Higher Learning for the Conservative Mind


Michael Anton, the Cohen Raid, and the Airstrikes On Syria


HUGH HEWITT: Morning glory, America. It's Hugh Hewitt. So glad to be back in the Beltway. Thanks to Joe Concha for taking the first two hours this morning as I got settled in. I'm joined by Matt Spalding this morning, as the Hillsdale Dialogue, the last hour of the radio week, gets underway. Dr. Spalding is, of course, the director of Hillsdale College's Kirby Center, the lantern in the shadow of the Capitol that breathes out freedom and shines forth every single day.

Matt Spalding, how are you?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Good morning, Hugh, how are you?

HUGH HEWITT: I am terrific.

MATTHEW SPALDING: Great to be with you.

HUGH HEWITT: I've got my traveling boots on. But I wanted to cover with you, especially this week-- all things Hillsdale, by the way, at Hillsdale.edu. All of my conversations with Matt Spalding, Dr. Larry Arnn, other members of the faculty, dating back in 2013, are collected at HughforHillsdale.com. I got a note this week that someone was binge listening in the gym, and I'm glad about that.

This week, though, is more current events than the great works of Western civilization, because Kirby made a big announcement this week. Michael Anton, the infamous, or famous, author of The Flight 93 Election, former spokesperson at the National Security Council, friend of the show-- he's been on the show before, he arranged my interview with HR McMaster last year, great guy-- has joined the Kirby Center. Tell us about that, Matt Spalding.

MATTHEW SPALDING: He has. Well, Mike Anton is a great thinker, a great writer, a great mind. His background is actually not in national security as much as political thought and American history. But he also writes on a number of other things. He was very much involved, and wrote some very aggressive essays, leading into the election of the president. And he went into the National Security Council as the spokesman. He actually came in before, but was there for the whole period of McMaster.

And we have been talking for some months, actually, about his coming over here to Kirby. He'd like to get back into writing. He's interested in doing some lecturing and being involved in some our programs. And as you know, perhaps not your listeners, but Hillsdale is building, and has been building, a larger presence and footprint here in DC to shape thinking about the most important questions along the lines that we teach. It's a radiation of our teaching.

And, in that sense, he was wanting to come over here, to get out of the White House. The president called him, was very thankful for his help. But he wanted to get back into this world and go back to his real love, which is writing, and thinking, and talking. And, in terms of our expansion plans in our building, and eventually having a graduate program here in Washington DC, expanding our influence in the administrations, and on the Hill, and in think tanks, he's a great acquisition, great fit. And an old friend of mine, and Dr. Arnn's, and will be great to have here.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, Matt Spalding, I am very bummed, personally. I'm just selfish about these things. When the National Security Council deputy will call you up and be on your show, that's a good thing for the radio show. Plus, he actually knew what he was talking about, as opposed to the previous administration, when their National Security spokesperson was Ben Rhodes, and it was often incoherent, to the point-- I mean, almost laughably incoherent. Mike Anton brought a great ability to translate what was going on around the world into the audience ability to grasp what the Trumpian approach to America First was.

MATTHEW SPALDING: No, I think that's actually right. I think he was probably one of the most articulate-- although, there are some other people over there-- one of the most articulate of what a Trumpian foreign policy should look like, both in theory and practice. He was very good at that. I think he'll be missed. I think his leaving the administration is a blow to the administration. Having said that, it's a great acquisition for us.

HUGH HEWITT: It's a windfall to Kirby.

MATTHEW SPALDING: But I think he can, in writing outside of-- you know, there was so much he couldn't write about on his own over there. I think he'll be freed up now to write, perhaps even more strongly, to voice that argument, not on foreign policy, but in other areas, and defend and think about what's going on right now, and articulate it in the public print. So I think, in an odd way, it's an immediate loss, but, from a larger perspective, I think it's a win for those who are trying to articulate, and think through, how we're going forward in our politics.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, Kirby has become-- in the think tank wars, and in the Washington DC beltway battles over influence, Kirby has become the neutral ground. I really do believe it is the lantern in the shadow of the Capitol, where everyone can repair to, to have a cup of coffee and actually talk amicably and civilly about disagreements on policy.

Do you agree with me about that, Matt Spalding?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Of course, I do. But it's also because you have to understand it's a different model. One of the reasons why I actually left the think tank world and came in to work for Hillsdale is precisely because I can now go in, I talk to the speaker, talk to members of the Hill, the administration. I'm not walking in with policy baggage or political baggage. I don't necessarily have an agenda. What I want to talk about is how to think, how to think politically, how to think in terms of constitutional politics, from the larger perspective of restoring the separation of powers, and restoring the backs and forths that I think will lead us back to a Madisonian constitutional system.

