MTP Daily, Transcript 5/11/2017

Guests:
Bill Kristol, Stephanie Cutter, Yamiche Alcindor
Transcript:

 

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  You guy, we`ll pick this up again. 

Thank you to my panel, John Storyk, Steve Kornacki, Joel Benenson and

Bianna Golodryga.

 

That does it for this hour.  I`m Nicole Wallace.  “MTP DAILY” starts right

now.  Hi, Chuck.

 

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  Hi, Nicole.

 

WALLACE:  You`ve had a busy day. 

 

TODD:  I have.  So have you.  You had a great panel.  I promise a good

show.  We`ve got some poll numbers coming so stick around.

 

If it`s Thursday, it`s a parade of contradictions. 

 

Well, good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in a very wet Washington.  Welcome

to MTP DAILY.

 

We`ve got a ton of breaking news to get to this hour.  The fallout from the

president`s decision to fire the FBI director has mushroomed into chaos for

this White House as a series of claims they initially made with the firing

has now begun to unravel.

 

President Trump sat down with my colleague, the anchor of the “NBC NIGHTLY

NEWS” Lester Holt, for a dramatic interview amid this escalating

controversy.

 

We`ve also got some brand-new NBC News SurveyMonkey online polling that`s

outright now on this very issue, sort of snapshot overnight numbers.  We`re

going to get to them in a moment.  But we`re going to begin with the

highlights of this Lester Holt interview with the president which began

with Mr. Trump unloading on now former FBI Director James Comey. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Look, he`s a showboat.  He`s

a grandstander.  The FBI has been in turmoil.  You know that.  I know that. 

Everybody knows that.  You take a look at the FBI a year ago.  It was in

virtual turmoil.  Less than a year ago.  It hasn`t recovered from that. 

 

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS:  Monday, you met with the deputy

attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Right.

 

HOLT:  Did you ask for a recommendation?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What I did is I was going to

fire Comey.  My decision.  It was not –

 

HOLT:  You had made the decision before they came (INAUDIBLE.)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I was going to fire Comey. 

I – there`s no good time to do it, by the way.  They –

 

HOLT:  Because in your letter, you said (INAUDIBLE) accepted their

recommendations.

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes.  Well, they –

 

HOLT:  You had already made the decision. 

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Oh, I was going to fire,

regardless of recommendation.  They –

 

HOLT:  (INAUDIBLE.)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He made a recommendation. 

He`s highly respected.  Very good guy.  Very smart guy.  The Democrats like

him.  The Republicans like him.  He made a recommendation.  But regardless

of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. 

 

HOLT:  Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey.  You

write, I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions

that I am not under investigation.

 

Why did you put that in there?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because he told me that.  I

mean, he told me that.

 

HOLT:  He told you, you weren`t under investigation, with regard to the

Russia investigation?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, and I`ve heard that –

I`ve heard that from others.  I think he –

 

HOLT:  Was it in a phone call?  Did you meet face to face? 

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I had a dinner with him.  He

wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on.  We had a very nice

dinner at the White House, (INAUDIBLE.)

 

HOLT:  He asked for the dinner? 

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our dinner was arranged.  I

think he asked for the dinner.  And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head

and I said I`ll, you know, consider.  We`ll see what happens.

 

But we had a very nice dinner.  And, at that time, he told me, you are not

under investigation which I knew anyway. 

 

HOLT:  That was one meeting.  What was the – what were the other two?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  First of all, when you`re

under investigation, you`re giving all sorts of documents and everything. 

I knew I wasn`t under.  And I heard it was stated at the committee – at

some committee level that I wasn`t.  Number one.

 

HOLT:  So, that didn`t come directly from him?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Then, during the phone call,

he said it.  And then, during another phone call, he said it.  So, he said

it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls. 

 

HOLT:  Did you call him?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In one case, I called him. 

And in one case, he called me. 

 

HOLT:  And did you ask, am I under investigation? 

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I actually asked him, yes. 

I said, if it`s possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation? 

He said, you are not under investigation. 

 

HOLT:  But he`s given sworn testimony that there is an ongoing

investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the

Russian government.  You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign.

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, all I can tell you is

 

HOLT:  So, was he being truthful when he said you weren`t under

investigation?

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  – well, I know – I know

that I`m not under investigation.  Me, personally.  I`m not talking about

campaigns.  I`m not talking about anything else.  I`m not under

investigation. 

 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

 

TODD:  All right.  Let`s deconstruct the two big pieces of news from that

interview excerpt.  First, the president said he had decided to fire Comey

before he met with his attorney general and the deputy attorney general

which actually directly contradicts the White House`s initial justification

for the firing.

 

In the immediate aftermath of the ouster, the White House said, quote,

“President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy

Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The

White House then publicly flooded the zone with that said justification.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

HALLIE JACKSON, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  You said last

week, the president had full confidence in the FBI director.  What changed? 

 

SEAN SPICER, U.S., WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It`s the recommendation

that came today and the rationale behind it.

 

JACKSON:  So, the president made the decision today?

 

SPICER:  Yes.

 

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, U.S. DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  When you

receive a report that is so clear and a recommendation by someone, like the

deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act. 

 

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because of the actions

that the deputy attorney general outlined to the president, that were

endorsed and agreed with by the attorney general, the president made the

right decision at the right time. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

[17:05:08] TODD:  But you just heard the president tell Lester Holt that

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein`s recommendation was, essentially,

meaningless to him.  White House deputy press secretary today acknowledged

that the White House`s story has now changed.  She said they were just

going off the information they had at the time.

