Trump and Russia


Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, and Hugh Hewitt discuss the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel.


HH: Talking with none other than Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, which oversees this august Kirby Center and this wonderful studio. Dr. Larry Arnn, good morning, happy commencement to you.

LA: Oh, yeah, it was great. We had a great day. And you know, I was distracted by that. I expected you to keep the country in order while I was away.

HH: And unfortunately, I was giving a commencement address as well at Colorado Christian University, and everything, you know, we both leave town and everything went to hell for a week. But we’re getting back, and I want to come back to that, but first, I must inform you, I’ve got to tell the audience. We’re doing a special thing this week – a Hillsdale Dialogue today, which is not about the Declaration of Independence, but about current events, and a Hillsdale Dialogue tomorrow, which gets us back onto the Declaration, because it’s important that we proceed with that. So we’re doing it back to back with Dr. Larry Arnn, two Dr. Larry Arnn, two Hillsdale Dialogues. This week, always devoted, this hour always devoted to Dr. Arnn or one of his colleagues from Hillsdale College on a matter of great and lasting import, and this week was. But I have to clue you in on a little joke of the morning. Representative Mike Gallagher joined me earlier, a Princeton man, Georgetown PhD, Marine, combat Marine.

LA: Good guy nonetheless.

HH: Nonetheless, wonderful guy, and he was careful to alert me that he had won the Congressional footrace yesterday. Every year, they have a 5K and the fastest member of Congress gloats a little bit, and that the Marine had beaten the Army Ranger Tom Cotton, known to you as Senator Cotton, and my audience as Senator Cotton, and me as Senator Cotton. But of course, I immediately texted that to the Senator, that I understood he had been defeated, and I threw in, I made the litigator’s mistake. I poked the bear not knowing the right answer. It had not occurred to me that he’d ever run the Marine Corps Marathon, so I pointed out geez, Gallagher beat you, he told me all about it. Neither of you has run, it’s tough getting old, I told him. Neither of you has run a 3:13 USMC Marathon, though, right? That’s my personal record in the USMC Marathon. And he wrote back correct, only a 2:58 USMC Marathon. Eat it, smartypants.

LA: Yeah, so Senator Cotton, I can’t believe you’d be counting coup over that guy.

HH: (laughing)

LA: Senator Cotton turned 40 lately, and there was a birthday party for him, and I happened to have been there. And one of the things he said…

HH: Is he that old? I didn’t know he was that old. That’s good.

LA: Yeah, he just turned 40. And one of his old friends from law school read out some letters that Tom Cotton had sent him when he was in basic training. And the letters were hilarious, but one of them ended, I always ran all the running. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Well, this is, you know, I’ve got to put some markers on the board that he can shoot for when he’s 60, because you’re right. Don’t count coup on Tom Cotton. That’s not a good idea.

LA: (laughing)

HH: All right, let’s get down to work. As you note, who was your commencement speaker this year? You keep trying to top yourself. You’ve got to give up at some point.

LA: Well, this year, we had a poet. And he was really good. His name is Anthony Esolen…

HH: Oh.

LA: And he’s from Thomas More College. He just left Provident College, where diversity forces made his life miserable. And his offense was this. He claimed that the real way to get diversity was to read old, great books, because then, you could not only go to different places and encounter different ideas in different languages, you could even go to different times. And so that’s a bad thing to say, modern diversity would say.

HH: Oh, that’s a horrible sin. That’s very culturally appropriative.

LA: You know, I’ve said things like that myself, but let me right here, I withdraw them all. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) On the record, it is noted. You know, yesterday, we had in this wonderful Boyle Studio at Kirby the remarkable Ben Sasse, Senator from Nebraska, who has written a book, The Vanishing American Adult, which is about the glories of hard work and reading, and lassitudinous elongation of adolescence, which is disastrous for young people. And he said the same thing about reading. So I wonder if he’s employable anymore?

LA: Yeah, that guy, he’s finished now.

HH: (laughing) All right, let’s get to work. The cover of Time Magazine is perfect for us to launch from. It shows a White House that is half a Kremlin. It shows a White House half painted red with the Kremlin onion domes behind it. And of course, this is the perfect MSM summation of the perfect MSM meltdown. But the appointment of Robert Mueller has undercut them completely. What do you make of the week that was?

