ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MR. WILLIAMS: Hi there. I’m Pete Williams, in for Gwen Ifill this week. And joining me around the table are Joan Biskupic of Reuters, Yochi Dreazen of Foreign Policy, Michael Scherer of TIME Magazine, and Robert Costa of The Washington Post.
On the campaign trail earlier this week, Hillary Clinton took on the issue of trust – or, more pointedly, why people don’t trust her.
MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) A lot of people tell pollsters they don’t trust me. Now, I don’t like hearing that, and I’ve thought a lot about what’s behind it. And you know, you hear 25 years’ worth of wild accusations, anyone would start to wonder. And it certainly is true I’ve made mistakes; I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. You can’t just talk someone into trusting you. You’ve got to earn it.
MR. WILLIAMS: So, Robert, what’s the strategy here? Is this the, so to speak, elephant in the room and she has to address it?
MR. COSTA: She does have to address it. There’s a different – there’s a divide within Clinton’s orbit about exactly how to handle the trust question because longtime Clinton loyalists think this is a baked-in effect, this is something from a lot of right-wing attacks over the years. And others who are not necessarily the long-time loyalists, they say, look, this email server issue has been lingering for over a year, it needs to be addressed in a more formal way and in a better way to get these swing voters over to their side. But there’s just not a clear strategy on the trust question. I think the VP pick will have something to say in signaling what kind of person she’d surround herself with as president. But in terms of her messaging and her rhetoric, she just is someone who kind of navigates around the question and tries to prove herself rather than taking it head on.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, are you saying there’s nothing she can do about it?
MR. COSTA: I think, in terms of concrete statements, I’m not so sure anything would be a silver bullet. But I think just on the campaign trail and how she talks about things and how she talks about her plan and her agenda, she can maybe convince some people that she’s not this secretive former secretary of state because, unfair as that may be to some Clinton supporters, that is – that is the caricature, that is the impression being cast by many Republicans.
MR. WILLIAMS: Getting away from presidential politics a little bit, Congress left the town for the 4th of July holiday without coming to any agreement on funding to combat the Zika virus. So, Michael, why is money to fight Zika such a big, contentious issue?
MR. SCHERER: It’s Congress. (Laughter.) There’s two reasons. One is that there’s a policy dispute over how to pay for this money – it’s about a billion dollars – and whether or not it’s appropriate to tie things to this bill about the Confederate flag or about contraception and Planned Parenthood, because it’s sort of a must-pass piece of legislation. But there’s also a political fight here. You know, Republicans are looking for issues with which to attack Democrats, and McConnell engineered one, essentially, this week. And you have – you look at some of the close Senate races, you have Republican senators going home this week and saying, I’m trying to, you know, save American lives and Democrats are blocking a bill for Zika. The sad truth of this is, it’s probably already too late for a lot of this –
MR. WILLIAMS: We’re already swatting mosquitoes.
MR. SCHERER: We’re swatting mosquitoes. This is money that will go to states and localities to actually fight mosquito breeding. It’s expected right now – this hasn’t been confirmed – there’s Zika cases across the U.S., but whether they’ve been transmitted by a mosquito that’s already here as expected hasn’t been confirmed across the South. And this is a disease that, for 70 percent of the people who get it, not really much of an impact – maybe you have a little bit of a fever. But it’s also one that can cause serious fetal brain defects, you know, can cause horrific conditions for young children. It’s kind of a thing that you want the government, however dysfunctional it is, to say we got this, you know, we’re going to go take care of this. And they’re saying now that, because of the delay in funding, not only are mosquito eradication efforts going to be delayed, but funding for making more tests available – right now it’s kind of hard to get a quick test in Zika – and funding for the vaccine, which is very promising right now but still months away from arriving here, will also be delayed.
MR. WILLIAMS: So will they do this when they come back? And when will that be?
MR. SCHERER: They’re going to take it up again, and there’s going to be, as there often is in Congress, quite a lot of light and heat, and I’m sure they will come to some settlement. I think the idea that we would go through the entire summer without them coming to some terms – I think they left town both thinking – the Democrats thinking they could go home and say this is about contraception and Republicans who want to stop funding for Planned Parenthood and how outrageous they are, and Republicans saying this is about health and Democrats won’t let us stop you from the deadly mosquito. They both left town thinking they could get political gain, but at some point that’ll – that dynamic will go away.
MR. WILLIAMS: OK. So elsewhere in Congress, the House committee investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya in 2012 issued its final report of the week. Many of the revelation(s) on blame, readiness, and the role of the military were expected, but was there something, Yochi, that you noticed that was surprising in this report?
MR. DREAZEN: You know, I want the hours of my life back that I spent going through it. (Laughter.) But there was one tidbit that I found very interesting, which was that during the chaos of the attack, the Libyans who came to the compound and tried to save the Americans, who were at that point wounded and who were trying to get out, were former Gadhafi loyalists who had gone into hiding after the U.S. toppled Gadhafi. I mean, you think about just the sort of meta nature of that, that first of all the U.S. didn’t know that force existed, but the U.S. went in, toppled Gadhafi; flash forward, in the chaos of post-Gadhafi Libya, Gadhafi loyalists were the ones who then tried to save the U.S. personnel, and obviously failed.
MR. WILLIAMS: And they did that on their own. We didn’t ask them.
MR. DREAZEN: Correct. We didn’t even know they existed as an organized militia.
MR. WILLIAMS: And does the report say anything about how effective, how hard they tried, what sort of effort they made?
MR. DREAZEN: From the way the report is written, it seems like they put their lives at risk to try to do it, that they fought hard to try to do it, and then tragically they failed.
MR. WILLIAMS: Hmm. Thank you very much.
Finally, the last decision of the Supreme Court term also may not have gotten your attention as much about abortion, but the very last ruling was a unanimous one overturning the conviction of former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. This was an ethics case involving Rolex watches and rides in fancy cars. But, Joan, what did the justices say?
MS. BISKUPIC: Yeah, Pete, have you ever remembered a last day in June that we had a unanimous ruling? And I can tell you why, because they said that prosecutors were too aggressive in his case in terms of what’s required under federal bribery and fraud law. You probably remember, back in 2014, former Governor – then-Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, received a lot of gifts, really fancy gifts – Rolexes, money to help his daughter’s wedding reception, loans – I think a total of $175,000 – from this man named Jonnie Williams.
MR. WILLIAMS: No relation. (Laughter.)
MS. BISKUPIC: You say, yes. (Laughter.) From this man who was promoting a nutritional supplement, and he wanted – he wanted state help. He wanted the university to do some research on it, basically for promotion. And then-Governor McDonnell had done – you know, held some meetings, had hosted some things, and he was prosecuted under a law that says that, you know, you can’t take a bribe for what’s known as an official act. And what the Supreme Court said unanimously is that an official act has to be something that’s concrete, discrete, specific. That isn’t just hosting something. It has to be –
MR. WILLIAMS: And about some pending government decision.
MS. BISKUPIC: Yes. It has to be almost like as if there were a lawsuit pending or some meeting – not a meeting, some sort of government action that was about to happen which was imminent that you actually took action toward, not some sort of just loose idea of maybe promoting some constituent’s project here. So it was – during oral arguments in April, as you probably remember, all the justices across the ideological divide – which rarely happens – all seemed to think the government had gone too far here. And that there was – there was a certain we’ll hold our nose on what Bob McDonnell might have done here, but in terms of the law it’s – he didn’t break it, at least with what we’ve got right now.
MR. WILLIAMS: So, very briefly, one, can he be tried again? And, two, does this make it harder for the government – for the federal government to prosecute corruption?
MS. BISKUPIC: Easy one for number one, he could be tried again. It depends – the Supreme Court said that we’re not saying whether there’s any evidence below that could actually meet our new standard. In fact, it said, you know, go back – go back to the lower court and see, first of all, if the standard could be met; and if it can’t be met, the government could also always come in and re-try it – re-try him if it actually thinks it’s got a case. I mean, obviously the guy’s political career, you would presume, has been ruined, but you don’t know what’s going to happen legally.
But in terms of prosecutors, yes, this makes it harder because anytime prosecutors have some wiggle room where they can say something that, you know – holding a meeting, doing acts that weren’t toward some specific event such as a prosecution or some sort of lawsuit, can’t be – can’t be held as grounds I think that’s – I think it is a big deal for prosecutors.
MR. WILLIAMS: All righty, interesting facts from you all. Thanks very much.
For more on the Supreme Court and abortion, check out our blog post at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. That’ll ripe it up – wrap it up for now. (Chuckles.) I’m Pete Williams. Be sure to join us once gain round the table for another edition of the Washington Week Webcast Extra.