 

Let`s break down the other big claim from the Lester`s interview.  You

heard the president say he asked FBI Director Comey if he was under

investigation and Mr. Trump says Comey told him he was not.

 

First off, “The Washington Post” says, quote, “People familiar with the

matter said that statement is not accurate, although they would not say how

it was inaccurate.  And then, secondly, the White House was pressed today

about the appropriateness of the president`s actions. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS:  Isn`t it

inappropriate for the president of the United States to ask the FBI

director directly if he is under investigation? 

 

SANDERS:  No, I don`t believe it is. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One of these conversations, the president said,

happened at a dinner where the FBI director, according to the president,

was asking to stay on as FBI director.  Don`t you see how that`s a conflict

of interest?

 

SANDERS:  I don`t see it as conflict of interest and neither do the many

legal scholars and others who have been commenting on it for the last hour. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  And there is a third explanation here, a plausible explanation,

which is it`s the Trump campaign that`s under investigation.  And one

theory is, Trump, himself, was kept out of the loop if there was a

collusion.

 

Anyway, let`s bring in our panel.  Yamiche Alcindor, National Reporter for

“The New York Times” and an MSNBC Contributor.  Stephanie Cutter, former

campaign manager for Barack Obama.  And Bill Kristol, Editor-at -Large at

“The Weekly Standard.”

 

OK, Yamiche, let me start with you on this.  I think we start with the Rod

Rosenstein explanation.  What was used and then, suddenly, it is not used

and the president decided to own it himself.  What I think we`re all trying

to figure out is, why was there – why did the White House put out one

explanation at that moment versus now?  I think there`s a lot of theories

but it seems to be a glaring gap here.

 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  It`s a glaring gap and there`s really

no clear understanding of why you have a White House who wouldn`t stick to

a story.  If you`re going to fire Director Comey, at least say, OK, this is

what we`re going to do and stick to that story.  They could have said the

president did not like what – how he was running the FBI.  He made a

decision.  He acted definitively and kept it at that.

 

But it started to seem as though, at the beginning, they wanted to put this

on the DOJ to, kind of, distance Trump – President Trump from doing this. 

And, kind of, saying, no, this has nothing to do with the Russia

investigation.  Because – and I think, in that way, that would have, kind

of, distanced him from that idea.

 

Now, you have President Trump saying, actually, after I was already told

that I wasn`t under investigation, I acted in this way, it obviously makes

it seem as though Russia was on his mind.  And there were all – and this

investigation was on his mind when he was acting this way.  And to say that

he was completely divorced and he had made up his mind, it makes no sense

why you would also put out all these surrogates to say the first, I guess,

line (ph). 

 

TODD:  Both of you have worked in White Houses.  Both of you have been in

west wings.  There`s two plausible explanations here.  One, the president

misled his own staff, or, two, the staff made an assumption and didn`t ask

the president. 

 

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER MANAGER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN:  I think there`s a third

explanation. 

 

TODD:  What would be the third?

 

CUTTER:  The third explanation is that someone in there knew what a big

problem it was for the president to be firing Comey, at this point, and

wanted to create another explanation, another causation for this firing. 

So, they manufactured this set of memos and got everybody to buy into it.

 

The problem is, and this is a consistent problem with this White House,

manufacturing that memo, it`s actually a lie.  And these lies catch up with

you.  And that`s what we`re seeing here.  They lied about it.  If the truth

was, as the president now asserts, and he`s our commander in chief, we

should believe him, that it was his decision.  He made it a long time ago. 

Then, everybody else was lying.  I think it`s too naive to say that

everybody else was out of the loop. 

 

TODD:  Well, and then, Bill, you would have – if that`s the case, the

president`s owning this.  Then, they`ve been misleading the public for the

last three months about the confidence the president had in Director Comey.

 

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  I mean, obviously,

it`s the president`s decision.  He said – the organization of the FBI

director reports up through the deputy attorney general.  But the deputy

attorney general can`t fire the FBI director.  And no president is simply

going to take a memo that says, well, this FBI director has done some

problematic things and say, OK, I have to fire the FBI director.

 

I mean – and, incidentally, the deputy attorney general does not say that

James Comey should be fired.  He reports criticism of James Comey`s

behavior as FBI director.

 

So, they would have been better off just accepting the thing from the

beginning and saying Donald Trump has decided to fire James Comey.  He was

uncertain about him for the last few months.  Of course, publicly, you`ll

express confidence.  I think that they could get away with.

 

I think the second opponent that you raised, though, the assertion that

Comey told him three times he was not under investigation, is more

problematic.  I don`t believe – and, first of all, I don`t know what that

even means.

 

And maybe – well, I don`t know.  My impression from talking to some people

in law enforcement is it`s inappropriate for the FBI director to say that,

in any case.  You don`t know where an investigation is going to lead.

 

[17:10:07] But if your boss –

 

KRISTOL:  As of – as of – as of May 5th, maybe you`re not a target of the

investigation.  But the president of the United States asking the FBI

director, am I under investigation?  Why would he need – let`s think about

it this way.  Why would you want to know that?

 

TODD:  Well, that`s –

 

KRISTOL:  Think about that.  I mean, what`s the answer to that?

