Face the Nation May 21, 2017 Transcript: Rubio, Feinstein, Nation Tracker


Marco Rubio on "Face the Nation," May 21, 2017.

CBS News

JOHN DICKERSON, HOST: Today on FACE THE NATION: President Trump steps across the world stage after a week of stumbles back in Washington.

Now, that's more like it. For an aggrieved president, the warm welcome in Saudi Arabia kicked off a bold gambit to unite Muslim nations against extremism. And the president who had once campaigned on banning Muslims now offered an olive branch to members of the world's largest religion.

But, back home, the president's domestic agenda has remained interrupted by chaos and questions over whether his campaign worked with Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether he fired FBI Director James Comey to divert his investigation of the matter.

Comey agreed to testify publicly in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. What do senators want to hear from him? We will hear from a key Republican on the committee, Senator Marco Rubio.

And what can we expect from the newly appointed special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, as he takes the reins of a growing investigation.

We will talk to the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein.

Plus, what do Americans make of all of this? We will have some answers from our latest Nation Tracker survey. And our politics panel will also weigh in.

It's all coming up on FACE THE NATION.

Good morning and welcome to FACE THE NATION. I'm John Dickerson.

It was another week of chaos and distraction for President Trump, and he wasn't happy about it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No politician in history -- and I say this with great surety -- has been treated worse or more unfairly. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DICKERSON: But much of the trouble was self-inflicted.

Monday, "The Washington Post" reported that the president had given the Russians highly classified information that normally wouldn't be shared with friendly countries, let alone an adversary.

Tuesday, "The New York Times" reported that the FBI had a memo from former FBI Director James Comey that said the president had asked him to let go of the federal investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Republican Senator John McCain was reminded of previous presidential tampering.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think we have seen this movie before. I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale.


DICKERSON: The biggest news came Wednesday, when a special counsel was named to investigate Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign.

President Trump was asked about the decision.


TRUMP: Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch-hunt.


DICKERSON: Friday, a flood of revelations, as the president left on a carefully planned eight-day foreign trip.

The first headline? The FBI investigation is looking at a senior official close to the president. The second? That the investigation now includes the possibility of a White House cover-up. And the third? That the president told the Russians something else in that meeting, that firing FBI Director Comey had relieved him of the pressure of his investigation.

And the president this morning is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, giving a speech on Islam and terrorism.

We're now joined by White House and senior affairs correspondent Margaret Brennan, who is traveling with the president -- Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS WHITE HOUSE AND SENIOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. While reaching out to leaders of more than 50 Muslim-majority countries who are gathered here in Saudi Arabia, President Trump is calling for unity against extremism. He's abandoning that campaign era rhetoric against Islam, a religion he once said hates us, even calling for the shutdown of all Muslims from entering the U.S.

Today, right now, he's trying to recast that instead as a battle between against all decent people and the barbaric criminals he says falsely invoke the name of God.

Unlike past U.S. presidents, Mr. Trump is making it a policy to avoid public criticism of human rights abuses, saying, we are not here to lecture. And he has lifted those Obama era restrictions on certain weapon sales, inking a $110 billion deal with Saudi Arabia.

And the kingdom has warmly embraced President Trump with honors that they did not bestow on his predecessor. U.S. relations were damaged in large part by the Obama era's outreach to Iran.

So, while President Trump is bringing with him all the baggage of those domestic issues, so far, he is sticking to scripted remarks and he's avoiding Twitter.

But, John, he's got eight more stops on this foreign trip, and, tomorrow, he heads to Israel.

DICKERSON: Thank you, Margaret.

We turn to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who joins us from Miami, Florida.

Welcome, Senator.

I want to start with former Director James Comey. He will testify in front of the Intelligence Committee, which you are on. What do you want to know from Director Comey?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, obviously, look, these media report raise that are out there questions that deserve answers.

What did the president say? Did, in fact, you keep memos? What do those memos say and why did you write them and what was your feeling? And the American public deserves to know the answers to that. I think that's fair to the president. I think that's fair to former Director Comey and I think that's fair to the country.

DICKERSON: What did you make of "The New York Times"' report which apparently came just from the notes taken by White House note takers in the meeting between the president and the Russians in which the president said: "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nutjob. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

RUBIO: Well, I haven't seen the notes.

I told people earlier this week I had a conversation with the White House. People that were in that meeting, they denied anything had been said in that meeting that could compromise sources, methods or information with regards to intelligence. They said there were no transcripts. They said there were notes.

I encouraged them to make those notes available to the committees. That's not happened. And, of course, apparently someone has discussed them or leaked them or what have you.

But we haven't seen them. So, I don't know that's an accurate description of what is in the notes. And that's why it's important that the Intelligence Committee and those conducting this inquiry look at them.

