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tv   Washington Week  PBS  December 29, 2017 7:30pm-8:00pm PST

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possible nuclear confrontation with north korea. president trump: rocket man is on a suicide mission. robert: protests have tested the white house and the nation. trump called out athletes who took a knee. president trump: fired! robert: and outraged many americans with his response to white supremacist marchers in charlottesville. president trump: i think there's blame on both sides. robert: the national reckoning over sexual assault and harassment allegations led to resignations on capitol hill and a year into his presidency, the russia probe continues to hover over the administration. we discuss it all with amy walter of the cook political report, shawna thomas of vice news, carol leonnig, and philip rucker of "the washington post,"
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and alexis simendinger of the hill. announcer: 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. >> 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
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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. president trump did not hold an end-of-the-year news conference and that's been a presidential tradition. but he did sit this week for a revealing, an impromptu interview with the "new york times," which ended up becoming that sort of reflective and combative moment, all while sitting in the bustling grill room of the trump international golf club in florida. speaking with reporter michael schmidt, and without any aides present, president trump criticized attorney general jeff sessions for recusing himself from the russia probe and fired back at critics of the massive
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tax bill he signed last week. he also defended his decision to endorse roy moore in the alabama special election and during that 30-minute interview, he repeated 16 times that there has been no collusion discovered by robert mueller's investigation, even though the investigation, of course, is ongoing, and mueller has resisted making any public statements on that or other matters. what a conversation, what a year. phil, you've covered trump for so long, we've seen him in these settings before. the president alone in his golf club. this is who he is, walking to the press, no aides present. he projected calm on the russia probe. was that calm that came through in "the times" interview, a reflection of the reality inside the white house when it comes to the investigations? philip: it's a reflection, bob, of where president trump thinks the investigation is based on what his lawyers have been telling him. he's expecting some sort of end to the investigation into him personally, into possible
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obstruction of justice or potential collusion and he's even been telling friends that he thinks he'll get a public exoneration, a letter or statement from robert mueller. but that is not what those around the president think. there's a heightened sense of concern within the white house and the administration and frankly, within the republican party here in washington, about this mueller probe, about the fact that michael flynn is cooperating now. it'sun -- it's unclear where it will head. robert: when the president was talking about the justice department, he said he could do whatever he wanted. was that a warning about disrupting the investigation? >> if you read the full interview, it doesn't come off as his trying to warn robert mueller about anything. but what he's suggesting is his view of the power of the presidency is that his executive authority over the department of justice is absolute and he has
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heard from other attorneys, friends who have advised him that that's a particular perspective that they would advocate he take. but the other suggestion, from looking back, we've seen reporting that the president has explored things like pardons, how vulnerable would my family members be if i wanted to pardon them, or, for instance, michael flynn. and he left that idea of pardons dangling not that many weeks ago where he was suggesting, well, we're not going to talk about that right now. "we'll see," he said. so the idea of his disturbance with jeff sessions, comparing him in this discussion to eric holder, president obama's attorney general, was very interesting and revealing, i thought. robert: it was certainly revealing. that point about sessions, the president, shawna, talked about how he values loyalty, how loyalty's everything. and he said that he admired holder for working in a loyal
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way with president obama. what position does this put jeff sessions in moving forward? shawna: i think it puts attorney general sessions in a position where it clarifies how president trump sees sessions and the department of justice as apparently something to protect him, not necessarily to protect the constitution or protect the law. and i do think attorney general sessions sees it as his job, historically, to protect the law and the constitution. and he once again puts jeff sessions in a very hard position of having to go out and defend the president when he needs to but also keeps saying the russia investigation has to be separate from me. it looks like he'll never be able to get over the hump about recusing himself from the russia investigation. robert: amy, what's your read -- you're an expert reader of the political winds in this country. how does president trump's base see this interview? his stance in this interview when it comes to his calm about the russia probe?