LA: Well, it’s disastrous in every way. I mean, first of all, you know, what this is supposed to prove is that Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin to win the presidency of the United States and defeat Hillary Clinton. So first of all, that’s what’s at stake, right? And then Trump’s recent evils, which we should talk about each one of them, is that he fired James Comey having tried to wave him off an investigation of Michael Flynn, who did, apparently, have some dealings with the Russians, although when I say apparently, one thing about this is it’s really hard to know facts at this stage. And then he revealed intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office just this week. So those are his sins, best list I can make of them this morning. And you start with the first premise, right? Vladimir Putin was apparently afraid of Hillary Clinton. And so he preferred Donald Trump. And you know, that’s possible. The Obama administration had been very exercised about Ukraine, and Trump had seemed less so. That’s true. I’d insert my reading of that. You don’t want, I mean, go study your Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill tried to save Poland from Soviet Russia after Britain had gone into the war on the cause of Germany invading Poland. But the transcripts exist of his long conversations with the Poles, and he did not ever save them. But the transcripts say whatever else happens here, over there where you are, you are going to have to be friendly with the Bear. And Ukraine is farther that way than Poland is. So then he said, you know, once the man who succeeded Sikorski, who was killed in a suspicious plane crash, the leader of the free Poles, and I can’t say that man’s name, it begins with an M-Y, anyway, he said to Churchill but the United States and Britain have armies in the field, and right now, can’t you do something? And Churchill replied it is sheer lunacy to say, that’s a quote, that we would go to war with the Soviet Union there. So the point is maybe the policy should be what Trump says his is, which is try to get along with them, you know, and also, build weapons, because they are people who rule by force, in Russia, and in China, and in North Korea, and in Syria, and in Iran, right? There’s a long list. And they’re dangerous. And so we’re building up the military. Anyway, the point is this, these recent things, firing of Comey and trying to wave him off an investigation, and now a special counsel. And so we know what those are like, right? It’s going to go on for a long time. And there’s going to be leaks, and there’s going to be posturing of all kinds, and that means that this is going to be in the news for the next years. And that’s too bad, because there’s an exciting agenda being proposed in Washington. Now I will say, by the way, if there’s, you know, if the Soviet Union, if Trump made a deal with Putin to hack into the Democratic Party’s computers, and to sway the election, that should be found out. But there is a way under the Constitution to investigation things like that, and you know, that way is underway. There’s a Congressional investigation of all that right now. And they can subpoena, and there’s a reason why it’s better located, in my opinion, there than the special counsel. But Hugh, you’re a lawyer. It sounds like you approve of the special counsel.

HH: I approve of this special counsel. Now I know the regs. It’s not an independent counsel under the Independent Counsel statute. I agreed with Scalia that was unconstitutional. But that’s been allowed to fade. A special prosecutor, a special counsel, can be appointed and directed by the deputy Attorney General, who’s in this case because the Attorney General, because Jeff Sessions has recused, and has to answer to the deputy Attorney General, and can be required by the deputy Attorney General to reply to inquiries about the course of it. But I am happy about this, and we’ll talk about this after the break. I was very afraid of it if we ended up with a Lawrence Walsh, a man who would wander for years down endless hallways of mirrors. But Robert Mueller is a very serious fellow. And I believe that since, I do not believe there is collusion, that it will wrap up rather quickly. In fact, I’ll leave you with this thought during the break. Reuters today broke a big story about 18 contacts between Team Trump during the campaign and Russian officials. And there buried in the story, “The people who describe the contacts for Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.” So if there’s no there there, I’m happy to have Robert Mueller declare it. Stay tuned, America.

