MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
And let's stay right here with Memogate for our regular Friday politics check-in with our regular Friday politics duo. Columnist David Brooks of The New York Times is back. Hi there, David.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, welcome.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to see you.
KELLY: You have both read this thing. Is the memo a whopper of a big deal, or is it a nothing burger, E.J.?
DIONNE: It dropped not with a bang but with a whimpering splat. There is - this is...
KELLY: That sounds like a nothing burger.
DIONNE: It's a very, very flimsy, I would say McCarthyite memo. And I think Ryan is right that it actually undercuts the case Trump and the Republicans were trying to make not only for the reasons he described but also because I think it showed how scared Trump and the Republicans are of this investigation and that they're willing to do just about anything it takes to stop it, to stall it or to create confusion in the minds of people. They make Carter Page into this central figure when he's not a central figure in here. According to Mark Warner, the Democratic - the top Democrat...
KELLY: Ranking Democrat on Senate intelligence, yeah.
DIONNE: ...On Senate intelligence. He has read the underlying intelligence. He says it distorts the underlying intelligence. But of course that can't be really disclosed without violating some rules. This, I think, is going to be a very bad day for the Republicans everywhere but Fox News.
KELLY: And you raise a key point there, which is we have now seen this four-page memo. We still of course don't have access to the classified information that is, you know, underneath it, so we don't know what is missing from this. David, what's your top line take?
BROOKS: Yeah, I wouldn't say it's a nothing burger, more of a White Castle slider - a little meat but not a lot of meat.
KELLY: Small burger. OK.
BROOKS: And I think, you know, it's still disturbing.
DIONNE: Don't put down White Castle like that, David.
BROOKS: Believe me; I'm addicted. I think the Steele memo - the fact that the Democrats paid for that, that's a troubling thing. That's a sleazy thing for a campaign to do. And to the extent that's in the middle of this, that's troubling. But I do agree with Ryan and E.J. that the crucial point of the memo is the very last paragraph where they said it's - it was Papadopoulos who started this whole thing. And about a month ago, my newspaper, The New York Times...
KELLY: The point being it wasn't only the Steele dossier...
BROOKS: Not - right.
KELLY: ...That prompted all of this, the application for a warrant.
BROOKS: And so we had a scoop about a month ago that Papadopoulos was in London I think in May of 2016. He was having drinks, getting drunk with an Australian diplomat. And he started blabbing, we've got - the Russians have found this stuff. And then when the stuff started appearing, the Australians went to the American intelligence and said, hey, something's going on here. And that - it was that wine-soaked conversation that started this whole thing, not the Steele memo.
DIONNE: And that's - in a funny way, that underscores something else, which is, these judges - I think it was four different judges - a whole lot of judges approved this surveillance over time. What it suggests is that there may well be something to the Steele dossier because these judges are very careful. They look at a lot of material. And so in a paradoxical way, this memo which is trashing the Steele dossier may be saying, well, there's some stuff there that may be important.
KELLY: Let me ask you both how, when we are looking back on this week and this strange episode - how are we going to see this? David, I'll put this one to you. This is - you know, we have seen the GOP, the party of law and order, attacking the bureau charged with enforcing law and order in this country. What does that tell us about the state of the GOP right now?
BROOKS: Yeah. I think it's a war of legitimacy. I mean, one thing people should know is we live in Washington. We spend a lot of time hanging around civil servants, nonpolitical people. They generally - they're not super partisan, most of them, especially in the FBI. I was with an FBI agent recently. He said, you know, we're not even talking about this. We're just doing our jobs. These are not partisan, like, political activists in these agencies. They're law enforcement people. And they believe in law enforcement. And so the idea that the federal agencies are filled with the political opposition to Donald Trump...
KELLY: You don't buy it.
BROOKS: It's just not the way they are. And so the idea that Trump can go around delegitimizing our institutions to me is one of the most dangerous things. I just don't think he has it in his mind that there can be neutral actors here, but in fact there are.
KELLY: Yeah. E.J., for you?
DIONNE: Haven't we always known that the FBI is a leading left-wing organization - you know, originally that great, progressive J. Edgar Hoover? This is crazy. I mean, it's like saying Philadelphians are rooting for the Patriots this Sunday. And it's not simply, as David said, that Trump can't see any neutral people, although that's true. Trump will simply turn on anyone who is against him. And if it's the FBI, it's the FBI. If it's parts of his Justice Department and if - or if it's his appointees, he'll turn on them. There's no objective view here. It's all about whether it helps or hurts Trump.
KELLY: Well, in terms of where this leaves Washington going forward, I'm going to invite you both to travel back in time with me way low - all the way back to Tuesday when the president delivered his State of the Union address and he said this.
(SOUNDBITE OF 2018 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people. This is really the key. These are the people we were elected to serve.
KELLY: Unity and common ground - that was the message way back on Tuesday. David, how's that working out?
BROOKS: It's been kumbaya ever since. You know, I don't like the emotional tenor he always sets. It's always fighting. It's us-them. We're under threat. It's carnage. But I have to say, as judged by the data, it was a success for Donald Trump. That speech was a success. He made the case for himself about as well as he could do. I think all the heroes in the balcony turned out to be a very successful thing to do. Trump's ratings are going up. The Republican Party's ratings are going up. So whether it's the tax bill or the speech or a whole volley of things, politically he's on a bit of a roll.
KELLY: Did he manage to set an agenda for Congress in the year going forward, E.J.?
DIONNE: No, he didn't. In fact, some people from the right as well as the left said there was remarkably little substance here. And there was also a disconnect because he began the speech by saying, I want to bring people together. And then toward the end of the speech he was very, very divisive when he talked about immigration and talked about all the - this lie he keeps telling or implying that immigrants are responsible for a lot of murders when, in fact, the crime rate among immigrants is lower than it is in other parts of the population.
And so I don't think he succeeded. Perhaps he - the polls may have gone up a couple of points, but I don't think that was a successful speech. And you could see it wasn't successful because we weren't really talking about it within just about a day later. I just want to call out my hometown of Fall River, where Joe Kennedy gave...
KELLY: Massachusetts, yeah.
DIONNE: ...His speech that night. I was very proud to see Diman Vocational School in - on the television sets all over the country.
KELLY: Well, and as we look ahead, we will look forward to our conversation next week 'cause this is all happening with the backdrop of next Thursday, February 8, when the next government shutdown looms. So we'll watch this space. E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to you both.
E J DIONNE AND DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE TEMPER TRAP SONG, "LOVE LOST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.