Ralph Nader is the best known public advocate in modern U.S. history and has run four times for president. On this special episode of Intercepted, we are going to dig deep into several issues facing the country and the world right now. In case you are not familiar with Nader, he rose to prominence in the 1960s after blowing the lid on extreme safety issues with General Motors and other car manufacturers’ products. His book “Unsafe at Any Speed” was an influential investigation and exposé. Throughout his life, Nader has waged countless campaigns aimed at food safety, worker and environmental protections, ending pollution, cronyism in government, financial crimes, and more. Nader simply calls himself a public citizen.
Many Democrats and liberals continue to blame Nader for George W. Bush’s victory in the 2000 election, even though the claim is demonstrably false. But Nader perseveres and, at the age of 84, he continues to wage the very same battles he has from the start of his public life. His latest book, “Breaking Through Power,” chronicles his various battles against the U.S. government, big corporations, and concentrated political power. The latest Intercepted featured an excerpt of our interview with Nader. What follows is the entire conversation in both audio and transcript form.
Jeremy Scahill: Ralph Nader, welcome to this extended episode of Intercepted.
Ralph Nader: Thank you, Jeremy.
JS: Let’s start with Gina Haspel. This campaign that the CIA is publicly waging to support her nomination, leaking or publicizing memos that seem to exonerate her of any direct role in the destruction of torture tapes. First question is just: Have you ever seen anything like the CIA social media campaign that’s being waged right now in an effort to get Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA director?
RN: No, and the reason why, one is that the CIA desperately wants someone from their own ranks, they don’t want an outsider. They’ve been battered at times by Trump and others, which is pretty unheard of for a president to do that. So they’re hunkering down, and they don’t want to lose this one.
JS: Right, but, at the same time, isn’t the CIA supposed to be prohibited from engaging in domestic propaganda? I mean, it does seem like they’re utilizing their social media platforms to campaign for someone that there’s very serious questions about her role in torture, black sites and other issues.
RN: Well, who has ever found a boundary for the CIA? I mean they’re not supposed to deal with overt armed action abroad, according to their original charter, they’re just supposed to collect intelligence, and we know where that’s gone — that’s out of the window.
The CIA does what it wants, under the cloak of secrecy and national security, does whatever it wants, and who’s going to stop it? It has so many feelers all over the country and the world, and they really want her in because they think that Trump is perfectly capable of nominating an outsider who would give them a lot of trouble. And they’ve been jolted more than usual, publicly, as an agency, and they want stability, as they define it. And it doesn’t matter what she did in Asia in terms of the Thailand episode and torture. I mean, that’s what they do. That’s what the CIA does all over the world.
JS: You know it’s interesting, as I watch Trump supporters who are railing against the deep state and saying that, you know, you have all of these powerful people within the CIA/NSA/FBI bureaucracy that are plotting against Trump, the thing that comes to my mind is that if I were a really dark character within the CIA, right now, I’d be very content with Trump being the commander-in-chief because he doesn’t seem to understand the full range of powers that the CIA has. And it seems to me like they’re able to do basically whatever they want right now without much questioning from the White House.
RN: Well that’s been true of prior presidents. They want deniability. They don’t really want to know what the NSA and CIA do. President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton — they don’t want to know that the NSA was dragnet snooping on virtually all Americans, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as the FISA Act.
And President Trump is no different in that way. What they are really upset about is: When was the last time we ever heard a president attack “the deep state”? He’s not attacking some rogue outfit in Afghanistan that’s an offshoot and maybe under contract. He’s attacking the military industrial complex’s core secrecy operations and that is freaking out people at the CIA, especially career people who have never been fingered that way from the White House. That’s why they want the stability of this present nominee.
JS: It’s an interesting point that you’re raising. The one pushback that I would have on it though, is that it does seem that given that Trump does not appear to have even a full staff in place right now, and doesn’t seem very committed to any sort of oversight function, that those fears within the CIA and Trump, because he’s railing against the deep state, could be unfounded given that they can continue on with whatever operations they want right now, without anyone really questioning them.
I mean, look at the Senate Intel Committee. The House Intel Committee. They’re running around on this Russia stuff. Are they actually conducting any official oversight of the CIA right now?
RN: Well no, I wouldn’t say any congressional committee, since the Church Committee, back decades ago, really conducted oversight over the CIA and recommended changes, that was during the Nixon administration. But you have to keep in mind: style, secrecy, being in the corner, not being in the spotlight all of this is essential for the CIA to continue operating. So even though they don’t have to fear Trump [will] engage in any oversight, they fear the kind of sudden shaft of light that comes out of his tweets.