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elements on the right are spoiling for a fight right now when it comes to mueller but the president seems to be resisting engaging on that front. amy: the real question is what is president trump's base. i think there are two pieces of his base. there's the base, the people that show up at his rallies and stand with the president, saying this is a witch hunt and fake news. then there's the other piece of the republican base, the people that voted for donald trump in 2016 who weren't crazy about him necessarily, who were maybe turned off by his temperament, by some of the statements he made on the campaign trail but they decided, either, one, he was better than hillary clinton -- they couldn't bring themselves to vote for her -- or, two, that he was going to shake things up and they wanted to see somebody from outside of washington who will come in and change the culture of washington. and what we've seen, really, is there's been a great deal of chaos, but it's not clear that it's the kind of chaos that they
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were looking for. so, when it comes to the fight over russia, the more interesting thing, i think, in the campaign, and all of us go on the campaign trail. i've talked to a lot of candidates. especially democratic candidates running for the house this year -- none of them are talking about russia. none of them are talking about impeachment. you don't hear it from voters, saying, i wonder what will happen with the russia investigation. it is sort of singarily singulan issue that outside of washington is not occupying a lot of time. robert: if that's the political reality, phil, you wrote recently that president trump has passed a tax bill but can he reset his presidency? in his interview with the "times," he's talking about bipartisanship. talking about senator mansion, he's frustrated with the senator
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for not working with him on some issues. could you see him strike a deal on immigration or healthcare? philip: potentially on immigration, they're looking at a deal to protect the program that allows dreamers to stay in the country. there is an area where mansion from west virginia, donnelley from indiana, heidi hidecamp from north dakota, could join forces with trump to pass a bill. shawna: we also have the issue that democrats want to run against president trump and if it got them a senator in the state of alabama, senator-elect doug jones, i'm not going to say they're going to make a deal on immigration issues, but they don't want to give him too many more wins because they want to run against him. amy: except for the red state democrats, they need to show in the upcoming elections that
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they're not just against donald trump. these are states that voted for donald trump by 20, 30 points or more so i think you'll see folks that say, we'd love to work with the president, but if this is what republicans will give me, this isn't good for the state. >> because they didn't vote with the president on the tax bill. >> midterm years are mostly about drawing sharp contrasts, not about deal cutting, unless there's an emergency. one of the foundational issues are what is it, there is no agreement about the finances behind it, right? the conservatives in the house do not want to spend -- they're not objecting to the president's proposal to $200 billion leveraged against $800 billion and the president has changed his mind more than once since he
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first started talking about this. robert: a republican lawmaker once told me that republicans see infrastructure as tax credits and democrats as spending. i want to come back to immigration. the president's saying, i'll do a border wall in exchange for a dhaka deal. is that something democrats can buy? or is the wall more of a political dream but not a political reality? >> it seems like a difficult thing to get through a democratic caucus. you could still get five or six democrats to go along with this but you need 60 votes and even with some. red state democrats -- some of the red state democrats, the question is who does a better job of playing their hand and the challenge for the president and his workings with democrats is that they really don't know -- the sands seem to be shifting constantly with him. he'll come to one thing, right, nancy and chuck we got a deal, it's all good, we agreed to it.
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and then 10 minutes later, it's a whole new -- robert: what's your read on the white house side on immigration? philip: i think the white house, trump would like to do something on dhaka but faces a lot of pressure from his base including his advisers like steven miller inside the white house who want to see him hold true to a tough line on immigration. >> >> i do think there are republican senators, there is movement on the hill. i want to do something. this is a losing issue for them in terms of growing the base of the republican party. while they didn't feel the need to do it before the end of the year, which many dreamers would have wanted, they too feel that march pull coming. robert: what about healthcare, alexis? the president talks about healthcare and a bipartisan plan but got rid of the individual mandate. is this the same gap we're talking about where the president says bipartisan this but democrats aren't on board?
