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Shields and Brooks on articles of impeachment, FBI’s Russia mistakes

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s political news, including the House Judiciary Committee’s passage of articles of impeachment along party lines, Republicans’ defense of President Trump, how impeachment affects Trump politically, what the Horowitz report says about the FBI and a bombshell report on the Afghan war.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, as of today, those are the Judiciary Committee-approved charges against President Trump. Now it is on the full House of Representatives to decide whether or not to impeach him.

    To help us analyze this important week, as always, are Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    So these two articles of impeachment, David, how strong a case have the Democrats made with this?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, two things. One, I think they have made a strong case.

    I think there was clearly a campaign to have a quid pro quo with Ukraine, and it's clearly an impeachable offense.

    As for the articles of impeachment, I don't like them. Abuse of power, what is that? Like, that's not a criminal thing. Like, it's a vague construct. And same with obstruction of Congress. Like, these are both extremely vague constructs.

    And I think they lead away from what actually happened, what crime was committed, and what should the punishment be. And they will lead to a debate over these vague concepts.

    The concepts should hug closely to some sort of criminal concept that's in our court system, so we all have a history about it, so we know the structure of it, and these sort of waft away from it. So, I think they make the case. I just don't like the way they framed it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, too vague and not on the point?

  • Mark Shields:

    David, too vague? No, never.

    Judy, I think the best case was made by a unique person, in the sense of Zoe Lofgren, who was a staffer for Don Edwards on the House Judiciary Committee at the time of the Nixon impeachment, was a member at the time of Bill Clinton's impeachment, is now in the House Judiciary Committee.

    And she — I thought she drew the distinction quite compellingly. And that was that Richard Nixon, no comporting with a foreign power, no attempt to bring the foreign influence into our elections, that he had tried to influence the election improperly, and tried to cover it up with the FBI and the CIA, and paid for it.

    That Bill Clinton, no foreign influence, no rigging of an election, he had, totally improperly and indefensibly, had sexual relations with a 21-year-old intern and lied about it.

    But this was a president trying to rig an election coming up in 2020, using a country, an ally under duress, facing an external threat to its survival from Moscow and — from Russia, and in need of our assistance that had already been voted for, and asking for exchange to get that, to meet — or meeting even with the president to validate the new leader of our ally there, that they spy on an upcoming election in the president's principal opponent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're saying these articles capture that? Or they…

  • Mark Shields:

    I think they capture — I mean, I think it's pretty — I just think it's quite straightforward and clearly understandable, and clearly understandable to anybody.

    And I think, Judy, quite honestly, no Republican I know will be able to explain to his or her grandchildren why he or she voted against this, I mean, that this was defensible, that this was acceptable behavior on the part of a president of the United States.

  • David Brooks:

    I think it will say, oh, I might have voted for censure. This doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

    I still think that's their strongest argument, aside from just throwing up smoke.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But are you saying, David, that there's another — there's a different article that they could have, should have come up?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, I should have gone to law school because I would know.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • David Brooks:

    I didn't go to law school. So I don't have the exact phrase. I just think the phrase abuse of power just doesn't — it just means nothing and everything to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And obstruction of Congress?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, that's a little closer. But, frankly, so many people have been accused and sometimes removed for office from that, that do we really undo an election over that one?

    And I think something serious happened here. But it was that — what Mark just described. But, somehow, the way we're about to debate this doesn't seem to get the seriousness of it.

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, just one side has engaged in the debate. I mean, the Republicans have not.

    I mean, there was an acknowledgement on the part of Clinton's defenders that he had done something wrong, even with Nixon, that there had been a break-in. I mean, the Republicans are just in a state of denial. They're sailing blithely on the river denial, I mean, that there was nothing, nothing was done.

    This is — Mick Mulvaney tells us, wake up and grow up and accept it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Republicans are calling it a sham, a waste of time.

    The president himself is doing the same thing. He's tweeting a lot. He was out on the campaign trail this week. He was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, talking about the impeachment process, also singling out the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff.

    And here's what the president said:

  • President Donald Trump:

    The president of Ukraine repeatedly declared that there was no pressure, but he didn't want to say that.

    We said, say it. Say it, you crooked bastard. Say it.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • President Donald Trump:

    But he doesn't want to say it. We said, say it.

    I'd like to force him to say it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • President Donald Trump:

    He will walk up to the mic. "Ladies and gentlemen."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • President Donald Trump:

    The guy total corrupt guy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So that plays well with Trump supporters, doesn't it?

  • David Brooks:

    He's a showman. And that's showbiz.

    And I have to say, I had a friend come from — he'd been away in Israel and came back to the United States. And he came to me, he said, Trump's really funny.

    And I don't always see the humor. But, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, tens of thousand of people saw the humor, and hundreds of thousands of million — hundreds of millions — or tens of millions of people around the country see the humor.

    And they just think the guy's funny, and I like that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It seems — it's working? I mean, he's using coarse, tough language.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's not working. He's running behind Joe Biden and every other leading Democrat.

    Judy, just think of politicians, political leaders in your lifetime, whether it's the city — shining city on a hill, or the hope, and that's — or what we can do together, you know, what we owe each other.

    This is the antithesis of that. This is the politics of grievance. This is not that we are surrounded by those with whom we can work, we can reach across, we can — that my opponent is — my adversary is not mistaken or ill-informed. My opponent is my enemy and is evil and hates this country and hates you.

    And, boy, that that didn't echo through Jim Jordan's words. I mean, Donald Trump has spawned protegees and knockoff versions: They hate us. They're out to get us.

    It really is — it's a terribly bleak and dismal and dark America that this president portrays and those who support him.

  • David Brooks:

    You know, we have all based our careers on the notion that we can have a conversation.