And also they can’t assume that he wouldn’t appoint a crazy to head the CIA. I mean he just appointed a crazy, lawless warmonger, John Bolton, to be his national security adviser. You don’t think that reverberates at the CIA?
JS: Oh, I think absolutely. I’m just trying to say that I think there are a number of complicated dynamics at play obviously. I agree with your analysis, particularly on Senate oversight not really occurring with the CIA for many decades.
What about Mike Pompeo now going over from CIA to State Department?
RN: Well he’s the last person to be appointed head of the nation’s diplomats. I mean Pompeo is a warmonger, his statements when he was a congressman were just off the charts — only to be exceeded by the crazed John Bolton.
Now he’s pulling back, and, you know, he’s moderating and he has to deal with the foreign service. He doesn’t want to disrupt any further a shattered, fractured State Department.
But he is a part of this clique that’s growing around Trump to use armed force regardless of international law or the Constitution or federal statutes. It’s remarkable that he and Bolton don’t believe in the rule of law at all — it’s just, “Bomb ’em.”
And we’re going to get to Bolton, I hope, but they are kin: Pompeo’s a graduate of Harvard Law School and John Bolton’s a graduate of Yale Law School, and they’re the shame of both law schools. It isn’t that they just pursue policies abroad that reasonable people can disagree with. They are constantly pursuing illegal criminal acts of aggression, which is going to put our country into a more insecure posture. How many more years can we rely on the pacific and Atlantic ocean, before our 100 plus year messing around in the backyards of countries over there, propping up dictators and suppressing their own people brutally and playing around with oil politics. How long is that going to be a protected area, before the explosions start in the U.S.?
JS: Well, what do you say to people, and there’s a lot of them, both the never Trumpers and a lot of the so-called liberal Democrats that, that take this line, “Well, General Mattis is the adult in the room or General Kelly is the adult in the room.”
RN: Well the problem is, everything’s relative, isn’t it Jeremy?
RN: The two sources of restraint on a bellicose Trump or a wag-the-dog Trump are the secretary of defense, Mattis, and his chief of staff, General Kelly. But you see, if they can’t work with Pompeo and Bolton, and Bolton is a bolt, he knows how to maneuver, and he knows how to try to get his way, he knows how to intimidate, he has a high energy level, it’s quite conceivable that Kelly will quit. He’s already talked about quitting because of the way Donald Trump has mistreated him, and Mattis privately has said, before John Bolton took the post on April 9th in the White House that he couldn’t work with Bolton. Well, after that he said, well, he will work with Bolton and he met with Bolton.
But, let’s put it this way: If you’re projecting who’s most likely to quit, Mattis and Kelly are far more likely to quit than Pompeo and Bolton. And that’s the danger. That’s the clear and present danger to this country.
JS: Right, and just to add one note on General Mattis, I’ve often thought that it is really a ridiculous line to imply that he is this sort of moderating force when you look at his track record as a commander in Iraq. But, also, his views on Iran, he is a very hawkish military figure that now means that we have only nominal civilian leadership at the Pentagon, because Mattis had to get this exception.
And the case of John Kelly — he was infamous within the military, particularly when he was at U.S. Southern Command, for being a kind of overt xenophobe and very anti-immigrant and yet those two are being described in a positive way as like the responsible ones in the room.
RN: That’s why, that’s why I said it’s all relative, isn’t it? And the critical juncture is going to be in mid-May if Trump gets out of the Iran nuclear decree, and he can because it was never a treaty ratified by the Senate, it was basically an executive order by President Obama. If he gets out of that, the question is: Is Mattis is going to take it? Because Mattis, as a secretary of defense, is a bit more moderate and understands the importance of the Iran nuclear decree compared to his wild, belligerent, Marine-type statements in Iraq.
But is he going to say, “Well, that’s it! I can’t handle it anymore, because once you pull out of the nuclear accord with Iran, you unleash forces out of Netanyahu’s Israel, you create tremendous complications with the other countries that have signed on and are not going to withdraw, including China and Russia, not to mention France and England. So this is a very perilous spring coming up.
JS: Hmm. Yeah, and I mean it’s, if you look at John Bolton’s first hours as national security adviser, it was all about pummelling Syria and launching this attack. What are the top concerns you have about John Bolton being in this non-Senate-confirmed, very powerful position of national security adviser?
