobody has the same
disregard for institutions at that fundamental level that we have seen richard nixon challenged but deep down he served in world war ii he was vice president eight years as a distinguished senator he still love the united states even if he could manipulate for his own benefit and that same level of service is certainly different in the background of this president. >> it seems in recent history only to have failed to win reelection jimmy carter and george h.w. bush had strong primary challengers. it seems donald trump is not likely to have that type of challenge so is he therefore the prohibitive favorite? . >> let me go back to your
premise it does seem now it is unlikely he would not be the republican nominee again. remember a few months before richard nixon resigned predictions were that the party was sticking by him too much so we are foolish about any judgment about what would happen in a year and a half from now. it's hard to imagine a primary challenger but former republicans who disagree strongly enough that there is a strong challenge on that front is also a stronger candidate than he was before and in many ways what the democrats will run on is in 2016 we told you what a disaster he could be here are the things he is unfit to do by now we will have three years as president and look at
what he is actually done. look at his actions and behaviors they can run against that instead of the ideas. he will still have a strong primary challenger to unseat him but then go back to george h.w. bush just one year after his highest popularity ratings in history than suddenly not due to a disastrous economy it was stagnant but then he had a strong challenger of pat buchanan of all people. >> and the wild card of the mueller investigation and the likelihood that mueller will come back with something for us to deal with.
we obviously don't know what he will come back with but given the recent republican gains in the senate is there any scenario you can imagine with the high crimes and misdemeanors? . >> yes but it is unlikely i had a piece today on this very topic that impeachment is such a high bar impeachment itself as the majority votes in the house january 4th when the new congress takes effect you could have an impeachment resolution and it would pass. but what politicians seem to have learned from the bill clinton impeachment process if you impeach them in the house and it goes to the senate for a trial and they failed to convict that is a win for the president because clinton's popularity numbers went up during the impeachment trial is not the way the founders intended it or other presidency that it is supposed to be a slap across the face a stern rebuke.
>> that bill clinton balance the budget. >> that makes a difference. >> right now it's hard to imagine any conviction the way it is composed after the election but i do go back to nixon when people said months before his resignation there is no way the party will turn on richard nixon and i write in the book he was really an impeached president it didn't get to a vote of conviction that he would not have resigned if it was not about to happen and it was. so i do keep low confidence and predictions of what could happen in six months there is so much integrity and in credibility one - - credibility of the investigation that if credible evidence comes up with conspiracy related to the election itself, then that
will turn some heads once the tide starts turning its amazing so i have not ruled that out. . >> one more question. this you use to give daily briefings as a former cia officer what was that like? . >> every working mormon - - morning i would take intelligence materials to bob miller when he was fbi director. it was not a good time in my life that meant getting up at 1:00 in the morning every day to prepare the briefing and work on it get ready to answer all the questions you think your customer would ask you as we call them. i briefed him for more than a
year i could not get through a whole week or a whole day that he stumped me on. he was that good at picking apart the details of the analysis breaking down the logic or to ask where is the evidence to back up that assertion. at the beginning i was horrible bringing back five or six a day to answer. by the end i was much better i was probably at 90 percent predicting at what he would ask getting to know him but i could never keep up with him. he was always operating in a strategic and tactical level beyond most people i had the opportunity to work with. some claims he is showboating trying to gain attention but that isn't the man i got to know there are other opportunities at a time when the fbi talks very seriously about breaking up the fbi into two or more organizations.
. >> the most recent. >> in my mind i conjure up helsinki but you said paris. if you would have shown the large section of american people of this trip and october of 2016 i'm not sure if everybody would have been surprised from the campaign trail but there is more outrage than there was now. the expectations are that something is going to happen almost any day domestically or overseas with the norm of presidential behavior if you think you will turn on the television rope on the newspaper work open twitter and you see something
outrageous and that is your expectation and it doesn't shock you anymore, you may say it does but the emotional level it does not. when that happens as they pile over each other and rollover and smooth out the peaks and valleys to become the new norm. and then to see why it is unprecedented. i didn't see anybody marching outside the white house with signs that is the acceptance that means complacency that we don't give up four years is a long time but we will not get outraged over every little thing that changes to the institutions but instead we will vote november 2020.
i don't know if we have reliable polling that is the big unknown to me. . >> they have a saying in this country. >> if that's a crime can be indicted? . >> if no man is above the law how is it possible a president can to be held accountable for crimes? . >> i'm not a lawyer but social security and legal attorneys that i talked to tell me that's not decided that is a policy guidance that he cannot be indicted but that's not
necessarily the final word but that isn't the same to me there is two ways it could be held accountable one is to simply suspend any statute of limitations. another way is you can have a criminal trial during the presidency if you can then have the impeachment of the house and the conviction in the senate. do they have the same standards of evidence? nothing says how they should do it. and then to be interpreted since the andrew johnson impeachment that chief justice of the supreme court to make the rules about everything and
how it is done. so there are still methods holding the president accountable but most people at a fundamental level we can do anything about it while he's in office? but is just not done the same way as anybody else? . >> as your faith democracy from interested of your take away of the 19th century history and then i would ask a second question for both of you which is with the speculation that general kelly may be on his way out, what does that mean the change of
the chief of staff role? and more broadly and the emergence that the president would be deposed. >> let's go back to the chief of staff question you have a thousand stories on that. so there is some pessimism. in the 19th century president because they did some pretty bad things but they did not seem up to the job. it's hard to look at that as an american citizen say we have this right. doesn't work the founders intended all the time that they were smart enough and
philosophers of government and the all the 18 hundreds to research for the first time and it was an experiment. but then what they consciously they looked at was negative. in the and to let the people decide. from then to build in the safeguards so guess what we have had those bad presidents and we have survived as a country actually we have thrived despite all of that.
