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America's Pandemic Fraud Epidemic; Is It Risky To Prosecute Trump?; Diana's Chief Of Staff On 25th Anniversary Of Her Death. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired August 27, 2022 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The fairness of forgiveness. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
On Wednesday, President Biden announced his plan for student loan forgiveness. In the end, he canceled $10,000 in debt for those earning less than 125,000, 20k for those recipients of Pell Grants, which by definition go to low income families. The decision sparked a passionate response, I think akin to what followed the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, which of course overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Remember, a few weeks ago Kansas voters rejected by an 18 point margin a referendum that would have made it possible to ban abortion in that state. Further proof of the passion inspired by Dobbs, it came last Tuesday when one of the few remaining swing congressional districts, New York's 19th went Democratic.
At least for a moment in time, here was a snapshot of America's political mood, a swing district won by Obama and then Trump and then Biden voted to send Democrat Pat Ryan to Washington. Ryan ran on abortion rights. His Republican opponent focused on the economy and crime. And now a midterm election that is just 73 days away and at once seemed a foregone conclusion, a Republican takeover of the House and the Senate is much more uncertain.
As Jonathan Weisman pointed out in "The New York Times" this week, "Republicans need just five seats to win the House, and their candidates are in strong positions to win the bulk of nine districts that Mr. Trump would have won easily two years ago if the new maps had been in place. Seven of those nine seats do not have a Democratic incumbent to defend them."
Here's another way to look at it. The Nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates 10 Democratic seats as leaning toward or likely to be Republican against three Republican seats that lean Democratic, that works out to a Republican majority. But for the first time since the fall of 2021 polling averages suggest a narrow majority of voters say they prefer Democratic control of Congress.
So, how to now factor in student debt forgiveness? In this cycle, both parties have issues that will motivate their base. For the Republicans, it's inflation, it's crime, it's the border. For Democrats, it's personal choice, and a growing list of administration achievements such as the inflation or climate bill, despite divided government.
Gallup just revealed that President Biden's approval rating reached a new high for the year, 44 percent. That's just after hitting a record low in July. But which side benefits from the cancellation of student debt? Superficially, you think it's the Democrats?
After all, 45 million people owe 1.6 trillion for student loans. That's more than any other consumer debt, except mortgages. Millions will be eligible for $10,000 in relief, while a far greater number, 27 million, will qualify for 20,000. That's a lot of voters, many of them Democratic.
As Nate Silver pointed out in a pair of tweets, "The thing about student loan debt relief is that while other policies would be more economically progressive, it fairly efficiently redistributes wellbeing toward people in the Democratic coalition. Youngish, middle- class-ish college grad school attendees equal a very D group. So it's a very transactional piece of public policy directly serving the interests of the people who elected you. That's extremely common, though, in the same way that say the Trump tax cuts were." But will they vote?
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts reports that in 2020 50 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 voted in the 2020 presidential election, that was an 11 percent increase from 2016. That compares to 66.8 percent of all citizens who voted in 2020 according to the census. But might the gratitude of debtors be outmatched by the anger of others?
Like that guy in 2020 who confronted Elizabeth Warren during a campaign stop in Grimes, Iowa. You remember? This father of a daughter whose tuition he'd paid wanted to know if he'd get a refund if others got to bail out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to ask one question. My daughter's getting out of school. I saved all my money.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I going to get my money back?
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Of course not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're going to pay for people who didn't save any money and those of us who did the right thing gets screwed?
WARREN: No, it's not that you got screwed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course we did. My buddy had fun, bought a car, went on vacations. I saved my money. He made more than I do, but I worked a double shift. Work extra -- my daughter works since she was 10. So, you're laughing at me.
WARREN: No, it's not --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's exactly what you're doing. We did the right and we get screwed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: That angry dad in Iowa has some interesting bedfellows these days. They include Jason Furman, the Harvard professor and top economists for President Obama who said the plan would, quote, "unnecessarily provide 10s of 1000s of dollars to many high income households in a way that goes well beyond even what he, Biden, promised in the heat of the Democratic primary when the problem facing the country was low inflation, not high inflation." And Ohio Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan who said this, "waving debt for those already on a trajectory to financial security sends the wrong message to millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet."
