The politics of Trump administration's foreign policy challenges

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," July 25, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The whole world should be thankful to the Revolutionary Guard for maintaining security in the Strait of Hormuz.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are at the beginning stages of developing our maritime security initiative. We will be a part of that, but so will nations from all across the world. Every country that has an interest in ensuring that those waterways are open and crude oil and other products can flow through the Strait of Hormuz needs to participate to protect not only their own interests, but the fundamental understanding of free and open waterways.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Secretary of State Pompeo today in that interview at the State Department talking about the Strait of Hormuz. Obviously, we've talked about that a lot. The area that is transited by American tankers, all kinds of tankers, is crucial for the world. And I asked this, what would happen if Iran went after a new vessel.


POMPEO: I never want to get out in front of what we'll do in any particular situation.

BAIER: But it would be a bad thing?

POMPEO: President Trump has made it unambiguously clear, when American lives are at risk, the United States will defend itself wherever that risk takes place.


BAIER: So we'll start there on foreign policy. Let's bring in our panel, Tom Rogan, commentary writer for the "Washington Examiner," Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at "The Federalist," and Charles Lane, opinion writer for "The Washington Post." OK, Tom, your take. We'll start with Iran, but anything from the interview.

TOM ROGAN, COMMENTARY WRITER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I thought it was quite interesting there that Secretary of State Pompeo in your interview wanted to be very clear about that red line idea of Americans being in danger and basically that that would be the precipice for military force.

I do think what's interesting, though with the Europeans, as much as they are saying it is separate to the United States, their budding naval plan, and with the Europeans it's always let's see it before believing it, I do think because of Boris Johnson entering office and a desire to consolidate the relationship with President Trump, also to show the Europeans on Brexit that he's a tough negotiator, the British will boost their naval presence there. The French I think will do that as well.

So even if it's two separate things, the geographic division of force, if you will, will allow that to be somewhat effective. I do think it's the final point, the more moderate elements around Hassan Rouhani, as much as he made those IRGC comments, we are open to negotiating, the Revolutionary Guard, they're still on the escalating cusp.

BAIER: I was struck by the characterization by the secretary that when it comes to Iran and North Korea, they understand, the administration does, that there's going to be some steam that blows off, and they fire some things, they do some things, and they still are anxious to get them to the table.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes. And I like that in both cases. I thought it was interesting when he was kind of pushing back against some of the criticism that they haven't been belligerent enough with Iran. They're trying to get these other countries to join with them in making sure that these naval passages are secured, and there are some of these countries that think we've been too belligerent. So understanding that tension is key.

With North Korea, a lot of angst about them shooting off some missiles. I'd be more concerned about the fact that China and North Korea showed quite a bit of growth in trade this year than that. It is totally reasonable that when people are getting ready to go to the table, they will let off some steam here and try and posture. Still, diplomacy seems to be a good way to get to our eventual goal of denuclearization.

BAIER: Chuck, your take?

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, "WASHINGTON POST": It's an interesting contrast, if I understand him correctly, between their approach and the approach 30 odd years ago when we had the tanker war in the Persian Gulf, and the Reagan administration actually put American flags on Kuwaiti vessels. It didn't just say kind of if they hit one of ours, we'll fight back, but actually took the proactive step of flagging vessels that weren't ours with U.S. flag. And that doesn't seem to be contemplated. There's something, as Tom said, something more multilateral in store. And I think that is a good tip off that with the administration wants to do is avoid a blow up with Iran, even as they are not letting Iran off the hook.

BAIER: Here's Democratic senator and the secretary on the big strategy on Iran.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER COONS, D-DEL., SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think it's important that there be lines of communication open between us and the Iranians. We've been asking for the administration to send someone to brief us on the strategy that they are intending to follow in the event there's an escalation like the one you referenced, the seizure of an American flagged tanker.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our strategy is simple and elegant. Do not create wealth for the ayatollah who is wreaking havoc around the world, who is the largest destabilizing influence in the Middle East and the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.


BAIER: Tom, we're are getting word the Iranians may have tested another missile as late as yesterday afternoon, and another provocation, if you will. Thoughts on the overall depiction of the strategy that the administration is trying to go for with Iran?

ROGAN: I think President Trump has somewhat pared back, although it was noticeable again in your interview, Secretary of State Pompeo talking about they need to behave like a normal nation, funding Hezbollah, et cetera. President Trump seems to be more focused on the idea of just a nuclear agreement.

I think the reason why we have seen this calibration though, it's not simply that President Trump is very hesitant of getting into another war, or conflict, even though it would be limited. I think it's because actually the Revolutionary Guards don't quite know what to do. The dangling back and forth about whether they escalate -- they've shot down a drone. They haven't shot at an American jet yet. And it was interesting in that interview as well, he talked about assassinations. That's a keyword for the Europeans, because that's where a lot of these assassinations and plots, the French, trying to blow up a conference. So the Europeans are aware that, frankly, it is not in anyone's interest to have tankers been disrupted.

BAIER: This weekend the Europeans are meeting, the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal that we are out of, they are still in, and they have to make a decision.

LANE: They're still trying to find that magic middle path between the United States and Iran. Good luck to them. I think when push comes to shove, they are going to want to continue doing business with United States, which will make it hard to do business with Iran.

BAIER: Much more to follow up on.

