Washington Week full episode, August 26, 2022
08/26/2022 | 26m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, August 26, 2022
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08/26/2022 | 26m 46s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, August 26, 2022
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS MODERATOR, WASHINGTON WEEK: Secret documents and political tensions.
ALCINDOR (voice-over): A redacted copy of the FBI search affidavit for former President Trumps Mar-a-Lago home is unsealed.
It reveals new details about his alleged mishandling of classified information.
Meanwhile -- JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made a commitment that we provide student debt relief.
And I'm honoring that commitment today.
ALCINDOR: President Biden forgives some student loan debt for millions of Americans.
ALCINDOR: Many welcome the news.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I am sure the people who benefit from it will love it.
The question is, is it fair to everyone else?
ALCINDOR: But Republicans and some Democrats criticized the move.
Plus -- BIDEN: The MAGA Republicans are not just a threat to our personal and economic security.
They're a threat to our very democracy.
ALCINDOR: The primary season winds down, and the fight to win control of Congress intensifies, next.
(BREAK) ANNOUNCER: Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to WASHINGTON WEEK.
It was a busy week and newsy, newsy Friday afternoon.
Today, following a judge's order, a redacted copy of an FBI affidavit used to justify the search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home was publicly released.
The document contained read actions but also revealed that in January, Trump turned over to the national archives documents with different levels of classification.
They included 92 documents marked as secret and 25 documents marked as top-secret.
The affidavit said, quote, there is also probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the premises.
The Justice Department was also concerned that, quote, premature disclosure of affidavits may, quote, have a significant and negative impact on the continuing investigation and may severely jeopardize its effectiveness by allowing criminal parties an opportunity to flee or destroy evidence.
This is all important information.
Joining me to discuss this and more is Scott MacFarlane, congressional correspondent for CBS News, Eva McKend, national politics reporter for CNN, and joining me here in studio, Michael Shear, White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and Ali Vitali, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent and the author of the new book "Electable: Why America Hasn't Put a woman in the White House Yet."
So, thank you all for being here.
Scott, I got to start with you.
We saw this redacted copy of the affidavit.
Of course, everyone in Washington and around the country was looking at it.
What sticks out most to you?
What's most important here?
SCOTT MACFARLANE, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Every speck of this, every ounce of this is unprecedented, from soup to nuts.
I mean, first of all, page 30 of this 38-page affidavit says something we have never seen before, that the FBI argued there was, quote, fruits of crime potentially at the residence of a former U.S. president.
It didn't preclude the possibility there are more items or more people the FBI would pursue.
And just the fact that we see an affidavit for a search warrant without a corresponding civil or criminal case is itself unique.
Usually when we look at court cases, we look at the affidavit which has the plane story behind the case.
There is no case here, so it is difficult, Yamiche, to get our bearings around this moment.
ALCINDOR: It also said in the affidavit there could be because to believe there might be obstruction found on the premises.
I wonder what you make of the significance of that.
You talk about it being unprecedented that we were looking for crimes, but specifically this evidence of obstruction, I am interested in your thoughts.
We keep hearing the word obstruction in the cases corresponding to January 6.
We got a sense of how significant that is.
That is a federal crime that has a lot of weight, and we learned about that ahead of the surge on Mar-a-Lago.
But here's something else, in between the redactions, Yamiche, and there were many redactions, there was a granularity to what the federal agents were saying in the affidavit, that there were certain spaces on this sprawling Mar-a-Lago campus that were of interest.
The 45 office, the 45th president's office at Mar-a-Lago, the storage spaces.
And what the affidavit says is that those spaces are not authorized to hold classified information.
The affidavit was emphatic, there was secret classified information on the grounds, according to federal agents.
ALCINDOR: And, Michael, we're talking about this secret classified information we said at the top, 25 documents marked top secret.
I wonder what the significance of this is to you, because a lot of the affidavit you have, they say that they were handwritten notes from former President Trump.
