David Brooks: Trump Has Been Able To Manipulate Mueller Probe Into A Soap Opera Benefiting Himself

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PBS NEWSHOUR: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including President Trump calling off his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the outcome of Tuesday’s primaries for Democrats and the effects of the president stirring controversy with claims of FBI spying on his campaign.

Brooks praised Trump for walking out on the North Korea peace talks and for his ability to exert pressure by doing "everything in public." Brooks said he sympathized with the attempt of a breakthrough with the isolated nation and that Trump is not to blame for "going in and going out."

"Donald Trump sort of walked out," he said. "And so he does everything in public. And he exerts pressure, he flatters, he threatens war. He does everything in public. And so I sort of sympathize with the idea to see if there can be some breakthrough with North Korea. And I don’t blame him for going in and going out, trying to exert whatever pressure he can."

However, Brooks criticized the lack of "real diplomacy" and Trump going "lone wolf" style without allies and using just tweets and publicity to push the peace deal.





"But Donald Trump is a lone wolf, and so he’s doing it all on his own, basically, without allies, without too much help from the U.S. government, and it’s all by tweet and publicity," the columnist said.

"I don’t totally blame him for trying. Or, frankly, I don’t blame him for going in and out," Brooks said.

Brooks also lamented that Trump has been able to control "the narrative" of the Mueller probe. He also said he is "sick" of the daily stories of the investigation, saying he believes the media "overplay[ed] it" and now Trump has manipulated it into a "soap opera benefiting himself."

"Well, he has realized that the Mueller investigation is not a bad thing for him, but a good thing for him, that if he can create a narrative that it’s him vs. the swamp, and that all the arms of the U.S. government are really politicized, things controlled by the Democrats or the elites, by whoever, then he can use the soap opera, give it a new plot twist every single day, which is really what he’s been doing all week, a new set of tweets just to get us talking about it," Brooks said.

"Personally, I’m sick of all the daily stories about it. I think we overplay it, frankly," he said. "When the Mueller report comes out, that will be a big deal. But just the who goes to what meeting, frankly, I find less important than the way he’s been able to manipulate it into a soap opera benefiting himself."

Transcript, via PBS NewsHour

JUDY WOODRUFF, 'PBS NEWSHOUR' HOST: So, let’s talk first about this on-again/off-again summit with the North Korean leader.

David, it came about very quickly. It seemed to spring out of the president’s mind on his own. We didn’t — a lot of people were skeptical it was ever going to happen. It’s off again, but the president said today, maybe it’s not off.

What do you make of his diplomacy?

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: When I went to buy my first car, somebody gave me advice. You have got to walk out. Walk out.

[LAUGHTER]

Walk out.

And I never — I’m not that kind of guy, so I didn’t walk out. But Donald Trump sort of walked out. And so he does everything in public. And he exerts pressure, he flatters, he threatens war. He does everything in public.

And so I sort of sympathize with the idea to see if there can be some breakthrough with North Korea. And I don’t blame him for going in and going out, trying to exert whatever pressure he can.

The problem is, it’s not real diplomacy. In real diplomacy, you have your sherpas, your lower-level people sort of build up some sense of agreements. You gather your allies. You don’t burn them with trade deals, the Chinese just South Koreans. You gather — and you exert real pressure.

But Donald Trump is a lone wolf, and so he’s doing it all on his own, basically, without allies, without too much help from the U.S. government, and it’s all by tweet and publicity.

And so I’m skeptical that you can get a real breakthrough without a full, stacked diplomatic and military effort, but — or at least sort of threats and pressure. But I don’t totally blame him for trying. Or, frankly, I don’t blame him for going in and out.

Anything that can dislodge something that’s stuck...

WOODRUFF: The president clearly — or seems, David, to believe that unpredictability can pay off sometimes.

BROOKS: Well, sometimes, it can.

If we got a crazy person who is president, you may as well take advantage. But, as I say, why should they give up nuclear weapons? They have seen the Libya example and they saw what happened to Gadhafi.

