YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Power, politics, and peril.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): (From video.) No one is off the table. We’re going to determine what went wrong in the leadup to January 6th. We’re going to find out who was involved.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): (From video.) It just goes to show this is more about politics than anything else.
MS. ALCINDOR: The January 6th committee subpoenas four of former President Trump’s top aides. Lawmakers cite reporting from the new bestselling book Peril, which sheds new light on President Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election – authors Bob Woodward and former Washington Week moderator Robert Costa join me to discuss their historic reporting.
Plus, mounting challenges for the president. The Biden administration faces widespread backlash after Haitian migrants are chased down by U.S. Border Patrol agents using horses and reins. And President Biden fights to unite his party, save his agenda, and avoid a government shutdown.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.) Since Democrats decided to go it alone, they will not get Senate Republicans’ help with raising the debt limit.
MS. ALCINDOR: Next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
MS. ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. The January 6 insurrection was 261 days ago, but the consequences of that day continue to dominate American life, politics, and the Republican Party. Thursday, the House committee investigating the Capitol attack issued subpoenas to former President Trump’s closest aides including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. This comes as former President Trump continues to lie about the election and push states to recount votes.
Joining us tonight to discuss all of this, the authors of Peril – Bob Woodward, associate editor for The Washington Post and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter; Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post and the former moderator, of course, of Washington Week – I’m so excited to have you back at the table – Weijia Jiang, senior White House reporter for CBS News. Thank you, all of you, for joining us tonight.
Bob – Bob Woodward, that is – I’m going to start with you. (Laughs.) The committee issued these subpoenas to these four top aides. I wonder, what does – based on your reporting, what does it reveal about what these advisors may have known about January 6 and the president’s mindset, and also what role might President Trump himself have played in inciting this insurrection?
BOB WOODWARD: Well, this is the big question, and what we found in our reporting is there are real connections that these people have to the insurrection and the mentality behind the insurrection, particularly Steve Bannon, who was talking to Trump – as we report in some detail – and saying some things that we can’t say on the air about how central it was – well, you’re best. You know how to keep your –
ROBERT COSTA: I mean, we talked a lot about this as we reported it out.
MR. WOODWARD: – not use the bad words.
MR. COSTA: Not use the expletives on this wonderful program where Yamiche is terrific. And I think Bannon was clearly part of this process ahead of January 6. We always have this image now of President Trump watching television on January 6 idly as the insurrection unfolds. What Woodward and I found in this reporting process is what really matters for us and now it seems for the January 6 committee is what was going on in the days before – January 2, the pressuring of Senators Lee and Graham and others; January 4, John Eastman, his memo pressuring Vice President Pence in the Oval Office; January 5, Steve Bannon talking to Donald Trump – Steve Bannon, Rudy Giuliani, and others at the Willard Hotel. Dan Scavino, who got a subpoena, was with President Trump on the eve of the insurrection late into the night in the Oval Office, talking through how to pressure lawmakers. And so the reason they cited this book in the subpoena documents is they realized there are people who know a lot about what President Trump was doing at the time and that story still has to be told in a – in a bigger way.
MS. ALCINDOR: And I wonder, Bob, what did your reporting reveal about who President Trump is at his core and the role of him being encouraged by people around him, but also the grip that he has on the Republican Party?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, I mean, he is – and Costa has the endurance to actually listen to the current Trump rallies. They are amazing. There’s a lot of nonsense about the stolen election, but then he gets on and he starts talking like Winston Churchill – we’re not going to give up, we’re going to keep going. It’s – to the Trump supporters, it’s passionate, it’s very emotional, and it brings them into the process of, you know, you are my people. And so as we try to get some distance from the events, Trump is on the march.
MS. ALCINDOR: And I have another follow-up question for you when you talk about Trump being on the march. Today we saw the White House press secretary say that President Biden has already concluded that he will not assert executive privilege to try to – to try to protect any sort of former Trump aides here. What does that mean for the aides as they sort of hint at invoking executive privilege?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, anything can happen with this, but in the past what has occurred is the president will say, oh yeah, I’m going to turn over all the documents and all the material from my predecessor, and then the White House lawyers get in there and say, OK, you do that, then there’s going to be your successor who will release material about you, and they say, oh yeah, well, maybe we aren’t going to go down that road. Now, we will see, but the January 6 committee in the House deserves a lot of credit for going about this meticulously. You can’t rush to, like, let’s subpoena Trump, see what Trump – you build from the outside and, like we tried to do as reporters, you talk to lots of –
MS. ALCINDOR: Could people also turn on former President Trump? Could we see people testify before Congress? There’s this tight-knit group, of course, of President Trump loyalists, but also we’ve seen President Trump not be as loyal to the people who are loyal to him.
MR. COSTA: Well, and you know, Bob, from the Watergate hearings, sometimes there are surprises.
