Will Trump campaign shakeup make a difference?

Reaction from the 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 17, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SHANNON BREAM, GUEST ANCHOR: Let's bring in our panel: Steve Peoples, national politics reporter for the Associated Press; Mercedes Schlapp, columnist for the Washington Times, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

All right, Steve, I'll start with you there. We talked about a lot of things. Russia has been a primary part of the conversation with regard to the Trump campaign, with regard to the Clinton campaign. I mean, it keeps bubbling up everywhere and around the world in all these hotspots. Politically, it's a tough thing for both campaigns.

STEVE PEOPLES, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It's very hard to talk about Russia without talking about Trump's personal relationship and the Trump campaign's relationship with that country. You have Paul Manafort, the chairman, who seems to have layered today who was very active in pro- Russian, Ukraine nearby there. And he's really struggled in recent days to defend his work. My colleague Jeff Horwitz just today reported that Paul Manafort helped steer what looks like to be more than $2 million to lobbying firms here in Washington. This is just bad timing for a campaign that doesn't want to be talking about its operative struggles in foreign country. It wants to talk about getting on track, broadening its coalition, moving in the right direction here just 82 days before the election.

BREAM: Mercedes, obviously for Mr. Trump or any of us were to walk into that kind of a briefing for the first time, you're going to hear things and learn things you didn't know before. But it sounds like to General Flynn that these were conversations they'd been having, not that anything major caught him by surprise.

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WASHINGTON TIMES: Right. I think that what you're starting to see is the campaign itself figuring out its role with the foreign policy advisers, figuring out what his positions will be in these different areas.

Obviously I thought his speech on the Middle East, talking about defeating terrorism this week on Monday, I think was very powerful. It was a very important first step in talking about, look, we want to have people come into this country who believe that the constitution is important. I think that -- and follow the American values. It brings in this conversation about how do you deal with -- I think one of his best signs was comparing Hillary Clinton to Angela Merkel, and how do you deal with migrants who have come to Germany, for example, where we've seen all these terrorist attacks occur in Europe, and how do we ensure that that doesn't happened in the United States?

BREAM: And we'll get to all of those a little bit more in our next panel, but let's talk a little bit more about the politics today. Obviously, there have been some changes in the campaign. Kellyanne Conway, a noted pollster and very well respected across the board, has been elevated, as has Steve Bannon. Some want to characterize as a shakeup. The Trump campaign says, listen, this is just in addition. We have nothing compared to the hundreds who are working for the Clinton campaign. What do you think of it, Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, no campaign ever admits it's in the midst of a shakeup. It's always an addition, an expansion, a tweaking of stuff at the edges. This is obviously a big deal, and it is a demotion for Manafort, and his involvement with Russia and Ukraine doesn't help.

But I just want to say one thing about the briefing. Listening to the general speaking about this, you get the idea it was a very general discussion, probably didn't reach anywhere near the level of secrecy that you find in the Clinton e-mails.

But the second thing that it points out is, on almost every issue abroad, the opponent is the one who would benefit if something bad happened. The incumbent, which is Hillary, would be the one who would suffer. But there's one exception, that's Russia. If Russia were to do something that it could do, it looks like it might even be preparing to do, to invade Ukraine and essentially to dismember it, this would be the one item that could reflect really badly on Trump because of the warm way he spoke about Putin. And of course Hillary also is the one who did the reset, so you could argue that her policy has failed. But up like any other kind of failure abroad, that's the one area where Trump has to be a little bit concerned.

SCHLAPP: I would have to argue with Charles on this point. I think that Putin views Obama as weak. I think that there is a sense that he could put the troops in Ukraine because he knows Obama will do very little than what he's done at this point. I think that he could view Trump more as his equal, that someone has a strong character, and I think for Putin, I think that would be a little more challenging for him, Charles.

KRAUTHAMMER: Whether it would affect his behavior next year is irrelevant. What I'm talking about is the effect it would have on the campaign. The one area abroad where the opponent, the challenger is vulnerable in this campaign is Russia because of the lovey-dovey relationship between Putin and Trump. Absent that, it's all risk for Hillary.

BREAM: And General Flynn there, excuse me, said all this talk about the connections between Trump and his campaign in Russia are nonsense. I think those were his words. But, Steve, if there's a perception there, whether it's true or not, you got to deal with the perception.

PEOPLES: Unfortunately for Trump, it's people within his own party that think that relationship is troublesome. We've seen, what was it, 50 Republican foreign policy leaders essentially call him incredibly reckless when it comes to his relationship there. And I was up in New Hampshire this past weekend with Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator who is running for reelection in a really tough race. And I asked her repeatedly if she had confidence in Donald Trump's possession of the nuclear codes. She refused to answer the question. So certainly when you have well-respected members of your own party not willing to say they have confidence in you as a commander in chief, that raises serious questions.

BREAM: Speaking of the nuke codes, by the way, we have North Korea again saber-rattling today, saying they're enriching plutonium and that it is moving forward with nuclear tests. It says the U.S. continues to threaten it with nuclear weapons and so it's going to move ahead. Mercedes, that's something the next president is going to have to face.

SCHLAPP: It's the failure of the Obama administration to try to contain North Korea. This is a president who has focused on nuclear reduction, nonproliferation, and what do we see? We see North Korea basically ignoring what the west has tried to challenge against it, and I think that has been a big problem for the Obama administration.

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