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Interview with Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ); Protecting Freedom of the Press. Aired 2-2:30p Et
Aired January 15, 2018 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Tonight, the republican senators standing up to president Trump as the U S leader is forced to deny that he's a racist.
The Arizona senator Jeff Flake tells me why he believes Trump is a danger to democracy. Plus my conversation with the Pulitzer Prize winning editor
of the New Yorker David Remnick on protecting press freedoms and fighting fake news.
Good Evening everyone and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. This week the republican senator Jeff Flake will take to the
senate floor to defend free speech against what he calls Donald Trumps unrelenting daily assault and he's not pulling any punches. Tracing the
president enemy of the people attack on the press all the way back to the soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Flake is one of the few prominent
republicans who's willing to stand up and criticize this president.
And not go incidentally he's also one of the many republican legislators leaving congress this year. So in accusing President Trump is senator
Flake also accusing the president's republican enablers who stay mostly quiet? Senator Jeff Flake joins me now from Phoenix, Arizona. Senator
welcome to the program.
JEFF FLAKE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Sir, yes you plan to take to the senate floor on Wednesday as I just said. And I'm just going to quote a -
AMANPOUR: -- little bit from your speech. You said "2017 was a year which saw the truth, objective, empirical evidence based truth. More battered
and abused then any other in the history of our country at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government." What concerns you most about
FLAKE: What concerns is when you use phrases like enemy of the people. Then that - you trace that phrase back and it was not a good origin.
Really was popularized by Joseph Stalin and I am in no way comparing President Trump to Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin was a killer our president
is not. But it just puzzles me as to why you would use the phrase that is so loaded. And that has a steeper meaning that press being the enemy of
And so that is a big concern. What this president does, the most powerful man in the world, has lasting implications. And it has implications for
journalists worldwide as well as our free press here in this country.
AMANPOUR: And I was going - you answered it for me. I was going to stay really Stalin? But you obviously answered the inevitable --
AMANPOUR: -- questions people will have over that comparison. But of course when you -
FLAKE: If the American president -
AMANPOUR: Go ahead.
FLAKE: I was going to say, if the American president was like Stalin people like me would be in gitmo or worse. So no there's no comparison
there to the man but it just puzzles me as to why any American president would use a phrase so associated with somebody like Joseph Stalin. It just
doesn't comport and it's not good for any of us.
AMANPOUR: So I mean let's drill down a little bit. I mean it's obviously relentless for all of us and it has enabled many foreign leaders to take a
book - take a page out of president Trumps book and batter us over the head.
AMANPOUR: With that fake news, but specifically to the U S democracy. What bothers you about it? Do you think that the U S democracy is fragile
enough to succumb to this kind of as you say relentless daily attack on the press?
FLAKE: Well gratefully our institutions are strong and certainly have protections for a free press but it's not good when the president utters
false its like well the crowd size was bigger than any in the past. That's more innocuous and doesn't mean as much but to say things like the Russia
matter. Just broadly with out being more precise is a hoax or Russia's intervention in the U S election is a hoax that is not a hoax.
We know that Russia did try to influence our election and simply dismissing that as fake news is damaging. And when that is just done reflectively day
after day then that has real consequences.
AMANPOUR: Let me just go down to some policy right now. All last week there was the white house discussions over the dreamers and your one of the
co-sponsors of this. President Trump has basically said that DACA is probably dead because the democrats don't really want it and they just want
to talk and take desperately needed moment away from our military. Is that your take as well? Is it all the democrats' fault?
FLAKE: No it's not, I've been in the house and the Senate for nearly 18 years now and I've worked with the democrats on this issue, on immigration
issues broadly for all of that time.
They are working in good faith, that's are certainly that I'm working with now, we have a bipartisan proposal that started with three republicans,
three democrats and we're adding republicans and democrats in the coming days. It's frankly the only bill in town; it's the only bipartisan bill.
We need 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate and so it's going the a bipartisan bill and the democrats are acting in good faith; there are
compromises that are being made of both sides. I've been involved in that process and will continue to home that bill, but it'll be introduced this
week with more than three democrats and three republicans.
AMANPOUR: So describe - I know you didn't go to the next meeting at the White House to press the immigration bill but we understand that surprise
the legislators two were there when President Trump invited also two fairly hardliners on this issue. Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue.
AMANPOUR: And CNN report that they were there specifically to slow down any momentum behind your compromised deal. What's your take on that? Do
you think that's the case?
FLAKE: All I know is Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham went to the White House to present the President with a proposal. The president had asked us
to come back with the bipartisan bill that covered four items, DACA itself, boarder security, dealing with chain migration and also the diversity visa.
And we did that in the legislation but when they went to the White House, the president basically said get back to the drawing board. So that's what
we've done and we're adding democrat and republican cosponsors.
