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Talking Trump Transition With President Obama Speechwriter Jon Lovett

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Obama White House alum (he was a speechwriter) Jon Lovett joined me this AM after disagreeing about General Mike Flynn over the weekend on Twitter:




HH: We’ve got a special hour planned. I’m calling this the preview, the modeling of how you ought to conduct Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday with friends and family who voted differently from you. My special guest, first time on the show, Jon Lovett, longtime speechwriter in the President Obama White House, himself now a writer of TV shows, and as he says on his Twitter feed, @JonLovett, a writer of speeches and TV shows and strongly worded letters mostly water. Jon, welcome, it’s good to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JL: It’s good to be here. Let’s not end by yelling at each other and leaving the table.

HH: No, we won’t turn anything over, and we won’t throw the knives, and we won’t throw the turkey out to the door. Jon, let me begin for people who don’t know you with some background. Would you tell people where you were born, raised, went to school, all that kind of stuff?

JL: Sure. I was born in Manhattan. I grew up on Long Island. I went to Williams College in Massachusetts. My family had a box factory on Long Island started by my grandfather. I went to Williams. I studied math. I graduated. I tried to be a stand-up comic. I think I could have made it. The audiences maybe felt otherwise. I ended up in politics. I was an intern briefly on John Kerry’s presidential campaign, which didn’t end well. But one thing led to another, and I ended up writing some jokes for Hillary Clinton, and then became her junior speechwriter, stuck with her for three years during her first 2008 presidential campaign, which ended in the same way as her second presidential campaign. And once that race was over, I ended up moving over to the White House and being a speechwriter for President Obama for three years working on a full range of domestic policy issues as well as doing the White House Correspondents dinner and all the comedy speeches I could get my hands on.

HH: Who was your direct report at the White House?

JL: It was, well, Jon Favreau was the chief speechwriter, and then David Axelrod was the senior advisor, and so those were, you know, Jon would be my direct boss, though I’m not an easy person to boss around. And then we would all kind of take our cues from, in terms of larger messaging, from David Axelrod.

HH: What’s it like working for Axelrod who doesn’t know anything about baseball?

JL: Well, I know even less, which is fine.

HH: Okay, well, then, you’d be fine. Axelrod and I did a daily bit for the ten days of the Cubs-Indians World Series. He is sadly a misguided Cubs fan, so I get along very well with Ax. I get along mostly with Democrats. And so I’m curious to have you on and talk through some of our exchanges on Twitter this week. But my, I always ask two questions of first time guests.

JL: Okay.

HH: So my first two questions are have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?

JL: I have not.

HH: All right, put that on your list.

JL: Okay.

HH: And was Alger Hiss a communist spy?

JL: You know, I know, I had heard, tell that you ask this question, and I’ll just have to admit that I honestly don’t know. And I’m supposed to know the answer to this. Is that…

HH: Yes. Yes. And you know Cass Sunstein, right?

JL: Yes.

HH: Cass wrote the best piece on why you need to know the answer to this. But do you genuinely not know because you don’t know who Hiss is, or because you are unpersuaded by the evidence?

JL: I am, I am in a position where I have at various times in my life gone back and read about it, and then it has had very little impact on my daily life, and have forgotten it again on several occasions.

HH: Okay, but so you do know the controversy surrounding him?

JL: Yes, yes.

HH: Okay, because some people that I ask this to get flustered, because they grow up on Howard Zinn and they don’t know anything and they’re embarrassed to admit. And I’m very quick to say when I’m just completely stupid about a subject and don’t know anything and ignorant. But a lot of people get flustered. But you know. You just can’t remember whether or not you’ve been persuaded that he was a spy?

JL: Yes, I just, I know that I’m like, I know that there is this controversy. I know that there’s this ideological divide on the issue. I know I’ve gone back and looked it over, and I know that I said to myself this seems like an important, this seems like an issue you should get to the bottom of, and then I seem to find myself returning to this place of having to go back and read it again.

HH: Okay, Chutes and Ladders shortcut for you, Jon? He was a communist spy. It’s been proved beyond any doubt.

JL: Okay.

