Trump administration strategy against Russian aggression

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 26, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Today 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers from their countries. This is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian intelligence officers and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

ANATOLY ANTONOV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: What the United States do today is destroying the little that is left from the Russian-American relations.

SHAH: We stand ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government's behavior.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Big moves today as the U.S. has an expulsion of Russian diplomats. In fact there were 60 Russian diplomats being expelled, described as aggressive intelligence collectors. Forty-eight are now at the Russian embassy, 12 at the U.N. The Russian consulate, as mentioned, in Seattle ordered closed due to a proximity to a submarine base and to Boeing, but there's no specific threat or activity at that facility.

Individuals and their families have been given seven days to leave the U.S. But the U.S. is not alone. Actually 133 Russian diplomats have been expelled from 20 countries. And again, this is in response to the attack on British soil, the poisoning of that U.S. -- of that spy, the British spy, and his daughter.

Let's bring our panel, see where this goes from here: Steve Hayes, editor in chief for The Weekly Standard; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and David Catanese, senior politics writer for U.S. News and World Report. Steve, thoughts on today's action?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think it's a big deal. This is an impressive move. The fact that the U.S. did it in conjunction not only with the British allies but more than a dozen other countries sends I think a pretty strong message to Russia that this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated, at least not tolerated for very long without repercussions. So I think it's a good move full stop.

I think it would be better, the president could enhance this move or strengthen it by saying something in his own voice. Just last week he was tweeting that we need better relations with Russia and that people who were calling for him to confront Vladimir Putin on these poisonings or on election meddling in the United States or calling on him not to congratulate Vladimir Putin for a sham election, the president pushed back on that and said that these are people who don't want good relations with Russia, between the United States and Russia, and we are all better off if there are good relations with the United States Russia.

I think it's pretty clear Russia has no intention of behaving the way that a civilized country would behave, and the president ought to make it clearer still by saying something directly in his own voice.

BAIER: The kremlin's response, Mollie, is this, "We deeply regret the taken actions. We are to analyze the situation following the decision by number of countries to expel our diplomats. The main analysis will be done by our foreign ministry. After that the president will seek proposals for taking retaliatory steps. A final decision will be made by the head of state. We have said more than once and we say once again, Russia has had nothing to do with this affair whatsoever. Naturally as before we will proceed from the principle of reciprocity," Kremlin spokesman.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Russia made this decision to do this poisoning of a British citizen and his daughter, and they also made the decision to not really respond to the concerns of the world when they raised them. And so now you have this action, more than a dozen, almost two dozen countries expelling diplomats. And it is a strong action, and as Steve says, it does send a message.

It's very difficult when you're doing with nuclear power to do much more than send a message without risking nuclear conflict, but this is something that so serious that more action really is needed. I understand this is the U.K.'s situation and we are in a supportive role even if we expelled more diplomats than they did, but there are other actions that can be taken. Even the intelligence community report last year said anti-fracking movements were something that the Russian government was funding and trying to affect U.S. policy. Doing something policy-wise they can really Russia, or hurt them economically, might be a good way to ramp things up without risking nuclear war.

BAIER: David?

DAVID CATANESE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: This alleviates some of the critics that have pounded the Trump administration for not acting on Russia, for not being forceful enough. This is the toughest action of the Trump administration has taken to date against Russia.

But I think you also have seen in statements today out of the Senate, particularly from John McCain, that this is an opportunity to do more, that this is an opportunity to move forward with economic sanctions and really hit them hard.

I also think it's going to be striking to watch, what is Putin's next move. I already saw on social media today the Russian government putting out polls saying how should we retaliate? Which consulate of the Americans should be close? And I know there was talk even just last week after the president's call with Putin that there was going to be maybe another meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. That probably puts a chill on that I think at least for the near term.

BAIER: Mollie, I just want to point out these FOX News polls. The first one is the president's job approval, job performance. We have the latest poll up to 45 percent approve, disapprove at 52 percent. And there you can see their previous track there. And the second question, Russia's main goal in election meddling -- chaos, doubt, U.S. democracy, sowing chaos, 57 percent helped Trump win, 21 percent helped Clinton win, five percent.

As you look at these polls and how people are perceiving the actions of the president based on what Steve said, the want for the president to vocalize it a little bit more or a lot more than he is about what's happening on Russia, the actions are different than the voice.

HEMINGWAY: I actually think this kind of shows how silly this entire narrative about the president not being strong against Russia. Objectively speaking he's been stronger than either of his two predecessors against Russian aggression. And it's not just with actions like today's which came at the direction of the president. They are not separate from the president. They were his actions that he recommended taking, and the White House said that.

It's also true that he's been really tough. Even on the Iran deal which is something Russia really wants the U.S. to stay in. Actions in Syria, missile-defense, any number of actions the president has actually been quite tough. And this narrative that he's not been tough, yes, people might want rhetoric that is stronger, but actions count a lot in this matter.

BAIER: I just want to play this one other sound bite. This is Kevin Corke asking the spokesman today about these actions and what they mean.


KEVIN CORKE, FOX NEWS: Does an attack on the soil of the valued ally rise to the level of an active war? Is that the administration's policy?

SHAH: We have been joined at the hip with U.K. on this matter, with the U.K. on this matter. We stand firmly with our ally. Again, I'll classify this as brazen and reckless. I don't want to get ahead of anything the president may or may not announce or declare later on.


BAIER: Where is the line, though, Steve, for an act of war against a country?

HAYES: That's a good question. It's something that comes up in the context of our NATO alliance is. Obviously Raj Shah I think for very understandable reasons didn't want to answer that question directly, certainly not in the affirmative. That might present him some problems.

BAIER: Exactly.

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.