The politics of the Trump administration's Russia strategy

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 9, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We'd like to have a better relationship with the Russian government, recognizing that we have a lot of areas of mutual concern. It is a major country, we are a major country as well. And so when you have that you are forced to have to have conversations with other governments. And sanctions is a way that we can try to encourage better behavior on the part of government.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: (through translator) The Russian side has warned on numerous occasions that the policy of force and ultimatums is worthless and counterproductive. The Russian side will start to work on retaliatory measures to unfriendly moves made by Washington.


MIKE EMANUEL, FOX NEWS: So we can assume that the State Department spokeswoman and the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman will agree to disagree. It's been a busy year in terms of Russian sanctions. We've got a graphic we can show you, taking a look at the recap of this year back in January. They targeted individuals and entities related to Russia's occupation of Crimea, March, individuals and entities for malicious cyber activity, April, oligarchs and government officials for malign activities worldwide, June, individuals and entities for enabling Russia's federal security service, and now in August a Russian bank for facilitating transactions related to North Korea.

With that, let us bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner; Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Eli Lake, columnist for Bloomberg View. Eli, your thoughts?

ELI LAKE, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG VIEW: My thoughts are that the Russian sanctions, it's a step in the right direction, and it shows that the Trump administration's policy is often much tougher than the president's own rhetoric. And as far as the question of will the reset be possible? Let's hope not. Russia has been becoming more and more brazen in its activities, particularly against its neighbors, particularly against Europe, and at this point we should give up the fantasy that we are going to be able to cooperate with Russia on these things. They're an adversary and they have to be contained.

EMANUEL: Susan, your thoughts on U.S.-Russia relations as of today?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: It's perplexing to see the disconnect between President Trump's rhetoric about Russia and the actions his administration has taken with these sanctions. This was of course required on a 1991 law. They delayed it for a while, it was supposed to start a 60 day clock when they concluded that Russia was responsible for this incident of poisoning. They took about 90 days to do it.

But I guess it is a sign of the limits of the power, even of a president as forceful as President Trump to shape policy when there are laws in place and other forces who want to go in different directions.

EMANUEL: We have Heather Nauert talking about what happens if Russia does not admit wrongdoing in 90 days. Take a listen to that.


NAUERT: We don't forecast sanctions. We will comply with the law. We are well aware of what the law contains. We will comply with the law, but I'm not going to get ahead of what could happen 90 days from now.


EMANUEL: Byron, your thoughts?

BRYON YORK, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Can we put aside the notion that the Trump administration is soft on Russia? This new stuff follows all of these sanctions that you just went through which also are on top of measures like arming Ukraine and sending more troops to eastern Europe, or working on a new intermediate range missile, all of these things which are against Russian interests.

So I cannot explain the president's performance in Helsinki, but it is clear that his administration's policies not only in sanctions but actually in policies that affect Russia are pretty tough.

EMANUEL: The House foreign affairs chairman Ed Royce of California talked about the importance of maintaining pressure on Russia.


REP. ED ROYCE, R-CALIF.: It's important that we maintain this kind of pressure in order to deter any other nation that might use a nerve agent, that might use a chemical and biological weapon on U.S. soil, or on our allies' soil.


EMANUEL: So Eli, what kind of message does this send to the Kremlin?

LAKE: I think it sends the message to the Kremlin that despite the environment of Helsinki and that sort of cringe-worthy performance there that we saw, that the U.S. government is in a very different place.

But I would say these sanctions, we need to go further. We need to rethink something that Democrats and Republicans assumed after the cold war, which was a good thing to integrate Russia into international institutions, that this would somehow get them to live up to the standards that we hold our allies to. They undermine these international institutions and we need to start thinking about trying to quarantine Russia from these types of international institutions. No country has ever been kicked out of the United Nations, that's too far, but certainly we should start thinking about trying to kick them out of things like the International Olympics Commission, things like that over time, because they have really proven that they at least at this point have no interest in acting like a civilized state.

EMANUEL: There is a decent amount of anxiety in this town about the U.S. commitment to NATO versus the commitment or the working relations to Moscow. Take a listen at this from a California Democrat.


REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, D-CALIF.: This NDAA really puts a very clear sign out there that we are standing strong with NATO. The sanctions add to that. This is very, very important. It's absolutely clear that Putin will push wherever he sees weakness, and we don't want any weakness, period, in the NATO issue or in the European alliance.


EMANUEL: So Susan, a rare case of bipartisanship, wanting pressure on Russia?

PAGE: Bipartisanship you saw on the part of the Hill, we haven't heard from President Trump about this. And I think it must be perplexing to foreign leaders to hear a different message come from the president then the actions taken by the institutions he heads. He continues to say better relations with Russia would be in our interest, he continues to talk about another meeting with Vladimir Putin after the midterm elections. So I think foreign leaders look at that and wonder who they're supposed to believe.

EMANUEL: We've seen, Byron, over the years a number of U.S. presidents wanting to get better relations with Moscow, but where are we now?

YORK: It doesn't work, and it's not going to work. But I think the Russians should understand that apart from the craziness of the Trump- Russia affair, I think there's a fair amount of unity behind a lot of these measures towards Russia. You just saw with Representative Garamendi, the Democrat. There is a lot of bipartisan support for this stuff.

If the Russians wanted to divide the U.S. political system over the Trump- Russia affair, they have really hit a homerun, so there is no unity at all there. But the rest of Russia policy, there is a lot of bipartisan support.

EMANUEL: That these days is pretty rare, especially in an election year.

Content and Programming Copyright 2018 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.