AMANPOUR: And Senator, obviously, it was at that second meeting that senators report the president used pretty derogatory language to describe
immigrants from certain countries. He denies using that, what can you tell us about what was actually said? And then in relation to immigration,
obviously, that has really put the steam up everybody in Africa and Haiti and other such places -
FLAKE: Right -
AMANPOUR: - would feel targeted.
FLAKE: Well, I went to a meeting directly following the meeting that Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham had at the White House and it was described to me
what was said in the meeting. That was before those words went public and I can just say that what described in the meeting I had was identical to
what was reported later in the news.
And in your point about the broader image of a statement like that, I chair the Africa Sub committee, we would with obviously all the African countries
on sharing intelligence, on military deployments, on humanitarian issues and that causes long term damage, it really does. So it - I was really
disheartened to hear that that was said.
AMANPOUR: And all those relationships the United States has built up over years. Do you feel that they're at risk?
FLAKE: Right -
AMANPOUR: Pretty important places.
FLAKE: Well, in Africa, let me say it's been troubling fro a while. We have more than a year or almost a year into Sudan administration, we still
have no assistant secretary for Africa at the state department, we're finding it difficult to have oversight hearings and to have responsible
state department officials with knowledge of what's going on in particular countries or regions - or at least with purview or authority.
It's an end to have a statement like this following that and I think hearing the reactions of some of the African countries, it's what I
expected to hear and it's not good long term. We have good relations with most of the African countries and we have good military relations and
intelligent sharing and we want that to continue. It makes it more difficult when statements like that are made.
AMANPOUR: Just a raw edition, it's not lost on too many people that the president saying that he want Norwegian immigrants. We the Norwegians some
would say have a better understand of living in the Untied States so those wouldn't be the people immigrating on mass to the U.S. anyway.
FLAKE: Well, I can just say that my ancestors came form countries that were not nearly as prosperous as this one, I'm glad that they were welcomed
here. We did in the so called gang of eight bill, the bipartisan bill that we did in 2013 that passed the Senate.
We did take family immigration from where it is now, about 70 percent of all legal immigration to about 50 percent, striking more of a balance
between those coming who had economic skills that could help me economy and those who've come by virtue of family relations. That was part of a
broader bill it was a lot of tough negotiations between Democrats and Republicans to arrive at that figure.
I do think we need to strike the balance, but when we strike that balance we certainly shouldn't do it in a way that is seen to be race based or
based on how poor a country is. There is nothing to say that people who can help our economy and could win a merit based visa aren't coming from
countries that are very poor.
And we see that right now, I think the figure somebody put out is that those coming from African countries into our - through legal immigration
have college degrees at a pretty high rate. Maybe, higher than our population here in The United States and so we've had wonderful immigration
coming in - people coming in from some pretty tough countries and escaping some pretty tough situations, so I'm glad they're here.
AMANPOUR: Yes, so let me back to you challenging the President from the Senate floor and in other ways as well. What would it take for other
Republicans to stick their head over the (inaudible) there and do what you're doing?
FLAKE: Well, I hope that more of my colleagues will stand up when the President uses fake news, for example in ways that I think put journalists
across the world in danger. The committee to protect journalists notes that this year we have an all time high of 262 journalists imprisoned
around the world.
Twenty one, I believe of them are held under false new charges, which sounds very familiar to fake news. There's a lot of countries that use
that phrase - dictators around the world using that phrase now to staunch opposition or peaceful decent and that's not right. So, I would hope that
more of my Republican colleagues would stand up and say that's not proper, Mr. President.
FLAKE: We shouldn't be using that kind of language.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to run through a few statistics because it's kind of - it's interesting. Well, first and foremost for all your criticism of
President Trump, he is doing a lot of the policy proposals and passing a lot of the bills and things that you actually support. You know, whether
AMANPOUR: Yes, you voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. You voted for the Republican tax bill. In fact, you voted for President
Trump more than 90 percent of the time. So, on balance despite your criticism, do you support him?
FLAKE: I'm a conservative and when something like healthcare reform comes up, repealing or replacing Obama Care, I voted some 30 times to repeal and
replace Obama Care. Why should somebody expect because I have disagreements with the President on some policy and behavior; for me to
change my vote and vote differently.
FLAKE: Should I do it just out of spite or to hobble the presidency? I find it interesting when people expect me because I have disagreements with
the President to want to hobble him or to vote against what I consider good policy just out of spite. I don't do that.
FLAKE: .and I don't think I should.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you then to put this in sort of a bigger perspective. There are all these new books; there's Fire and Fury by
Michael Wolff, there is Trumpocracy by David Frum. And Frum who's a former Republican speech writer says Democracy is a work in progress so is
Democracy's undoing. All it takes is for a few good men and women to do nothing.