DICKERSON: That's right.

And there were two elements of that meetings with the Russians, one possible classified information that was handed over, the other this question about what may have been said about James Comey.

Is one thing you're interested in at least with respect to Comey, though, whether there was an attempt to interfere with the investigation by the president?

RUBIO: Well, look, that's a relevant question that needs to be asked and it needs to answered.

But the question is, how are they asked and answered? Do you do it through the press or do you do it through the processes that are now moving forward? Director Mueller -- or former Director Mueller has now been appointed. I think virtually everyone has full confidence that he's going to conduct a thorough and fair investigation and a look at all of these things and give answers.

And we're now going to look at it and continue to look at it from a counterintelligence perspective. And that's our job.

DICKERSON: I wanted to get your response to something the White House said about Director Comey that bears on foreign policy.

Sean Spicer, the press secretary, said that: "By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia."

Do you think that's right?

RUBIO: Well, that may be the White House's opinion. I don't necessarily share that 100 percent, assuming that that's in fact what Director Comey was doing.

I don't think that that was -- because, at the end of the day, the United States of America remains a major factor, if not the major factor, on the global stage. And American foreign policy resides not solely in the hands of the White House, but also the Congress.

As you know, there's plenty of votes in Congress for additional sanctions. So, I don't necessarily believe that it undermined our ability to deal with the Russians. That's my view of it. Obviously, the White House has a different take. But I don't think that.

DICKERSON: Isn't it, Senator, also the fact that the Russians, by trying to meddle in the election, undermined the U.S. ability to negotiate with the Russians?

RUBIO: Well, certainly it's a factor in our relationship, there's no doubt. And that should be the core focus of the Intel Committee's work, is to lay out to the American people not just what Russia did -- I think we have a pretty good view of that already -- but how they did it and what it means for the future and we should be doing about it.

DICKERSON: Let me ask about this report that classified information was given.

The president said he was giving information to the Russians in that meeting in order to help them -- quote -- "greatly step up their fight against ISIS and terrorism."

Do you think that's a possibility, that by giving them information, that the Russians will step up and help with ISIS?

RUBIO: Well, two things.

First of all, I don't know what the Russians knew already, number one, or at least I won't discuss that. Number two, I'm not sure that's what the president did, that he gave them that sort of information. Everybody that was in the room that I have spoken to denies that that's what happened.

But, obviously, that will be a focus of the inquiries as we move forward. And, number three, I think the Russians will -- if they cooperate against terrorism, it will to the extent that it's in their interests vis-a-vis their view of the United States.

Who they define as terrorists is simply ISIS. They also define as terrorists virtually any group on the ground that is confronting Assad. We're focusing on radical jihadists. They're focused not just on that, but anybody who is trying to get rid of Assad.

DICKERSON: Senator McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, said he'd like a little less drama out of the White House. Do you share that view?

RUBIO: Well, look, I don't understand why people are that shocked. This president ran a very unconventional campaign. I was there for a big part of it at the beginning alongside, being one of his competitors.

And that's what the American people voted for. And, in essence, this White House is not much different from the campaign. People got what they voted for. They elected him. Obviously, it's in the best interest of this country to try to help him succeed. As far as the drama's concerned, yes, it's unique. It's different from anything we have ever confronted. I think our job remains to do our work. We will have to deal with these issues. These issues come up, these questions, every single day.

And I do think the White House would benefit from some systems in place that perhaps avoids some of the unnecessary friction points that come up on a daily basis. But this is also the political environment we now live in too. Politics are covered this way.

And politicians also behave in this way because they know they can get attention for saying things one way or the other. It's just the way politics has moved. I don't think it's good for the country, but that's where we're headed for now, apparently.

DICKERSON: Let me ask you a question about how you see the Trump administration and the message they've sent about human rights.

One the one hand, this week, the administration sanctioned eight Venezuelan judges. And you said -- this is an issue you have been working on -- "The United States is not going to allow those who impede democracy to violate human rights."

But then, on the other hand, the administration, towards countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia even, seems to have a more muted public voice about human rights. How are we to weigh those two differences?

RUBIO: Well, it's not an approach that I entirely agree with.

I certainly believe that we need to confront Venezuela and Cuba and Iran and all the human rights violators in the world. And the White House is willing to do so publicly for nations that are hostile towards the United States. They believe -- and it's a point of disagreement -- but they believe that on the countries that are cooperative with us on other issues, like Saudi Arabia, like, Egypt, we should privately confront them on the issues of human rights, that you will get a better result that way.

Now, I have a different take on it. I believe human rights are important for us to speak about publicly. The human rights activists in those countries would agree, because they're demoralized when they don't hear it.

