LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference took a dramatic turn this past week with former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and publicly vowing to cooperate with Mueller. Meanwhile, the GOP overhaul of the tax code is now rocketing toward the president's desk - two very different and very important stories. And joining me now to talk about them is Heather Timmons, White House correspondent for Quartz. Good morning.
HEATHER TIMMONS: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Michael Warren, senior writer at The Weekly Standard. Welcome.
MICHAEL WARREN: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Flipping Flynn. Let's start with that. Is this on par with indicting former Trump campaign chairman Manafort, or is this a huge new trophy and a huge new face for the Mueller investigation? Let's start with you, Heather.
TIMMONS: Well, the Manafort - accusations against Manafort having to do with money laundering are one thing. But if you read Flynn's statement of offense, what it seems to show is that there was a coordinated effort among the Trump transition team to talk to Russia about sanctions and to talk to them and to contradict what a sitting President Obama's foreign policy was. And so it is really a completely separate matter and a lot more serious.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. And..
WARREN: Yeah, I agree. And I think that it's even bigger than the guilty plea that Mike Flynn agreed to. This is somebody who was at every step of the way with Trump in the campaign, in the transition and then for 25 days in the White House. That's a big - a wide berth of information that Mike Flynn may have. I think we're so focused on what happened at the end of December 2016 and the transition and whether or not - and what Mike Flynn lied about to the FBI - that we're - that we can sort of forget that there's a lot of other things that he could be telling and talking to Mueller about and continuing to talk to Mueller about. And this is implicating not just the campaign, the transition but also figures in the White House, as well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Figures in the White House. The president has, of course, reacted. He's been on a tweet tear this morning. But yesterday, what's getting a lot of focus is his tweet - or to be precise, the president's account showed a tweet - stating that he fired Flynn for lying to the vice president but also for lying to the FBI. There's been a lot of speculation that part of the tweet would indicate Trump knew Flynn had lied to law enforcement and still tried to protect him from prosecution. Do you think this is significant?
TIMMONS: Well, I think the fact that the White House came out afterwards and is telling people that that tweet was drafted by a lawyer shows that they think it's significant. And the fact that they would try to use a lawyer - and the lawyer that they're referencing is a real veteran guy. And the idea that he would use that kind of sloppy language is sort of unfathomable. So obviously, the White House thinks this is important.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. And Michael.
WARREN: No, I think that every step of the way, the president has tried to protect Mike Flynn. And then when it became - what? - this was late January, early February of this year. When it became untenable, then the blame began with Mike Flynn lied to the vice president. I think this is something we have to think about as being less strategic and more situational from the president - the president seeing another way for him to put distance between himself.
He can't say, as he did with George Papadopoulos in that guilty plea, this was just a coffee boy. Mike Flynn is no coffee boy. And so putting any distance he can between himself - it's entirely situational. The White House is trying to clean it up because I think they realize the implications of it legally could be problematic. So - but and the way...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And clearly, he is not listening to his lawyers. I mean, this cannot...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Be good for him to keep on tweeting this way. I'm going to turn to taxes in the few minutes we have left. The last time we had big changes to the tax code was 1986. If the GOP does successfully merge the House and Senate bills, will this overhaul be as far-reaching as Ronald Reagan's? Michael.
WARREN: It could be. It's also not as far reaching as it could've been. I think the margins for Republicans in the Senate and the problems that they have in their house conference mean that it's not as big as maybe Paul Ryan always dreamed it would be. It could be significant. And it could be in many ways very similar to what Obamacare was for Democrats and the way that legislation didn't go as far as the party wanted it to go but could have far-reaching consequences. It could also be problematic for the Republican Party as Obamacare was for the Democrats.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's unpopular.
WARREN: Yeah, exactly.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we're not sure what it's going to - what exactly this bill's going to look like once it goes into reconciliation. I'm curious, Heather - Democrats were careful to keep their fingerprints off these bills in the House and the Senate, but there may have been parts they could've changed. Was that wise - sort of not engaging in this at all?
TIMMONS: When I talked to Democrats and Democratic aides in Congress, you know, some of them have quietly said that, we're at a point now where my constituency dislikes Trump so much that if I'm shown to be cooperating in any way, that's going to be bad for me in my next election and bad for me at the polls. So maybe. But they made a political calculation that, no matter what, this thing was going to go forward. And they'd rather just not have their fingerprints on it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that that was a good plan? I mean, do you think the Democrats just sort of washing their hands of the whole thing really is the best move?
WARREN: Probably politically for them. I'm not so sure for the good of the country. There was a perfect example of this in the Mike Lee-Marco Rubio amendment to try to expand the - increase child tax credit to payroll taxpayers - people who are on the lower income scale who don't pay income tax but do pay payroll tax.
WARREN: It would've been the kind of thing to actually drive a wedge. Democrats could have come onboard and maybe even passed that. The fact that they had no interest is probably good politics, but I think it would've been good policy for them to get on board with that. And, of course, for Republicans to do so, I think that's a missed opportunity, actually, for both parties.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Michael Warren, senior writer at The Weekly Standard, and Heather Timmons, White House correspondent for Quartz, thank you so much.
TIMMONS: Thank you.
WARREN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.