Yamiche Alcindor, Moderator, "WASHINGTON WEEK": New January 6 revelations and the questions surrounding Russia`s military.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA): And so, we intend to find out what calls were made and piece together the truth.
Alcindor (voice-over: Key records reveal a 7-1/2 hour gap in former President Trump`s White House phone logs on January 6.
Kate Bedingfield, White House Communications Director: The White House has decided not to assert executive privilege over the testimony of Jared Kushner.
Alcindor: Meanwhile, Trump`s son-in-law and former White House advisor testifies before the House committee investigating the Capitol attack.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: Today, I`m authorized the release of one million barrels per day for the next six months.
Alcindor: President Biden takes new steps to bring down U.S. gas prices. And Russian President Vladimir Putin drafts 135,000 Russians to join the military as his forces continue to pound Ukraine.
Announcer: This is "Washington Week."
Announcer: Once again, from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
Alcindor: Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week."
This week, there was so much news related to the January 6 investigation. The House committee is still trying to figure out what exactly former President Trump was doing when his supporters were storming the U.S. Capitol. And key documents revealed a nearly eight-hour gap and official White House phone logs from that day.
Here`s what Democrat Adam Schiff had to say about the mystery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): We`re putting all the pieces together and exactly what was the president doing and more importantly as it would turn out what was he failing to do during the time when the Capitol was under attack?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: Meanwhile, Representative Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the January 6th Committee, emphasized the importance of the work lawmakers are doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY): If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the court fears January 6 will repeat itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: And on Thursday, Jared Kushner, Trump`s son-in-law and former top White House advisor, testified before the committee for roughly seven hours. It`s still, though, unclear exactly what he said.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, a federal judge said former President Trump when trying to overturn the 2020 election, quote, more likely than not committed a felony.
Joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Jacqueline Alemany. She`s the congressional correspondent and author of the "Washington Post" newsletter, the "Early 202".
And here with me in studio, Jonathan Lemire, White House bureau chief for "Politico" and the host of "Way Too Early" for MSNBC. And Michael Shear, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."
Thank you all for being here. Jonathan, I want to start with you. There was so much news about these White House call logs, a big mystery here. What`s the significance of these missing call logs given the fact that there is still so much that lawmakers are trying to figure out about January 6?
Jonathan Lemire, White House Bureau Chief, POLITICO: Obviously, the January 6 Committee is trying to figure out exactly what the president was doing that day as his supporters were storming the Capitol.
And we know from media reports, from accounts offered by lawmakers and aides that he was working the phones for at least part of that day, that he had retreat for the most part, a private dining room just off the Oval Office. He`s in there and a bank of televisions, he`s watching what`s going on and per witnesses seemingly pleased by a lot of what he saw, and we know he was making phone calls.
But yet those calls aren`t showing up in the logs. That`s raising a lot of questions. Now, we know and Michael covered the Trump White House as well that he was prone to using his personal cell phone. He was prone sometimes using just whatever phone he can get his hands on. Sometimes grabbing them from aides and asking let me grab that I`ll use that for my -- whatever call I need to make right now.
So the committee is certainly wondering what happened to those call logs. Is it a matter of the president wasn`t using the official White House phones? Wasn`t using the White House switchboard? Or did something else happen? Was someone perhaps trying to scrub the records to conceal what happened off the Oval Office that day?
Alcindor: And Michael, as Jonathan said, we all covered the Trump administration together, the wild ride that we took together. But it could be easily explained that the president was just using cell phones.
But there`s also this idea that there is reporting in real time that lawmakers were trying to reach him, Kevin McCarthy and others trying to get him to do something to stop his supporters from storming the Capitol.
Michael Shear, White House Correspondent, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. And I think -- I think one of the things that it underscores is just how difficult these investigations really are to conduct, right? On the surface it might seem you interview a bunch of people who were there, you sort of -- you know, have subpoena support to bring them in and talk to you and you lay it out.
No, it`s not just that easy. They`ve obviously run into legal roadblocks already. People like Steve Bannon and others who have said they won`t talk to the committee.
