Yamiche Alcindor, PBS Moderator, Washington Week: A hot August and an even hotter political climate.
Unidentified Female: They did tell us that it includes a roadmap for the investigation.
Alcindor (voice-over): A federal judge orders the Justice Department to redact the affidavit used to justify the FBI search of former President Trump`s home, as the DOJ fights to keep it sealed.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY): I will do whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.
Alcindor: Congresswoman Liz Cheney loses her primary race but vows to fight on.
Joe Biden President of the United States: This law, the American people won and special interests lost.
Alcindor: President Biden signed his landmark health care and climate priorities into law. But will Democrats be able to cut to the noise of Trump headlines? Next.
Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week".
This week, President Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act into law. It is one of his biggest domestic achievements yet. And Democrats say it will do with a number of things including lower health care costs and tackle climate change.
The White House was celebrating its win for the second week the former President Donald Trump was dominating the headlines. The fallout from the FBI`s search and seizure of classified documents from his Mar-a-Lago continues. On Thursday, a judge ruled the Justice Department must redact parts of the search affidavit ahead of releasing it.
And there were even more Trump headlines. On Tuesday, in a landslide, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming lost her primary race to Harriet Hageman. Cheney is the eighth of ten Republican house members who voted to impeach Trump to lose a primary or retire.
During her concession speech, Cheney made clear she was not going to embrace Trump election lies in order to get on the path to win reelection.
Cheney: The path was clear. But it would have required that I go along with President Trump lie about the 2020 election. It would have required that I enable his ongoing efforts to unravel our democratic system and attacked the foundations of our republic. That was a path I could not and would not take.
Alcindor: Quite a statement.
Joining me to discuss this and more, Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times."
Here at the table: Eugene Daniels, White House correspondent and co-author of "Politico`s Playbook", and Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief of "USA Today."
So, of course, thank you all for being here. We have to dig in to this week.
Peter, I want to start with you because it was quite a week of legal challenges for former President Trump. There`s so many things, including, we should also add, his top executive pled guilty to charges that he was engaged in a long-running tax scheme.
I wonder, as someone who covered former President Trump for so long, what do you make of it? What are you hearing from sources, including people from Trump world about the significance of all this to him personally and politically?
Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent, "The New York Times": Look, it has been, as you say, an extraordinary week, an extraordinary couple of weeks. So many different legal issues climbing towards him all of the same time from New York, Georgia and the federal government now the search at Mar-a-Lago. It`s rather extraordinary.
And, obviously, we use the word unprecedented too many times when it comes to this president but it really is true. In the Trump world you hear a mixture of bravado, this will help us with our base were under attack, that were -- and they like to -- he`s done a great job over the years of playing the politics of grievance. And this will be his message going forward as we see again and again in the last few days, they are out to get me.
The FBI is guilty of "atrocities." That`s the word he used today on this social media age. There is a lot of quiet nervousness I think in Trump world and then the outer orbits where the assume it this not be the dominating story. They would rather be talking about the Republican message in the fall which is that -- is that inflation is still really high, that President Biden`s popularity is still really low, that they have a really good chance of taking the Congress or at least the House.
But instead what they are talking about, is it legal for a former president of the United States to walk off with papers that may have nuclear secrets in them? What would be the reason he would do it? Why is he doing that?
I think that is quietly -- rather deep river of concern you hear among a lot of Republicans even if they`re not willing to see that aloud.
Alcindor: A deep river of concern is one way to describe what is going on.
And, Susan, we are talking about the fight over the affidavit but we already learned some things of the search this week. We saw in the search warrant application that part of this was potential crimes could be, quote, willful retention of national defense information.
What do you make of what we learned so far about this investigation? And in some ways, what do you think we might learn if this affidavit is made public?
Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief, USA Today: As the judge has indicated, he is inclined to make it public, we will know more about what the information was that the Justice Department had that made them think it was so serious and so urgent that they took this six ordinary step, this unprecedented step to serve a warrant on the home of a former president and search and seize documents from it. That`s not something we have ever seen in our history.
We will know more if we get the affidavit but we do know they are looking at possible violations of several laws including the espionage act. So this is, when you look at, it is, you feel like you need a scorecard with Donald Trump with the number of legal actions that he and people close to him are involved in at this point. But this has to be the most serious action legally we have seen involving this president or perhaps any president.
