New FBI director scrutiny will be ‘very intense’

Politics

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The talk of President Trump's firing of FBI Director Jim Comey drowned out all other political conversation this week. Some Trump supporters said the president was keeping his promise to shake up Washington. Some Trump critics said he was interfering with a serious investigation about him and not telling the truth for his decision.

Joining me now to discuss the ramifications is "NewsHour Weekend" special correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who's in Santa Barbara, California.

This gave some of his political allies pause this week.

JEFF GREENFIELD, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It did. And I think what it means is that exactly the issue that Trump wanted to get behind them, the possibility of some kind of collusion between some of his associates and the Russian, is going to intensify.

Interestingly, you've had the Republican chair of the intelligence committee, Richard Burr, and Mark Warner, his Democratic counterpart, working in tandem, both saying, we've got to get to the bottom of this.

And I did notice a story that I think we should pay more attention to than we have, that an arm of the treasury — I want to get this right — it is the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is working with the Senate Intelligence Committee to give them information about what that committee knows about financial transactions.

Now, I don't know if there's any smoke, much less fire, but if there is stuff back there that's going to show some kind of financial hanky-panky between Trump associates and the Russians, that's the — that's the unit of the treasury that is best equipped to find out. So, I think whatever Trump wanted to do in firing Comey, he may have had exactly the reverse effect.

SREENIVASAN: Right. Who is going to be a replacement? We've said that the interview process has begun, but once that replacement is there, what kind of credibility challenges do they face?

GREENFIELD: This is another area where Trump has set a landmine and stepped on it himself. The fact that he asserted that the Russia story was very much on his mind when he fired Comey and he's already said publicly he doesn't see anything wrong with trying to exact a pledge of loyalty from the FBI director, is going to mean that the confirmation process for whoever that new FBI director is going to be very intense.

And along those lines, I want to point one thing out: the Senate Judiciary Committee is where the confirmation process begins. And there are more Republicans than Democrats on it because they run the Senate. But there are three Republicans on that committee — Ben Sasse and Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham — who are among the most non-fans, if I can put it that way, of President Trump in the Republican Party, and my sense is that the vetting process is going to be very, very interesting to watch once that nominee, whoever he or she is, gets before that committee.

SREENIVASAN: And how does all this play with the base of Trump supporters?

GREENFIELD: Well, you know what? Here we go again. We have seen from — throughout the campaign and in the first four months that whatever roils Washington or the editorial pages of the newspaper, Trump's base seems perfectly happy with what's he's doing.

The one poll number I saw says that the great majority of Republicans think he was right to firing Comey. And this is — this is the broader story that we are so polarized now politically, we're like warring tribes, that whoever — whoever is the head of my team, I'm going to defend come hell or high water.

The other part about that is that the reporting in the media is going to have very little effect on that base. We've learned from a recent Pew Poll that if you ask people, do you think the media should be — should act as watchdogs? A year ago, Republicans and Democrats were exactly the same, three-quarters said yes. Now, 90 percent of Democrats say yes, and less than half of Republicans say yes. So, this polarization into how people look at the media is I think going to help Donald Trump with his base.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara, California — thanks so much.

GREENFIELD: Thank you.

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