But, in fairness, the White House has gotten results. I remember raising the issue of Aya Hijazi repeatedly with the White House. They raised it in private with Egypt. She was released. Sandy Phan-Gillis was being held unjustly in China. I raised it with the White House. They raised it privately with the Chinese. She was released.

So, I do want to acknowledge they have gotten results through their approach. But I think, from a broader perspective, I disagree with it. I have told them that. They know it's a point of disagreement with me, because I believe that these countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the like, are not sustainable in the long term if they continue to systemically violate the rights of their people.


Senator Marco Rubio, thanks so much for being with us.

RUBIO: Thank you. Thanks.

DICKERSON: Joining us now is the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Welcome, Senator.


DICKERSON: Let's start with former Director Comey. What do you want to know from him?

FEINSTEIN: Well, what I want to know from him is, how many times did he meet with the president -- excuse me, John -- or talk with the president on the phone? What was he asked by the president?

Was he asked to in any way alter the investigation? What was he asked about Mr. -- General Flynn? Questions like that.

I think it's important for the American people to know what may be behind some of the actions that have recently been taken.

DICKERSON: Director Comey testified in front of the Judiciary Committee back in May. And he was asked these questions about whether anybody had tried to impede the investigation. And Director Comey at the time said, "Not in my experience."

Talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason: "That would be a very big deal. It's not happened in my experience."

So, it seems like, before, he said it hadn't happened. Now he might be saying something different. Doesn't that make him...

FEINSTEIN: Well, that's why doing this in public, so that the people can hear, is so important.

And it's why, although I would prefer it to be in Judiciary, because that's the committee of jurisdiction, Mr. Comey has chosen the Intelligence Committee. I also sit on the Intelligence Committee.

So, if nobody asks the questions before they get to me, you have just heard the questions that I will ask.

When Sally Yates came before a panel of the Judiciary Committee, I think the questions asked of her were primary questions. And the American people gain by hearing those questions.

I really think that, rather than have all these memorandums and issues circulating around, that we need to put the facts before the American people. And did -- the big fact is, did the president fire Comey because of his investigation and he was worried about what the investigation might conclude?

That -- if so, that borders on a very serious charge. So, we need to flush that out. We need to see what the response is. And it's got to come from Director Comey himself.

DICKERSON: And what do you make of the comment attributed to the president in "The New York Times" that the White House has not disputed, that the president said, "I just" -- in his meeting with the Russians -- "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off"?

FEINSTEIN: Well, again, we will see what records there are and hopefully be able to have access to them.

I mean, this is a horrible thing for a president to say. Director -- former Director Comey is in no way, shape or form a nut job. He's a very strong man. He's a very principled man.

I have to believe he made a couple of mistakes. I suspect he thinks he made a couple of mistakes. Whether that deserved his termination or not is not up to me.

The fact is, he's been terminated. But the reason for the termination has really not been ferreted out. And that's what has to be before the American people, clear and distinct.

DICKERSON: You said you wanted to see these memos that the former director wrote about his meetings with the president.

The president has also talked about tapes or taping in the White House. Is that also something the Judiciary Committee would be asking for?

FEINSTEIN: Well, and the president has referred to tapes. So, we need to see. And, yes, I think it is.

Senator Grassley, our chairman, and myself, we have written a letter to Director Comey asking him to appear before the Judiciary Committee. I would hope that, although he's going before Intelligence, that he would also do this, because our questions would be separate and distinct and more along the lines of what you just asked, John.

DICKERSON: Do you get the sense that the federal investigation into this includes something beyond just the question of Russia and the Trump campaign, but that it now includes a cover-up question?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think that's right. It does.

I know what the president told me when he called to say that he was firing him. And that turned out not to be the reason.

So, I think there's one thing about this president. And I would really like to say it meaning well, and that is, stop the tweeting. Think about what you say, because you're reflecting in a big pool. And the Senate and the House have to feel a sense of stability from day to day.

We can't feel the anxiety that goes with not knowing what may happen next, what may be said next. And we need to depend on our president for truth. That is really important.

DICKERSON: And in the final 30 seconds, what do you want to see in the next FBI director?

FEINSTEIN: What I want to see in the next FBI director is a law enforcement program.

I have recommended to the president Mr. McCabe. I find him strong. I find him a good leader. I find him with the experience that's necessary. And this is a law enforcement agency separate from the political branch. And so we will see what happens.

DICKERSON: All right, Senator Feinstein, thanks so much for being with us.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, John.

DICKERSON: And we will be back in one minute.


DICKERSON: We're now joined by CBS News chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford and CBS News justice and homeland security correspondent Jeff Pegues.

