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NRO’s Jonah Goldberg on All Things Trump

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HH: I’m joined by Jonah Goldberg of National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @JonahNRO, and the G-File is weekly musings about all things political and life, including his dogs available if you go to and find the Jonah file. And it will be posted tomorrow. But if you want it today, you have to sign up for the email. Good morning, Jonah.

JG: Good morning, Hugh. I sense the great disturbance inside the Beltway.

HH: There was (laughing)

JG: I knew you had to be here.

HH: I was here. Well, I wanted to warn you about the deer trap that had been laid for your dogs and you. It could have been the never never Trumpers. It could have been waiting, they could have put up a fake deer, and you didn’t look behind you at all.

JG: That’s entirely possible. Well you know, in 2016, I was attacked, literally attacked by a deer.

HH: I did not know that.

JG: So, oh yeah, no, it was terrible. A deer ran super fast straight into a huge cast iron gate, knocked the gate off the hinges, and nearly killed me, like did serious damage, cracked a rib. I mean, there was just, I was a mess. So I now, I have zero sympathy for deer.

HH: Okay, so (laughing) when deers attack.

JG: They’re vermin.

HH: All right, now Jonah, you and I have been going back and forth on Twitter about Rod Rosenstein. And by the way, first, let me get a reaction to the Mueller appointment. I have a column in the Washington Post praising it with great praise today, even though I was opposed to a special counsel. If they had told me it would be Mueller, I would have been applauding from day one. What do you think about it?

JG: As I said last night on Special Report, I think it’s a great idea, and I think it’s a really, really good opportunity for the Trump administration, because it basically puts the, at least in the medium, the short and medium term, because it basically puts all of the Russia chatter in a box. You know, all the idiot Democrats who are screaming impeachment, impeachment, impeachment, the standard response is we have to wait to see what Robert Mueller comes back with, and that could be two years from now. But even as Lindsey Graham said yesterday, even the Congressional investigations are going to have to somewhat throttle back to give Mueller some room. So this gives Trump some breathing room on a lot of this stuff to get back to his agenda, to talk about his agenda. The burning question is will he have the messaging discipline and the self-discipline just to do that, not attack Mueller, not do like the Clintons V. Ken Starr stuff, but just simply get back to his agenda and not tweet in rage about this stuff, because that will undermine whatever breathing space he’s gotten out of this.

HH: Now see, yesterday when he was asked about this, let’s play two clips. First of all, cut number two, Donald Trump at getting a question about Mueller and interference and obstruction, cut number two:

Reporter: I would like to get to the bottom of a couple of things, give you a chance to go on record here. Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back…

DT: No. No. Next question.

HH: Now then I want to jump to what James Comey himself, I brought this up with Ben Sasse two days ago, that Comey testified under oath on May 3rd and ought to have responded to Patrick Leahy or Richard Blumenthal when they asked him about special counsels. But I missed what Guy Benson found in the same testimony, this exchange with Senator Hirono from Hawaii with James Comey, cut number 7:

Hirono: Has the Attorney General or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation? Can they halt that FBI investigation?

JC: In theory, yes.

Hirono: Has it happened?

JC: Not in my experience, because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that without appropriate purpose. I mean, we’re often times they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there, and so you ought to stop investing resources in it. But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason. That would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.

HH: So Jonah, there’s a collusion lane, and there’s an obstruction lane. The President said no obstruction. You go back to James Comey. He says no obstruction. I just don’t think there’s an obstruction case here at all.

JG: Yeah, I’m between agnostic and pretty skeptical there’s an obstruction, because I think if there was an actual attempted obstruction, Comey wouldn’t, you know, Comey had to, you know, go public with it, turn it over to the Justice Department, say something at the time. So it has to be at most an ambiguous kind of suggestive thing. And without seeing the full memo in context, it could be that the word is briar to lay off Flynn or whatever he said, could have been. Of course, I don’t want to do anything to obstruct the investigation, but if it’s possible, it would be great if you could lay off Flynn, which puts it in a different context. I have been convinced from the first five minutes of that story that the reason why Comey or his team leaked the memo was sort of the same reason why heroin dealers give the first taste for free. It was to entice the Hill into subpoenaing him, calling him to testify, and open to explain what’s really in the memo, because that’s what Comey wants. I suspect that whatever he testifies to in open hearing is not going to be great for Trump, either politically or otherwise, but I don’t, I think you’re right that there’s very little reason right now to think there’s anything like an obstruction charge in the wings.

