'This Week' Transcript 3-26-23: Rep. Mike Gallagher, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, March 26.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, March 26, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ. ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: Legal peril.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: This is really prosecutorial misconduct. The two lead prosecutors, absolute human scum.
RADDATZ: Overnight, Donald Trump escalates his rhetoric as he faces his mounting legal danger and the potential indictment.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): What we see before us is not equal justice.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): If he keeps it up, he's going to get someone killed.
RADDATZ: This morning, Rachel Scott and Aaron Katersky with the latest developments. Dan Abrams and Asha Rangappa analyzed Trump's legal jeopardy. Plus, our powerhouse roundtable.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States does not seek conflict with Iran.
RADDATZ: U.S. forces clash with Iranian proxies in Syria, leaving one American contractor dead, as U.S./China tension rise on Capitol Hill over the popular social media app TikTok.
REP. CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS: Your platform should be banned.
RADDATZ: All the fall-out with Congressman Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh.
RADDATZ: At least 26 dead, dozens more injured, after powerful storms ripped through the south. The latest on the devastation with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
Was your sacrifice, was this nation's sacrifice, worth it?
SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): My sacrifice is for the Constitution of the United States. And that is always worth it.
RADDATZ: Twenty years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, two veterans in Congress reflect on the war, their service and its lasting toll.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK.
Donald Trump began his first rally of the 2024 campaign last night on a defiant note with a hand over his heart while a massive screen shows images of the January 6th riot with those in prison taking part in it joining in the chorus of the national anthem. Trump depicted them and himself as victims of political persecution and doubling down on his dangerous rhetoric ahead of a potential indictment by the Manhattan district attorney.
Days after warning of potential death and destruction if charged, Trump barbed prosecutors leading investigations into him, calling them, quote, human scums. There were death threats against the Manhattan DA this week and fears that protests called for by Trump could turn violent. Law enforcement has seen a spike in threats mirroring Trump’s tone.
We'll cover it all this morning, but we start in the south as the region braces for more severe storms after violent tornados ripped through Mississippi.
You’re looking at a live image of the trail of destruction that spanned nearly 100 miles long and left at least 26 dead, dozens more injured, and tens of thousands without power. Overnight, President Biden approved a major disaster declaration, making federal relief funds available to the hardest hit areas.
Whit Johnson is there in Rolling Fork with the very latest.
And, Whit, the mayor said the town of about 2,000 people was completely wiped off the map.
WHIT JOHNSON, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Martha, that's right. Good morning to you. He said that most of the buildings throughout the town were destroyed. Maybe a few left standing, but those are uninhabitable. And as the sun’s coming up, we’re just getting this panoramic view of the devastation here. Take a look behind me.
We’re going to go up above to our drone camera right now. I'll try to paint this picture for you. This behind me was a lumberyard. Several big structures there. Right next to it, a few neighborhoods mostly made up of trailer homes. Sadly, that’s where some of the fatalities occurred. But right now it’s all just been mixed together in this unrecognizable pile of debris.
And we’re seeing this as far as the eyes can see, across the street, down the street. This was a 60-mile path that was cut from that one deadly EF-4 tornado. And EF-4s are incredibly rare. Only 1 percent of all tornados are all EF-4s. They’re that powerful.
And this is what we’ve heard from people who live in this community. They knew there was bad weather. They heard the warnings. They didn’t have a lot of time to react, but many of them were already in their homes and started to take shelter. What they didn't expect was this. They didn't expect that when they were in their homes that the walls, the roofs, the windows all around them would be ripped to shreds. And that’s why we’ve seen just how deadly this storm was.
You noted that we spoke with the major here. He talked about not only the devastation but the resilience of this community as well.
We know that the search and rescue efforts are resuming this morning. They still have hope that if there’s anybody buried, that they can find them alive. We also noted as we arrived here on our live shot this morning, somebody planted an American flag right in the middle of the rubble here. That, just a signal of the strengths and resilience.
The mayor insists, despite everything you see, Martha, they will rebuild.
RADDATZ: Whit Johnson, our thanks you to you. Stay safe down there.
We’re joined now by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.
Administrator, I know you’re headed to Mississippi right after this. What’s the latest you’re hearing from your team on the ground about search and recovery efforts?
DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Good morning, Martha. Thanks so much for giving me an opportunity to talk with you today.
Yes, I'm headed to Mississippi right now because I want to be able to see firsthand the impacts that some of these communities have had. I know that from yesterday morning the death toll had risen by two and they’re still very much in lifesaving, life-sustaining mode. The first responders on the ground are doing such an amazing job, some of which probably have lost some of their homes themselves. And we have teams that are coming in, they arrived last night, more coming in today, to begin to help plan for and start the recovery process.
RADDATZ: And what’s the biggest priority for FEMA right now?