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alexis: healthcare is so complicated into 2018 because you have a senate majority leader who's allergic to the concept of dealing with healthcare again, right? you also have some senators who are talking about legislating on healthcare in a different way, to shore up the affordable care act, what to do to rescue the premiums and subsidies to support the affordable care act. president trump, however, did he talk about middle class tax relief? no, he talked about how proud he was that they gutted and hadn't talked enough about gutting the heart of obamacare and that it would crater after that. so -- and in the interview, he also talked about another concept that has to do with healthcare associations which the rule making has not been written but he was talking about, in a garbled way, his hopes that this might be a foundation for improvement in healthcare. so bipartisanship, i can't see
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where that is right now. robert:alexis has talked about how leader mcconnell in the senate doesn't want to go after healthcare. speaker ryan in the house trying to go after federal benefits. there's tensions within the congress, with the white house in congress. >> their number one priority right now is to take the one big legislative accomplishment they've had and try to sell it to the public. it's not particularly popular and even among republican voters, they're not as excited about it as democrats are upset about it so they'll have to spend a good amount of time reselling -- because they did a terrible job in the runup to voting for this -- this tax bill. there's an assumption by republicans that don't worry, once people start to get, in february, see in their paychecks that they're getting money back, it's all going to be good and well, but i think that's wishful thinking. philip: and a big handicap for trump on all of this next year is he does not have the american people behind him. he's historically unpopular in
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his approval rating and has been all year long. he's governed as a disruptor but also has been a divisive force and much of the country is against him and the problem in dealing with capitol hill is he does not stoke fear in the minds of republican lawmakers there. they don't feel there's a consequence in defying him. robert: what explains the calm in palm beach? philip: donald trump lives in his own reality. he thinks russia has nothing to do with him and will go away. he thinks the news media will help him get re-elected in 2020, as he said in the interview. he had a new version of events in alabama and how he supported roy moore and explained that in a strange way. shawna: and as we'll keep seeing, he has the ability to, as you said, make his own world and he will say whatever it is to basically back that up and the thing about his base is that -- you asked a really interesting question about how does his base see this article. much of his base isn't seeing
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that article. if there's something negative about him in it, that could be considered fake news. so it's easy for him to create that world. robert: let's turn back to another issue. because it's not just president mar a lago, president on vacation -- it's the russia issue and the domestic issues but i feel like this whole year we keep coming back to the russia issue. we talked a little bit at the beginning about that. this week we learned that the president's lawyers plan to portray former national security adviser michael flynn as a liar if he turns on the president. and as you likely recall, flynn pled guilty to lying to the f.b.i. about his contact with russia's ambassador. he was part of the trump transition leadership and worked in the white house for less than a month before he was forced to resign. joining me now is carol leonnig, my colleague who broke the story for the "post." carol, the president keeps
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projecting calm when it comes to the federal investigation. what about his own legal team, especially regarding retired general michael flynn, the president's former national security adviser, and his cooperation with the probe? carol: it's a great question, bob. both the president and his lawyers and lawyers for senior trump administration officials, such as jared kushner and others in that sort of tier, have said they're really confident that there's going to be no evidence of collusion, that michael flynn has nothing to say that will be incriminating about any of their clients. however, you can't be a very good lawyer if you're not planning for the possibility that there could be information or allegations that michael flynn might make that you aren't aware that he has at his disposal. and you don't know everything that he's discussed with bob mueller. he had a cooperation agreement signed december 1 that was very favorable to michael flynn, a big red flag that whatever he
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told the prosecutor was very valuable to his investigation into russian meddling in the 2016 election. robert: carol, what about the possibility of a pardon for general flynn? his own brother brought up the topic on twitter, then deleted the tweet. carol: yes, his brother, joseph flynn, as i'm sure is true for many members of mike flynn's extended family -- he's got a lot of siblings -- are really feeling a lot of frustration. they are disappointed that their brother is in this situation of being accused and ultimately pleading guilty to lying to the f.b.i. and very recently there have been a lot of revelations about specific f.b.i. agents in this investigation who may have been appearing to be pro hillary clinton and anti-trump. so there was this flavor in joseph flynn's request for a
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pardon, saying, look, it's about time you give him a pardon, look at the corruption surrounding the f.b.i. now, he deleted that tweet. it was very strident and demanding in its tone and he replaced it minutes later with one that was more polite and courteous and making a polite request of the president, thanking him for his work. robert: you've been following the mueller investigation closely all year. what do we know did where exactly things stand inside the secretive probe? where are they going with the investigation? what have you gleaned in your reporting? carol: as we've reported together, we looked deeply into the mueller probe about a month ago and could tell how far ahead they were on specific sort of second and third-tier members of the trump campaign and trump transition and things they had done or appeared to have done that appeared criminal, and
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weren't really related to the issue of collusion with russia. now, we can see new wrinkles, new sort of waves on the water, if you will. very recently, members of the r.n.c. political campaign team have been questioned and asked for records by bob mueller's team and that suggests to me that, though the white house wants to see this probe is nearly wrapped up as it relates to the white house, those requests suggest to me this is just the beginning of looking at and piecing together the social media campaign of the r.n.c., which was coordinating with the trump administration, and whether or not any of that was echoing the russian's social media effort to disrupt the election to sow seeds of distrust in your democratic process. robert: speaking of the social media aspect and russia's role
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using platforms, how are congressional committees looking into this matter going to move forward in 2018? and how much are they working with the mueller team to try to piece together the social media story? carol: so, i think if you pick up a little bit of the flavor of this, you'll see that the house and the senate committees, they have their own different vibe. some more aggressive than others. but they're not really working in tandem with bob mueller's team. bob mueller's team is certainly the supreme being in the investigative corral and the congressional committees are trying to get what they can. but there's also this political element to this. you'll notice house intelligence has a very big fight on its hands between the republicans and the democrats about whether they should wrap up their probe and be done. republicans leaning towards getting this done and over with. democrats saying there's much more to figure out.