 

CUTTER:  Why is he worried about it?

 

TODD:  What is the answer?

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

KRISTOL:  (INAUDIBLE) you`re trying to get.  They don`t seem to be worried,

right?  But what would he do if the answer were yes?  That would be the

question, right?  But, I mean, why would you ask the question otherwise?

 

TODD:  Now, I know there`s been some criticism, you know, should Director

Comey have answer the question.  This is a case where –

 

KRISTOL:  We don`t know if he did or not.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

TODD:  We don`t know, that`s right.  And it is, sort of, a – but I go back

to, it`s not surprising, to me, that the president, individually, is not

under investigation here.  They`re not looking at that.  They`re looking at

collusion mostly having to do with associates.

 

And, again, one very plausible theory is that whatever was done, there was

stuff they kept – because, frankly, he doesn`t know how to keep secrets. 

There`s an argument to be made.  He would`ve kept (INAUDIBLE.)  So, it`s –

to me, it`s a – it`s semi-pointless.  But it`s obviously important to him

to publicly get it out there. 

 

ALCINDOR:  But I guess if there`s two things going on.  One is that

President Trump knows more, obviously, about whatever was happening.  If

there is collusion, hypothetically, not saying that there is.  But if there

is collusion, Donald Trump knows what that collusion might have been.

 

So, at some point, there`s no way that he was completely kept out of loop. 

So, asking that question might be getting in front of the – in front of

the obvious end of this investigation.

 

Now, whether or not that ends that way is a completely different story. 

But you have to beg the question of why you`re asking it.

 

But I think the second thing is that this is also President Trump`s

personality.  He doesn`t want to look as though he`s getting bossed around

 

TODD:  Yes.

 

ALCINDOR:  – by the DOJ.  And I don`t think that we can – we can, kind

of, at all –

 

TODD:  Well, –

 

ALCINDOR:  – gloss over that.  But he has – he started with this one

theory and then says, you know what?  I make decisions myself and I can`t

even hold onto what maybe I told my staff to say. 

 

TODD:  My point is that it`s not exculpatory just because he`s not a

target.  That`s the point.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

KRISTOL:  If you say to me, –

 

TODD:  Yes.

 

KRISTOL:  – gee, am I under investigation?  The most simpleminded thing

is, gee, he`s worried. 

 

TODD:  Why are you asking?  Yes.

 

KRISTOL:  I mean –

 

CUTTER:  Well, he should be worried.  I mean, there are grand juries

looking into this.  You know, that grand juries – whether or not you`re a

target, all roads lead back to the person at the top.  So, –

 

TODD:  What was amazing was how he said, well, you know, when you`re a

target because you`re having to give – wait. 

 

CUTTER:  Well, that means you`re the subject.

 

TODD:  That`s right.  That –

 

CUTTER:  It doesn`t mean that you`re not being also investigated as – in

relation to that. 

 

TODD:  But let`s get to why the story changed about whose decision it was

to fire Comey.  There was another development today that got overshadowed

by Lester`s interview and that was the fact that Rod Rosenstein went to

Capitol Hill and, essentially, got Mark Warner and Richard Burr out of

their hearing to have a meeting with him.  We don`t – we don`t yet know

exactly.

 

But there has been reporting, Bill, that he didn`t like that he was being

used as the scape goat here.  And, clearly, they were concerned.  Now, they

deny that he threatened resignation.  But something got them to change

their story. 

 

KRISTOL:  I just think if you`ve been in the White House and had some sense

of how careful people get when you`re in the middle of a possibly criminal

invest – or national security investigation, at the level this is going

on, with an FBI director, people close to the president, whether the

president will personally will be drawn in or not, we don`t know.

 

When you just have worked – and you know how careful everyone is about

everything you (INAUDIBLE) not say.  The idea that they put out the

statement that the president seems personally to – in the president`s name

with this para – middle paragraph. 

 

TODD:  A first person. 

 

KRISTOL:  First person.

 

TODD:  A first person (INAUDIBLE.)

 

KRISTOL:  And the White House counsel didn`t say, wait a second.  Wait a

second.  This – we know how to put out statements with this kind of thing

and you don`t put in anything at all problematic when it`s going to lead to

all these questions.  And then, you have the deputy attorney general.  He

swore on top of all the Constitution, et cetera.  There are all kinds of

rules and regulations about how he`s supposed to conduct it.

 

And he`s apparently a man of integrity and a great experience.  And he`s

suddenly being, sort of – it`s one thing for him to write a memo at the

request of the president, detailing some problems James Comey was having

directing his agency.  I think that`s legitimate.  It`s a little bit

exceeding to the president.  But then, to, sort of, throw him under the bus

the way they did.  I mean –

 

ALCINDOR:  Yes.  Well, I heard something about tax returns yesterday.  And

it stuck with me, this idea of how he`s delaying, delaying, delaying.  And

the continuous changing of why the tax returns aren`t released.

 

First, it`s because I`m under audit.  Then, it`s because the American

people don`t care about it.  I don`t think that we`re talking about this in

a logical way as if the story was going to be this way.  There was all this

– that Trump had made up his mind that it was going to be this way.

 

But this is a president who constantly changes his mind.  So, why – to me,

it`s not – it`s completely plausible that he sits down with Lester Holt

and says, you know what?  This is – I want to run this.  This is exactly

what I want to do.  And I`m going to make this decision on the fly.

