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How Trump Responded To The Russian Indictments And Florida School Shooting

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

To talk more about what these developments in the Russia investigation might mean politically, I am joined in the studio by Ana Kasparian. She's the co-host and producer for the online news network The Young Turks. Welcome.

ANA KASPARIAN: Thank you.

MCEVERS: And John Phillips, political commentator for CNN and a columnist for the Orange County Register, hi.

JOHN PHILLIPS: Good afternoon.

MCEVERS: All right, so let's start with the news of the day, these indictments that were announced by the Justice Department. President Trump has repeatedly called claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 election fake news, right? In a statement today, he said in part, it's time we stop the outlandish, partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, farfetched theories which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors like Russia and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions. So what do you make of that statement, John?

PHILLIPS: Well, I don't know if you're aware of this, Kelly, but our president has a bit of an ego, and he thinks that constant references to Russia's involvement or noninvolvement in the election takes away from his victory. I think it's time to step away from that. I think this is mostly a good news day for him with a little bit of bad news.

The good news is if you listen to what Rod Rosenstein said, he said that they did not alter the outcome of the election. He also said - they suggest that no Americans knew that they were dealing with Russian operatives. That is very good news for the president, shows no proof of collusion at least with these people.

MCEVERS: Yeah.

PHILLIPS: But I would move away from saying that the Russians didn't try to alter the election or tried to get involved in the election because we now have...

MCEVERS: Right.

PHILLIPS: ...Enough proof that says...

MCEVERS: And focus on the specifics.

PHILLIPS: They did.

MCEVERS: Now...

PHILLIPS: So move away from that position.

MCEVERS: Right. And we should be careful about what Rod Rosenstein did say, though, right? He was like, you know, no Americans were connected with what - the crimes that are alleged in this indictment.

PHILLIPS: Yes.

MCEVERS: Right. So that doesn't - that isn't some, like, blanket sort of, you know, statement that there are no Americans involved in anything ever. We'll see where that goes. Ana, but what do you think? What do you make of Trump's statement?

KASPARIAN: Well, I actually do agree with John quite a bit that Trump is really obsessed with his ego, and he hates the fact that there are people who think that Russians influenced the election and that the outcome would have been different if Russians weren't involved. So of course he's going to call it fake news. But we know without a shadow of a doubt that there were Russian nationals who were posing as certain activist groups here in the United States like Black Lives Matter in order to spread disinformation, in order to lead to divide in the United States.

And my argument in regard to this whole Russia story has always been that regardless of Trump and this past election, we need to do something to prevent this from happening in the future. I don't care if you're Democrat. I don't care if you're Republican. We need to make sure that, you know, people in other countries don't have any impact on our elections.

MCEVERS: Right. I was so surprised to hear that this organization that's named in this indictment today was, like, staging rallies. I mean, that's really specific claims. But when you talk about this idea of, like, not letting it happen again, there's a lot of people who say, well, you need a national strategy - right? - to do that for the midterms this year, for the presidential election in 2020. How do you do that if the president will not say that you need to do that, right? How do you get that done, John?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think that there are certain things that you can specifically not do. I wouldn't allow, for example, voting on the Internet. I would go back to paper ballots because paper ballots can't be tampered with by foreign agents. I would also note that this isn't the first time the Russians have gotten involved in American elections. You can go all the way back to the Kennedy assassination, where Russia is responsible for a lot of the conspiracy theories that have gone out. They've also done it in other countries.

MCEVERS: Interesting - Ana?

KASPARIAN: Yeah, and the argument that I hear time and time again from people who want to defend the Russians is that, well, the United States has tried to meddle in, you know, other elections in other countries. That's not an excuse. It, you know...

MCEVERS: That doesn't get us anywhere, yeah.

KASPARIAN: Right. And yes, the United States deserves criticism for meddling in other elections, but that doesn't mean that we should give foreign nationals the opportunity to meddle in ours. One quick comment I want to make about doing something or having a strategy in place - you know, I have very little hope when it comes to that. Like, we have a Congress right now that's fundamentally broken. They can't pass any legislation or come up with any strategy that they agree on. And I see this Russia issue being a problem in the mid-term elections and elections to come.

MCEVERS: Right. When everything is so partisan - right? - when everything is, like - it either falls on this side or that side, how do you actually get something done? That's the question. John, of course you have the answer for that.

(LAUGHTER)

PHILLIPS: Well, I think a lot of it is going to be dependent on how much the Democrats use it in the midterm elections. If you listen to people like Adam Schiff and others associated with those committees, some of the campaigns - the congressional campaigns in purple districts here in California - they're beating the drum on the Russia issue a lot. In other parts of the country - you go to the Middle West, those red states that President Trump won that have very vulnerable Democrats running for re-election - they want to talk about anything other than Russia...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

PHILLIPS: ...Because the issue just doesn't resonate in those places.

MCEVERS: Right. Ironically, in elections that could be tampered with (laughter) by Russians at some point if you listen to officials. I want to talk about another really polarizing issue. And of course it's the shooting this week at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and the conversations that inevitably happen after an event like this. Earlier today I talked to a student from the school. His name's Cameron Kasky. I just want to - let's listen to what he had to say.

CAMERON KASKY: To those who say we can't politicize this, they don't understand that if we don't politicize it, no action is going to come from this. We need to start moving now. And as much as we love thoughts and prayers, we don't need them from our lawmakers. We need action. And we demand it, and we're going to get it.

MCEVERS: Obviously, you know, an impassioned kid - he's been through a lot. But does he reflect a larger political reality? I mean, most people who are polled say they want some kind of limits on guns, but so far nothing has happened. Now we're starting to see the kids are getting angry. I mean, are politicians going to start listening, Ana?

KASPARIAN: I'm not sure whether politicians are going to start listening. I think they are listening, but I am hesitant to say that certain politicians will do anything about it because of, you know, the corruption that takes place. When the NRA is funding your campaign and giving you, you know, millions of dollars, are you likely to pass gun legislation or support it? No, and I think that's the reason why we see members of Congress refusing to do anything. They immediately find a different scapegoat like mental health, and then they never do anything to fund mental health care.

And so I think that that student is absolutely correct. And the idea that you can't politicize this issue is ridiculous. Imagine someone saying the same thing after a hurricane strikes. And then politicians come out and say or anyone comes out and says, we need to fund FEMA. Is that a bad idea? Do you talk about funding FEMA a year down the road? It's insane.

MCEVERS: John?

PHILLIPS: There's certainly outrage on both sides of the aisle, but Democrats have different prescriptions than Republicans as to how to deal with it. You're seeing a lot of Republicans come down hard on the FBI. They had two different tips that they should have acted on. They didn't. The Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, has called on the resignation of the FBI director. I suspect you'll hear more of that.

MCEVERS: John Phillips and Ana Kasparian, thank you so much to both of you. It's good having you.

KASPARIAN: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.