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Week In Politics: Trump's Rhetoric On The Mueller Investigation


And now for our Friday wrap-up of the week in politics, we are joined by Bre Payton of The Federalist here in our D.C. studios and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks from our studios at NPR West in Southern California. Welcome to both of you.

BRE PAYTON: Thanks so much.


SHAPIRO: And I want to start with what sounds like President Trump's most direct threat against the Justice Department and the FBI. This was something he said last night at a rally in Evansville, Ind.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What's happening is a disgrace. And at some point - I wanted to stay out, but at some point, if it doesn't straighten out properly - I want them to do their job - I will get involved, and I'll get in there if I have to.


TRUMP: Disgraceful.

SHAPIRO: President Trump also told Bloomberg News yesterday that he sees the Mueller Russia investigation as illegal. And this comes as another lobbyist was charged today with failing to register as a foreign agent, a spinoff from the Russia investigation. So, Bre, do you think this is more of the same of what we've been seeing from President Trump, or do you think he's actually gearing up to make a move?

PAYTON: I think he's been saying this for the past year - that the investigation has been stretching forward. I mean, I don't know if we could go a month without a tweet or a comment from Donald Trump expressing frustration that Jeff Sessions decided to recuse himself over this ordeal. I think that this isn't really anything new coming from the president.

And I think also, to put this in context, every single Trump rally that I've ever seen - and I know you've watched quite a few as someone whose job it is to do that - every single time, he talks about the election and how he beat Hillary and the Election Night for 15 minutes pretty much every single rally like this. So this is something that is very, very deeply, you know, personal to him. And so I think to see that this investigation is still open is, like, a really big insult, right?


PAYTON: And so I think, like, his instinct to kind of want to cauterize it and publicly critique it is something that we've seen a lot of.

SHAPIRO: But, boy, the divide between last night in Indiana where the crowd was chanting lock her up about Hillary Clinton - at the same time, four people connected to the Trump campaign or administration have pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Plus his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort is behind bars. Ana, it's like people are existing in two separate realities.

KASPARIAN: It's been that way for quite some time now. But what I find fascinating is how his tone has changed a little bit. And what I mean by that is, you know, before, I feel like he was more willing to work with people around him in order to tackle this whole Russia investigation, and now he's sort of isolating himself within his Cabinet. He is moving forward with things in a very unilateral way. And there, you know, is this question about whether or not he is going to do things that would further provide evidence of obstruction of justice even though those around him are urging him not to do it.

What I think is even more interesting is that the numbers - poll numbers in regard to this investigation have changed quite a bit. So a new Washington Post-ABC poll indicates that 63 percent of Americans actually support the Mueller investigation. So even though Trump is a great marketer and has done a pretty good job at persuading the American public in the past, I think that he's starting to really fail in getting this message across amongst the American people.

SHAPIRO: Ana, you mentioned President Trump sort of withdrawing and taking less outside advice. This week there was another major announcement of a departure from the senior White House staff. On Twitter of course, President Trump said his White House counsel, Don McGahn, will be leaving in the fall. Bre, what do you see as McGahn's legacy?

PAYTON: Well, traditionally speaking, he has been someone who at every step along the way has been kind of putting the brakes on things that Donald Trump has wanted to do, right? Like, when it came to talking about firing Sessions or when it came to talking about firing Mueller, he was kind of like, hey, hey, maybe let's calm down; let's take a breath; let's see, you know, and maybe not do that right away. So it will be interesting going forward if with his departure we see kind of a more unrestrained version of Donald Trump. So I think what we see later will be his legacy, if that makes sense. Like, if we see a more unrestrained version, then that will mean...

SHAPIRO: Another moderating force gone.

PAYTON: ...That he really was the breaks, yeah.

SHAPIRO: But, Ana, one big part of McGahn's job has been feeding the pipeline of judges with record numbers confirmed. How significant do you see his departure at this point?

KASPARIAN: I think that his departure actually isn't that significant when it comes to the confirmation of federal judges. I mean, when you have incredibly weak Democrats like Chuck Schumer brokering a deal with Mitch McConnell to fast-track the confirmation of federal judges, you don't really need Don McGahn to help the Republican cause here. You know, I am a Democrat, but it is pretty devastating to see what's going on with Democrats in the Senate right now in regard to federal judges.

SHAPIRO: Well, speaking of judges, President Trump may be on the brink of seeing his second Supreme Court justice confirmed next week. Confirmation hearings begin for Brett Kavanaugh to the seat that Justice Kennedy held for 30 years on the Supreme Court. Ana, what are you going to be looking for in those hearings next week?

KASPARIAN: I take those hearings with a grain of salt because I think that we've seen on multiple occasions individuals who are waiting for confirmation answering questions in deceptive ways and still getting confirmed. I think that Brett Kavanaugh will easily get confirmed, and there are so many issues on the line. Of course people love to bring up reproductive issues on a federal level.

But I think that, you know, on a state level, it's something that we should all really consider because we have a number of red states that have fought tooth and nail to, you know, outlaw reproductive rights and abortion and, in some cases, affordable contraception. And I think that, you know, with Kavanaugh's confirmation, it's something that's really in jeopardy right now.

SHAPIRO: Bre, there does seem to be this strange divide between the amount that could change in the country based on Kavanaugh's confirmation and the relative lack of suspense about next week's confirmation hearings.

PAYTON: (Laughter) Yeah, I definitely will have to agree with you there. I think that we can probably expect to see a lot of showboating from senators. These confirmation hearings - you can tell that senators look forward to doing that and look forward to badgering these individuals. I think in a way, that elevates their own personal profile. And they tend to, you know, retweet NowThis clips whenever they, you know, tweet some of the questions or the line of questioning that they have. So I think we can expect to see a lot of that.

I do, however, think that over the past week, we've seen several more moderate or skeptical Republicans come out and say, OK, you know, I'm not as concerned about Brett Kavanaugh, particularly about the reproductive issue. And I'm thinking specifically of Senator Collins. So I do think that...

SHAPIRO: Susan Collins of Maine, moderate Republican.

PAYTON: Right. So I do think that we could expect to see some Republicans that - maybe they were a little bit more on the fence or being a little bit dramatic about being on the fence kind of calming down and coming around.

SHAPIRO: How dramatically do you think Kavanaugh would move the country to the right if he is confirmed as expected, Ana?

KASPARIAN: Well, I don't think that it's just about Kavanaugh. I think it's about the Supreme Court as a whole. And what we're seeing right now is just this shift toward more right-wing ideals when it comes to the Supreme Court. So, you know, we now have Neil Gorsuch. Brett Kavanaugh I do believe will get confirmed. And that's what really worries me. You know, there is this...

SHAPIRO: All right.

KASPARIAN: ...Ideological divide.

SHAPIRO: That's Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks and Bre Payton of The Federalist. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

PAYTON: Thank you.

KASPARIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.