And then there's the cost, "The Wall Street Journal" opined as follows, "This is an inflation expansion Act. The reports say Mr. Biden will cancel 10 grand in debt for borrowers making 125,000 or less a year. That would cost about 300 billion this year and 330 billion over 10 years, says the Penn Wharton budget model. That's far more than 102 billion the Inflation Reduction Act purportedly reduces the deficit over 10 years starting in 2027. About 70 percent of the loan relief would go to borrowers in the top 60 percent of income distribution."
It's probably not accurate to calculate the cost solely by how much debt is being forgiven because that debt was probably not all going to be collected anyway. With an 8 million people, one in five had defaulted on their loans before the pandemic. There's also the looming question of whether government is prepared to administer the relief that the President has promised.
According to "The Washington Post," the education department already knows that 8 million of the borrowers qualify and will have their loans automatically forgiven. That means the remaining 35 million including Pell Grant recipients will have to attest that they make less than $125,000 per year in order to apply. That could generate a cluster, akin to the computer rollout of Obamacare and the fraud that we now knew took place with PPP loans.
My callers this week on SiriusXM were passionate on both sides of the student loan debate.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 1998 I borrowed $20,000 to get back and become a school teacher. I've never missed a payment. Twenty years I've been paying them, OK, at 5 percent interest. I've paid back -- I borrowed 20, paid back over 55 and I still owe 13, Michael. I feel like President Biden just took me out from underneath the loan shark.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife and I were able to get all three daughters through college without any debt. I voted for Biden in 2020 but I'm not going to be supportive of undermining the people's sense of sacrifice and duty trying to help their families improve. And so, I think it's undermining a lot of good values in America to forgive these debts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is absolutely insane to me to hear somebody like that person that rolled up on Elizabeth Warren and sat there and go, Well, I did everything right. I did everything right in my life. So everybody that thinks that something like this is a handout to the wealthy can kiss my ass.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I don't remember a recent political issue in gendering the kind of passion that I heard from my callers this week regarding student loans, and that's beyond even our many debates about Donald Trump. If the passion is maintained, this issue is going to have significant impact in the midterm elections, akin I think, to abortion, inflation, crime and the border. But what we really don't know is whether that passion is going to more benefit Republicans or Democrats.
This hour, I want to know what you think. Go to my website @smerconish.com and answer this week's poll question Is President Biden's student loan forgiveness fair?
And what are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my YouTube or Facebook page, reach out for me through social media. I'll read some throughout the course of the program.
Catherine (ph), what do we have? Smerconish, the entire tax system isn't fair. There are perks all over the system and you pick this one for the headlines. Just stop it.
Well, Paul, come on, it's the story of the week. Was I supposed to ignore it? I'd be derelict in my duty.
I mean, you heard President Biden's response to this on the South Lawn. He was shouted a question from a reporter and he said, you know, how about all those who are very wealthy and get a tax break? I get it.
The question I have is whether we're doing anything to address the fundamental nature of the problem here. In other words, what's this going to do to rein in the escalating cost of college? Because that's what needs to be dealt with.
Still to come, Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle's new podcast just dethrone Joe Rogan from Spotify's number one slot This comes just as Markle's husband, Prince Harry, is about to observe the 25th anniversary of the death of his mother Princess Diana. I'll discuss with Diana's personal secretary Patrick Jephson.
Plus, an editorial just published by "The New York Times" warns that if Merrick Garland indicts former President Trump, it risks extreme reactions from Trump supporters, even civil unrest. Should that be a consideration? I'll ask the man who presided over Trump's second impeachment, Senator Patrick Leahy, and see what he thinks.
And Secret Service agents just sees 248 million in fraudulently obtained pandemic relief loans. But there's probably a couple 100 of billion more to track down. I'll talk to the inspector general of the Small Business Administration about what investigators are up against.
