What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Shields and Salam on new Russian election meddling charges, Trump’s Putin meeting

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and the National Review’s Reihan Salam join Judy Woodruff the discuss the week’s news, including the Justice Department indictment of 12 Russian military officers for conspiring to hack the Democratic Party and state election officials, President Trump’s posture toward Russia President Vladimir Putin, tensions with NATO allies and criticism of Theresa May.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It has been a busy week in politics, here at home and abroad.

    For more on that, we turn to the analysis of Shields and Salam. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review executive editor Reihan Salam. And David Brooks is away.

    We welcome both of you.

    What a week, Mark.

    Let's start with the special counsel returning these indictments today, sweeping indictment, saying that the Russians were behind a conspiracy to not only tap into — hack into the computers of Hillary Clinton's campaign, the Democratic National Committee, but to go into state voting systems.

    How significant is this?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    It's quite significant, Judy, and traces it right back to the Russian government.

    I know we're talking about 12 intelligence agents from — on Russian espionage associated with the military, with GRU, their official agency. And I think it's — any talk about a witch-hunt or anything of the sort, it turns out that Monday in Helsinki will be a campaign reunion of sorts for Donald Trump and his favorite absentee voter.

    I don't think there is any question that Russian involvement has grown as a real likelihood, just not a possibility.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Reihan, how seriously should the American people take all this?

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    I think the American people should it very seriously.

    One problem, however, is that what we really need to get to the bottom of this is an independent commission. After the 9/11 terror attacks, after you had a spate of urban rioting in this country, we had serious independent commissions that had bipartisan credibility that tried to get to the bottom of our vulnerabilities, what went wrong, which systems were vulnerable, and then tried to find solutions for those problems.

    The problem now is that we are not treating this as a national emergency. We're treating this as a partisan investigation. And I think that's been a problem from the start. We really need an independent commission to understand our vulnerabilities.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Mark, is this investigation credible and partisan?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The partisan angle on this is solely on the part of the administration and Republicans in Congress.

    There is not a partisan corpuscle in Bob Mueller's system. There really isn't. This is a man who has been a Republican, appointed by a Republican president, whose appointment was widely lauded from Republicans, including Newt Gingrich, across the board.

    Any lack of credibility or erosion of confidence is solely as a part of the concentrated effort from the administration.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    By, Reihan, you're saying you see it differently?

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    I do, because part of the issue is, there aren't necessarily prosecutable crimes at work.

    What we're dealing with is a larger systemic failure. And when that is the case, when you're seeing this solely through the lens of who can and cannot be prosecuted, you might actually wind up missing some of those vulnerabilities.

    And if you treat it purely as a matter of criminal prosecution, you are actually not seeing that this is an attack on our democratic system that necessitates potentially new legislation, new tools that go well beyond a prosecutor's case.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, that may grow from this, but, in the beginning, Robert Mueller, the people he was appointed by, as Mark just said, they're saying this is somebody who's independent. He's…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Oh, I think that Robert Mueller deserves a great deal of respect. I think that's absolutely true.

    But that doesn't change the fact that he's working in a process that itself may well be a broken process. I do not question his integrity. I question whether this was the right approach to dealing with an attack on our national democracy.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Just one quick point.

    Those independent commissions that Reihan mentioned, the great urban investigations that occurred after national riots, after — 9/11 was after a national catastrophe, when our country was attacked. And there wasn't a consensus, there was unanimity in the country, and it was led by the administration in both cases, the Democrats in the first and the Republicans under George W. Bush in the second.

    So, the idea that a president who has denied anything, has refuted the conclusions of the intelligence agencies and the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Republican Richard Burr of North Carolina…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    … is not going to be plausible as someone who would lead such a commission or appoint such a commission.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Well, I really do think that the perception that this is about basically hunting down potential perpetrators within the Trump campaign and what have you, that has taken us away from thinking of this as a general attack on our democracy, on our institutions. And I think that, had we taken a different approach, had we seen it that way from the get-go, then you might have gotten more buy-in from people who are supporters of the president who don't necessarily think that this is fair and square.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, right…

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Nobody knows what Bob Mueller is doing. He has been full of fastidiousness and secrecy.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    He serves a great deal of credit.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He does.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But in terms of what's going on now right now, this comes just a couple of days before the president is due to be in Helsinki meeting one on one with President Putin, Mark. What should the president say to Vladimir Putin in this meeting, and is this something — should this meeting go ahead? Some Democrats are saying it should be canceled now.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think it should go ahead. I think there should be no one-on-one private meetings with the two off the record.

    I think what we have right now is a president who needs to confront the Soviet leader, adversary, and say to him, 12 of your own agents in a government that you control, that you lead have been indicted. I want them extradited to the United States to stand trial.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Are you — what do you think the president should say, and are you comfortable with the president meeting with President Putin one on one?

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Look, I'm not comfortable with the fact that we're having this summit meeting without the months and sometimes years of preparation that you typically have before such a meeting.

    But what we do know is that Donald Trump promised diplomatic breakthroughs. He promised to be a different kind of president. And that's why he's pursuing this very different path.

    I'm, frankly, a bit concerned about one thing in particular. Vladimir Putin is going to want to offer a big diplomatic breakthrough to Donald Trump. The question is, is it going to be something that is going to be consummate with the long-term interests of the United States, particularly if you look at Syria?

    President Trump and President Putin did actually manage to broker deals in Syria that looked promising. Let's de-escalate the conflict. The Russians have not delivered on their end of the bargain.

    So if the Russians now make big promises, the president needs to be sure that the Russians are verifiably going to deliver. He shouldn't make promises that the Russians are not going to be willing to take up their end of the bargain on.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, Mark, are you confident he is going to handle this?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No, I'm not.

