MTP Daily, Transcript 5/12/2017

Guests:
Pete Williams, Kelly O`Donnell, Eliana Johnson, Lanhee Chen, Jennifer Palmieri, Richard Blumenthal
Transcript:

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for this hour.  I`m Nicole

Wallace.  “MTP DAILY” starts right now.

 

Hi, Chuck.  How am I doing?  Two seconds. 

 

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  I think you`re doing great and I`ll cast you in my

movie any day. 

 

WALLACE:  Thank you.  You too.

 

TODD:  You got it.

 

If it`s Friday, it`s tweets, tapes and threats.  Tonight, tale of the tape. 

President Trump threatens his former FBI director, suggesting the president

may have recorded their conversations.  Did he?

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president has nothing

further to add on that.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  Plus, the backlash.  How the Comey firing is revealing a new

credibility crisis inside the White House. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I mean, I`ve got real concerns about a cover-up here. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  And the new prescription.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE:  There are so many flaws with the current

law that we would like to fix.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  I talked to two Republican senators who say their Patient Freedom

Act is the real reform the country needs.  And it`s not a full repeal of

Obamacare.

 

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now. 

 

Well, good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to MTP

DAILY.

 

Quite a week, folks.  After firing FBI Director James Comey, the White

House finds itself battling an historic credibility crisis at best and an

obstruction of justice charge at worst.

 

Compounding matters today, the president publicly threatened Comey as the

Senate Intel Committee saw his testimony.  Comey has declined, for now,

though he`s agreed, apparently according to one report, to appear in

principle, at some point.

 

Here`s what the president tweeted today.  Quote, “James Comey better hope

that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to

the press.”  Now, he did put tapes in quotes and we know in the past,

there`s been an indication that quotes aren`t necessary for accuracy.

 

Now, the suggestion, though, that the president is recording conversations

with his FBI director is major news today and has a lot of people raising

their eyebrows and wondering, does this really exist?  It came amid some

stunning revelations about a dinner meeting that Comey had with the

president back on January 27th amid an active investigation into the Trump

campaign.

 

Several sources close to Comey have told NBC News that the president asked

Comey a couple of times, during that meeting, if he would be loyal to the

president.  This came after a “New York Times” report that Trump wanted

Comey to take a loyalty pledge.

 

Now, here`s what President Trump told Fox News in an interview that was

taped earlier today and will air in full tomorrow. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I think it`s

inappropriate.  Number one, it isn`t – 

 

JEANINE PIRRO, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS:  Did you ask that question? 

 

TRUMP:  No.  No, I didn`t.  But I don`t think it would be a bad question to

ask.  I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is

important.  You know – I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty. 

 

PIRRO:  In a tweet, you said that there might be tape recordings. 

 

TRUMP:  Well, that I can`t talk about that.  I won`t talk about that.  All

I want is for Comey to be honest. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  So, there you go.  Not quite a denial on either one of those

charges.

 

Here`s why the January 27th, though, date of that dinner meeting is

potentially very significant.  The day before that dinner meeting with

Comey and the president, January 26th, the acting attorney general, Sally

Yates, told the White House that the FBI had interviewed White House

national security adviser Michael Flynn about conversations he`d had with

Russian officials which Flynn lied about to the White House.  We know this

because Yates disclosed this information under oath. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SALLY YATES, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We also told the White House

counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on February

24th.  Mr. McGann asked me how did he and I declined to give him an answer

to that.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  She said February 24th.  She meant January 24th is our

understanding.

 

Now, here`s a key question.  Did the president know of the FBI`s activity

when he asked Comey to dinner and he met with Comey?  Is that why he wanted

to meet with Comey in the first place?  That`s yet one of the unanswered

questions.

 

Here`s more on that meeting.  Yesterday, the president told my colleague,

Lester Holt, that he told Comey that his job might be on the line.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on.  And I said,

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

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  At the same time, he wanted to know what Comey might have on him. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  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. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  The president`s claim that Comey told him he was not under

investigation is now being disputed by FBI officials.  But, folks, by the

president`s own account, he essentially sent Comey two messages.  Your job

isn`t safe and what do you have on me?

