David Brooks on IG Report: Secrecy Is Often A Good Thing, An Open Government Not Always A Good Thing


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’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the conclusions of a watchdog report into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, the politics of the Trump administration separating families at the U.S. border and more.

Brooks said Trump has a "dictator to dictator" relationship with Kim Jong Un while he has an "uncomfortable" relationship with G7 leaders. He said Trump has relationships strictly based on "urge to dominate" and not on friendship, trust, reciprocity, and affection.

Reacting to the DOJ IG report, Brooks said the FBI institution "basically worked" and that investigations were "basically done" without a political bias.

Brooks defended the conduct of the FBI and said he believes government secrecy is often a "good thing" but an open government is not always a "good thing."

"It is, frankly, a little interesting to me to see a lot of Democrats suddenly being in favor for secrecy in government," the NYT columnist said. "And they want him β€” oh, we got to keep these things secret before an election."

"And I, as a personal matter, think secrecy is often a good thing in government, and open government is not always a good thing. And I’m glad to see so much support from the left these days," Brooks said.

Transcript, via PBS:

JUDY WOODRUFF, PBS NEWSHOUR: And now to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome to both of you.

Let’s start with what happened this week on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

David, the president met, historic meeting, Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea. The president comes away saying there’s no more nuclear threat, he’s got very good personal chemistry, personal relationship with Mr. Kim.

What’s your take?

DAVID BROOKS, NEW YORK TIMES: I read a joke this week that the lion can lie down with the lamb, but you got to get a new lamb each day.

So, I give him more credit than a lot other people that I’m reading. We were β€” and people who really knew the North Korean situation were terrified six, eight, 10 months ago that we were really heading in a bad direction and things β€” there was some danger of things spinning out of control.

And now that doesn’t seem to be the case. Now, there’s β€” tensions have settled. There seems to be no risk of any confrontation or war. And so, to me, that’s the big story, and that’s the lead and that’s a good thing.

Now, once you get down to the second and third paragraph, it begins to deteriorate quickly. And the things Trump said about the regime, calling a murderous dictator a tough guy, that’s horrific.

The way human rights are treated, the way he just flippantly tossed off the practice, the war games, is horrific. But, to me, those are serious deficits. He did a good thing in the worst possible way...

It’s also as a foil to what happened in Europe or in Quebec with the G7 the week before.

And you see him with two different sorts of relationships. With somebody like Putin or with somebody like Kim Jong Un, it’s like dictator to dictator. It’s like, we understand how to deal with power relationships. He feels comfortable in that kind of thing.

When he’s dealing with Trudeau or Merkel, it should be friends, and it should be a relationship on affection and mutual trust and reciprocity. And he’s a little uncomfortable in those circumstances.

WOODRUFF: How do you explain that?

BROOKS: Well, I think, through his business life, he’s not had a series of relationships based on friendship, trust, and reciprocity and affection.

He’s had relationships based strictly on self-interest and the urge to dominate. And he just feels comfortable in one kind of relationship. And, frankly, that’s even true within his White House. He has relationships based on who’s useful to who, not, we are a band of brothers in this together.

WOODRUFF: Well, let’s move to something that happened yesterday, David, the Justice Department report looking at how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton investigation.

Very tough on James Comey, saying he was insubordinate, some other tough criticism of him, but, ultimately, 500 pages concluded that the way the FBI handled it didn’t demonstrate bias.

The president is saying this exonerates him, it proves that the leadership of the FBI was all β€” were all bad. What are we to make of it?

BROOKS: I think it exonerates all of us. It…

… all of our priors.

I think the main β€” again, it’s one of these deals where you have got a headline and then some undercutting subterfuge. And the headline to me is that the institution basically worked, that the actual investigations were basically done without any political bias.

And that’s worth reminding people, that there is such a thing as a professional civil service these days, when everyone thinks it’s all political and it’s al a swamp. It’s not a swamp. These are hardworking people, and they seem to have been basically doing their job.

There have been a couple of demerits on that. One, the few e-mails that were β€” where people within the FBI were clearly β€” were motivated by a Trump bias. And that will work to β€” we have seen Rudy Giuliani in the past couple of days ramp up his rhetoric about the investigation.

And it seems to me it makes it, along with the Mark Sanford defeat, much more likely that, if Trump does ever take action against Mueller, that the GOP will get in line, and they will have a little more evidence to say, yes, it’s a corrupt investigation.

As for Comey, he had a tough call, to disclose something or not to disclose. And I could argue it either way. I take the I.G. verdict that he made the wrong call. And so he will get some criticism for that, and maybe justifiable.

It is, frankly, a little interesting to me to see a lot of Democrats suddenly being in favor for secrecy in government. And they want him β€” oh, we got to keep these things secret before an election.

And I, as a personal matter, think secrecy is often a good thing in government, and open government is not always a good thing. And I’m glad to see so much support from the left these days.


WOODRUFF: Well, David, and you mentioned Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer. He is now saying, as a result of this report, that the Mueller investigation needs to be put on hold.

BROOKS: Yes, which, you know, again, it’s a reminder there are professional investigations. And Mueller seems to be holding a professional investigation.

But the e-mails were bad. And if you believe the deep state is against your guy, Donald Trump, those e-mails look like a vindication for your point of view.

The other thing that’s resurfaced again β€” we keep relitigating the 2016 election β€” is that the Comey decision to go public cost Hillary Clinton the election. And there is some evidence to that. The polling did shift with that.

The only thing I would say is that that story had such effect because it confirmed the key vulnerability that Hillary Clinton brought into the election, that she was part of the corrupt old establishment. And it wasn’t what Comey did. It’s because it reminded people of what they didn’t like about her in the first place.

And so some of the error at least was in nominating a person who was exactly wrong on the core issue for a lot of the electorate...

BROOKS: And then on this issue, I agree with Mark.

And I go back to my thing of why he can’t deal with friends in the G7. If you take qualities like affection, mercy, charity, compassion, empathy out of an administration, you wind up with policies like this.

Administrations of the past could have done this. The law sort of allows it. There’s flexibility.

WOODRUFF: And citing the Bible.

BROOKS: Well, and then you cite the Bible on your behalf, which is ludicrousness on stilts.

But they β€” every other administration said, it’s just not who we are. We don’t separate families. Maybe there’s a legal pretext, but we don’t do that.

And that’s because there is some native compassion and empathy. And that’s been drained out of this policy. And it’s abhorrent.

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