and getting through the down time is it is about the rule of law. so maybe we are stronger than that is a conscious choice. we can easily look at everything that is on the nightly news to say this is too dark and this is a bad place to be. i make the choice to be optimistic. >> and to run effectively. and most importantly what you
don't want to hear. everybody but trump has figured it out. and then with leon panetta in that role to help with government. trump has not figured it out. and right now and then headed to the exit that is falling apart between trump and kelly. it is a watershed moment and for those moderates or any to ride a different narrative. and then for trump to reach out to find his own equivalent
of james baker the third or a leon panetta somebody with gravitas and then to tell trump what he doesn't want to hear. one is that trump has no desire to have that type of person but if he is smart that mike pompeo seems to be able to tell trump stuff that he does not like. and in my mind i have been very critical of kelly as you know, and then to have white house chief of staff.
. >> you cannot go into a room with vladimir putin for two and a half hours there stuff you cannot do. nobody's in a position to tell donald trump those hard truths. he desperately needs that kind of person and james a-letter baker the third and social security reform is the third rail. don't touch it you will be electrocuted. try cutting taxes but not interested to have that she. >> one of the stories that i
write so with that removal in place i mentioned earlier those that were the guiltiest were not the opponents of the president to box them in and then to remove the power of the president and nixon would say do this or do that. and firebomb. >> let's bomb damascus and syria when you are not in the condition of war or fire half of the people at that agency i don't like what they are telling me that he takes the
order writes it down would not pass the veto on. he did right in his diary i would do this because i know president nixon really did not want this done and we had an understanding i would come back to him and tell him i wouldn't and he would be grateful but that really is of the story of history but history shows many times nixon came back to him and said why haven't you fired everybody? i think he was deluding himself of that or justifying to himself why is it i am taking on the responsibilities as the elected official? it is still staff. why am i okay doing this? because deep down in his heart he's not smart enough to tell me he wants that. and with that ethical slippery slide and then to take a memo off a desk when you cannot sign them but yet here is
where we seem to be coming out the last eight weeks and then the anonymous op-ed from "the new york times" the leaders trying to direct his misguided impulses we are protecting you. don't worry about it. okay once you get rid of them the president will not trust the chief of staff making it harder for presidents. >> so to be silent about what is going on and more speculation from the news media?
and with that direction of the investigation. >> i am impressed how special the council has been in to have a spokesperson and in washington d.c. unless it is possible that doesn't say anything he is gone on record once the last few months that somebody was trying to smear him with sexual allegation that didn't happen so that went to the fbi. and then to say anything publicly and that reflects the mission because if there were leaks coming from inside the investigation and then to lay the groundwork but that would
not let the facts lead the way with the prosecution coming up against anyone in the united states but to be positive whatever comes out of the investigation but doesn't that influence how we will react when it does come out? and the counter narrative and the president says this is truth bob mueller does not say hold on we are establishing by investigation. and there is some truth to that but it sets the expectation for what people are hearing people here no collusion but we are working
on it and will get back to you. i would like to think there is enough interest that people will get over the expectation we don't know what form that result will come in but when it comes out there will be a lot of receptivity to it. >> first of all, thank you for your earlier book and speaking out. talking about mister trump as the president and messenger it would have actions have conveyed and how it is some can be dismissive of certain things it will be extraordinarily divisive and in large part because irrespective of his behavior and disrespect for certain
washington institutions he is reflecting a sentiment of people so i think of him less as a personality that more in a different sense because whatever may happen i do agree the silence will speak even my louder as the indictments have shown but what is actually said about this country? those that were not interested of the founding fathers but here he is with truth in terms of what he has conveyed and when he stands in front of tens of thousands of people
what is being said and that role of social media and of the press today with cable outlets, he has been very good for "the new york times" and cnn and msnbc. and they recognize it. so overall as you research this book with high crimes and misdemeanors what is the overall message we should be taking away? . >> he is both a symptom and the cause of the division. there is a false sense however that the times we are living through seems the most dramatic times but some of the earliest elections like 1800 were virtually bloodied like
actually beating each other up in the streets ahead of times and everything partisanship is worse than ever read about those elections when and john adams was saying there were satanic rituals at monticello and sacrificing dogs but i also found we have had some pretty bad elections even before bush versus gore there is almost a second civil war because democrats were elected and then there was a dispute from the southern states there were bribes very narrow margins that congress themselves created suddenly rutherford b haye hayes, many people were calling for violence but you need to fight
for this. and he says basically, no. it's more important than any one victory. >> getting through other challenges we have gotten over it but one is the social media environment there is no new source everybody has an opinion and those of decades ago, now they make their way into the president's twitter feed. that is different. i would like to think beyond actual representation what brings out the worst of us in opinion or tweeting or facebook post is not in our
hearts. but i'm scared i could be convinced otherwise. finally, there is no way you could have any impeachment trial without it being divisive so you couldn't have the question without that it would cannot get ugly of course, it would. it was largely because it wasn't known was pretty clear there wasn't going to be a conviction. there was some uncertainty but it didn't get to that level where people thought it would be a real conflict. that is not the memory for many americans because the case did not get to that point so i'm with you i do think the divisions are there and are not going away and there are other issues going on having to do with beliefs about the elites and the establishment
and nationalism versus internationalism. lead to better with the national discussion rather than a tweet storm. and the ideas on the table and those values speaking through those come to the floor versus our emotional reaction. i hope we get to that place. [applause] thank you so much give us a moment to get set up they will sign copies of the book on stage. [inaudible conversations]