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The Politics Of Syrian Airstrikes


Joined now by NPR's Ron Elving, Senior Editor and Correspondent. Ron, thank you very much for being with us today.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Don't these airstrikes in Syria contradict everything Donald Trump has said in the past, when he essentially taunted President Obama not to order strikes? And wasn't it arguably one of the reasons he won the Republican nomination, because he called the war in Iraq stupid and said the U.S. shouldn't get involved overseas?

ELVING: Right. America first, that was the mantra and the president has indeed been attacked on just those grounds this morning by a number of bloggers and talk show hosts on the right. They were calling him Donald Bush and asking if Hillary Clinton had secretly taken over. And it doesn't help that the president himself this morning used the phrase, mission accomplished, a phrase made famous for its premature use by George W. Bush in the Iraq war. But Scott, let's not forget that there are also a lot of people this morning who are not happy because the president did not consult Congress on this mission and others who are asking whether these very limited strikes really accomplished anything of great value.

SIMON: Some lawmakers were apparently briefed by the administration, others weren't. Any idea who merited getting contacted?

ELVING: There is a designated group of leaders in both parties, in both chambers, who are to be notified and to be consulted in the sense of telling them that this is happening. But that's not the same thing as asking Congress for its approval, they do sometimes widen that group to include the chairs of some of the most relevant committees. But here again, the wider the group gets - the theoretically, the more criticism you might get. But it's already too late once the mission is already launched.

SIMON: Ron, you were one of the lucky few to get an early copy of James Comey book, which is coming out next week. Give us a snapshot please.

ELVING: James Comey, the former FBI director, says the president is unethical and untethered from truth, calls him a forest fire, says he's destroying much of what is great about the nation. He also compares him to the mafia dons that Comey had prosecuted earlier in his career. Suffice to say, we have never seen a president taken down to this degree by anyone who has held such high positions as Comey has held in multiple administrations in both parties. It's a scathing book.

SIMON: And all of that is fascinating and the vignettes that we have - I think a lot of us have heard about at this point are fascinating and fair game for a memoir. But does James Comey describe any actual criminal conduct by President Trump?

ELVING: He does address that question, so let me put this in his own words, he said, quoting Comey's book here, "I have one perspective on the behavior I saw, which while disturbing and violating basic norms of ethical leadership, may fall short of being illegal." So in other words, he is not actually attributing a specific crime that he saw or had evidence of to the president, but at the same time, he's not letting that change his tone of moral judgment about the president. And we should say that the president responded in a tweet Friday morning saying Comey was untruthful, calling him a slime ball and a proven liar and leaker and a terrible leader at the FBI, and saying virtually everyone in Washington had wanted him fired before the president actually fired him.

SIMON: Ron, what about reports overnight that there are people in the White House, perhaps even including the president, who now consider the investigation that's been going on in the southern district of New York to be perhaps more potentially hazardous for the president than even the Mueller investigation?

ELVING: Because that information is coming from the White House itself, I think we have to take it with something of a grain of salt that it may be intended, perhaps, to cast a certain amount of shadow on the Mueller investigation and the Russia connections. It's also possible, of course, that we do not know yet exactly what Michael Cohen's office may contain in terms of records, in terms of recordings, in terms of e-mails. And there may be things that no one has thought of yet or glimpsed or dreamt of that might have been involved in what prompted that extraordinary search warrant that got the FBI into Michael Cohen's office this last week.

SIMON: Ron Elving, NPR Senior Washington correspondent, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.