So, we, of course, covered Trump together.
We know how he operates.
So, what does this tell you?
What's the significance?
MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think there's a couple of ways it is significant.
One is it raises the question of why the former president did not just deal with this as soon the national archives and the federal officials started inquiring.
I mean, it's really hard to understand, had asked Scott said, there is so much redacted that I am not sure of affidavit -- if the affidavit answers questions, it maybe raises more questions.
But there's -- if president Trump had seen these documents before, and be with they were, had handwriting on them, there was a reason he wanted them and a reason why he said I made a mistake, here are the documents back.
And, clearly, he did not because they found more after the affidavit was filed.
They went in and found more information.
I think ultimately, over the course of the next weeks, months, however long this goes, that is the question I am going to be looking for, why did he want these and why didn't he give them back?
ALCINDOR: And, Ali, there are so many questions as Michael is alluding to hear, one is the sense that the FBI has not identified all potential criminal confederates or located all evidence related to this investigation.
That means there could be more to this story.
What do you make?
ALI VITALI, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: That is a lot of information that we are already looking at, the fact that there were hundreds of documents here that were secret, classified documents that were not being stored in the correct fashion.
The fact that they are not sure they have gotten them all, that is stunning to think about as we move forward.
I think what's also interesting is the fact that the DOJ clearly knew what they were dealing with.
It is clear that they knew he was someone who could try, if they were not secretive about this, to punch back first and preempt what the DOJ was trying to do.
I thought that was a striking passage not only because they knew what he was dealing with, but also because they're clearly talking to multiple people inside Trump's orbit, so much that they knew exactly where to look for these documents, and that is a threat we are going to tug on in the coming weeks and months, too.
ALCINDOR: And, Ali, in some ways wrote the intro to my next question, Trump punching back.
So, President Trump again lashed out at the FBI and DOJ.
He made a graphic where he released a statement that said they missed a page showing all black lives, and it was hard for you to read, it says "Make America Great Again" through all those redactions.
But I also want to put up something else for people, an ABC News poll showing that Trump sold over the GOP has strengthened since the FBI search according to NBC News.
Since May, the number of Republicans who identified with Trump more than the GOP has risen 7 percent.
So, Eva, you've been out there in the country.
What do you make of all the politics of this?
EVA MCKEND, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, CNN: Well, I've been in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Erie, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta in the last couple of weeks.
And what has surprised me when I speak to Democratic voters as they very much are concerned about the former president and the future health of our democracy.
I think sometimes here in Washington, we are concerned that we are having a conversation that does not mirror what was happening in the country.
Well, it is, they are concerned.
I think what we are going to see is Democrats really seize on this and say, look, the former president has no regard for our sacred institutions.
That is the argument they are going to make based on this search alone, even though the former president hasn't been charged.
I very much think this will continue to be a factor as we talk about November.
ALCINDOR: Eva is talking about this idea that the Democrats are sort of crafting their messaging.
Michael, President Biden, though, he said they would let the DOJ determine whether national security was compromised.
But today on the line, you could see President Biden in some ways, wanting to say something.
Someone said to him, you know, what do you make of former President Trump, his handling of documents, and he just said, "Come on".
What's the president's thinking here?
SHEAR: Well, look, I mean, look, there's such great irony in all of this, right?
The former President Donald Trump is being assailed and potentially having electoral damage based on handling classified information after he spent so many months assailing Hillary Clinton for emails and mishandling documents.
You know, there is some great irony here.
And I think Joe Biden would love nothing more than two sort of jump in with both feet.
And look, he will -- the Hatch Act, which is the law that prevents, you know, political activities, does not apply to the president himself.
I think you will see, over the course of the next couple of months before the midterm elections, you will see him again.
He was already more aggressive at his speech yesterday, and I think you will get more pointed.