CRISWELL: The biggest priority for me is, one, making sure that the local jurisdictions, those first responders, have all of the resources that they need. And then, second, that we start to take care of these families. I know that the American Red Cross is on the ground, standing up shelters. These are temporary shelters. And we know families lost everything. And so we need to work with them now and find out what that interim sheltering solution is going to be, and then, how do we support them for a longer term while they rebuild their homes.
RADDATZ: And to that point, you’ve seen those devastating images from Rolling Fork. The mayor says the town is completely wiped out. So, what do those residents do? Can they really rebuild?
CRISWELL: You know, it just depends on what their level of damage is, right? And so that’s one of the reasons that I'm going there today, and I know that I'm going to be able to talk with the mayor. I want to hear from him directly as what his residents’ need. Everybody’s situation is going to be individual and unique to them, and so we want to make sure we understand what their unique needs are. In some of these communities, they are certainly some of the poorest communities in the state. And we know that we’re going to have to bring the full force of the federal family in there to come help them.
RADDATZ: And I just want to point out that we are looking at those images. And those homes are completely wiped out. Should they rebuild?
CRISWELL: I – again, everybody’s situation is going to be really specific and unique to them. It’s – you know, tornados like this, it’s really hard to predict exactly where they’re going to go. I think the one thing, as people start to think about rebuilding, is – is whether or not they can put a safe room in and providing that level of protection because right now the most important thing is making sure that people have a safe place to be when storms like this break out again in the future.
RADDATZ: And there were tornado warnings in place, but what – what about access to those warnings? Warning sirens are not always reliable or in place, even. And cell phones are good, of course. But 35 percent of the residents in the county live below the federal poverty line and they may not carry cell phones with a warning system. How are they supposed to be warned?
CRISWELL: I think it’s something that we have to – to continually look at what we can do to better inform people. We know that there are sirens. I know that some sirens did go off. I don’t have, you know, the exact picture of where they went off. But sirens are one of the best tools that we do have to give a widespread of warning to people quickly, especially when you have nocturnal tornadoes like this that happen while people are asleep.
Our emergency alert system that goes through the cell phones is another great way to get warning, but we need to really talk to these families and find out how they would have better gotten this message because we have to always work on giving people early warnings so they can take action, so they have enough time to take action to protect themselves and their families.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it. Safe travels.
CRISWELL: Thank you, Martha.
RADDATZ: And to politics now. Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail last night in Waco, Texas, for his first rally of the 2024 campaign, sounding off about prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the looming threat of an indictment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The weaponization of our justice system is not, as some have called it, a political spectacle. This is the central issue of our time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Senior investigative reporter Aaron Katersky is standing by at the courthouse in Lower Manhattan with the latest on the investigation.
But let's first turn to senior congressional Rachel Scott right there in Texas.
Good morning, Rachel.
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Martha, good morning.
And Donald Trump is as defiant as ever, making it clear that any possible indictment will not stand in the way of him running for president in 2024. In fact, the former president really leaning into his legal troubles, making it a central focus of his campaign message last night.
You heard him there telling his supporters that the central issue of our time is the, quote, weaponization of our justice system. The investigations into the former president are starting to ramp us as the 2024 presidential election cycles begin to take shape. Trump is spending much more time focused on the challenges surrounding him than the issues before our country, Martha.
RADDATZ: And, Rachel, Trump also pulled no punches yesterday, going after his top rival in the 2024 primary race -- Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
SCOTT: Martha, Trump actually took credit for DeSantis' political success, saying that he got him elected governor in 2018. He went onto say he's not as big fan of DeSantis, insisting that he’s, quote, dropping like a rock.
As for the Florida governor, we know that he's out touring these key early states, really testing the waters, pitching Florida as a conservative model for the rest of the country. Sources tell us that he would likely announce that he’s running for president after the legislative session ends in Florida in May. But Trump making one thing very clear, if DeSantis is in, he sees him as his biggest threat, Martha.
RADDATZ: Thanks, Rachel.
Let's turn now to Aaron Katersky.
And, Aaron, Trump's rhetoric about a potential indictment over those hush money payments has led to very real threats targeting Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg.
AARON KATERSKY, ABC NEWS SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: There have been multiple threats, Martha, and with Trump continuing to press these verbal attacks, the courthouse is increasing its physical security. Martha, Trump predicted he would be indicted by now. The next chance that could happen comes tomorrow.
KATERSKY (voice-over): New York city courts are stepping up security as the grand jury is expected to return Monday to hear evidence of how former President Trump accounted for a hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels. It is the most salacious element in the swirl of legal trouble around the former president and maybe his most immediate threat. Trump's increasingly hostile rhetoric about the case and the prosecutor has put the courthouse behind metal barriers and compelled Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to up his own security, while reassuring his staff they would not be intimidated.
