Donald Trump, Mike Pence To Spend Presidents Day Working
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Vice President Mike Pence is in Europe today reassuring America's allies that the U.S. still values the NATO alliance. He also made remarks about Russian aggression into Ukraine.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: While the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable at President Trump's direction, we will also search in new ways for new common ground.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, congressional investigations are moving forward into possible links between Donald Trump's campaign aides and Russia and the extent of Russia's interference in the U.S. election. This is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham speaking at a security conference in Munich yesterday.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM: We've introduced Russian sanctions for interfering in our election apart from what they did in Crimea. We're going to have a vote on it. It's going to be bipartisan. We're going to get north of 75 votes, and my goal is to put it on Trump's desk. And I hope he will embrace the idea that, as the leader of the free world, he should be working with us to punish Russia.
MARTIN: Senator Graham's comments came after a classified briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee by FBI Director James Comey Friday. For more on all this, we are joined in studio by Robert Costa. He's a national political reporter for The Washington Post.
Thanks so much for coming in.
ROBERT COSTA: Good morning. Great to be with you.
MARTIN: What more do we know about the briefing FBI Director Comey gave to senators on Friday?
COSTA: We know that there remains intense interest among lawmakers on Capitol Hill about what exactly the relationship was between Russian figures during the 2016 presidential campaign and the Trump campaign and associates linked to the president. And Director Comey and many other intelligence officials in the country are trying to help lawmakers learn more, and that's become a major project in recent weeks.
MARTIN: So at the very least, it's - this briefing seems to have given steam to these investigations about Russia's interference.
COSTA: They're not going away.
COSTA: This is a question, even if the White House wants it to go away, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are asking the FBI and CIA for more information.
MARTIN: So we heard from the vice president up there. He is in Europe meeting with NATO leaders. And we heard in that clip he's trying to do a couple of things at the same time. He's trying to say don't worry, we're watching Russia. We want to punish them in some way for what they've done in Ukraine. At the same time, he's saying we need a warmer relationship with Russia. That's a tight line. That's a difficult message to deliver to European nations, who see this more aggressive Russia and aren't so comfortable with it.
COSTA: Walking a tight line seems to be something Vice President Pence is often obligated to do for President Trump. His presence alone, however, is reassuring to many allies in Europe because they know that President Trump has some deep skepticism toward the traditional Western way of going about foreign policy, the hawkish way, here in the United States, of going about relationships with Western Europe. Trump has embraced Nigel Farage and other figures in Britain linked to the Brexit movement. Pence comes out of that traditional GOP mold, but he's still explaining Trump. And he's saying Trump is rethinking world order, in particular with regard to Russia.
MARTIN: So you've been looking into the relationship between Mike Pence and Donald Trump. There was a lot of conversation after the ouster of Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser, about what exactly it was that Mike Pence knew because for two weeks, he didn't know about how Mike Flynn had misled him about conversations with the Russian ambassador. So what did you find out? Is the vice president in the inner circle of the White House?
COSTA: He is, of course, the vice president, but he was not informed for two weeks about what exactly was going on. The White House counsel had informed President Trump in late January about these conversations between the Russian ambassador and Flynn. And Pence really just wasn't in the mix. And that mix, at the time, was Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, President Trump and the White House counsel. Some people within the White House tell me, the insiders, that they're OK with this dynamic because Pence is protected from all this information. He's somewhat insulated from some more controversial items.
MARTIN: That helps him down the road to...
COSTA: But there's a...
MARTIN: ...Preserve his own legacy.
COSTA: ...Consequence, too, because those on Capitol Hill who look to Pence to be their key liaison, they wonder - is Pence really in the know? Is he someone they can count on to have the political capital to get things done in the White House?
MARTIN: And of course, that's why he was brought in. That's why he was tapped to be on the ticket in the first place, is that he could kind of assuage these concerns of the establishment in the Republican Party. And he also was going to help Trump, who had no relationships with Congress and prided himself on that, but Pence was going to be the guy who was going to build these bridges.
COSTA: And he still may be the guy. One reason he's so powerful within the White House is Trump, who so values personal relationships, respect and loyalty, sees in Pence a loyal soldier. So even if he's not an inside player on every decision in the same way that Priebus and Bannon have been in recent weeks, he's still there and someone the president trusts.
MARTIN: Do you think they get along personally? Has their personal relationship evolved?
COSTA: They're so different. I mean, they get along. But this is not the same kind of rapport Trump has with people at Mar-a-Lago. Trump comes out of that swagger, New York billionaire real-estate market. He has a different personality than Pence's Midwestern, more - softer way.
MARTIN: We will keep watching this relationship undoubtedly unfold. Robert Costa is a national political reporter for The Washington Post.
Thanks so much for coming in this morning.
COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.