Week In Politics: Comey's Memoir, Speaker Ryan Retires And Syria NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and Guy Benson of townhall.com about former FBI director James Comey's book, potential strikes on Syria and House Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement that he won't run for reelection.
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Week In Politics: Comey's Memoir, Speaker Ryan Retires And Syria

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Week In Politics: Comey's Memoir, Speaker Ryan Retires And Syria

Week In Politics: Comey's Memoir, Speaker Ryan Retires And Syria

Week In Politics: Comey's Memoir, Speaker Ryan Retires And Syria

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/602288568/602288572" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and Guy Benson of townhall.com about former FBI director James Comey's book, potential strikes on Syria and House Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement that he won't run for reelection.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The U.S. response to that suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria is just one of the many, many stories we are tracking as we near the end of yet another dizzying week here in Washington.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG: We didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake.

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PAUL RYAN: I'm announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House.

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JON KARL: Believe he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly believes he has the power to do so.

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WOLF BLITZER: Breaking tonight - the feds go after the president's fixer Michael Cohen.

KELLY: The feds going after the president's fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen was the story of the week. Then Paul Ryan announced he's quitting as speaker of the House. There was also President Trump deciding maybe he wants in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership after all. And don't forget James Comey. The fired FBI director has a new book, in case you haven't heard, in which, among other things, he compares the president to a mob boss.

Well, we're going to tackle as much of this as we can possibly get to in our Week in Politics discussion. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution is here and also Guy Benson, the editor of townhall.com. Welcome to you both.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you. Let's speed up the tape so we sound like chipmunks...

KELLY: (Laughter).

DIONNE: ...And can get everything in.

KELLY: We may have to to get through everything that's happened in Washington this week.

GUY BENSON: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: We are glad to have you here. OK, I'm going to let you both start with James Comey's book, which every political reporter in Washington is busy tearing through as we speak - E.J., first to you. What was - what jumped out?

DIONNE: The evidence he provided for obstruction of justice even though he was very careful to say, I can't reach that conclusion, but Mueller is going to figure it out; Trump's absolute obsession with charges about sexual harassment and the like, which he remembered in great detail according to Comey and of course denied everything; his obsession also with what other matters Russians might have on him, the - I suppose the golden shower story and...

KELLY: Referring to alleged encounters between the president...

DIONNE: Correct, which the president...

KELLY: ...And prostitutes in Russia which...

DIONNE: ...Strongly denies.

KELLY: Strongly denies, yep.

DIONNE: And then I was also struck that at a briefing on Russian interference, Comey talked about how Trump and his people were not at all interested in what really happened or how to prevent it. They were desperately interested in spinning that, well, it didn't really affect the election even though that's not what the CIA concluded. It's a very dim picture of - or a dark picture really of Trump and his administration. And the president responded gracefully by calling Comey a weak and untruthful slimeball.

KELLY: Neither Comey nor President Trump a slouch in the insults department. Guy, what leapt out at you?

BENSON: To me, there was this interesting disclosure or really an admission that the decision that Comey made right before the election to send that letter to Congress informing them that he was reopening Hillary Clinton's email investigation - he made that decision in light of, in his mind, polling that he thought indicated she was going to win the election, and he was concerned that if it did not come out that the investigation was reopened and it was later revealed after her victory, her legitimacy as president would be questioned. So his explanation is he did it to protect the legitimacy of President Hillary Clinton - oops. And I think that that moment has drawn a lot of ire from the left, but it also underscores the frustration on the right where many people believe that he made a mistake months earlier by not recommending charges against Mrs. Clinton.

DIONNE: And I think that his defense is not going to go over well with Democrats 'cause it doesn't sound like he was defending Hillary Clinton. It sounded more like he was defending the FBI and perhaps his own behavior in the long run. But so much of the book - I think that will sort of be out there, discussed. But the parts on Trump are the parts that are got an awful lot of play.

KELLY: Yeah, and how Jim Comey comes out looking, you know, once this book has been out there for a week or two we shall see. But let me rocket you ahead to another story in the news this week that I mentioned, the FBI raid on President Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen. Guy, you take this one first. To what extent might this put the president in legal jeopardy?

BENSON: It all depends on what the evidence is that was collected from Mr. Cohen. I don't think you can, if you're the White House or a Trump supporter, really spin this away as not a big deal. It is an enormous burden to cross and to satisfy to get permission to raid the office and the home and the hotel room of any lawyer, particularly the president's personal lawyer. And everyone who signed off on this up and down the chain of command, including a federal judge, including officials at the DOJ - they understand the implications of it, and they said yes anyway, which points in my mind to some sort of probably cause.

KELLY: Something serious, yeah.

BENSON: And so whether it actually comes to the president's doorstep, we have absolutely no idea yet. But I can't imagine that the Trump administration and the White House is thrilled at this development because it's a significant one.

KELLY: E.J., one of the big questions has been, are there tapes? Might...

DIONNE: Right, and there appears that...

KELLY: Might Cohen have recorded some conversations?

DIONNE: And...

KELLY: And that was among the things seized.

DIONNE: Right, and the report says that there are tapes. We don't know what's on them. Guy is absolutely right about how important this is potentially, and it's one of the reasons why the President exploded. He called it a raid. He called it I think - was it a break-in? I mean, he used language that is usually used for a criminal act to describe something that went through an extraordinarily careful judicial process. So he is clearly very alarmed by this.

KELLY: Real quick, I want to move us and try to squeeze in one more story which happened many, many, many news cycles ago, which is to say on Wednesday. Paul Ryan was making headlines 'cause he announced he is not going to run for re-election. He will not be with us in the long future as speaker of the House. A twist this afternoon - he endorsed House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to be his successor. Will that quiet some of the concerns about a leadership vacuum and impact on the GOP, E.J.?

DIONNE: No. I think they're still going to have a fight in the Republican Party. I don't think Steve Scalise is going to step down. Indeed other candidates are showing up. Paul Ryan didn't want to be speaker, and I think he's going to go home and say, boy, I wish I hadn't been speaker. He ended up looking like Trump's enabler all the way through this, and he did that to get a tax cut. He got a tax cut. I don't think it was worth it.

KELLY: Guy, what do you think - legacy of Paul Ryan for the GOP?

BENSON: Well, I think one of them is tax reform, which I'm supportive of, and I'm glad that it happened. One of it also - or one of the items would be his leadership on entitlement reform which passed the House but never was actually adopted by the Senate or signed into law. And while Ryan - I think his heart was in the right place on limiting the size and scope of government and getting our long-term spending under control, ultimately on his watch as speaker - (laughter) deficits heading back up towards and beyond a trillion dollars a year. I think that's something that he's probably going to look back on and regret.

KELLY: That's Guy Benson, editor of townhall.com, and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Thanks to you both for sorting through another crazy week in Washington.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BENSON: Thank you.

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