What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Corn and Ponnuru on Russia probe indictments, Florida school shooting

Mother Jones Washington bureau chief David Corn and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including criminal charges against Russian operatives for interfering in the election, the politics of gun control after another mass shooting at an American school and a standstill in Congress’ work to pass immigration reform and DACA protections.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that brings us today to the analysis of Corn and Ponnuru. That is David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an analyst for MSNBC, and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "The National Review" and a columnist for Bloomberg View.

    Both Mark Shields and David Brooks are away this week.

    And we thank you both for being here.

    So, I am going to ask you in just a moment, Ramesh, about Ronan Farrow's reporting.

    But I want to start with our lead tonight, and that is this extraordinary set of documents that have come out from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, indicting 13 Russian operatives, individuals, in a systematic effort to overturn or to affect the outcome of the election in 2016.

    What do you make of it?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    Well, I think that one of the things that gets ignored is just how much a surprise this was.

    This didn't leak beforehand, which I think is an impressive thing, since so many things do leak in Washington, D.C. It shows you that Robert Mueller is running a very tight ship and he knows things that the press doesn't know. He knows things that the people that he's investigating don't know that he knows.

    And that's something that we all have to keep in mind as we follow the twists and turns of this story.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you — do you think, David Corn, that we are now — that there is any doubt in people's mind that the Russians were doing everything they could to affect the outcome?

  • David Corn:

    I think in Donald Trump's mind and in his die-hard champions'.

    I mean, people forgot Robert Mueller's instruction, his task, is not just to investigate associations between Trump people and Russians, but to find out exactly what happened during the campaign in terms of what the Russians did.

    They had three aspects to it. One was what we learned about today, the social media thing. The other was the hacking and the dumping, you remember, putting out the e-mails from the DNC and John Podesta.

    And the third was probing state election systems to see what they could do. They didn't do anything on Election Day, but that worried people a lot.

    And all these things are crimes. So when Donald Trump, for the last year-and-a-half, says there is nothing to this, he's helping Putin actually cover up criminal activity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, and he's saying, again, as we reported, Ramesh, no collusion, you know, more evidence, no collusion.

    And yet is the White House paying enough attention to the facts on the ground about Russian interference in the election?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    Well, these indictments may not prove collusion, but they're also not evidence against collusion. They're just about a different aspect of these Russian operations.

    One thing that we have not seen from President Trump is any degree of urgency or concern expressed about these Russian efforts. He seems to regard all of the talk of that as an attempt to delegitimize his election, and to reject all of it as a result.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's understandable, isn't it?

  • David Corn:

    Well, no.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Corn:

    His number one job is to protect…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For the sake of argument.

  • David Corn:

    … is to protect the country. That's what he is, as commander in chief.

    And this very week, the intelligence chiefs appeared before Congress, and they all said yet again that the Russian effort, which was to help him, succeeded in 2016, and they expect the Russians to do it again in the midterm elections.

    So this is a pressing national security threat that Donald Trump, as Ramesh says, doesn't seem to even acknowledge, let alone do anything about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's turn to the other huge story this week, of course, Ramesh, and that is the shooting, the school shooting, second worst school shooting in the country since what happened at Sandy Hook six years ago — or 2012.

    Do we come away, do you think, finally, with enough anger, determination to try to do something to put an end to these school shootings? I mean, what do you see coming out of this?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    The problem is that there's not a consensus on what that something should be.

    And I think, to the extent that we end up with one, it's going to be pretty limited. So, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat, one of the leading supporters of gun regulation, and Senator John Cornyn, the number two senator for the Republicans, they have got legislation to strengthen background checks.

    That's something you could see possibly getting through. But it's not something that is going to turn the tide and makes these sort of massacres go away.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm told — I was just going to say, David, before I turn to you, I'm told right now by our producer that President Trump and Mrs. Trump are right now visiting survivors of the shooting in the hospital in Parkland, Florida.

    But come back.

  • David Corn:

    Well, I was going to say, there — but there is a consensus.

    If you take polling data on almost any of the major — and they're not always far-reaching, gun safety measures that have been proposed, whether it's background checks or limiting high-capacity magazines, or even limiting AR-15s, which seem to be the mass killing weapon of choice here, you get more than 50 percent, sometimes even up to 70, 80 percent, agreement.

    Where there is not consensus — and it's not that Washington is broken. People like to say Washington is broken. It's that the Republicans have steadfastly locked arms with the NRA to block almost anything.

    It goes back to when they were against preventing the sale of cop-killing bullets in the '90s. And, yes, it's great that John Cornyn is working with Chris Murphy on this one thing, but there have been a few bipartisan efforts in the past. And the Republicans again and again say no.

    And Trump has been with them. That's what he campaigned on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ramesh, what about that?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    So, you know, just a few months after the Sandy Hook massacre, there was an effort in a Democratic-controlled Senate to ban assault weapons. It only got 40 votes.