    We did get, of course, nuclear disarmament of North Korea. The president told us that had happened, and I guess it just hasn't been verified yet.

    But, no, he does. He likes the big moment. He likes the spotlight. This is a man, I think, Donald Trump, it's fair to say that, if you remove the first-person singular from his vocabulary, I, me, mine, would be Calvin Coolidge.

    It's all about Donald Trump. We saw that, Judy, in the NATO meeting, when he goes in and cuts the knees at — off of Prime Minister Theresa May, who's under assault and siege at home, and lauds her principal competitor, Boris Johnson, and recommends him for prime minister by saying what? He likes me. He says good things about me. And that's the recommendation.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Forgive me for just turning to Russia for one moment.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Sure. OK.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    One thing that we shouldn't forget is that, for the last 18 months, the United States government and the Trump administration has actually put in place sanctions against Russian oligarchs, has actually hardened NATO's eastern flank, has taken many steps that are, in fact, very tough on the Russians, when you look at the substance of his agenda.

    So we can't lose sight of the fact that, when it comes to actual policies, the Trump administration has actually been very tough on Russia.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you think that is more important than the words which are often praising Vladimir Putin coming from the president?

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    What I think is going on is that Donald Trump believes that you need to be tough with one hand, and, on the other hand, you need to create some opening, some possibility for a diplomatic breakthrough.

    What I'm suggesting is that, with President Putin, he needs to be a lot more cautious. But I think the substance of what he's done over the last 18 months has, in fact, been pretty hawkish.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That substance includes saying Crimea is primarily Russian ethnic country, which is exactly the talking points made by Putin and the Russian government after the invasion and occupation of Crimea.

    He's been…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    He's also provided Ukraine with anti-tank weapons. That's a very serious deal.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    But the reality is that Russia is still very much in Eastern Ukraine. Let's be very blunt about that.

    And the fact is that the bulwark against Russian Soviet imperialism, interventionism has been NATO. And he has weakened NATO. He has sabotaged his own partners.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What is the legacy, Reihan, of the president's actions over the last few days with the NATO allies and then in Great Britain with Theresa May?

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Over the last few days, there has been a lot of consternation among our European allies, absolutely. Political leaders feel like they have been backed into a corner, and they don't like it.

    If you're looking at the Trump presidency so far, however, it really is true that our NATO European allies have boosted their military spending. You have talk about permanent structured cooperation, of actually building up their capabilities long-term, so they can meet the threat not only from Russia, but also from North Africa and the Sahel.

    You actually have a Europe that is much more formidable and more capable now. And that is partly — they're not going to say this — they're not going to acknowledge that it's Donald Trump who's driven them to that, but he's played a role in spurring them on.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You are saying he deserves credit for what's going on in Europe and with Theresa May?

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    No, I think that the president should definitely not be as undiplomatic as he has been. He should be more magnanimous.

    But I think that you have to look at the substance of what is going on, as well as the rhetoric of what's going on. And when you look at the substance, it makes me feel a bit better about what I don't feel great about, which is that he really hasn't been as tactful, as constructive with our European allies when it comes to rhetoric as he might be.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The world didn't begin with Donald Trump. The defense budgets had been on the increase before Donald Trump came. And they have continued to be.

    But the reality is that there's no reason in the world that any European country should devote the same percentage of national defense that we do. They're not global powers. Portugal doesn't have installations on five different continents.

    I don't know if Donald Trump appreciates the fact that Ramstein Air Force Base is the key in Germany, that we can't move bases both in Italy and in Turkey as well.

    I mean, this has been a cooperative, collegial effort, that the only time in the history of NATO that Article 5, the mutual defense, has been invoked was on September 13, 2001, after the United States was attacked.

    There are today, Judy, graves in Latvia, and Lithuania, and Portugal, and Spain, and Norway, and Sweden of young Swedes and soldiers who fought for the United States in Afghanistan under the NATO banner. And that — and Donald Trump doesn't seem to understand that. And it's weakened that coalition, quite frankly.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    I see this a bit differently.

    If you're looking at Europe right now, Europe faces tremendous vulnerabilities, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, from North Africa. And that migration crisis stemmed in part from those security vulnerabilities.

    That is why Europe is stepping up. And, also, I do believe, whether they will acknowledge it or not, it's partly because Donald Trump has put the spotlight on the fact that we haven't always had equitable burden-sharing.

    This is not an issue that has only been raised by Donald Trump. It was raised by Barack Obama and his predecessors.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    That's right.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    But Donald Trump certainly has pressed the issue.

    And I do believe that there has been a meaningful response from governments on the left and on the right across Europe.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I would just say that all politics in the final analysis is local.

    What goes around comes around. Donald Trump has taken both Angela Merkel and Theresa May at times of political vulnerability domestically and attacked them and really stuck a knife into them.

    And I will be honest with you. When he does go after them, they're going to have to go back to their home constituencies, establish their independent from him, to assert their independence, their own autonomy.

    And the alliance is weakened. It is not a cooperative, collegial alliance.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Well, but let's not forget that Donald Trump, when he did say critical things about Theresa May, he then apologized, and then, instead of doubling down, he said, in fact, this is an incredibly vital and important relationship, and I absolutely want a trade agreement with the U.K.

    It is very rare for Donald Trump to not double down, to actually say, hey, I'm going to take a step back. And that shows there is more than one dimension to this figure who's oftentimes caricatured.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He said it after a taped interviewed. He denied — it was fake news. He was on tape saying the things he had said.

    So, he really didn't have many avenues. It wasn't a flight of magnanimity on his part.

  • REIHAN SALAM:

    Oh, he's absolutely off-the-cuff, and that's certainly a challenge. But that's also perhaps why he has been able to shake things up.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    We may not be able to resolve this all today.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you both, Mark Shields, Reihan Salam.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest