ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hi, everybody. I’m Gwen Ifill.
We’re here to pick up where we left off on the weekly broadcast. I’m joined around the table by John Dickerson of CBS News and Slate magazine, John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, and Carrie Johnson of NPR.
During the regular broadcast, we discussed how busy the nation’s new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has been just weeks into the job. Her investigations have taken her as far as Zurich, where the Swiss government helped the U.S. act on some of the most powerful figures in international sport. But how did the U.S. get to claim jurisdiction over a global soccer scandal, Carrie?
MS. JOHNSON: One word, Gwen: banks. Almost all of these transactions, or many of these transactions involving alleged bribes – $150 million or more in bribes – were funneled through American banks or in meetings where these alleged conspirators cooked up plots in the New York area. So those two things, according to the attorney general, gave the United States jurisdiction over these men. She wound up charging nine FIFA executives and five other sports marketing officials in a massive takedown. It involved a raid in a four – five-star hotel in Zurich, perp walks the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
MS. IFILL: Sheets held over. That was very –
MS. JOHNSON: Sheets held over them.
MR. DICKERSON: Very high thread-count sheets. (Laughter.)
MS. JOHNSON: And they were able to carry their own bags. That doesn’t happen in Brooklyn most of the time. And also a raid – concurrent raid in Miami on a FIFA affiliate headquarters there. And they say this is only the beginning of their investigation.
MS. IFILL: Well, that’s the part I’m really interested in, only the beginning. I mean, today we saw or Friday we saw that the head of FIFA, who was not indicted in this, was reelected quite easily. The guy he was running against, basically – who the U.S. was supporting – threw in the towel. We hear incredible tales of people saying I witnessed the money being handed over in brown paper bags, essentially. How does – where does the U.S. go from this and making enemies along the way, which is a Russia, which got the games, and Qatar, which got the games under a cloud?
MS. JOHNSON: So U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made her name in Brooklyn prosecuting and taking down mafia organizations. The way you do that, Gwen, is you take the people at the bottom of the ladder and you get them to turn on people higher up in the ladder. And the major tool that they’re using here is racketeering charges. Those carry 20 years maximum penalties. So if you scare some of these lower-level executives into telling what they know and sharing documents, you get higher and higher up that ladder. Worth noting: four officials at FIFA have already pleaded guilty, and one allegedly wore a wire. So there’s –
MS. IFILL: That’s the American, right?
MS. JOHNSON: The American allegedly wore a wire, and there are lots and lots of documents to go through, and more documents that were seized in that raid in Miami, too.
MS. IFILL: I’m not the biggest soccer fan, but I found – football fan, but I must say I found this story endlessly fascinating this week. I get the feeling it’s – we’re going to hear a lot more.
John Harwood, you wrote an interesting blog today about – I don’t even know if you can talk about it, really, about behind the scenes at Hillary Clinton headquarters and how their strategy is playing out. Tell us what you can about what was basically not an on-the-record event.
MR. HARWOOD: Oh, I can tell you everything that happened in the sessions, just there wasn’t very much that happened. (Laughter.) A bunch of us who cover politics got a notice early in the week from the Clinton campaign that –
MS. IFILL: And John, you were there, too.
MR. HARWOOD: John was one of them.
MR. DICKERSON: Yes, although –
MS. IFILL: Although you can’t really say so.
MR. DICKERSON: Yeah. (Laughter.)
MR. HARWOOD: And inviting us to a background briefing at the Clinton campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, and it was to sort of lay out what was going to happen in the summer and beyond in her campaign. And under the rules of the briefing, it – we could not quote anyone directly, so it was deep background. We could report the information, but not in quotation marks with the actual words that came out of their mouth. We could not identify them, except as “senior campaign officials.” And with that being said, there were 20 or so reporters around the table peppering them with questions, and even under the protective cloak of those ground rules they just didn’t have many answers. You know, they were talking about the – when she’s going to give her first big speech – June the 13th – where’s it going to be. We’ll be telling you that in a few days.
MS. IFILL: But you’re not saying that in quote marks, are you?
MR. HARWOOD: That is correct.
MS. IFILL: That is correct.
MR. HARWOOD: I’m paraphrasing.
MS. IFILL: You’re paraphrasing.
MR. HARWOOD: And it went on and on like that. Was it an important event? No. It was followed by a little social hour that we had with the campaign officials, and I think the principal value probably from the campaign and from the reporters was spending time with one another that might pay off in reporting later on. But it wasn’t that important.
MS. IFILL: I’m always curious – I think most people who don’t cover this and who watch just the way the news gets covered, they’re kind of – it’s a little peeling back the onion about what really happens, how we actually get to know people, how we get information. And we assume – and when we see “senior official” said, we assume that it’s behind a pillar in a dark garage somewhere and real information’s being doled out. Not really. It’s more about source cultivation?
MR. HARWOOD: I think – to me, the principal value of it was spending time with officials in the campaign, some of whom I know, some of whom I don’t know. And when it comes time that the real sprint’s on and you need to get somebody and learn something important, then that will have some value. It didn’t have much value yesterday.
MR. DICKERSON: No, it didn’t. And the way these can have value is if you allow somebody to speak not for quotation so they can be at liberty to say things. And so they speak in a colloquial way, they shorthand things, and when they speak in that way it’s because they’re so anxious to convey information that they don’t want to have to worry about seeing it in the bright lights. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. But as one person after the briefing was over who had also covered a previous White House with me said, it was like sometimes we’d had to have off-the-record conversations, and the person at the White House briefing would say, now, this is off the record, but the president was very resolute, you know? (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: It should be said this White House does almost the same thing, but we can’t talk about it. OK, fine.
I have one more set of questions here, and it’s for you, Mr. Dickerson. You are the new face of Face, as we call it: Face the Nation. So what secret new ideas do you have in mind for this new program as we watch it?
MR. DICKERSON: We’re going to do a big musical number at the beginning. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: I want to –
MR. HARWOOD: You can do that. You have the chops to do that. I’ve seen it.
MS. IFILL: You can do it. You can actually play the guitar. Do it.
MR. DICKERSON: I think – I think we’ll do that on the Face the Nation Webcast Extra. (Laughter.)
I think – well, you know, one of the things is what we were just talking about, is trying to pierce through that fog, both substantively – to say, like, well, there are background briefings going on, like what’s actually going on – but also to do a little curtain-peeking-behind that we just did. Which is, you know, there’s this charade going on, and let’s be honest about the charade because what we’re really trying to do is the same thing the show’s tried to do for 61 years, which is talk about the news, explain the news, and have people come on who can both explain the news and maybe make a little news. And that’s the big thing in the middle of the table that’s always been there and that will stay there. And then, if we do things around that, it’ll be small little stuff. But we’re going to keep the main thing the main thing, as Haley Barbour likes to say.
MS. IFILL: Well, you’re already quoting Haley Barbour, so you’re ready for the job.
MR. DICKERSON: Yeah. (Laughs.)
MS. IFILL: I will be there.
Thank you, everybody. While you’re online, be sure to check out my weekly blog this week, Gwen’s Take, where I talk about why presidential polls for now are so ridiculous – right up until they’re not. And we’ll see you next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra.