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Shields and Brooks on the Nunes memo aftermath, Trump’s State of the Union bump

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the disputed document alleging missteps by the FBI in the Russia investigation, President Trump’s first State of the Union address, and the legacy of outgoing Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Gentlemen, we're going to get to that memo, but I first want to ask you about Janet Yellen. She — we were very privileged to have the only interview she did today that aired, David.

    But it's very interesting to look back at her tenure over the last four years.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Well, it's interesting to see a normal person as a public servant, who isn't, like, screaming some manic red-vs.-blue fight.

    And it's a good reminder. People have their views. And she had a more of a liberal view than some of her predecessors. But being a Fed chairman, like a lot of politics, is about balance, trying to expand growth, expand labor markets, while reducing inflation.

    And so it's a problem. And you are trying to find the right balance for the moment. And whatever philosophy you go in, you're presented with a specific problem and you're trying to find the right balance. And you're not driven by ideology. You're driven by data, your best judgment.

    And that's the way a lot of government is. And even the Supreme Court works that way. People have red and blue, but they're also just trying to do the job well. And that happens a lot in the bureaucracy. And we get a false view of politics based on what Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are screaming each other. But, in reality, there are a lot of people like Janet Yellen.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    She's getting, Mark, high marks from economists for her record, for what she talked there at the end about employment.

    But she said she is worried about productivity. And I thought she was very candid about the lack of women in her field.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I did, Judy. Let me just establish first at the outset there is no moral parity between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. And David, I think, would like to withdraw that analogy or comparison.

    The fact is that Janet Yellen was refreshing. She brings a candor to it. She is an economist with a human passion for economic justice. I mean, she doesn't talk in abstractions. And she's got a hell of a resume as she leaves.

    I mean, she really — it's been impressive. I think David's right about her leadership. And the fact that she was the first woman, certainly, as a pioneer, she's a pretty strong example for more.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That, we will see. I mean, she's succeed by Jay Powell. He starts on Monday.

    But let's go back now to our lead story, David. And that is that memo, that long-awaited memo finally released today by the House of Representatives, Republicans in the House.

    We see it. What do we make of it? Is it the blockbuster we thought it would be?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    No. It's like a mini, mini little buster, whatever you call a mini-buster.

    You know, it's not great that the FBI apparently didn't tell the courts that — where their information came from, that it came from the Steele dossier and that that was funded by the Democrats. You would like to think, as a part of a normal process, they would say, we have this information, this is how we got it. That seems like the way the system should work.

    But as something that's going to derail the investigation or as something that makes the FBI look particularly bad, it really doesn't.

    To me, the main effect is, it undercuts one of the main Trump narratives. And the main Trump narrative has been that this got started because some mixture of FBI partisans, Obama-Clinton people had this Steele dossier, and that launched this investigation.

    But what we learned in the last paragraph of this memo is the investigation got launched, nothing to do with the Steele dossier. It had to do with this conversation this guy George Papadopoulos had with an Australian diplomat in London at a wine bar.

    And he blabbed, oh, the Russians have this stuff on Hillary Clinton. When the stuff started coming out, as my newspaper reported about a month, the Australians said — went to the Americans and said, hey, what's going on here? And that was the beginning. And so that undermines the main narrative that this whole investigation is premised on some Democratic partisan work. It's not true.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    If that's the case, Mark, what did the Republicans accomplish by getting this out there?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, they have destroyed one of the last islands of non-strident partisanship in Washington, which had been the gang of eight.

    The gang of eight, Judy, are the four leaders of the Congress, two of each party, and the four ranking member and chairs of the Intelligence Committees. That has been over — historically, a rather remarkable aberration from the strident partisanship that has possessed our city, sadly.

    And that's now destroyed. I mean, the idea that this could not have been done in regular order, there were doubts about how the FBI and their sources, whether — they didn't question the substance. Now they're going back to the source, you know, on Steele, which really is sort of a reach.

    We learned today that Devin Nunes, the author — and I put that in quotes — of this memo, because there are strong suggestions that it was not — he wasn't unaided in this effort, that there may have been collusion with those other places in government, that it's — actually never even read the basic material.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    He apparently said that in an interview.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    At FOX News. He subcontracted that to Trey Gowdy, a colleague in the House.

    So, I just think it's — I think it does nothing but damage. And let's be very blunt. What it reveals more than anything else is that this president will do anything and leave any wreck in his wake to avoid and to somehow stop what is an authorized investigation by his administration of Russian influence in the last election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You agree with that?

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes, Well, I mean, the two acts of Nunes' complete malpractice is not reading the underlying material.