After falsely claiming he would be arrested last Tuesday, Trump made an ominous claim about the consequences of an indictment, writing on social media, it could result in potential death and destruction.
On Friday, a letter addressed to Bragg contained a death threat saying: Alvin, I’m going to kill you, and a white powder later deemed non-hazardous.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries blasted Trump’s rhetoric.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): It’s dangerous, and if he keeps it up, he's going to get someone killed. We’ve already seen the consequences of incitement from the former president.
KATERSKY: Trump’s connection to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is still being investigated by a special counsel. The judge rejected executive privilege claims and ordered then chief of staff Mark Meadows and other top Trump aides to testify. And there are new developments in the special counsel’s investigation of Trump's handling of classified materials after he left the White House. Special counsel Jack Smith successfully fought to bring Trump's attorney before a grand jury in Washington on Friday. Sources told ABC News the special counsel believes Trump intentionally and deliberately misled his lawyers about retention of documents with classified markings, while attorney client privilege typically shields lawyers from testifying, a judge was convinced there was preliminary evidence that Trump may have used Corcoran to advance a criminal scheme. Compared to those investigations and their implications for national security and democracy, the New York case centered around an alleged affair and allegedly falsifying business records may seen less consequential, but it may be closest to resolution and involves the kind of charge routinely brought by the Manhattan district attorney.
KATERSKY (on camera): Once the grand jury reconvenes here, it will do so under tighter security and it could hear from at least one additional witness -- Martha.
RADDATZ: Aaron Katersky, thank you.
Let's break down these cases now with our experts, ABC News chief legal analyst, Dan Abrams, and Asha Rangappa, assistant dean at the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, also a former FBI special agent.
Thanks for joining us this morning, both of you.
And, Dan, let me start with you. As we jut heard, all eyes are on the Manhattan D.A. this week. But the case seems to hinge on a legal theory that's never really been used in New York.
How risky is this?
DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Look, it’s risky for a number of reasons. The new theory is in getting it from the misdemeanor to the felony. They're kind of jerry-rigging it to some degree.
And the reason that that’s novel and it’s difficult, it hasn’t been quite done exactly in this way before, but there’s also another factor here, which is this isn’t just a misdemeanor case that they’re trying to get into a felony. It’s also a seven year old case. It’s also a case that two other sets of prosecutors, the previous DA and the federal prosecutors decided not to move forward with.
So, you know, when people say to me sometimes, well this had been me, I would have been prosecuted for sure. My response is, if this had been you, I don't know that seven years later they would have revisited this misdemeanor and try to turn it into a felony. So, it is a challenging legal theory. They may be able to do it, but there are problems here.
RADDATZ: And, Asha, what problems do you see?
ASHA RANGAPPA, ASSISTANT DEAN, YALE JACKSON SCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS & FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Martha, I think that it depends on which legal theory they choose. So, if the Manhattan DA's office tries to tie this to a state or federal campaign violation. I do agree with Dan that they can encounter some significant legal issues.
But there is a pathway where the DA could tie this to the Trump Organization’s business practices, and in particular tax fraud. This is the same legal theory that they used to prosecute the Trump Organization. And they’ve had a window into the Trump Organization’s business practices through that trial, which is maybe why they are resurrected this case. This has been known as the zombie case because it came back to life. But that could be what changed. And I think that they would be on stronger footing if they go down the road of tax violations that directly impact the state of New York.
RADDATZ: And, Asha, I want to stay with you. You were an FBI special agent. When you hear Donald Trump's rhetoric. He's called for protests, warned of potential death and destruction. How does law enforcement even prepare for that?
RANGAPPA: Well, at this point, we know that he has some followers who may act on his rhetoric. After the surge at Mar-a-Lago last August, there was someone who showed up at the FBI office in Cincinnati with an AR-15. You know, someone else crashed into a barricade at the U.S. Capital.
So, I think the problem here is going to be the potential for lone wolf violence. I don't think that there’s going to be the kind of organized protests that we saw on January 6th. But I think that they do need to prepare for that. And we need to also look out for this information vacuum that may exist between the time that the DA is negotiating to surrender and when the charges are actually made public. And that's a time when Trump can really, you know, spin and say what he wants without the Manhattan DA really being able respond or correct a record.
So, that is what I think that they're going to need to prepare for.
RADDATZ: And, Dan, let's turn to that document case that Asha mentioned. How significant could the testimony of Trump's lawyer be?
ABRAMS: See, I think that case is a much more significant one. And we also can't underestimate how important it is that a court has required his lawyer to testify. That almost never happens here. And what a court ruled and then an appellate court upheld was what's called this crime fraud exception. Meaning, that the legal advice that was given, was given in furtherance of a crime. They’ve already determined that. Meaning, that's the only reason that the lawyer is being required to testify, where the attorney/client privilege is being pierced. Just that makes it already a really big deal as to where we are in that case. And so regardless of exactly what the testimony was of his lawyer, the fact that the court, and now the courts, have determined that there was a crime, that that legal advice was given in furtherance of it, already tells you a lot about where that investigation is.