SMERCONISH: The misuse of COVID funds has been called one of the largest frauds in American history. Friday, the Secret Service announced investigators had seized $286 million in pandemic relief loans obtained using fabricated or stolen employment and personal information. During the pandemic, more than $5.2 trillion in relief was distributed to help the unemployed and bolster the U.S. economy. How much of it went to fraudsters? We're still just starting to find out but it's already in the high billions.
The Justice Department has charged people with about 1 billion in fraud so far, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The Labor Department's inspector general estimates that COVID related unemployment overpayments are at 163 billion and warns that figure is probably low. Fifteen hundred people have already been charged by the federal government with defrauding pandemic aid programs with more than 450 convicted so far.
Among them, a Long Island doctor who used pandemic aid to put a down payment on $1.7 million yacht, a Georgia businessman who used a loan to purchase a $57,000 Pokemon trading card, and a New York man who fabricated employing 400 workers and then use the funds to buy a Lincoln Navigator, Maserati, Mercedes Benz and a 12,000 square foot Florida mansion. And wait, there's more, a Southern California man who was convicted of using identity theft to obtain $20 million in federal relief, one person obtained unemployment benefits from 29 different states, a postal worker got $82,900 in a loan for a business called U.S. postal services.
A former worker at California's unemployment agency was convicted of stealing $4.3 million in benefits using social security numbers she'd obtained working as a tax preparer. Another person got 10 loans for 10 nonexistent bathroom renovation businesses using the e-mail address of a burrito shop.
In 2020, a California rapper known as Nuke Bizzle posted this music video on YouTube called EDD, that's the name of the state's unemployment benefits department. Here he is bragging that he'd gotten rich by submitting false claims.
(MUSIC) SMERCONISH: He just pled guilty to mail fraud. Now, in a related matter and not one where there are allegations of fraud, there has nevertheless been a public outcry about the small business loans of millions to wealthy celebrities who employ workers, many of which have been forgiven. They include Jared Kushner, Diddy, Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul, Khloe Kardashian, Reese Witherspoon and Tom Brady. That loan program cost U.S. taxpayers $953 billion. The University of Texas has estimated that 15 percent of PPP claims about 76 billion were fraudulent.
And the government workers tasked with tracking these people down are overwhelmed. About 50 agents and a Small Business Administration office are reviewing 2 million potentially fraudulent loan applications. There are 500 people working on pandemic fraud cases across the offices of 21 inspectors general plus investigators from the FBI, the Secret Service, the Postal Inspection Service and the IRS.
In cases where the loans are for $10,000, it would cost the government more than $10,000 to investigate and prosecute. Earlier this month, President Biden signed bills extending the statute of limitations from five to 10 years for fraud involving the Paycheck Protection Program and economic injury disaster loans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to those cheats out there is this, you can't hide. We're going to find you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Joining me now is Hannibal "Mike" Ware, Inspector General for the U.S. Small Business Association -- Administration, pardon me.
So, Mr. I.G., thank you so much for being here. I don't know even know where to begin. How about this? What's the most extreme example of fraud, allegation of fraud that you're investigating or are familiar with?
HANNIBAL WARE, INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ASSOCIATION: Well, what -- first of all, thank you for having me, and what I could talk about only our cases that have already been tried. And one of those that's probably been the most egregious so far was the case -- the Azerion (ph) case, where they use money claiming fictitious employees, fictitious businesses, hid money in their backyard. And when convicted, they fled, and we were able to apprehend them in Montenegro. That was pretty out there in terms of what we've been seeing. They'd gotten over $18 million from the programs illegally.
There was another case with --
SMERCONISH: You saw this coming? Sorry.
WARE: Yes, I definitely did. SMERCONISH: But go ahead, please tell me. Tell me about the other case. And then tell me if I'm right that you personally, you saw this coming.
WARE: Right. The other case was the case of the Love and Hip Hop reality star who used the money to pay back child support by extravagant cars, by Rolexes, and all that. And the sentence was, sent a message. Along with other things that he did, he received a 17-year sentence.