HH: The Venona transcripts proved it, and in fact, you always want to say yes, what difference does it make, and then Cass Sunstein will explain it all for you. Let’s go then to the subject which provoked our conversation. We start with General Mike Flynn. I believe this is a good selection, and consistent with selections that have been made in the past for the national security advisor. You do not. State your objections.

JL: So when I, my objections when we first spoke and my objections now are different only because I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. And as an exercise, as a glutton for punishment, I decided to treat myself to a reading of Michael Flynn’s book in the hopes that my sense of this person as someone who has a particularly sort of shallow approach to discussing how we defeat terrorism and our enemies around the world was misguided once you get into the nitty gritty of what he actually thinks, because publicly, I think you’d agree, what we see from Michael Flynn is a lot of pretty harsh rhetoric about Islam, not a lot of nuance there. You know, I mean, he’s gone on Al Jazeera and said he wouldn’t rule out killing families of terrorists. He has said that fear of Muslims is rational. He’s said Islam is a malignant cancer. He has sort of been pretty active in beating that drum. And then you read this book, and you think okay, well, maybe there’s some nuance that he’s not sort of bringing, putting across when he’s speaking publicly. And I think that the conclusion I’ve now drawn by like looking at his work and looking at what he said and looking what happened when he was at, when he was put in charge of intelligence apparatuses, this is a person with, and I think you’d agree with this part certainly, this is a person with extremely, with great experience in tactics, right? He worked with McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think he has a lot of wisdom and experience to offer in how we tactically approach defeating radicals in the places where we are fighting them. But what I think happens when he goes to the 30,000 foot view, when he goes wide, is I think he loses a lot. You know, it’s a fascinating thing looking at this book, because when he’s describing the tactics of how to defeat terrorists, he’s very, he talks about nuance. He talks about how urgent that it is that we understand our enemies and how we have to really appreciate the subtle qualities of what is going on, on the ground. And then when he describes the overall, overarching mission, it’s as black and white as you can get. It’s, he lumps together al Qaeda, ISIS, the PLO, Russia, Iran, on and on and on into this one global effort. And he cites al Qaeda itself as the reason he believes that. Why on Earth would we want someone to adopt the same kind of civilizational struggle as our enemies? It doesn’t make any sense to me. So I think at sort of a, at a strategic level, I think he sort of loses the plot.

HH: Now Jon, one of my rules is I never attribute to people opinions that I think they hold. I let them disclose them. So you can’t guess what I guess and what I believe, and I’m not going to guess what you believe.

JL: Fair enough.

HH: But I do ask questions. First question. Have you happened to have come across President al-Sisi’s address January 1 of last year to the leading institution of Islamic learning in the world in Cairo?

JL: I believe I have come across it in Flynn’s book.

HH: And so you realize a lot of what Flynn says from 30,000 feet has been echoed by President Sisi and by other Sunni Arabs about the struggle both with the extremist element within their faith, radical Islam, and with the Iranian Shiia extremists in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader?

JL: Yes, of course, there’s politics there, too, right? I mean, and by the way, that’s not to say that there isn’t some truth to the argument around the dangers of radical Islam in these places. I mean, there is, of course, sort of, if you look, if you dig deep and you go into the sort of details of it, of course you know, he’s making an argument that has, that makes sense in certain places that has, that isn’t totally without basis. The problem is he does it with this kind of, with these generalities and with this kind of Manichaean language that I think is A) wrong, right? I think it’s morally wrong to lump all of Islam into this struggle. But I think also, it’s strategically stupid. You know, one of the things, I think it’s Fred Kaplan who talks about this, that what bothers people inside the intelligence community about what Flynn says isn’t that he says these kind of what I view as discriminatory statements about Islam as a religion itself. It’s that it lacks any nuance, and that intelligence, the reason we collect so much intelligence, the reason we put so much resource, so many resources into collecting intelligence is because there’s policy to be made in the nuance. There’s understanding and divisions to exploit and guidance to be had in the nuance. But…

HH: We’ve got to go to break. I’ll be right back with Jon Lovett, longtime member of the Obama administration, screenwriter. I hope he’s having a successful career in comedy out West so that he never comes back East. Actually, I’m just joking.

