Washington Week full episode, September 16, 2022
09/16/2022 | 26m 47s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, September 16, 2022
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09/16/2022 | 26m 47s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, September 16, 2022
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS MODERATOR, WASHINGTON WEEK: Trump investigations, and election season in high gear.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, I can't imagine being indicted.
I've done nothing wrong.
ALCINDOR (voice-over): Former President Trump lashes out.
A special master is appointed to review files the FBI seized from his home.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department issues dozens of subpoenas connected to 2020 election lies and the Capitol attack.
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): There has been a large volume of information that we pressed hard for the agency to release.
ALCINDOR: As the January 6 committee says it has new evidence.
Plus -- SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): One party is focused on jobs.
The other is focused on nationwide abortion bans.
That's the extreme MAGA Republicans.
ALCINDOR: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham introduces a bill to federally ban abortions.
REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): The American people cannot afford another year of failed Democrat one-party rule.
ALCINDOR: As the battle to retain control of Congress heats up, next.
(BREAK) ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week".
It was another busy week of news about multiple federal investigations into former President Trump and his allies.
On Thursday, a federal judge appointed a special master to review documents taken by the FBI during its search of former President Trump's home.
The judge also ruled that the DOJ will continue to be blocked from accessing the roughly 100 classified files seized for it to use in its criminal investigation.
That came after former President Trump blasted the DOJ on "The Hugh Hewitt Show".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I have the absolutely right to declassify.
Well, I can't imagine being indicted.
I've done nothing wrong.
Look, if it happens, I think you will have problems in this country, the likes of which perhaps we've never seen before.
I don't think the people of the United States would stand for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ALCINDOR: Now, despite Trump's claims that he classified the documents, his lawyers have actually avoided making that exact assertion in court, and a number of Trump officials say they believe the claim is patently false.
Meanwhile this week, "The New York Times" also reported that the DOJ issued 40 subpoenas to members of Trump's inner circle, and at least two top Trump advisors had their phones seized.
Reports say the actions show is substantial escalation of the DOJ investigation into Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
Joining me to discuss this and more, Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs reporter for "Politico", Marianna Sotomayor, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post".
And joining me around the table, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today."
So, thank you all for being here.
Josh, I have to start with you.
The judge here is giving the special master until November 30th, a deadline to review these files.
The DOJ is expected in a filing to ask an appeals court to step in.
So, what more do we know about how this impacts the investigation and the impact on the special master?
JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, right now, Yamiche, the investigation remains basically on hold, at least as it regards any of the classified documents, and even more broadly all of the records Trump had down there at Mar-a-Lago.
That's why the Justice Department is taking this issue to a federal appeals court, because they believe it is basically unprecedented for a federal judge to say you have to halt your investigation.
Now, she did say you can continue to do what is basically a damage assessment of what might have been the national security harm from these records being down at Mar-a-Lago, but the Justice Department's position, so far, has been that there's really no practical way to do that without involving criminal investigators who know, for example, who was there at Mar-a-Lago, who might have seen these documents.
And you can't really separate that from an effort to figure out what the damage is resulting from the records down there.
ALCINDOR: There are also questions about the special master.
We know that he is a former New York judge.
What more do we know about the person that has been appointed here?
He is already saying he wants to have a conference next week in Brooklyn, New York.
So, he is based in Brooklyn.
His name is Raymond Dearie.
He is a Reagan appointee.
He's very well-respected across the political spectrum.
He has been on the bench for a long time as a Reagan appointee.
He is at senior status, a semi retired position.
He served for a time on the Foreign Surveillance Court, which handles sensitive national security matters.
I think the big question is not so much him but his broad role that Judge Cannon, the judge down in Florida, is according to Dearie here, not just to look at attorney-client privilege , but executive privilege, and to decide issues they do not typically decide.
The issues are typically what does this box fit in, not does the box exist.
And that's really the central question in this dispute between the president and the Justice Department at this stage.
ALCINDOR: And talking about this dispute, Susan, I want to go back to the sound we played in the open.
Former President Trump said, quote, you will have a lot of problems in this country, the likes of which you have never seen.
You have told our producer this is showing, given what we know on January 6.
Explain your reaction to this -- to the president saying this, the former president saying this.
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: It is hard to listen and not believe he is threatening violence by his supporters.
If he gets indicted, this is extraordinary.
We know from January 6 how followers of President Trump listened to his words.
We know these words fueled these demonstrators to come to Washington, fueled them to march to the Capitol.
And they felt they were basically marching orders to break-in.
So, I think it is -- it is of great concern that he would use language like that, because we know January 6 is not over.
January 6 was not an event back on January 6 and we are down just dealing with the particulars of it.