And I just want to that over a third of Republican Senators called on Trump to quit the race after the Access Hollywood take and now most of the
Senators are firmly behind him. And roughly half the Conservative intellectuals who signed the famous Never Trump letter have now fallen in
line behind the President.
What do you make of this and how serious is the idea of trying to rain in his worst instincts as you see it because in fact everybody is lining up
FLAKE: Well, I can't speak for my colleagues. For my self I will vote with him when I think he's right, although many of things like the tax
policy and healthcare were more a congressional product than a White House product. But there are things that I differ significantly with the
For example, I spoke out during the campaign against the Muslim ban. It morphed into a travel ban that is likely constitutional, but I don't think
is wise. And I've spoken out against that as well as on trade I think it was a massive mistake to exit out of the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It would be equally devastating or even more so to get out of NAFTA.
AMANPOUR: All right Senator - -
FLAKE: So there are things that - - a lot of this doesn't come to legislation at this point, but it likely will.
AMANPOUR: Senator I wish we had more time thank you so much, Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona. Now the unprecedented debate around President Trump's
mental health has raised the question of how we navigate these turbulent times to a whole new height. I sat down with the editor of The New Yorker
David Remnick who's been at the helm of the magazine for almost 20 years to discuss this and why he thinks Trump's behavior is having a corrosive
AMANPOUR: David welcome.
DAVID REMNICK: Thanks for having me Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Good to see you. Your latest column in The New Yorker goes all the way back in history to describe Trump, you see the really millennial
view about it, Nero - -
REMNICK: We might be running out of metaphors just as our nerves are getting so jangled, but yes he resembles a mad emperor at this point;
someone who's completely lost in space.
AMANPOUR: Is it really that bad?
REMNICK: Well look I'm not a psychiatrist, I don't believe in even psycho biography when we do this historically, I think it's a very suspect piece
of business if you're not careful and obviously there's lots of talk about the 25th Amendment, which could potentially remove him from office, but the
cabinet would have to do that so - - but if you read his tweets; if you watch his behavior; if you read the reporting forever about Donald Trump,
you see someone who cares not at all about policy; who has no interest in digging deep into the incredibly complex issues that face - - not him, but
all of us, we face existential crises of climate change, of nuclear confrontation. He doesn't know the first thing about these things, and so
yes it's dangerous.
AMANPOUR: The whole world; the whole of the United States is obsessed by this. I mean 2017 has been literally the Trump show 24/7. Do you see that
continuing in 2018?
REMNICK: Of course, why would it not continue? He's in office, look when this idea first came up; the idea of Donald Trump running for president,
I'm a New Yorker, I've been living with Donald Trump in the kind of jokesphere (ph) of New York since the 80's and what (ph) he was limited to
his status as a real estate, show biz carny and on the cover of Spy Magazine, the satirical magazine; the private eye of America.
AMANPOUR: Which first brought up the small hands?
REMNICK: Yes all that stuff and the bragging and the narcissism and the feeding of one gossip column after another; that was one thing. When he
became a reality TV star that was another thing who cared really? Who cared? It was a symptom of a larger phenomenon of reality TV. But when it
came to running for president, I thought this guy was a bozo; unlettered in policy; doesn't care about any of these issues, cares about one thing his
own ego-gratification from moment-to-moment. This has always been him, why would he be different? So we elected this person - -
AMANPOUR: Well isn't that the point, that the American people went into the sanctity of the voting booth; they knew about the groping; they knew
about the tapes; they knew about the charlatan behavior; some people have accused him of being a con man, whether it's Trump University, whatever it
might be; the bankruptcies.
REMNICK: Yes and the reasons for his victory - -
AMANPOUR: What does it say about the American people then?
REMNICK: Well there were a number of things, I think it's a complex of problems; there were a lot of people who hated Hillary Clinton or that
Hillary Clinton had faults as a candidate; that's what one camp would say. People will look at foreign influence, will look at the problem of the
white working class and their resentments following the Barack Obama Presidency, racism had a lot to do with this; resentment of a new
alignment, demographic alignment in the United States had a lot to do with this.
You see this is a reaction moment and look you know all the complex of things that fed into this and he won. I don't think he expected to win and
I don't think he necessarily wanted to win, which has been emphasized in the new Michael Wolff book, that always made sense to me. But then he was
president and he started performing in his own bizarre twisted way, the Presidency of the United States as if he were a terrible movie.
AMANPOUR: So the "Fire and Fury," Michael Wolff's book, we're not in sort of week two of this phenomenon and there is a bit of a backlash, which we
can go into and Steven Bannon, his main source, almost doing a (inaudible), walking some of it back and Trump, on the offensive with his allies
So doesn't that mean to all the people that say the liberals all over America who hope and pray for his impeachment, for his firing, for his 25th
Amendmenting, for the people around the world who say, oh my goodness, what is it going to take? That he actually is impervious, that this will go on,
the presidency and the chips will fall where they may.