And, Eugene, the government, the Justice Department now has until Thursday to redact, for an affidavit that might possibly be released. You`ve been speaking to legal experts about what we might learn, what have you heard from your reporting?
Eugene Daniels, White House Correspondent, Politico: Yeah, Susan is right but they also say that, you know, the government likes to redact. We`ve all seen this documents with a lot of blacked out spaces. There will probably be a lot of pages we would just see the page number.
And so, they have been trying to temper the excitement for a lot of reporters you think we will find out a ton, that we will know exactly what the Justice Department told the judge to go into the home. So, that is where we are all kind of waiting and watching, because the Justice Department and the federal government is -- usually give a lot of leeway with the judges and with the legal system when they, you know, we can`t tell people this. People shouldn`t see this.
And so, as we wait and watch, I think folks who think they will know exactly what they think was in the house and all that good stuff, probably not going to see that.
Alcindor: some good caution you are urging there.
Alcindor: That we might all be looking at black pages.
I want to also ask, Eugene, you about this conversation that is happening in Trump world about whether or not former President Trump will release surveillance video tied to the search. A lot of people worry about the identities of FBI agents who carried this out, even the judge dealing with threats. We heard a number of officials say that law enforcement officials are now receiving even more threats after this search.
What are you hearing and what can you tell us about the implications of all this as it relates to the sort of violence and threats that people are dealing with?
Daniels: You know, that is something the experts, folks in that world are really worried about because they have seen an increase in threats. We saw the attack on the FBI field office, and all these types of things.
When you talk to them, the whole thing that they want everything temper down, that is not what happens with Trump -- we have not seen that over six years. And so, the concern is that there might be for the violence, the threats are terrifying.
So if President Trump is going to release the surveillance we see those folks, there will be a target on their backs. As they move forward in their lives. I will say we see President Trump -- I promise a lot of thing. This was coming into weeks. So, it is possible he might be making this threat and we do not ever see something. But that is again one of those things we have to wait and see if that actually comes out.
Alcindor: we will definitely have to wait and see.
And, Peter, we`ve been talking about the raid -- there is a lot of focus on DOJ -- I should say DOJ`s search, not a raid per se. But we also need to point out that former president Trumps longest serving employee, he pled guilty to being engaged in a long-running tax scheme here.
I want to know -- he has said, though, he`s going to refuse to implicate Trump and members of the family but he could be called to testify against the Trump Organization, the Trump Company.
What`s the significance of that given all of the other legal things we are talking about -- what is the significance of that?
Baker: Well, look, I think it is a big deal. This is not some side character, not some coffee getter in the office. This was a guy who was President Trump`s right-hand guy when it came to finances for many, many years, you rightly pointed out. And he`s going to plead guilty now to 15 felonies, 15 felonies.
It is not like he was ripping off Trump. He was in fact part of a scheme according to prosecutors managed by the Trump organization. No, he will not implicate the former president or his family directly but he is going to potentially testify against the Trump Organization.
And truth is there is not much of a difference between the Trump Organization and the Trump family. The Trump Organization is the Trump Family.
So, when you say the Trump Organization has committed a crime as prosecutors have, what you`re saying is the Trump family has committed a crime. And I think that`s a big deal. It shouldn`t be lost in the middle of this.
Now, this does not have anything to do with his presidency directly but I think it is one more piece of the legal puzzle that he is facing former president. There is this New York investigation, this Georgia investigation of election manipulation basically going on down there. There is the January 6 investigation now, this, you know, secret document investigation. So many different legal issues involving the former president that at some point you wonder whether any of them weigh him down him now politically.
Alcindor: And you bring up the January 6 investigation. The other news that we heard this week was that former Vice President Mike Pence said he may consider testifying before the January 6 committee. There are some who will say you really need to be sort of cautious about this because he did really temper what he was saying.
But I wonder what you make of the fact that the vice president, Peter, that he might come before this committee that is looking at whether or not former President Trump tried to bring American democracy to its knees. And, of course, he was someone who he refused to leave the capital on that day.