MR. WOODWARD: Always surprises, and big ones. And you know, we’re going to see and we need to be patient. Not only the January 6 committee, but the Justice Department is investigating this, have charged 600 people. You know, who are those people? Who brought them all together? Who were the operational managers? What will kill off something like this, frankly, is impatience, trying to rush to judgment.
MS. ALCINDOR: And Weijia, we covered President Trump together – (laughs) – and just experienced so many things together during those four years. There’s, of course, though, these audits that are going on that President Trump has called for. We got results from Arizona that said President Biden actually won by a larger – a larger margin than what was thought of, and that was of course a GOP-led audit, but we’re also seeing audits in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, in Texas. What does it say about President Trump’s grip on the party, and also what does it say about American democracy if President Trump can still really force people or influence people to have recounts even though he clearly lost the election?
WEIJIA JIANG: I think, to the Bobs’ point, that it just shows the power and the relevance and the dominance that Donald Trump continues to have despite everything that we have seen from him, despite, you know, all of the other investigations that have unfolded because of him, and yet here he is and he has that firm grip. And I think at one point there were Republicans who looked at January 6 and said this is it, this was the other shoe, and we saw them slowly but surely starting to criticize the president, starting to try to untangle those connections that they had built for so many years, but as soon as they saw the fact that he still garnered support, that he was still able to raise a significant amount of money, I think then those calls got a lot quieter. And so, you know, it’s just very indicative of who Trump is, and you know, something that they talked about as well was the language that he has created. So when he’s at these rallies, when he’s issuing statements, he is using the language that he wrote to connect with his supporters and it still resonates, and it is a language that they miss and they want to hear more of. And so despite the audits, despite the results of the audits, I think they still want to hear those catchphrases from the president to be reassured that they’re actually still in the right, despite facts that show they’re not.
MS. ALCINDOR: And you said that the calls to really try to tamper (sic) down the rhetoric that led essentially to January 6th have gotten quieter, and they’ve also changed. You think of House Leader Kevin McCarthy who, based on my reporting, called the president angrily, trying to get him to stop the January 6th insurrection. I’m wondering, though, about the fact that President – former President Trump has been attacking what could have been his allies, what have been his allies – Lindsey Graham, Mike Lee – what does that say about where this is going? But also I wonder – Senator McConnell, he said that this could be a fading brand, the Trumpism, the Trump brand. Is there any signs of that? Are there any signs that this could be a fading brand, or is McConnell probably a little off here?
MS. JIANG: I think one thing that we have learned in covering the former president is that we can’t ever say for certain, right, and nobody really can. But again, what hasn’t changed as much as we would have thought, especially since January 6th, is the way that the people who vote for Donald Trump and support Donald Trump have been impacted by this. And so, you know, even in the statement that he released in response to those subpoenas that were issued, he was saying this is just an extension of the witch hunt that he experienced. He was making threats. He, you know, was saying that he had executive privilege, executive power that he no longer does. And so, again, it’s just sort of an echo chamber that people cannot seem to escape, despite all the other forces on the outside that are proving that, you know, perhaps he’s lying.
MS. ALCINDOR: Robert, the vice president, Vice President Pence at the time, he eventually certifies the election. What went on behind the scenes when it came to all of the different people that sort of had to lean in here for this election to actually be certified? And what does it tell us about the fragility, essentially, of democracy that it took sort of a very, very careful balancing of all of these people doing what the Constitution said they had to do for this election to actually be certified?
MR. COSTA: The scene that really sticks with me when you look at Vice President Pence is January 5th. He’s with President Trump, one on one in the Oval Office, and it’s just hours before this rally is supposed to happen, hours before the insurrection happens. And President Trump says, do you hear the supporters outside gathering on Pennsylvania Avenue? Do you hear their cries? Wouldn’t it be cool, he says, turning to Vice President Pence, if you had the power to not certify an election? Wouldn’t it be cool? It was the temptation of power. And when Vice President Pence says no, it’s not within the Constitution, I can’t do anything, he was told by Vice President Quayle, among others, you just can’t do it; you have to count the votes on January 6th. President Trump kept going at him, badgering him, hammering him, you have to do this, help me, Mike, help me figure out a way to do this, you won’t be my friend anymore if you don’t do it.
MR. WOODWARD: And it was an unsteady road that we found in reporting for Pence. He wanted to accommodate Trump. He’d been subservient to Trump and so he was looking for an out. And if he had, it’s – in the end, he’d followed the law and the Constitution, but if he had just gone up there and said, you know, I’m confused, I can’t decide, and walked off, we would have had a constitutional crisis because who’s president? What about the legitimacy of the presidency? And he did not do that, but if you look at what we found, which is charted in great detail in the book, he wanted to see, oh, is there some way to do it? And in the end, I think under the influence of his advisers, his staff, his lawyers who were telling him, you know, you just can’t; that’s not the law; that’s not the Constitution.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, your last words in this book also – they say the peril remains. Explain that, explain the danger that remains.