    I mean, he can let Trey Gowdy read it, but they can make two copies. You can — two people can read something.

    And it seems to me, if this is the main thing your job is, like, spend a couple of days, read the stuff.

    Second, not inviting the FBI in for the — to actually ask them questions. This is, like, not complicated statecraft. It seems to me the basic you would do if you were trying to do something fair.

    But the premise has been, I think for him and for Trump himself, that there are no fair players here, there's no process to be respected here, there's no constitutional order that we live within. It's just they're out to get me, and I'm out to get them.

    And Trump has made that just his M.O. for the last — since this whole thing is going on. I remain a skeptic that there's a lot of big scandal underlying here, but it's certainly Trump — Donald Trump is acting as if there is.

    And every single real problem he's created, he's created for himself.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It's interesting that Trey Gowdy, who did read the underlying classified material, announced this week that he's not going to run for Congress again.

    He served, what, I don't know, five terms, or 10 years. And one of the comments he made in his statement was that he wants to serve — he's going to go back to the courts. He was a prosecutor. He said, I want to serve in an institution where fairness is respected — of course, suggesting that that's not the case in Congress.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He did also add today, Judy, that he had 100 percent confidence, after this, in Robert Mueller and his investigation.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Trey Gowdy said that. MARK SHIELDS: Trey Gowdy said that. So, my question is, does what the president — what the Republicans and the president have done here, does it any way undermine the Mueller investigation?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Well, I think there was a way into Mueller that they were going to — they obviously laid out, was to get Rod Rosenstein, who had been confirmed as deputy attorney general of the United States by a 92-6 vote, with such notorious conservatives as Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin and Chris Van Hollen all voting for him, and Kamala Harris.

    But to get him, and get him replaced, and hoping that somehow Rachel Brand, who would succeed him, whose reputation…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The number three person in the Justice Department.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Number three, whose reputation for integrity and experience and solid legal credentials — she had clerked at the Supreme Court, is very professional, respected on both sides — that she would somehow bow to Donald Trump and get rid of Bob Mueller.

    As we learned from the — David's paper's reporting of Don McGahn, the White House counsel's refusal to go along with the firing of Bob Mueller, that the president is trying to do this through the backdoor.

    But he's — I think this failed as a political means.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But we don't know — we don't know at this point what the president is going to do, whether he's going to go ahead and try to get rid of Rosenstein. That's been all the speculation.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Right. And he certainly left the door open. I guess what strikes me, we had Will Hurd, Republican from Texas, on earlier, a very reasonable guy, trying not — trying just to do oversight. His rhetoric was 1,000 miles away from what Donald Trump's rhetoric has been, and 1,000 miles away from what a lot of the Trump orbit has been.

    The precursor talk was this memo was going to be so — scandals worse than Watergate, that this was going to be something so devastating.

    And there's just a detachment from reality, no matter what side you take on this, what's in this memo. And that is sort of a way of raising the atmosphere and delegitimizing the whole process, because a lot of people aren't going to read the — even if it's four pages or whatever it is.

    They are going to hear what Donald Trump said. And then I think that's what they're going to think. And that's just — it's like a misreporting that sort of undermines the whole process.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, speaking of misreporting — or, I should say, speaking of what the president said, it seems like 100 years ago, Mark, but the president give the State of the Union address this week.

    What endures from that? We have only got about a minute-and-a-half, but I don't want to leave both of you without giving you a chance to talk about that again.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The president has had two good moments in the polls.

    When he agreed, briefly, to work with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders last fall, he got a bump. When he has talked normal, seemingly normal, in the State of the Union message, even though he broke with the truth on a number of established occasions, he gets a lift.

    But normal doesn't last. That's what we have learned.

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Yes. He's — he's doing well in the polls. He's got a bump. The whole Republican Party has got a bump.

    Citing all the heroes in the balcony turned out to be a very clever thing, because it gave people something to admire. It was a little bit of uplift. It prevented Trump from talking about himself a little more.

    And so that was successful. So, you have to say — I didn't like the emotional mood of the speech, but you have to regard it as a success for the Trump administration.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is it a success that endures in some way? I mean, does it spill over and give him…

  • DAVID BROOKS:

    Even his own partisans say it did not lay out a real agenda for the next year.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No.

    And the great majority — when he talked about the heroes, it was one of the few times in public when Donald Trump has not talked about Donald Trump.

    And what he failed to mention was, virtually all the heroes whom he cited, other than the 12-year-old and the parents of the slain children, were public employees. And it would be nice to honor and salute public employees, just the fact that they are — they did accept government service as a high calling.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    A good note to end on.

    Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you both.

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