But in addition, you run into this kind of roadblock where as Jonathan said, it`s not exactly clear the cause of the missing time. Is it really that he didn`t make a single call? I think a lot of us are pretty skeptical that -- given the reporting and the history that he wouldn`t have made any calls through the White House switchboard.
But as Jonathan said and you pointed out, like he -- you know, it was a chaotic environment, this is not a -- that wasn`t a disciplined administration. It wasn`t a disciplined presidency. Who knows what went on in the dining room?
And I think those are the difficulties that as the committee and then obviously later the justice department are trying to piece together this puzzle, when you don`t have a piece, it`s difficult.
Alcindor: Michael, I have you on because you so eloquently describe how the Trump White House operated.
Jackie, I want --
Lemire: An understatement.
Alcindor: Right, an understatement.
Jackie, I want to bring you in. You told our producers that you`re focused on the chain of custody issues as well. What`s your reporting reveal about what it means that we know so much about what the president was doing that day?
Jacqueline Alemany, Congressional Correspondent, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. I`m not sure I`m going to be able to phrase it as eloquently as Michael did. But this is, to be candid, a president who did not have much regard for the Presidential Records Act or for the processes that have been in place for decades now in the White House.
As we reported a few months ago, this was a president who took 15 boxes of presidential records that should have been archived with the National Archival Records Administration to Mar-a-Lago that had to be confiscated and retrieved from his home a year after inauguration.
So it is no surprise that he potentially was not following protocol on January 6. But there are still so many unanswered questions here. We -- there were various data streams in order to produce a presidential call log of that day. There`s the White House switchboard report. There is the presidential diarist. There`s also the staff secretary.
So, the questions are, who was actually recording the call log that day? Who did they share it with? Who presented it to the White House Office of Records Management?
And all up and down again as you noted the change of custody, we need to know who these calls went flew exactly. But, you know, I did speak with a bunch of sources this week after our colleagues published this, these documents who said that it certainly raised a lot of questions that there wasn`t necessarily a page break. But that there was one page that ended and another page that started, and a lack of page numbers.
Obviously, if there was a cover-up that raises a lot of new legal avenues here. But that is something that we have not yet determined. And I think that the people involved with these processes as well are still trying to determine.
Alcindor: Jackie, sticking with you, you talked about the different avenues. I wonder if you could also give us some insight into what -- what`s the information and documents that lawmakers are still wanting to get their hands on to try to get more insight into the January 6 investigation?
Alemany: Well, as you can probably tell from watching this week closely, this has been a big week for the committee. As they`re trying to move quickly towards a month of public hearings in May. So, basically, they have one month left to wrap up their depositions and interviews.
Yes, they`ve already conducted over 800 interviews with individuals and witnesses who had some role on January 6 or in the events leading up to the January 6 insurrection. But there are also a lot of big names that they have yet to tick off. People like Ivanka Trump, Scott Perry. Jim Jordan, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. They did get Jared Kushner to sit down today.
But there are still some big people who were really close to the president and more specifically, close to him on the actual day of January 6. People like Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino who were maybe the most intimately involved with some of the schemes to overthrow the results of the election who have yet to cooperate.
And so, the committee at this point in time is really focused on trying to run as many of these loose ties down as possible before transitioning to the public phase.
Alcindor: And, Jonathan, Jackie just really teed up my next question which is about Jared Kushner. He wasn`t in the country at the time but we do know that Jared Kushner was such a close -- you call him a close ally but he was literally family, an in-law of the president, working at the White House.
Why is his testimony important? Why is hearing from him important if he wasn`t actually at the White House on January 6?
Lemire: Right, he was coming back from Saudi Arabia on January 6. He never made it to the White House that day.
And at the election, he pivoted largely to the administration`s efforts in the Middle East, the Abraham Accords and so on. But he, of course, was still there. He is -- he is family as you mentioned, married to Ivanka Trump of course. He is the -- at this point the highest ranking White House official to testify and as well the only member of the family so far to do so. And Democrats afterward said he did so willingly. He said he was friendly and helpful.
Now, we don`t know or get much about what was said there. Although I`ll say willingly -- and helpful not words we associate with the Trump administration, so far with this committee. So that in itself is noteworthy.