That's political. That's politics, in the grand sense. It's not a kind of academic ivory tower, but it's also not immediate partisan policy debates, which I think the think tanks have gotten stilted on, and they're not as dynamic and quick, and not as thoughtful. And I don't think they're actually helping our political dialogue as much as they used to in their grand day.

So we can do that here, in a way. Think of-- we don't necessary like to think of models, but the Kennedy School of Government. You have fellows, and thinking, and seminars, and the graduate program, pulling all this together in a powerful way.

HUGH HEWITT: And Hillsdale is headed that way, and it's great. And Michael Anton will be a part of that.

Let me bring up-- one of the things that Kirby does is provide a refuge for radio talk show hosts when they come to town. And I use the Kirby studio occasionally. And the first interview that Speaker Paul Ryan gave on the radio, he gave at the Kirby Center, in the studio with me, on a big day. When he took over the speakership, he came over and he sat down, and we spent an hour together talking about his ambitions, hopes, and dreams, three-plus years ago.

Your reaction upon hearing the announcement of his intention to retire after this term?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Well, as you know, I've known Paul for a long time, going back to when he worked on the Hill as a staffer. He's an old and dear friend. I think the lesson we've seen here is the difficulty of being Speaker of the House. Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown. I think of Henry IV, right? I mean, this idea that you can control the House anymore is increasing not clear. He was reluctant going into it. He knew this would probably happen. It was very difficult. We talked about it. But he had to do it.

That he's going out now, I think the timing, I'm a little more nervous about. But losing his voice in Congress-- I think Congress is unable to govern and unable to do so many things right now, that it really, unfortunately, I think, has forced him out.

This is not a good time for this to happen, going into an election. We need a strong speaker. We've always needed a strong speaker. And I was hoping he would do that. He had some great successes. Some things he couldn't get to. But really, I think that tells us a lot more about Congress than it does necessarily about Paul Ryan.

But this means the debate over the future of the Republican Party, I think, has now opened up in a way it wasn't just a few days ago.

HUGH HEWITT: I'll come back to that after the break. But I do want to say I credit the speaker's explanation completely. Having had three teenagers in the house, having had girl, boy, boy.

MATTHEW SPALDING: I completely agree.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, it's just one of those things where you don't get those years back, especially young men need dad around a lot more in high school. Maybe even more-- young girls do, too, but young men in freshman, sophomore, junior year, they really need dad around. And I took to heart that he's just been a weekend dad. His kids have only known him as a weekend dad.

MATTHEW SPALDING: I think he's being completely honest about that. That's absolutely true. We've talked many times. I see his wife comes back often to things, but the kids know. They were born when he was becoming a congressman. They're now teenagers. Absolutely, I take that seriously. I also think he needs to go back to Wisconsin for his own political future, so that when he runs for president, he can come from someplace else.

HUGH HEWITT: Ha-ha! No, I was going to say, I believe in two acts in American life. This one is going to be a third act. There was the vice presidency, there's the speakership. Now, there's going to be some retirement, some reflection. I wouldn't be surprised to see him write. And then, I wouldn't be surprised to see him run, either governor, senator, or president.

Your thoughts on that, Matt Spalding?

MATTHEW SPALDING: I absolutely agree. Paul is smart. He knows what's going on in this country. He's got a larger vision that we need to hear about America. He's got an established way of thinking, by which I don't mean the establishment. I think an important voice in American politics. I think, in the Trump world, it's become hard for him to articulate that. We know he's not completely copacetic with the president. He's not an anti-Trumper. But I think that maneuvering is harder for him, in this context.

So I think because of the nature of Congress, and because of the Trump presidency, this is a time for him to reposition himself. But I think he does have higher ambitions for the good of the country.

HUGH HEWITT: And we'll be right back with Dr. Matthew Spalding, director of the Kirby Center. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue. Hillsdale.edu for all the wonderful online courses. HughForHillsdale for all of our previous conversations. Stay tuned, America.

Welcome back, America. It's Hugh Hewitt. Last radio hour of the week means the Hillsdale Dialogue here on the Hugh Hewitt Show. For all our new affiliates in New York, along-- well, all, from Elmira, to all along the tear there-- welcome.

And every single week, at this hour, I'm joined by someone from Hillsdale, either Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of the college, Dr. Matthew Spalding, the chair and the leader of the Kirby Center, Hillsdale's lighthouse in Washington DC, one of the members of the faculty or staff at Hillsdale, one of their schools, to talk about big ideas and big issues. But this week, we're talking about big headlines. And Matt Spalding is my guest. Longtime maneuverer within the beltway. He's seen it all. But I don't think he's ever seen a president's lawyer's personal offices swept.