 

His – he could`ve told his staff, you know what?  We`re going to stick to

the story.  Mike Pence and him could`ve had a meeting and said, this is the

story.  And then, he goes and Mike Pence has to watch what everybody else -

- him telling Lester Holt that this is the decision that I made. 

 

TODD:  Welcome to the attempt to try to find logic in this administration. 

Sometimes it`s not there.  And sometimes it`s very difficult.

 

[17:15:02] All right.  We`re going to pause here.  We`re going to chew over

this basically most of the hour.  We`ve got more to come so stick around.

 

You can see more of Lester Holt`s interview.  An exclusive interview with

the president from the White House tonight on the NBC “Nightly News” where,

at one point, he`ll refer to Comey as if it`s a trilogy.  One, two and

three.

 

Coming up, more White House claims about the Comey story that are

unraveling today.  And next, some brand-new poll numbers on how the public

views snap chat in time, the firing of Comey and the White House

explanations that followed.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

 

TODD:  Welcome back.

 

We have the brand-new NBC News SurveyMonkey online polls out tonight,

showing what Americans think about the firing of James Comey.  Overnight

survey, 54 percent, the majority, responded saying the dismissal was

inappropriate; just 38 percent characterized it as appropriate; 46 percent

said that they think President Trump fired Comey because of the way he

handled the Russia investigation; 24 percent said it was because of the way

he handled the Clinton e-mail case which was, of course, the initial White

House explanation.

 

Meanwhile, 55 percent say the firing makes them less confident that the

Russian investigation will be conducted fairly.

 

We`re going to dive into all of this and President Trump`s interview today

with NBC`s Lester Holt.  All of it in 60 seconds.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

 

TODD:  Welcome back.

 

Let`s dive into the big story as the White House scrambles to explain a

series of claims about the president`s firing of FBI Director James Comey

that today showed signs of unraveling.  We deconstructed two big claims at

the top of the show.  Here`s a third claim that`s been thrown into

question. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SANDERS:  This absolutely has nothing to do with any investigation into

Russia. 

 

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  This has nothing to do with Russia. 

 

KRISTEN WELKER, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Intelligence officials have said

there`s investigation into potential ties between campaign officials and

Russian officials.

 

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That`s not what this is

about.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

[17:20:00] TODD:  But leaks today from inside this White House paint a very

different story.  “The Washington post,” quote, “The president fumed that

Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe.”  “Politico” has a

source that said he had grown enraged by the Russia investigation.”  “New

York Times,” Mr. Trump has been nursing a collection of festering

grievances, including Mr. Comey`s handling of the Russia investigation.” 

 

And the president, himself, also referenced the investigation in his letter

that fired Comey.  So, let`s move, now, to a fourth claim from the White

House justifying Comey`s outer.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SANDERS:  Most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost

confidence in their director. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  But here`s what the acting director of the FBI said during testimony

on Capitol Hill today. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI:  I can tell you that I hold Director

Comey in the absolute highest regard.  I can tell that you also that

Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this

day. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  Now, we`re going to move on to yet a fifth White House claim that`s

now been called into question as well. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes or no, did the president direct Rod Rosenstein to

write this memo on James Comey? 

 

SANDERS:  No.  The president had lost – again, like I said, he had lost

confidence in Director Comey. 

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who told him to do the report?

 

CONWAY:  He oversees the FBI – you can and him.  I assume that he put

together the report on his own. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  Well, “The Washington Post” reports today that, on Monday, Mr. Trump

gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive to explain in writing the case

against Comey.

 

And there are more reports today that suggest Deputy Attorney General

Rosenstein was not happy with the White House decision to initial pin this

firing on him and may have even threatened some form of public action if it

hadn`t stopped.  Which, of course, it ended up stopping.

 

I`m joined now by NBC justice correspondent, Pete Williams, and NBC Capitol

Hill correspondent, Mike Viqueira.

 

Pete, I want to start with you.  First of all, any clarification here on

Rosenstein.  Where this memo, the origins of this memo?  Did he write the

whole thing?  Did he have help from the White House?  What do we know? 

 

PETE WILLIAMS, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Well, the White House and

the Justice Department were both pretty clear about this yesterday, Chuck. 

That the way they tell it is this.  This is their version of it.  That the

president came to this meeting Monday intending to fire James Comey.

 

Asked the deputy and the attorney general to come in there and ask them

what they though.  And they said, yes, we`ve reached the same conclusion. 

And the president said to Rosenstein, OK, then put your thoughts in

writing.

 

In other words, the way they tell it, both these parties arrived together

thinking James Comey had to go.  But there was no memo, at that point. 

Nobody thought about writing a memo until the president said to Rod

Rosenstein, well, then put your thoughts in writing to me.

 

Now, I think it`s pretty clear, from what the president has said, that his

thoughts about why James Comey should he fired, let`s say, there wasn`t

exactly a one-to-one correlation between what he was thinking and what`s in

the Rosenstein memo.

 

The Rosenstein memo is a reflection of what the Justice Department says why

Rod Rosenstein thought he should go.  Common conclusion both had reached

but they say for different reasons. 

 

TODD:  Yes.  And I want to follow up quickly on that before I go to Vic

here which is the idea that – I saw Senator Dianne Feinstein really

erupted over this memo.  And she put out a statement after, she goes, I`ve

read this memo three times.  Almost implying as if she didn`t believe that

Rosenstein wrote it.  That he had some help or that it was a political

document, not a legal document. 