And even if you can`t point to first-hand witness accounts what the president was doing that day, he certainly could talk to state of mind and the run-up to that moment. From Election Day on, we know he was there in the early morning hours of election night through the sixth and can testify to the making to overturn those results.
Alcindor: And, Michael, all of this is happening, all these sort of new information we had a judge this week say as we noted that President Trump more likely than not committed a felony. How does all of these new details ramp up pressure on the DOPJ, on Attorney General Merrick Garland to be prosecuting President Trump or people around him, former president Trump or people around him?
Shear: Well, it definitely ramps up the pressure on the attorney general, the Justice Department has obviously gone after kind of the low-level folks, the people who were at the -- who were at the Capitol and actually stormed the Capitol. There`s hundreds of prosecutions of those.
But in terms of the planning and in terms of going after the people who are in the president`s orbit and around the president and obvious the president himself, that hasn`t happened yet. There is a lot of real angst among the president`s -- you know, President Biden`s hard core supporters who are like, look, this is why we elected you, to make -- to hold this man accountable, to hold the people around President Trump accountable. What`s happening? Why is it taking so long?
And so I think, you know, the more that you have a judge saying that, you know, he`s concluded that the president might have committed felonies, the more you have information coming out from the committee that suggests that there`s a real case there. The harder it is for Merrick Garland and President Biden who frankly both of them I think in a perfect world would like nothing to do with this, right?
It`s a very -- it`s a hot potato and it`s very political. President Biden obviously has his own agenda to pursue. And so, you know, it`s a real political situation that -- you know, I think in an ideal world they wouldn`t want to deal with.
Alcindor: January 6 is a hot potato is another great Michael Shear metaphor and I have to note that and you`re 2-2 now.
Also on Friday, with all this news going on, President Biden announced that in March, the U.S. economy added 431,000 jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Biden: More jobs created over the first 14 months of any presidency in any term ever. And more and more Americans get jobs as they do it`s going to ease the supply pressures we`ve seen. And that`s good news for fighting inflation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: With mid-terms approaching, a new NBC news poll shows that 38 percent of Americans blame the president for inflation while just 6 percent blame Russia.
This is I think in some ways really, really interesting.
Jackie, I want to come to you because I wonder what you make of the fact that the president and Democrats overall -- they`re trying to talk about the economy in a good way and taking the wins while also trying to tell people we understand your struggle and we need to stay in power so please vote for us in the midterms?
Alemany: It is yet another hot potato, a dramatically different one for the Democrats, one that they have been astutely aware of, especially congressional Democrats as we`ve reported in the last few weeks. They had a strategy conference that was actually delayed because of some of these disagreements over the messaging.
But this is what a lot of Democrats view as really the biggest barrier to the president`s approval ratings. The fact that the administration and Democrats on the Hill can`t come to some sort of cohesive messaging where they are able to strike a balance and able to, you know, consistently let Americans know what they have done so far. They`ve passed a huge bipartisan infrastructure package, a lot of economists who believe that this is actually going to alleviate a lot of inflationary pressures. But Americans are still waiting.
And so, it`s up to Democrats to end -- and the president first and foremost to be able to communicate that exactly as you said. We feel your pain. But X, Y, Z is coming down the line and you`re seeing them take measures day in and day out, most recently with regards to the oil reserves.
Alcindor: Well, the oil reserves is my next question. It`s the biggest withdrawal in the strategic oil reserves more than 46-year history, Jonathan. The release would be 180 million barrels in total of oil.
What`s the White House thinking about this when you think about the fact that the president is taking this big step but also I wonder what are they thinking in terms of the impact that this will have on not only on U.S. prices but around the world? Because this is focused on trying to make up for some of the Russian oil that`s not going to be used.
Lemire: This was simply about needing to do something. And the president, yesterday, when he made this announcement, he was pretty candid he wasn`t sure when this would really impact the price at the pump. He wasn`t sure how much of a help this would actually be.
And it points to the political bind here. And every time we talk about gas prices, Democrats, President Biden, always Putin`s price hike. They`re trying to blame, of course, the Russian president and the invasion of Ukraine for the jump in prices.