And Matt Spalding, this raises a serious separation of powers issue. We talked, last hour, about how Kirby tries to combine Madisonian government with the current events of the day. What was your reaction to this? Because I've got a very strong negative reaction to this.

MATTHEW SPALDING: Oh, I think this is amazingly unusual, and I think this is a big deal. And I think it's politically unprecedented in American history for someone to go after the private lawyer of the President of the United States. If they don't have extremely good reasons for doing what they did, which is a very significant legal question, they will have a very high price to pay. I think this is--

If I were the president, I would hope his lawyers are telling him to seriously rethink his discussions with the investigation, to pull back quite a bit. But having said, that I would be worried probably less about Mueller than I would be about Mr. Cohen right now, and what they're going after. Because this is not about Russian collusion anymore. This is about something else.

HUGH HEWITT: And I'm not sure how to phrase this. The special counsels have always gone off the reservation. Mueller didn't. He said he found something. Now, I happen to believe that Mueller's team wants the fruits of the poisoned tree. They want this seized material, and it's not poisoned yet, but I think they're going to find out that, upon review, a whole bunch of stuff was taken out of there.

Because you think about a private lawyer's office-- your most confidential lawyer-- he's going to have his testamentary documents, his trust and estates, going to have all his divorce settlements, going to have every nondisclosure agreement he ever signed. It's going to be the most sensitive stuff.

I don't even know where it is. I don't know if it's in a sensitive compartment information facility, a SCIF. I know that everyone hostile to the United States wants those documents, and I just don't have confidence in the Bureau keeping them safe. Do you?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Well, there's a procedure that should be followed. There are some actual particular rules about something like this. I mean, to overcome attorney-client privilege, you have to go through a much harder procedure. It had to be signed off in the Justice Department. And then, that material is taken, and they have to set up a special group to look at it, or maybe a special master. The people who actually initially asked the doctors, they're not going to see everything. They're going to see things pertinent to what they were looking for. Having said that, I have very little confidence here in what is going on.

But Hugh, I think it's significant that-- I think this is actually, in many ways, less a Mueller question, about his investigation. He went to the Justice Department with a set of questions that we now know, from the memo released by Rosenstein, probably did not include looking for some of the information that supposedly he was looking for. So he did actually send this to the US Attorney in the South District of New York, and turned it over to the FBI.

So there is some separation here between the Mueller investigation. And what has happened here is unprecedented, and I think politically dangerous, as it is.

HUGH HEWITT: We got a minute to the break. I believe that Mueller ought to be left unmolested to do his job and wrap up. There's no collusion. But I do think that Rod Rosenstein ought to be summoned by Chuck Grassley to answer questions about this, because-- and this is maybe what you can comment on-- it's a big deal to violate attorney-client privilege.

MATTHEW SPALDING: It's a massive deal. And to do it simply, you have to have very good reason. And it has to overcome a lot of assumptions here. And he signed off on it. I'd like to know about that. But this is the President of the United States. This is not a mere attorney and a mere client. So I think the political significance of this is of a huge political magnitude.

HUGH HEWITT: I will be right back with Dr. Matt Spalding of the Kirby Center. Hillsdale.edu. We turn to Syria next, and what does a constitutional president do when confronted with weapons of mass destruction?

Stay tuned, America. It's the Hugh Hewitt Show.

Welcome back, America. It's Hugh Hewitt, joined by Dr. Matthew Spalding, president, head, chief executive officer of the Kirby Center, which is Hillsdale College's lighthouse in Washington DC. The Kirby Center puts on programming, invites members of Congress over, the intellectuals. And Doctor Arnn is often there. Matt Spalding is always there. Their team is always there.

I've covered, thus far, in the first two segments, the arrival of Michael Anton at the Kirby Center, which is great news, and the departure of Paul Ryan, as well as the astonishing raid upon Michael Cohen's office, with Matt Spalding, because he's a constitutionalist. Now, we turn, in our last segment of this week's Hillsdale Dialogue, to the biggest issue. I saved it for last-- Syria.

Before I ask any specific questions, we don't know what's going on exactly. We only know what we read the newspapers and what we hear around town. But what do you think of the looming and ongoing confrontation with Syria, Matthew Spalding?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Well, I think this is a very significant event. What I immediately thought about-- to make what is actually a historical point, I suppose-- is a certain parallel here with the Bush administration and Saddam Hussein. The difference here being that the intelligence question is less blurry. There's more we know. That is, he's actually used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He's known to have done so. And so that raises many of those similar questions.

