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New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Geoff Bennett to discuss the week in politics, including questions about President Biden's handling of classified documents, the scandals around GOP Rep. Santos and an attempted coup in Brazil.
Questions swirl around President Biden's handling of classified documents, House GOP leadership provides cover for a disgraced New York congressman, as his colleagues back home demand his resignation, and the world reckons with an attempted coup in Brazil.
To analyze this week's news, we turn to Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks, and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.
It's good to see you both.
So, Jonathan, let's start with this news this past week.
Democrats found themselves in a real tough spot in trying to handle the revelations that President Biden mishandled classified documents. The latest reporting is that they're roughly 20 documents found across his private home in Delaware and a private office here in Washington, some marked top secret.
He is now facing, arguably, the worst political crisis of his presidency.
Worst political crisis.
Can we just put this into perspective, especially — I mean, we're talking about this as the worst political crisis because of his predecessor, former President Trump, and his classified documents problem, hundreds of classified documents at the highest classified markings. And we're talking about 20 documents, classified documents, from when Joe Biden was vice president of the United States.
This is apples and basketballs. I mean, these two — those two objects are spherical in nature, and that's all they have in common. And I think we need to — I know politics doesn't do nuance. And most people don't do nuance. But we have to do nuance in this case. This happens more frequently than we realize, or we even want to appreciate.
Plenty of national security lawyers and experts have gone on the record to say that this happens more often than not. The other thing — and the biggest difference here and why I downplayed this notion that this is a big political crisis for the president — and that is, the sitting president, his people found the documents, brought them — alerted the Archives. The Archives alerted the Justice Department.
They then go and do another search and bring forth more — more documents. They have been — they have been cooperating. They have been transparent, whereas, when we talk about the former president, the reason why we even know that there were all those documents there was because he kept defying the National Archives' requests to return the documents, and the DOJ, because Archives has been — had been in touch with the Archives, conducted a search.
People call it a raid. I keep my feet on the ground. It was a search. But the FBI just doesn't show up in search someone's home without cause. That is not what happened here. The former president stands accused of basically obstruction of justice. That is not what's happening here with President Biden.
David, understanding the key differences, both in terms of how these documents came to light, the volume, and the point that Jonathan makes, the responses, the different — very different responses of both men, what do you see as the political fallout?
Because this is a huge opening for House Republicans, who are feverishly focused on investigations right now.
Yes, I guess I would say, not as bad as Trump is not the moral standard our Sunday schoolteachers dream for us.
And yet here we are.
So, but it's — it's not as bad as Trump. It's not in the same ballpark .I wouldn't go apples to — but I would — apples or grapes and something.
But it's bad. People who have had clearances say that it's very clear. If you have classified documents, you go in a separate room. You have an entirely different computer system. They make it very clear where you can't take them, which is out.
And so a lot of people get their careers ruined when they are sloppy with this stuff. And so what Joe Biden or somebody in Joe Biden's office did, we don't know, was sloppy and pretty irresponsible. And so we know some of the documents had to be moved at least twice, because the office where they were found in D.C. was not open when he left the vice presidency.
So they were moved around in a way they just shouldn't have been. And so should we prosecute it? We don't know, but I can't imagine. The standard for Hillary Clinton was, unless you behave in a way that seems unpatriotic and malicious, we're not going to prosecute. That was sort of the Hillary Clinton standard.
But it should bother us that we now have three top government officials, Clinton, Trump and Biden, who seem to have done this. And that's just not how government is supposed to work.
Jonathan, the question about the timeline, because the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, has said that, when President Biden's lawyers realized that these documents were there, they turned them over to the Archives, they did the right thing.
According to the reporting, the documents were discovered before the midterm elections. Should this have been made publicly known immediately.
By the White House.
And then have the White House stand accused of trying to affect the midterm elections? I don't know.
I mean, as a journalist, would I want the White House to release the information? Absolutely. Yes, they should have. Did they? No. Did the Justice Department? No. But does the Justice Department tell us everything that they're doing in real time? No, they do not.
We can quibble over the timeline and wag our fingers at the White House for not being forthcoming in terms of when they told the Justice Department about the documents, or wag our fingers at them for not telling the American people sooner. But we're talking about it now because they're being transparent and forthright, as — well, CBS broke the story, but they have been forthcoming ever since then.