Jeff, I want to start with you.

Why did Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein have to name a special counsel?

JEFF PEGUES, CBS NEWS JUSTICE AND HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, because -- it was those memos, the Comey memos that popped up that were causing a lot of controversy, and then this idea that Comey was fired, and why was he fired?

Was it the Russia investigation or was it the recommendation of Rosenstein? And so you had all of this bubbling up to the surface. It came to the point where he had no choice but to appoint Bob Mueller.

DICKERSON: And, Jan, what's the scope of what Bob Mueller can do?

JAN CRAWFORD, CBS NEWS CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's broad and it's very independent.

In his appointment of former FBI Director Mueller, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein says that he will be able to investigate any possible contacts or links with the Russian government and the Trump campaign and any matters that arose during the investigation or may arise out of the investigation.

That's a broad charge to Mr. Mueller. And he has complete independence, practically speaking.

DICKERSON: And so that seems to be the basket in which people would put this question of cover-up that Senator Feinstein was talking about, that idea that anything arising from the investigation. Is that the way you read it?

CRAWFORD: Absolutely, any of those matters.

It's confined to these allegations. He can't go off on some tangent and investigate all other matters. But it's broad and it's wide-ranging.

And I think I want to make this point, too. It's going to be absolutely confidential. And I think that's why we're going to see such a difference in the investigations that are going on, on Capitol Hill.

DICKERSON: And confidential meaning not as leaky as we have been maybe having in some of the discussions before because of Mueller's reputation.

CRAWFORD: Sure. And it's -- he's a former prosecutor. There will be former prosecutors.

DICKERSON: Jeff, give me a sense of Comey's allies and what this talk about him, the president calling him a nut job and so forth, how that's affected the kind of response in the building. And just a lot of these leaks are probably coming from those people.

PEGUES: Well, he has a lot of allies.

And that's why they were stunned by this move and the way that it happened so publicly. He wasn't informed privately. This happened on live TV, essentially. And there were a lot of people in the FBI, both current and former FBI employees, who were offended by that, because one thing about James Comey they know, you might quibble with some of his decisions, but you don't attack his character.

And that's what the White House was doing consistently and, frankly, still doing that. And so there are a lot of people who are offended by that. And that's where you see some of these leaks coming out.

And though there's a special counsel now, I think these leaks are going to continue, because they're coming from people who feel that it is their patriotic duty to counter the White House denials.

So, I suspect, even though Bob Mueller will seal up the investigation, there are people outside of government who are briefed or have been briefed on the details of this investigation already, and they will push back against these White House denials.

DICKERSON: Jan, help me understand the threshold for obstruction of justice, which is what people are talking about here, with respect to the president and this investigation.

CRAWFORD: Well, first of all, I think it's important to keep in mind that President Trump is not going to be tried in court for obstruction of justice.

There will not be charges brought against President Trump because the Constitution -- it's an open question whether a sitting president can be charged in court with obstruction of justice. Remember, Richard Nixon was an unindicted co-conspirator.

This goes to a political question. And if former Director Mueller finds there is some evidence of obstruction, that goes into Congress. They can start impeachment proceedings against President Trump for potential obstruction of justice. That's what President Clinton and President Nixon were brought into impeachment proceedings for.

But they have to show intent. And that's a very difficult thing to show. It's not that this looks bad, it was a stupid thing to say, it may have been offensive to FBI employees. There has to be that Trump intended to obstruct this investigation. That's difficult to show.

And I think, based on what we've seen so far, there's not that evidence. And that's what these kind of investigations you are going to see from the special counsel. They will look at all that.

DICKERSON: Right. They have to get in his head, essentially.

CRAWFORD: Right, which may be difficult.



CRAWFORD: But it's not easy to prove, and so that's what they're going to looking at, the intent.

DICKERSON: And, Jeff, give me the sense of this, the meaning in the Oval Office with the Russian leaders.

There was two things. There's the Comey conversation and also but there was this classified intelligence that was supposedly a part of that conversation. What have you heard about that?

PEGUES: Well, that's an image that will haunt this White House for quite some time.

There are people in the intelligence community, both current and former, law enforcement community, who saw the image and they were offended by it.

Keep in mind that was a meeting that Vladimir Putin called for. That's what he wanted. And in those images, you see the president laughing and joking with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, who is a central character in this investigation. And so, for a lot of people, especially former intelligence officials, that was a real slap in the face. And now you hear more of these revelations coming out of this meeting. And that's why you hear these leaks as well, because people want to expose what they believe is the truth.

DICKERSON: All right. Thanks so much, Jeff and Jan.

And we will be back in a moment.