— – – – —

HH: So Jon, big question at the start of this rather short segment. It’s a five minute segment. We have a long one after the break. Is General Mike Flynn, in your opinion, qualified to be the national security advisor for President-Elect Trump?

JL: So I guess that’s a great question. I think that the question is what disqualifies somebody. I think that by his experience, right, by his career, of course he’s qualified. Of course, he’s qualified. The problem, the thing I think is interesting is the question of, is a bias in what we’re willing to forgive, right? I think that, and there’s two ways in which I think we can be biased in this way. One is a kind of strategic sense of you know, I’m going to defend my people, I’m going to defend my side, because I know that this guy has my best interest at heart. He agrees with policies on my, he’s more, he’s liberal or he’s conservative, she’s liberal, she’s conservative. They’re going to serve my longtime ideological needs, therefore I’m going to defend them against partisan attacks, because I want them in the job. But I think there’s this other kind of, a subtler kind of bias, which is a bias we have unconsciously, which is to forgive the sins of the people on our team, and kind of give them the benefit of the doubt. The problem I have is not with his qualifications. The problem I have is with the things that Michael Flynn has said and done that I believe are disqualifying, okay? I believe the language he uses on Islam are disqualifying. And by the way, I believe they’re disqualifying by his own standard. You know, in his book, he talks at great length about how important it is to be careful about the words we use, about how focused our enemies are on the use of images and language and painting a story. And then he goes on Al Jazeera and refuses to rule out killing families in Muslim countries. He says Islam is a cancer. He says it’s right to fear Muslims. There’s 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. It’s, it is the talking point of Islamic terrorists that this is a war of Islam versus the West. Why on Earth would we want to adopt it? So I think that is disqualifying. Yes, next, I have to say, I am uncomfortable with a national security advisor who on Election Day was taking a position on Turkey for money. I mean, it is really hard to deny that he didn’t change his mind on Erdogan based on the fact that his company was doing business with Turkey. You know, he had a full reversal. And on Election Day itself, publishes an op-ed he was paid to write defending, calling for the extradition of an enemy of the current regime in Turkey when a few months earlier, he had taken the opposite position. And by the way, the same you could say for Russia. It is off putting. I can’t imagine how conservatives would react if a prominent liberal on track to be national security advisor took money from a Russia propaganda network and sat at a table and had dinner with Vladimir Putin. I mean, that is a, that is a hard thing to accept. You know, I thought there…

HH: So Jon…

JL: Yeah.

HH: That would be a no? (laughing) You’re like…

JL: That’s a no. Am I going on too long?

HH: Yeah, that would…

JL: That’s a no.

HH: You’re kind of like your former boss at a press conference when they get…

JL: Oh, I don’t mean to filibuster. Let’s have an exchange.

HH: They get three questions in. So let me ask you about this, the lobbying thing. Both national security assistant Susan Rice and national security assistant Tom Donilon worked for consulting firms before they became the national security assistant, or in the case of Susan Rice, ambassador and then the national security assistant. Donilon was, in fact, a registered lobbyist. I don’t know who they worked for. Ought we, are he holding Flynn to a different standard because we know who he works for? And by the way, so that’s part one. Part two, are you sure he changed his mind for money?

JL: I suppose it could be, look, you know, what’s the Upton Sinclair line? It’s impossible to convince somebody it something their livelihood depends on their not believing? I don’t know. Obviously, I couldn’t, I don’t know his mind. That’s fair enough. And I have to be honest, the Turkey part of this, I find less troubling than the fact that he was willing to go on Russia propaganda, a Russia propaganda network as a…

HH: And what about Rice and Donilon being lobbyists? Do we have one standard at work here?

JL: Well, I guess you have to take it as, no. I mean, look, again, this is a, I am saying that you have to look at all of these things together – his language on Islam, his decision to be a tool of a Russian propaganda network. And by the way, it’s not just the fact that he was consulting for Turkey. It’s that he’s taking prominent positions during the election while advising Donald Trump.

HH: Okay, we’ll come right back. Jon Lovett is my guest. We’ll continue the Thanksgiving preview, your dinner here previewed on the Hugh Hewitt Show with Jon Lovett. Stay tuned.