 

And it raises the question, was the President trying to interfere in the

investigation or simply intimidate Comey or both?

 

I`m joined by colleagues now.  NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent, Kelly

O`Donnell; NBC News justice correspondent, Pete Williams; and MSNBC Chief

Legal Correspondent Ari Melber.

 

Pete, I want to start with you.  The FBI officials are disputing what the

president has asked of Director Comey.  Is it – are they disputing it

because they just can`t believe Comey would say that?  Or do they know for

sure because Comey has assured them he didn`t? 

 

PETE WILLIAMS, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  So, to be clear, Chuck,

this is not coming from FBI officials.  We don`t think that Mr. Comey told

many FBI officials even that he was going to or that he went to this

dinner.

 

The information we have about what Mr. Comey said is from people outside

the FBI that Comey talked to around the time of the dinner.  That`s the

people that we`re talking to.  We`ve heard nothing, by the way, from Mr.

Comey.

 

And they a couple things.  Number one, that Mr. Comey did not ask for the

dinner.  One of them said to me today, you know, you – people just don`t

call up the White House and say, hey, can I come to dinner?

 

So, secondly, that he didn`t ask to – he didn`t want to know whether his

job would be extended because he had a 10-year term.  And then, of course,

they also say that during the dinner, the president asked, will you say

that you`re loyal?  And what Comey said is I can`t say that but I can say

that I was honest.

 

So, in many ways, they say that his recollection and Mr. Comey`s are

different.  And, by the way, these same people today, we went back to them

and they say, you know, if there really are tapes, they assume that Mr.

Comey would love to have them come out because they, in their view, would

prove his version of what happened. 

 

TODD:  Kelly O`Donnell, I`ve got to and you, this revelation about tapes

and now we have the president saying, I`m not going to talk about that.  it

won`t talk about that.  Which – call that a nondenial, denial, whatever

you want to call.

 

But he certainly doesn`t want to get rid of the appearance that maybe every

conversation that people have with the president is being recorded.  What

was the reaction on the Hill today to that? 

 

KELLY O`DONNELL, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Well, I`m at the White

House now, Chuck, and I would say that there has been strong surprise at

the fact that both Sean Spicer, who is very careful to say to us in the

briefing room that he had spoken to the president about this issue of his

tweet that invoked the idea of tapes and that there was nothing further to

add.

 

And then, we saw the clip of another interview the president gave where he

said, I won`t talk about it.  I can`t talk about it.

 

And what comes to mind is the president`s strong desire to maintain

leverage on issues from his business life.  This idea that all options for

him, in his perceived tool kit, should be on the table.

 

Perhaps without the full sense of how this is heard around Washington and

the kinds of things that it evokes.  Like Democrats on Capitol Hill

immediately sending a letter, saying that they want the White House to

produce these tapes.  And that, sort of, oversight that they want to do

obviously would be the expected response.

 

And a typical president who had more typical conventional experience would

have no using those kinds of words or suggestions would prompt that, sort

of, response.

 

So, I`m struck by the fact that the president does not want to discuss it

which does leave open the possibility there`s some kind of recording going

on.  And does he not want to do that because either he stepped in something

he inadvertently made his own mess or does he just want to preserve, kind

of, –

 

TODD:  Right.

 

O`DONNELL:  – the power of having people think they might be recorded when

meeting with him or speaking with him? 

 

TODD:  No, you bring up a good point, an important point for people who

have spent a long time covering Donald Trump in any walk of life. 

 

Ari Melber, the definition of obstruction of justice.  Has he met it? 

 

ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT:  The publicly available

evidence does not provide that term.  I mean, to be clear and careful,

obstruction of justice involves direct interfering or tampering with an

investigation.

