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Are the Russia probe memos a sideshow?

Democrats released an intelligence memo Saturday defending an FBI investigation into Russian meddling in rebuttal to a Republican memo that was issued three weeks ago, accusing the FBI of abusing its power. But NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield from Santa Barbara, California, tells Hari Sreenivasan that the back and forth is a distraction from what investigators have already found.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Joining me now from Santa Barbara California, NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield. Jeff, a couple of weeks ago we had the Republican memo that was released. Now we have the Democratic memo. Where does this leave us?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Well, it leaves us with a partisan divide about the size of the Grand Canyon. What you're seeing here, I think, fundamentally is a continuing pattern on the part of Republicans to lay the groundwork for saying the entire Muellar investigation is biased. It comes from people with a partisan cast and it is not to be trusted.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This is a bit of a sideshow in that regard, and then as you're saying that this is at its core, trying to undermine the credibility of the work that Mueller's doing?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Yes. And the reason I think it's essentially a sideshow, is the real action is what is going on with the Muellar investigation, just this past week or so. You have 13 Russians indicted for illegally trying to meddle in the election of 2016 with no accusation that they were involved with Trump. You have Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager turning state's evidence if you will against Paul Manafort in a money laundering tax evasion issue. Again, not necessarily connected to the Trump campaign. And then you've got people like General Flynn, plead guilty to not telling the truth to investigators. These are three different paths. But I think the concern in the Trump White House is, if they get connected, if for instance the pressure on Manafort persuades him to offer information that might look bad about the Trump campaign, then this thing begins to escalate to DEFCON 1 and that I think is the issue that nobody can figure out yet. And we're just going to have to wait to see what Muller does.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right let's shift gears to the other issue that has been consuming so many people right now, the fallout from the Parkland's shootings. Something different politically this time around? I mean I remember I had to report on the Sandy Hook shootings and afterwards I remember vividly, President Obama standing in the Rose Garden flanked by the parents of the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School and then nothing got done?

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Yes, something is different this time. It may be that the fact that the survivors themselves, these high school students were bold enough to actually stand up almost immediately after the event and say, we've got to get something done to go to Tallahassee, to confront public officials. And one of the clues here is that a number of companies, airline companies, hotels, car rental agencies have ended their affiliation with the National Rifle Association. You generally don't see companies wade into things like this unless they can feel the political winds blow in.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And what about the break, at least seeming break with Republicans like Florida Governor Rick Scott or even Marco Rubio that are starting to challenge the NRA and some of their fundamental opposition to background checks.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Right. And you also have Congressman Maston Florida, strong Second Amendment advocate, coming out of a New York Times op-ed for a lot of changes that the NRA would like. But here is where the 'all politics is loca'l cliche has to be raised. There's a special election going on in western Pennsylvania where Democrats think they have a chance to pick up a long held Republican seat. The Democratic candidate, Connor Lamm, is distancing himself from national Democrats. He does not favor any new gun laws. And so while I think this suggests that in some places this fall, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, in New Jersey, in New York, and California where Republican congressmen are already facing trouble, when you go into the deep red states like Indiana, North Dakota, Montana where incumbent Democrats are up for re-election, I think the gun issue there may play out very very differently.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara. Thanks so much.

  • JEFF GREENFIELD:

    Thank you.

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