But, of course, as polling suggests, this president is going to take a lot of blame here and just the nature -- he`s at the helm. He`s going to take the blame. The buck stops with him, in the mind of American voters.
So they are aware of this and even though the president has received high marks from most foreign policy experts, some even Republicans as to how he`s handled the war in Ukraine, that hasn`t trickled down to his poll numbers in the United States. They`re still pretty low. And inflation seems to be and pocketbook issues for Americans day-to-day, at least at this moment, seem to be the driving force or will be the driving force for the midterms this year and that`s worrisome for Democrats and the president is trying to get out ahead of this and show, look, I`ll doing the best we can.
Shear: And I was talking to somebody at the White House today and look, there is some indication that American interest in the war overseas which had peaked obviously, such an intense crisis, you know, now the war is sort of in this grinding phase where, you know, the Ukrainians gain, you know, the Russians gain, that there is going to be a waning of interest generally and a refocus son these pocketbook issues and inflation in particular.
And I think they -- I think the White House is well-aware of that, and determined to keep the president on message doing things that they can -- that the Americans can see him doing at least that -- so that they see that he`s trying.
Alcindor: Yeah. Well, thank you so much, Jackie, for joining us, and for sharing your reporting.
And as Michael was saying, there was all this news, of course, on the foreign front. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is entering its sixth week. There are reports that Russia soldiers are low on morale and weapons. And the Biden administration says Russian President Vladimir Putin is being misinformed about the state of his military by his closest advisors.
Meanwhile, President Biden doubled down on the statement he made in Poland last weekend that President Putin, quote, cannot remain in power. Pres.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Biden: I was expressing my outrage at the behavior of this man. It`s outrageous, it`s outrageous, and it`s more an aspiration than anything he shouldn`t be in power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Alcindor: Joining the conversation, Nancy Youssef. She is a national security correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal".
Nancy, thank you so much for being here.
So, Russian military officials this week said that they are regrouping. There was this big draft. But they`re also still doubling down and pounding away at Ukraine. I wonder what`s the world learned this week in particular, maybe over the course of this war, about Russia`s military capabilities?
Nancy Youssef, National Security Correspondent, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: It`s a great question. Because here in week five, we heard the Russians say during peace talks in Istanbul that they were prepared to draw down their forces in places like Kyiv and Chernihiv and the north, because they wanted to show good faith effort towards a peace deal.
But what we saw on the ground was a Russian force that was in fact repositioning its forces. These forces weren`t going home. They were going to other places, particularly in eastern Ukraine, trying to learn and regroup from the losses of the first five weeks. Logistical challenges they`ve had, the inability to hold territory.
And I think what we saw from the Russians as well, they said they were withdrawing, they continued striking places like Kyiv with air strikes, rather than trying to get out of the war, I think we saw a -- Russia trying to get itself in position to redefine success as not taking the whole country but the eastern part of the country and putting its forces in a better position to do that after a lot of mistakes in the first five weeks of this war.
Alcindor: And, Jonathan, there was also this news that Russia accused Ukraine of launching a helicopter attack on a fuel depot on Russian soil. Now, Ukraine is saying that`s not true, that they did not do that. But I wonder how concerning this development is when you think about the fact that there are these peace talks going on and some are worried that Russia is sort of trying to have -- use false flags to get ready to inflict even more pain on people?
Lemire: Yeah, from the first hours of this war, U.S. officials and their Western allies have warned about exactly this. That Russia might stage a false flag attack, blame it on Ukraine or in some scenarios perhaps a NATO ally, and use that as an excuse to escalate the violence.
And certainly, Biden administration officials that we`ve talked to all week long and we`ve heard from the president himself are very skeptical about Moscow`s good faith efforts to have any kind of peace talks right now. Any sort of cease-fire agreement, though some troops today, seems like Russian troops have indeed pulled away from Kyiv.
But as just said, they`re not going home. They`re just heading to other regions and they`re still continuing the long-range bombardments of Kyiv and other cities. So, it`s like peace has come to those areas.
