War in Ukraine: airstrikes, drones and a looming counteroffensive
This week saw heightened tensions in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A wave of drone strikes hit the Russian capital Tuesday morning, bringing the war to Moscow for the first…
President Obama and Congress call for investigations into Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections. The Federal Reserve raises a key interest rate. And Yahoo says hackers stole personal data from more than one billion users in 2013. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama says the U.S. will retaliate for Russia's interference in the 2016 elections. Members of Congress are also calling for an investigation. On Twitter, President-elect Donald Trump blamed the White House for being slow to respond and questioned Russia's involvement. Trump's possible conflicts of interest continue as he prepares to take the Oval Office and the Fed raises a key interest rate for just the second time since the recession.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Ron Elving, senior Washington editor at NPR News, Molly Ball, staff writer at The Atlantic and Michael Scherer, Washington bureau chief at TIME. And throughout the hour, we'll welcome your questions and comments, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook. And it's good to see all of you.
MR. RON ELVINGThanks for having me.
MS. MOLLY BALLThank you.
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERGood to be with you, Diane.
REHMMolly Ball, we are hearing, over and over again, about all this Russian hacking. Now, Donald Trump says to President Obama, how come you're so late, if you're so worried about this? How do you read that?
BALLWell, first of all, it's not true that it was not raised before the election. The president himself did mention this issue before the election. However, you know, Donald Trump is in the same camp, actually, as a lot of Democrats on this who do feel that the White House downplayed and slow-rolled the information that was coming in about the Russian hacking. There was an incredibly comprehensive investigation by the New York Times this week that showed that the information was very slow to reach the highest levels, that a lot of people did not take seriously the initial signals they were getting about these cyber attacks.
BALLAnd that the agencies had a hard time coordinating, realizing what was going on, realizing the urgency of it and taking it to the top levels. So by the time the president knew, it was already well out of hand. And then, the president was quite reluctant to seem to be interfering politically, to seem to be putting a thumb on the scale for Hillary Clinton. The administration believed that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election anyway and so the idea that this cyber attack might actually sway the election results was not something that seems to have occurred to them.
REHMMichael Scherer, a mistake on the part of the White House?
SCHERERI think if they were to have it to do over again, they would've been more aggressive. I think part of it was colored by the fact that the president and the White House thought Hillary Clinton was going to win so there wasn't much risk in the immediate term and they could deal with this further out. I think, right now, there's two separate dramas going on. There's the original hacking and what the U.S. response will be to that and then there's the drama around Donald Trump's refusal to acknowledge the intelligence that Russia was behind this.
SCHERERHis public statements, which are basically picking a fight with his own spy services, he told us in an interview a week ago that he thought the intelligence analysis that Russia was behind this was politically motivated, which is quite a charge for an incoming president to make. And this is going to come to a head, both because President Obama still has several weeks left in which to take action against Russia to his making moves that will probably lead to the declassification of a lot of this intelligence.
SCHERERSo there'll be a public reckoning. And on Congress, where key members -- key Republican members of Congress have made very clear that if, you know, President-elect Trump's nominees for key spots like secretary of state say the same things Trump's saying, which is we don't know who did this, you know, maybe it was Russia, maybe it wasn't, I don't believe the intelligence, they're not going to vote for those nominees. And so the nomination fights next year could turn into a debate over what Trump is not acknowledging.
ELVINGBut then, we will be in 2017 and for now, a couple of pieces of context here, obviously the Trump forces do not want to make too much of all these accusations when the Electoral College has not yet voted and that's going to happen on Monday. Presumably, after that, they will be breathing just a little bit easier about whether or not there would be any defections among his electors. Then, on top of that, when you go back over this whole campaign and you wonder why did the White House not and why did the White House do this and not this other thing, and why weren't they more aggressive, anything that had email in it was a bad story for the Democrats in 2016.
ELVINGA bad story for Hillary Clinton. If you talked about how the Russians were getting into the DNC and all of these other Democratic campaigns as they were, it would have suggested, at least notionally, to a lot of people that that happened because of her private email server. We don't have any evidence to that effect. None whatsoever. But that was the subliminal message that was being sent every time anybody talked about email.