Baker: Yeah, look, I think that will be very important. He`s the one voice we really haven`t heard from when it comes -- to the most important voices anyway, we haven`t heard from about the events of January 6. We know what he refused to do and we know the danger he was in, but in his public comments in the last year and a half, he has always tried to take a very temperate, I think that was the word you used, the rightward approach to this saying he stands by his decisions to uphold the Constitution and the president of the United States had no right to tell him to somehow overturn the election.
But he hasn`t exactly given us his narrative account of the day, of the threat that he faced, the people out there who were chanting "hang Mike Pence", or the Secret Service rushing into safety, his refusal to leave the U.S. Capitol because he did not want to be intimidated to stop the constitutional process of counting the votes. It is not unprecedented. There has been a time when a former, a sitting president did testify before Congress.
I`m thinking about Gerald Ford who agreed to come to Congress to testify about his decision to pardon Richard Nixon, an event that was also very big in the minds of Americans at that time because they felt that Americans deserved to hear his answers to those questions. It will be interesting to see if Mike Pence has authorized his chief of staff and chief counsel to testify. A matter of just remembering how this event really took place, that would be important.
Alcindor: And, Peter, that is why we have you on the show to bring together the Nixon and Trump and the Gerald Ford to bring it together so we know exactly how this goes into the history of America.
Susan, another thing we have to, of course, talk about is Liz Cheney. You are someone is the best person to talk about this because you have written several books about women in politics. I wonder when you think about who she is. She`s vowing to fight on.
What does success look like for Liz Cheney and how much can she impact given the fact that she is the face of the anti-Trump movement in the Republican Party but also it is a lonely island of people willing to do what she is doing?
Page: She lost this primary by 37 percentage points. That is a pretty stunning number. It`s a message from Republicans in Wyoming that she was not representing them. It is a sign of the hold the Donald Trump continues to have over the Republican Party and yet, she has emerged as person of stature on the January 6 committee. She has tremendous ability to raise money, which she demonstrated in that Wyoming race. She will do that to raise money for other causes if she wishes.
She has indicated that she may run for president. And the chance of her running as an independent is less likely because that would probably help Donald Trump win again. It`s probably what hurt Joe Biden or what the Democratic candidate would be, but to mount a campaign against Donald Trump and his own party for the nomination would give her a platform to continue to make the kind of argument that she`s been making.
Alcindor: And, Eugene, when we think about sort of what`s happening with Liz Cheney, we can`t talk about what is happening in the Senate races because there are number of Trump-backed candidates who are struggling in Georgia, in Pennsylvania, in Arizona. Mitch McConnell even said this, quote, Senate races are just different. They`re statewide candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome." candidate quality from Mitch McConnell.
How do you see this, and especially in relation to what is going on with Liz Cheney but also the Republicans having to look at this with some reality?
Daniels: A little shade from Mitch McConnell talking about some of those candidates. Herschel Walker, Herschel Walker.
So, this was a kind of worried that Republicans had last year when we asked them, Donald Trump has said he is going to be meddling in the primaries, picking candidates. Behind closed doors, never in front of her camera or on the record with they say it would but it did. They were worried he was going to pick people who were just in his image, people who had never run for office and had never held office before, especially as high as it -- open office as the Senate.
And now you have all of these candidates who are either way behind where Republicans should be. I`m talking about 11 points in Pennsylvania, for example, with Oz. Seven points with Ron Johnson, sitting senator in June -- in Wisconsin. Mitch McConnell has said this. Other Republicans are saying, how do we shift money? Where is the path to take the Senate?
And things have been going well for Joe Biden and the Democrats over the last couple weeks. They are feeling really good but I think a lot of it is these have been going -- things have been going badly for Donald Trump, the head of the party and have the Senate candidates who either do not seem to know what they are talking about. Oz has been painted as a carpetbagger who is not from Pennsylvania and does not understand Pennsylvanians, and that is going to probably continue.
So, Republicans are very concerned about flipping the Senate.
Alcindor: And, Peter, put Liz Cheney in all that is happening into context for us when anything about the fact that she is the daughter of former Republican vice president Dick Cheney.
Baker: I think that is an important point to make. The Cheney family was not the favorite of a lot of Americans on the political left, but today a lot of them do respect them because of her decision. Think about what this, what she decided to do. How often do we see in politics somebody who decides to stand on what they consider to be a point of principle, whether you agree or not -- stands on what she consider to be a point of principle, knowing it`s going to cost her her office?
