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Shields and Salam on DNC’s Russia lawsuit, James Comey’s memos

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review executive editor Reihan Salam join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the DNC’s move to sue Russia and members of the Trump campaign over election meddling, the memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with President Trump, plus the legacy of former first lady Barbara Bush.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was another news-packed week. In fact, it's still going on.

    And we have Shields and Salam to unpack it. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "National Review" executive editor Reihan Salam. David Brooks is away.

    Gentlemen, welcome on this Friday.

    So, Mark, I want to point out, we have just learned there is a Washington Post story just moving that the attorney general let the White House last weekend that, if the president were to fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, that he, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would have to step down.

    I guess the language is, might have to leave his job.

    So it looks as if there's still worry, concern about the president's intentions, even though he said he doesn't plan to fire these people.

  • Mark Shields:

    It's a happy, productive place to work, the Trump administration, a feeling of conviviality, trust, congeniality, and mutual sense of mission.

    I mean, as a personnel director, the president is unrivaled as a disaster in the profession. People who work for him work so in terror, anxiety, unsure of what he wants to do and what they're supposed to do, and whether they will be there two weeks from now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Reihan, it's just another element in this ongoing saga.

  • Reihan Salam:

    I can't say we know exactly where the story is here.

    Were we to actually hear that there was some move to fire the deputy attorney general, that would be very big news. There would be very intense resistance from many Republican lawmakers, as well as many other figures in the senior ranks of the White House. So I'm not sure there is a story yet, but certainly it's a sign that there are many people in the White House who would strongly discourage the president from taking such a step.

    And he himself said that he had no intention of pursuing it. So, we will see what happens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. I think this was probably in the wake of that — it was in that several-day period when we were hearing the president was very upset and was thinking about or talking about firing. But, as you said, nothing's happened yet.

    So let's move, Mark, to the story today. Democratic National Committee announces it is filing a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, against high Russian officials, the Russian government and WikiLeaks for hacking into the Democratic National Committee e-mail system and essentially for stealing, they're saying, corrupting the election in 2016.

    We heard Tom Perez a few minutes ago, the chair of the party, say, well, one of the reasons we're doing this is the statute of limitations; we think there is evidence to believe there was a conspiracy.

    Is it a smart move on their part?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, we will find out if it's a smart move, Judy.

    Part of the problem is that it does have echoes of Watergate, and without, right now at least, the persuasive proof that the same set of facts operated, where the president was intimately, deeply involved in a criminal act.

    I would say this. Part of it is, I think, politics has become litigation. Politics has become lawyers and depositions and whether you're going to testify. And, you know, in that sense, it's not, at least initially, exhilarating to those of us who care about politics and policy and legislation and righting wrongs and bringing justice.

    But, you know, I can honestly say, I don't know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you make of it? What's the significance?

  • Reihan Salam:

    Well, politics is becoming litigation, certainly, but politics is also fund-raising.

    That is especially true if you're the chair of the Democratic National Committee. One thing that is important to understand is that American politics is very decentralized. Typically, candidates raise their own money, they have their own networks.

    For the Democratic National Committee to be influential and important, it has to raise money. And one way fort DNC to raise its profile is to do things along these lines that really fires up the base and the small-dollar donors, many of whom are very passionate about the Russia story.

    Susan Hennessey earlier on this program explained that they are setting a very high bar for themselves. It's hard to see that they're really going to prove these allegations in court, but the litigation is definitely going to get the DNC and DNC Chair Tom Perez in the news.

    And I think that it's going to fire up a ton of people to open up their checkbooks. So, in that sense, I think it is a very shrewd move for the DNC. For Democrats more broadly, we will see. I'm skeptical.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Excuse me. I wanted to let you finish your thought.

    All this coming, Mark, in a week when we're hearing so much about James Comey, his book, and then today — or last night, I guess, the — after urging by Republicans on Capitol Hill, the Comey memos that he wrote after his conversations with the president before Comey was fired have now been made public.

    You have had a chance — both of you have had a chance to look at them. Do they change anything?

  • Mark Shields:

    I can't — other than perhaps your opinion of the three chairmen who pushed for their publication.

    They in no way conflict, at least in my reading of them, with James Comey's own testimony. They reinforce what he has said and what he has written.

    Now, I think Congressman Gowdy has said that they're exhibit A for the defense for the White House for any case of obstruction of justice on the part of the president. They're certainly not complimentary of the president. They're not inspiring. But they do reinforce what Comey has said.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you see there, Reihan, and also with the book — coming out the same week as the book? As Mark said, most people are saying they are affirming what's in the book.