RADDATZ: And, Asha, it also makes clear of the difference between Donald Trump's case and that of Mike Pence's and Joe Biden regarding classified documents.
RANGAPPA: Absolutely. I think that by piercing that attorney/client privilege, what prosecutors have is the opportunity to demonstrate that Trump actively lied and misled his own lawyers and knew that he still had these classified documents and really tried to prevent law enforcement and -- from getting to them. And this stands in stark contrast to the full cooperation of both the vice president and President Biden in terms of turning over documents. And I think it would be easier to distinguish why Trump's case would be prosecuted and theirs is not.
RADDATZ: And, Dan, just very quickly if you could, Trump still faces a very real threat of being indicted in Georgia?
ABRAMS: Yeah, that's another potentially serious case related to overturning of the election. And we expect to hear from the Fulton County D.A. any day now because a special grand jury, which is just an advisory grand jury there, clearly has already advised, suggested that there be charges in connection with that case as well.
RADDATZ: Thanks to you both for joining us. The roundtable is coming up. Plus, after TikTok's CEO was grilled on Capitol Hill, is Congress ready to ban the popular social media app? Our interview with the leaders of the House committee taking on China, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVE JOYCE: TikTok is they spy in Americans' pockets.
REP. TROY BALDERSON: Your company continues to feed our children this dangerous and harmful content.
REP. BLUNT ROCHESTER: Quite frankly, your testimony has raised more questions for me than answers.
REP. CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS: Your platform should be banned.
SHOU ZI CHEW, CEO, TIKTOK: There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Lawmakers on Capitol Hill hammering TikTok's CEO over his company's ties to China. Joining us now are the leaders of the new House committee investigating China, Chairman Mike Gallagher and Ranking Member Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Both also serve on the Intelligence Committee. We're going to get to TikTok in a moment.
But, Congressman Gallagher, you're also on the Armed Services Committee. So I want to start by asking you about the attacks targeting U.S. bases in Syria that left an American contractor dead, several servicemembers wounded. The Biden administration retaliated with airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed militias believed to be responsible, but that didn't seem to stop them. What -- what more should we be doing?
REP. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-WI): Well, I think we should be concerned that our deterrent posture vis-a-vis Iran is crumbling. We can't afford another failure of deterrence like that which we saw in Ukraine.
Some practical steps going forward, in my opinion, would be to reimpose a policy of maximum economic pressure, abandon an attempt to resuscitate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as well as force the Pentagon to deliver something they're late on, which is a report on the U.S.-Israeli Technology Working Group, which should have a suite of practical proposals for how we can turbo-charge our technological cooperation with the Israelis, help them better defend against the threat of missiles, help us better defend against the threat of Iranian missiles or Iranian proxy militias.
So, very concerning, more we need to do. And we need to have a clear idea of the regime we're facing in Tehran.
RADDATZ: And, Congressman Krishnamoorthi, the 900 American servicemembers and hundreds of contractors in Syria, they’re supposed to be part of an anti-ISIS mission. So, why is this happening if we’re there to fight ISIS?
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, I think that we’re kind of targets of opportunity for these Iranian-backed militias. But we’re not going anywhere. We have to stay in northern Syria and work with our partners in Iraq as well in fighting ISIS. And I think the Biden administration did exactly what it had to do in responding to these Iranian militias.
I believe there have been 78 attacks by these militias during the Trump administration and now the Biden administration. And, unfortunately, we’re going to have to deal with them appropriately, but we’re not leaving that part of the world as we deal with ISIS.
RADDATZ: And, Congressman Gallagher, another subject. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin also announced yesterday that Russia would be deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Ukraine’s neighbor, Belarus.
How concerned are you about that?
GALLAGHER: Well, Putin has engaged in nuclear saber-rattling since the start of this crisis. It’s something to be concerned about. But we should not allow his threats to deter us. We can’t allow that to be a cause for delaying critical weapon system that we need to deliver to the Ukrainians.
I think, broadening this out, we need to understand that Putin is Xi Jinping’s junior partner. He is Xi’s agent of chaos, his tethered goat in Europe. And if we try and separate these problem sets, I think we’re going to result in a geopolitical posture that’s ineffective.
These are two countries who increasingly are allied against the West, trying to undermine us. And so, we have to understand what we’re up against and make sure that we are re-arming so we can learn lessons from Ukraine and apply them to places like East Asia, for example.
RADDATZ: Okay, let’s turn to TikTok CEO Shou Chew’s testimony on the Hill. He strongly pushed back on lawmakers’ assertion that Chinese government can access Americans’ data, insisted Americans’ data is stored in the U.S., an initiative they called Project Texas.