— – – – –

HH: Are you in L.A., Jon?

JL: I am in New York today.

HH: Okay, but mostly in L.A.

JL: Mostly in L.A.

HH: Now Jon and I don’t agree on much, but so we decided we’d get together, because we were having a Twitter exchange about General Mike Flynn over the weekend. I think he’s superbly qualified to be the national security advisor. Jon does not. Jon, when we went to break, you said you were profoundly troubled that he’d become a tool of Russian television. I’ve just established a standard here. When Al Gore sold Current Television to Qatar for half a billion dollars, did he become a tool of a fundamentalist Sunni regime that oppresses women and executes gays?

JL: You know, I guess what I’d say is I don’t want to defend that.

HH: So that would be a yes.

JL: Yeah, sure. I would say, well, those are different things. I mean, selling something versus lending your credibility to a propaganda network. These are, you know, I think that’s apples and oranges. But I don’t think, I don’t think that I would, I don’t want to defend turning your network over to a regime that’s going to use it for propaganda. I would totally agree with that.

HH: Yeah, because that gave, that gave Al Jazeera access to 43 million American television sets. That’s genuinely introducing fundamentalist Sunni ideology, and a regime that is believed to provide direct support to some elements of which we are directly opposed. And so if your objection to Mike Flynn is being an appearance on Russian TV, you probably don’t want Al Gore inside the Beltway ever again. Am I right?

JL: (laughing) I think, again, I think this is apples and oranges. I honestly, I’m not sure why, look, one is a general going on a state-sponsored network and saying this network is a place for my commentary and is a reasonable place to go. One is a sale of a network in kind of, to, yeah, I’m not that sure, honestly. I’m not, I don’t understand why you would say that this, that having an access to Al Jazeera in the United States somehow is such a, is comparable to Russian state television, but I’m not sure.

HH: Because Mike Flynn appeared on Russian state television, something I would not do and I haven’t seen the appearances…

JL: Well…

HH: But I just think that’s a very minor thing compared to giving the keys to the cable network kingdom to a fundamentalist organization and walking away with a half billion dollars and then continuing to lecture us about global warming. I just think that the standard is what matters to me. Second standard at issue…

JL: And I will say, I will say I think that may be fair, honestly. I think that…

HH: Next standard, as we look into financial conflicts of interest, you no doubt work with the assistant to the President, Valerie Jarrett?

JL: Yes, not very closely, but sure, yes.

HH: She was CEO of the Habitat company, a real estate and consulting firm, which I believe, I can’t recall for sure, had dealings with Tony Rezko. Certainly, the President’s circle did. Did the Rezko connections get as much scrutiny during the transition in ’09 as are the ethical issues being raised around the President-Elect Trump did currently?

JL: Well, certainly, look, I’d have to go, I honestly am not, I have to go back and look at the Rezko matter, which I haven’t thought about in years. But certainly, that was examined pretty closely during the campaign. I remember Hillary Clinton yelling the name at Barack Obama during the campaign. But again, I mean, when we’re talking about these kinds conflicts of interest at stake with President Donald Trump, there’s no comparison. There’s no comparison to a Democrat or a Republican that came before, right? I mean, I think you’d…

HH: Well, no, let me pause on that, because in the last year of being secretary of State, Secretary of State Clinton received, the Clinton Foundation received a million dollar gift from the aforementioned government of Qatar that was not reported pursuant to her agreement with the Obama administration about material changes in support from foreign regimes. Also, Bill Clinton took an enormous salary from Laureate University, which had dealings with the Department of State. Also, he appeared on behalf of Gilbert Chagoury, a man who was business partners with Marc Rich, who had been pardoned and may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So that all occurred when she was secretary of State.

JL: Hugh, Hugh…

HH: Do you not think those are comparable to or worse than…

JL: Hugh, here’s the good news. Look…

HH: Yup.

JL: I have been pretty despondent about the outcome of this election, but if there is one perk, it’s that I don’t have to defend the Clntons ever again (laughing).

HH: (laughing) Okay. Let’s go to the actual things that Mike Flynn said. First of all, you read Field of Fight, and I appreciate that. Did you notice who the cover blurb is, the first blurb you come to on Page 3. Did you notice who that was by?