HH: And to put some icing on the cake, Lindsey Graham, no fan of the President, often said this, cut number 8:

LG: There is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians that I’ve seen as of this date. I do not believe the President himself is a target or subject of any criminal investigation as of right now. So that’s what I know right now. And where this goes, I don’t know. Follow the facts where they lead.

HH: Now I want all of the Comey memos, Jonah, and I don’t think it’s a trap. I want to establish who did he keep memos about and when did he keep them? Did he keep any about Hillary Clinton? Did he keep any about Loretta Lynch? I’ve already seen one of his associates said oh, he didn’t, he never kept any on President Obama, because he trusted him. So it’s not a pattern and practice. And sometimes, FBI directors like Mueller keep handwritten notes of an important engagement, but I get the feeling that Comey was laying in wait for this guy, and that he just, he was very suspicious of him, maybe legitimately, maybe not, but that I do think it’s a trap to call Comey. I don’t think it’s going to happen now because of Mueller’s appointment, but what do you make of the Comey notetaking and this whole kind of, as Brian Williams calls it, Eliot Ness complex that James Comey has?

JG: Yeah, well, I don’t know. I’ve seen contradictory stuff about how he’s taken, he takes notes about all sorts of stuff. I’m dubious. Let me put it this way. I think it is pretty damning if he never took serious notes relating to conversations with Obama. I mean, I think that would be pretty indicative that he did have some sort of agenda.

HH: Exactly.

JG: Yeah.

HH: Explain to people, because I think that’s what people don’t seem to get. There’s a probative value issue here if he doesn’t take notes, doesn’t take notes, doesn’t take notes, and then takes copious notes from day one with Trump. And explain that to people.

JG: Well yeah, no, look, and just because it just means his defense, or his defenders say well, he was just a, I must have heard Andrea Mitchell say it 500 times. He was a copious note taker. He memorialized meetings, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But if he only did it (laughing), if that is in fact not true, and he only did it with either Republicans or only with Trump, then it’s a sign that he was setting himself up to have leverage over Republicans or Trump. It seems to me if the practice is you always write down notes after talking with the president of the United States, and he did it with every president, then that’s a much different thing than just sort of laying in wait for Donald Trump. But we don’t know that, yet.

HH: We don’t know it. We don’t know it. We need to see it, which all leads me to Rod Rosenstein. On the morning of the Rosenstein memo being released, I went on Morning Joe and I said look, this is a complete reason for firing Comey. This is 100% fortuitous, perhaps, but the President got it, he could act. It turns out I’m 100% wrong. The President had already decided to fire Comey, had told them that. But he also told Rosenstein to write it up. I think that’s the direct quote.

JG: Right.

HH: And so what I think the easiest explanation, the simplest explanation always obtains, he’s sitting around, in his mind either explicitly or by innuendo, he says I’m going to fire Comey, and he asks for their opinion. And I don’t know what the AG says, but Rosenstein says yeah, I think he ought to go, because he usurped the prosecutorial authority of the Department of Justice. Independent and not connected to Trump’s reasoning, but not a pretext. And so you argue with me on this.

JG: Yes.

HH: And stick around through the break. Lay out your argument why you think it’s a pretext.

JG: Okay, right now?

HH: Yeah, and then we have a minute now, and then we’ll come back.

JG: When the, and it may not be a pretext that Trump wanted. It may be having to do with the incompetence or the unfair treatment to the communications shop of the White House, which was given like an hour to prepare the announcement that Comey had been fired. But the White House came out, Mike Pence came out on numerous occasions, and insisted that the White House followed the recommendation of the DAG. That’s why they did it. And on Morning Joe, I went back and looked at the quote. You pretty much say the same thing, that they followed the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, that that was why they did it. And the only reason I’m sort of, you know, hooked into this, is because I asked you that morning on Twitter, do you feel like you were misled, and you were like no, why would I feel like I’ve been misled, and I think you were misled. I think Mike Pence, it’s unclear whether he was misled, but the American people were misled. The White House lied to us.

HH: Now when we come back, I’ll explain why I was wrong, but I was not misled. Don’t go anywhere. Jonah Goldberg will be right back.