RN: Well, first of all, he has a record, a demonstrated record of alienating Muslims and Arabs. He is a prime advocate of anti-Semitism against the Arab people. He is associated with Pamela Geller, the notorious Islamaphobe and web patron out of New York. He has had a record of aggressively supporting the criminal invasion of Iraq under Bush and Cheney, and he says to this day that it was not an error, it was not a mistake. He still pushes for it.
He’s written an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, as many people know, over two months ago, urging the bombing of North Korea. He wants to overthrow the government of Iran. He supports the annexation of the Palestinian West Bank to Israel. He’s out Netanyahu-ed Netanyahu. He’s crazed! I call him a lethal juvenile, because he never asks himself what’s going to happen after you bomb North Korea, or after you try to overthrow Iran, or after you annex the West Bank. And he is the worst possible choice.
Now, having said that, Bolton doesn’t have many friends. He’s a bully toward his subordinates, he’s what’s called an observer once called a “kiss-ass” to his superiors, and that’s one reason why Trump likes him. He doesn’t have many friends in the Senate. The Republicans wouldn’t even confirm him as ambassador to the U.N. — it had to be a recess appointment by President Bush in 2005. So that’s consoling, that he’s alienated so many people. But all he has to do is persuade one person: Donald Trump.
And that’s why there are a number of legal experts now that are about to put out a statement, that the post of national security adviser is a confirmable post, under the appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution. It’s an office of the United States. And, unless the Congress specifically exempts the office from confirmation, it is a confirmable post, and you’re going to have leading experts, Louis Fisher, the leading Constitutional expert out of the Library of Congress, Bruce Fein, maybe Professor [Laurence] “Larry” Tribe, to try to push that. Because it’s retroactive. If Bolton makes a bad move and alienates the Senate in terms of the mid-term elections, the Republicans, anything like that can happen. There’s also an effort in the Congress for a joint resolution disapproving of the choice of John Bolton.
And I remember once I was interviewing Castro in Cuba and it was just a few weeks after Bolton who was working under secretary of state Powell at the time, put out a statement without any authority that Castro was engaged in developing chemical and biological weapons. Well, it was completely false and Colin Powell retracted it, overrode his insubordinate John Bolton who he thinks is a perilous and a disreputable person, by the way, but he won’t say it publicly. That’s Colin Powell. And when I was interviewing Fidel Castro, he was terrified when he heard this. He thought it was a precursor to an attack on Cuba. You can understand — that’s not a particularly paranoid attitude by Castro given our attempts at overthrowing him in prior years.
So you just can’t, you can’t top this belligerent, super, hyper war-hawk who doesn’t think of any consequences. He, also, you know, avoided going to Vietnam. He’s one of these neo-cons. You might ask: How does he keep bouncin’ up, if everybody doesn’t like him? And there are two reasons: One, he’s useful to the military industrial complex’s extreme elements — he wants more and more weapons, more and more contracts, and there are extreme elements of the military industrial complex, that President Eisenhower warned us about, who liked him. And the other is the swarming Israeli lobby which thinks he’s heroic beyond their dreams, and they support him as well. And then you put in the mix the neo-cons who keep popping up in powerful areas and who were heavily responsible for pushing Bush into Iraq, and elsewhere, and that explains why this madman — and that’s an understatement, he really is a madman — he is Dr. Strangelove on steroids. It’s very hard to exaggerate the criticism of one, John Bolton.
Now, he may self-destruct, he may say the wrong thing, he may get Trump pretty embarrassed, and we’re all hoping that that will happen, because Trump will give John Bolton the bolt, if it’s a question of embarrassing Trump. But this is what happens when Congress does not obey the Constitution and the requirements of the Constitution on Congress and foreign policy and national security.
JS: Well, it does seem that Trump is more bothered by John Bolton’s very large mustache than any of the concerns that you’re raising. Trump reportedly was waivering on him because of his mustache. And it could be that superficial of a thing that Bolton has food in his mustache one day, Trump could just say, “Alright, you’re outta here.” Rather than it being a policy embarrassment.
One thing you left off the list, I’m sure not intentionally because you just gave a great list of past activities and current positions of Bolton, but also his support for the MEK organization, they say in Iran, but really it’s an exile group, and for years, this was designated, the MEK, as a state, as a terror organization by the U.S. State Department. That’s the Mujahedin-e Khalq, which is the People’s Mujahedin of Iran. He has taken money, has spoken at their conferences, has said that he wants them to be in power in Iran. And Bolton is in league with some pretty prominent Democrats like Howard Dean and others in supporting and taking money from the MEK.