  • Reihan Salam:

    I agree with Mark's remarks.

    I think that, basically, this is entirely consistent with what James Comey had said before. Clearly, James Comey had serious misgivings about President Trump long before he was elected.

    And, also, it's — now openly campaigning against President Trump's reelection. He's telling people that he wants American voters to throw him out.

    And the trouble here is this. If you are James Comey and you really want to convince folks that President Trump should be voted out of office, et cetera, the thing is that you have to find persuadable people. You have to find people who might be favorably disposed to the president and persuade them not to be.

    And the thing is that I'm not sure why he's really doing that. What we know now is that he's always had misgivings about the president. So, I think that that tends to reinforce this narrative that he wasn't favorably disposed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see this?

  • Mark Shields:

    I will say this about James Comey. And he's certainly gotten criticism from a number of quarters. And I think he's earned it by including the rather snide remarks about the president's appearance and suntanning and hair color and all the rest of it, which was petty. It was mud-wrestling, getting down where Donald Trump mud-wrestles.

    But his statement uncontradicted in any way, before the election, he revealed that Hillary Clinton's personal e-mails were going to be reopened, at a time when he and virtually everybody in shoe leather and a majority of people in the Trump campaign firmly believed that Hillary Clinton was going to win.

    And he put that election in some suspense. The Clinton people blame him for it. The Trump people acknowledge what he did. And I have to say, it certainly wasn't — it was an act of some integrity, professional integrity, for him to do that.

    The safe thing would have been to not say anything at the time and, in fact, let it happen and be reappointed. He was certainly putting at jeopardy his own position, if, in fact, Hillary Clinton did win, that he had tried to sabotage and submarine her chances in the last week of the campaign.

    So I think, right now, Judy, what we have seen in the first week is that the two tribes have formed, on the one side those who don't believe James Comey, and those who do. I don't know how many people are persuadable on this issue at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you both, finally, about former first lady Barbara Bush, who was a remarkable figure, somebody with a sense of humor, passed away this week. Her funeral is tomorrow.

    Reihan, why do you think there's been such a — it seems to me — there would have, of course, been a lot of attention, but why do you think there is particular attention right now?

  • Reihan Salam:

    Well, I have a little theory, which is that a lot of us have women in our lives, particularly mothers and grandmothers, who came of age at a time when women's contributions weren't necessarily all that valued, and the way that women made that mark was in part by serving their families, putting others ahead of themselves.

    And I think people looked at Barbara Bush and see a very formidable woman, a very sharp-tongued woman with an acid wit and also a lot of warmth, who really helped build a political dynasty, was an incredibly important part of that, who didn't necessarily get all the spotlight that she would have gotten otherwise, maybe had she come of age at a different time.

    So, I think that that resonates with a lot of folks. They see that this was a major talent who had really a pretty big and deep effect on the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    She was a — Mark, she was a wife and a mother, a mother of a president, the wife of a president.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We followed her over decades.

    So, she played the traditional role, as Reihan said, but she did it with very much her own identity.

  • Mark Shields:

    She did.

    And her death has, I think, touched something in the nation that has surprised me. I think the response has been national.

    I think there's a couple of factors, Judy. At a time when the debate about character and fitness for office and the president rages and continues to rage in the country, she reminds us, as does her husband, of a time when noblesse oblige, that sense of moral obligation of those of advantage, those of privilege to act generously and compassionately toward those not so gifted, not so blessed was central to our national leadership.

    At the same time, I agree Reihan's points about she was — she did have an acid tongue. She was capable of that. But I remember the act of courage, a time when the AIDS epidemic we had — we were seized in this country by ignorance and by fear, if you shook hands with somebody with AIDS, you could contract the illness.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back in the 1980s.

  • Mark Shields:

    That's right.

    And her predecessor, Ronald Reagan, the Reagans, had been more than arm's length on this issue.

    And, in fact, she left the White House and went to a Grandma's House, which is a hospice for infants afflicted with AIDS, and held and caressed and comforted children. And it was an act of just enormous courage.

    But I just think we yearn, there's a yearning for what they represented, the marriage, the family, that sense of duty, the sense of responsibility that each of us has to our country. And I think she just touched it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we have gotten away from that, haven't we?

  • Reihan Salam:

    We certainly have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we certainly think of her, we think of the entire Bush family at this moment.

    Thank you both, Reihan Salam, Mark Shields.

  • Mark Shields:

    Thank you, Judy.

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