And I think in some ways, what Democrats are hoping is that the former president's troubles in Mar-a-Lago, writ large, is going to be the thing that motivates, you know, people and the Democrats, and Joe Biden can seize them.
ALCINDOR: And, Scott, lets talk about troubles.
We alluded to it in your answers.
There are a lot of unanswered questions.
What do you think are the most important of the unanswered questions?
What is going on next?
MACFARLANE: Well, ultimately, whether or not there is a civil or criminal case filed, there is no certainty that one will be.
There is going to be an appetite with the public as to what are these things that are potentially in a storage space at a private resort in Florida?
What was compromised?
And that's why we hear the leaders at the House and Senate Intelligence Committee saying they would like a briefing on what might have been compromised, a confidential briefing in a secure location in the U.S. Capitol, where you are authorized to show and disclose classified information.
Senator Mark Warner who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, the senator from Virginia, issued a statement today reiterating his interest in getting briefed on this.
If something has been compromised, the U.S. Congress needs to know, because they have oversight over U.S. intelligence and classification records.
ALCINDOR: Ali, jump in here, you are running the halls of Congress along with Scott.
What do you make of what he is saying?
VITALI: Yeah, this is one of those weeks where I really wish they were here still, because I would love to ask these lawmakers in real time, many of them wanting to see what is in the affidavit.
When I was in Alaska just two weeks ago at this point, I asked Senator Lisa Murkowski what she thought.
She said she wants to see what is in here, I think in large part because the Republicans whose knee-jerk reaction was not to immediately defend Trump want to see what they are dealing with here.
And I think that the Senate reaction has, of course, been differed from the house reaction.
I think McCarthy's response immediately after the search at Mar-a-Lago sort of said it all from what we are going to hear from House Republicans on this, which is they are going to vehemently defend Trump right now, and if they retake the House, they are going to do all the investigations around this and try to muddy the waters as much as possible, despite the fact the DOJ clearly has been methodological and careful in taking these unprecedented steps to actually investigate and search the home of a former president.
ALCINDOR: Eva, going back to you, when you think about the politics of how this is playing out, you mentioned being in Georgia and Pennsylvania, I wonder when you hear Scott and Ali talking about sort of oversight of this, where this goes next.
What's in your mind?
MCKEND: Well, I just think we'll have to see how this continues to play out.
I think I wonder if some of the Republicans who initially reflexively were very supportive of the former president, very sympathetic, if they sort of maybe have regrets about that response.
And I do wonder if we are going to see any Republicans shipped their strategy as it gets closer to November and sort of distance themselves from the former president.
Does this entire Mar-a-Lago episode become too politically toxic?
ALCINDOR: And talking about November is where we are going next.
Of course, as the midterms get closer, we have seen President Biden in the White House, they are turning up the heat on their criticisms of the GOP.
In a fiery speech Thursday, President Biden accused Republicans, allied with former President Trump, of turning toward, quote, "semi fascism", and a, quote, being a threat to democracy.
This all comes after President Biden made some other big news this week.
On Wednesday, he announced the federal government would cancel up to $20,000 of federal student loans for millions of Americans.
But Republicans and even some Democrats were quick to criticize this plan.
So, I want to go to you, Michael.
You think about President Biden using semi fascism -- that is a big deal.
What is his thinking, and what is the White House strategy?
SHEAR: So, the White House has a two-pronged strategy for the next several months for the elections.
One is to really spend a lot of time touting their accomplishments, right?
If you think back to March and April of this year, it was really doom and gloom for Democrats.
They felt like they had to accomplish much of the president's agenda.
There was this flurry of activity this summer.
The student loans that were just mentioned, the legislation to do climate change, drug prices, gas prices are down, things are kind of looking up a little bit, so one half of the strategy is touching all that progress.
The other half is really attacking Republicans, drawing that contrast and saying to voters, look, you have a choice.
It is not just a referendum on Joe Biden and what you might think of the Democratic rule in Washington.
It is if you don't want this, look at what is out there.