REHMSo today, President Obama is holding his last news conference of the year. Do you believe he will, in any way, address the question of electors and whether they should be given the intelligence information that has been gathered on Russian hacking before they vote?
BALLI have -- I don't know. There is a sense, coming out of the White House, that the president has been deeply disturbed by some of this stuff. His approach to the transition up to now has been to make it as orderly as possible, has been to make it as smooth and as normal as possible in an attempt to contribute to national stability and maybe even give him some ability to advise Donald Trump and turn the new administration in a way he feels is constructive.
BALLBut there is a sense that he has been disquieted by a lot of these revelations in a way that may lead him to speak out in an extraordinary fashion. Now, I would expect him to speak out publically about the hacking. I tend to doubt that he would validate some of these more far-fetched efforts that are out there to, you know, give security briefings to the electors, as the Clinton campaign has called for or call on the electors to change their vote. I still see that as a pretty remote possibility.
BALLBut this is certainly a year in which I have declined to predict, that anything possible could happen.
SCHERERYou know, the president has not engaged in this narrative that electors should stand up and overturn the vote based on the character qualities of Donald Trump or based on other events. So that's, I think, one of the reasons that this is unlikely. I think also it's clear from President Obama's comments since the election that while he thinks things like the letter from FBI director James Comey, you know, played some role in the election and why he would say that the Russian hacking played some role in the election, I don't think he has concluded or stated that Donald Trump is the president-elect because Russia did it.
REHMBut on the other hand, shouldn't the American public be given this information? Shouldn't every single voter have an idea of exactly what's gone on here?
SCHERERWell, the president has started that process. He's asked for a report that will be done before he leaves office and in all likelihood, either there will be a declassified version of that report, with some details about what exactly the intelligence is that Russia was behind this and if there's not a declassified version that comes out, we've already seen leaks this week. It's almost certain that more of that information will leak out as more people get briefed about it. So I think that is a priority for the administration. It's just not tied to the Electoral College vote.
REHMIs this fair to the American electorate, Ron?
ELVINGI don’t think anything about what the Russian involvement in this election, interference of the Russian government in this election, anything about that is fair. Obviously, that was an attempt to undermine out democratic operation, to discredit the way people are chosen in this country. We have been extremely critical of the way that Vladimir Putin has installed himself in, more or less, permanent power in Russia and this is his revenge.
ELVINGI don't think it's fair, either, that the Electoral College meets without full information and the Electoral College also has the concern of, let's not forget, they are voting for someone who didn't win the popular vote. I mean, it's going to be 2.8, 2.9 million, maybe a little bit more. That is five or six times greater than any other discrepancy we've seen between the winner of the popular vote and the winner of the Electoral College. That's a whole separate discussion, having nothing to do with the Russians. And what is the fairness in that particular connection?
REHMWhat about member of Congress? And they going to ask for action prior to that of the White House, Molly?
BALLNot prior, I don't think, but we do already see calls for a bipartisan -- bipartisan calls for an investigation into this issue from the Senate. And that means that, you know, once Trump assumes office and once you have large Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, this isn't going away and it won't be swept under the rug. I think that was the real possibility if you didn't have Republicans also calling for an investigation into this and that is what we are seeing, Lindsey Graham, John McCain most vocally, but many Republicans in the Congress who have long viewed Putin as a dangerous and destabilizing actor want to get to the bottom of this, even if their president doesn't.
BALLAnd the fact that the -- and the intelligence community as well is not going to drop this issue and I think has been somewhat inflamed by the president-elect's refusal to listen to them. There's a possibility that, you know, if Trump sort of declares war on the intelligence community, as he's sort of done, they can declare war back on him and I don’t think they're going to drop this issue.
REHMMolly Ball, a staff writer for The Atlantic. Short break here and when we come back, we'll talk about election recounts. They are now over. What they've shown us if anything. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. And just to follow up on our earlier discussion about Russia and its alleged involvement in the U.S. election, we have a caller who says, please explicitly connect how the hacking affected the election. Do we know, Molly?
BALLWell, we know what was done by the hackers, which was the stealing of information from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Committee, and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. So they hacked into the email and email servers of actors around -- in and around the Clinton campaign, looking for damaging information or anything that could be cast in a negative light, and then releasing this information in dribs and drabs, hoping for the most sort of pickup possible and, you know, allowing the media to turn this in to stories from inside the Clinton campaign.