Congressman Krishnamoorthi, did anything he say assuage your concerns?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: No, it did not. I think that it created more concerns quite frankly.
I’ll just point to a few things.
One is that he was not willing to call what the Chinese employees of ByteDance did on spying on American journalists and citizens as being spying. Everybody was scratching their head when he actually said that.
He also was unwilling to acknowledge that there’s a genocide going on with regard to the Uyghur people in Xinjiang province, in the northwest corner of China. Again, bowing to pressure from this Chinese communist party.
And then, finally, you know, there’s a saying, don’t mess with Texas. But Project Texas is a mess. There are whistleblowers coming forward saying that whatever the TikTok management is saying about Project Texas is a pack of lies, and that even when they erected this firewall, supposed firewall with regard to data of American users, these Chinese employees of ByteDance, the parent company, were able to spy on American journalists.
So, unfortunately, I don’t think that he did TikTok any favors through his testimony.
RADDATZ: And, Congressman Gallagher, how likely is it that there will be a ban?
GALLAGHER: Well, I actually think after that hearing, and that same day on Capitol Hill, there were two other hearings related to China, including a hearing we held on the ongoing Uyghur genocide, the largest ethno-religious interment since the Holocaust. So it’s horrific that the CEO was unwilling to answer questions.
And to foot stomp on Raja’s point, the only reason that would explain his evasiveness is fear of angering his overlords in the Chinese communist party.
I think this actually increase the likelihood that Congress will take some action. We have the only bipartisan, bicameral bill that would allow for either a ban or a forced sale to an American company. And the key part that is missing from Project Texas’ mitigation strategy is control of the algorithm. That’s really what we need to address.
It’s not just exfiltrating data from an American phone. It’s what they’re able to push to Americans through the algorithm, control our sense of reality, control the news, meddle in future elections. They’ve actually united Republicans and Democrats out of the concern of allowing the CCP to control the most dominant media platform in America.
RADDATZ: And, Congressman Krishnamoorthi, there are 150 million TikTok users. Most of them are younger people. The Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo recently said that if TikTok is banned, you are literally going to lose every voter under 35.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think good policy makes good politics. And in this particular case, we have to recognize that while TikTok is another social media app and we have a generalized concern about these social media apps, it’s different in kind from any other social media app because its parent company is beholden to the Chinese communist party.
That is why on a bipartisan basis, we’ve banned TikTok from all federal devices. And that’s why the FBI director, the director of national intelligence, the CIA director, and the entire intelligence community believe it’s a severe risk to our national security and we have to deal with it.
RADDATZ: Okay. Thanks very much for joining us. You got a long road ahead.
The roundtable is next. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: The roundtable is ready to go. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You’ll see some numbers that are incredible. You’ll see some numbers that are -- we just had one today, 69 for Trump and, I think, 18 or 19 for desanctimonious.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): You know, you can call me – you can call me whatever you want, I mean, just as long as you, you know, also call me a winner, because that's what we've been able to do in Florida.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ. ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis already squaring off.
So, let's bring in our roundtable.
Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile, “Politico” columnist Alex Burns, “New York Times” national reporter Astead Herndon, and Sarah Isgur, former Trump Justice Department spokesperson, now an ABC contributor.
Welcome on this Sunday morning.
Donna, I'm going to go straight to you.
I don't know whether you watched it, but you certainly heard about Donald Trump last night saying the Pledge of Allegiance and the January 6th prisoners on tape singing the national anthem. It was a -- really a look back at grievances and a look ahead at more.
DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, I watched it. As you know, when – once my team was unable to really get ahead in the Sweet Sixteen, I had nothing to do. So from 6:00 p.m. until 7:45 p.m., I watched it. Of course, I was drinking something stronger than water, but we will not discuss that.
Look, Donald Trump, yesterday, played the victim card. He played all of his grievances the best of Donald Trump with a little bit of sprinkling of what he's been talking about lately, which is, I'm being prosecuted. Come to my defense. I need your help. You know, the whole thing with the fingers and the hands and the like. It’s despicable what he's doing.
Donald Trump is a leading frontrunner in the Republican primary. Leading frontrunner. There’s no one even close to him, although Governor DeSantis has tried to catch up. But he is the frontrunner. And for the frontrunner of a major political party to incite his crows the way he is doing, it should be condemned by everyone. There’s no place in America for the kind of political violence that he’s projecting with these upcoming court cases.
RADDATZ: Sarah, were you surprised by any of it?
SARAH ISGUR, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No. I mean it certainly is different than what we saw at this point in 2015. Donald Trump in 2015 was running as the changed candidate. He wasn’t tied to any records. He was able to say whatever he wanted about the problems that people had and how he was going to solve them. That’s very different than the 2023 Trump that we’re seeing.