The only — but at some point in history, and I don’t know if it will be in our lifetimes, they will say, we would rather have a middle-class lifestyle. We would rather have what they have in South Korea. I think, eventually, somebody is going to make that call. I don’t know if it will be this guy or his son or grandson or whatever.

But, eventually, that’s going to happen. So, as long as we can keep knocking on the door, that seems fine. And as long as we don’t disrupt our allies in the area, which we seem to have terrified the South Koreans...

And the Japanese — then the door should always be open, the pressure should always be on.

But sometimes you don’t just have any good solutions. And that’s why we have had 10 presidents without much progress...

WOODRUFF: Let’s bring it back home.

Primary elections this week, that is the season we’re in right now.

David, Democrats cheered a number of these results. Women seemed to do particularly well in a number of states, some firsts for women.

How did you read these results? Are you seeing something here that gives you a sense of what’s going to take place in November?

BROOKS: Yes.

Well, the prominence of the women candidates was obviously the one thing.

The second thing I would say, it’s more likely we are going to have political campaigns that are going to be more about race. The Republicans have become a pretty white party, pretty out front on their views on immigration.

And what we have seen among the Democrats is, they’re also saying, yes, there is going to be our issue.

If you look at — and this has been true over the last couple of years. If you poll Democrats, are racial issues, are they structural problems in American society or are they individual, tended to be mostly Democrats thought, no, it’s individual — individuals can overcome racial barriers.

Now it’s much more, no, it’s structural, it’s a very big, systemic problem. And then it used to be a lot of Democrats didn’t want to get to close to the racial issue, didn’t want to get to close with immigration, but now they’re embracing those issues.

And so the party is becoming much more the party of intersectionality. And that’s just where politics is breaking now. The Republicans probably started it by putting immigration so central. Now Democrats are going to put immigration central.

And that is honest on one hand. I’m a little nervous about it, frankly. Race is the big divide in our country’s history. It’s been a nasty divide. And if our political divides overlap with this racial nightmare we have had for 250 years, you could get some pretty bad things...

WOODRUFF: Certainly changing landscape. But we have got a few months to see what happens.

Last thing I want to ask you about is what the president’s been talking about sort of relentlessly, David. And that is these attacks on the Department of Justice, criticism of the Department of Justice, the FBI.

He’s now come up with the term spy gate, in his words, to describe what went on when the FBI was investigating as part of the Russia investigation his campaign.

This week, he pulled Congress into it. Where do you see this going? How do you size up what the president is doing?

BROOKS: Well, he has realized that the Mueller investigation is not a bad thing for him, but a good thing for him, that if he can create a narrative that it’s him vs. the swamp, and that all the arms of the U.S. government are really politicized, things controlled by the Democrats or the elites, by whoever, then he can use the soap opera, give it a new plot twist every single day, which is really what he’s been doing all week, a new set of tweets just to get us talking about it.

And that it reinforces his — the idea that he’s the brave outsider fighting the swamp, and that they’re all a bunch of political animals, and he’s the brave one. And it’s working for him.

And so he’s willing to do it. Personally, I’m sick of all the daily stories about it. I think we overplay it, frankly.

When the Mueller report comes out, that will be a big deal. But just the who goes to what meeting, frankly, I find less important than the way he’s been able to manipulate it into a soap opera benefiting himself.

WOODRUFF: Didn’t bother you that the president wanted Republican members of Congress briefed by the DOJ, Department of Justice, and the FBI?

BROOKS: Yes, there’s violations of etiquette. The chief of staff went to the briefing. That didn’t strike me as a big deal.

Every day, we get new little driblets. We got the driblet that Cohen, the president’s lawyer, got paid by somebody connected to a Russian oligarch just around the time of the inauguration. There was sort of he was harvesting contacts to make money, which is sort of the city industry here.

And so there’s always driblets, but what strikes me is the way the president has controlled the narrative. And, frankly, a lot of — even those of us who are criticizing him fall into the narrative. And he’s perfectly happy to do it...

The problem is, Daniel Boorstin wrote a book in 1962 saying you can’t beat a pseudo-story with a fact. We have facts. No, this didn’t happen.

He has got a story. And somehow we’re stuck in this, where his story trumps our facts.

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