RN: And, unfortunately, Senator Schumer has said many nice things about Bolton because he’s so fervid pro-Israeli military government, and so that’s another factor.
But what you just said Jeremy raises a very serious question about the endurance of Bolton in the White House he has not gotten a top secret security clearance. It is going to take the FBI months — that’s months — to find out whether they are going to come down plus or minus on his top-secret security.
And, of course, what happens in the case of Jared Kushner and others is that Trump gives him a waiver, so he’s obviously giving a waiver, although the press don’t seem to have asked about that, to John Bolton.
But people who know his entanglements, and you just pointed out one. And his contracts and money and who he’s associated with believe that the FBI will not be able to come up with a finding that he deserves a top-secret security clearance. But he’s receiving top secrets right now, day after day. I think that is a possible Achilles’ heel here, especially if the imbroglio over Iran occurs, and if Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear accord.
JS: Ralph, let me ask you about this recent airstrike festival that Trump and Bolton and the UK and France just participated in where they launched more than 100 cruise missiles and other munitions at a handful of facilities in Syria, supposedly as a response to the Syrian government using chemical munitions in Douma. Why did that happen? Because it clearly didn’t have any impact on any chemical weapons facilities or storage facilities, but maybe start from the beginning: What do you believe of the allegation that was very publicly made by Nikki Haley, and now Donald Trump, that Assad definitely was the party that was in charge of using these chemical weapons?
RN: Well I think the two strikes by Trump in Syria were basically macho strikes — he has to show that he’s tough and strong and commander-in-chief, because it didn’t have any strategic effect.
The other part of your question is very puzzling in terms of trying to find a response, because there are claims on all sides that there have been use of chlorine and sarin gas by various parties, from the Assad regime to forces opposed to him. You can see the rationale — Assad is running short of ammunition and planes, and lethal gas is a way to smoke people out, to use one of George W. Bush’s phrases, in urban areas, and to create terror. And the other side, the rebels, they want to make sure that Assad is associated with chemical weapons, because that will bring the Americans in.
Well, the fact is that we’ve lost the war in Syria, the Russians and the Iranians have far more people on the ground, they have far more strategic interests, and we’re not willing to admit it.
The rest is mopping up ISIS with a couple thousand U.S. soldiers in Syria. ISIS is now being scattered where it can become even more dangerous in other countries. So civil wars are incredibly brutal, more than others. Our civil war killed 700,000 people at a time when our population was about a million or two greater than Syria. So this is a multi-faceted civil war, and the best that can be done here is to try to have an international peace conference, with all the parties that can pull the strings in Syria on Assad, on the rebels and on other factions.
JS: If you look at the history of United Nations investigations in Syria on the issue of use of chemical weapons, as you point out, there are findings of responsibility for the Syrian armed forces under the control of Bashar al-Assad and there also are clear findings of responsibility for the Islamic State and other actors. What I find really, unfortunately not surprising, but really significant to bring up is that so many people, just because the United States government says so, say “Well, this incident must be Assad’s forces using the chemical weapons,” when these strikes that Trump recently ordered took place literally on the day that the OPCW inspectors arrived in Syria to go and do their investigation.
And I think we’re in a dangerous situation where if people are going to take the word of Nikki Haley or Donald Trump on an issue that the United States has a long track record of lying about, including the Iraq war, but also other examples, then we sort of are like led like sheep to our involvement in war crimes or, in bombings that play no strategic purpose even for the stated missions of the United States in Syria.
You get what I’m getting at here — it’s incredible to see Democrats and liberals sort of lapping up what Nikki Haley and the president are saying as though it doesn’t bear any scrutiny. You know, I wouldn’t doubt if Assad was responsible, but shouldn’t we confirm that?
RN: Yeah, it is strange that you know in a day of massive advance surveillance and techniques, remote and otherwise, that that has not been determined.
I think it’s because it’s in everybody’s interest to accuse everybody else that they are using chemical weapons. We should remind listeners that a large amount of Assad’s chemical weapons were given up and transferred to U.S. custody where they were burned on a U.S. warship in the Mediterranean. But obviously he, like most dictators, always wanted to maintain something in reserve because it tends to be a deterrent. That’s all one can say.