BALLI wrote some of those stories. Some of them shed interesting light on the inner workings of a presidential campaign. A lot of it was sort of weaponized and was put in campaign commercials by Republicans and so on. And so we can't know what effect that had.
REHMAnd totally dis...
BALLVoters certainly came away with a negative impression of Hillary Clinton, that that probably contributed to. But we'll never be able to measure the exact effect of those particular revelations, along with everything else that happened in this election.
SCHERERYeah, that's right. We don't know the vote cost. But we do know that for the final months of the campaign or weeks of the campaign, what was in WikiLeaks that day was a central part of what Donald Trump said every time he got up on the stump. And we know also that some of those emails contained secrets, including the speech transcripts from Hillary Clinton's talks at, you know, Wall Street banks, that the Clinton campaign did not want out because it would be damaging to them. And then it got out. And then it was used to hammer her.
REHMAnd that was the story every single day.
ELVINGAnd it was a highly inter-woven narrative, where you had Donald Trump at one point actually saying, Russia, are you listening? Maybe you can find those 30,000 missing emails of Hillary Clinton's. And so the implication of that was -- and, again, this sort of subliminal message that was being sent throughout all these months was that something really big, really huge, really nefarious was going on with that private email server. And that if they didn't get her with Benghazi, which they tried for years to hang around her neck, they were going to get her with the vague and never really specific accusations surrounding the private email server, which was something she shouldn't have done. She acknowledged it was a mistake.
ELVINGIt came close to being on the level of an indictable offense in the handling of classified information. But after a remarkably thorough scrubbing by the FBI, which does not appear to be an agency particularly enamored of Hillary Clinton, the decision was reached by the FBI director not to indict her -- not once, but twice. So that, in the end, was a dry hole in and of itself. But you could generate from that, these penumbras I believe is the term they used in the Supreme Court, these emanations of some kind of guilt, some kind of really bad thing that was going on somewhere. And that remained the central critique of Hillary Clinton throughout 2016.
BALLI will say, in the immediate aftermath of her election loss, the Clinton campaign was much more fixated on the Comey letters. They really believed that the tipping point in her slippage in the final weeks of the campaign had much more to do with James Comey's public statements about the reopening or rehashing of the investigation into her emails. They thought that was a much more damaging story. So I think now there's much more conversation about the Russian hacking because more information is coming out and because it is so shocking.
BALLBut in terms of the factors that the campaign looked back on as losing them votes immediately, they really believed that it was the Comey letter, not the stories about John Podesta's emails, that really cost them votes.
REHMAll right. And on that point, we have a caller in North Carolina. Tom would like to comment on that very issue. Go ahead, Tom.
TOMYes, thank you. When they investigate the Russian hacks, they should also investigate the FBI. Clinton had just won the third debate and there was every indication that she would still win, despite the Russian interference. Then Comey came out with the letter about the new emails. And was done -- this was done over the objection of the Justice Department. There were also FBI leaks to the Republican Party or officials at least two days before the Comey announcement. Thank you. And thank you for being on the air so many years. I've certainly enjoyed having your comments.
REHMThanks, Tom. I appreciate it. Go ahead, Ron.
ELVINGWhen the full story is told of the struggles internally in the Justice Department, particularly within the FBI, about how to handle Hillary Clinton in 2016, it is going to make quite a story indeed. There were apparently differences between agents in the New York office and agents in Washington, higher ups. Let's also throw into the mix, the extraordinary event of Bill Clinton deciding he wanted to visit the airplane of Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, as it sat on the tarmac in Phoenix. And this all starts to sound like it's awfully down in the weeds. But all these things are kind of connected, because they're like dominos.
ELVINGAnd if Bill Clinton hadn't done that, in all likelihood Janet Lynch would have said, when the FBI has reached its conclusion, please report to me and I will make a public announcement. She couldn't do that after the Bill Clinton visit, because it would have looked as though she were complicit in some sort of cover-up. So she turned it over to James Comey, who decided to handle it in a particular way, which was highly, highly visible and highly condemnatory, right up to the point of saying, but I'm not going to indict her because no prosecutor would take the case.