 

WILLIAMS:  It reads like it was written in a hurry because it was.  I mean,

this meeting was Monday and the memo was sent to the White House on

Tuesday.

 

So, you know, regardless of what you may think, and there are people in

town, outside the White House, who thought James Comey should be fired,

too, for a lots of different reasons.  But regardless of your thought about

that, you would think this would be a little more deliberative. 

 

TODD:  Viq, I want to go to Capitol Hill because Mr. Rosenstein made an

appearance there.

 

MICHAEL VIQUEIRA, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Yes.

 

TODD:  You had to do old-fashioned stakeouts.  They`re always fun.  What

did you learn?  And I know that the two – the two people that Rosenstein

met with, the Senate Intel chair and vice chair, Burr and Warner, you had

some time with them.  What did you learn? 

 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, first of all, we asked them, when they appeared after that

surprise visit from Rod Rosenstein, if, in fact, they had discussed the

reports that Rod Rosenstein had threatened to resign over all of this. 

They said it didn`t come up.

 

They said Jim Comey`s name did not come up at all, although Chairman Burr

did confirm that he and Mark Warner, the Vice Chairman, had invited Jim

Comey up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to come and speak with them, presumably

in a closed-door session for their investigation on the Senate Intelligence

Committee.  They have not yet heard back from Comey.

 

One more inconsistency, shall we put it, to add to the list that you did at

the top of this block, Chuck.  Andrew McCabe, in testifying today before

the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the investigation undergone –

now ongoing at the FBI, is highly significant.  A highly significant

investigation and not the hoax or other adjectives that were applied –

 

[17:25:02] TODD:  Right.

 

VIQUEIRA:  – to it by President Trump and others at the White House.

 

So, overall, really a stunning day, an extraordinary day here in – on the

cap – in the Capitol.  Rod Rosenstein appearing before those two.  They`re

talking about deconfliction, Chuck, because of – obviously, there are two

parallel investigations, the Senate Intelligence investigation and the FBI

investigation.  So they don`t step on each other; interview the same

witnesses at the same time and all the mechanics and logistics that go into

that.

 

What`s clear is, and McCabe made this very clear at the hearing, is that

investigation is going forward.  They have the resources they need.  No one

has been reassigned.  And both Burr and Warner say that they are moving a

pace as well. 

 

TODD:  Viq, what`s the – what was Republican reaction today?  Yesterday,

you had some running from cameras, some expressing dismay.  After hearing

the president –

 

VIQUEIRA:  Right.

 

TODD:  – give voice and explanation, what has that done to Republican

reaction on the Hill? 

 

VIQUEIRA:  You know, Chuck, I think we start to see a pattern.  And I`ve

only been back up here for two weeks but I think I`m starting to see a

pattern.  You know, there`s a tweet from the White House.  There`s some

sort of explosion.  Controversy, fewer or certainly this is at the top of

the list, in terms of the decibel level of what we`ve seen over the last 48

hours.

 

But a lot of Republicans take a step back.  They`ll put out, sort of, a

tepid statement or, perhaps, express concern and, sort of, walk that line. 

But don`t burn any bridges back to the base.  I mean, we`ve been seeing

this since the campaign, since the “Access Hollywood” tapes, frankly, –

 

TODD:  Right.

 

VIQUEIRA:  – when some Senators or Congressmen just jumped ship and they

lived to regret it, from a political standpoint.  And I think that`s the

lesson that we see manifest now in some of the reactions we`ve seen from

Republicans. 

 

TODD:  Say as little as possible.

 

Pete, back to you.  We heard the deputy – the now acting director of the

FBI say that Director Comey enjoyed broad support.  That`s headquarters. 

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  And then, appointed by James Comey (INAUDIBLE.)

 

TODD:  Yes, I was just going to say – I mean, should – how much of his

words should we take on this?  What could you say, in talking to various

officials?  What`s the real – what`s your take?

 

WILLIAMS:  Well, I think, on the one hand, you, sort of, expect James

Comey`s hand-picked number two to say that.  He was very loyal to the

director.

 

Secondly, though, I think while they`re – and, you know, give credit to

Andrew McBride.  He admitted this.  There were some agents in the FBI who

were not happy – with McCabe, rather.  Who were not happy with the

director`s decision on the Clinton investigation. 

 

TODD:  But that was interesting that he made –

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

 

TODD:  – a point to say that.

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes, and admitted that that didn`t go over well with some

people.

 

But he did say that, generally, James Comey had the respect of the rank and

file. And from everything I`ve heard, that is correct.

 

This firing of James Comey has been an enormous shock to the FBI.  They are

still reeling from it. 

 

TODD:  And my guess is, even if there were some fence is sitters, it seems

like – the FBI, they`re all jumping in the same bunker right now.  A

little bit.

 

WILLIAMS:  Absolutely.

 

TODD:  All right.  Pete Williams right here in our studio.  Mike Viqueira

on Capitol Hill.  Thank you both.

 

Still ahead here on MTP DAILY, a (INAUDIBLE) with a couple of Republican

senators, Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy.  The whole point of interview was

to talk about health care a couple days ago.  But we sat down today and

ended up talking a lot about the FBI, the shakeup and how that could impact

the entire legislative agenda.