I think that we’ve got to focus on the problems that cause the problems over there, here, and when you have the New York Times have a major editorial titled, “Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous” and American Conservative magazine says that John Bolton is dangerous and that he’s a prevaricator, and a violator of law — that’s the American Conservative magazine. The Times began its editorial saying, “There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton to lead the country into war.”
So this is the root, here, that is under the control of the people. And people all over, in congressional districts, we gotta wake up here. One percent of the people mobilize in congressional districts representing majority public opinion can turn Congress around. If we turn Congress around, then we can start turning the executive branch around.
So it’s so easy, you know, to get mired into the pros and cons over there and the intrigues and we want to know more facts, of course, what’s on the ground for policy-making but it distracts from our responsibilities here at home to put the heat on only 535 members of Congress from back home. And that’s what we’ve got to focus on.
JS: On a different subject, Ralph, as you’re aware, last Friday the Democratic National Committee filed this lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against the Russian government, the Trump campaign, individuals that the DNC alleges participated in interfering in the U.S. electoral process in 2016, and they also named WikiLeaks as a party in the lawsuit, even though the suit itself doesn’t allege that WikiLeaks participated in hacking or knew in advance about it at all, it just says Wiki Leaks was publishing the hacked e-mails.
That part of it, to those of us in the media that follow these issues, is chilling because what they’re essentially saying is that news organizations or publishers that publish hacked or stolen material which every publication in this country has done repeatedly, that that’s a criminal or an activity that should be sanctioned or punished.
What is your analysis of this DNC lawsuit naming the Russian government, WikiLeaks, Trump campaign, etc.?
RN: Well, first of all, I think it’s an insurance policy in case the Mueller investigation fizzles, doesn’t come up with conspiracies, doesn’t come up with indictments at the top. They already are starting in terms of indictments at the bottom, in terms of operatives under the Trump campaign. That’s one.
The second is the Democratic National Committee wants to raise money, and it’s a great fundraiser.
The third is that when you file a civil lawsuit like that, you’re much freer to try to get information under subpoena and depositions and get information maybe that the Mueller investigation chooses not to get or not to disclose or the Justice Department.
And four, there’s been criticism that the Democratic National Committee is moribund, it’s hunkering down and it wants to show that it’s in the center of the action.
They got an aggressive plaintiff lawyer’s firm, Cohen Milstein, that know what they’re doing, that have been around a long time, and they’re very aggressive, and I’m sure they’re taking it on a contingent fee, plus expenses. So what’s not to like? From the head of the Democratic National Committee, [Tom] Perez, who will not meet with citizen groups who want to suggest a winning agenda for the Democrats in 2016.
JS: What’s your broader sense of the Mueller investigation, and it seems to me like the goalposts ever widen, and also this shift has occurred from really focusing on is Trump like a sleeper agent or a collaborator-conspirator with Putin, over to, well, we may uncover all this other criminal activity in this investigation. I mean, it doesn’t seem like they, certainly what’s available now in the public, have been able to directly link Trump to any sort of criminal conspiracy with Russians or Putin or Russian entities.
RN: Well, the Mueller investigation is going to lead to a lot of indictments, and they’re going to hand off some of these to the U.S. attorneys because they’re not set up in the Justice Department to pursue them, and, as you know, they’ve already started with the U.S. attorney in New York. They’re finding a lot of things. So far, a lot of economic shenanigans —
JS: Right —
RN: — that’s what they’re finding. The kind that violate international laws, the kind that violate domestic laws, hanky panky, and they’re not really interested in pursuing that directly unless it reaches Donald Trump — which it may!
I mean, you’re talking about an incredibly complex matrix of economic webs and tie-ins with the Russians. You know, he was in bankruptcy, again—and again, he couldn’t get U.S. banks to loan to his casinos, and this was at the time that the Russian oligarchs were pouring money out of Russia, looking for a place to invest. So there are a lot of trails here that can be examined.
This is more murky than your investigation of Blackwater, Jeremy.
JS: Yeah, well —
RN: In terms of the network. So, number one, I think we’re going to get a lot of prosecutions of people who deserve it, but not in the sense of heading toward the top with Trump. As far as whether they ever get anything on Trump — who knows, it’s all speculation.
I think Trump now is more worried about Michael Cohen’s imbroglio with the Justice Department and the seizure of his records by the Mueller team, and by the women who he bought favors from filing civil lawsuits. I think a lot of people don’t understand the enormous information you can get through civil action lawsuits under the law of torts. And someone who does understand that is one called Donald J. Trump.