 

But your introduction to this, Chuck, I think does frame it very well

because you point out the time line, the swirling questions about the pace

of the Russia inquiry, and then what could be construed, depending on which

account you believe, as an attempt to pursue a quid pro quo regarding the

future of Director Comey`s tenure.

 

And that would be problematic if that were the direct exchange.  The

president, of course, has put out multiple statement that contradict each

other, that contradict himself and his own aides.  So, it`s hard to get a

read on that.

 

I would make one other point about this so-called loyalty discussion.  That

is pretty absurd, given that public federal officials already take an oath

of loyalty to the Constitution as part of their formal job duties.  That`s

done.

 

There`s no extra loyalty pledge and certainly not one that could construed

or misconstrued as a personal loyalty pledge to the person in the White

House while this investigation continues.

 

The other piece here that I think is important to watch, as there is more

attention to the deputy attorney general, is what happens to this letter? 

This three-page letter of memorandum that was extensively offered as a

recommendation that the president responded to.

 

And we all know now that`s changed.  Does that letter just sit out in

public the way it is?  Or does the DOJ feel, at some point, does Mr.

Rosenstein feel some need to amend or clarify it?

 

TODD:  Well, I would imagine when he goes in front of the full Senate next

week, we may get an answer to that question.

 

Kelly O`Donnell at the White House, you`re on Capitol Hill today, Pete

Williams in our news room and Ari Melber in New York.  Thank you, all.

 

By the way, be sure to tune in to “The Point” with Ari Melber, Sundays at

5:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.

 

Folks, the White House has done potentially irreparable damage to its

credibility after President Trump directly contradicted not just the White

House`s initial justifications for firing Comey but his own vice

president`s. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE 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. 

 

TRUMP:  In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said,

you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

 

PENCE:  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.

 

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS:  In your letter, you said, I

accepted their recommendations.  You had already made the decision. 

 

TRUMP:  Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.  Regardless

of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  Let`s bring in our panel.  Jennifer Palmieri, former communications

director for President Obama and the Hillary Clinton campaign.  Lanhee

Chen, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute.  He was a former advisor to

Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.  And Eliana Johnson, National Political

Reporter at “Politico.”

 

I`ve got a ton to get to obviously here.  I want to start, though, with the

contradiction of now the president – it`s not just what he did and put

Vice President Pence, yet again, having to say something that turns out to

be contradicted.

 

But then he just tweets, you know what?  My entire White House

communications staff can`t keep up with me.  Don`t take them at their word. 

That`s a problem. 

 

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “POLITICO”:  Yes.  You know,

President Trump has a team of people and a cabinet that he hired to do jobs

to help him.  And his first line of defense on Wednesday was the vice

president of the United States, his press team starting Tuesday night, and

he was frustrated with the performance of his press team.  And this follows

a very familiar pattern which he took the reins himself.  He began

communicating this.

 

And in doing so, he undermined the people loyal to him.  And in doing so,

disincentivised people loyal to him from going out and defending him,

because they know that they could be contradicted by the president at any

point.

 

If the goal of this was to shut down the Russia investigation, he`s drawing

more attention to it.  If the goal was to have, you know, a better

communications strategy by taking the reins from his aides, he was

frustrated, he created a communications` crisis. 

 

TODD:  Lanhee, what would you tell – how would you advise the vice

president to handle this situation right now? 

 

LANHEE CHEN, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION:  Well, I think he needs to

figure out how to cover his own rear end, to be honest with you.  I know

that that`s not usually the role of the vice president in an

administration.  I think really highly of the vice president.  I think the

vice president`s got an incredible political future.

 

But, look, the reality is this is the second time he`s been compromised by,

potentially, bad information.  The first time, obviously, being around the

Flynn investigation.  And now, this second time.

 

And so, the vice president has to figure out what his role is going to be

in all of this.  And he is a surrogate for the president.  He`s a very

powerful surrogate –

 

TODD:  Honesty, I think he`s his best policy surrogate out there. 

 

CHEN:  No question.  No question.  I mean, –

 

TODD:  No doubt.