Bush went through this same discussion. And we know now from classified documents released-- the discussions between the Defense Department, the State Department, NSC-- this caused them to rethink the question of defense. What do you do when there there's not an imminent threat on you, but they have weapons of mass destruction-- chemical or biological weapons? They can deliver them, they could potentially put them the hands of terrorists, who could present you with a direct threat.

And they made this argument about preemptive defense. Sometimes, you have to do these kinds of things for strategic reasons, and the use of force becomes a legitimate concern in taking such actions. And I think he was very clear that Assad, as he says, is an animal. And making that case, that it's a threat to the United States, I think, is a legitimate act. And the way he's presumably thinking through it with his military advisors, not necessarily in his Twitter feed, but I assume they're thinking through this, the more serious plans of how to act.

HUGH HEWITT: Well, you know, let's pause on the Twitter feed for a second. I got some pushback on yesterday's program from people who said the Twitter feed was inappropriate. You know what, if the idea is to put the Russians on notice, that they'd better pull back, and get out of their hidey holes, it was pretty effective in sending a message, right?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Yeah. You know. Assad, I'm sure is in a bunker as we speak.

HUGH HEWITT: Yeah. Now, let's talk a little bit about strategy. I had Madeleine Albright on yesterday, and she said she's worried that there's no strategy. I think, in fact, the surging of the Truman group, and the fact that we've got Theresa May on board-- and David Cameron could not rally the conservatives when President Obama wanted to strike Assad in 2013. The Brits would not support us. We've got Macron with us. We've got Saudi Arabia. The Crown Prince, who's been in France, saying, I'm with you. I know Israel struck Syria.

And so earlier this week, Senator Mike Rounds was on the show, and he said, he hopes to have a regime threatening response, and left it at that. What do you think that means?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Well, again, I think that we have various parallels, Libya being another one. How do you act in a way that goes to your national security question? But the threat here is not merely the possession of those weapons. It's the use of those weapons in the hands of this particular regime. And I think the modern era of terrorism, this raises this question.

We learned, again, in Iraq, that you can't act in a way that assumes these actors are rational, in a way that you can kind of carefully calculate things. If you don't threaten the regime, or if you don't threaten him personally, the threat is not as much. Hussein misread all the calculations of the Bush administration approaching the war. He didn't think they would do anything. And as a result, those threats weren't sufficient. You've got to do something that targets them.

HUGH HEWITT: Assad has done nothing. In fact, let me turn to that famous Tacitus quote-- "They made a desert and they called it peace." If you look at Syria now, it's a vast wasteland of killing. It's a butchering field. It's resembling our own Civil War in terms of body count, which was, I think 800,000 Americans died in the Civil War. And I think we've got about 500,000 dead Syrians and, again, as many displaced people around the world on the march out of Syria.

What is Assad doing? What's the endgame here? Because he actually relies on Russians, Iranians, and gangs to stay in power. Do you think he wants an exit?

MATTHEW SPALDING: That's a good question. But I think we, again, are thinking it like-- thinking this through as Western, rational, strategic thinkers. If this fellow is a thuggish dictator of Middle East standards, I think he's trying to maintain his position, and give room for his Russian and Iranian sponsors to get room to act. I think it's a strategic interest in our hands to make sure that doesn't happen. And I think he thinks that, since he's got their backing, he's got a lot more freedom to act.

So I think it's very important here to determine what the United States does, and for them to do something. Because if they draw a red line and do nothing, I think that gives the Iranians and the Russians a free hand. And next thing you know, the Iranians are going to have seaport access.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, I can't imagine us not only not doing nothing, but not doing what we did last year, a one-off. 69 cruise missiles at one airport was a warning, which is, if you do this again, we're going to come back, and you're not going to forget it this time.

The question is-- and Matt Spalding, I don't know who you've talked about this, I don't have an opinion on this-- what should our strategic game be, and what about the second order consequences? I told everyone yesterday, the chief of staff to General Mattis, when he was head of the first MEF for the Marines, warned me, as just being a civilian with no military background, that I never thought enough about second order consequences, and most civilians don't. And subsequent, a different marine, a retired two star, said the second order consequences will come in the Baltics and in Ukraine, meaning that Russia will push back immediately there.

What do you think will happen-- if our strike at Syria comes in waves, and over days and weeks, and not a one-off, what do you think Russia does, and what are the dangers here?