And I think we should hold them accountable for, keep telling us what you know. Politically, it might not be wise for them to tell us everything that they know in real time,because facts change. And we also — we should keep that in mind.
On that same point, David, I mean, has the way that this has played out, has the way the White House handled this, has it undercut President Biden's public commitment to transparency?
Yes, I mean, it's fishy.
I mean, they told the National Archives on November 2. So they told other people, and they got the documents back. And the election is a few days later. That kind of seems fishy to me. We will find out. There will be an investigation.
And it wouldn't be implausible to think they said, this will really mess up the election. Let's just take it, and we will take the heat. So, maybe they did that. I don't know.
As for whether it'll have some broad effect on Biden's reputation, on his administration, I tend to think not. It's — to me, as presidential scandals go, it's pretty small beer.
But it does certainly make it a lot harder to prosecute Donald Trump.
Well, last Friday, the two of you were sitting here with Amna talking about the second anniversary of January 6, and then, two days later, January 8, we saw an attempted coup in Brazil mounted by supporters of Jair Bolsonaro.
Jonathan, what does all of that say? What does it suggest about the future of democracy around the globe?
Well, it says that democracy is under assault.
I mean, this gets back to what President Biden had been saying during the campaign, during the campaign, but also in America's support for Ukraine, that this is a battle between democracy and autocracy, and democracy has to win. But it's not just under attack in Ukraine.
It's under attack everywhere. And the fact that followers of Bolsonaro, who is an ally of former President Donald Trump and the big lie, the fact that they acted out on their own version of the big lie should be troubling, should be something that worries us because of what it means for democracy.
But, also, it should remind Americans about the power of the president of the United States to impact not just people around the world, but leaders around the world. I wonder if followers of Bolsonaro would have done — had they — would have done what they did if Bolsonaro did not have an ally in Donald Trump who attacked the press, coddled dictators, rather than other democracies around the world, talking down to people in his own country, a rhetoric of hatred and, in some cases, violence.
When that is coming from the Oval Office of the White House, that sends a message, not just to the American people, but to people around the world and other leaders, who will see, oh, well, if the United States is going to move away from small-D democratic ideals, well, why shouldn't I?
What parallels do you see?
Yes, I'm just reminded, several years ago, I had a meeting with Steve Bannon in his Capitol Hill lair, wherever it was.
And it was like meeting with Trotsky in 1905.
I mean, he was talking about all these places. He was going all around the world, finding Trump-like figures. And he was speaking at their rallies. They were trading information.
And he saw this as a global movement of sort of radical authoritarian populism. He wouldn't have put it that way. But it is. It just is. And it flows from a lot of the similar sources of resentments against elites and some legitimate inequalities. But the method it has chosen as a global movement is authoritarian.
And it's — a large percentage of people in Brazil would support a coup right now. And the thing that should make us feel a little better about ourselves and our own system is that, on January 6, our law enforcement people behaved bravely and confidently against the outrage.
That did not happen in Brazil. And so that shows just a weakness in their law enforcement system that there seemed to be a lot of Bolsonaro sympathizers who were willing to let it affect their jobs.
Well, the other story dominating the headlines this past week was that of George Santos, who faced scrutiny after admitting he fabricated key parts of his background and his resume.
State and local Republicans have called for him to step down. House Republican leaders in Washington, Jonathan, have not done that. We have a couple of minutes left. What does that say about the future of the Republican Party?
The Republican Party is broken.
I'm old enough to remember when the Republican Party reflected the likes of David Brooks, people who had a — who had values that they stuck by, that they lived by, and that they led by. In the old days, a George Santos would have been driven away from his seat, out of the party, because those leaders would have said, you do not represent our party, our caucus. You are an affront to your constituents, and you should resign.
And that person would have the moral fortitude and courage to go out there and say: I resign.
But because of the slim majority that Kevin McCarthy has, there's no way he's going to come to even close to saying what I just said.
It also speaks to, in some ways, the political utility of shamelessness these days, does it not?
That was the exact word I was about to use.
And I would say to Kevin McCarthy, just on political grounds, not on moral grounds, shamelessness is contagious. And Donald Trump was it. This guy is shameless. And it will run out your party from the inside in a way that will be politically disadvantaged, because your moral norms will just slip and slip and slip.
And I think it's in their practical benefit to expel the guy.
David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, it's great to see you all. Have a great weekend.
You too, Geoff. Thanks.
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