Next up, what is next for the impeachment movement?



REP. DOUG COLLINS, R-GA: We now can put collusion and conspiracy to rest. There's no more Democrats can run to the cameras and say there's collusion in plain sight.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-CALIF., CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You have an offer of illegal help. You have acceptance of that offer. You have an overt act in furtherance of that conspiracy. That is, I think, by any rational Americans expectations the personification of collusion.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE, D-R.I.: I think there is no question that the report details significant criminality on the part of the president, which, if established, would prove to be an impeachable offense. We know obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, R-CALIF. HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Why would you ever even bring up impeachment after yesterday's hearing? That should be put to bed. That is over. We watched it, we heard it, we've read it.


BAIER: Some of the sights and sounds as we track the next steps after the Mueller hearings. "Politico" had a headline last night, Pelosi rebuffs Nadler on impeachment after Mueller flop." We had a Fox poll, this was before the hearings, obviously, yesterday. But take a look at this breakdown. Should President Trump be impeached and removed from office? Democrats, Republicans, independents, 47-36 no.

We're back with the panel. Mollie, where does this go?

HEMINGWAY: I think it's interesting, people keep saying that yesterday was a big win for Nancy Pelosi because they say she doesn't want impeachment, and yesterday was such a revelation about how little control Bob Mueller had over the probe that bore his name. But I think that's maybe a distinction without a difference. Jerry Nadler had told us -- had revealed --

BAIER: On the train, we know. We know.


HEMINGWAY: Had revealed that impeachment doesn't focus group very well. So they call it accountability investigations. She herself said she wants to continue accountability investigations. President Trump calls it presidential harassment. It's all the same thing, which is -- and so this idea that it's a difference between impeachment and accountability investigations I think is overwrought. I think they all will continue, continue because it's really the main thing that they have going for them into the 2020 election.

BAIER: Chuck?

LANE: Well, I actually do think it was a little bit of a victory for Pelosi in the sense that she's obviously trying to just run out the clock on impeachment, and impeachment not only failed to gain any momentum at this hearing, probably lost quite a bit of it. You can almost see the kind of body language at the press conference, there was kind of a sag in Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler's shoulders because clearly -- although it had produced a lot of affirmation by Mueller that the president had been up to no good, it produced no great televised moment, which is kind of what they were looking for to energize the whole thing.

And frankly, I think you just look at the calendar. There are about to go away for a month. They come back in September, and then that's practically a year from November, and impeachment would take months. The logic of it, just of the time and the schedule is starting to disappear.

BAIER: And it gives ammo to Republicans who are on the trail saying they're not getting big things done.

LANE: Yes, I think that's a risk for them that they are going to want to try to avoid. But then again, we've had this budget wrapped up, so there's really no serious legislating coming next year anyway.

BAIER: Speaking of that, there were two election security bills that didn't go anyplace. This is in the wake of obviously the Russia part of that report, Tom. Today the Senate Intel Committee came forward with the first volume of its report, finding essentially the same, Russia was very active in trying to disrupt the 2020 election. Here is the minority leader and majority leader of the Senate.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: There are only two inferences, neither good. One is the Republican side doesn't care about interference in our elections, and the other is they want it because maybe they think it will benefit them.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia and who continue to ignore this administration's progress at correcting the Obama administration's failures on this subject in the 2018 election.


BAIER: Thoughts? I mean, where does this part go, the election security part?

ROGAN: There's no interest, really, as it appears from leader McConnell and Republicans to do that side of things. And functionally, I think this is going to be a new normal, of state actors increasingly of nonstate actors if they have enough money to try and do these things.

BAIER: Mueller said Iran is very much there.

ROGAN: Right, China.

BAIER: Who knows. Iran may try to go against Donald Trump.

ROGAN: China doing this, absorbing digital. Remember the OPM hack. This the new battle space. But I think to the administration's credit, "The New York Times" report that came out about a month ago with getting inside the Russian networks and planting essentially malware to shut down their infrastructure, that is very aggressive. And that sends a signal.

BAIER: We are waiting for this I.G. report, we're waiting for these other reports about the origins of this thing. It seems like we are always waiting for it, but apparently it's coming.

HEMINGWAY: And that's why yesterday I think was so important. This whole probe rested on the credibility of Robert Mueller. Realizing that he's not very familiar with his own report, he wasn't familiar with the letters he was sending, the statements he was putting out, suddenly it becomes much more interesting who was running the probe. There is some investigation going into this. But if you care about election interference, you need to find out about how this probe got started -- or how the whole Russia investigation got started, how it affected the 2016 election, and how it affected the administration.

BAIER: Panel, thank you. When we come back, an emotional and unusual reunion.


BAIER: Finally tonight, are you ready for this? Get the tissues. An emotional reunion.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been seven years and that's something we've always wanted.


BAIER: Monica and Dean Berckenhoff lost their son Colton when he suddenly passed away at 11-years-old in 2012. After his death, the parents agreed to have Colton be an organ donor. This week, the couple got married. They were incredibly surprised by Travis Stufflebean, who showed up at the wedding. Travis, you see, received Colton's heart in a transplant. Halfway through that ceremony, Stufflebean walked out with a stethoscope so the couple could hear their son's heartbeat again. How about that?

Thanks for inviting us into your home tonight.

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