Tom Brokaw on Trump Impeachment Hearings: "We've Got Rough Waters Ahead"

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert  -Tom Brokaw - CBS publicity_H 2019
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"I hope that the country will be able to kind of hang together here and take an enlightened attitude — on the left and on the right — about what we're in for," the journalist said about the ongoing process when he stopped by 'The Late Show With Stephen Colbert' on Monday.

Tom Brokaw said American voters are making Donald Trump's impeachment hearings "more complex" than they really are when he stopped by The Late Show on Monday.

After host Stephen Colbert recapped Trump allegedly recruiting Ukraine to investigate his political opponent Joe Biden, the CBS host said that "all evidence seems to be in support of that accusation."

"They say, 'He came back and he changed his language on it. It was Ukraine. Who knows where Ukraine is? What was that all about? Why would he be asking for something like that? Why would we be asking for something like that?"' said Brokaw of the American public's perception of the hearings.

"It wasn't like breaking and entering, which is what we had going on in the White House days of Richard Nixon," he continued.

While U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said that Trump's interactions with Ukraine were worse than a third-rate burglary, Brokaw said it was "much worse" than even a first-rate burglary. 

"It was going on in the Oval Office where they were conspiring to get the money to pay off the burglars and pay off other people and it was the president's counsel who was doing that," he said. "He was on the tape. It was his chief of staff doing that and it was his domestic adviser who was involved in all of this."

Trump has implemented "blanket executive privilege" that keeps specific people from testifying and he has declared that the investigation is illegitimate. Richard Nixon used the same method during his impeachment investigation, which Brokaw was able to talk to Nixon about.

"The premise of my question was he'd been saying 'executive privilege, executive privilege.' Then we did some research and we discovered by talking to very conservative legal scholars, they said, 'Executive privilege has no application in an impeachment proceeding,'" he explained of Nixon's use of the phrase. "So that's the question that I asked him. 'Aren't you misleading the American public by claiming executive privilege because now we have an impeachment proceeding underway?'"

Nixon "rebuffed" Brokaw's question and the journalist was later told that he shouldn't have talked to the president that way, "but it was a little insight into what was going to happen and in fact did happen. Executive privilege is wiped out when there is a formal impeachment proceeding."

Brokaw then circled back to discuss Trump's impeachment hearings. "We've got rough waters ahead of us," Brokaw said. "I hope that the country will be able to kind of hang together here and take an enlightened attitude — on the left and on the right — about what we're in for."

Also during his appearance, Brokaw spoke about how the general public finds journalists less credible now than during the earlier years of his career.

"It's a big, big difference between then and now with social media," he said. "I do believe that people ought to have access to stating what they believe and what they want to be involved in, but we've lost control of it because you don't know where it’s coming from, where it's going, what the motivation is and so when you see something come off the screen, so many people go, 'I believe that' and so much of it cannot be authenticated."

While he noted that White House correspondents and journalists "didn't have all the answers" back in the day, they "worked very hard in determining what in fact had happened because we were liable for it at the end of the day and the country paid attention to it on that basis."

When it came to investigating Nixon's Watergate scandal, Brokaw and fellow journalists didn't announce that the president was guilty until they had solid evidence. "We worked diligently to prove what we were reporting on a daily basis," he said.

"Now, as soon as the president says something — as you know from watching the president or any of his spokesmen say something — everyone's on the air 24/7. 'He's guilty,'" said Brokaw.

He added that it is important for Americans to pay attention to the current impeachment hearings, though he admitted that the process might make people's "eyes glaze over because it doesn't seem to be anything except a show on both sides." Brokaw concluded, "I think that's the really dangerous proposition that we're dealing with now."