ELVINGAnd then we got the next six months and we were talking about all of these things, the Comey letter, the this leak, the that leak. It was all about her and her email and how she was somehow, in some sense or another, surreptitiously doing something she shouldn't.
BALLWe don't know if Donald Trump's FBI will keep James Comey or if he will decide to stay. That's a significant question mark. It does seem doubtful to me that the FBI, under President Trump, would investigate itself or be subject to an external investigation by someone else in the administration. But one thing that Trump has backed off on is his vow before the election that he would put Hillary Clinton in prison. He said, pretty much immediately afterward, that that was just a political ploy and that he had no plans to do that.
SCHEREROne interesting thing on that point is, if Trump keeps Comey and Comey decides to stay, the rationale for Comey coming out publicly, writing a letter to Congress saying he was reopening the investigation, was to maintain the trust of Congress. He had made not explicit promises, but he had told Congress that he would keep them informed if the investigation continued. He said it was basically closed at that point. The rationale Comey had for going -- doing that letter I think anticipated, whether Clinton won or Trump won, that if the FBI would continue to have to tangle with the next administration. And in doing that, he would need allies in Congress.
SCHERERAnd so I think Comey was making a bet that even if he was going to have an effect that was unsavory on the election in the fall, it was more important for him to maintain his relationship with Congress. So I think it'll be interesting to see. There are certainly going to be, it looks like, reasons for investigation of Trump's business dealings or his family's business dealings once he takes office that the FBI could choose to get involved with. It's very possible that a year from now we're talking about an FBI investigation that Trump's very unhappy with. And we'll, again, have this tension between the separations of power.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Mr. Trump's cabinet picks, Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Why did Donald Trump nominate him?
ELVINGDonald Trump was looking for someone who would be the symbol of his cabinet and the symbol of his government and the symbol of Donald Trump when that person traveled overseas and spoke for the United States. So this was an extraordinarily important symbolic choice for Donald Trump. I think that is one of the reasons why, after interviewing Mitt Romney, he said he looks just like a secretary of state, straight from central casting. And to some degree, in building this cabinet, Donald Trump has been more casting a play, in a sense, or casting a movie if you will, or possibly casting an episode of celebrity apprentice. Because a number of these people are very well known, but not necessarily for doing the job that they're about to be doing.
ELVINGYou have the famous case of Ben Carson, for example, who is a very famous surgeon, a pediatric surgeon of great note and renown. And he's going to be in charge of housing and urban development. So that's what I mean.
REHMBut on the other hand, is Rex Tillerson qualified to be secretary of state?
BALLWell, on the one hand, it is almost unprecedented for there to be a secretary of state who hadn't previously served in government and the bureaucracy and diplomacy at some level. On the other hand, he's basically been conducting his own foreign policy for his tenure as the CEO of Exxon. I mean, this is giant, multinational company. He meets with heads of state. He has to know the lay of the land in terms of different countries.
BALLAnd he certainly knows Russia very well. He's known to be one of the Americans with the most access to Vladimir Putin and has been quite friendly to Putin in advancing -- in the course of advancing the interests of Exxon, which there's a lot of oil for them to get in Russia and they would like to. And the sanctions get in their way in that.
BALLSo we don't know much about his actual worldview. We know that he's been very good at advancing the interests of his oil company, whatever that takes in terms of diplomacy. But we don't really know what he believes in and whether he's on the same page as Trump with his sort of America first philosophy. Trump's trade policies could create a lot of international conflicts that the secretary of state would then have to deal with. Tillerson was a Jeb donor in the primaries, which suggests that he's a little bit more of a conventional Republican.
BALLBut he hasn't made a lot of public statements about his foreign policy philosophy.
REHMAny questions regarding confirmation that could get in the way?
SCHERERSo it's generally very difficult to block a cabinet pick, especially if the same party as the president controls the Senate. That said, I think Lindsey Graham has said publicly that if Mr. Tillerson says that he doesn't support sanctions on Russia, something he opposed when he was the chairman of -- or the CEO of Exxon, then he would not support him. He's, you know, Lindsey Graham has also said that he is waiting to hear from Mr. Tillerson that he believes the intelligence and that Russia was behind this hack, something Trump has not said.