DICKERSON: Coming up: What do Americans think about President Trump's job performance and the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

That's next in our FACE THE NATION Nation Tracker.


DICKERSON: And we will be right back with a lot more FACE THE NATION, so stay with us.



Over the last few months, CBS News, along with YouGov, has been tracking Americans for our Nation Tracker and monitoring their views on the Trump administration, Congress and the country, including the investigations into Russia and the Trump campaign. CBS News elections director Anthony Salvanto joins us to discuss the latest findings.

All right, Anthony, before we get into the great four groups that you've figured out many months ago, the four different kinds of -- of Americans, let's start first with the broad picture. What do your findings show?

ANTHONY SALVANTO, CBS NEWS ELECTIONS & SURVEYS DIRECTOR: Well, big picture is, majority disapproval of the way the president is handling all things related to the FBI and the Russia investigation. You find a majority who say that they think there should be a special prosecutor and concern about the possibility of sharing intelligence with Russia. Also that if there are tapes of conversations between the president and former director Comey, that those tapes should be released.

But then once you dig in, you say, well, how does all of that, the majority one way or the other, affect the support groups that the president has or doesn't have. Look, we've always known that there are hardcore supporters and hardcore detractors. The real play here is these folks in the middle who have been wondering sort of which president was going to show up over these months. Was it the savvy businessman who was going to make Washington work, or was it the candidate who they thought was impulsive and whose judgement they questioned? And you see as this Russia investigation plays into those feelings, that's where it starts to move the needle.

DICKERSON: Yes, it was fascinating to hear Senator Rubio say this is -- the White House is behaving just like the campaign. I don't know why people are surprised.

Let's go through your four groups here. First we'll start with the believers. These are the -- these are the big Trump fans.

SALVANTO: Yes, these are the firmest supporters. Now, their numbers have dwindled a little bit. They're about a fifth of the country. But what's gotten smaller has also gotten a little more concentrated. These folks strongly support the president and they see a witch hunt. They think that this president is under unfair pressure from what they call the establishment that is pushing back against him the way it does not do with -- it did not do with previous president, and that he needs their support, now more than ever, to fight against that.

Also you see they're taking this very personally which is striking to me in that they said when they see people criticize the president, they feel like they're also being criticized along with him. That he speaks for them. That he speaks for the working class in ways that others don't.

Beyond that, and you see their -- there are prescriptions for what the president ought to do now and they say the president should have more power. That he should be able to stop this investigation if he wants to. That he should be able to do what he wants and not what the congressional Republicans want and, you know, an interesting sort of side note, they think that government officials should be -- should swear a loyalty oath to the president, as well as the Constitution, not just the Constitution alone. And those prescriptives are very different from other groups, including his other supporters.

DICKERSON: Let's go then into the second group, the conditional supporters.

SALVANTO: Yes, these folks don't have that same emotional connection with the president. They're more what I would call transactional, which is, they're support him but they want a policy agenda enacted. And what we see here is that they're increasingly worried that won't happen. That this controversy will bog him down. They're more supportive of the idea not just of a special prosecutor but that the GOP Congress should push back against President Trump as a check when needed. And so their view here is, things need to get done and they're worried -- they're increasingly worried that those policy things that they want won't get done. And so they're looking more to the Republican Congress to sort of keep pushing that through.

DICKERSON: Right. The people want to see the trade, the economy. Those policy specifics --


DICKERSON: Don't necessarily have that in their bones connection.

OK. Now, what about -- what about the third group, the curious voters?

SALVANTO: Yes. These are folks we've watched all -- all along, people who wanted to support the president. They were looking for a reason. Don't necessarily agree with him on all the policies, but thought, well, if he can change Washington, we'll come along. But what we're seeing now is that they're dropping away. That they're becoming more hard in their support. And what -- what is associated with that is an increasing feeling of nervousness that they say that they feel this is back to the idea that -- that this relates -- this investigation relates to the president's judgement and temperament. Well, they feel that those things are declining. That they -- they give worse ratings to his judgment now and so they're becoming hard in their support, not necessarily interested in seeing the president tied up in controversy, but they definitely did think that -- they would have hoped he would have reached out across the aisle instead of being bogged down in this. But that said, everyone that we re-interviewed increasingly nervous, saying that's the word they consistently use, that they're getting more and more nervous about what the administration is doing. So this is pushing them away. They could have been, but right now it doesn't look like they're coming back.

DICKERSON: And then the final group are the resisters, the never- Trumpers, the group that's just not listening to anything.