MR. WOODWARD: Well, he’s out there, he’s got this support, and the question you have to ask is, people like Senator Graham, Senator Mike Lee of Utah have bailed on him because they investigated these claims of the stolen election and found zero evidence to support that. And so now, as you report here, Trump is saying, oh, they ought to – Senators Graham and Lee ought to be ashamed. Those are his loyalists and they said it just isn’t there. So I hope people – not for partisan reasons or anything – look at the facts and look at that, gee, that’s a bit of a cold shower to see what Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee did and how they went to the floor of the Senate and said it ain’t there.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, and meanwhile, the Biden administration is facing a series of challenges. There is a firestorm over shocking video of Border Patrol agents on horseback charging at Haitian migrants. Images of the scene sparked outrage and protest. Thursday, I broke the story that the U.S. special envoy for Haiti resigned over what he called, quote, “inhumane and counterproductive deportations” of Haitians, and later that day I questioned White House press secretary Jen Psaki about why the president hadn’t personally condemned the actions.
MS. ALCINDOR: (From video.) Why isn't the president telling people himself these images that people say look like slavery are wrong? How is he not doing that? Why is he not doing that, and what are people supposed to take away from the fact that he’s not at the bully pulpit himself talking about these images?
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: (From video.) His actions make clear how horrible and horrific he thinks these images are, including an investigation, including a change of policy, including conveying clearly that this is not acceptable and he’s not going to stand for this.
MS. ALCINDOR: Less than 24 hours later, President Biden spoke out for the first time about the migrant crisis. He said he took full responsibility for the situation.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) To see people treated like they did, horses nearly running them over and people being strapped, it’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay. They will be – investigation underway now and there will be consequences.
MS. ALCINDOR: Joining the conversation from Miami to talk about the migrant crisis and the Biden agenda is Jacqueline Charles. She is the Caribbean reporter for The Miami Herald.
Thank you so much, Jacqui, for being here. Talk a bit about what these images meant for people who saw them, especially Haitian Americans who have been through so much trauma with the assassination of the president, the earthquake there, so many things that have happened to Haiti with the insecurity. What were people telling you about what these images meant to them?
MS. CHARLES: As you mentioned, for African Americans it immediately took them back to the slave patrols during the days of slavery, but for Haitians and Haitian Americans, especially here in south Florida, it was an example of the double standard that they have endured under U.S. immigration policy. Here in south Florida, in Miami in particular, we had wet foot, dry foot. That is the law that was enacted by the Clinton administration until the Obama administration got rid of it after 21 years where Cuban migrants, when they arrived on U.S. soil, they were allowed to stay, and after one year, one day, they could apply for residency. But Haitians and other migrants who were caught at sea, they were returned to their country of origin. We also had Guantanamo Bay where we had over 60,000 Haitians who were there, including 213 unaccompanied minors who were eventually returned back to Haiti. And of course, the Mariel boatlift. A lot of people forget but there were also Haitians who arrived here in south Florida, and they, too, finally received some immigration benefit, but only after the activism of the community. So when I spoke to Haitian Americans and, you know, immigration advocates, that was what came to mind to them, that, you know, once again, you are seeing the double standard in terms of Haitian immigrants; no matter, you know, what was happening in their country, they were always perceived as economic migrants, and therefore they were always, you know, immediately returned back to Haiti, while other migrants who come seeking asylum are often allowed to at least go through the court system and make their case.
MS. ALCINDOR: You were also at the border. You were in Mexico and in Texas. Why are migrants making these dangerous journeys? And what about what happened this week really reveals the U.S. strategy here? Also, I should note, the migrant camp at its peak was 14,000 Haitian migrants. Today DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, said it was cleared out. But what – tell me a little bit about what you’re hearing from migrants, based on your reporting?
