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Week In Politics: Comey's Memos and Additions To Trump's Legal Team

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The issue of James Comey's memos is where we're going to begin our Friday political chat. Kristen Soltis Anderson of the Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote" is here in the studio. Hi, Kristen.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: Hi.

SHAPIRO: And Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root, joins us from Atlanta. Hi, Jason.

JASON JOHNSON: Hi - glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: Well, I don't know if the two of you, like me, spent last night leafing through those 15 pages. But I wonder what you found in those memos that Comey wrote when he was FBI director before he was fired that really struck you, Kristen.

ANDERSON: What struck me was how much this matched up with what we have already heard Jim Comey say about his interactions with the president. There in some ways was very little in these memos that struck me as surprising because it was so much of what we've already heard before.

SHAPIRO: Jason?

JOHNSON: Well, a couple of things. Number one, you know, look; he's the FBI director. He knows what to say. He's going to be consistent. I'm not surprised that he was consistent. What has been fascinating to me is to see how this guy - he had to have known in his gut that even though it is a 10-year position, that his position was at risk. The fact that he was taking these notes contemporaneously (laughter) suggests to me someone who had a feeling. I don't trust my boss, and I want to make sure this is on record.

SHAPIRO: So if the two of you both feel like these notes were kind of a nothing burger news-wise, I'm curious about why Republicans in Congress were so eager to release them. This is what Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said on NPR's Morning Edition today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ADAM SCHIFF: I think that my colleagues in the GOP who were pushing so hard to get these released or to leak them were hoping that they could find some inconsistencies they could use to attack James Comey. And I think they came up empty because his testimony and statements have been very consistent.

SHAPIRO: I mean, Kristen, do you think he's right? Why do you think the GOP wanted to do this?

ANDERSON: I think that what they were looking to show was is there anything in these memos that suggests that Comey behaved in a way that was inappropriate? Are there - is there information in his memos that he then had provided to outside sources that should not have been released? And that's currently something that you're hearing Republicans try to prosecute - is this idea of, in Jim Comey's transmission of his interactions with the president to others, did he give up classified information of any kind? That's sort of the new direction you're seeing Republicans go.

SHAPIRO: President Trump tweeted, James Comey memos just out and show clearly there was no collusion and no obstruction. Also he leaked classified information - wow. Will the witch hunt continue?

So, Jason, clearly at least the president is hitting on this leaking classified information talking point. Do you think it will work?

JOHNSON: Well, no. I mean, but it depends on what you mean by work. Is it going to have any electoral consequences - no. It's already sort of dyed in the wool. Most of the American voters either believe what they believe from the president, or they believe what they believe from Comey and this investigation. Is it necessarily going to move members of Congress - not necessarily. They're all kind of set in.

At this point, it's just screaming about different kind of narratives. Every single poll has demonstrated that the American public believes what Comey and what Mueller are doing more than they believe what comes out of the president. So no matter how many times he says, aha, it's a scandal, and it's this, and it's fake; oh, but by the way, even though I think this is fake, I'm not under investigation, and there's no collusion, (laughter) it's not changing anyone's belief system. I think both sides are pretty much set in.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk about that Mueller investigation. President Trump hired three new lawyers this week. One of them is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has had an interesting relationship with Trump. He was an adviser during the campaign. He was mentioned as a possible attorney general or secretary of state during the transition. He did not end up in the administration. Jason, why do you think he's jumping into the frying pan now?

JOHNSON: Oh, he's desperate for attention. I mean, look. Rudy Giuliani...

SHAPIRO: I mean, wow, that's quite a...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: That's quite a reason.

JOHNSON: Well, because that's the only functional reason he could be involved - because he wants to be in the spotlight in some shape, way or form. If there's one thing that can be said about the Trump administration, they seem to be pretty clear about some people not being in this administration. They didn't find a place for Chris Christie. They didn't find a place for Rudy Giuliani. There were reasons for that - probably because they only wanted one volatile person to be there, and that was in the White House.