— – — –

HH: Jonah, this is why I’m making, focusing on this. I think it’s kind of emblematic of what happens in the age of Twitter. On the night of the firing, I turned in at like 9:00 at night, because I was on Morning Joe the next day. I had read the Rosenstein memo a couple of times. I go over to Morning Joe, I’m in the green room, I can’t work the TV. Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. finally comes in and figures it out. Honestly, if I was running the death star, I would have missed the planet. And so I can’t work these damn things. And so I didn’t hear Sarah Huckabee. All I had was the Rosenstein memo. So I bought the Rosenstein memo and surmised from it the President had acted on it. In that, I was wrong, but I wasn’t misled. And I’ve spent a week trying to get people to understand that Rosenstein is an honorable man, and his arguments are not only very good, they’re the same ones I’ve been hearing from career prosecutors and my old friends in the White House Counsel’s Office for, since last summer, that the FBI Director, former FBI Director’s greatest crime was usurping the authority of the Department of Justice. The decision belonged it not to Loretta Lynch, who had a quasi-recusal, then to Sally Yates. It is never the FBI’s decision to prosecute or not prosecute. So does that make sense to you? I was not misled.

JG: Yeah, no, that totally makes sense. That totally makes sense. And this is something I think a lot of listeners and TV viewers don’t understand, and column readers, that sometimes, the human conditions that led to a certain argument on Twitter or on TV or on the radio, or why you wrote a certain column a certain way, often has to do with like just picayune things like your battery on your computer is running out or whatever.

HH: Information flow, yeah.

JG: Yeah, you can’t find the remote for the TV. So that’s fine. Still, my point is let’s leave you out of it.

HH: Yes, I get your point.

JG: But why the White House used the, and I agree with you entirely about Rosenstein, and look, National Review’s editorial position was that Comey should be fired after respectable period of time by the Trump administration. That is what we advocated a long time ago. My complaints about the firing of Comey have nothing to do with the merits of whether or not Comey should or should not have stayed in his job. It’s the appearance of it and the way it was done was so ham-fisted. And then when you have the President of the United States say directly to an NBC news anchor that he fired Comey not on the recommendation, not for the reasons that the White House had laid out at all, but instead to thwart an investigation that he thought was unfair. That is, the best you can say about that is amateur hour.

HH: And so let’s leave it here, because I want to ask you about Roger Ailes, son of Warren, Ohio. I, by the way, Rod Rosenstein, I got the official pronunciation from Sarah Isger Flores, the spokesperson for the Department of Justice. He never corrects anyone when they say Rosenstein, but it’s Rosenstein. And so if we can put to bed that great divide in America. But I want to hear from you. Do you believe he is sincere in his arguments that he actually put down the reasons why he thought Comey had to go?

JG: Oh, absolutely. Sure.

HH: Okay, good. Now tell, I never met Roger Ailes except for 15 seconds on the floor of the RNC this summer. He’s a son of Warren, Ohio, you know, 15 years older than I am, so I missed him in Warren. He went to Warren G. Harding, and I went to Kennedy. But we’re very proud of him in Warren, or were. And I don’t like these allegations, and it seems like bad things happened at Fox, but he’s a genius. Tell us what you think about Roger Ailes and how he impacted your career.

JG: Yeah, so I was never part of the sort of, I was never one of Roger’s golden boys, but I’ve met him. I write about it on NRO today, and my first meeting at his office, you know, I thought I was going to be like led into this vast room where I was going to find Roger stroking a giant white tiger on a gold chain, you know. He was like, everyone was telling me he was like this James Bond villain. And it turns out he’s very different than, he’s an incredibly charming guy, really, really smart, incredibly crude and funny in his crudeness. But the crudeness had a real genius behind it, because it kind of put you off guard. It was a way of testing you. And I came out of that saying, as I write in the column today, I came out of that thinking that he was the strangest mix of Boss Hogg and Aristotle I had ever met.

HH: (laughing)

JG: So…and

HH: That’s a very Warren, Ohio combination right there.

JG: (laughing) And so look, I mean, it’s very difficult, because he’s one of these guys who didn’t stay in his lane. He really created an industry. He changed politics. And he had a lot of demons, but he also had huge accomplishments, and he needs to be remembered for both.

HH: A flawed genius like the man he brought to power, Richard Nixon. Jonah Goldberg, always a pleasure. Follow him on Twitter, @JonahNRO and subscribe to the G-File.

End of interview.


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