You’re also seeing Ron DeSantis, I think, pursue a different strategy than what we saw from 2016 candidate. You know, 2016, every candidate was trying to just be that person who would be up against Trump. You don't have that this time because of the dynamic with Trump and DeSantis really has turned into a bit of a binary race. It looks, in a lot of ways, much more like the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama primary from 2008 in some ways where you have the changed candidate now is Ron DeSantis, not allowing Donald Trump to flank him on any issues, but trying to draw that contrast as we saw that he's the winner and Donald Trump has lost so many of these recent races.
RADDATZ: And, Alex, polling does show Trump ahead. DeSantis hasn’t announced yet, of course.
ALEX BURNS, POLITICO ASSOCIATE EDITOR FOR GLOBAL POLITICS & COLUMNIST: No, he hasn’t. And I think to Sarah's point about the 2008 comparison. At this point in 2007, Barack Obama had been in the race for more than a month, right? That when you start out behind against a universally known candidate, you kind of got to get in the ring, right? And I do think there – what you hear more and more from Republicans certainly, and Washington, is this anxiety that there was this window right after the midterm elections where it was a totally mainstream, widely discussed view in the Republican Party that Donald Trump really blew it in 2022 and maybe it was time – maybe it was time for somebody else. And that that window – it’s not that it’s closed, but that it might be a little bit narrower than it was three or four months ago. And that, when DeSantis gets in, assuming he does get in, it might be a slightly harder fight than it would have been eight or 12 weeks agio.
RADDATZ: And, Astead, we had DeSantis -- let's go back to Florida here.
RADDATZ: He announced an expansion of the controversial "Don't Say Gay" to all grades now.
RADDATZ: Is that going to help him?
HERNDON: This is a -- this is a fight he is intentionally picking. We have seen him use the governor's office for these kind of set plays, to be able to pick and choose a slice of Republican culture war that he wants to see the friendly media, that he wants to get on Fox News. And that's how he's raised his profile away from those other challengers.
But this has also got him into trouble. His position on Ukraine is one that he has had to walk back over the last couple weeks and has created some daylight for other candidates, folks like Nikki Haley, folks like Mike Pence, who are also looking at 2024, to try to take a slice from him.
Ron DeSantis is doing a very careful dance even before he gets into the race, trying to speak to the MAGA base of Donald Trump, while also looking at the broader Republican electorate.
But Donald Trump is a -- is a values-driven candidate. Now, it is a grievance value, but he's not going to calibrate based on what he thinks he has to triangulate around the base with. And the other candidates, I think, are also pulling from DeSantis in a different way, that we see him be on the defensive in the last couple weeks. And I think that speaks to Alex's point about the growing window of nervousness that he may have missed that window.
RADDATZ: And, Sarah, you worked on Republican campaigns. Are these cultural issues a good thing for Republicans to be hitting? It didn't really help them in the midterms.
ISGUR: Well, look at, for instance, the Glenn Youngkin race in Virginia coming off of 2020, and you can argue that in fact the school issues and the crime issue were incredibly effective. In 2022, you didn't see it work for those candidates that made it much more about revisiting the 2020 election, much more about Donald Trump.
So I'm not sure we quite know how the issues actually will fare with candidates who are pursuing them like a Glenn Youngkin. But I think that Ron DeSantis is threading that needle incredibly well, on those issues in particular, for a Republican primary.
And at this point, like Donna said, Donald Trump is the prohibitive front-runner in the polling. But the national polling doesn't matter. What's going to matter is, if Donald Trump loses big in Iowa and goes to New Hampshire and can't hold on, this whole thing is totally different.
RADDATZ: And, Donna, let's not leave out Joe Biden here. What he's doing, and angered some Democrats, is moving to the center?
BRAZILE: I don't think so. I know people believe that, you know, he's -- the decision on D.C., I thought, was -- was really a terrible decision because I support home rule, and there was no need to interfere in local affairs.
But on immigration and some of the other issues...
RADDATZ: New oil drilling.
BRAZILE: Oh, the oil drilling, and trying to make sure that the United States remained competitive, that we can produce our own petroleum. And then he's also, you know, blocked off a lot of federal land for conservation efforts.
Look, Joe Biden this Tuesday will start an Invest in America tour, where he's going to spend the next two to three weeks, along with members of his Cabinet, the vice president, when she returns from Africa, they're going to begin to talk directly to the American people on the anxieties and concerns that everyday Americans have.
I want to say something on these culture wars. You know, this is the Republicans going through another round of silly season. It doesn't matter what happened in Virginia. I mean, to begin to, you know, basically outlaw drag queens, they had somebody going to a, quote/unquote, "drag show" to see if there were drag queens. I mean, if you want to learn how to dance, come to my house. Don't wait for a queen, just come on, OK. I'll invite you over.