JS: Right, and as we pointed out before on this show, there’s also a defamation suit that was brought by one of the women who allegedly was sexually harassed by Donald Trump. And she is, her case is based on the idea that Trump has maligned and defamed her by using his very powerful platform to call her a liar and that case, until recently, was brought by Gloria Allred, but it’s proceeding.
You mention Stephanie Clifford, who’s popularly known as Stormy Daniels, her case could result in a tremendous amount of discovery being handed over. And then you have the Sean Hannity aspect of it where he turns out to be, sort of, client number three of Michael Cohen, and he is basically like the shadow, I don’t know what you would even call him, chief of staff to Trump or something? But it’s, yeah, you’re right, the civil cases could end up producing an enormous amount of information that will be of public interest.
RN: And then it might curb his tweetdoms —
JS: We’ll see about that.
RN: Because of the tort law of defamation against a public figure like Donald Trump is great peril to him because he’s so malicious, and willful, and deliberate. Now the argument is under a Supreme Court case, the New York Times case, he can say, “Well the people I’m attacking verbally are public figures.” They’ve gone into the public arena and therefore I cannot be sued by them for defamation, citing the New York Times case.
The answer to that is you get away from the New York Times case if you are willful, deliberate, malicious and provocatory. So, I mean, he is about as willful and malicious in tweets as anybody in the U.S., so he is making himself very vulnerable to a whole slew of defamation cases which going to embroil him, because the fact that he is president means that he’s only above the law on issues of war, on issues of political outlawry. That’s where a president’s above the law. What many people don’t realize is they are beneath the law when it comes to conventional criminal law, which trapped Nixon, obstruction of justice, and conventional tort law, which trapped Clinton in losing his license due to perjury under a deposition. And I don’t think that’s made clear enough, because people think presidents can get away with almost anything, and they certainly have demonstrated that, and you have documented that again and again in your work, Jeremy Scahill, but they don’t understand they cannot get away from the mundane: criminal law and civil law of torts.
JS: Right, and we also saw a kind of replay of that, to a degree, with the recent pardon of Scooter Libby, and you know it was interesting to watch the kind of right-wing and neo-con response to this, where they say, “Aha! Dick Armitage is the one that leaked Valerie Plame’s identity. And, you know, so this wasn’t what Scooter Libby was convicted of.”
And that’s right — he wasn’t convicted of leaking Valerie Plame’s identity, but we know from the court proceedings and from Libby’s own testimony that, in fact, he was ordered by Dick Cheney to do it and he did that to Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine and Judy Miller of the New York Times.
But again Trump, it’s one of the situations, I’m not sure the Trump even knew who Scooter Libby was before he pardoned him. I mean, it sounded like he had some informal conversations with people, the timing with Bolton is quite curious, you know to have —
RN: Well, first of all he wants the allies that he had gotten before he did that, he wants the whole Cheney alliance to support him. He’s never going to get George W. Bush to support him, but he wants the Cheney core, and he wants to set a precedent for future pardons. He said, “Well, you know, I pardoned people who had nothing do with me. I pardoned Scooter Libby.”
People who think Trump is stupid may be right in terms of his understanding reality and history and the things that we would like presidents to be alert and smart about, but when it comes to street smarts and timing and the jugular? You can’t find anybody more proficient.
JS: Well, and James Comey on his big media tour, right now, has said repeatedly that he found Trump to be a man with above average intelligence. What do you make of the whole Comey episode and the way that Comey has sort of proceeded here?
I mean, first of all, you have this lionization of Comey that is happening on a lot of liberal networks and in liberal circles, and he has a track record filled with anti-civil rights, anti-civil liberties actions and his time working in the Bush Justice Department and on and on. But in this specific case, presumably the guy is going to be an important witness in any prosecution or investigation of Trump. And yet, he’s running around just sort of talking about all of this out in open. What’s your sense of the Comey moment?
RN: Well, if I can guess: One, he wants to justify his place in history. He’s caught between what he did to the Clinton campaign and what he’s doing to the Trump campaign, and he wants his explanation out there repeatedly on the mass media.
And, two, there is obviously an economic incentive, he’s not a super-rich man; a bestseller helps the security of his family economically.
And, three, he wants to protect the FBI. I think he’s infuriated the way Donald Trump pejoratively puts down the FBI — when was the last president who’s done that? And that has shaken the FBI to its core, especially with recent resignations by McCabe and others, or firings by McCabe and others.