REMNICK: So far we have rule of law in the United States. Rule of law is one of the things that is, at least at times, alleviated deal(ph) affects
of the Trump Presidency in this first year. And the 25th Amendment, which has never been brought forth as a reality in the United States, is
extremely difficult to do. And you have his circle of people.
AMANPOUR: Which is to remove a president?
REMNICK: Right. Because of his incapacity. But the cabinet has to do that, the Vice President of the United States has to do that. This is not
something that Democratic minority does in Congress. It's very different from impeachment. But that's one discussion that's accelerated as a
I should say about the Michael Wolff book, that so much of what's in it, from Trump's odd behavior, his narcissism, his lack of attention span, the
fact that he doesn't read, his television obsession, his furies, his temper. We've been reading about this in the "New York Times," "The
Washington Post," "The New Yorker," everywhere else for a long, long time.
AMANPOUR: Again, people have been asking this and genuinely I don't know, is there any method to the madness, so to speak? In the United States
people have written him off for the last year and yet he's passed a once in 30 year tax reform bill.
REMNICK: Yes, but there he had -- he had the Republican party had been begging for this for forever. This is Paul Ryan's.
AMANPOUR: I mean they nearly rebelled on him, right?
REMNICK: So he is a Republican majority Congress.
AMANPOUR: OK, he has umpteen appointees to courts all over the country. He has dismissed, with a stroke of a pen, regulation all over the --
everything he said he's done, he would do, he's kind of doing.
REMNICK: Yes, up to a point. I mean he's had losses too. He wasn't able to -- I don't see a wall going for -- separating the United States.
AMANPOUR: He opened the New Year promising a wall.
REMNICK: And I don't doubt that he'll make the effort. Look, he has the powers of the presidency with a Republican Congress.
AMANPOUR: So, what does it mean.
REMNICK: And maybe 2018 midterm elections will change that. But remember, if in Congress you can limit the certain domestic initiatives but he still
has the power of foreign policy no matter what happens if isn't the President of the United States.
AMANPOUR: Where does it lead? Because despite the hilarity of this or the nervous breakdown of the world has been experiencing over this, things are
happening and things might happen in North Korea.
REMNICK: But things are happening that we don't even see day-to-day. For example, Donald Trump is not -- does not believe in the State Department
essentially. His Secretary of State doesn't really believe in traditional diplomacy. Donald Trump does not believe in traditional alliances that,
despite all the disasters and the error and all the moral shortcomings of the post war era, has held together a lot of the world to a great extent
since the end of the second World War.
He doesn't care about it, he doesn't know about it, he doesn't want to fund it and he has alienated one foreign leader after another and at the same
time encouraged one autocrat after another, so much so that his Twitter phrase, fake news for example, has become a favorite phrase of people from
Maduro to (Terta) to Bashar al-Assad has used the phrase. This kind of solid.
AMANPOUR: Vladmir Putin.
REMNICK: Look at the solidarity that's being formed on one side and the alienation being created on another. This is something, that I'm afraid,
will take a long time to repair.
AMANPOUR: You've said that all the other dictators around the world, and don't we know it, his foreign correspondents, even in the United States, it
divides people. It makes people question even trusted brands that have been doing this job for decade and decades, what's happened?
REMNICK: I would say this, I think if -- I'm very proud of the work the "The New Yorker" has done in the last year and if I were the editor of the
"New York Times" or the "Washington Post" or a number of other places that say much the same. I think there's a lot of extraordinary journalism
that's been done despite the mockery, to spite the threats of change in libel law. All this stuff that's come from the President, the President of
the United States challenging, not the First Amendment which is the first for a reason. And, I think that that, that institution along with the
courts and a number of others have held things together to some degree. I'm very proud of that.
AMANPOUR: You were a bureau chief for the "Washington Post" in, in Moscow.
REMNICK: Correspondent in Moscow, yes.
AMANPOUR: You know the area. Where do you think this is heading. First of all .
REMNICK: They're delighted.
AMANPOUR: He's probably going to win again, Putin.
REMNICK: I think he will. Yes, I think that's a pretty safe bet.
AMANPOUR: And what does it mean for the United States?
REMNICK: It means that the United States is in chaos. It means, if I'm Vladimir Putin and I look at Donald Trump and I see Donald Trump paying me
one compliment after the other. And I see Donald Trump going out of his way to insult do worse (ph) the First Amendment and the press. And one
politician after another. If I'm Vladimir Putin and I'm trying to reassert Russian power and influence in the world, trying to bring stability, trying
to get rid of sanctions, I'm delighted.
AMANPOUR: David Remnick, thank you so much. Your insight is always so valuable.
REMNICK: Great to be here. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our p podcast and see us online at Amanpour.com and follow
me on Facebook and twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.