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HH: Dr. Arnn, when we were going to break, I was telling you why I’m happy with the Robert Mueller appointment, not just because he’s a combat-decorated Bronze Star recipient Marine from Vietnam, and not just because he went to Princeton and UVA Law School, or was an assistant prosecutor in Massachusetts and then the U.S. Attorney in Northern California, and then the head of the criminal division, then 12 years as the head of the FBI, and in fact, extended by special act of Congress requested by George W. Bush in order to keep him there, I mean, by Barack Obama in order to keep him there because of his complete grip of all things counterintelligence and terror-related. He’s a man of great integrity, and I think he will get to the bottom quickly as opposed to, I was afraid of someone who would wander around in the wilderness. Today, Reuters reports that there are 18 contacts between Team Trump and the campaign between April and November. And I asked people to think of how many phone calls and emails they sent between April and November of last year. You and I probably sent tens of thousands. A campaign probably sent millions. And the people who reviewed that said, “The people who describe the contacts for Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.” And so I am quite encouraged that it’s Mueller, and I think the President is wrong to react as he did this morning with two tweets. He said, number one, 43 minutes ago, with all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign and Obama administration, there was never a special counsel appointed. That’s completely true. And then he went on to say this is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history. I don’t think he serves his cause that way. If I were him, I would applaud the appointment of Mueller and move on. What do you think?

LA: Well, he’s not going to get to move on. First of all, I don’t come on the Hugh Hewitt Show for therapy, but I feel better after what you just said.

HH: Good, good.

LA: And…

HH: I’m sending a bill.

LA: Yeah, it’s not, send me a bill, yeah, lawyers giving therapy now, too. Good grief.

HH: (laughing)

LA: So it’s, you know, I hope what you say is true, and I don’t have anything against the special counsel. It’s the second one appointed in history, and the last one was John Danforth from Missouri, a good guy, right? And these things have not, in general, led to satisfaction, is my point, and they go on for a long time. And you know, Lawrence Walsh, and who was that guy, Patrick somebody?

HH: Patrick Fitzgerald…

LA: Yeah.

HH: …who went crazy on Scooter Libby, yeah.

LA: Yeah, that, you know, and Scooter Libby is, good grief, I mean…

HH: Good man, American patriot.

LA: Yeah, and you know, one of the most taciturn, non-controversial public servants ever born, you know? And he’s supposed to have said a bunch of bad stuff to journalists, or whatever he did.

HH: And, well, he did not in fact leak Valerie Plame’s name. The guy who did, Richard Armitage, walked away from the car crash, and they knew it all along and no one stopped the craziness. But I don’t think Mueller will put up with that kind of nonsense.

LA: Well, that’s so important. And see, it’s worth saying, first of all, it’s worth saying something about this intelligence stuff, right? The president of the United States is the chief classifier of information. And I can show you the most secret intelligence source in human history, probably, is the Enigma machine…

HH: Yeah.

LA: …that helped to change the Second World War. Churchill kept the key to the box that that stuff was in on his person at all times, by his bed at night, right? And he didn’t let anybody hear about that. But in July of 1941, he sent a memo to Joe Stalin, then in league with Hitler, and the regime of communism hated by Churchill, and said we have intelligence that Hitler is getting ready to attack you, right? Things like that are very common, and even that’s a very famous episode. Stalin ignored that, got creamed for a while, but later remembered it with favor in a way that helped change history. So the president of the United States can say, if it were true that a classification board of some kind in the intelligence community or anywhere else could limit what the president of the United States says to outsiders, they would be controlling the foreign policy of the United States. And that’s wrong. Then, James Comey is a policeman, right? He’s the senior federal policeman. He’s the distinguished policeman, but he’s still a policeman. And if the elected executive of the country can’t fire a policeman, then you have a police state.

HH: I will be right back, America. Don’t go anywhere. Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, returns. All things Hillsdale available at All of the Hillsdale Dialogues available at