 

We`ll be back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, “MEET THE PRESS DAILY” SHOW HOST:

James Comey`s abrupt dismissal has been rocking Capitol Hill and it has

already made its way down to congressional special elections and the

Virginia gubernatorial race. In Georgia`s sixth district special, the

Democrat Jon Ossoff says there quote, should be bipartisan support for a

special prosecutor.

 

Republican Karen Handel backed President Trump. She says Comey`s removal

was quote, probably overdue. In the Montana House race to replace Interior

Secretary Zinke, the Comey divide created a sharp back and forth. The

Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, says America lost trust in the FBI

and looks forward to a replacement to restore confidence.

 

The Democrat, Rob Quist, took the opportunity to blast what he calls

Gianforte`s shady Russian investments. In Virginia, the leading Republican

candidate in the race tried not to talk about it at all. The candidate and

former RNC chair, Ed Gillespie, questions about Comey from reporters twice

before releasing a statement that took no sides on the issue.

 

The Democrats in the race have been quick to pounce on Gillespie but they

kept that short as well. Former Congressman Tom Perriello replied, huh. And

the lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, simply said the statement was

quote, BS. The point is you can see a pattern there.

 

Democrats wanting to jump on the Comey news in this special elections and

the Republicans wanting to duck and cover a little bit. Up next, Republican

Senator Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy. We talked Comey, Russia

investigation, and the future of the Republican agenda. But first, Hampton

Pearson with the “CNBC Market Wrap.”

 

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. We

have stocks finishing lower. Retail plunges triggering fears that consumers

aren`t spending enough to support strong economic growth. The Dow ending

down 23 points. The S&P down 5. The Nasdaq finishing off by 13 points as

well. Macy`s falls 17 percent after reporting weak earnings.

 

The retailer posting adjusted earnings of 24 cents a share and revenue up

5.34 billion. Social media company Snapchat taking 21.6 percent a day after

the parent of Snapchat reported a huge loss. The stock slid $4.96 to close

at $18.02. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD: Welcome back. President Trump`s decision to fire FBI Director James

Comey is not the only thing going on in Washington but it is certainly

casting a shadow over everything that is going on in Washington including

the Republican legislative agenda specifically health care. I sat down this

morning with Republican senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins.

 

It is an interview that was supposed to be focused almost solely on health

care. I asked them how the president`s move (ph) impact business on the

Hill and things like that. Unfortunately, you`re only going to see half

this interview today. You will see the other half tomorrow where we dive

deep on health care. Because I started asking Senator Cassidy about the

timing of the Comey dismissal.

 

(START VIDEO CLIP)

 

BILL CASSIDY, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM LOUISIANA: (inaudible) timing, but

we can say in defense of the president, because there are reports he wished

to fire Comey when he took office. He did not have an attorney general. It

took him two and a half months or something like that to get an attorney

general.

 

And then he did not have the assistant attorney general which gave an arm`s

length. And when that finally got approved, it was shortly thereafter that

the firing occurred. So in fairness to the president, there is a process

that had to work through. But on the other hand, I`m not sure timing would

ever been good.

 

TODD: Senator Collins, do you think – do you buy the White House`s claims

that this had nothing to do with Russia?

 

SUSAN COLLINS, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM MAINE: I don`t think that it was

linked to the Russian investigation. But that is an issue that we need to

get to the bottom of. I`m a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. We

are expediting our investigation. We are going to be talking to former

Director Comey. And those will be questions that we will be asking of him.

 

The irony here is that there is no doubt when you look at the actions of

the FBI director starting last July, that he did not follow the standard

protocols of the Department of Justice. Now clearly, it would have been

very awkward for President Obama to remove him because of that. But if you

look at the proper role of an FBI director versus the Department of Justice

prosecutors, he usurped that role.

 

And that had a snowball effect that allowed him to keep being embroiled in

political controversies up to the day in which he was fired. But certainly,

if I had been advising the president, I would have said, you got to be

careful about how this is going to look regardless of what the merits of

the situation may be.

 

TODD: Restoring credibility to the FBI and to the FBI investigation is

going sit on whoever replaces Director Comey. Senator Cassidy, how

important do you think it is that this person that gets nominated can get

70, 75 votes, so that people think there is independence there? And what is

– define what an independent FBI director looks like?

 

CASSIDY: Comey was not heading the investigation. He had a chief

lieutenant. Comey also had responsibility over budgets, over other

investigations, over H.R., over the cafeteria. So he has a chief lieutenant

presumably she or he is still there. I think whoever takes his place will

feel, and this is pattern of such things, an incredible impetus to show

that she or he is independent and will pursue as vigorously as the.

 

TODD: This almost empowers the investigators to feel strengthened.

 

CASSIDY: You know it is going happen. Because people will feel incumbent

upon them to show. Now, I am not going to say that Democrats have to

support. I think they should. I think the picture appeal to them. But I

don`t want to give them veto power over credibility. This is because right

now, it would be so easy for them to play politics.

 

TODD: But at 51, 52-vote confirmation for FBI director is not going to look

good.

 

COLLINS: It would not be good. But I am very hopeful that the person who is

nominated will be an experienced law enforcement official with impeccable

credentials, with unquestionable integrity. And I do want to add to what

Bill said. The president fired the director of the FBI.

 

He did not fire the whole FBI. He did not fire the head of the Russian

investigation. They`re still on the job just as if you rob a bank or kidnap

a child today, the FBI is still going to be on the job. The FBI is still on

the job when it comes to the Russian investigation.