And in terms of seeing it coming, I definitely did. My office published -- we had two reports out before the first loan went out, before the program was even properly stood up. We had known from our experience in these programs that if you rely on self-certification and if you're rolling out a program like they were asked to roll out in just a couple of days, ended up being 14 years' worth of lending out the door in just 14 days we knew what will be coming. So we were asking them on the front end to set up a proper control environment so that I'm not caught in a pan chase model that I'm in currently.
SMERCONISH: Do you have the resources that you need to do the job? I asked the question, because, you know, there's controversy about the IRS now about to get 87,000 new agents and people are saying -- arguing as to whether that's a good or a bad thing. I can't imagine anybody arguing about whether it would be a good thing to give more resources to an inspector general like you to go after PPP fraudsters. So, do you have what you need?
WARE: Well, currently, no. But I can say that, no, probably nobody does. For us -- for me, it's never been about whether or not I had enough. We -- what we have done with our office so far in terms of -- we have over $9 billion in accomplishments over the last two years of this. The Congress early on gave us $70 million in supplemental funding to beef up my office to do this, of course $20 million got rescinded, and we're at the tail ending of those funds.
If I don't have more, and I'm working with my own examiner's and with our appropriators to make sure that they understand that by 2024, when the full fraud landscape actually takes place, because that will be when the idle loan start to default. Right? When -- and we know they will, because we have over a million applications associated with identity theft.
We have over 280,000 hotline complaints. Our data analytics show that 40 -- over 40,000 of those are actually actionable, which means we have, what 100 years' worth of work. Which why I was critical to have the statute of limitations increased. But to answer the question more directly, unless our office is right sized for the task ahead of us, we definitely will not have the resources.
SMERCONISH: OK. Final question then. So, if you lack the resources to do the job that has been assigned to you, how do you approach it? Do you go after just the high dollar fraudsters? Because that sends a bad message to the 10,000 and 20,000 fraudster. Like how do you determine which case you'll pursue? WARE: Right. So it's important to understand that this was always, from my perspective, designed to be a whole of government approach to this to oversight. I'm working with the Secret Service as you saw yesterday. I'm working with the FBI, I'm working with FDIC, I'm working with IRS, with Postal Inspection Services, with everybody else. So it's never been designed for me alone. Plus, there's administrative remedies that SBA can undertake to go after the lower dollar ones.
For me right now with my 50 working agents, 64 total, is that we have to prioritize to get the biggest impact. In some instances, that would include some small dollar ones, but only if they are in a part of a wider and broader fraud ring where everyone who got money within the ring is caught up in that net. Other than that --
SMERCONISH: You got a tough job. You've got a very tough and very important job.
Mr. Ware, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. This has not gotten enough attention, so I'm glad you're here.
WARE: Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying via social media. Catherine, what do we have?
While the program was needed, it was run badly from day one.
Hey, Bobby Tyson, the 87,000 -- and I realized through attrition the net net is probably going to be less than that because a lot of IRS agents are leaving. But can anyone dispute what I said to my guests? Why can't we take those IRS agents, and I'm not saying cut them short because they need resources too, but there should be the same groundswell that there was among Democrats at least to beef up the IRS for this. No one, no one, those stories that I just told you, a guy taking PPP funds and buying a $57,000 Pokemon card, no one in the country would argue with taking more government resources and empowering my guest and letting them go after the PPP fraudsters, a no brainer. Someone champion that issue, for goodness sakes.
I want to remind you, go to my website @smerconish.com this hour. Answer this week's poll question. By the way, registered for the daily newsletter while you're there. Is President Biden's student loan forgiveness fair?
Up ahead, if Merrick Garland does indict President Trump, even if warranted, should he first consider whether it might ignite a civil war? It's a concern raised in a brand new editorial in "The New York Times." I'm eager to ask Senator Patrick Leahy about it. He started in the presidential line of succession. Plus, Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of when the world lost Princess Diana. Her chief of staff and private secretary, Patrick Jephson, is here to reflect.
SMERCONISH: The release of the redacted affidavit on the search of Mar-a-Lago is raising concern in Donald Trump's legal team that he could be indicted. But, is a DOJ prosecution of a former president worth the risk of the extreme response that could result from Republicans and Trump supporters?