SCHERERSo there are scenarios in which, you know, you could see some Republicans coming out against Tillerson that would be enough to sink him. But this will ultimately be up to him. If he answers the questions correctly, it's going to be very difficult. And if there's not a skeleton in his closet. That's the other thing we don't know. There's going to be a big investigation of his record of what Exxon did. If things come out that look unsavory, that could also be a problem.
ELVINGRex Tillerson emerged as something of a dark horse in this competition. We were hearing about Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John Bolton, a highly unpopular figure with Congress, a lot of other names went by. And then suddenly Tillerson emerged and within hours he seemed to be the front runner and then he was actually named, even though we were already into the Russian story, and even though Rex Tillerson is an "order of friendship", quote, unquote, friend of Vladimir, which got him another, you know, negative tweet from Marco Rubio, another vote he'll need.
ELVINGSo Rex Tillerson is a very serious person. He has risen through the ranks of an enormous company, 70,000 employees, 50 countries. He does have his own foreign policy, somewhat at odds with American foreign policy. But if he handles himself in those hearings as well as his fans -- and by the way, that includes people like James Baker and Condi Rice and other folks from the Bush administration -- if he handles himself well in those hearings, he could emerge as the star -- the early star of the new cabinet.
REHMWhat about Rick Perry for the Department of Energy? And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." That appointment.
BALLWell, I will not be the first to note that the Department of Energy was the third cabinet department that Perry couldn't come up with when he had his famous oops moment. He was naming the three departments he'd like to eliminate. So on the one hand, you know, Perry has been the governor of -- the long-time governor of the nation's largest energy-producing state. The oil -- he knows the oil and gas industry. He's got a lot of experience in Texas with energy.
BALLOn the other hand, you know, the liberal critics of a lot of these appointments have been saying, he said he wanted to eliminate this department, you know, the secretary of education, who doesn't seem to believe in the public schools. You have an EPA head who seems to want -- whose political philosophy seems to be against everything that is in the EPA's mandate. So there's a pattern of these appointees seeming to want to eviscerate the mission of the agencies or departments that they're being selected to run. That is an interesting philosophical statement. It's in keeping with a lot of conservative philosophy that does believe that these government agencies are somewhat out of control and have done too much.
SCHERERIn the final weeks of the campaign, at one point Trump said, I'm a conservative, but who cares? And his point was that he was running as something else. He had this populace message. He wanted big infrastructure spending. He tried to reach out to Democrats and Bernie Sanders supporters. What I think has been most striking about these cabinet appointments is how conservative they are pretty much across the board. You know, the -- you look at Betsy DeVos in education or Pruitt or Andrew Puzder at labor, these are people who are more conservative than I think Jeb Bush would have picked or Marco Rubio would have picked had they won the nomination. They're on the edge of the sort of mainstream of Republican policy.
SCHERERAnd I think it's notable that, you know, while we don't actually know how President-elect Trump will govern, he is turning over his agencies to real conservative ideologues, either because, you know, he cares more about the casting and the personalities, or because, you know, he just believes what he said, which is if you cut regulation and cut taxes, the economy is going to take off.
BALLWell, and according to my sources, the person more or less running the transition is Mike Pence, the vice president-elect. And he is someone who is a strong ideological conservative. He is someone who would have known who all these people were. I don't think Donald Trump knew who all these people were before some of them were presented to him. So Trump, of course, is making the final decisions, especially when it comes to the really big names, like the secretary of state. But in a lot of these agencies where it's a more philosophical choice, that's where you're seeing the stamp of Mike Pence.
ELVINGOne way that some of these people might function is as heat shields. Because when Donald Trump goes to make the deal, as he will do in virtually every case, to whatever ends he wants to pursue, he's going to need somebody to have his back with the people who voted for him and for also the people in Congress, like the people that Mike Pence knows so well from Congress. And these are folks who he can almost -- take Tom Price at the Department of Health and Human Services -- whatever deal, in the end, Donald Trump cuts on Obamacare, he's going to have Tom Price to go sell it to the House for him. He will have the perfect people to sell his policies, whatever they turn out to be, to the people he is most concerned about having his back on the right.
REHMDo you believe there will be pushback during these confirmation hearings?
BALLThere will be a lot of pushback from Democrats. But they don't have very much power. And given that any one of these nominees would make liberals' heads explode across the board, it's going to be difficult for them to pick their battles.