SALVANTO: Yes. And for these folks, this is confirming all their suspicions. They overwhelmingly think that there was wrongdoing. They think that the president did try to stop the investigation, not just talk about it with -- with former Director Comey. And what you see there is that they -- their numbers are actually growing a little bit. They've gone up now to 40 percent of the country. That's because those folks who were on the fence are sort of coming over to that firmer opposition, in part because of all of this and that -- that nervousness. But what you don't see yet is if people think, well, this means that Democrats can run as a check on President Trump in the next election, not yet because the country only splits on the idea of whether a Democratic controlled Congress would be a check on the president or whether it would just bring more gridlock, which is not what they wanted.

DICKERSON: All right, Anthony, wonderful as always. Thank you so much.

And we'll be right back with our political panel.


DICKERSON: We're joined now by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer. She's with us from Tehran, Iran, where reformer President Hassan Rouhani was just re-elected and where they are watching President Trump's visit to the Middle East very closely.


The election here was really a referendum on the reformist agenda that President Rouhani had been pursuing for the past four years, which resulted in unprecedented negotiations with the west and then, of course, the nuclear deal. The question now is whether President's Rouhani and Trump will choose to go beyond that and seek further agreement of some kind.

For his part, Rouhani has won, decisively enough, to push forward with more international links, but he faces constant resistance inside Iran from powerful hardliners. They point out that President Trump's first trip abroad is to Iran's archenemies Saudi Arabia and Israel, and they say it's proof that the U.S. can't be trusted.

In Washington, the White House has amped up its condemnation of Iran recently for its military program, especially its interference in the Syrian war and its latest missile test. On the campaign trail, President Trump called the nuclear deal disastrous, but he has, for now, decided to stick with it.

The bottom line is that the U.S. and Iran do share some common interests, fighting ISIS, certainly, and stabilizing the Middle East. So the thing to watch for in the coming months behind all the aggressive rhetoric is the emergence of some kind of diplomatic negotiations, either covert or overt, between Washington and Tehran.

DICKERSON: Thanks, Elizabeth.

President Trump just concluded his speech in terrorism in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he said the United States is prepared to stand with the Muslim world in pursuit of common interests, including fighting terrorism.


TRUMP: This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminal who seek to obliterate human life and decent people all in the name of religion.


DICKERSON: To discuss this speech and all the week's news, we turn now to our political panel. Ed O'Keefe is a CBS News contributor and covers politics for "The Washington Post," David Ignatius is a columnist at "The Washington Post," Molly Ball covers politics for "The Atlantic," and Ramesh Ponnuru is senior editor of "The National Review."

David, I want to start with you. Just jump in on that -- on the speech. What do you make of this trip?

DAVID IGNATIUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The -- the speech was the -- the capstone. The president didn't say anything surprising, but the language was very different from the Trump we know of the campaign. He was really inviting partnership, not drawing sharp lines.

The White House has worked very hard to prepare this trip. And for all of the questions about the flip-flops and the difference between Trump then and Trump now, I think, you know, you need to stand back and look at the symbolic importance of this. A president who really did represent many Americans who were suspicious, angry at Saudi Arabia and the problems of -- in the Middle East that are represented are seeing their hero go to Saudi Arabia and embrace the Saudi leadership. Similarly, the Saudis have gathered Arab and Muslim countries who were very suspicious of the United States to Riyadh to meet and embrace this American president. Behind it is a (INAUDIBLE) -- an antipathy toward Iraq. That's -- that's important. But I think the -- the Trump administration is also make a bet that the younger Saudi leadership, headed by the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, that this is a change agent ready to try to move into a different era for Saudi Arabia and the region. They are taking advantage of that. And I actually think that's smart.

DICKERSON: Molly, as David points out, this is quite a distance from the president who not only campaigned on a Muslim ban, but then who also had very critical things to say about Saudi Arabia, about Hillary Clinton's relationship with Saudi Arabia and who, on the question of radical Islam, called it -- or, excuse me, called it radical Islamic terrorism. And if you didn't use that phrase, it was proof that you misunderstood the entire biggest most important threat to America. Now he's in a different place.

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": And he is not, in fact, using those three words in the speech today. I think, as David said, a very important decision has been made by the administration about what kind of president Trump is going to be with regard to the Muslim world and it is not candidate Trump at all. And I think it also follows on the sequence of national security decisions and appointments we've seen this administration make, which are much more on the sort of traditionally hawkish side of the Republican Party, rather than the more isolationist or transactional or sort of America-first ideology that he espoused during the campaign. This is -- this is a rather conventional type of play for an American president to make to say, we are looking for areas of cooperation. We are not judging people on the basis of their religion. That was not candidate Trump at all.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, give me your take and also -- this is happening in a larger context, which is a lot of confusion about which -- which is the President Trump? Is it the one that Molly described who is, on things from NATO to dealing with China has, on the foreign policy front, really shaved off the rough edges of his campaign rhetoric, yet domestically, obviously, is having challenges. So where do you see this in the evolution of understanding the president?