JL: I didn’t. I’ll be honest.

HH: It’s by Joseph Lieberman.

JL: Yeah, sure.

HH: What does that tell you?

JL: It’s by Senator Joe Lieberman?

HH: Yes.

JL: That tells me that Joe Lieberman loves having his name out there.

HH: No, what does it tell you about Joe Lieberman’s assessment of Mike Flynn, because have you blurbed a book, Jon?

JL: I don’t believe so, actually.

HH: Okay, in the future, as you become a wildly successful, and I hope you invite me to the premier of your big ticket movies, you will be asked to blurb screenplays and movies and stuff like that, like I do. And you don’t do it for people you don’t like, and you don’t do it for people you don’t admire. I just did one for Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, for example, and I read his book and I was so honored to be asked. But Lieberman blurbing Flynn tells me that Lieberman holds him in high regard, as he is widely reputed to be held in extraordinarily high regard by people like General Mattis and General McChrystal, and I believe that to be the case. So what does that tell you about, even though he is ham-handed with Twitter, you know, you should not retweet Cernovich. You shouldn’t. By the way, I am one of Cernovich’s, I’m on his enemies list. He thinks I’m a plant.

JL: Okay.

HH: He thinks I’m an evil guy who’s out to destroy Donald Trump. So I know Cernovich. I would not retweet Cernovich. Bad error of judgment. But I mean, disqualifying, Jon?

JL: Well, it’s not just, look, but again, this is why I was bothered by what you said on Twitter. It’s not just about a couple of errant tweets. These are things he says publicly. His statement about Islam being a cancer, that’s not something he’s said on Twitter. That’s something he said in a speech. Refusing to rule out killing the families of Muslims, that’s not something he said on Twitter. It’s something he said on television. And by the way, throughout this book, he constantly, he is constantly zooming in and out referring to radical Islam and then Islam as a whole, talking about the need for a massive Islamic reformation, and that the United States should help lead some giant change in its position of 1.6 billion people.

HH: Oh, by the way. Let’s pause there, because I do, I do fault General Flynn for not always using radical Islam in, as the pretext before Islam, because I agree with you. And I spent quite a lot of years as a religion reporter, and I know the vast majority of Muslims around the world are peace-loving, and most of them are our allies, by the way. But he does, I think, the context of his overall remarks, he’s almost always referring to radical Islam. But in the context of the reformation, that’s, that is President al-Sisi’s position in the Cairo speech. He called upon the assembled imams and leading theologians of Islam to launch a reformation of the faith. So why is it good for a Muslim leader to do that but prohibited for our leader to call for the same thing?

JL: Because it’s not, because it’s about, it’s not about, it’s about setting policy for the United States of America. It’s about what’s the best interest of the United States and how we can defend ourselves, protect ourselves, have a more secure country. And I don’t believe that our military leaders should be taking these kind of grand positions on the future of a faith of 1.6 billion people on Planet Earth. I mean, that is just a, that is a, that is a kind of hubris I don’t think will benefit is long term.

HH: You know, I think we disagree here.

JL: Okay.

HH: I think it is good for everyone to say that part of Islam which is Wahhabist and radical, that is prone to violence, needs to be reformed out, even as the inquisition, I’m a Roman Catholic, and I’m glad that the Inquisition was reformed out of the Catholic Church. And I wouldn’t have minded for Protestants to call on that, or Muslims to call on the eradication of the Inquisition when it was run by people much too in love with torture, because that would have been a good thing. I don’t mind calling for the reformation of that part of Islam that is involved in Obama State Department-labeled genocide against Yazidi and Christians. Do you?

JL: Well, I guess, again, I mean, no. I think that the point here is not about…

HH: So we agree?

JL: I think that ultimately…well, I think the point is it’s about the language you use and whether you are going to accede to the language of radical Islamic terrorists themselves, or if you are going to use words carefully in such a way that you isolate those people, and say these people are a small, dangerous off-shoot…

HH: How small?

JL: …that these people do not represent you.

HH: How small?

JL: Look, I don’t know. Hugh, we…

HH: So how can you say it’s small if you don’t know?