This is -- this reflects a movement and a mood and an assault on democracy we are continuing to deal with as a country.
ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: This got also frustrated Republicans and really -- because this also fuels Democrats and the specifically White House's kind of recalculated a message over the past couple of weeks, which is to frame the Republican Party and specifically former President Donald Trump as one of the extremists and espousing extremist views and encouraging political violence.
When you have interviews like that, it almost kind of backs the speech that President Biden gave in Philadelphia, many would say.
So, as Republicans try to pinpoint the flaws in the economy and flaws of the Biden administration, when you have a former president giving an interview like that, it backs some of the messaging you are seeing coming from the White House to try to make this upcoming election a real choice between democracy or one that could encourage such violence.
ALCINDOR: And, Josh, what Zolan is talking about, all of this is up in the air when it comes to classified documents out there.
We heard from a lawmaker that said, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were told by the National Archives that there could be more information out there.
Former President Trump is claiming he has declassified anything and everything that he walked out of the White House with.
What is your take on this, given your reporting?
GERSTEIN: Well, I mean, one issue people are concerned about is that there were all these empty folders that were found that we saw in that image from Trumps office, or Trump's closet down there, with markings on them like top-secret, secure, compartmented information, and maybe even higher levels of classification.
At this point, the Justice Department just cannot be sure that those records have been accounted for, whether they were shown to anyone else, whether they might be in any other places that Trump used during his presidency.
So, it remains an issue of significant concern.
That said, I do think there is something to his argument that presidents do have broad authority over classified information.
And so, I do have some doubts that at the end of the day, if there is a criminal charge against former President Trump, that the central part of it is going to be mishandling classified information, I think it is more likely to be found in obstruction of justice or something along those lines that sidesteps some of those constitutional questions.
ALCINDOR: That is interesting, Josh, just thinking about sort of what could end up if there was an indictment of Trump, what sort of thing could happen.
Marianna, I want to bring you in because the other thing that we're talking about, of course, is the January 6 Committee.
They're talking about having a new hearing.
We heard from January 6 Committee chair this week, Bennie Thompson, this week saying they are getting troves of information from Secret Service.
What do we know about the information coming in, and how do lawmakers want to use it?
MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, you know, these lawmakers have a timeline.
We don't know the results of the midterm election yet, but a lot of people are already saying it is likely going to switch to a Republican majority.
We know if that happens, Minority Leader McCarthy has said we are going to disband this committee.
So, really, right now, what the lawmakers on the panel are trying to do is get as much information as possible.
You mentioned the trove of Secret Service.
That is just one part of it, and I know that is something that, if they have a hearing, there have been certain dates that have been discussed for likely later this month, that could be a part of it.
They also want to try and talk to a number of former Trump officials, still get more information from Mark Meadows if possible as well as Tony Ornato, who's the deputy chief of staff.
And there is some actual back-and-forth among lawmakers about how much information they have and how much time they even have to plan a hearing.
So, it is likely they could even hold hearings in October, maybe November after the midterms.
One thing the Democrats do not really want to talk about right now is things like this, January 6.
They want to keep their messaging on abortion, on other things that may likely help them, maybe keep the majority.
So, that's another consideration lawmakers are weighing, how much attention to bring to the January 6 committee right now when Republicans could attack them for being too partisan.
ALCINDOR: And, Josh, back to you, because you're the legal reporter on this, I have to ask you, again, another legal question, which is what do these subpoenas mean?
We have the DOJ handing out 40 subpoenas along with the fact that there are negotiations with the January 6 committee for information.
GERSTEIN: Well, there is a definite broadening of the public part of this DOJ investigation.
What they have been doing behind the scenes, we don't really know, but with these subpoenas, you know they are looking into fundraising by President Trump's save America group, especially around the election recount.
Did money really go to that purpose?
Was there some law violation in connection with that rally that was organized at least reportedly organized by women for Trump?
So, these are the areas the investigation is spreading into, as well as the slates from Republican officials in the states that Biden actually won, where they put forward slates that some would say are fraudulent.
One aspect of the cooperation between the committee or lack of it and the Justice Department is the Justice Department is about to start a very big trial.
In 10 days, they are supposed to open the first seditious conspiracy trial involving the Oath Keepers, the first of what could be two or three seditious trials.
Five defendants are supposed to go on the stand.
And one of the problems is if the house starts dribbling out documents, it is going to just cause hellish disruption in that trial because there are going to be demands for the rest of the committees documents, that there was a partial disclosure, and that it is all coming so late they cannot process it.
So, those interactions may be why the committee has decided not to put out more evidence right now.
PAGE: We are seeing these timelines.
The Justice Department clearly getting their investigative -- meticulous investigation going a little power.
