Will Michael Flynn Start Cooperating With Special Counsel Investigation?
ELISE HU, HOST:
So did Flynn flip? The possibility of Flynn's cooperation with the special counsel is the first thing we'll tackle in our Friday politics roundup.
This week, we've got David Brooks of The New York Times - David, welcome back.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.
HU: And Kimberly Atkins of the Boston Herald. Kimberly, great to have you.
KIMBERLY ATKINS: Glad to be here.
HU: Let's jump straight into this Flynn question. Trump's lawyers say, don't read too much into this. Flynn was national security adviser for only 24 days. But he is someone the president has said he wanted the FBI to take it easy on, and the president has continued to praise him publicly after his resignation. David, what's your take on this?
BROOKS: Yeah. I've all along been a trailing indicator on this whole story. Everyone's sort of at number 11 of panic, and I'm at, like, number three as far as whether there's a big story mostly because I haven't seen credible evidence that President Trump himself was involved in something that really could alter the course of this administration.
But I have to say this news, if Flynn is cooperating, signals to me two things, which Ari just got on in the previous interview. The first, there must be somebody higher, that they must have something - a higher target they're looking at. And second, Flynn is the Grand Central Station of foreign policy in the early days of the administration, so he would be able to take all the different contacts that they had or allegedly had and put it all together into one story.
ATKINS: Yeah. I mean, look; General Flynn has been the center of what all of this is for all the reasons that David set out. And I think the one difference with General Flynn and other people in this probe is that he's somebody that the president has protected. The president has a tendency to cut loose and distance himself from anybody with this Russia probe, even suggesting that his former campaign chairman was a minor part of his campaign - Paul Manafort - when he clearly wasn't.
The entire time, he has been very protective of Michael Flynn, even staying in touch with him after he was finally fired after he was warned about - by the acting attorney general that he could be blackmailed. So he's at the center of this. So if the investigation is centering in on him, that can't be good news to the people who are at the highest circles of the White House.
HU: As we reflect on the year we've just had in politics, President Trump underscored his world view when he spoke to troops on Thanksgiving. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They say we've made more progress against ISIS than they did in years of the previous administration. And that's because I'm letting you do your job.
HU: David, does the president have a point here where U.S. forces are concerned - that his America-first policy and support for a bigger defense spending have reflected a needed shift after Obama?
BROOKS: I always want to know who the they is who say these things about him.
BROOKS: You know, this is the tough part about punditing President Trump. There's no substance to these remarks. There's no strategy there that we were doing terrible before me, now we're doing great after me. Tissue-thin doesn't even begin to get at the thinness of this. You know, I do not think - I think we're in - American troops are in a better place in the short term. They're doing less. They're patrolling less. They're doing less in Afghanistan. But over the long term, if you think that American forces have a stabilizing role in the world, then you think the world order in general is in a long, slow decay and that we'll pay for our withdrawal in the short term.
HU: Let's turn to Congress, which returns next week with more allegations of sexual misconduct and risque behavior, at the very least, hanging over some lawmakers' heads. Will the apologies of some individual lawmakers like Al Franken - will that be enough accountability for colleagues in Congress and for their constituents?
ATKINS: I mean, I think we'll have to wait and see. I mean, as we've seen with many of these allegations - that the first is never the last. And it depends on what comes out. I mean, this sexual harassment scandal has landed squarely in Congress. It happened at a time where lawmakers were really leaving for the Thanksgiving holiday.
So when they come back on Monday, it will be really the first time that they are there and in the middle of this. And we will see these investigations go - carry out. I think what revelations we'll see ahead will really determine it, but I think it'll be really tough for these lawmakers, especially those who have criticized others for this type of behavior, to just walk away from this.
HU: And all the while, there's this big tax overhaul that the Senate is going to take up in the coming week. Will this be a distraction? Will the constituencies hold together, do you think, David?
BROOKS: Yeah, I'm stunned. The big news this week on the tax bill was the University of Chicago Booth School surveyed 48 economists. And pretty much - with one semi-exception, pretty much all of them think this will not expand growth and it will hurt the deficit. Tax reform in general is very popular, especially among economists. To have written a tax bill that even economists think will do no good takes an enormous amount of perverse incompetence.
And so will this bill pass? Well, for a lot of Republican donors you speak to, this has become the, if you can't do this, then I'm never giving you a dollar again. The Republican members hear that all the time. On the other hand, I do think there are enough Republicans who really do care about the deficit to, on balance, make me think this will not pass, that eventually they'll say, we just can't explode the red ink. You'll get some Bob Corkers, maybe some Rob Portmans - senator from Ohio - Susan Collins. You'll get enough to probably set this thing back.
HU: But so many Republicans and Republican donors say a legislative win is needed. Kimberly, where are you on this, even if the substance of the bill is unpopular?
ATKINS: Yeah. I think that David is right. I mean, the Republican-led Congress keeps putting forth really unpopular bills and calling them must-pass.
ATKINS: I mean, we saw this with the health care bill, and it seems like a repeat for this. And even, you know, the public wants tax cuts. And even they're - from what they see of this aren't onboard in this bill. It's very unpopular. So it'll be a tough sell to - it's a tough vote to convince your caucus to take.
HU: Is there anything that would actually bring people like Senator Rob (ph) Johnson over the fence, though? I mean, it sounds like just five or six senators are the ones that are holdouts on this.
BROOKS: Well, they need to shrink it so it wouldn't add to 1.2 to $1.5 trillion in deficits. And so that would be one thing. The second thing is take a look at what year we happen to be in. We're in a year with wide inequality, with working class unhappiness. Design a tax bill for the year we happen to be in, not 1994. And so they could easily craft a tax reform bill that would help the people who elected Donald Trump. Why they have not done this is one of the great mysteries of the age.
HU: So neither of you are very bullish on this tax bill going forward. David Brooks, columnist at The New York Times, and Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington reporter and columnist at the Boston Herald, thanks to you both.
BROOKS: Thank you.
ATKINS: Thanks for having us.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAZE AND 9TH WONDER SONG, "SPIRIT OF '94") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.