JL: Well, what do you mean? You said yourself that the vast majority of Muslims on Planet Earth are peaceful.

HH: I do. But that would, that could mean 10%. It could mean 20%. It could mean 30%.

JL: Okay.

HH: And that is not an insignificant number, given that we’re talking about a billion and a half people. Let me ask it this way to you, Jon. The President Obama years will be remembered, I believe, for six words – leading from behind, red line, jayvees. Why ought anyone to credit the geopolitical vision of the President and those who served him in critiquing the geopolitical vision of those who are coming on board with Donald Trump? Honest question. If we totally believe you failed, and Aleppo is the evidence of failure that no one can deny, why would we listen to you? Tell me.

JL: Why would we listen to me?

HH: Yeah, or anyone, any critic of the left of President-Elect Trump’s appointments when they have not themselves been able to account for jayvees, red line, leading from behind?

JL: Well, first of all, I’d say, you know, you can take these statements, right, that I think even the President has said that these are statements that have either been taken out of context, or are ones that he wished he would have said differently, right? I mean, look, we can debate it. We can talk about these specific moments, red line. We can talk about the jayvee sentiment. I think the President himself has said he regrets using. And certainly, the quote that, remember, leading from behind was a quote I believe given anonymously in one story, and it’s probably one of the most sort of damaging quotes a person could have ever given to a journalist.

HH: Yes, to Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker, probably attributed to the President, but he can’t say so, because it was off the record.

JL: I don’t, I don’t…

HH: You can’t confirm or deny.

JL: Right.

HH: You can’t confirm or deny.

JL: No, no, no, I don’t believe that.

HH: Okay. Okay, you do not. Okay.

JL: I’m not, I don’t believe that. No, yes. But I think you have to look, you know, President Obama inherited an over a decade-long struggle, right, in Afghanistan and Iraq where we had, I can’t off the top of my head, but more than 100,000 American troops on the ground in a kind of endless stalemate, and there needed to be a change…

HH: Oh, stop, stop, stop. Stop, stop stop. 90 seconds. Endless stalemate? Hadn’t the peace been won by 2011? Wasn’t the peace secure? I think President Obama said it was secure.

JL: The point is, you know, the point is, don’t you believe at some point we had to bring our people home? I mean, how long can these endless…

HH: No, because we’re still in Japan, we’re still in South Korea, we’re still in Germany, and the Cold War went on for 50 years. We’ll come back after the break, Jon, and conclude today. No, we don’t have to come home. In fact, that’s the whole Cold War.

— – – – —

HH: Enjoying, enjoying my conversation with Jon Lovtt. You ought to follow him on Twitter, @JonLovett. Jon, I want to give you the floor for the last five or six minutes here. But here is my profound and honest question. And I know Ben Rhodes is a friend of yours, and I always defend my friends. But I don’t, I think he has no more business being the deputy national security advisor than I do playing quarterback for the Browns. In fact, there’s a better argument for me to play quarterback for the Browns than Ben to be deputy national security advisor. But in light of the Obama administration record, Ukraine has been dismembered. Venezuela is in collapse. The Chinese have established a near hegemony in the South China Sea. The North Koreans have submarine-launched ballistic missile and expanding proliferation program. The jayvees are still in Mosul. Aleppo is burning. The red line is erased. Given this fiasco of the last eight years, really, why should we listen, those of us who have been critics of the President, respectful critics on policy grounds, he’s a wonderful family man and all that good stuff, why should we care what you folks think about General Flynn?

JL: First of all, you know, look. You can denigrate Ben Rhodes. You know, someone who was instrumental in the 9/11 Commission, somebody who has a great deal of foreign policy experience, who by the way didn’t start as deputy national security advisor, but worked his way up to that. We can put that aside, okay? The one thing that I would point out right now is that world leaders right now are terrified of the next president, and wish nothing more than they could have somebody with the leadership and stability of Barack Obama. Right now, around the world, leaders are terrified of the Republican president that was just elected, and wish that we could have, they had someone across the table that they could deal with, right, to negotiate with, to work with like the current administration, which has been filled with very serious people who have made very difficult decisions over the past eight years. You can do a tour of things that look, a tour of places to make a case that oh, this administration has, you know, has, and make this terrible case against this administration. But the point I would…

HH: Okay, the question, where are we better off in the world today than we were eight years ago, from the overarching metric of human progress, which is the incremental expansion of liberty and literacy and a growing number of stable regimes around the world? Where is that?