REHMMolly Ball of The Atlantic. Short break here. We'll go to the phones when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Lots of questions raised about conflicts of interest for this particular President-elect. There was some talk that the GSA was saying that Donald Trump would be in conflict with rules unless he cut his own ties to the new Trump Hotel here in Washington. What was that about, Ron?
ELVINGWell, apparently, you can't be a federal employee or an elected official and hold the lease on a federal building. And this is still a federal building, the old post office. And it's an iconic building, it's a landmark, it now has Trump on it. And it's extraordinarily difficult to separate it, in everyone's mind, from Donald Trump. But there's probably going to have to be some sort of legal nicety struck here where he, in some sense or another, divests himself of whatever ownership he has and he is no longer the person on the lease.
ELVINGOr neither he nor any company that he still has an ownership stake in is the owner on the lease. I'm not sure that this is going to be his stickiest wicket, because there are going to be just so many. It's a forest.
ELVINGIt's a forest.
ELVINGBut it's one that's highly visible and one that affects a lot of people right in D.C.
BALLWell, the many tentacles of Trump's billions of dollars of business involvements around the world create the potential for massive corruption. And that is the point of all these conflict of interest discussions. But Trump does -- Trump seems somewhat disinclined to take that seriously. He was supposed to have a press conference yesterday to talk about how he was going to handle this. He tweeted at one point that it would not be an issue because he would find a way to get the businesses out of his hands.
BALLThe idea of his children running the business while continuing to be close advisors to him politically does not solve the problem for many experts in this area. And so, you know, I think that Ron is right that the hotel is not the least of his worries, but only one part of this picture. And it will be interesting to see to what extent executive branch agencies like the GSA are able to enforce any rules against their boss. When it, when, you know, if Donald Trump doesn't like a ruling by the GSA, he will, as President, be able to simply fire the head of the GSA and get a new one who makes rulings he likes.
BALLAnd that's where you need the separation of powers. That's where you need -- the Executive Branch cannot necessarily be a check on itself. You need the other two branches, Congress and the judiciary to step up and check the Executive Branch.
SCHERERThe reason this is so complicated for President-elect Trump is that unlike other people, his business empire is so much a part of his identity. And that identity is built into this idea that he has taken over the company from his father, Fred Trump. The first person, I think, or one of the first people he thanked when he wins the election was Fred Trump. You know, sort of the idol of his life and he has built this company his whole life with the intent of handing it off to his children.
SCHERERAnd he's always talked about it that way. He's always seen it that way, and that is so deeply held as sort of a root core principal of his life. And so the most obvious solution to all of this would be to find a way to get ownership out of the family. And then you get rid of the conflict. Trump is trying, very clearly, to try and find a way to keep his children in control. And also, you know, to keep the identity of his companies as part of the family legacy. And it's a very difficult thing to slice, especially given all the foreign properties.
SCHERERAnd the potential for foreign interests to invest or give money or buy out a hotel in a way to earn favor which, you know, the US Constitution, in a clause that has really never been tested in court, because it never had to be, says very clearly, elected -- US officials cannot take emoluments from foreign, foreign, foreign powers.
REHMSo, where does that leave President-elect Donald Trump?
ELVINGIt leaves him in an absolute swamp of conflicts of interest all over the world in many different countries, where what he might want to pursue for his own company, and this is something that is really identity to him. It is truly part of his identity and it is so associated with his name. And the people he wants to hand it off to, Don Jr. and Eric are his sons. And he is also going to have family members installed in offices in the White House to do important things there. And the intermixing of his business interests, family interests, personal interests and the nation's interests is going to be something unlike anything we've ever seen before.
ELVINGAnd it's going to provoke lawsuits, it's going to provoke Congressional interest even though, obviously, as Michael has said, it's going to be hard for a lot of these Republicans to really get excited about investigating their new Republican President the way they were about investigating people in the past. So, it's going to be up to journalists and it's going to be up to lawyers and there are a lot of both categories of people getting very excited about doing this.
ELVINGIt's going to be up to those categories of people to put this before the public and say do you care? This used to be a big deal. Ethics used to be terribly important. Is it still?