As "The New York Times" notes in a brand new editorial -- quote -- "This board is aware that in deciding how Mr. Trump should be held accountable under the law it is necessary to consider not just whether criminal prosecution would be warranted but whether it would be wise. No American president has ever been criminally prosecuted after leaving office. When President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, he ensured that Nixon would not be prosecuted for crimes committed during the Watergate scandal. Ford explained this decision with the warning that such a prosecution posed grave risks of rousing ugly passions and worsening political polarization."
My next guest presided over Donald Trump's second impeachment trial as president pro tem in the Senate. He first came to Washington at the age of 34 in 1975, rising to become the third in line for the presidency as well as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And after nearly half a century in office, as one of the longest-serving members of the Senate, he's retiring and reflecting on his career in a brand new memoir titled "The Road Taken."
Joining me now is the Democratic senator from the great state of Vermont, Patrick Leahy. Senator Leahy, I was reminded in reading your great memoir that you're a former prosecutor. So let me ask about this issue of the day, should the Justice Department give any consideration to the prospect of civil unrest as they determine whether to indict Trump?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), FORMER CHAIR, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I'm sure that is going to be a consideration. And I can think how prosecutors are going to have to wrestle with this question when it is a former president on the one hand do you say, if it's a former president you can't prosecute? Or on the other hand do you say, nobody -- nobody, in this country is above the law? Whether they're president, former president or anybody else it's going to be a difficult question.
A lot will depend upon what comes out of these papers that were seized. You know, Donald Trump has shown a disdain for classified material. When he was early on in his presidency he disclosed to the Russian foreign minister with a camera going and a recording machine going in the room very, very top secret intelligence, which put in danger one of our allies' clandestine efforts. It put in danger their agents. They had to yank them out of the countries where they were. It was some of the most sensitive information we had and in a bragging way he gave it to the Russian foreign minister. Now that may be because of the feelings he has toward Russia. He also -- when Putin went into Ukraine he called him a genius. I call him a war criminal.
SMERCONISH: I've always -- I've always believed that a prosecutor needs to make a determination as to whether there's sufficient evidence of a crime having been committed and a belief that they can successfully prosecute someone for that crime. I don't know where to go. Wherein lies the citation for this third consideration of -- for lack of a better descriptor the impact on society.
LEAHY: Well, I was a prosecutor, as you said, for eight years. I had to make decisions who to prosecute. I prosecuted Democrats, Republicans, people in high office. And I had to do it, but I was never faced with a question like this.
I would say incidentally, earlier, you talked about the fraud and the COVID money. I would prosecute those people to the fullest extent.
I want to see them go to prison. I want the example made that if you commit fraud on a government like that you'll go to prison. You won't get a slap on the wrist. You won't get a fine. You'll go to prison.
SMERCONISH: Senator Leahy -- quote -- "The Senate is a broken place." I read and really enjoyed elements of your book. Among the many vignettes you talk about Iron Mike Mansfield with his back room bar. It occurs to me that if the back room bar existed today in the Senate, it would be segregated by Rs and Ds. Like, wherein lies the break of the camaraderie that you enjoyed for so many years that no longer exists?
LEAHY: Well, it was a gradual thing. I think a lot of it came after the -- what Newt Gingrich did in the House in polarizing and ignoring the example of his predecessor, Bob Michel. And said there's going to be one party controlling issues and a lot of those members came to the Senate and they felt the same way.
I've always felt the Senate should be the conscience of the nation. We ought to come together. I've been very successful in a lot of legislation I've proposed but only because I've gone and sought out Republicans to work with me, across the political spectrum.
They're slowly coming back to having some meetings together but it's become too polarized. We used to have a dining room where Republicans and Democrats were in there, at each other's table, talking over issues. The vice president of both parties would come and join. And things got worked out.
It's not happening that way now. And it is too polarized. We have seen far, far more filibusters than ever before. It is not the way the Senate should or could be.