 

TODD: How concerned are you about Russian interference? How concerned are

you, sir?

 

CASSIDY: Comey just testified and Susan can speak better to this. They

testified to her committee that they had seen no collusion. And so of

course we have to investigate and be concerned. But Comey himself have said

so far none. And so I have to draw comfort from that.

 

TODD: Finally, how the legislative – the environment right now, Comey and

all this stuff. How concerned are you that this derails your ability to get

health care done by the end of the summer?

 

COLLINS: Well, it does seem like we have an upheaval or crisis almost every

day in Washington that changes the subject. But the health care debate is

so important. We have states where people who qualify for subsidies under

the Affordable Care Act aren`t going to be able to buy insurance that

qualifies for those subsidies. So regardless of who was selected president,

we were going to have to act to fix the flaws in Obamacare.

 

And that is a powerful incentive for to us act. And as Bill said, health

care is so personal. It is something that everyone relates to. And we have

an obligation, no matter what else is going on, and there are an awful lot

of important issues going on, to pursue this path. And that`s what we`re

committed to doing.

 

TODD: Are you concerned about how this could all scramble?

 

CASSIDY: (inaudible). Insurance companies are about to start announcing

rates for next year. We just mentioned in Connecticut, 15 to 35 percent

premium increases. I spoke to another CEO of an insurance company. They`re

projecting 30 to 40. The American people cannot afford $24,000 premiums

increasing by 35 percent.

 

TODD: So events on health care are going to force you guys to work no

matter what is happening to the White House.

 

COLLINS: Absolutely.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD: You got a little taste there of part of the health care conversation.

I did speak in depth with them about both their bill and how the

Republicans in the senate will write a bill. What`s wrong with the current

system? All the different plans.

 

That portion of the interview we`re airing tomorrow on “MTP Daily” because

frankly, I didn`t want to see it get overshadowed by everything that was

happening today given its own platform tomorrow. Up next, why I am obsessed

with the second Russian conspiracy that threatens the good people of

Washington, D.C.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with the widespread Russian

interference and our beloved institutions. Let`s start with the obvious.

The Russians attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election with

fake news, email hacking, and WikiLeaks. Who was reportedly behind this

operation? This man. Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation

and former KGB intelligence officer.

 

But this Russian campaign against Washington does not end there. Last

night, the Washington Capitals hockey team lost in the Stanley Cup playoffs

again, in game 7 again, in the second round again, to the Pittsburgh

Penguins again. The final score, Pittsburgh 2, Washington nothing. Who was

behind that operation? This man. Alexander Ovechkin. Star of the Capitals.

 

The man responsible for the Penguins` second goal. Ah, Trojan horse, if

there ever was one, or should we call him (inaudible) horse. I know what

you`re thinking. Todd has lost it. He`s become a conspiracy theorist just

like everybody else. But theorize this. Who is that second from the left?

Vladimir Putin. And who is smiling next to him? Alexander Ovechkin. And

what are they doing?

 

Celebrating a Russian hockey win. That`s right. A Russian hockey win. That

was in 2014. Here they are chumming it up again in 2012. It`s nice, he`s

missing a tooth. And here they are again chumming it up again in 2007. Why

doesn`t Vladimir Putin just put on a hockey uniform and play himself? Oh,

right. Now tell me there isn`t a Russian conspiracy against Washington.

Here he is. All right there staring us in the face. Sorry, caps fans. We`ll

be right back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD: Time for “The Lid.” The panel is back. Yamiche Alcindor, Stephanie

Cutter, Bill Kristol. I want to talk about, we haven`t been able to sort of

unwind some of this Republican reaction here. How it impacts Capitol Hill,

Bill. Look. Both Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy have to say what they had

to say.

 

But the fact of the matter is, you have a whole bunch of congressional

Republicans who last week thought, maybe we will start getting some stuff

done, and then this just puts a pall over this probably for the summer.

 

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF THE WEEKLY STANDARD, NEOCONSERVATIVE

POLITICAL ANALYST AND COMMENTATOR: This could be an inflection point. Of

course we`ve said that before.

 

TODD: I know, I`m with you and I have said it before.

 

KRISTOL: Yes, I know.

 

TODD: The Trump campaign. The Trump this, the Trump that.

 

KRISTOL: Or the other way, too, the state of the union, now he`s really

president.

 

TODD: Yeah.

 

KRISTOL: I`ve said two things. People who have been around for a while and

know that an FBI investigation is different from a bad P.R. day or two. I

think that really and I think the media covered just sort of missed that a

little bit. We are also interested (inaudible) here and there, the way

Trump is, he`s impulsive. FBI investigation, that`s just a whole different

ballpark, A.

 

TODD: Right.

 

KRISTOL: And B, I have talked to several Republicans on the Hill who are a

little freaked out. I mean, leave aside the legal side. The degree of

recklessness and incompetence and willfulness that shows in the White

House, it`s been in now for what, 3 1/2 months. The executive order was the

first week.

 

Okay, the first week, they`re impulsive, they do something foolish. Now,

they have to do this now and Trump to be seeming to glory in it and digging

deeper today by giving interviews, giving your colleague interview. He

didn`t have to give an interview to Lester Holt on camera. They did today.

 

TODD: Well.

 

KRISTOL: They`re not really into that.

 

TODD: Well, that`s because – everybody around him is, but Trump,

Stephanie, believes, you don`t run from controversy, you run toward it. And

if you don`t react, somebody else will for you. So, you might as well do it

yourself.