JS: As a very young reporter, and not so experienced reporter, Ralph, when you were running for president in 2000, I was at a press conference after you launched your campaign, I believe it was in Denver, Colorado, and I asked you at that time, “Would you abolish the FBI?” And I’m wondering your thoughts on that now, whether we should even have an FBI as it currently exists?
RN: J. Edgar Hoover put the FBI on a very bad track because he used his secret files to extort and expand his influence against high members of Congress who might have offended him or presidents and vice presidents, and they were terrified of him. And you never want the secret domestic police to terrify the leading elected figures in our federal government. That has lingered at the FBI. They have an undeserved reputation of excellence, when, again and again, they have fumbled investigations.
However, they do have a level of pride. They haven’t had many conventional examples of being bribed into doing something. And the FBI agents, many of them are lawyers, members of the bar, officers of the court, that adds to their pride and they just can’t believe how they’re being beat up by the president of the United States, and Comey is viewed as their defender, the person who is in the mass media where they cannot be, taking on this man who is damaging and besmirching the reputation of the FBI.
JS: Alright, Ralph, a couple of quick questions: I was asking some colleagues, “If you could ask Ralph Nader something right now, what would you ask them?” One of my colleagues wants to know what you think of driverless cars.
RN: Hype beyond any reasonable belief. We’re not going to see them anytime soon in the next 10 or 20 years. First of all, they cannot mix with driver-driven cars, it’s very, very complex.
The second is, there’s a competition between companies over who is ahead in the driverless car arena, and they get publicity and approbation in the business pages for that, so they have an incentive that’s remote from engineering justification for a driverless car.
Third, there isn’t enough data to back up the claims of Waymo, or Uber, or General Motors, that they’re making. They haven’t really tested in real-life, congested Manhattan Island traffic, for example.
And finally, and this is the one that they never like to talk about at technical conferences, and that is that driverless cars have no defense against remote hacking, and that will terrify anybody who owns a driverless car or is in a driverless car, where the companies can hack their way, they can coerce upgrades, for example. Car dealers can immobilize a car if the installment loan payment doesn’t come in on time. And most ominous is that evil forces, anywhere in the world, can hack these cars and they can hack them at the level of model-year-volume. Let’s say you have two million Toyotas of the same volume, they’ll be able to crash these Toyotas all over the country or the world, and that’s why it’s a no-no and that’s why members of Congress are disgracing, themselves pushing through legislation that is deregulating, to a serious degree of risk, driverless cars and trying to view it as a brand new industry and getting caught up in the hoopla.
So that bill has got to be stopped, Senator Blumenthal, Senator Markey, and others are trying to stop it.
But it just shows you that when the media gets caught up in a technical hype, the consequences are very bad for consumers, they’re very bad for politicians and the media has just got to become much more critical. We need a Jeremy Scahill on autonomous cars.
JS: Well, I mean I do find it fascinating, I was just telling some younger colleagues about your work going back many decades on the seat belt, on the sharp corners within cars, and the basic safety issues— it was a real battle that you had to wage to even get minimal safety considerations accepted in the automobile industry, and it’s still a fight that I, I really wish that more young people right now, especially those that are going to be getting on the road took this stuff seriously.
RN: Well, they’ll take it seriously because there will be more accidents and fatalities, there have been two or three already, and they get a lot of publicity and they sort of slow down this hype acceleration for these autonomous cars.
And that is not to say that semi-autonomous brakes and semi-autonomous devices, many of which are already in cars as standard equipment or options are not good. They are good. But we’re talking about the nth degree of these cars coming up to your place and saying, “Take me where you want me.”
JS: You know, I have to say, Ralph, that when I listen to you talking about Donald Trump and the way that the national security establishment, you know, views him and the FBI right now, and sort of he’s shaking them to their core, I can’t help but sort of daydream what would it be like if we had an actual principled leftist who was in this position rather than Trump, the disrupter, but if we had an actual principled individual as commander in chief, as president of the United States, sort of what that would even look like, if you had sort of the moral equivalent of Trump, on the flipside, somebody that was going after them for the right reasons, the reasons that, you know, you’ve spent your life fighting about.
RN: What it looks like is waging peace. For heaven’s sake, there are enough examples in the last 100 years where waging peace, instead of the first option war, have paid off. And that’s got to be the function of the State Department, which under both Democrats Republicans have been more belligerent, in the statements, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. Look at Secretary Hillary Clinton that toppled the regime in Libya, against the wishes of Secretary of Defense Gates, and the chaos and violence spreading all over that area of Africa is a tribute to her folly and to her arrogance, and going to the White House and telling Obama to only take a few planes and we’ve got an alternative government ready to replace that of Qaddafi.