But Ron DeSantis is running on a 1950s America, not a 2050 America, America of the future. So I think Joe Biden will have a real good advantage going into the 2024...
RADDATZ: And, Alex, talk about Joe Biden, what do you see?
BURNS: Oh, I think there's no question that he's doing his best to, sort of, claim that center ground. And, you know, people close to the president will say, "Look, he's always been more of a centrist." And that's true. But I think, for his first two years, when he had unified Democratic control of Congress, he did an awfully careful job of, you know, cranking up that fog machine to, sort of, blur the ideological differences within his own party.
And now I think he's facing a divided Congress; he's facing an emboldened, in some ways, a Republican Party, certainly, on the Hill. He's looking at a fight for reelection that, you know, is certainly not going to be easy, assuming that he does run. And, yeah, he's trying to minimize his political vulnerabilities on energy, on immigration, on crime.
I think the risk to Republicans here, Martha -- you know, Donna and Sarah are talking about the Virginia election in 2021. What worked so well for Glenn Youngkin was not just talking about culture war issues; it was tapping into the white-hot anger of parents and families in that moment about the way education worked at the height of the pandemic and their fears about crime.
And I think that, when you're talking about drag queens and when you're, sort of, fine-tuning, sort of, specific school-by-school curriculum choices, based on, sort of, pretty right-wing cultural instincts, I'm not sure that speaks to parents and families in the political middle.
BURNS: I think I'm quite sure it does not, in the same way that the Youngkin campaign did in 2021.
And so the risk to the GOP is you're spending time on these niche kind of, sort of, Internet right-wing issues, while Joe Biden is out there minimizing his political vulnerabilities.
RADDATZ: Go ahead.
HERNDON: But there's a difference with all the -- I think, too, for what the Glen Youngkins were thinking about that general election audience, Virginia, you know, Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, are thinking about the Republican primary.
And so, unfortunately, you know, for that audience, we have seen those kind of Internet culture war "pick and choose your grievance" issues really rise to the -- rise to the top. I mean, CPAC, which certainly was a diminished event this year, still functions as a kind of intellectual, ideological core of that America First movement.
And you see that reflected in all the candidates' language, not just Donald Trump, not just -- not just Ron DeSantis, but when Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, even Tim Scott, someone who's supposed to be an inspirational type figure in the Republican Party, reflects the type of grievance-driven, fear, that's really motivating a lot of the Republican base.
And so, while there is certainly a -- a gap between where that rhetoric is and a general election audience that we saw in the midterms, these folks are thinking about a Republican primary where it still seems like that's the plurality of where the electorate is.
RADDATZ: And -- and you do talk -- talk to a lot of people across the country about this. Let's turn to Donald Trump's legal problems. Do you think -- he has said in the past that he thought that would help him?
RADDATZ: If he was indicted. Do you think it will? And particularly with in independents, how will they see that?
RADDATZ: Outside of -- of the hardcore?
HERNDON: I -- I think that, when you talk about independents, when you talk about outside the hardcore, the picture is much worse for Donald Trump. It is undeniable that there is a legitimate backlash to folks thinking not only there is just generally too much drama, which is the lane Ron DeSantis has tried to take, but there is a legitimate feeling of a criminal element that deserves to be indicted.
Even a small amount of polling we see on this say most Americans, both -- even when we talk about Alvin Bragg's decision, have thought that this could be political and it was believable, because it's something that you can see Donald Trump doing.
The thing is, again back to the point about the audience, is that Donald Trump is using the language of victimhood more broadly just about himself. This is a Republican Party that has become victims on every level of the federal government, the DOJ, the FBI, and they are saying that this prosecution is another instance of that. So for the hardcores, it will stay; for the independents, I don't think so much.
RADDATZ: And, Sarah, you worked in the Justice Department; you're watching all of this. The House Judiciary Committee has demanded Alvin Bragg to testify and share records. He says, "No way." Now they're saying they might look at legislation?
ISGUR: This is the problem when both sides believe that the other side already broke the rules. And so you have the left saying that Donald Trump has already broken all the norms, has already undermined the rule of law, so it's OK if we bring, sort of, charges that don't really work, that are, you know, boot-strapped, as Dan was saying earlier in the show, because he's guilty of stuff, right? You know, "Cut down all the laws in England to get to the devil."
And Republicans are saying, "Look, they've undermined the rule of law, and so we now have carte blanche to do what we need to do to prevent them."
It's a dangerous thing, and we've seen it over and over again on all sorts of issues in this country.
RADDATZ: A lot to watch going forward. Every week, a lot to watch. Thanks for joining us today.