 

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FOUNDING PARTNER AT PRECISION STRATEGIES, FORMER OBAMA

DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Yeah.

 

TODD: And to Trump`s credit, it has worked for him in the past.

 

CUTTER: In the past, but now he`s, you know, singularly united the

intelligence agencies and the FBI against him. So, let`s see if it works

now. I think also the other thing to consider on Capitol Hill is that, I

know we talk about this every week, but he is at a record low. That doesn`t

even include what`s going to come from the last 24 to 48 hours.

 

The generic ballot between Democrats and Republicans is only getting worse

for Republicans. So, when do they understand that loyalty to Trump means

the end of their careers? I think it`s a matter of time. And I think slowly

but surely as these investigations continue, we`re going to see that.

 

TODD: It`s interesting, Yamiche, I wanted to check in on how the special

election campaigns and the off-year elections were dealing with Comey.

Obviously you see the Democrats think it`s an asset, Republicans are trying

to deflect, at best. But that`s the test.

 

Democrats start winning these specials in June and we`re going to get three

in June, including one in South Carolina that I bring up. It`s probably not

going to – probably Democrats don`t have a chance, but it was represented

by a Democrat not that long ago. That is when the rubber could meet the

road.

 

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL REPORTER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES: Completely. And

I think that even if you see Democrats getting super, super close in red

states, that tells you something about how the morale is going, that tells

you something about whether or not voters are sticking with him, whether or

not he`s motivating new voters to come out and say, look, I wasn`t paying

attention before, now I`m really paying attention.

 

We all know so many people who were kind of out on sleeping for some reason

during the campaign and are super plugged into what`s going on now. I think

these elections are going to say a lot about where Democrats stand.

 

TODD: There are some more poll numbers I wanted to put up and let you guys

chew over here. They all have to do with Director Comey. We asked, and

again, online poll, but it`s a big sample. Director Comey`s handling of his

job, 44 percent were disapproving, 25 percent approved. Now, look at this,

his handling of the Russia investigation, 34 percent approved, 27 percent

disapprove, 34 percent were in the unknown factor.

 

His handling of the Clinton investigation, 57 percent disapprove, there was

bipartisan support for different reasons, 19 percent approve. So, it

sounded like Comey isn`t fairing that well either, but Trump is fairing

worse.

 

KRISTOL: He`s not the leader of one of the two major parties, not the

president of the United States, and now he`s just a lawyer in private

practice. I think the politics will matter in the special elections. I also

think there is something that happens with the leads.

 

It`s a little separate from the voters. Makeup their mind more slowly. I

would say also they got other issues. They want a congressman who is going

to vote to cut taxes or not. They want a pro-life or pro-choice

congressman. They have a lot of other issues.

 

TODD: Which guides which?

 

KRISTOL: I think the elites.

 

TODD: The elites have been tough on Trump for two years now.

 

KRISTOL: Right.

 

TODD: It hasn`t impacted voters.

 

KRISTOL: (inaudible) important. The Republican elites rallied to him.

Christie (ph) and those guys, reluctantly, but that is the key point. That

is the key point. Look, the Trump base isn`t going anywhere. The reluctant

Republican supporters for Trump, a lot of the voters and a lot of elite

Republicans, I think that`s the thing to watch over the next few weeks.

 

CUTTER: The most telling thing was your reporting earlier about Ed

Gillespie`s statement.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

CUTTER: Who, you know, used creative word choice to say nothing about it.

That`s because Ed Gillespie has been here.

 

TODD: He`s been here.

 

CUTTER: And he`s been in the situation and he knows where this is going.

 

TODD: Yeah.

 

CUTTER: So, that was the most telling thing, I think.

 

TODD: He`s the most experienced ex-operative turned candidate. As you say,

he`s had his share. Another crazy day. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.

Yamiche, Stephanie, Bill. After the break, just who is the president

tapping to head his voter fraud investigation? Stay tuned.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD: Well, in case you missed it, tonight, remember when President Trump

wanted to do a big investigation into voter fraud? This was after the

president claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally

in the 2016 election, and all of them for Hillary Clinton, as an attempt to

try to explain why he lost the popular vote.

 

So, today, after months of vowing to address it, he indeed did sign an

executive order that establishes a commission that is aimed at

investigating so-called voter fraud. So, we`ll finally get to the truth,

right? Well, not so fast. Guess who is helping lead the so-called election

integrity commission? It`s this man, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach,

one of the only voices who defended the president`s assertion of illegal

voting last fall.

 

Kobach said Trump was quote, absolutely correct when he said the number of

illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary

Clinton. It would be the greatest scandal in our American democracy. In

fact, Kobach has quite a long history of wallowing in these voter

conspiracies. Calling voter fraud a rampant problem, the Kansas official

questioned whether thousands of Massachusetts residents illegally voted in

New Hampshire.

 

He`s been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for voter suppression

himself four times. So now you`re putting a man like Kobach on this

commission. Maybe a boost for the conservative base that wants to believe

in voter fraud, but it isn`t going to help the president with the

credibility – his credibility if there truly is a problem with our voting

systems.

 

Sort of a strange choice, unless it`s only supposed to be a fig leaf

decision. That`s all we have for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more

“MTP Daily.” “For the Record” with Greta starts right now. Take it away,

Greta.

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.

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