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i think there's a gentlemen's agreement between the congressional committees and bob mueller's but mueller is really the one with the subpoena power that's stronger than anyone else's and can compel testimony. robert: when it comes to the question everyone has on their mind, will president trump be called? will he be compelled to meet with mueller's team in the coming months? he says there's no collusion but it mueller going to speak to the president, based on your reporting? carol: it seems impossible for the president not to sit down for an interview. that doesn't mean the president has done anything wrong or that mueller has found any evidence that he has but it seems impossible for mueller to put together his investigation without questioning the person that was the head of the campaign, the transition, and ultimately the white house. remember, bob mueller has been looking at obstruction and we don't know whether or not he's put that to bed. and certainly you have to ask the president about, you know, the conversations he had with
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his own son about how he should explain a trump tower meeting. one thing that we wrote about at "the washington post was that that meeting on air force one or that confab where the president was guiding the explanation to the press about what that trump tower meeting was about and his first encouragement to his son was to not really tell the full story. robert: carol leonnig of "the washington post," thank you very much. at the end of any year, i try to count my blessings and we're certainly doing that here at "washington week." we thank, most importantly, our viewers, you, for watching this show each friday night. we appreciate it so much. the staff here at weta. they work so hard to put on this production. of course, our great guests, the reporters, the top reporters in the country come around this table to show what they know and of course our supporters, as well. it's really a privilege to be the moderator. we'll have a great 2018. thanks, everybody, for being here tonight at this table and
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don't go anywhere because the "washington week" extra is coming up next on most pbs stations. we'll talk more about what has happened this year, a wild year, and what it means for next year's midterm elections. if you ever miss the live show or webcast extra, find it online and all weekend long at pbs.org/washingtonweek. i'm robert costa wishing you and yours a healthy and happy new year. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> their leadership is instinctive. they understand the challenges of today and research the technologies of tomorrow.
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some call them veterans. we call them part of our team. >> 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. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org.]
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tom brokaw: a sisign of transitn at the white house today, moving vans. reporter: inauguration day of course means moving day over at 1600 pennsylvania ave reporter: they're going to begin unpacking the white house today tom brokaw: the presidential transition ends on wednesday with bill clinton moving reporter old: the white house will be readied over the next two hours to receive reporter: the historic moment of the inauguration is fast approaching. it's the obama family moving into a new house. narrator: it's the most famous address in america --
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1600 pennsylvania avenue. [ helicopter blades whirring ] brian williams: we're gonna switch live to the white house where one of the unique aspects of american tradition is taking place. narrator: but the residents only have a four-year lease. transitions in the white house barack: i think walking in the white house the first day and realizing, "okay, here we go"... if you're not humbled by that, then you're probably not -- you're not thinking straight. walters: i was at the white house for seven transitions. excuse me, please. they are enormously complicated. can i speak to jim, please? and our intent at the end of that period of time is to have no boxes, no wrapping paper, and have everything unpacked and put into place
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so that when the first family walked back into the white house, that it is their home. barbara: after the inauguration, we got back to a totally furnished, unpacked house. it was amazing. i know i actually had a moment to take in the fact that i was now living in the white house with my two young daughters and the president of the united states, who happened to be my husband. that's when it hits you. the sense of history and responsibility just wafts over you. narrator: this is not like any other home. it's a workplace and a show place. it is here that the president charts the country's course. it is here that history is made every single day.
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this is the white house. announcer: "the white house: inside story" is made possible in part by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ jimmy: i went into the white house with a feeling of challenge and excitement because of the overwhelming history. thomas jefferson lived there, lincoln met in a small room that became one of my favorites, and i would study at night in what harry truman has used as his office. so i was filled with admiration for the history of my country and the history of the white house. kennedy jr.: ask not what your country can do for you. ask what you can do for your country.

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