    That wasn't just the Republicans. There is not enough support among Democrats for that legislation, even though the assault weapons ban polls pretty well. That's a suggestion we don't have the degree of consensus, because there are Democrats in Montana, Democrats in Colorado, places like that, who are not going to support that kind of legislation.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, when you ask about background checks, a lot of people, for example, most Americans say they favor some commonsense measures to impose gun controls on the use of guns.

  • David Corn:

    And they also favor restrictions on people with mental health issues. And I don't want to stigmatize them, but that's something that Trump came in and eased right away. So, it's problematic.

    But the thing I would say is, if you turn to Donald Trump or the Republican leadership or the NRA, what do you have for us? Year after year, they have thoughts and prayers, which are kind and nice, but they really have no other programmatic, policy proposals to deal with this.

    So, if they don't have anything better to off, blocking something is just not, I think, the right way to go.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    I do think it's a mistake to assume that the only something that's worth looking at are regulations on guns.

    I think the one thing we have seen in this incident and in some previous incidents is a failure on the part of law enforcement. The government has been telling us for quite some time now, if you see something, say something.

    But that doesn't make sense if the government doesn't then do something with the information that people are giving. I'm glad the FBI is looking at this. I think Congress also to needs investigate how the FBI dropped the ball here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're pointing to the failure to follow through on the tip that came in last month.

    I want to turn to another area where there doesn't seem to be any progress, David, and that's immigration reform.

  • David Corn:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We saw votes, but no consensus this week.

  • David Corn:

    Well, there was a consensus that got 54 votes, which is a majority in the Senate, not enough to break the filibuster that the Republicans would lead.

    And we have seen in the past that there — a year or two back, that there was an immigration consensus. And even Donald Trump agreed to this, according to Republicans and Democrats who met with him a couple of weeks ago. Very simple, you know, take care of DACA, give Trump some money for the wall and border security, and move on.

    But his own, you know, staff and people working with him have sort of cut the legs out from under that deal, so we're left with a situation where a reasonable compromise can't move forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you see this going?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    And a majority of the Senate also was able to come to an agreement on getting rid of sanctuary cities, cracking down on them, but, of course, not enough to overcome a filibuster. So there are areas where there is a consensus.

    I do think this White House saw this as its great opportunity to get its entire revision of immigration reform enacted, and that that's one of the things that is holding up the deal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But are they willing to let the DACA recipients be deported in order to stick to their guns on this, stick to their four pillars, as the White House puts it?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    I do not believe that President Trump is going to accept what he would regard as a loss, what would look like a loss, in order to avoid that.

    I think he would like to do it, but only if the Democrats give him a set of demands that they don't seem inclined to give him.

  • David Corn:

    But they did agree to give him some things that they didn't — wouldn't otherwise do so.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    Right, right, but not enough.

  • David Corn:

    So, it does go back to him holding these people hostage.

    He created the situation and said, we're going to get rid of DACA, unless you do something about it. And now he claims to want to do something about it, but he is holding them hostage until he gets more than what I think looks like to be a general, reasonable compromise that gets over 50 votes in the Senate.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    The main legislation they were considering, they wanted to have an amnesty that would cover people who are coming in here after the legislation was passed. They pushed that back to January.

    There are some elements in here that were going to be very, very hard for Republicans to swallow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, last thing I want to do is come back to the conversation I just had with Ronan Farrow of "The New Yorker" magazine, detailing, David, more information — or information about the president's extramarital affairs before he ran for president, but a system, an elaborate system, of payoffs…

  • David Corn:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … by a friend of the president's in order to, in essence, buy the silence, if this is to be believed.

  • David Corn:

    Yes.

    People can judge the president's behavior on moral grounds. You know, we have his comments on the record about boasting of sexual assault, and whether it matters to them whether he committed — was involved in extramarital affairs.

    What's quite serious in this case, in the Stormy Daniels case is the payoff. It may violate campaign finance laws, but, more importantly, it puts the president and the candidate in a position of being blackmailed.

    They're paying off, either in the case of Stormy Daniels, someone directly, or, in this case, allegedly, a very important media organization that now has something on the president. He at least owes them a big favor.

    I can only imagine how much a deal this would have been in Congress, there would be 67 investigations, if this had happened under the Obama administration.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly, Ramesh, how damaging is this?

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    Well, I do think that the issues that are raised here make a lot of — are important ones.

    We know that the details in this story match some of the other details that have already been corroborated in other allegations that have been made against Trump. So I'm inclined to believe this.

    But I think that a lot of people already basically knew this about President Trump, and so I don't think it's going to change the politics of it. But it is a problem.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean even the financial payments? That is a new…

  • Ramesh Ponnuru:

    I don't think that anybody is going to see the story and be shocked: I can't believe that Donald Trump did that.

  • David Corn:

    There may be some criminal, legal issues here that haven't played out yet. We have to see.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we will leave it there.

    David Corn, Ramesh Ponnuru, thank you both.

  • David Corn:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Appreciate it.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest