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What does aftermath of ‘Fire and Fury’ mean for Trump’s agenda?

President Trump took questions from reporters during a press conference with Norway's prime minister, where he declined to say whether he would sit for an interview in the Russia investigation. Judy Woodruff gets reaction to those remarks, as well as the continued fallout from a scathing new book, from Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Chris Buskirk, editor of American Greatness.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We begin tonight with politics.

    After holding a Cabinet meeting this morning, President Trump joined Norway's prime minister, Erna Solberg, for a joint press conference in the East Room.

    The president took questions from reporters, but wouldn't say if he would sit for an interview in the Russia investigation without condition if special counsel Robert Mueller asked.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that, frankly, the Democrats should've won, because they have such a tremendous advantage in the Electoral College. So it was brought up for that reason.

    But it has been determined that there is no collusion, and by virtually everybody. So we will see what happens.

  • Question:

    Would you be open to…

  • President Donald Trump:

    We will see what happens. I mean, certainly, I will see what happens, but when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This appears to contradict what Mr. Trump had said earlier this year. In June, he told reporters that he was — quote — "100 percent" willing to testify under oath to special Robert Mueller about conversations he held with former FBI Director James Comey.

    In that same answer today, Mr. Trump also brought up the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Hillary Clinton had an interview where she wasn't sworn in, she wasn't given the oath, they didn't take notes, they didn't record.

    And it was done on the Fourth of July weekend. That's perhaps ridiculous. A lot of people looked upon that being a very serious breach.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And while it is true that Mrs. Clinton wasn't under oath or recorded, notes were taken, and they were released by the FBI afterward.

    To sort through the president's remarks today, as well as the continued fallout from a scathing new book, I'm here with Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. He also served as White House political director for President George W. Bush. And Chris Buskirk, radio talk show host and editor of the online journal American Greatness.

    Thank you both for being here.

    We wanted to hear from both of you tonight. We have been hearing a lot of criticism of the president lately. We had former Vice President Biden on the program last week. We interviewed Michael Wolff about his book this week. We want to hear your perspective.

    But — and I want to start, Matt Schlapp, by asking about what we just heard from the president. How much is this Russia investigation defining his first year in office?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Well, I think it took up a lot of the time and a lot of the coverage.

    I think, initially, the White House didn't exactly do helpful things, but I think, as the year went along, most Democrats I talk to, Judy, believe that there really was no evidence that was ever presented or leaked — and, by the way, this whole investigation, there's always been a lot of leaks.

    And there really — there doesn't seem to be any hard evidence that there is any collusion. Most Democrats I know have moved on to trying to attack clearly his mental fitness. That's now the new theme. They have moved on to these other themes, and they're hoping special counsel can snag the president on anything.

    In the end, I think the American people are pretty fair. If he doesn't find evidence of the underlying charge of collusion, then I don't think the rest of it is going to matter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chris Buskirk, has the president let this Russia thing get under his skin too much?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    No, I don't think so.

    He has had to sort of thrust and parry with the media throughout 2017, even into 2018. And there's been times, of course, when people have said well you know he shouldn't have reacted this way, he overreacted that way.

    I think that's not who Donald Trump is. But this is an attempt to undermine and to overturn the last election. And so Donald Trump's senses that. He says, I'm going to push back on this. This is not only on attack on me. It's an attack on the office and on the process, so I'm going to go back at this full force.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, of course, as you know Republican senators, including James Lankford, whom I interviewed today at the Capitol, said that there are real questions about what the Russians did and that this investigation is legitimate.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, even Republicans are saying that, is my point.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes.

    And I think people like Devin Nunes have been on this Russia thing since before the last election. And making sure that Russia is not doing things that they ought not do in our elections is something everybody agrees on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, well, let's move to the book "Fire and Fury."

  • Matt Schlapp:

    What book are you talking about?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Not that there hasn't been a lot of conversation about it.

    But, Matt, Michael Wolff has some pretty strong criticism of the president from people inside of the White House, calling him everything from an idiot to a dope.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Much of it is coming from Steve Bannon, but it's coming others as well. Is it your contention that everything in the book is wrong?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    No, but the hard part is this.

    So, I chair the A.C. which puts on CPAC. There's an entire chapter in this book on CPAC. He never called me. He didn't call anybody on our team. He didn't call anybody else who was involved with CPAC. He has tons of factual errors in that chapter alone.

    He says that General Kelly has a job that he doesn't have. He says that Secretary Ross has a job that he doesn't have. He just gets error after error. And, Judy, I think you have to ask yourself, even all the journalists who are covering it, which is, if there's this many errors on little things, maybe he was also sloppy on big things.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I did talk to him. He acknowledges there are some errors.

    But his point is that the bulk of the book reflects genuinely, Chris Buskirk, what people told him after living — he basically lived in the White House for six or eight months.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes, that's the odd part about the whole book, leaving aside the contents of the book, which was why he was there for so long.

    I don't think that what Michael Wolff was setting out to do was to do a piece of serious history or even a piece of serious journalism. This was a way to sell books. And so you make it as sensational as possible. And he has said it in his — in the dedication to the book, that, well, you know, you can't expect it all to be accurate, that I'm just putting it together the way I understood it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the outcomes from this book, certainly, Matt Schlapp, is the departure from Trump world of Steve Bannon, who was the president's chief strategist.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He was at the president's side. He was, in many ways, I think, the tribune of the meaning of Trumpism.

    I think we're left wondering, what is the difference now between Trumpism and Bannonism? And what now is gone from those voices around the president?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Steve Bannon is a very talented guy, but over the course of the last several months, it has been painful to watch him make very big mistakes.

    One of the mistakes that he made here, obviously letting Michael Wolff into the White House, if he did, talking to him too aggressively or too casually, and in leaving the inference that he believed things that I know he doesn't believe in conversations I have had with Steve.

    He doesn't believe, for instance, that Don Jr. is a traitor. These are things that I think that either he was misquoted on or he got sloppy on. And so I think that when it comes to what conservatives and Trump supporters, where they are, where are their hearts, they're very happy with what the president's done in his first year.

    And there's no separation. This will have no impact on the support of President Trump's agenda by those who supported him in the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you think the absence of Steve Bannon means for President Trump?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    I'll tell you, I think that it strengthens Donald Trump's hand as president.

    This is Donald Trump's party who won the election. And the fact that there's not going to be what I have called an Avignon Papacy, there's not another power structure that is outside of the White House, I think that's good for Republicans.

    It allows Republicans to have the serious debates that Republicans need to have about policy and about ideas. That's good, but they always know that the head of the party is the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But who now articulates what the president believes? Because one of the things that comes through in this book is that Bannon was — Steve Bannon was there to basically express a vision for Donald Trump.

    That's not there anymore.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Well, I never heard Steve Bannon compared to a pope, so that was interesting.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Matt Schlapp:

    But I also think it's a mistake — Donald Trump is his own best spokesperson.

    And I think people assume who don't think he has the intelligence or the political experience, they assume someone has to feed him these ideas. And I knew Donald Trump before he was president. He's been talking about these issues for a very long time. Nobody really feeds him.

    So, I don't think he needs a guy like Steve there to tell him what to think. What he actually needs is people around him to help him organize the process of government to get it done, and that's what they now have around him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chris Buskirk, do conservatives believe Donald Trump is conservative?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Conservatives believe that — some of them — they do now.

    Conservatives believe, though, that Donald Trump is doing something that's been necessary for a long time, which is updating what it means to be a conservative. Ronald Reagan did the same thing in the '80s, brought in a set of new policies that upgraded the party.

    Donald Trump has brought in new set of ideas and a new set of policies that still go back to the same principles, those first things, but is talking about policies that are relevant in 2016, '17, '18.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, as head of the American Conservative Union, Matt Schlapp, what do conservatives think about the president? He may not withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal after all. He's going to Davos, Switzerland, to be with a group of people who believe in a lot of globalist — a globalist philosophy.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    We call it globaloney, OK?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, seriously, who is this Donald Trump?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    It's the same guy.

    And the thing is, is this, which is Donald Trump can play in a lot of different milieus. And that was always well understood. The question is, can he be successful in politics?

    And I think where the conservatives are, Judy, mostly is, they felt like there had to be a lot of abrupt change to the order of things in Washington in order to have a chance to reset things. And he's doing that and doing that effectively.

    They are happy with what he's done on Iran. They are happy with what he's done on climate change. They know he is going to hobnob with some global elite at Davos. It probably makes them a little nervous. That press conference the other day in the Cabinet Room probably made them a little bit nervous.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I want to ask you about that, because, Chris Buskirk, the president is there talking about DACA, the dreamers, and he's saying, sure, we can do a dreamers deal and worry about the rest of immigration later.

    You saw the conservatives in the room say, wait a minute, what about the wall, the border wall?

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Well, and good for them. That's what they should have been doing there.

    I think Donald Trump has been very clear. And he's clarified some of those statements. He wants a wall. Right? There's nothing that is more associated with Trump's candidacy than build the wall. That was the phrase.

    I don't think that has changed. I think that what he was doing there was a bit of political theater, but a little — a bit of negotiating, too. We have got to see what the final legislation looks like. And, of course, that is going to come from those very senators and representatives who were in the room.

    The conservatives in that room, it's up to them to write a bill that is consistent with what the president has outlined.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Prediction quickly from both of you.

    Matt Schlapp, what is — how is this second year of the Trump presidency going to differ from year one?

  • Matt Schlapp:

    It's going to be much more orderly.

    He starts out the year with a team that feels like it's starting to hit its stride. They're working more as a team in the White House. They're working better with Republicans on the Hill. So, I think what you will see is less unforced errors. And it started off with some bipartisanship.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But we're reading, Chris Buskirk, a lot of people in the White House and the administration are leaving.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes. No, that's true. But that's OK. The key players are there.

    And the key player always, of course, is the one who is sitting behind the Resolution Desk. There are people who are now coming into the White House. There is a structure there. There is order there that wasn't there a year ago.

    And what's going to happen in 2018 is, we're going to see people come together both in the White House and in Congress and focus on the election in November. I think that's going to be something that brings them together and unifies them in a way we didn't see a year ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It will focus a lot of minds.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Chris Buskirk, Matt Schlapp, thank you both.

  • Matt Schlapp:

    Thanks.

  • Chris Buskirk:

    Thanks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Appreciate it.

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