MATTHEW SPALDING: Well I think that-- look, the Russian question is the hardest one. They will act and push back somewhere. That's something they should be thinking about very seriously. I think that it's interesting that the president has talked about smart weapons. I mean, technologically, we have an advantage that allows us to be very pinpoint in what we do. So they could actually act in a way that keeps the Syrian Air Force on the ground. You could essentially go in and destroy their ability to distribute these weapons, and to use them in their territory.

So I think you need to be very precise. But if you let this linger, or do it in a way that is not immediately decisive, I think that you're going to have the Russians doing things. You're going to potentially have some places where we come into conflict. The Iranians are going to be doing things. So I think it's very important to think through all these secondary effects.

But I think, at worst, is to do something that has virtually no effect, and shows that we've backed off. I think this is an important test of our standing, not only in the Middle East, but in the world, coming from two great challengers to us-- the Iranians in the Middle East, and the Russians. And the Chinese, I'm sure, are watching with delight as to seeing what we do.

HUGH HEWITT: You know, I've asked everyone since this started at the beginning of the week, whether or not we are in a slow motion Cuban Missile Crisis, by which I mean all of the Syrian infrastructure is now ringed by the S400s. These are evidently very lethal systems, described in the Telegraph in London, as moving at 10,000 miles per hour, and perfectly capable of taking out our cruise missiles. And they are very expensive, and they're everywhere.

We'd have to use stealth aircraft. They have to be manned by Russians. I can't imagine the Syrian army, about whom the reports are not particularly comforting. They've got to be manned by Russians. So if they're going to actually shoot at our jets and our missiles--

MATTHEW SPALDING: We're shooting at them.

HUGH HEWITT: We're shooting at them first. And so are we really on the brink of a shooting war with Russia, which we haven't had since the White Russians, and Wilson sending American troops to Russia?

MATTHEW SPALDING: No, this is extremely dangerous. The question we have-- and we are civilians, we don't know these details-- are they thinking ways around that, or things they can do? What is our technology, relative to those? I can't say, but I can think that, if it is something where we're directly targeting known assets that the Russians are controlling, that's a significant factor that we have to think through prudently as we go forward.

Having said that, I mean, they're in there defending Assad. And given what he's done, and the strategic threat to us, I think this is a question we've got to work ourselves through. And I have great confidence in our military leaders, and our thinking. And also, I think they've been working and advancing our technology in ways that, from what I can tell, gives us some confidence to be able to still strike those targets.

HUGH HEWITT: Now, Ambassador Bolton is new to the NSC. And obviously, he's had staff change over here. You are the beneficiary of that, with Michael Anton coming. But Nadia left, the deputy, and other people are leaving, other prominent people. So he's landing in force, bringing new people.

Mike Pompeo hearing yesterday. He should be confirmed very quickly. We'll get a new CIA director. We won't know that. I mean, are we crippled in our ability, with basically, the second line in a hockey team coming onto the ice? Might be better in the first line, might not be. We'll find out. But it's a new line.

MATTHEW SPALDING: Right. And it'll take them a while to warm up. I agree. And things with North Korea. All of these things are coming along. This really points to the more general question about having stability in your leadership. We need to get Pompeo in there, but we also need to get the national security staff settled and in place, so they can start advising.

I mean, the military advisors will click in at a certain point. It's very important. But the national security director is the one who coordinates all this, and puts it all together. And Bolton needs to be on top of this very quickly, and he's got the ability to do so. But acting with new staff and some staff turnovers is not helpful.

HUGH HEWITT: And Mike Pompeo-- now, this brings me to Pompeo's team. Susan Thornton has been nominated to be the assistant secretary for Far East Asian affairs. Not a shining star in the conservative firmament. A careerist and about whom there are significant doubts. Does Pompeo have to make a clean break? I know Brian Hook's the policy planning director. He's thought of very well by almost everybody in the conservative movement. But how much housecleaning does Mike Pompeo have to do? We got like, 30 seconds.

MATTHEW SPALDING: Well, I think he'll have to come in and do some. But if you recall, when he was in his previous positions, he got very high marks for working with existing staffers. But he's going to have to come in and put a mark on it, and direct that State Department, and get it going again. I think they will welcome him, ultimately. But I think he needs to get the right people in place, because he's going to be close to Trump. He's going to be carrying out Trump's policies. And he's going to have the people to back him up as well.

HUGH HEWITT: I agree. Matt Spalding from the Kirby Center, thanks for doing this week's Hillsdale Dialogue. All things at Hillsdale.edu. Hillsdale.edu. All of our conversation at HughForHillsdale.com.

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