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Do Mueller’s first indictments change anything politically?

What are the political ramifications of the first indictments in Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign? Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Judy Woodruff to discuss whether it’s a turning point in Washington for voters, for lawmakers or for President Trump’s agenda.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more on the political fallout from today’s developments, we are joined by our Politics Monday team, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

    Politics Monday. Good to see both of you.

    I want to ask you about William Brangham’s reporting.

    But, Tam, let’s start with these — the news today, and that is the two indictments and then the plea agreement. Is there a sense from the White House, from the Hill, from Capitol Hill that this is a big moment politically, or just another day in the life of this ongoing investigation?

  • Tamara Keith:

    The White House is treating this sort of like they have treated other big revelations, saying, oh, this Papadopoulos guy, he was just a volunteer for the campaign, and, hey, look, those charges that they announced, that he just pled out to misleading the FBI, that doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign.

    Of course, as the legal experts you have had on made very clear, he — that means he’s cooperating. And they’re — in these documents, there were all kinds of connections, e-mails, various documentation of him clueing in top leadership at the Trump campaign.

    As for the Hill, Republicans have been relatively quiet. Paul Ryan early in the day said something like he’s not going to let this thing get in the way of doing the work for the American people, taxes.

    And there were a couple of Republicans late in the day who said that Mueller should be allowed to continue to have this process carry out.

  • Judy Woodruff: 

    So, saying he should go ahead.

    And, Amy, we were just talking about this. It was Senator Grassley and Senator Hatch, senior Republicans, saying the judicial process should move forward.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right, and I think laying down a marker early on to say, if there is any indication that the president is going to try to dismiss Mueller or to try to dismiss these allegations, we’re letting everybody know that’s not OK.

    They didn’t come right out and say that, but it seems it’s pretty clear they’re laying the parameters here for — to tell the president, this has to keep going, do not try to short-circuit this.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And the White House did say that President Trump is not considering getting rid of Mueller.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That’s right, which — and there was a lot of speculation about that.

    But, Amy, does it feel like we have turned some kind of political corner here? We have been talking about the Mueller investigation, the Mueller investigation.

  • Amy Walter:

    I know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we see real evidence, tangible evidence of what he may have. Does it change things?

  • Amy Walter:

    Look, that’s a really good question. And I guess we have to start with, in what context?

    So, the first is, does it change things, as we talked about, on Capitol Hill? Does it derail the Republicans’ agenda and the president’s agenda? They are moving full-steam ahead on taxes. As we discussed, they already have a lot of other — we discussed this, I guess, last week — they have a lot of other challenges in getting a tax bill going forward.

    But is this going to derail them even farther? They are going to have to spend more time answering questions about this. The president will be distracted, not a strong and effective spokesperson if he’s tweeting about Russia, instead of focusing on taxes, is number one.

    And the second, does it move voters? Like so much else in this country, Judy, people are really polarized on this question about Russia and its interference. There is one group of people convinced that, no matter what, there was collusion with Trump and Russians. One group of people believe this is all basically fake and there’s no there there.

    And then there’s a big group in the middle that says, I don’t know what to believe. I’m not really paying much attention.

    What we’re going to have to watch for in these next few weeks is whether those two groups, the groups that believe there is nothing there, or I don’t really care because I’m not really paying attention to it, is there anything that they have seen that actually moves them?

    And it’s really too soon to tell. The one thing that’s important, though, Judy, is that this week, before we even started with these indictments, the president was already in a deep hole politically.

    The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll came out this weekend, the president at 38 percent approval rating. This is the lowest of his presidency. In fact, in all NBC/Wall Street Journal polling, this is the lowest of a presidency in his presidency in his first term.

    So, he’s already starting at a very low point. Having your campaign officials indicted isn’t going to make it that much better.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, Tamara, Tam, when you talk to Republicans, they point out, well, but he’s still doing well among Republican voters, and that’s what Republican members of Congress who want to be reelected are focused on.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and the other thing they’re focused on is getting this tax system overhaul done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Because they feel that is — that’s existential at this point, it’s life and death.

    If they can’t do that, then many of them feel that their chances of getting reelected are even worse, their chances of holding onto the House and holding onto the Senate. And President Trump may have people that are associated with his campaign and people with close ties to him who have some legal problems and all of those things.

    President Trump is still a man with a pen who can sign a tax overhaul if one gets to his desk.

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, and we don’t know when and if other indictments are going to come down. We’re pointing to this day as, was this a turning point?

    But you just don’t know at any day whether something else is going to — when another shoe or another thing is going to drop. It makes it really difficult if you’re a political strategist, if you’re a legislative person on the Hill, to try to map out anything, even week by week, nonetheless for a couple months going out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, as we just heard from William Brangham, the White House, the press secretary at the White House continue to push forward — the president himself with his tweets, Tam, continues to push forward this idea that no, no, no, the investigation should be focusing on Hillary Clinton, the uranium deal and other conspiracies.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Right.

    And the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, saying that the real collusion, look at the real collusion, it’s Hillary Clinton and the dossier, which is an interesting argument and one that gained a lot of steam last week, right before the news broke that there were going to be indictments.

  • Amy Walter:

    And what we have learned too about the Republican base is they may not all be completely unified around the president or the president’s agenda, but the one thing that unifies them more than anything else, Hillary Clinton.

    Bring up Hillary Clinton’s name, you are going to get the base coming around to support that contention. It worked in the 2016 campaign. It’s not clear that it’s going to work here.

    And, again, for those people in the middle who aren’t paying as much attention, maybe don’t know what to think, is that really going to cloud it enough for them that they’re not going to…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That’s the question, because there’s no one singular name that’s going to be on the ballot in all these congressional elections, either in the Virginia governor’s race, which we need to talk about next week — we will talk about next week — or in these races next year, Tam.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, that’s it.

  • Amy Walter:

    And that, if anything, what it does is, it impacts enthusiasm from the Republican base.

    If they feel disillusioned, dispirited, they may not believe that the president has necessarily done anything wrong, but they’re not feeling as energized about coming out to vote and support Republicans.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    An energized Amy Walter, an energized Tamara Keith, thank you both.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Politics Monday.

  • Amy Walter:

    You’re welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You’re welcome.

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