This phrase ultra MAGA, they are trying to link all Republicans to Donald Trump, and to say that agenda is really extreme and whether you are not totally satisfied with Joe Biden, that is the alternative.
That is their twin strategy for the next few months.
ALCINDOR: And as part of that twin strategy, they are trying to get things done that can hold up.
So, of course, they get to talk student loans.
This was a promise, part of the promise that candidate Biden made on the campaign trail.
What is your sense of why this might happen right now, and might we see all student loan debt canceled?
SHEAR: I think that's highly unlikely.
The president really was kind of pushed during the campaign by his more liberal rivals when he was running against Senators Warren and Sanders.
He was pushed to do something on student loans.
I think over the last 18 months, there's been a lot of delay, because he still was very uncomfortable about the idea.
I mean, it is -- there is some level of unfairness that I think even the Democrats would acknowledge.
You are picking and choosing groups, who is going to get a benefit.
And, you know, some people are and some aren't.
He finally came around to it, but I do think this is the limit.
I don't know that it will be able to be pushed much further.
ALCINDOR: And, Ali, you are shaking your head.
President Biden, when this announcement was made, you had some progressive Democrats who are championing it.
You had some who also said it's not going far enough.
The president of the NAACP saying it should go even farther because it affects African-Americans in a particular way, but you also have moderate Democrats, right, who are saying this could hurt inflation and make it worse.
What's your reporting say?
VITALI: Well, because I think from moderate Democrats people we were hearing from, like senator or want to be Senator Tim Ryan, who's running in Ohio, and then Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, who's playing defense in Nevada, they are speaking out against this decision from President Biden, and we are also hearing from frontline Democrats on the House side of this, who are saying -- speaking to the unfairness that you were talking about there.
But on the other side of this is the reality progressives have been talking about for a long time, that this helps people not be saddled with this debt for the entirety of their lives.
This is impacting millions of Americans.
Some of them are not even Americans who are working with college degrees right now.
I think that is part of the conversation that might be left out, that some of these folks had to drop out of college for whatever reason and are not getting the higher earning benefits of having that education behind them, but still having to pay that student loan debt.
So, I think that's a piece of this conversation, too.
I think it's a moment for Biden where he can say it is a promise made in a promise cap, although it does not make him the most popular person with everyone, because progressives still want more and moderates do not want this at all.
I will say, Republicans who I have spoken with feel like this is a moment for them to have an in road the conversation they want to have in the midterms, which is that it is all about economy and inflation.
This provides them an avenue to do that, even as Democrats rather focus in a way that you're talking about, on the ultra MAGA movement, tying Trump as a binary here, not making this just a referendum on Biden.
But, oh, wait, Trump is back in the news cycle, lets remember what the one v. one is, Biden versus Trump.
That is what the White House would like to campaign on, too.
ALCINDOR: And, Scott, as Ali is talking about popularity, we should point out, according to Gallup, President Biden's job approval is hitting a record high right now.
It's up, it's six percentage points, so 44 percent, his highest in a year.
We should note that still means he is underwater in some ways, - 53 percent of Americans are disapproving of his job performance.
But how does that square with your reporting and what you are seeing and what we've been talking about?
MACFARLANE: We are going to get a real good sense of how popular Democrats think this student loan decision and order is, because we are less than 75 days until the midterm elections.
On behalf of my children and children everywhere, I asked rhetorically, where did the summer go?
It is a chance for candidates to articulate their message and make their homestretch arguments.
Let's see next week if we see a bevy of new campaign ads from Democrats mentioning the student debt issue.
I can tell you what we saw this past week, new abortion rights, women reproductive health rights ads from Democrats.
They saw what happened Tuesday in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley, where a Democrat won in the first real head-to-head Republican on Democrat battle for Congress since the Supreme Court ruling in June, and Democrats exceeded expectations, their expectations, I think Republicans' expectations, too.