RAMESH PONNURU, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": I do think that this speech -- it's pretty -- pretty easily in a mainstream foreign policy tradition. We've now had three presidents post 9/11 who have made a distinction between the people we are fighting against and the mainstream of Islam. I think what was new here was Trump himself speaking respectfully and admiringly about Muslims and Islam. That we haven't seen.

The focus on the terminology, radical Islamic terrorist, versus the remarks that he actually talked about, he said "Islamic terrorism," he said "Islamisism," the prepared remarks called them "Islamist terrorist groups," I do think that the focus on that has been somewhat overblown on the part of both parties with one side saying, oh, if you use those words you're going to offend all Muslim, another side saying, you've got to name the enemy in order to win. These terms all seem pretty much identical as far as I can tell.

DICKERSON: Right, although it's true that the president, as a candidate said, unless the president, Obama at the time, used that express, he should resign. So he was putting a lot of weight on it.

The other thing he put weight on in this particular trip, Ed, was the idea that this deal with the Saudis would lead to, as the president said, hundreds of billions of dollars in investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs. He may be overseas, but he's keeping the eyes own the ball here at home.

ED O'KEEFE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He may be overseas and he may be overselling. In fact, if you look at the details of this, as we did in "The Post" today, you know, Lockheed Martin, for example, is selling them $28 million worth of military equipment, and that will boost 450 jobs at the Sikorsky plant in Connecticut. There's a $7 billion deal with GE for technology and training programs, but that's going to create 250 high-tech jobs in Saudi Arabia.

Where we may see most of the investment come from is this deal being put together by the Blackstone Investment Firm. The ink isn't actually dry on it yet. They haven't finished the deal. And the negotiating of it began during the Obama year. But what they're looking to do is get about a $40 billion fund put together for infrastructure projects, a lot of which will be spent here in the states. So Saudi money may end up helping to build new projects in the states. If you can't get an infrastructure deal from here in Washington, he may get one thanks to Riyadh.


O'KEEFE: And that is the irony.

But, look, he brought about 50 corporate executives with him with the hope that they would either finalize deals or put some new ones together. It looks like that's happening to some extent. And it's a demonstration of the kind of diplomacy that the administration thinks they can do, economic diplomacy, which helps the countries they're visiting and obviously would have a benefit back here.


Molly, let's switch back here. Did something turn this week in terms of the investigations and the challenge the president has on the Russia front?

BALL: It's almost hard for me to remember where this week began because every day has felt like a year given the incredible pace of new developments, the explosion of all of these scandals. It's hard to believe that it was less than two weeks ago that Director Comey was fired. But -- so something turned in that things happened and really important things were learned, right? The appointment of the special prosecutor. A very important turn in the saga. But if you're talking about the sentiment of the Congress in particular, I spent most of my week talking to Republicans on Capitol hill and their staff and people around the Congress and there was a feeling that this idea that some sort of dam broke and that they're now ready to really go after the president, that's a little bit overblown. They really do still -- they're very nervous when -- when Anthony was talking about the -- the nervous Trump curious voters out there in the country, that was very much the vibe I got from Capitol Hill Republicans. They really still want him to be something that he hasn't been so far. They are incredibly nervous by all of these things happening. And there was actually a sense of relief at the appointment of a special prosecutor because for a lot of Republicans in Congress, that took a load off of their shoulders, put it in somebody else's hands and now they can all say, we trust him, we respect him, it's up to him and, whew, we don't have to do that.


What did you make of the week, Ramesh?

PONNURU: Molly was saying that the last week had felt like a year and I think specifically it felt like the seventh year of an administration where often the Washington atmosphere is one where the White House is enveloped by scandal and it's just sort of consumed by this kind of controversy. What's different, of course, is that this is not even the seventh month of this administration. It hasn't even fully staffed itself. And we've got this kind of -- kind of atmosphere.

But it's a weather pattern that's confined to D.C. I don't think that it is yet true that the country at large feels that way. And one of the things that's happening with congressional Republicans is, look, they've got this feeling in the pit of their stomach. They wish the president would act in different ways, but they are keenly aware that the vast majority of Republican voters across the country, including the voters in their districts, still supports this president. And you will see a pattern where the House Republicans who are in swing seats are more nervous. The senators who are in blue or purple states are more nervous. But the bulk of Republicans don't fit into either of those categories and they're nervous but they're still going to be supporting this president.

DICKERSON: Ed, they're nervous and what about the agenda? Are they nervous about that too?


DICKERSON: They're nervous about an unpredictable president, but what about the future in terms of getting stuff done?