One of the reasons I wrote the book "The Road Taken" was to show the arc of where the Senate had been, what it could be and where it's ended up. Now, we have -- sometimes we do come together, aid to Ukraine being one, but nowhere near enough and it's hurting the country.
SMERCONISH: I think that young people who read the memoir, and I recommend it, will be shocked to hear of the collegiality that did exist when you came aboard in the '70s and the '80s until some period in 1990s. Senator, thanks so much for being here. I wish you good things with the memoir.
LEAHY: Good. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate the chance to be here.
SMERCONISH: Checking in now on more social media reaction. Catherine, what do we have from the world of Twitter?
What happens if he returns to the White House? Yes, this -- the issue of -- look, I -- the words of this "Times" editorial -- you have got to read this editorial today because it crystallizes an issue that I have been wondering about. It says, "It is necessary to consider not just whether criminal prosecution would be warranted but whether it would be wise."
And I don't think that you'll find a citation, nothing in the constitution, nothing in the case law, nothing statutory, as to wherein lies the basis for that for a prosecutor. I'm not denying what the "Times" says. I'm sure it's a consideration for Merrick Garland.
But, you know, here's Senate Leahy who says, go after the PPP people and put them in prison. I totally agree. There's no consideration of the impact on society there. Like, here is the law. Go apply it.
It's a lot more complicated with Trump. And the "Times" also says that it ought to be something serious if they are going to prosecute him.
I want to remind you -- have you voted yet at the Smerconish.com poll question? Is President Biden's student loan forgiveness fair? Very simple. Is it fair? Answer, I'll give you the results in a couple minutes.
Still to come, this coming Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary -- wow, 25th anniversary of that Paris car crash -- Paris car crash that led to the death of Princess Diana, Princess of Wales. So how will the royal family mark the occasion? I'm eager to speak to Diana's chief of staff and private secretary. Patrick Jephson is here.
SMERCONISH: Where were you when you heard that Princess Diana had died? Amazingly, this Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of her death at age 36 from injuries sustained in a horrific car crash in a Paris tunnel. Diana was one of the most famous people on the planet, instrumental in the humanizing of the royal family and giving them relevance in a modern era. But will there be any commemoration by Queen Elizabeth or Prince Charles this Wednesday? Joining me now, the perfect person to discuss, Patrick Jephson, who was Princess Diana's former chief of staff and private secretary. His books include "Shadows Of A Princess" and "The Meghan Factor."
Patrick, thanks so much for being here. So you were with her for eight years. We're talking 24/7, 365 days a year. What about her might the rest of us not understand?
PATRICK JEPHSON, PRINCESS DIANA'S PRIVATE SECRETARY AND CHIEF OF STAFF: That's a good question, Michael. I think perhaps the thing that surprises people about Diana is to realize that she was not the girl next door type. I know she is famous for having been approachable and relatable and as you said, to have humanized the monarchy.
But actually she was an aristocrat to her fingertips. She was from a great old English aristocratic dynasty. She had royal quality that you couldn't mistake, charisma. And she was extremely professional as a princess, very dutiful, very diligent. And she had that great old royal virtue of putting duty before self and love of country before everything.
SMERCONISH: Patrick, since her passing -- and more recently we have learned she really was duped by Martin Bashir, right, in that Panorama interview. Of what consequence was that?
JEPHSON: The direct consequence of Martin Bashir's very unethical approach to that interview was that Princess Diana was essentially finally cut off from the royal family and the support system that that represented. The interview led to direct intervention from the queen instructing both Charles and Diana to finalize their divorce and that meant that from then on Diana was on her own. And that led, I think, through a series of interconnected incidents to her being in the back of that Mercedes in Paris on the tragic night.
SMERCONISH: But for the Bashir interview could the marriage to Charles have survived? I mean, by her telling, there were three in that marriage.
JEPHSON: Well, certainly the Bashir interview didn't help. But I think had Princess Diana had the clarity at that time and the -- I suppose the sense of purpose, she could have said to her husband, you know, I am your wife. I am the future queen. I am the mother of a future king. I'm not going anywhere. Deal with it. And they would have had to deal with it and they would have done.