And here come more ads about abortion rights after an election in which they Democrat made abortion rights his primary issue.
Let's see if student debt becomes an issue in the next 75 days.
ALCINDOR: And, Eva, you have been on the campaign trail.
How are people viewing student loans and this action by President Biden?
MCKEND: Well, this is an issue that does not fall neatly along partisan lines.
I think the argument we have heard from Republicans is that this is really a deal for the wealthy and that working-class people in Middle America are going to be paying for the elites.
But that really doesn't really pass muster, because you have working-class folks in Middle America who are saddled with student loan debt too.
I am interested to see how this rolls out.
I will say something that often happens is when these different programs are targeted, and this one very much is, is that it takes a longer time to implement.
So, let's see if the federal government can actually work with some effectiveness on this and when these loans are actually canceled.
That will make all the difference, is this actually going to work when it is all said and done?
ALCINDOR: It's a good question and a big question.
Michael, coming back, it is clear they have - - they are having a week at the White House.
The White House social media team had a whole thread attacking Biden and a bunch of Republicans, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, for going after student loan forgiveness but having received forgiveness of their PPP loans with ties to COVID loans.
What is behind this at the White House?
SHEAR: Somebody ate their Wheaties.
If you have watched the official White House Twitter feed, it is not exciting, it is not TikTok.
It is pretty boring usually.
They came to life and were very aggressive in pushing back.
I think you can make a case that they were a little bit unfair in the comparison.
The PPP loans which were for small businesses and restaurants, were entirely designed to be forgiven.
That was the whole idea, that the money was essentially a bridge while businesses were going to get back on their feet because of the pandemic.
The idea was you given the money but you are going to ultimately forget it.
Student loans were not designed that way.
There is a bit of unfairness there, but politically I think it did exactly what the White House wanted, to get people talking and to put some of these Republicans back on their heels, because it is a bit of a -- ALCINDOR: Punch in the nose, really.
Eva, I want to ask you about a man named Maxwell Frost.
He's 25-year-old political advisor in -- political organizer in Florida.
If he -- he won his primary in Florida.
If he goes to Congress, he would be the first member of Gen Z to go to Congress.
I want to ask you about this because You have this new generation that is younger than me going to Congress, which feels a little crazy, but also it shows that the Democrats have a bench that is willing to go to Congress.
What are you hearing -- what do you make of his win and what it says about the Democrats?
MCKEND: Well, this is where the energy is in the party, with young progressives of color.
That is where it is.
I think what I am watching is, are the octogenarians in power going to support them, or are they going to stand in the way?
I think another space to watch is the primaries in New York, where that very much was not the end result.
One could argue that the progressives of color were stifled in New York by the Democratic apparatus.
So, this no doubt is where a lot of the enthusiasm is.
But I am not yet convinced that the Democrats in control of the party like where this is headed are willing to invest and support that base.
ALCINDOR: All right.
Last question, you have 15 seconds left, Ali.
What do you make of what Eva is saying and hearing?
VITALI: I mean, I look at the results on what happened on Tuesday, and I see a bad night for women.
Nikki Fried not getting that gubernatorial nomination, kind of the same thing that we saw in 2018 when Gwen Graham lost there.
And then, of course, Carolyn Maloney, the powerful chair of the oversight committee, losing to another powerful chair of the judiciary committee in Jerry Nadler.
She made the race about the idea of the old boys club still in play.
The gender was a factor on Tuesday night as well.
ALCINDOR: Yeah, good point and an important point.
So, thanks to our panelists for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
And don't forget to stick around for "The Washington Week Extra".
Ali Vitali stays to discuss her new book "Electable: Why America Hasn't Put A Women in the White House...
Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube.
And before we go, don't forget to watch "PBS NEWS WEEKEND" tmorrow for a report on the disturbing spike in gun violence ravaging Philadelphia this summer.
That's Saturday on PBS.
Thank you for joining us.
Good night from Washington.
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