MS. CHARLES: There’s one word: desperation. If we take a step back, these are migrants who left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and if we remember, the U.S. was preparing for a migration crisis after January 12th, 2010 when Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, was nearly destroyed by a 7.0 earthquake and over 300,000 people were killed. But that crisis did not happen, at least not immediately. It was two years after. We started to see Haitians fleeing to Brazil, and at the time, Brazil needed workers; they were preparing for the World Cup and for the Olympics. And then, you know, as Brazil’s economy started to turn, they started having their own issues with corruption, we started seeing migrants moving to Chile and then in Haiti. In one year, in 2017, 1 percent of Haiti’s population, which is 11.5 million, a hundred thousand Haitians migrated from Haiti to Chile, and then we started to see this migration, this 7,000-mile trek to the U.S. southern border with Mexico. I was there in Tijuana, I talked to migrants, and that’s what you’re seeing here, again, with this surge. You know, DHS is saying that they were caught off-guard, but earlier this year in February I wrote about a surge of migrants on the border of Tijuana. A month ago there were 3,000 migrants who were in a camp – in two weeks, that camp had about 3,000 people – so the fact that they were caught off-guard by nearly 15,000 migrants, not all of whom were Haitians but the majority were, is quite interesting. But when you talk to the migrants, they tell you in terms of the desperation and the fact that they did not want to go back to Haiti. What does it say? That this country today is far worse than it was in 2010, in 2012, in 2014, meaning in the last 11 years since that tragic earthquake the country has not improved; it’s gone downhill, and they just do not see a life for them. So today, as we’ve seen the U.S. continue to do these reparation – these deportation flights, and I think that there has been at least 21, it’s very interesting to see what’s going to happen to these migrants who have been returned.
MS. ALCINDOR: A quick follow up: What led to the resignation of Foote, based on your reporting – Daniel Foote, the special envoy to Haiti – and where do things go next? Where is this going now that all of this has happened?
MS. CHARLES: Well, I think, you know, Daniel Foote says it in his – in his letter. I mean, first and foremost, there was the frustration on his part, you know, when he saw in terms of the refugee crisis how the U.S. – the Biden administration was handling that. He called it inhumane. He’s well aware of the conditions in Haiti. One of the things that happened when Foote, you know, came to Haiti – he was appointed two weeks after the assassination of the president, and he started talking to people, especially a lot of people in civil society, and they were talking to him about the security issues. And I actually hosted a panel at FIU with him where he talked about the country not being prepared to go to elections because the security, the armed gangs, that was first and foremost the biggest challenge that was facing Haiti today. It was a challenge. The recovery from the earthquake, I mean, the same –
MS. ALCINDOR: And it’s a – and it’s a huge challenge, is – it’s a – it’s a huge challenge that’s facing Haiti. Weijia, quickly, because we’re going to move on to some of the challenges because there are so many facing President Biden, Title 42, where is it going? And also, these Border Patrol horses, they’ve been using them since 1924; do we know if they’re going to end totally or just temporarily?
MS. JIANG: So the secretary of homeland security said that that’s all under review because right now that policy is temporarily under hold after we saw those images. The mounted units are not in Del Rio right now, but that is the question, is whether they’ll continue to.
As for Title 42, you know, this is exactly why I think the president is under so much fire, because he promised to dismantle what he called inhumane immigration policies left over from the previous administration. Of course, Title 42 is one of the most controversial rules that former President Trump was using to turn migrants away without question, citing a public health emergency, without giving them an opportunity to apply for asylum. That’s why we’re hearing from Democratic leaders, from Democrats, from his supporters who are asking why are you still using this, why aren’t you making exceptions for these migrants whenever before you were calling similar practices inhumane and immoral. But they really doubled down today and defended Title 42, citing the deadly pandemic that we are still facing.
MS. ALCINDOR: Robert, what’s the way that the president is handling all these challenges reveal about who he is and the Biden doctrine? When you think about Afghanistan, COVID, there are so many challenges that he’s facing. What have we learned about how this president is looking at this presidency?
MR. COSTA: To understand this moment we really need to, as reporters, go back to a crossroads he faced early in his presidency, and we document this in the book. Around February 1, 2021, when he decided to go big, use reconciliation on that $1.9 trillion rescue plan, this is a president who had decades in the Senate, eight years as vice president, and he was known as old Joe – not a reference to his age, but in terms of the old Joe you knew around the Senate who you could cut a deal with. He made a choice early on in his presidency to go big, to work in lockstep with progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders and others, and that led to the rescue plan passage. And now he’s trying to go big once again this fall on another major spending plan, but the question is: Can it last? Does he have the political capital to get someone like Senator Manchin to come along? A lot of these moderates, Bob, I mean, we’ve reported on, like Senator Manchin; they’re wary of going forward.
MS. ALCINDOR: They’re wary of going forward and there are so many things that are sort of on the horizon here when you think about the looming government shutdown, when you think about the idea that booster shots were just introduced so there are Americans who are scrambling to get them, so there’s so much on the president’s plate. We’ll have to leave it there tonight. There’s just so much to talk about. Thank you to Bob, Robert, Weijia, and Jacqui for sharing your reporting, and thank you for joining us.
And be sure to tune in to the PBS NewsHour. This weekend, voters in Germany head to the polls to vote for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor. Monday, join Judy Woodruff for election results and analysis.
And our conversation on Peril will continue on the Washington Week Extra. Find it on our social media and on our website.
And before we go, this was a tough week. Images of those Haitian migrants broke my heart and the hearts of so many others. It’s a reminder that despite whatever differences we have we are all humans who deserve to be respected.
I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.