Special: Donald Trump's 2016 Campaign, Hostage Policy Review, Defense Authorization and Baseball Hacking

Jun. 19, 2015 AT 9:04 p.m. EDT

Next week, it’s anticipated that the administration will release the review of its hostage policy. Foreign Policy’s Yochi Dreazen previews what to expect. Why hack the Houston Astros? NPR’s Carrie Johnson elaborates on the MLB scandal involving the FBI and Justice Department. Plus, a report on the different views of the defense authorization bill. And Dan Balz of the Washington Post details Donald Trump’s giant leap into the 2016 race.

Get Washington Week in your inbox


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra .

MS. IFILL: Hello, and welcome. I’m Gwen Ifill. We’re ready to pick up online where we left off on air.

I’m joined by Dan Balz of The Washington Post , Carrie Johnson of NPR, Chuck Babington of the Associated Press and Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy magazine.

We start with a little preview of something we’ve been waiting for, the expected release next week of the administration’s review of its hostage policy. Yochi, you’ve been watching that. What are we waiting for, exactly, and what do we expect?

MR. DREAZEN: We’re waiting for – well, one question is, will they roll it out publicly or privately? A lot of the families want it to be public. They still feel profound anger at the White House, feeling that not enough was done to bring back their loved ones. And the main question that this will be looked at to see if it addresses is the question of ransoms. Most European governments openly pay ransoms to get back their people. The Germans do it. The French do it. The Italians do it. The U.S. emphatically does not do it, and in one case told a family that if a family tried to raise money on its own they would go to jail. So that’s the kind of central question we’ll all be looking at to see if it’s addressed or how. My hunch is that it won’t be addressed in any concrete way, or if it is it’ll be, well, we’re kind of going to keep the policy the way that it is. But that – at the core of all of this is this question of ransom: Can you pay money to get back a missing American or should you pay money?

MS. IFILL: I can’t imagine that the administration policy will change.

MR. DREAZEN: Yeah, I can’t, either, especially because then the argument becomes immediately, well, by doing that you’re funding the Islamic State.

MS. IFILL: Well, exactly. After a while you’re in a – between a rock and a hard place on that one.

Chuck, I want to ask you about one of these issues – one of these things that goes through on Capitol Hill that has completely different interpretations depending on where you sit. In this case it sounds obscure, but it was the defense authorization bill. And the president maybe thinking – in position to veto it? What’s going on?

MR. BABINGTON: Yeah, Gwen, it’s over funding it, how to fund it, and this all grows out of the whole – this whole sequestration thing.

MS. IFILL: Ah, that favorite – my favorite word. I can’t believe you said it. (Laughter.)

MR. BABINGTON: I’ll try to simplify it.

So there’s been a long-running quarrel between the two parties for years now about how to – you know, how much to spend and how to fund it. And the Republicans in particular have said, you’ve got to pay for things; you can’t just keep putting it on the credit card. And yet, when it comes to – so now they’ve had these limits in place that keep kind of ratcheting down spending, and a lot of Republicans, and Democrats for that matter, are concerned that we’re ratcheting down on the military too much. So the Republicans have said, well, we can – we can bring up the spending for the military, but we’ll pay for it by – this money that we set aside for wars that we really didn’t expect, we’ll kind of put that money in there. And the Democrats are saying, no, no, that’s a gimmick. You know, if you’re going to pay for it, if you’re going to do it, do it up front because what they don’t like is the idea that they’ll find a gimmicky way to pay for military spending and not a gimmicky way to pay for domestic spending.

MS. IFILL: So basically this allows the Republicans to say that the Democrats are anti-military and for the Democrats to say the Republicans are blowing up the budget.

MR. BABINGTON: Exactly, yeah.

MS. IFILL: Oh, that’s nice.

MR. BABINGTON: You have a problem with that? I mean –

MS. IFILL: I don’t have a problem with it. (Laughter.) I just wanted to be clear about what the disagreement is.

MR. BABINGTON: You’ve got it exactly right.

MS. IFILL: OK. (Laughs.)

I want to go to Carrie. There were two things that happened on your beat. First I want to ask about the serious one and then about the lighter one – to me, lighter. One is a Medicare fraud bust. There was a big announcement at the Justice Department.

MS. JOHNSON: The biggest Medicare fraud bust in U.S. history, according to the attorney general, the FBI director and the head of HHS. They wound up doing a sting operation or a series of operations rolled out over three days in 17 cities, arresting hundreds of people – including, Gwen, 46 medical professionals – doctors, nurses – taking advantage in large part of Medicare Part D and other schemes. And the government says that so much money is being wasted on fraud in the health care system that they really want to send a message that they’re on the case. The problem, though, Gwen, is that the default is to pay these claims, and so it’s hard to get the money back once it’s gone out of the federal coffers.

MS. IFILL: When we hear about fraud and fraud in health care, this is not what we envision, people who qualify for Medicare as being the perpetrators.

MS. JOHNSON: Absolutely not. And when you’ve got medical professionals engaged in these schemes and, in fact, being the essential or central part of the scheme, the government has a real problem there and needs to crack down on it.

MS. IFILL: OK. So now the Justice Department is also getting a reputation as being – waging a war against sports, this time a potential hacking investigation in baseball.

MS. JOHNSON: Corporate espionage involving, allegedly, the St. Louis Cardinals: lower- to mid-level people in the front office allegedly hacking into a proprietary computer system operated by their rival, the Houston Astros. And, Gwen, the electronic trail, according to federal officials, led back to a home with ties to the St. Louis Cardinals. So whoever was engaged in these shenanigans did not do a very good job of covering their tracks. The problem here is that when you’re talking about computer intrusions, there’s a law on the books called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and it carries five- or 10-year penalties – criminal penalties. Not clear to me, though, whether the feds are going to decide this is a matter best handled by baseball disciplinary officials.

MS. IFILL: Well, and I – can I just say the Astros, are they really somebody you want to take down? I don’t know that they’re – I don’t know baseball that well, but are they that –

MR. BABINGTON: They’ve gone from being bad to being very good.


MR. BABINGTON: Yeah. And the guy that’s made them good is the guy that used to run the Cardinals.

MS. IFILL: Well, so thank you for clearing that up for me. I was so confused.

MR. BABINGTON: I’m happy to do that. (Laughter.)

MS. IFILL: OK. One more question, and this is something we may have overlooked in the main program, which is that there’s another presidential candidate who announced this week, and his name is Donald J. Trump.

MR. BALZ: Donald J. Trump –


MR. BALZ: – as he was introduced, yes. Donald Trump has flirted with this idea for many years, and this week he said he is an actual candidate. He hasn’t quite yet done all the paperwork necessary to become a real candidate.

MS. IFILL: Oh, paperwork, paperwork.

MR. BALZ: A real candidate, and he has a little time for that, so we’ll see how long he stays in. But right now he’s in, and he’s going to be a disruptive force. I mean, we know what he is like. He’s beyond egocentric. He’s very brash. He’s inflammatory. Some of the things he said on his opening day about illegal immigrants being rapists and drug dealers and killers and worse was, quite frankly, shameful, and Hillary Clinton called him out on it later in the week and said this kind of language ought not to be tolerated. He is right on the edge of qualifying to be in the first presidential debate among the Republicans in August.

MS. IFILL: It’s from name recognition.

MR. BALZ: Well, yes. He’s right there. Fox News has said we will take the top 10 people from the five most recent national polls, and he’s right there – you know, not by a healthy margin, but he could be on that stage. He’s taken very direct shots at Jeb Bush and others in the race, and he’s going to cause them some problems.

MS. IFILL: And him being on the stage means there are people who are governors, there are people who have long track records of public service who would not make that threshold.

MR. BALZ: That’s right. There are – there are people who Republicans would regard as more serious or credible candidates who could be kept out while he’s in. And in some ways it’s the party’s worst nightmare. I mean –

MS. IFILL: Is there anything they’re willing to do about that or is there anything they can do about that?

MR. BALZ: There’s not much they can do. I mean, the rules – the rules, as established by the sponsors of the debates, are such that, you know, he’s likely – he could well be in.

MS. IFILL: Get your popcorn, folks. This is going to be the part of the campaign that people are going to look and go, what are we doing? We’ll see how it goes.

Before I go, I want to wish a happy Father’s Day to everybody in the crew here, but also everybody at the table where – who have – we have children at this table from the age 11 weeks to 36 years. Won’t say who has what. (Laughter.)

MR. BABINGTON: Have to guess.

MS. IFILL: But I just know that there is a – there is a lovely muffin waiting for you all Sunday morning. Happy Father’s Day.

And thank you, everybody. We’ll see you on the next Washington Week Webcast Extra .


Support our journalism

Washington Week Logo

© 1996 - 2024 WETA. All Rights Reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization

Support our journalism


Contact: Kathy Connolly,

Vice President Major and Planned Giving

kconnolly@weta.org or 703-998-2064