    And so I would stand up for those values as much as anybody. But in a time when people hate the political establishment so much, one of Trump's secrets is to find there has to be a stylistic way of talking that seems different.

    And even for those of us on our side have to find the stylistic way of talking that feels authentic to people. And some of the old communication styles that we used to do or that candidates used to do, I think that just is not resonating with people right now.

    And that's been true around the world. And you can get somebody who's conservative or progressive who doesn't exhaust everybody all the time and who actually talks in a normal tone and actually listens.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes. No.

  • David Brooks:

    But, somehow, something has to change. And that's one of the things we have learned, not only from Trump, but the world politics.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Some people are pointing to Boris Johnson winning in Britain.

  • Mark Shields:

    Yes.

    I guess just — and I agree with David, but just one point, Judy, and that is, at no point is there any celebration of what we have achieved in this country, I mean, the fact that we have cut the poverty rate among people over the age of 65 by two-thirds, that we have removed 85 percent of lead from the air, I mean, all of the things we have done and are doing.

    We have got a long way to go. But we have achieved, and there are good things that America does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two — well, in a completely different direction, two investigations I want to ask you both about.

    One, David, is the inspector general at the Department of Justice went back and looked at the origins of the Trump campaign Russia investigation. Republicans had been saying it would show political bias. The inspector general said — didn't find political bias, but he did find a lot of mistakes.

    What do we take away from this?

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    Well, with Fiona Hill and a lot of people who testified, we saw the federal government at its best. And now we're seeing another side, which is incompetence.

    And I take them at their word there was no political bias. But there was certainly a lot of incompetence, and they were certainly spinning the game. And the investigation into Carter Page, just for one example, he was meeting with the Russians. And he was telling the CIA, I just want you to know I'm meeting with them.

    And the FBI did not disclose that fact that he told the CIA, which certainly makes it look a lot less suspicious than it otherwise would be. And, frankly, this vindicates a lot of the — not everything, but a lot of the stuff Devin Nunes was saying, House Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, saying they weren't playing fair.

    And so this is a case where I don't like — maybe there wasn't bias, but there was certainly a lot of incompetence and there were certainly people getting over their skis in trying to pursue an investigation, maybe without as much cause as they pretended.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you take away from that.

  • Mark Shields:

    That there wasn't — I agree with David. There were serious mistakes made.

    And I think that FISA process is open, not only to scrutiny, but to severe criticism. But I — when Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, appointed by President Trump, says investigations were opened in 2016 for an authorized purpose and with the adequate federal predication — predication the recent word that is now in vogue — but he gets lambasted by the president.

    It's like everybody got something out of this investigation, except the president, who wanted it to be a coup. And there was no coup. That's it. I mean, I think a lot of people have to answer what they did as far as the visa, but there was no coup.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The other report that — actually, not so much investigation, official, but The Washington Post has reported, David, after extensive reporting, going back years, asking for documents, that it turned — around the Afghanistan war, the decisions made by administrations going back to George W. Bush, Barack Obama, through this administration, indicate that top officials were not telling the American people everything they knew, the truth, about what was going on in that war.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I found this series shocking.

    I mean, the one thing — you always think, oh, we had learned from the past. And the one thing that we thought we learned from Vietnam was, you don't lie about body counts. And it wasn't quite that, but it was certainly dissembling about a lot of stuff over a long — over several administrations.

    And some of this is inevitable in war. I remember I read about John Hay, who was Lincoln's chief of staff — or assistant. And he's writing these public statements about how the Civil War is going. The war is going great. We're going to win.

    And then he's writing in his journal at the same time, the war is going terribly. We're going to lose. We don't — we have no strategy.

    So some of this is inevitable in war. But the fact that they didn't learn the single biggest lesson of military history in the last 75 years, which is be straight, that is mind-boggling to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Vietnam was only a few decades ago.

  • Mark Shields:

    A few decades ago, Judy.

    If anything, this is worse than Vietnam. I mean, you think about it, since 2001, the country has just been uninterested, disinterested in the war, 18 years. The fact that 157,000 human beings have perished in this war, that a trillion dollars has been spent, misspent, I think it's fair to say, I mean, on motor pools that don't exist, of supporting troops, 200,000 troops that don't exist, it was a total fraud, scandal, criminal activity.

    And nobody blows a whistle. Nobody called out. I mean, it was absolutely wrong. It's indefensible. And all this time, at home, what are we doing? Six trillion dollars in tax cuts.

    I mean, so, I mean, it's just sort of a let it go on. It just — it is indefensible. We turned our back on the Powell doctrine, which, if anything, we learned after Vietnam that you go in with a limited objective, with overwhelming force, with clearly understood consensus among your population, civilian and military.

    All of that's missing. All of it's missing. And it's just — it's a terrible name. In a perverse way, it helps Donald Trump. It helps Donald Trump, because it's the government lying. I mean, we don't — we don't like to think that we lie to each other, or our government lies to us. But this is a case of lying to the American people and lying to themselves.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And your point is, it's gone back a long time. This is not a modern phenomenon.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes.

    And we — you see and you don't see. Like, we all knew Afghanistan was a struggle. I was in Kandahar once, and I saw joint American-Afghan operations, and the American soldiers looked awesome, and fit, and they were really trying really hard.

    And some of the Afghan soldiers, like, I could have taken them on. Like, and I saw that, but I didn't see it. And when our leaders aren't telling us the truth about these things, it's hard even for me. I was over there. It's hard to really know. You got to have a — you have got to trust your leaders. And lives depended upon it.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Mark Shields:

    Fully two-thirds of Afghans are diagnosed with mental disorders after 18 years of war. That's how terrible — that's the tragedy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you.

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