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HH: Dr. Arnn, if I can read to you from Eli Lake’s column this morning, three paragraphs. They’re a little bit long, but they set the context for the special counsel appointment. This may end up offering Michael Flynn, whom President Trump has defended publicly since firing him, a chance for redemption. So far, much is unclear. Not only whether Flynn is innocent or guilty, but even what law he might have broken. In interviews this week, and in Congressional testimony last week, the former deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, would not say what crime Flynn is alleged to have committed. This did not stop her, however, from describing in ominous tones the nature of his intercepted conversations last December with Russia’s ambassador when he was the incoming national security advisor. She did say that she believed Flynn was compromised and vulnerable to blackmail, because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about discussing sanctions on that call. On this point, Flynn and Trump should welcome a fresh set of eyes. This is because Yates has charged a potential blackmail appears on the surface to be risible. After all, Flynn was a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and must have known his calls were being recorded. What’s more, we don’t know yet whether Flynn was authorized by Trump to discuss sanctions on calls with the ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. Judging from Trump’s campaign promises, this seems likely. Last week, Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia for Barack Obama, and was an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, told me he didn’t think the blackmail scenario was plausible. “I think it would be very hard for Russians to use the event of Flynn lying to Pence to blackmail him,” he said. Imagine the conversation. Kislyak calls Flynn and says if you don’t lift sanctions, I’m going to tell the New York Times that you lied to the Vice President. McFaul added, “That doesn’t seem plausible to me. It makes me wonder if there are more plausible scenarios based on other evidence that those testifying know but didn’t share.” My point, Dr. Arnn, that’s Eli Lake’s column, I tweeted it out, is that there’s a whole lot of hyperventilating and boys crying wolf and chicken littles crying sky is falling, and there is no there there. And so I think if the President will just dial is back and Mueller do his job, we’re going to get past Russiagate, which isn’t Watergate at all, but is in fact a giant media manufacture.

LA: I, you know, you read a tweet from Trump earlier, but he says most persecuted, right? I still follow the Dodgers, God bless them. I like the Tigers, too.

HH: That’s sad.

LA: And I go to the New York Times, I’m sorry, the Los Angeles Times website, and read about the Dodgers sometimes. And yesterday, flashed up in an ad, six part opinion series, labeled opinion, true enough, our dishonest president, right? I mean, it started ten days after the election to delegitimize the election. And I remember back in the day when Nixon had information that votes had been stolen by the Kennedy campaign in New Jersey, and you know, one of my political sciences profs who wrote about this thing said it was true that this happened. Maybe it did. But Nixon decided not to pursue it, because he said the constitutional processes have to be respected, and you controversialize the election of a president, and it casts the whole system into delegitimacy. Well, I think that’s what’s going on here. and remember, Trump is the first president since Reagan to propose significant cuts in the administrative apparatus of the government of the United States. And there’s a lot of people who don’t like that. And I worry that some of that, this is connected to that. And you know, the media is very selective in its quote of people from Congress. I happen to know there are a lot of people in Congress who are saying what you just said, but they’re not getting quoted, the ones who say yeah, there’s something to this. They’re the ones getting quoted.

HH: Now I want to break, you said before if you couldn’t fire a policeman, you’re in a police state. I want to raise the question of the Comey notetaking, and I want to do so carefully. We know in this country that J. Edgar Hoover spiraled out of control so that upon his death in 1972, lots of people were relieved, because he kept files, secret files on people. And Nixon acknowledged this. It’s heard on the tapes that you can’t fire the SOB, because he’s got something on everyone, and he did it for decades. It turns out James Comey was a prolific note taker, which is not unusual among FBI agents, and they often make contemporaneous accounts of conversations they’ve had with witnesses, etc. But apparently, Mr. Comey decided that he would, unlike his practice with President Obama, keep copious, detailed notes of every conversation with President Trump. That is, and we don’t know, yet, if he kept conversation notes of his conversations with Attorney General Lynch. If he did, they’ve been subpoenaed by House and Senate, or with Hillary Clinton and any other person, just President Trump, apparently, got this treatment. What do you make of that?