The special master, definitely slowing that process, and the House committee seeing this deadline looming because it is entirely likely that Republicans will be in control of the House, that committee will be disbanded.
Whatever they need to do, they need to do it as quickly as possible.
And it means that we go into -- so, this is the first time we have been in this situation.
We go to a midterm election where we are still debating fiercely the outcome of the previous election, and that is likely to be a situation we will find even in the next presidential election.
ALCINDOR: Susan, you really wrote the segue to the next part of the show, which is the midterms.
So, I want to thank you, Josh, for all of your reporting and breaking down all the legal aspects of this and for sharing your reporting.
The other thing, of course, that Susan just talked about on Tuesday, the last midterm, primary elections, the 2022 cycle were held in Delaware, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, and in other primaries, a number of Trump-backed congressional candidates won big.
That came, though, as Republicans and Democrats alike were surprised.
When GOP Senator Lindsey Graham revealed his plans for a 15 week federal abortion ban.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think we should have a law at the federal level that would say after 15 weeks, no abortion on demand except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.
ALCINDOR: Democrats immediately fired back.
SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): So, to anyone who thought they were safe, who thought I'm in a blue state, I will be fine, here is the painful reality: Republicans are coming after your rights.
ALCINDOR: Meanwhile, on Tuesday at the White House, President Biden held a celebration for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, yet a worse than expected inflation report was released hours before the event that led many Republicans to pointedly criticize the president.
Also, dominating the headlines this week, Republican governors flying migrants to Democrat-led cities.
Ron DeSantis of Florida flew migrants to the popular vacation island of Martha's Vineyard, and Greg Abbott of Texas left asylum-seekers outside the Vice President Kamala Harris' Washington, D.C. Susan, back to you, Zolan, I want to bring in too.
I want to ask you about the primary.
We saw in New Hampshire, a Trump-backed candidate beat yet again -- the story happened all over the country, a Republican establishment candidate.
I wonder what you make of that race and also what it just told us about this primary season?
PAGE: You know, it happened in Arizona.
It happened in Maryland, it happened in Arizona.
It happened in Vermont.
The Trumpiest candidate in these contested primaries is the one that wins the nomination.
And what does that tell us?
It tells us that Donald Trump continues to have enormous sway over the Republican and the argument that he is backing less electable candidates does not convince Republican primary voters to walk away from his legacy and his approach to politics.
ALCINDOR: Zolan, jump in here.
KANNO-YOUNGS: No, absolutely.
I mean, just because Trump is not on the ballot doesn't mean Trumpism is not on the ballot.
And as you were saying, the idea that we're still even at this midterm election still in these election, in these primaries basically litigating who the rightful president is and at the point still having candidates who are out right denying some of the results of the previous election says a lot about where we are right now with our democratic system and our political discourse as well.
ALCINDOR: It's head-spinning.
And, Marianna, of course, you are at the center of covering Congress.
Now, there's some interesting report.
You have Nancy Pelosi saying not only are Democrats going to hold on to control of the House, they are going to expand their majority, but our friends at the newsletter say behind closed doors, Chuck Schumer is saying Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats are in trouble.
What are you hearing?
SOTOMAYOR: I'm hearing exactly that.
Many people were wondering why Pelosi was so optimistic.
You definitely felt on the House side, this was the first week that they came back after a six-week recess, you definitely felt the upbeat move that Democrats were feeling.
And it came after Senator Graham, and there is a companion bill in the House that introduced that federal ban that they think, when we are talking about being on the campaign trail, talking about making a difference between Democrats and Republicans, well, this is the extreme MAGA Republicans that will take away more of your freedom.
So, they were feeling that energy, but many people were thinking maybe Pelosi was feeling too much of that.
One thing to note, during that press conference, she got asked if she wants to still stay in leadership regardless of what happens in November.
A lot of aides and a couple members I talked to yesterday are saying that you cannot say and project negativity that you might lose the majority and you may not keep these seats, that it might be a blowout.
So, that is likely a bit of where that's coming from on Pelosi's end.
ALCINDOR: And, Marianna, you touched on it, but Lindsey Graham, he introduced this federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
What motivated him to do this, and how are Republicans and Democrats responding?
SOTOMAYOR: He was asked that question during the press conference he played and he simply said it is the women standing behind me.
Those are a number of women who are heads of pro-life groups, antiabortion groups.
And they, for a while, have been pushing him and also Chris Smith, a Republican on the house side, to update this legislation .
Chris Smith has actually been reintroducing it Congress after Congress after Congress.
It would put a federal ban in place.
It went from 20 weeks to 15 weeks.
Even Lindsey Graham said, I have not talked to McConnell about this, I have really not talked to my colleagues either, and you hear the repercussions of that.