Giuliani feels this is an opportunity for him to flex his muscles, get back into the public eye. And he thinks he can have some unique bond with the FBI agents that are investigating Cohen in New York. But I don't think that's going to work. I mean, there were a lot of people - remember; that was the agency - that was the division, the FBI, that was considered Trumpland (ph), and there were lots of different avenues they had to go through before Cohen was investigated. I don't think that Giuliani can really do much to change what's happening right now.

SHAPIRO: Boy, Kristen, it's quite a thing to say, I don't trust this guy Giuliani enough to put him in my Cabinet, but I do trust him enough to be my lawyer in this very-high-stakes investigation.

ANDERSON: Well, that's what's so perplexing about this. It's no secret and no surprise that Donald Trump likes finding things for his friends and for people that he sees on television defending him to do in his administration. A number of his appointments have either been TV personalities or personal friends. Rudy Giuliani fits both of those categories, and yet for the role of being your personal lawyer in a very-high-stakes criminal investigation - that's not the same as finding someone an ambassadorship somewhere.

SHAPIRO: Right.

ANDERSON: Not that that should be given out to TV personalities and friends either, but certainly that's a lower-stakes proposition. But if you're Rudy Giuliani, the reason why you say yes I think is if you actually can do anything to get the Mueller investigation to go away or if you join the team and it happens to resolve itself somehow favorably for the president, that's a huge win to be able to claim. It would certainly elevate your stock within Trumpland.

SHAPIRO: I mean, Giuliani told The Washington Post, I'm doing this because I hope we can negotiate an end to this, meaning the Mueller investigation. Do either of you think that's realistic?

ANDERSON: Absolutely not.

JOHNSON: No.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: OK.

JOHNSON: No.

SHAPIRO: So you both agree on that.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: All right.

JOHNSON: There's no - yeah. And I think this is also important to say. Remember that earlier this week, James Comey in an interview said, look; even if you fire Mueller at this point, you're not going to end these investigations. There are too many different tentacles to this right now for this to end even if he got Mueller to pack up and leave tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: You know, mentioning firing Mueller leads us to this debate in Congress over the so-called protect Mueller bill, which the top senator, Mitch McConnell, said he's not going to allow to come to a vote. And yet committee Republicans are still going forward with it. Kristen, what do you think is going on here?

ANDERSON: I think if you're Mitch McConnell, you don't want to be in a position where you're doing something that angers the president because ultimately that's always been kind of a tense relationship and just wanting to preserve it as much as possible to keep those lines of communication open. If you're seen as advancing this bill, does the president interpret that as a personal slight against you?

However, for many of these individual Republicans, they believe that it's important to draw this line in the sand now before something happens where there is a large political and legal conflagration that is caused by the president taking action against Mueller.

SHAPIRO: In just our last minute, I want to note the passing of Barbara Bush, one of two people in U.S. history to be both wife and mother to a U.S. president. Jason, how do you think she'll be remembered?

JOHNSON: I think she'll be remembered depending on what side of the political aisle or perhaps whether or not you were a victim or not of Hurricane Katrina. Look; I think this is very important to say, and I've said this before. Barbara Bush was a wonderful person to lots of people. She was an icon to many Republicans and conservatives. She did work on AIDS. She did work on literacy.

She also said lots of statements that were racially insensitive in reference to Hurricane Katrina. She also was seen at the time to perhaps be exploiting children of color who had HIV in order to make herself look better. There is some real criticism out there, and I think it's fair even when famous people pass that we allow everyone to be honest about what their recollections of them are.

SHAPIRO: I want to give...

JOHNSON: We don't have to lionize them or demonize them.

SHAPIRO: I want to give Kristen a quick last word here.

ANDERSON: I believe she'll be remembered positively by folks regardless of their political views. You know, she was somebody who had an authentic style, who certainly did not talk like a politician. I think that she'll be remembered quite fondly not just by Republicans.

SHAPIRO: Kristen Soltis Anderson and Jason Johnson, thank you so much.

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

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