O'KEEFE: I mean it's important to -- to reiterate what the speaker said at one point or actually twice this week, which was, you know, you may think Washington's consumed by scandal, but we are still doing the nation's business here. There were meetings among Republicans to get ready for health care with the CBO's estimates on that House bill expected this week. That allows the senate to really get to work on health care for real now. They were starting it put together plans for tax reform, which, of course, is really the big item on the wish list for Republicans. But they do worry that the more of this that there is, the worse off they become. There were a few moments this week I think where Republicans -- as much as they -- and I agree with Ramesh, may not take this as a danger sign quite yet, all of them, where I think they realize they have to take it seriously at least. John McCain, Richard Burr, among others, when asked in the immediacy of the aftermath of these stories coming out confronted by reporters and were a bit flippant about it at first. Once they went back to their offices and actually read the stories, they realized how serious it was and went to great lengths to make sure that people understood -- they understood how serious it is. They'll be worrying about that while they're trying to get other things done.

DICKERSON: David, your thoughts on the meeting between the president and the -- and the Russia foreign minister and -- and ambassador. There were two parts of that meeting. One, the president's comments about James Comey. But then there was this question of whether classified intelligence was -- was given to the Russians in the meeting. What do you make of that?

IGNATIUS: The president has the authority to declassify intelligence. That's one of the powers the president has is to share sensitive information with foreign leaders. It's used often to good effect. We need to know more about that. The meeting just felt unseemly. Thee smirking figure of -- of the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and the White House kind of dismissing reporters, what are you doing here, I mean this -- this is our country.

But I thought more generally, John, this crazy week with the appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel, you could almost hear an exhale. Whoo, you know, here comes somebody who I -- I haven't found anybody who says anything negative about Robert Mueller. He is -- he is an outstanding figure. He's respective. He -- one thing we're going to have to deal with in our business, he doesn't leak. So he's going to conduct this investigation quietly. If there's something that was done wrong, he's going to find it out. If you're sitting in the White House, you have to recognize, this is a serious prosecutor. So I think we're now in -- in what -- in what my friend Steve Hadley likes to call regular order. You know, we're in a more calm, stable period. Steve, a former national security adviser, knows what it's like for things to be bumping around. Less of that maybe now.

DICKERSON: Ramesh, I was struck by Sean Spicer's argument about James Comey. In -- in explaining what the president meant when he was talking to the Russians, he said that -- that because of Comey's grandstanding and politicizing of the investigation into Russia, it made negotiations harder with Russia. What did you make of that?

PONNURU: Well, it seems like an admission against interests on the part of the president. One that would tend to confirm the dark suspicions of his critics that he went after Comey because Comey was getting in the way of his attempts to curry favor with the Russians and was getting closer to finding things out that the president doesn't want to get out. That it doesn't necessarily mean that because we don't -- it's just hard to say, particularly with this president, what things mean.

The other thing that's interesting about this is, this is -- this administration has ping ponged back and forth in its explanations of why it fired James Comey. It's absolutely within the president's authority to do it. Nobody doubt s that. But they keep acting like guilty people in the way they can't settle on one simple explanation for it.


All right, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks to all of you.

And we'll be back in a moment with thoughts on presidents and the press.


DICKERSON: This week, President Trump reflected on his place in history.


TRUMP: Look at the way I've been treated recently, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.


DICKERSON: Actually, there's plenty of competition for that title. President John Adams was labelled a hermaphroditic character by a journalist who was so rough on Adams that he threw him in jail. A newspaper published that Jefferson was dead and when caught in the lie said they were just trying to make readers feel better. Abraham Lincoln was called a gorilla and an idiot and a newspaper called for his assassination.

The press was more partisan then, but even in modern times, President Trump is in good company with feeling aggrieved. Here's a Trump-like comment from a recent president, cleaned up a bit. "I have fought more darn battles here for more things than any president has in 20 years, and not gotten one darn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press, and I am sick and tired of it. you get no credit around here for fighting and bleeding."

Was that Richard Nixon? He did douse the press in expletives, but, no, that was Bill Clinton.

President Lyndon Johnson said the presidency was like being a donkey in a hail storm, sometimes you just have to stand there and take it.

President Donald Trump has challenged so many traditions of the office and public life, but by complaining about his shabby treatment in the press, President Trump is a very traditional president.

Back in a moment.


DICKERSON: That's it for us today. Thanks for watching. Tune in next week for a special Memorial Day book panel. We'll be joined by Sally Mott Freeman, author of "The Jersey Brothers,' and Lynne Olson, author of "Last Hope Island."

Until then, for FACE THE NATION, I'm John Dickerson.