AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It’s time for our regular week in politics segment, and this week we’re joined by our regulars David Brooks of The New York Times – hey there, David…
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Hello.
CORNISH: …And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Welcome back, E.J.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Happy Passover, and Happy Easter. Good to be here.
CORNISH: OK, so we want to follow up on the conversation we just heard with Ryan. And E.J., I want to start with you because you argue that the findings detailed in the report put the president and Congress on a collision course. And as we just heard, you know, if there is Mueller testifying and things like that, how does this collision course play out after that?
DIONNE: You know, it’s very odd. There are two sentences essentially that Trump can hang hit hat on because he wasn’t charged with conspiracy. And Mueller didn’t let him off the hook at all on obstruction. He laid out a very good case on obstruction but felt he couldn’t charge him because of the Justice Department rule that says you can’t indict a president. The rest of the report is a – just an unholy mess for Trump. It’s about lies and chaos and an out-of-control president, pressure on aides to obstruct who kind of helped him sometimes by simply not following his orders, dozen a half Trump campaign officials meeting with Russians. So this is devastating.
And I think from the Democrats’ point of view, they could have what I would regard as a really stupid argument. Impeach now or not. I think that the better path is the one Pelosi is going to talk to them about on Monday, I think, from what I know, which is one step at a time, which is, don’t rule out impeachment because impeachment will be very important among other things for getting documents. But don’t rush into it ’cause you don’t have to. Investigate.
CORNISH: Let me let David jump in here because you looked at this existentially, that there are a broadly kind of three-pronged threat, looking at Russia being one of them, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks another and then the White House itself, Donald Trump. Can you talk about why you think these things are somehow working in concert?
BROOKS: Yeah. Even for those of us used to the Trump world, this was still an amazing level of brazenness that – I think it was even shocking to those of us who’ve been paying attention. But it struck me that it’s really about the infrastructure of our society that Trump with his lies and with his gangsterish activity runs roughshod over the systems of government we have. He’s always trying to interfere with investigations, do things that are against the rules. And so that undermines our sort of governmental infrastructure.
The Russians are undermining our informational infrastructure by introducing falsehoods into the public debate. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks undermined privacy and our organizational infrastructure that organizations need to deliberate. And so it was interesting to see these three forces intertwining in this debate, sometimes colluding, sometimes just sort of recognizing they’re all sort of the great big project of creating disorder and chaos at the – really the foundations of our society.
CORNISH: I want to go back to the attorney general’s press conference. Bill Barr is accused of trying to spin the findings in the report. And let’s see if we can play a bit of what he had to say at that press conference yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
BILL BARR: And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.
CORNISH: People have been talking about how Bill Barr talked about Donald Trump’s motivations. How do you think, David, Bill Barr’s going to be remembered in all of this?
BROOKS: Yeah. I’ve been giving him the benefit of every doubt figuring he has a very good reputation around town and figuring his letter was remotely accurate. In the press conference, he sort of – he burned me (laughter). So I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt anymore. I think…
CORNISH: What do you mean he burned you?
BROOKS: Well, I’d given him faith that he was being accurate in what was in the report. And in that press conference, he was no way accurately reflecting what was in the underlying report. He was sugarcoating in the extreme and ignoring, you know, what everyone was about to learn an hour later. I’m mystified why he thought it was a good idea.
DIONNE: I think – Barr gave all sorts of signals when he was on Capitol Hill in January and long before that in that memo he wrote basically saying he didn’t think a president should obstruct justice. He gave all kinds of signals that he couldn’t be trusted. And it was a classic, I think, Washington error that because somebody is so establishment, he couldn’t possibly be a person who would enable Trump. And now what we see is he’s really traded his job for the job of Trump defense lawyer and publicist. I think it’s a terrible thing he did to the best traditions of the Justice Department in the last 28 or 29 days.
CORNISH: Big question for you both looking ahead – the president is quoted at the time when there was the appointment of a special prosecutor of being concerned that this was the end of his presidency, and that certainly hasn’t turned out to be the case. But David, to you, what does it mean?
BROOKS: Well, I don’t think that it will be a political shift. I have trouble believing the Republicans are going to abandon him after all they’ve stuck with him through. There have been some more moves among Senate Republicans. Mitt Romney came out with a very strong statement of how appalled he was. So there may be some weakening of the knees among Republican senators, but I doubt this will alter the landscape of our politics. I frankly hope Democrats use their power to make this famous, to hold hearings, to inform the public. But I think impeachment would be a mistake. I think this is something that you take to the voters.
CORNISH: E.J., for you looking forward…
DIONNE: Well, I think that the Republicans have shown themselves again and again that they are simply not willing to buck their party because most of the people who would oppose Trump have left the party. I’m very glad Bill Weld, the former governor of Massachusetts, is bravely taking him on in the primaries. I think it’s going to be very…
CORNISH: (Laughter) I think that’s you and Bill Weld, so that’s two votes right there.
DIONNE: Well, yeah, that’s two, right, exactly – maybe David, too. Although I don’t vote in Republican primaries – surprise, surprise – but I – you know, I just don’t see this party taking him on. But I do think that Mueller has laid out so much of what is wrong with this period. In a broad sense, I agree with the way David started about some real – some broad problems in our era.
But it also showed so many fundamental things that are wrong about Trump’s approach to governance. And let’s not forget – let’s go all the way back to the beginning. In great detail, Bob – Mr. Mueller showed that the last – in the last election, a hostile foreign power intervened to elect the person that they wanted as president, and they succeeded. That’s something that we really have to take on and think about as we move forward.
CORNISH: That’s E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post – thank you…
DIONNE: Great to be with you.
CORNISH: …And David Brooks of The New York Times, also author of “The Second Mountain: The Quest For A Moral Life.” David, thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
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