 

CHEN:  – he understands the policy.  He`s got great credibility with main

stream conservatives.

 

And, by the way, the only reason main stream conservatives are still

hanging with the president now is because they think there some possibility

that some policy gets done.  The more this investigation creeps into that,

the policy agenda, the harder it`s going to be for people stick with him.

 

TODD:  You know, –

 

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION,

HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN:  Yes.

 

TODD:  – we said you worked in the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Obama

White House.  You actually also worked in a Clinton White House where there

were vice presidents that didn`t necessarily stay on message with the

presidents, at the time.  Now, he had his own agenda because he was running

for president, at the time.

 

PALMIERI:  Which White House are you talking about?

 

TODD:  Just thinking about it.  I know.

 

PALMIERI:  It sometimes would happen in both the White Houses.

 

TODD:  I`m going to say Clinton 1998, Gore 2000, if you recall.

 

PALMIERI:  OK, Gore 2000.  (INAUDIBLE.)

 

TODD:  It`s not a good place to be, if the vice president doesn`t feel

comfortable –

 

PALMIERI:  It is a –

 

TODD:  – speaking for the president.

 

PALMIERI:  Yes, I think that for that – I mean, I can only imagine within

that whole White House.  I think that – I mean, if I was advising Mike

Pence, I would say, you have to protect yourself.  You cannot – you should

refuse to be out speaking for the administration right now, until you have

– as you have a clearer sense.

 

But it – there`s no faith in the communications` team either.  And it

makes for a very difficult – I mean, I think that the president has – it

makes the place inoperable.

 

And I`ve seen situations where you`re backward engineering decisions made

and you`re trying to backward engineer the rationale for why that decision

was made.  And then, to have it blow up the way that it did, I just don`t

see how they – how any (INAUDIBLE) can repair that (INAUDIBLE.)

 

TODD:  All right.  But you now have the president out there hinting at the

idea of tapes.  And it goes to this – I mean, –

 

PALMIERI:  Yes.

 

TODD:  – you now have – what you just said, that it`s only going to

accelerate the Russia investigation.  And now, Congress, I don`t know.  Are

they going to start subpoenaing the White House for tapes?  I mean, I don`t

know if they can.  I mean, are we going to really have a fight over

executive privilege –

 

JOHNSON:  Yes.

 

TODD:  – executive privilege here?

 

JOHNSON:  The thing that strikes me is had President Trump, on day one of

his administration, asked for the resignation of Jim Comey, I think there

would have been bipartisan support for that.

 

It may have been somewhat controversial but the Republicans I`ve talked to

in the House and the Senate have said, this is something that should`ve

been done on day one.  “National Review” editorialized that Trump should

ask for his resignation.

 

TODD:  Sure.

 

JOHNSON:  The root action is not – was not necessarily controversial. 

It`s the manner in which it was –

 

TODD:  Right.

 

JOHNSON:  – carried out and its timing.

 

And once there was a controversy, the president has managed to escalate it

and it is now mushrooming out of control. 

 

TODD:  Well, it gets to the fact, Lanhee, that the president can`t be

disciplined himself.  If he could have disciplined himself and taken an

extra week.  I want to fire Comey but I need one more week.  I need to find

a replacement.  Right?  So that I can announce the replacement immediately. 

Whatever.

 

JOHNSON:  And to do it in person.

 

TODD:  He seemed impatient about it. 

 

CHEN:  I mean, that would have – that would have taken care of this whole

probable.  If he had said, I`m firing him.  Here`s his replacement, by the

way.

 

TODD:  Right.

 

CHEN:  you know, the other issue is, again, it gets back to the

expectation, do we really think the president is going to behave in a way

different from how he behaved during the campaign?  Do we believe that this

person is going to have a new set of behaviors simply because he has a new

office?  And I would argue that we shouldn`t have expected that in the

first place. 

 

PALMIERI:  Yes.

 

TODD:  Very quickly, you tweeted you had mixed emotions the second it went

out, when that Comey announcement.

 

PALMIERI:  Yes.