And it does seems like Putin is trying to capture the east, the Donbas region, where there`s Kremlin-backed separatist movements to strengthen his negotiating hand down the road. And it is clear the lightning strike to take down the country, that didn`t happen.
So, now, Putin with pressure at home, pressure from economic sanctions may be shifting his goals. But there`s no sign that this war is going to end anytime soon.
Alcindor: And, Nancy, I want to come back to you. What`s the Pentagon`s view of how Russia could use these peace talks to gain an advantage militarily?
Youssef: I think their fear is Russians are signaling in places like Istanbul that they will -- that they want to enter a peace deal. But, in fact, exploiting the talks as a way to reposition their forces such that they can make gains, not only for the Donbas in the short-term but potentially go after places like Kyiv again.
And so, I think their concern is that you could see Russia actually maneuver towards these key points of the country again and not enter a peace deal. I think the other concern that they have is that as Russia has suffered these losses, and they have been surprising and humiliating in many cases, that Russia will use more escalatory attacks to gain ground in the absence of a strong ground force, a joint effort by its navy and air force to strike in Ukraine and that there are fears that down the road we could see chemical attacks or other weapons of mass destruction in a bid by Russia to regain ground in the absence of being able to do it on its -- according to its original military planning.
Alcindor: And, Nancy, sticking with you, there were -- there was a call, virtual call between President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, I wonder, has there been any sort of evolution on what the U.S. and the West are willing to do for Ukraine as this war drags on? Or is it sort of tension, that tension continuing to grow among this leader and what sort of Ukraine wants versus what they`re going to get?
Youssef: I think it`s the latter, that there continues to be tension. Because the U.S. has said that this is a fight for democracy. And yet has been unwilling to actually prevail. The U.S. has instead sent a lot of defensive weapons, stingers, and other defensive weapons in a bid to help Ukraine, but not enough to let them prevail.
The U.S. concern is that if they send offensive weapons this will be seen as an escalation by the United States towards Russia and potentially expand the war. The challenge is that you see a Ukrainian force that has been far more successful than many anticipated has made territorial grounds even though they`ve had a disadvantage in terms of the types of weapons, that number of forces.
And so, the Ukrainian request is if the West sees this as a threat to democracy, then the west should be providing every weapon possible to help them prevail in this war. What we`re seeing from both Russia and Ukraine this week in particular is that for all their talks during the peace talks in Istanbul, I think both sides continue to believe that they can prevail in this war and I think what you heard from President Zelenskyy was a plea to the United States to help him achieve that goal.
Alcindor: Michael, I want to turn to -- a subject that`s related but also just we`re living almost -- pulled back into the Trump years. President Trump this week called on Vladimir Putin to find alleged sort of dirt essentially on Hunter Biden, President Biden`s son.
What`s that say about the politics of all this? We`re talking about sort of what`s going on with Russia and Ukraine but there`s also the domestic politics and the former president continuing to swirl around here?
Shear: Well, that`s true. You know, I think that what the former president`s antics, I guess, you might call it, bringing -- bringing this kind of stuff up and talking to Vladimir Putin, you know, via social media and whatever, it underscores a problem for the Republican Party, right?
The traditional Republican Party pre-Trump was very strong on Russia. I mean, that`s -- it prided itself on taking a strong stand against, you know, Russia and Russian aggression. And now, they`ve got -- you know, they spent four years with Donald Trump, you know, essentially coddling up to him.
And, you know, and so now you have a problem for Republicans who have to, you know, kind of campaign in a setting where they`ve got the former president, you know, not being on message essentially.
Alcindor: Well, it`s remarkable and something that we`re going to have to keep watching because President Biden himself said that other countries are wondering is president -- former President Trump going to be back anytime soon? So, so much to talk about.
Thank you so much to Nancy, Jonathan and Michael for sharing your reporting and joining us.
We`ll continue our conversation on the "Washington Week" extra. This week`s topic, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act which was signed into law. Find it on our website, Facebook and YouTube.
And tune in tomorrow to the launch of "PBS News Weekend" with Geoff Bennett every weekend. That program will bring you the latest news on politics, culture, and much more.
Thank you so much for joining us. I`m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.