JL: Well, first of all, I would say that right now, right, at this moment, the United States is held in a higher esteem than it was back, that it was when President Obama took over at a time in which the United States was spending a huge amount of money, had a massive deployment around the world. I mean, look, this is a difficult time in the world. There’s no doubt about that, okay? But you want to lay all of that at the feet of this current administration, right? First of all, one thing I’d point out is I don’t know why we want to take Vladimir Putin’s version of events. You know, Vladimir Putin…

HH: I don’t. I just look at facts on the ground.

JL: Okay, great.

HH: Crimea does not belong to Ukraine anymore. That’s facts on the ground.

JL: Okay.

HH: That’s not a version of events. That’s Russia owns Crimea. It’s not a version of events.

JL: But I guess the question, I’d say what do you view, what would you view as America’s, what would you like to see America doing differently, right? What is that, why do you want at, why do you want someone like Michael Flynn, right, who has made it pretty clear he wants to have more involvements, right, more military involvement, who has taken this hard line that would involve a conflict with Iran, it would involve greater conflict with Russia. How does that serve America’s interest?

HH: I would have liked to have seen us support the Green Revolution, but this is a longer conversation. What I really want to go to is the legitimacy, because you know, on the last Wednesday of his presidency, Jon, George W. Bush invited a half dozen talk show hosts, and I was one of them, to the Oval Office, where for 75 minutes, he asked us to give the new guy a chance. That’s what he did. That’s what George W. Bush, I can’t quote him, because it was off the record, but that’s what he did for 75 minutes. He lectured us on giving President Obama a chance. I do not see that reciprocity from Team Obama, especially people like you who are on the outside.

JL: Well, first of all…

HH: …as George W. Bush insisted from us, in which at least I gave.

JL: Okay, well, first of all, I think that President Obama certainly comported himself incredibly well. And I think Donald Trump would agree with that, given that he has been constantly…

HH: I agree. He has.

JL: Right.

HH: He has. It’s his team.

JL: Now…

HH: It’s his, it’s the Jon Lovetts of the world that aren’t.

JL: Here’s the problem with saying that Donald Trump deserves some kind of fresh start. We’re still left with the legacy of the words he’s used, okay, and the actions he’s countenanced, and the behavior, the way he’s conducted himself during this transition already. Already, he has shut press out, right, and made it difficult for press to access what’s going on. The only reason we know what’s going on in these foreign leader calls, right, these incredibly important initial calls which by the way he’s not conducting through the proper channels with the State Department, the only reason we know about…

HH: Are we going to really argue that with Secretary Clinton in the background? We really going to, you’re not defending the Clintons. That’s right.

JL: …what’s going on are leaks…is because of, well, look, is because of, well, because of, is because of foreign leaders, right? We know that, look, we have no idea what to believe, right, because we can’t trust a lot of the statements that come out of the Donald Trump press team, right? But we have reason to believe he is talking to his Indian business partners. He’s talking to his business, he’s talking about trying to get permits for his business. He’s basically admitted it, right? On Twitter last night, he said it’s not a big deal. Everybody knows I have business.

HH: So Jon, we have 30 seconds. So vis-à-vis when George W. Bush asked me to give the new guy a chance, I did. You’re not going to. Is that the takeaway?

JL: I guess what I’m saying is I will certainly, look, I would love to see Donald, I will give Donald Trump a chance to change his rhetoric and behavior, right? But it’s not about pretending he hasn’t said these things which he hasn’t apologized for, and it’s not pretending he’s not behaving in a deplorable way.

HH: Jon Lovett, it’s been great having you. Come back.

JL: Sure.

HH: And I hope people follow you on Twitter. And do you have a project coming out? Is there a TV show I can watch?

JL: I will, more to come. I’d rather not say just yet.

HH: All right. Tweet it out. Have a great Thanksgiving, Jon Lovett.

End of interview.


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