ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on the broadcast.
Roger Ailes, the man who built Fox News Channel into a ratings powerhouse, died this week. Ailes launched the network in 1996, and built it not just into a cable news network but the go-to source for conservative American politics. Last July, Ailes resigned from the network amid several sexual harassment allegations, which he denied. Ailes died from complications after collapsing at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He was 77 years old.
Michael, he resigned under such a cloud at Fox News, but he did have an influence spanning decades, going back to Richard Nixon, in the Republican Party.
MICHAEL SCHERER: No one did more to bring politics into the television age than he did, and in the process he changed the course of American history. He’s probably the most influential conservative voice of the last two decades, basically hijacking part of the Republican Party and then rebroadcasting it out. You can’t really imagine Donald Trump without Roger Ailes and Fox News. At the same time, he was personally a morally repugnant person. I mean, the things that he was accused of doing are despicable and disgusting, and he did it for years and got away with it. So, you know, on the one side he’s a genius and one of the best broadcasters of his day. I mean, even now – like, great newspapers are in the voice of their editor. Fox News was his voice for so long. And then there was this very, very dark side.
MR. COSTA: Julie, what did you make of the relationship between President Trump and Roger Ailes? He always seemed to be in the Trump orbit, but not a total insider.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, they – you know, they both ran in the Palm Beach circles and I think, you know, President Trump had said that he didn’t think his victory would have been possible without Roger Ailes. I mean, and you know, up until the – up until now, he constantly talks about, you know, how he – how much he likes Fox News. And that tone that Michael was talking about that Roger Ailes set was one that I think Trump really identified with, and I think helped him to sort of communicate with his core voters.
But I do – I never did get the sense that they were really close personally, that they, you know, shared any kind of rapport. But there was a – there was certainly a political alliance there that was advantageous to President Trump.
MR. COSTA: Grievance politics, it seems, Alexis, shaped a lot of what Ailes did. But he also had a lot of controversy.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER: He had a lot of controversy. And as a woman sitting here, it’s really hard to not comment on the controversy.
MR. COSTA: Well, what do you want to say?
MS. SIMENDINGER: Well, he was taped being, as Michael was saying, you know, repugnant and despicably gross to women who were his subordinates, and demanding a kind of retro sort of service that as a woman you just think, you know, went the way of the 1950s. The fact that it existed so long in Fox News, became a pervasive way of doing business, and that a business as successful as Fox News would afford year after year paying off these settlements is – until The New York Times reported exactly how expensive that had become – is really surprising, I think, to me.
MANU RAJU: And he left that culture behind, too; Bill O’Reilly, of course, also now that – being exposed also by the Times’ reporting.
What was also remarkable to me about Ailes’ legacy is the amount of Republican politicians who felt the need to kiss his ring, constantly, regularly going up to New York, meeting with him privately. Leadership, the most powerful people in Washington who work in Republican politics, felt the need to stay on his good side because that’s how influential Fox News had become to their core base, speaking to their core base. And if you’re on Roger Ailes’ good side, that could be good for you politically, particularly in Republican primaries.
MR. COSTA: I mean, it’s something that I’ve picked up in my reporting over the years covering the conservative movement and the Republican Party: The Republican Party over the last 10 years, 25 years really became not just a party, but a media organization. And the rise of Trump, he’s a media figure, and the Republican Party was catering to Fox News or trying to appeal to Fox News and its executives for years. And I just wonder what the consequences are for that moving forward, and whether that grip on Republican politics will continue from Fox.
But turning to another issue, there was a peaceful demonstration outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence this past week, but then it turned into a brawl. At least nine people were hurt. Here’s the video. The incident happened outside of the embassy just hours after Turkish President Erdogan had met with President Trump at the White House. Law enforcement officials say about two dozen demonstrators were attacked by President Erdogan’s security staff. The video, which is pretty tough to watch, shows Erdogan exiting his car to watch the scene before walking to the ambassador’s residence. Erdogan’s bodyguards, well, they say they were acting in self-defense. Julie, Erdogan’s visit was already full of controversy. And what does it say that this scene happened on American soil in the Trump era?
