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Week In Politics: The G-20 Summit And The Special Counsel Investigation


And we're going to start right there with the G-20 talks in Argentina for our regular week in politics chat. We also need to take stock of another wild week in the Russia investigation. David Brooks of The New York Times is here in the studio, as he often is on Friday. Hey, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

KELLY: And Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, welcome to you.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thanks so much.

KELLY: So President Trump signed this new NAFTA deal today. Except as we just heard, we're not supposed to call it NAFTA anymore. That's controversial. We are referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the USMCA. Umska (ph) I'm tempted to call it. Also maybe prospects for a trade deal or some sort of agreement with China - that may be coming together down at the G-20. Susan, let me start with you. Does this count as progress in a year where we have spent a lot more time talking about trade wars than trade deals?

GLASSER: Well, look; I think President Trump made a decision to sort of pull back from the brink and to declare victory with the reincarnated NAFTA, whatever you want to call it. Most experts - and I'm not one - on this subject do believe that it essentially is a reincarnated NAFTA, that it builds on the foundation substantially of the original one. And by the way, it's not a done deal. I should point out that there's going to be a real political fight I think up here in Washington on Captain Hill over approving this. So it's not over although President Trump was taking it as a victory lap today - was also struck by...

KELLY: And a new government coming in in Mexico which will inherit this deal that's...

GLASSER: Well, that's...

KELLY: ...Been signed by a president on his last day there.

GLASSER: That's right. And I feel like you saw the lasting hard feelings as a result of these very tough negotiations with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who did appear at the last minute was uncertain at the signing ceremony today in Buenos Aires but had some, you know, strong words for President Trump. And again, you've had this amazing spectacle. What have we taken to get here of the United States going after Canada, one of its closest allies?

KELLY: David, your takeaway so far from the G-20.

BROOKS: Well, so far, the image of Mohammed bin Salman and Putin doing an end zone dance together is the big takeaway.

KELLY: It's this video circulating of them doing a high five...

BROOKS: Right.

KELLY: ...And looking very cheery...

BROOKS: And it's not only...

KELLY: ...To see each other.

BROOKS: ...An image. It's a symbol. It's a symbol of an era in which the wolves of the global international order are on the march and undeterred because there's no one to deter them. And so that's one thing. The second thing I think is the China-U.S. relationship. And this, thank heaven, it is not a Trump-related story.

To me, the big change in U.S.-China relations is that we used to have people who were friends of China, some who were foes of China, and the foreign policy establishment was sort of split. That's no longer the case. Now everyone sees China not only as a challenge but as a foe. Hank Paulson, the former treasury secretary, gave a speech in Singapore recently in which he laid that out very clearly. And he was very much in the friend camp. So when Trump talks tough on China trade, he now has a lot of people who are not normally his friends actually thinking he's doing the right thing.

KELLY: Let me loop you back to a name you just mentioned, Vladimir Putin. There's been a lot of attention paid, as we heard, to whether President Trump and Vladimir Putin were going to sit down together on the sidelines of this summit, a meeting over which, had it happened, if it may happen in some form, Robert Mueller would have cast a very long shadow. I want to ask each of you, how have this week's developments - and as usual, there have been a lot - how have they advanced our understanding of the big picture, the relationship between Trump and Russia, David?

BROOKS: To me, it's like going to the - one of those gigantic supermarkets. You sort of don't know what aisle to go down. And so there's, like, the Julian Assange angle, the Manafort angle, this Trump Tower in Moscow angle. And so every week, there's another efflorescence of some new little bit of a big, sprawling and centralist scandal.

And so the first thing we know is that it's swallowing up the Trump administration and how we talk about it. The second thing we're learning, especially from the Michael Cohen deal, this - is that Trump was not far removed from all this stuff. There were all these machinations going on, and Trump seems to have been more closely involved in a lot of them than we knew.

And the final question I have is, what are our standards? Behind the legal standards, what's our political standards. President Nixon could be really removed from office for obstruction from justice - of justice. Are we at a state in this country where we no longer really mind? And that actually could be the case. I'm just reminded The New York Times had a story of tax fraud in the Trump family, and that story went away in about 35 seconds. And so we've become - may have become inured to corruption.

KELLY: Susan.

GLASSER: Well, I'm not inured to corruption. No, in fact, actually what I was going to say, David, is that I've found this week to be not just another week in the Mueller investigation. But at least for me, it's taken a while to absorb I think the scale of what I think the news was but in particular the Cohen indictment, which is a charge of lying to Congress, but in this pleadings that are agreed to with Trump's former attorney and fixer. Again, this is a close, close adviser. I think there's something close to real revelation here. By acknowledging...

KELLY: And what's the real revelation?

GLASSER: Well, the revelation is that by acknowledging that Donald Trump, while a presidential candidate - not only while presidential candidate but while he had even sewn up the Republican nomination to be president of the United States, his close personal adviser, attorney and fixer was seeking Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia's, help in a business deal that was ongoing. They've changed the timetable. Cohen has admitted that the deal didn't die until June of 2016. I find this to be something that is revelatory and that changes my thinking about this. I find it to be audacious and breathtaking. And remember; Donald Trump lied to the American public about this repeatedly in the course of 2016 and 2017 when asked about it.

KELLY: David.

BROOKS: Well, it's true. He did lie. But he's now said, yeah, I lied. He doesn't - hadn't admitted to lying. He was saying, well, I was running for office, so there was a possibility I might have lost. So I was doing some deals on the side; it never really amounted to anything. And so there just some audacity to him...

KELLY: Yeah, he's not denying...

BROOKS: ...Changing his story.

KELLY: ...The timing that...

GLASSER: Well, he hasn't admitted...

KELLY: ...Michael Cohen has now...

GLASSER: He has not...

KELLY: ...Has now laid out.

GLASSER: ...Acknowledged that they were seeking Vladimir Putin's help in this. By reaching out - and Cohen has acknowledged that he reached out repeatedly to Dmitry Peskov, who is Putin's longtime spokesman.

KELLY: Spokesperson.

GLASSER: Exactly - and close adviser. This is something, again, that is new, and it's not something that Donald Trump has admitted to because that would really change things.

KELLY: David, a last word to you because we're here to wrap up the week in politics, but you were telling me earlier that what leap out as - at you as the big stories of this week actually aren't political stories. What are they?

BROOKS: Yeah, I mean, I think when we look back, one is the creation of CRISPR babies in China, editing the gene pool.

KELLY: Gene editing.

BROOKS: Gene editing - and when - China's fortunately cracked down. But that opens up a brave new world, and that's never happened before in the history of humanity. And the second is the shocking release of a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that U.S. life expectancy has gone down for the third consecutive year. In a normal countries, life expectancy goes up. In a normal, rich countries, it goes up and up and up. The only other time it's gone down three years in a row is 1915 to 1918 when we had World War I...

KELLY: Right.

BROOKS: ...And the great flu pandemic. So what we're seeing is a rise of deaths of despair - suicide, opiate addiction, liver, all these things that have to do with social isolation. And that to me - that social isolation is driving a lot of our politics and a lot of our cultural malaise.

KELLY: I was just going to say it's enough to make you wonder if it is a political story in some ways, if whether the gloomy political times and uncertain financial times are driving people to desperate measures. David Brooks of The New York Times and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, thanks to you both for stopping in.

BROOKS: Thank you.

GLASSER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.