BALLOne thing that we've learned about Donald Trump is that he believes that he is not subject to the normal rules. He believes that he can get away with things that a lot of people say he can't just by ignoring the critics. His MO throughout the campaign was when people, you know, clutched their temples and tore their hair out and said you can't do that. That's not the way it works. He would just say, well, I'm going to do it. And he would proceed and he would win anyway. So I think this may well be another case where he thinks he can just ignore what he believes are haters and losers.
BALLAnd the question is whether our American institutions are built to withstand that kind of defiance. That's what we're going to find our over the course of the Trump Administration.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones to Mark in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air.
MARKGood morning. Interesting conversation. I personally find Donald Trump to be a very scary individual. One of the things that hasn't been addressed by your panel as yet that I think is important. To my understanding, there's evidence that the Russians also hacked the Republican National Committee, yet no information about -- damaging to the Republicans ever showed up in any of those leaks, and I thought that was a particularly salient point in the argument that the Russians were deliberately attempting to influence the election. And I'd like to hear your panel's comments on that and I'll take my -- I'll listen to those off the air.
REHMThanks for calling. Michael.
SCHERERThere's a story in the Wall Street Journal this morning that sheds some light on what the attempts were at the RNC. And, and what they found after the DNC publicly revealed the hacks was that there were similar emails sent to at least one staff member at the RNC. But it wasn't successful in terms of getting into the system. So I think what we know is there was an attempt at Republicans. I think it is fair to say that, you know, the fact that not just the DNC and the Clinton campaign had emails hacked, but also the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had emails leaked strategically in key races around the country.
SCHERERThat, you know, the overwhelming weight of the disclosures was on Democrats. I mean, there were other Republican officials, Colin Powell had some of his emails leaked through a site that intelligence communities identified with Russia. So it's not like Republicans were absolved from attempts to hack, and in some cases leaked, but it's obvious that the overwhelming focus was on embarrassing Democrats.
REHMAll right. Do you want to add to that, Ron?
ELVINGOnly that the Wall Street Journal observed that they thought that the attempts to get after the Republicans and get at their stuff were not as aggressive or as persistent. The Republicans, of course, have said that they just were better at keeping people out of their stuff.
REHMThe Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is stepping down prior to January 20th. Tell me why and what this means, Michael.
SCHERERWell, it's, it's, it's traditional that the FCC turns over when an new administration comes on, but what makes this exceptional is that there are at least two big issues that impact consumers in a very real way that Chairman Tom Wheeler has taken on during his tenure. And all signs point to whoever Donald Trump puts in charge of the FCC, a significant reversal of those policies. And the two big issues are that there was an effort made by Wheeler to free people from having to rent or pay their cable companies for the set top boxes that their cable comes through.
SCHERERIt's like 230 bucks is the average fee that you pay if you get cable, just for the box that goes with your -- goes with your television. Technologically, that could all run through any number of devices or it could be built into the television, but cable companies basically have a monopoly on this. And it allows them to pad their profits and it hurts consumers because they have to pay more money for their cable. Chances are when Wheeler leaves, that rule will die.
SCHERERThe other one has to do with net neutrality, which is a long fight that's been had in Washington. And this is the idea that people who provide internet service to you, whether they're your cell phone company or, you know, the broadband -- the person who sends -- or, the company that sends broadband to your home can't give preference to certain content over others. And what that means is that, in theory, over time, that will make more competition between providers and will lower the costs of providing the service.
SCHERERAnd will also make it easier for new companies to provide new types of content. They can get into the business easily. You know, the merger that was announced between AT&T and Time Warner a few months ago would be a very different merger if net neutrality rules go away. Because ATT, in a new regime, if the net neutrality rules are not there, could simply say to its, its customers that if you want to watch "Game of Thrones" for free on your cell phone, the only provider you can see it on -- HBO is owned by Time Warner, is AT&T.
SCHERERAnd that then changes the whole game, that then the internet service providers become content producers and providers as well.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. One other appointment I wanted to ask you about is the President-elect's appointment as Ambassador to Israel. Ron Elving.
ELVINGYes, David Feinstein is, excuse me, David Friedman is Donald Trump's bankruptcy lawyer in New York and has been very close to him. And has a very strong interest in the issues of Israel and Palestine. And has mapped out some positions that a lot of American Jews find too hard line. Not just Netanyahu, but beyond. He has taken a position, many people have taken in this country, about, about moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be an irritant, to put it mildly.