MS. DAVIS: Well, it was – it was almost as if he had brought his autocratic style from Turkey to Washington, D.C., and to see this unfold in the middle of Washington – and the White House has not said a word about it. The State Department put out a very sort of gentle-sounding statement saying that they had expressed in the, you know, strongest of terms their concern about this incident. But really, I mean, the fact that President Trump received Erdogan at the White House – this was a few weeks after he congratulated him by phone for a victory in a referendum that was widely seen as one that helped him to consolidate autocratic rule and crack down, essentially, in his own country – really raised the question of, you know, is this an instance of the president really cozying up to someone who has these dictatorial tendencies? We’ve not said a word – the president hasn’t said a word to him about human rights. And here we have this incident, which initially we thought was just an incident that happened with his security detail. Now it turns out Erdogan sat there and watched the whole thing. It just really raises a lot of questions about does this administration, does this president prioritize human rights, forget abroad with allies and partners, but here in the United States?
MR. COSTA: And in particular, as the president heads abroad, how much of an emphasis, based on your reporting, is he going to put on human rights while he’s overseas?
MR. SCHERER: You know, I had – a couple weeks ago I had dinner with him, and it was interesting. At the dinner, he was defending himself on human rights grounds. He was talking about human rights as if this was a priority for him. He mentioned Aya, the woman he got out of Egypt. He mentioned the missile strikes on Syria. And he was saying, well, people are surprised by this. At the same time, what you’re saying is right. He likes these autocratic types. He says tough guy. He says this guy is street smart. He has all these sort of terms – these New York terms for bullies, basically. And he respects that. I think you’re going to get both. I don’t think he’s going to give that up.
And I think Trump will continue – I think there is a part of Trump that was really moved by the bombing in Syria, seeing the footage of the babies. I think he does feel a humanitarian responsibility in his new position. But he’s trying to figure out how to keep that with – I mean, honestly, the scene out there is not so dissimilar from a point early in the campaign when Keith Schiller, Trump’s own bodyguard, comes down in Trump Tower, rips the sign out of a peaceful protestor’s hands, and when the peaceful protestor tries to get the sign back, clocks him in the face. Trump always defended Keith after that. I don’t think this sort of going after peaceful protesters is something that he’s going to – the president’s going to lose sleep over.
MS. DAVIS: Well, and this is also going to come up in the context of the trip, because there’s this talk about an arms deal with the Saudis. And in the past, during the Obama administration, the question was always, you know, the Obama administration wanted to insist on certain human rights requirements before they were going to sign off on these weapon sales. And it looks now like the Trump administration has no interest in that, and in fact what we hear from some top officials there is that, you know, this is really just a business. You know, it’s not about human rights. This part is not about human rights. It’s really about, you know, ISIS as beating ISIS. And of all of that – beating ISIS is important, but it does look like they’re tending away from trying to insist on these human rights requirements.
MR. COSTA: And there’s reporting that Jared Kushner, the senior advisor and son-in-law, helped cut the price of some of the weapons for the Saudis.
MS. DAVIS: Yeah. He kind of got personally involved in that in a way that is somewhat extraordinary. But I guess that’s what you get when you have the president’s son-in-law, who is a businessperson after all, you know, leading negotiations like that. He picked up the phone, wanted everyone to see that he could get the head of Lockheed on the line, and try to make a deal here. So they do see it more as a financial thing than as a human rights thing, for sure.
MR. COSTA: Speaking of the Trump family, Ivanka Trump’s role as special assistant to the president has never been clearly defined. That doesn’t seem to matter to foreign embassies that are making a play for her attention. A number of embassies see the first daughter as a goodwill ambassador for the White House, who has the soft power and access to get their policy concerns before the president. What do we expect from Ivanka Trump, Alexis, on the foreign trip?
MS. SIMENDINGER: It’s a little hard to know exactly how that’s going to play out. It wasn’t really played up in a big way at the White House what her agenda was going to be, and what she was going to be delivering. She is – I think the word that you used was access, this idea that she is a key that you can use in the lock to get into the Trump world, because of her dad. And she has made her agenda – you know, some Republicans are aghast because they think of her as much more on the liberal Democratic side of things – talking about women’s empowerment and childcare and how she’s going to fight for generous tax breaks, you know, in this tax bill coming forward for families with children – including wealthy families, I might add.
And in this particular case, she is very much taking in some ways to this role. She went to Germany, to Berlin, to a conference to talk about women’s issues. But it’s sort of gauzy. It’s not – as you say, it is the soft power. But it’s not interfering with the president’s agenda. But I’m not sure what it’s adding either. I’m just not sure.
MR. RAJU: And you, obviously, talked about human rights. Will she – has tried to position herself as someone advocating for women’s rights – talk about the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia? I mean, that’s going to be –
MS. DAVIS: She’s doing a forum there with women. It’s going to be fascinating to see.