Coming up, 20 years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, two veterans in Congress reflect on the war's lasting legacy. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER JENNINGS: Good evening, everyone. The United States had a busy day today attacking Iraq and the war hasn’t formally begun. But in the south and in the north and in the western desert, the U.S. was bombing Iraqi assets the U.S. command wants out of the way before the big push begins. Throughout Iraq tonight, most certainly in Baghdad, the next phase for millions of people is going to be very violent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: It’s been 20 years since U.S. forces invaded Iraq, a warzone I’ve travelled to dozens of times during those years. And I’ve seen the tool the war took on U.S. servicemembers.
For many, their times overseas led them continue a life of public service back home. Some 35 Iraq war veterans serve in Congress, and I sat down with two of them, Senator Tammy Duckworth and Congressman Dan Crenshaw, to reflect on the war two decades later.
RADDATZ (voice-over): Senator Tammy Duckworth is reminded of the sacrifices she has made everyday. She was one of the first women to fly combat missions in the Iraq War and one of the first grievously injured.
When a rocket-propelled grenade pierced her Black Hawk helicopter in 2004, she lost both her legs and badly injured her right arm.
SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): I thought I deserved to lose my legs, I hurt my crew, I didn’t do my job, I failed as a pilot and I had not served honorably, I had not served according to my training. Sorry.
And, my husband caught me crying in my hospital bed and when he realized I was awakened and he said, what’s wrong? And I said to him, you know, I could barely talk and I said, I crashed the aircraft. It’s my fault.
He said, no, you didn't. And he said, no, you landed the aircraft. And I said, really? I have been fine ever since.
RADDATZ: Tat was more important than anything, knowing you didn't cause it.
DUCKWORTH: Knowing that I did my job when the troops were down as I was trained. As an officer, I didn’t let them down, and as a pilot, I didn’t let my crew down.
RADDATZ: When President George W. Bush announced the invasion of Iraq.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.
RADDATZ: Duckworth didn’t support the reasons behind the war but never hesitated going into combat.
DUCKWORTH: I was proud to go because it was my job as a soldier to obey all lawful orders and this was a lawful order.
RADDATZ: And was your sacrifice -- was this nation’s sacrifice worth it?
DUCKWORTH: My sacrifice is with the Constitution of the United States and that is always worth it.
RADDATZ: Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, lost an eye in combat in Afghanistan in 2012, but had previously deployed to Iraq.
DUCKWORTH: When you look back on the decision to go into Iraq that George Bush made, what did you think?
REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): It’s a complicated situation. It’s super easy to look back in time and say, oh, I could have done this better, 20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Mistakes were made. Was the entire thing a mistake? I don’t think you’ll ever know because you can't talk about what the counterfactual is.
RADDATZ (voice over): Crenshaw was in Iraq from 2008 to 2010, watching as the U.S. began to draw down troops.
CRENSHAW: By 2010 I'm leading a platoon in Ramadi. And that’s much the same as it was in 2008. There’s – we did run into some kinetic warfare at times. But it’s nothing like 2006. And certainly nothing like what I faced in Afghanistan in 2012.
RADDATZ: But three years later, ISIS swept in, filling the gap left behind by the U.S.
RADDATZ (on camera): 2014 we’re back because of ISIS.
RADDATZ: You think that was pretty easy to see?
CRENSHAW: It was – yes, I think it was painfully obvious. Again, all of these bad guys we were tracking, they were always on Syria, always in the eastern side of Syria, right on the border. That was their safe haven, right? I was the equivalent of Pakistan for the Taliban in Afghanistan. So, pretty obvious that they were laying in wait. Pretty obvious that it was American presence that was – that was keeping them there.
You know, we were in a -- we were in a pretty stable place by the end of 2011. We weren’t investing a massive amount of resources. And it should have been a lesson.
RADDATZ (voice over): Both crenshaw and Duckworth say there are many lessons to learn about war from their own experiences.
REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): We better know what the parameter of the fight are going to be and what the end goal of the fight will be so that we’re not stuck there for decades with no off-ramp.
CRENSHAW: War sucks, which is why you should try and prevent it. You don't prevent it by being weak and letting people bully you around. You don't prevent it by waiting until the last minute to act.
RADDATZ: And despite the outcome of these wars, their own injuries, and those that thousands of veterans still endure, they both remain immensely proud of their service.
CRENSHAW: I look back at my military experience and think it’s the best experience of my life. It’s just a time in my life that I – I don’t regret for a second, even with the missing eye. We’re an all-volunteer force and we go to do the – to do the bidding of the United States. And I don't want anyone to feel sorry for us. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me because of my injuries. I chose to do what I did.
DUCKWORTH: Like a lot of soldiers, there’s a part of me that, you know, if you ask me to do it again, I’d do it all over again because I gained so much more than I ever gave up.
RADDATZ: Our thanks to all of our veterans and their families.
We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out “WORLD NEWS TONIGHT," and have a great day.
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