ELVINGHe has also talked about annexing the West Bank outright. Certainly is a big fan of settlements on the West Bank. And this, this is contrary to what has been more or less the consensus policy of the United States over the last several administrations, which has been that there should be a two state policy, that there should eventually be a negotiated final settlement. Final agreement by which there was a Palestinian state somewhere, somehow, of some size and some construct. But that that was considered to be an ideal.
ELVINGThat would not seem to be a priority for this particular Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who has, of course, many yards to go before he actually has the job and it's all official. But this was another one of those shots across the bow that got a lot of attention in the last 24 hours.
BALLThat's right. The Trump foreign policy, as it's been carried out so far, has been a series of provocations. And this is a provocation. This is a step that previous Republican and Democratic administrations alike had declined to take, moving the embassy. But also taking these positions on settlements and so on. And it could have a lot of consequences toward any remaining hopes for any kind of, of, of peace talks. And it's also in keeping with, you know, Trump's, Trump's various phone calls, which may or may not have been intentional, to countries like Taiwan, Pakistan, things that he's said.
BALLThese have all been extremely provocative moves that may have far reaching reverberations in the world order. And we have yet to see how the rest of the world is going to get its head around a Trump Presidency, how they're going to position themselves, how they're going to react. If they're going to take every statement seriously, as the breach of protocol it would have been considered. Or if they're going to sort of decide that this is the new normal and requires an adjustment in their approach to the United States.
BALLBut he's clearly signaling that he intends to do exactly what he said he was going to do, which is discard the old rules and, and, and be very aggressive and assertive.
SCHERERI think, you know, Trump campaigned as someone who would disrupt the order, the old order, both Democrat and Republican. He's doing it internationally, you see him doing it domestically by calling out specific companies on Twitter or, you know, threatening United Technologies, the owner of that Carrier Plant in Indiana. He sees this all as strength. And we don't know how it's going to turn out and it's going to continue to be high drama, I think, at least for the first couple of years of his administration.
REHMAnd the last piece of news. The Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate, first time since the Great Recession.
SCHERERYes, and that was widely expected. The economy's been doing better. The unemployment rate is down, you know, close to what they call full employment. Even though that still means many people are unemployed. The news of that announcement was that the Fed indicated there would be, possibly three rate hikes next year, which has unsettled markets some. Raised the value of the dollar, could ironically hurt our export market, which, you know, could harm the Rust Belt if it -- if the dollar continues to stay so high.
SCHERERAnd also, the Fed Chair Janet Yellen cast some shade on the idea that the country needs stimulus now, new federal spending, big tax cuts in the way it did in 2009. She said basically that because we're close to full employment, the economic case for this is not the same. Which is an interesting shot across the bow, even though she explicitly said I'm not taking a shot across Donald Trump's bow, it was an interesting shot across the bow as Congress convenes next year to figure out exactly how big these tax cuts are going to be. What kind of infrastructure spending there's going to be.
ELVINGThe unemployment number maybe doesn't mean as much as it once did. In 2012, Barack Obama was re-elected President with the highest unemployment any President had ever been re-elected with. And now, four years later, we've got down to 4.6, which, as Michael says, is astonishingly low, for our time, breathtaking. Close to full employment. But it doesn't feel good to the people who feel they've been disadvantaged in this economy.
ELVINGFor five, 10, 15, maybe 50 years, really going back to, as Donald Trump has said, when America was great last, in the late 1950s. And even if it's, you know, some timeframe in between, and it's all dependent on how old you are, it, it, it just doesn't feel to people as though there's full employment at the kinds of jobs that they want in the kinds of places where they live. And that's been the problem for the Democrats the last several years. It's probably more important than the Russian hacking or James Comey or anything else in determining why Hillary Clinton lost the white working class and thereby the election on November 8th.
REHMRon Elving of NPR News. Molly Ball of the Atlantic. Michael Scherer of Time Magazine. I want to not only thank you for today, but for all the times you've been so gracious, so willing to come on to the Friday News Roundup.
BALLDiane, it is always a joy to be here with you. Thank you so much.
SCHERERThank you very much.
ELVINGIt's for us to thank you, Diane.
REHMThank you. And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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