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GOP Commentator Calls Trump And Russia A 'Cover-Up In Search Of A Misdemeanor'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Where do we begin? President Trump fired James Comey as head of the FBI. That's set off a storm of criticism, suspicion, indignation, supposition and hyperventilation in the news. We're joined - speaking of hyperventilation, we're joined by Michael Graham, podcast editor of The Weekly Standard. Michael, thanks so much for being back with us.

MICHAEL GRAHAM: Happy to be here. And in honor of President Trump's new taping regimen, I am tan, rested and ready. And I have my modified limited hangout ready to go.

SIMON: Well, I think you're making - we'll get to Watergate analogies, perhaps. Look, I want to begin by stipulating. President of the United States can fire the head of the FBI whenever he or she wants.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

SIMON: But when President Trump does it suddenly, FBI director across the country reportedly just after Jim Comey asked to step up the investigation into Russian meddling. Can you see why many people think it looks like Trump is trying to hide something?

GRAHAM: Oh, absolutely. It definitely looks like Trump is trying to hide something, and that's particularly frustrating for those of us who have from the beginning of this Russian collusion investigation have pointed out that it is - has so far been 100 percent smoke. In fact, for a while there was barely smoke. It was down to steam and no fire.

I mean, I keep asking people, what is the worst case scenario of this collusion that - you know, RT, Russian television, acted like a pack, you know, and was promoting Trump. I mean, you start looking for the crime, and there's not much there. But the apparent cover up or the, you know, the alleged cover...

SIMON: Trying - let me - trying to meddle with the result of a democratic election is...

GRAHAM: Well, they were - I mean, they were meddling and muddling. I mean, Russia's doing what Russia's doing regardless. To make this a, you know, crime, you'd have to have - and even the question of the crime - to make it a problem, you have what? Like, you know, Trump on the phone with Vlad saying, you know, run that story on whatever, you know, Hillary's emails.

SIMON: Well, maybe not Trump or maybe Mr. Trump but what about Michael Flynn or one of his associates?

GRAHAM: Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort have all kinds of unsavory contacts with Russia. They had them before. They're unsavory people. They're part of that third string of political people who seem to coagulate around the Trump presidency.

My point is that the worst case scenario - you have small potatoes of a crime, but then you have this awful handling of it by President Trump who keeps reviving the Russian question. And you say, why? And apparently, it is pure ego.

He just can't stand any allegation that he didn't win this election through brute political brilliance and force. And the - so the problem with the Russia thing, apparently, has more to do with his ego and his feelings about himself than it does with, you know, dangerous areas of bad behavior.

SIMON: What do you - Michael, what do you make of that tweet? I'll quote, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press."

GRAHAM: Well, first of all, Scott, this conversation isn't being recorded, right?

SIMON: No, no.

GRAHAM: OK, good. Just want to make sure.

SIMON: Totally private.

GRAHAM: Once again, I make of it - what the heck? I mean, did you need - how do you inject Watergate more into this? And then to have - of course, afterwards, who stops by the White House the next day but Kissinger. He did everything but go out for, you know, for drinks with Woodward and Bernstein, you know? He did everything but announce...

SIMON: That's a nice idea.

GRAHAM: Exactly.

SIMON: But - well, let me ask you, what do you make of that, you know, the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister invited into the oval office the next day and the three of them grinning like frat boys over a beer?

GRAHAM: And showing that whatever is going on in President Trump's mind - it's not about managing his way forward to a political objective or political outcome. Where are you trying to take the country is the question people have to ask at this point. Is that even a priority for the president?

There's stuff that Republicans want to do - fix health care by rescuing it from the mistakes of Obamacare and bringing in the free market, which makes things cheaper and work better. You know, fix the tax code. Even President Obama said that our corporate taxes are too high, making us uncompetitive. Things you can do. Does this president have any interest in helping do those things? Or is he more interested in this kind of, you know, his personal fight?

He treats the world the way he treated the New York Press when he was Donald Trump of Spy magazine back in the '80s. And it's entertaining to watch, full of plenty of punchlines available, but as far as governance, that's what seems to be missing.

SIMON: Michael Graham of The Weekly Standard, thanks so much.

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