Many Republicans are saying, why are we talking about this right now?
It is not necessarily an issue we want to be talking about because we do not have the upper hand at the moment.
Let's focus instead, focus on the fact that Biden is holding an event on the Inflation Reduction Act at a time we are still seeing inflation on the rise.
None of that help to Republicans as they were trying to regain the narrative ahead of the midterms election.
ALCINDOR: Susan, you have been covering the issues of women's rights and politics for so long.
What do you make of what Lindsey just did here and what are you hearing?
Because the word on the street as Republicans were looking at Lindsey Graham like, excuse me, why?
Why are you doing this?
PAGE: You know, if Republicans lose control of the Senate, which now seems entirely -- I mean, failed to gain control of the Senate, which now is entirely possible, it will be their own fault.
It will be the self-inflicted wounds, including Lindsey Graham raising the issue of a national abortion ban after many Republicans argued the real point of supporting the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was it's an issue that we should lead to the states.
Well, this is the reverse of that.
Nominating these candidates to the farthest right in some of these contested races where it is not the strongest Republican candidate that could be nominated, letting the conversation not be focused squarely on inflation, which is -- and now crime, their best issues, if Republicans don't do well as well as expected them to do a month or two months ago, they're going to have themselves to blame.
ALCINDOR: And, Zolan, I want to bring in because I know we're talking about abortion, but the other big issue here, were these migrants being flown all over the country and you covered immigration better than almost any reporter that I know.
So, I want to ask you about this.
The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, she said, quote, of this: They use them like political pawns, treated them like chattel in a cruel, premeditated political stunt.
What do you make of what we're seeing here and the repercussions and political sort of implications, but also the human toll?
I'm thinking about migrants who are coming to this country fleeing violence and finding themselves dropped off in random cities.
ZANNO-YOUNGS: Yeah, it is important to describe who these people are.
Many Venezuelans, many South Americans who are fleeing violence, but also poverty, right, that are coming to the country, many of which, if they haven't started the process yet, were told by their lawyers likely to seek asylum.
This tactic isn't -- while it has been used to retaliate against Democrats, just to give you an idea of how once taboo it is, go back to November 18 at the Trump administration.
You have a Stephen Miller-led effort to basically go and try and pressurize ICE officials at the time to basically do this on the federal level, take migrants to the border, bring them to San Francisco to retaliate against Nancy Pelosi, other cities to retaliate against Democrats.
Just to give you an idea of how polarizing this is, Matt the deputy director of vice, I would find it hard to find anyone say he is soft on immigration, said no, we can't do this.
He basically rejected the concerns out of the liability for the safety of the migrants as well as saying that ice did not have the authority to essentially do that.
Now you have states doing it themselves.
It really does show you about the tactic we have seen before congressional elections, Republicans leading into anti-immigrant sentiment to try and galvanize the base, but also it does not solve the overall issue at hand, which is a broken immigration system.
Democrats and Republicans would say that.
But this does not solve the issue, a backlogged court system and a lack of consistency when it comes to the border.
ALCINDOR: It is striking that you are saying this tactic was seen as too out there for the Trump administration now sort of being normalized.
PAGE: Look at 1962.
It was a tactic used by white citizens councils in the south to convince blacks to get on buses and go to northern places, including Hyannis Port, where the president had a summer house.
This is not the type of comparison that Governor DeSantis should be wanting.
ALCINDOR: And, Marianna, in the last minute we have here, it's Hispanic heritage month.
You have been talking to Latino voters of how both parties are trying to win their votes.
We only have a minute left, but please, talk to me about your reporting and how it connects to all of this, especially as we talk about inflation but also immigration.
You know, this is the first election since 2020 since we saw Democrats lose drastically a solid base in South Florida, also along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
And Democrats have been making many more investments, historic investments incorporating a number of Latino operatives to advise a number of campaigns, starting earlier than usual.
But Republicans have already been there for some time.
So, a lot of Democrats I have been talking to are saying it is good we are laying the ground now, finally they are listening to us.
However, it might take time to actually see those voters come back.
Latinos still tend to vote Democratic, but Republicans are making gains.
You are seeing more Republican Hispanic women and men run for office, which is also an appeal, allowing a lot of these voters to say look, there are Republicans in the party who look like me, maybe I can be open to them.
There are the issues of economy and how that affects both men and women, different generations , that is really going to make an interesting post midterm election about our communities.
Well, thank you to our panel for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
And before we go, don't forget to watch "PBS News Weekend" on Saturday.
Anchor Geoff Bennett will interview retired Lieutenant General Russell Honore, on Jackson, Mississippi's water crisis and how to prevent future infrastructure failures.
Thank you so much for joining us.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Good night from Washington.
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