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Week In Politics: The Manafort Trial, Security Clearances And Omarosa's Book


The midterms and primary races in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont, former CIA Director John Brennan being stripped of his security clearance, and a tell-all memoir from an ex-White House staffer that has the president on edge.


OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN: If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear.

CORNISH: This was the week in politics. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times are our Friday regulars. Welcome back to you both.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good - lovely to be with you.

CORNISH: Well, let's start with that book. That was the voice of former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." She's on tour for her new book "Unhinged." You might have heard about this. She's been calling the president racist and in mental decline. David Brooks, the president's response to this has been to call her a "lowlife" and a "dog," these are quotes. What do you make of this?

BROOKS: Well, in the first place, it's interesting to see somebody who plays by Trump rules, which is to say no rules. She went into the White House assuming that people would lie and cheat and steal her - from her and so she prepared herself aggressively to do that. And so we're getting an education in amoral behavior. And that's true on all sides. I think she - she fits in with the Trump amorality. The deeper issue and the more real issue and the more dangerous issue is that she claims with, actually, compelling conviction that there's a tape out there with Trump saying the N-word. And I think...

CORNISH: And this is going back to his days taping "The Apprentice" episodes.

BROOKS: Right. And that - I think there are a lot of signs in the air these days that suggests we're about to have an election about race. And that our political divides will overlap with the racial divides, and that on one side we'll have a man leading a party with a long history of bigoted behavior. And that, I think, will get very ugly.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne, Manigault Newman has also said, quote, "I was complicit with the White House deceiving this nation." What do you make of what you she's had to say this week?

DIONNE: Well, I have to say that confession is always good for the soul. But - and it would normally raise a lot of questions about her credibility going forward. I agree with David, amorality is the right word here, and that's where the tapes come in. That the White House, under other circumstances, might say, well, if she said she lied, then how do you know she's telling the truth now? But these tapes have been quite devastating as she's released them.

Obviously, if there is some evidence that President Trump said the N-word, that would be devastating. And I think it says something about the behavior inside that White House, that it's a place where everyone seems paranoid. There's an old line about people stabbing each other in the front, and that's what seems to be happening in this White House. And the Omarosa episode has just highlighted that.

CORNISH: I want to talk about another former White House official John Brennan getting his security clearance yanked. It's generating fairly strong reaction - right? - including former top intelligence officials who have so - who have served in both party administrations. Why does an ex-official still need his security clearance? David Brooks, you're smiling.

BROOKS: It's a little mystifying to me. I don't have top security clearance. I'm - I seem to be fine....

CORNISH: You still talk on TV. Yeah.

BROOKS: I still talk on TV, even the radio sometimes. No, it's - you know, of all the transgressions that Trump has committed this seems to me, not the most serious. The reason the law is there that people get to keep their clearance after they leave office is in theory so they could give advice. And I don't think Brennan is giving advice to the Trump administration. Seems to me a little - a vanity thing. Now, it's a crime he's playing politics with something that used - should be above politics. But it doesn't seem to me one of the great felonies of the Trump era.

DIONNE: See, it may not be the most serious, we could have a couple-hour debate about that. But it is exceptionally revealing because he is using an authority to punish someone, A, because he criticized him. That's not a good use of presidential power. That is the autocratic side of Trump. But B, as he told The Wall Street Journal, he didn't like the fact that Brennan doing his job as CIA director started to uncover information about possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. So this is also a form of interference in the investigation - in the Muller investigation.

And what's troubling here is this won't hurt Brennan very much, but it could hurt the government. The reason those former officials have security clearances is so that people in the current administration can get advice, can exchange notes and find out - what did you do wrong that I can avoid? So it's all about Trump, and it doesn't serve any public interest at all.

BROOKS: Well, the first thing to be said is I always ask government officials and ex-government officials, do you consult the people who came before you? And it's astonishing how little they do. They all want to invent the wheel, all over again. They all think they're smarter than the people who came before. And that's especially true in this White House where they don't consult down. They don't consult out. They don't consult.

And so, you know, how much national security - I think it's the damage is done by the way the Trump people conduct their job which is very isolated. It's not particularly done by this. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but I just don't think it's something I'm getting my pants on fire about.

CORNISH: E.J., you brought up the Russia investigation. This leads me to talk about the case of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman. A jury is now deliberating his case. He's facing charges of 18 counts of tax and bank fraud. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Here's the president on that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. When you look at what's going on there - I think it's a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short time. But you know what? He had a very good person.

CORNISH: We're almost at the end of our time, gentlemen. But, David Brooks, did Paul Manafort come out of this trial looking like a very good person?

BROOKS: No, he hasn't looked like a good person for about 30 years. He's always been sort of on the fringe of his profession, at least in politics. He somehow got elevated to the center by Donald Trump.

DIONNE: And - you know, and the notion that Manafort didn't really work for Trump for a long time, he was campaign manager right into the convention. I mean, he was a very serious part of the Trump operation. There were, you know, two views of this trial. The general view among lawyers is that the prosecution piled up so much evidence, so much paper evidence and testimony that there's no way that this jury cannot convict Manafort of at least some of those counts.

I'm just very curious because the judge in the case has almost been a commentator with all kinds of side comments that were generally critical of the prosecution, which makes you wonder, did that have any impact on the jury? And the lead witness for the government, Rick Gates, was someone against whom the Manafort folks ran a negative political campaign. It was very Trumpian. And you wonder if that's going to undercut their case with the jury. So I think on the law and the evidence, he'd be guilty. But in the feel of the trial, I wonder where it's going to come out. I'm not sure.

CORNISH: David, I want to give the last word to you. Stakes for this White House, this obviously isn't - the case isn't about the Russia investigation, but it's kind of come up in this context.

BROOKS: Yeah. I don't think they're that high most of the stuff does not involve Trump stuff, it's other stuff Manafort was involved in. And, you know, I just was out in Ohio with Trump supporters. The support - and we've seen this in the primary results in Minnesota this week, the support for Donald Trump among the Republican Party is as solid as is possible to imagine.

DIONNE: However, that's leading them to nominate some pretty right-wing figures who - and who are often the weaker candidates in their states and a couple of big states Wisconsin and Minnesota. Democrats nominated some pretty mainstream figures. So it's going to be very interesting if the ardent support for Trump among Republican primary voters actually ends up hurting the party in the general election. That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.