LA: Well, it’s like the point before, right? I mean, you see if you, here’s how we do it in America. It’s like a broad, Constitutional point, and it matters a lot in this context. You elect a person to fulfill the office of the unified or unitary executive, all executive power, right? No, the executive power shall be, and that means that the scheme is give it to one fellow, and then you can hold him accountable. And so any time the bureaucracy is treated like something that can tell the president of the United States no, that’s a transfer of authority from an elected official to a non-elected official. A friend of mine who’s working in the government right now said to me, you know, a friend of mine, a student of mine, too, he said you know, there’s, you know, when everybody’s appointed, there’s going to be six or seven thousand of us, and there’s two million of them, right? And that’s a lot. So I worry about that. and then the second, how do you hold the president to account? Well, in America, authority is divided. And so the Congress, you know, they’re under pressure, right? And some of them are making critical, some Republicans are making critical comments of Trump, and they’re having investigations. And there’s an election coming soon always for all of the House of Representatives, and for a third of the Senate. So they, and see, how does the impeachment process work, because in the end, if want to prosecute a president, there’s only one way. And if you, like poor Ken Starr, a fine man, set up to prosecute Bill Clinton, and what we found out was you just can’t do that from an office like that, whereas the way you do do it is the House of Representatives, a bunch of elected officials, bring charges that are tried before the Senate, a bunch of other elected officials. It takes advantage of separation of powers, it takes advantage of bicameralism, and it is a legal/political process. If you set up a merely legal process to prosecute the president, then of course whoever’s in charge of that process gains control of the president, like you said about J. Edgar Hoover. And we don’t want that. We want an elected president so we can throw him out next time if we want to.

HH: Yeah, and I’m not saying that Comey did Hoover, went full Hoover. I just want to know the pattern and practice of note keeping to establish the probity, the probative value of any notes he took about Trump, because that will tell me a lot. It’s a lawyering thing.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And it’s lost on a lot of our talking heads. Much is lost on a lot of our talking heads. And part of the problem with the environment in which we are operating is that hot takes, Ben Sasse said this yesterday. You can’t do oversight hot take to hot take. He had spent most of Monday or Tuesday in a SCIF, sensitive compartmented information facility on the Senate side trying to figure out what to ask for from Comey, because he has to do this very carefully. He’s a responsible individual. But so many people say such irresponsible things on television, it’s a frenzy. I’ve compared it to, if someone watched all nine seasons of 24 back to back to back to back to back, then they would be qualified to go on cable television, because then they’d be appropriately frenzied.

LA: (laughing) That’s right. And you know, it’s a ratings thing, but it’s more than that, right? There’s, you know, Ross Douthat and, who I know and who’s a good guy, right, a very smart guy.

HH: Yes, very smart guy.

LA: …conservative guy, he writes in the New York Times that they should use the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which lets a majority of the cabinet vote that the president is unqualified, and then some extra majority in the Senate, I think, or maybe it’s both houses, to throw the guy out, right? And that’s based on what? That’s based on he doesn’t like Trump, and a lot of sources he has says that the White House is a zoo. Well, you know, I don’t know whether it’s a zoo or not. I’ve been there. It didn’t look like a zoo to me, and I know some people who work there, and they don’t report that. But never mind. The 25th Amendment wasn’t designed for that, right? It’s designed in case he becomes incompetent, right?

HH: Or incapacitated, yeah.

LA: That’s right.

HH: Woodrow Wilson stroke.

LA: That’s right, and you know, Dwight Eisenhower, there was, he had heart problems, right? And the question was, is he really able to do the job? There’s a way to figure that out now, and that’s going to be turned now in a partisan situation. And see, what are we really fighting about here? Aren’t we fighting, one thing that’s at stake here, and it’s all over the press. The congressmen say it all the time. There’s an ambitious legislative agenda. And that’s like making sausage, right? Trump wants tax cuts. I do. Trump wants a border wall. I do. Trump wants a responsible immigration policy. I do. Trump wants tariffs, maybe. I probably don’t go along with him on all of that, right? But there’s a whole, and he, Trump wants to, look at his executive orders. You know, he’s issued an executive order that if they pass a new regulation, they have to repeal two. And I think that’s the right direction.

HH: Yeah, hold it right there. We want that agenda, and we’ll come back and talk about that.

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HH: Dr. Arnn, I want to pause here. It has been confirmed that former Fox News chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes, has died. He is a son of Warren, Ohio. I met him exactly once for about 15 seconds at the RNC this past summer, so, and I’ve never had a serious conversation with him. But he helped elect Richard Nixon in 1968 by reintroducing Nixon to the public via Laugh-In and other things, but more importantly, he founded Fox News, which basically changed American media profoundly and in lasting ways, departing under a cloud of scandal. What are your thoughts on the man, though?