SMERCONISH: OK. What does that mean? I mean, I assume that there are Patrick Jephsons who surround the royal family who can navigate these waters, that this sort of thing has come up in the history of the monarchy previously.
JEPHSON: Yes. It's a very pragmatic institution. And given the kind of lifestyle that the prince and princess lived there were opportunities for them both to perhaps pursue extramarital happiness, if they could. But there was a bigger issue at stake. This was a matter of national importance.
The divorce of the future king and queen was a totally unprecedented, constitutional trauma. And we're living with the consequences of it today.
SMERCONISH: Meghan dethroned Joe Rogan for number one podcast in the country this week. Who knew? When I look at the dynamics -- and, of course, you know them far better than I. You have written books and know all these folks. To me, London is not large enough. The U.K. is not large enough for both Kate and Meghan and that's why Meghan left. Your thought?
JEPHSON: Well, I think that Meghan and Harry have learned to operate on the intersection of royalty and celebrity. And they seem to be getting the celebrity bit quite successfully right. And they are -- as you say, they are achieving enormous profile.
But it's the royalty aspect of the deal that seems to be raising eyebrows and rightly so. Royalty and celebrity are not the same thing. Royalty -- to enjoy the privileges of the titles and the prestige of royalty that has to be earned every day. It's on loan from the British people. And I think it's the lack of evidence that the royal prestige is still being earned that causes the problem.
SMERCONISH: And, Patrick, finally, 25 years ago the royal family struggled in terms of how to deal with the passing of Princess Diana. Is there a right way that this coming Wednesday, both the queen and Charles, should handle this situation, this anniversary?
JEPHSON: Well, the monarchy as an institution doesn't really do anniversaries of deaths. Today incidentally is the anniversary of the death of the queen's uncle, Lord Mountbatten, murdered by the IRA. So, there's going to be no public expression of anything to mark that.
And with Diana, the 10th anniversary was well marked, the 20th by William and Harry. They will mark it again in their own way this week, I'm sure. But as an institution, they tend to draw lines and move on. It's the rest of us who have the opportunity to remember Diana, be grateful for all she did and even to ask questions about her life and her royal experience and what lessons that leaves for future generations.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Patrick Jephson, always a pleasure to have you here.
JEPHSON: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets, your social media, YouTube, Facebook, all of it and the result of this week's poll question. Have you voted at Smerconish.com? Is President Biden's student loan forgiveness fair?
[09:54:12] SMERCONISH: I'm interested not only in the margin of the poll question at Smerconish.com but also the number of votes as a metric of passion. Here's what we ask, is President Biden's student loan forgiveness fair?
All right. Hit me with it. Looking at the margin and also the number. Twenty-seven thousand, big number -- big number and yes. So the president will be happy to hear that the yes votes are there, but I keep believing this is a biggie.
This is abortion. This is border. This is crime. I didn't anticipate it, and I've been answering phones, as I'd like to say, for a living for a long, long time.
Here's some of the social media reaction that came in. What do we have?
Yes, it is fair. Anyone who has a problem with it is pissed only because they missed out. Oh well. Get over it.
Well, Naya, I guess you're talking about say the father who confronted Elizabeth Warren who says, hey, you know, paid all the bills, worked hard, sacrificed, my buddy bought a boat.
Here's another social media reaction. Forgiveness is a DC euphemism. If liberals were honest they'd just call it what it is. A transfer of debt to those who didn't undertake it.
Half Truth Spotter, you know, Nate Silver said, look, this is -- and it's not the first time the Trump tax cuts benefitted people who supported Trump. But it sure does align with the Democratic base, those who will be beneficiaries of it, which I think is your point.
Here's another social media reaction. Yes, it's fair to the millions with pressing student loans. Maybe unfair to those who struggled to pay off their loans, right. Life isn't fair. Some of us luck out and then some don't.
Garth, if it all evens out in the end, if we feel like, all right, I wasn't the beneficiary this time but I've been a beneficiary in other circumstances then I think we're all going to be just fine with it.
Do I have time for one more? I do not, unfortunately. OK. I'll see you next week.