That does not happen very often she said something to me a couple weeks ago that I thought was striking. She said that when she watches the video of Mike Pence being evacuated from the U.S. Capitol room where he had been hidden, in order to escape a mob (AUDIO GAP) trying to kill him, she sees her father Dick Cheney, then the vice president being evacuated from his office in the White House on 9/11 to the bunker to save his life against a potential hit by a hijacked plane.
She makes that connection which is really fascinating. What that told me and that moment she said that I suddenly got it. For her, you know, Trump is the existential threat that her father saw in al Qaeda. She sees Donald Trump as an existential threat to American and American democracy. And, therefore, she is going to be is mission driven as her father was.
Again, we can argue about what her father did or did not do, whether it was right or not, but what is striking to me is that fierce determination to do what she thinks is the right thing in order to protect the country from what she considers to be a threat, and I thought that was a fascinating comparison she made, revealing about her.
Page: It also shows how incredibly disruptive Donald Trump has been in our political system in both parties. He beat Jeb Bush, a member of a famous political dynasty, for the Republican primaries in 2016. He beat Hillary Clinton, a member of the most powerful family in Democratic politics in that election. Now he`s defeated Liz Cheney, the daughter -- political royalty in the Republican Party.
Donald Trump has reshaped our politics in such fundamental and far-reaching ways we will be dealing with this for some time.
Daniels: And just to quickly add with Liz Cheney, she is going to be creating a leadership PAC where the stated goal, the one goes to make sure Donald Trump does not get into the Oval Office now that she will not have a job in January she will have enough -- a lot more time to give money to like-minded candidates in 2024.
Alcindor: So much to talk about and certainly someone to keep watching, Liz Cheney. We have to say that meanwhile, President Biden took a victory lap as he signed the inflation reduction act. He also said despite this and other recent legislative wins, we should note, the Democrats remain concern about his low approval rating.
So, Eugene, I want to come to you about this idea -- how concerned are Biden and Democrats that they`re having these big legislative wins, and they are being drowned out by the Trump headlines?
Daniels: They`re feeling pretty good about themselves, but they do realize that no one has paid attention to like the victory lap they`re taking this week. You had three members of the cabinet out on the same day. The cabinet is going to take 35 trips to 23 states between now and the end of August.
And they`re not getting out attention. So, they know that. But they hope they will be able to give some of these down ballot candidates a boost so they can go out and share the message of what this administration has been able to do, but they also are not foolish into thinking this is going to make Joe Biden be a super popular president. Some of the things that were true three weeks ago, inflation at all time high, still very true.
The good thing for Democrats as a lot of the Senate Democrats running in the Senate primaries matchups, they will be running ahead of Joe Biden and how unpopular he is in these states.
Alcindor: And, Peter, in the minute or so we have left, you wrote this week the headline we have to read which is, even on Biden`s big day, he is still in Trump`s long shadow. Talk about that in a minute or so.
Baker: Yeah. I think that`s right, what Eugene just said is exactly right. It is hard to compete with the circus that surrounds the former president. We have not seen anything like this in modern times where sitting president has such a hard time. But they are going to take that contrast and make that the argument.
Do you really want to have the party that cares about extremist politics and Donald Trump and the FBI search and all that, or do you want somebody who delivered maybe belatedly on the things that you as liberals and Democrats think are important? He`s trying to bring back the people who were disenchanted from him two years ago, not trying to convince Republicans who will never be for him to begin with.
Alcindor: And, Susan, in a couple of seconds here, you also wrote that unprecedented is the adjective that Trump owns. He still has the power to shock and awe. Explain a little bit of that.
Page: Well, you know, it`s the search at Mar-a-Lago. I mean, who-- what are we to make of that? It`s extraordinary and we don`t fully understand it, but we will at some point. I look forward to that day.
Alcindor: Yeah. Well, a lot to cover, especially as Democrats and I talked, as Eugene reported, they are feeling good about their achievements but this Trump headline will continue to go and go.
So, thanks so much to our panel for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
And don`t forget to stick around for the "Washington Week Extra". We`ll discuss the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and its political consequences. Find it on our website, Facebook and YouTube.
And before we go, tomorrow, tune in to "PBS News Weekend" for a look at the FDA`s decision to allow over-the-counter sales of hearing aids.
Thank you for joining us. I`m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.