So waging peace has a lot of benefits, certainly in every public opinion poll in every country in the world, and that’s not something to be minimized.
Second, I would require the Pentagon budget to be audited. The Pentagon budget is violating federal law since 1992, when Congress passed a law saying that no department or agency can observe the law without providing auditable data to the General Accounting Officer, now called the Government Accountability Office of the U.S. Congress. And every year, the GAO reports on the Pentagon, saying: “Sorry, we don’t have auditable data to audit the sprawling massive budget of $700 billion or so now.” And that’s not a technical accounting matter, because that is what puts the trail on billions of dollars being lost in Iraq or Afghanistan, billions of dollars of inventory available, but not locatable, by the Air Force and Air Force warehouses around the world, so they buy them all over again. And it exposes this hallowed defense budget which is being supported automatically by both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress and shows how it’s draining our country as part of a runaway empire. All empires devour themselves, and the Pentagon budget is devouring billions and billions of dollars that could renovate schools and rebuild highways, drinking water systems, sewage systems, public buildings, bridges, public transit, you name it. That’s what a president should be doing — every mayor, every labor union, every chamber of commerce would be behind that kind of public works or infrastructure agenda.
And then, third is you’ve got to empower people on Congress. Congress is the pivotal most important branch of government under the Constitution. It declares war or supposed to, it’s got the appropriations, the tax function, the exposure function, the confirmation of nominee function. And as Warren Buffet once said, there are only 535 of them on Capitol Hill, and we’re 3 hundred million, why can we control them? And I’m amazed how many investigative reporters and good editorialists, they do the right denunciation — it’s imperial, it’s applicable to today’s concerns — but they don’t go back to the districts and say, it never takes more than one percent of the people that has a Congress watchdog hobby, several hundred hours a year, with a few full time people in congressional districts representing a majority opinion, to turn around our foreign and military policy with both conservative and liberal support.
JS: Hmm. Last question, Ralph. Part of the line from a lot of Democrats is that people like Jill Stein and people who were aggressively reporting on Hillary Clinton and on the Podesta e-mails and the DNC hacks, and that this is a charge daily thrown at you, at me, at Glenn Greenwald, and others. What is your response when people say, “Well, look what you gave us with Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton would have never put us in the peril and danger that we find ourselves in with Donald Trump. Just look: John Bolton is now the national security adviser.”
RN: And the Democratic Party could not landslide the worst Republican Party in history since 1854? The most ignorant, the most corporate indentured, the most warlike, the most corporate welfare supportive, the most bailout-prone Republican Party, anti-worker, anti-consumer, anti-environment? Why don’t they look in the mirror? The Democratic Party is the main scapegoater in American politics. It’s never their fault. It’s never Hillary’s fault. It’s always a Green Party fault. It’s always an independent candidate fault. They’ve lost two presidential elections since 2000, even though they won the popular vote, because the Electoral College took it away from them, there’s a major national citizen effort to have an interstate compact to neutralize the Electoral College.
The Democratic Party is not supporting of that. The Democratic Party doesn’t want to get rid of the Electoral College. They’ve lost twice to the Republicans. And that meant George W. Bush, and that meant Donald J. Trump.
So this scapegoating is nothing more than a sickness of the Democratic Party that cannot unleash new energy. It keeps putting losers in place like Nancy Pelosi. It keeps putting the Democratic National Committee apparatus against any kind of insurgent effort like Bernie Sanders. It’s a sick decrepit party that cannot defend the United States of America against the worst Republican Party in history.
JS: Does anybody ever have to ask you what you really think, Ralph?
RN: Well, what I really think is that we ought to make an accusation, Jeremy, that the Democratic or Republican parties do not really believe in democracy. If they did, they wouldn’t attack the press when the press is uttering inconvenient truths, they wouldn’t attack competitive candidates. Democracy cannot be a democracy if wealth is concentrated in a few hands, and democracy cannot be a democracy if it is not a competitive democracy in a multi-candidate election situation, and the two parties have an autocratic duopoly opposed to those democratic principles.
JS: On that very powerful note, I want to thank you Ralph Nader, very much, for speaking with me.
RN: Thank you, Jeremy Scahill, very much.