MR. RAJU: Right. It’s going to be – will she call out the Saudi kingdom for their, you know, oppression of women in their society? That will be a huge moment, if she were to do that.
MR. COSTA: But what kind of pressure are congressional Republicans, if any, putting on the White House, and Ivanka Trump and others, to talk about some of the tougher human rights issues?
MR. RAJU: Not much pressure at all. I mean, right now they’re just – (laughs) – hiding under the covers in the morning after Trump tweets or a new controversy comes up. They’re trying to compartmentalize all the controversies over here, let the special prosecutor deal with all the Russia stuff, and we’ll just try to focus on health care in the Senate and tax reform in the House, and just hope all that other stuff goes away. (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: Sometimes I try to read congressional Republicans by how they react to seeing you in the hallway. (Laughter.) If they’re in a good mood, they’ll talk to you. If the Republicans are getting uneasy, they run away from you.
MR. RAJU: And they usually have been running away from me as of late.
MS. DAVIS: But he’s a fast runner.
MR. COSTA: He is fast. (Laughter.) Very good.
MR. SCHERER: My favorite Instagram post this week was Paul Ryan in front of some assembly line saying: Small businesses are the heart of America. (Laughter.)
MR. RAJU: Right at the same time as –
MR. SCHERER: Right on message. The whole city’s burning down around him –
MS. SIMENDINGER: And not commenting at that time.
MR. SCHERER: – and Paul Ryan was fighting for small businesses.
MR. COSTA: Speaking of Congress, disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, you all remember him, could be heading to prison. Weiner wept as he pled guilty in federal court Friday to one count of transferring obscene material to a minor. Prosecutors say Weiner admitted to sending sexually explicit images and requests to a 15-year-old girl. The New York Democrat was a rising star in the House when he resigned in 2011 after sexually explicit texts with other women were made public. Manu, Weiner attempted a comeback when he ran for New York mayor. But it seems like this is truly, perhaps, the end.
MR. RAJU: I mean, this is an unbelievable downfall. I mean, he’s looking at up to two years in prison – up to 10 maximum the sentence carries. But it looks like the deal that he cut could get him anywhere from 21 to 24 months. I mean, this is just such a remarkable downfall for someone who, as you mentioned, was a rising star, wanted to become the major of New York, was married to Huma Abedin, of course, a top – Hillary Clinton’s righthand woman. But just thinking about how – the huge role he played in not only ruining his own career, his own marriage, but potentially ruining the Clinton campaign too.
In the heat of election season, James Comey announcing that he had to investigate what was on Anthony Weiner’s laptop because potentially it had classified information that was forwarded from Hillary Clinton to Huma Abedin, to Anthony Weiner, to print out for Hillary Clinton. That upended the campaign. And that investigation was only occurring because he had sent these sexually explicit messages to these – an underaged girl. An unbelievable story, that you probably couldn’t make up.
MR. SCHERER: And it’s the third strike. He gets caught doing this. He loses his job in Congress. He’s running for mayor, and then he has to admit that after he left Congress he started going it again. Then he loses the mayor’s race. And then he does it again, this time with someone underage. I mean it’s –
MS. SIMENDINGER: And he called it a sickness, which after all of that we’re ready to believe. (Laughter.) Right?
MR. SCHERER: Whether he’s – whether he’s willing to actually treat himself, though, I’m not sure. I mean, he said three times before he would do it, right?
MR. COSTA: And know who’s loomed as a spectator over this entire Weiner drama? President Trump. I was just waiting on Friday, when was he going to weigh in? He has said so much on Twitter over the years about all of this.
MR. SCHERER: And he was right. He’ll also say that. I was right. I knew about tweet – I warned everybody about Weiner.
MR. COSTA: Did he bring that up at dinner, Anthony Weiner? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHERER: No. When I did – we did the story on truth and the president telling the truth or not, he was making the argument that a lot his – things he says are prophetic. They may not be true at the moment, but they come true. And one of his examples was I warned – there’s a tweet from 2015 or 2016 that, you know, Weiner’s going to get Clinton in trouble. And I think he mentions emails. And he’s like, ah, see, I got it. I was right. (Laughs.)
MR. COSTA: Prophetic President Trump. We’ll leave it there. That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. Check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz while you’re online.
I’m Robert Costa. We’ll see you next time.