Week In Politics: U.S. Talks With North Korea And Trump's FBI Narrative
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
So is this the end of President Trump's deal-making with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, or could the summit still happen? To discuss these and other questions from the week in politics, we're joined now by Kimberly Atkins of the Boston Herald and Reihan Salam of the National Review and The Atlantic. Welcome to both of you.
KIMBERLY ATKINS: Hi. Thank you.
REIHAN SALAM: Thanks for having us.
SHAPIRO: I want to start with a line from President Trump's book "The Art Of The Deal" where he writes, the worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you're dead. Reihan, do you think that's what happened this week with President Trump and North Korea?
SALAM: It's hard to say. There is one alternative narrative, which is simply that if you're looking at the Republican foreign policy community, there has always been deep skepticism about the wisdom of precipitously pursuing a summit with North Korea without doing a great deal of legwork partly because the North Koreans have dangled concessions in the past without actually delivering much in the way of meaningful concessions. So that's why there has been a real sigh of relief among many who take a more hawkish view on North Korea.
On the other hand, the president had promised to be unconventional, had promised to break with old patterns in various ways. And so that's one thing that seems to have changed. He seems to have pulled back arguably for the best but in a way that certainly does remove some of the luster of his promise to offer a different kind of diplomacy.
SHAPIRO: Kimberly, what's the narrative you offer? I mean, everybody was taken by surprise when this letter came out yesterday morning. Allies weren't notified. There were still Americans in North Korea. What's the narrative that you give this?
ATKINS: Yeah, I mean, it could be a lot of things. It could be a matter of the president, you know, playing a little gamesmanship. As he said just today, everybody plays games with this sort of negotiation. He might be taking the same approach he took in his New York real estate deals - sort of, you know, if the deal doesn't look good, walk away and see if that gives you more leverage. I mean, from the beginning, he's been taking an unconventional approach to this. And, you know, he probably sees in Kim someone who negotiates in a lot of ways that he does - with bluster and threats and then sort of trying to come to the table. So it could be a matter of that.
It could also be the fact that the United States is realizing that they did not have the same definition of denuclearization that North Korea did and that North Korea was in no - it has no interest in a fast denuclearization without getting anything in return. They want something that's more incremental and long-term and in exchange for something that looks a lot like the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump hates. So that might be a reason for pulling back as well.
SHAPIRO: Speaking of pulling back, I want to look at some of the headlines this week on Trump's deal-making. The New Yorker says today "President Trump Is A Better Dealbreaker Than Dealmaker." The Financial Times has "Trump's Art Of The Self-harming Deal." In The New York Times, it's "An Artless Negotiation From The President Who Penned 'The Art Of The Deal.'" And that column is actually about China, not North Korea. So, Reihan, how does this cancellation of the summit with North Korea fit into the bigger picture of the Trump presidency?
SALAM: Well, it's hard to say right now because, for example, it is possible that the fact that the president is seeking to stay engaged with the North Koreans could mean actually a more cautious, deliberate approach in which you have low-level summits, in which you actually prepare the groundwork for a bigger deal, in which case this could wind up turning out pretty well longer-term. However...
SHAPIRO: Do you think that's likely to happen?
SALAM: You know, it's hard to say. What I will say, however, is that this might also weaken the prospect for putting maximum pressure on North Korea by making it seem as though North Korea is the victim, that North Korea actually was trying to make a good-faith effort, a spurious claim but a claim that they could make perhaps. And that in turn would lead the Chinese and the Russians and other parties who are incredibly important to - ultimately leading to a successful outcome. It could lead them to actually be more permissive vis-a-vis the North Koreans, which would give the United States and its allies less leverage. So it's very hard to say right now.
SHAPIRO: Kimberly, what do you think? Does President Trump need some kind of a deal that he can point to, anything beyond the tax cut bill?
ATKINS: I mean, I think so. And particularly in this case, since he went out so strongly, really claiming victory before it was won, trying to best President Obama and charmed by Nobel Prize chance, I think walking away without getting anything in return here would look like a loss.
SHAPIRO: Let's pivot to the other big political story this week, the classified briefing with members of Congress about an FBI source who met with Trump campaign officials early in the Russia investigation. President Trump has been talking up this story a lot. Here's part of what he said this week as he was getting ready to board Marine One on the White House lawn.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I hope it's not so because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country.
SHAPIRO: Never been anything like it in the history of our country. Kimberly, do you think President Trump's effort to cast doubt on the FBI is working?
ATKINS: Well, it didn't work in the last 24 hours with this meeting that took place on the Hill with intelligence officials and Justice Department officials and members of Congress when it appears that really nothing was unveiled, no surprises even by the word of Mitch McConnell. And so in that case, it's really throwing a little cold water on this claim that something nefarious, let alone criminal, happened in the surveillance of his campaign.
Remember that the surveillance came about as a part of FISA warrants that were issued that are very difficult to get, particularly in a high-profile campaign. But I don't think that's going to stop the president from delivering this narrative so that he can discredit this investigation and whatever negative findings come out of it.
SHAPIRO: And, Reihan, this narrative is interesting because a lot of Democrats see the FBI as having thrown the campaign to President Trump. Here was something that former FBI Director James Comey said months after the election at a hearing before the Senate.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JAMES COMEY: Look; this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision.
SHAPIRO: So, Reihan, how do you interpret President Trump's attacks on the FBI that Democrats had been attacking not long ago?
SALAM: Well, what we know is that President Trump is a very impetuous figure. He often reacts emotively, immediately, rashly to criticisms and what have you. But what I'm struck by is this - there are a number of Democrats who now believe that this relentless focus on the Mueller investigation, on the possibility of collusion with Russia, et cetera, is actually far less advantageous for Democrats than a focus on bread-and-butter issues - on the state of the economy, on wage growth, on the prospects for health care and what have you.
And I must say, when you're looking at the fact that in the generic ballot House Democrats seem to be doing somewhat worse than they had been months earlier, it doesn't seem ridiculous to me. So perhaps President Trump is trying to bait his opponents into focusing on this story rather than on other stories that might prove more damaging for Republican political prospects. It's really hard to say.
SHAPIRO: Do you think he's that canny?
SALAM: Well, I think that he is very shrewd about creating media firestorms and about driving the news cycle. So in that sense, I think...
SHAPIRO: Kimberly, you're nodding your head yes.
SALAM: ...That he's pretty shrewd.
ATKINS: Yeah. He can read polls. And he's saying that people are losing faith in the Mueller investigation. And he's pushing that forward.
SHAPIRO: That's Kimberly Atkins of the Boston Herald and Reihan Salam of the National Review and The Atlantic. Thanks to both of you, and have a great weekend.
ATKINS: My pleasure.
SALAM: Thank you.
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