LA: Well, I don’t know the man. I don’t think I ever even met him, but I know a lot of people who know him, and I understand, I know that he’s a very skillful, even an inspiring man. I know he did really good service for Reagan. And with Fox News, he sensed something in the country, and you know, Fox News is still on the top of cable news. And a lot of people were just tired of being lectured to by the big three, and he’s the one who broke that up.

HH: That’s it. You know, and if you say in the brief history of the world, whenever history compresses down to what it is, there will be a moment in time when we recognize the monopoly of the big three was broken in part by Ted Turner, and then by Roger Ailes. Those two brought the hammers to it, and in so doing made it more competitive. But now here’s the downside. News is no longer news. News is entertainment. And there is this acceleration of entertainment which leads to part of the problems that bedevil the President to the point that he’s proclaiming himself the most persecuted president in history today, with which I disagree with that assessment. I just don’t think that’s true. For one thing, he’s only been in office for four months. Stick around and have Nixon’s career and be followed by the baying hounds since 1950 or whenever he discovered Hiss, and you might get close. But what about what’s happened to “News”, Dr. Arnn?

LA: Well, you know, first of all, it, you know, it’s a very divided country, and it’s, in my opinion, divided along the lines of highly-educated people and not so highly-educated people. And you know, the change in America, the abandonment of its principles that we’re going to talk about tomorrow when we talk about the Declaration of Independence, that started in the academy. And people who work in the news, they’ve all, especially in the elite news, they’ve all been to the academy. And they, and so look at college campuses today and see what’s going on, right? And they are a predictor of the future. So you know, Fox News broke up a monopoly, but you know, overwhelmingly, what’s it like on the internet? So I think that’s part of the decision that faces the American people. They have to decide how they’re going to govern themselves, and toward what end. And there’s a fierce debate about that. That’s why I think all of this controversy in Washington, I think what that has to do with is that debate, right? What kind of government are we going to have? Are we going to make our laws in administrative agencies that are at the very best indirectly accountable to anyone? Or are we going to go back to making them in a congress that’s elected, and it can change as public opinion changes? So that’s what I think all this is about, and I think Roger Ailes waded into the middle of that.

HH: And although tomorrow, we’ll be back and we’ll talk a little bit about it at the beginning of the hour. The President is prepping to leave on a trip that is to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican. I spoke with Paul Kengor earlier, author of a new book, A Pope and a President, very good book, by the way, about John Paul II and Ronald Reagan. Interesting choice of places to begin a trip beyond significant, I think for this president at this moment, Dr. Arnn. Your thoughts?

LA: Well, those countries are friendly among the Arab countries, and you know, he’s trying to make allies and trying to strengthen the alliances, and God bless him on his journey, because there’s a lot of problems in that world.

HH: He’s going to the home of the three great religions, right? He can’t go to Mecca, because he’s not a Muslim, and you’re not allowed to go to Mecca if you’re not a Muslim. He’s going to Jerusalem, the home of the Temple, and he’s going to the Vatican. Interesting, and I think very thoughtful symbolism. Someone was thinking when they put this together.

LA: You know, they do a lot of thinking, right? I mean, all this talk that it’s all scattergun and stuff? I mean, if you match up what Trump ran for office on and what he’s spending his time doing, they match up rather nicely. And so I do think that Trump has a plan and an idea, and I think it’s heavily resisted, and only history will tell us how skillful he is at meeting that resistance.

HH: Yeah, because right now, it looks to me like he steps on his own momentum so often that it grieves me that he does not stay in the lanes that advance it. But you just noted maybe I’m wrong about that like I was wrong about his chances for election.

LA: Yeah, I, on your show, I did most of the talking that I did about the campaign on your show, and you dragged me into trouble as part of your profession. So I, you know, at first, I would confidently assert on your show he can’t be elected president, nobody like him ever was. But I began to learn that you should watch more carefully before you talk.

HH: Before we predict. And we’ll predict more on the next Hugh Hewitt Show, America. Thank you for listening.

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