 

TODD:  Do you still feel that way? 

 

PALMIERI:  No.  No.  I mean, now, it is – I mean, my – it was, sort of,

stunned and then my second thought was, he must – the FBI must be getting

very close on Russia and that freaked Trump out.

 

TODD:  OK.  I`m going to pause it here.  I have an interesting special

counsel conversation I want to have with you guys when you come back.  

There`s an interesting new advocate for a special counsel.  Anyway, you

guys will stick around.

 

Coming up, speaking of special counsel, I`m going to talk to Democratic

Senator Richard Blumenthal on why he believes this is the only route to go

in the Russia investigation. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD:  If it`s Sunday, “MEET THE PRESS” will be digging deeper into the

fallout over James Comey`s firing.  I`m going to talk with Senate

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from

South Carolina.  And he`ll join me for an exclusive interview.  He`s been

looking into the president`s finances, by the way, on Capitol Hill.

 

More MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD:  Welcome back to the show.

 

Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, many

Democrats have called the move Nixonian and many of them have called for a

special or independent prosecutor.  Some are even trying to use it as

leverage before a new FBI director can be confirmed.

 

One of the loudest voices calling for a special prosecutor, a special

counsel, joins me now.  It`s Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of

Connecticut.  He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Senator

Blumenthal, welcome back. 

 

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT:  Thank you very much, Chuck.

 

TODD:  It`s – I`m still, sort of, shell shocked.  The day we talked – 30

minutes before the announcement of the Comey firing, we talked.  And you

had – you had actually expressed – you wouldn`t quite express confidence

in Comey but confidence in the FBI.  In hindsight, how would you answer

that question now? 

 

BLUMENTHAL:  I still have confidence in the FBI.  In fact, I think the FBI

is going to be one of the heroes when the history of this era is written,

along with the press that is uncovering this story every day.  And what I

said then about my confidence of the FBI uncovering the truth –

 

TODD:  Yes.

 

BLUMENTHAL:  – means we have an additional obligation to appoint a special

prosecutor who can lead this investigation and bring charges where they`re

appropriate. 

 

TODD:  I want to ask you about the issue of the special prosecutor because

I want to get you to react to what your Democratic colleague, Sheldon

Whitehouse, also a former state attorney general like yourself, an argument

he made against asking for a special counsel.

 

Take a listen and I want to get to you listen on the other side. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  So, if you`ve got something

going like that, if you look at the special counsel rule, you`ve got to

bring in somebody new.  You`ve got to bring them in from outside the

department.

 

TODD:  Right.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  And they have the choice to make their own decision if they

want to start from fresh, perhaps.  And I kind of wanted to work my way

through that before I was absolutely convinced that that was the right way

to go.

 

TODD:  Well, it`s interesting you bring that up.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  If someone comes in new and tries to start from scratch, –

 

TODD:  Yes.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  – that`s a huge setback for what could be a good ongoing

investigation. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  So, respond to Senator Whitehouse there.  Are you concerned?  What

about his concern that a special counsel would actually make everything

start over? 

 

BLUMENTHAL:  I`ve come into investigations as a federal prosecutor, as well

as state attorney general.  And, yes, there is a learning curve when

someone starts from scratch.

 

But there is an enormous value here to having someone with a fresh

perspective and hopefully the right determination to uncover the truth and

to bring charges where they`re appropriate.

 

And an independent special prosecutor is really necessary here.  As we see

these contradictions and confusion mount and the possibility that there may

be tapes to be subpoenaed in connection with this investigation, – 

 

TODD:  Right.

 

BLUMENTHAL:  – the need for more resources all point to the need for

someone with credibility and integrity that an independent special

prosecutor would have.

 

TODD:  There`s been some reporting out there that when – that, you know,

there was, sort of, this idea that Director Comey went to the deputy

attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, looking for more resources.  People took

that as money.

 

It turns out, we`ve – it`s our understanding that it was actually, no, he

was looking for more prosecutorial help, meaning he needs, essentially, to

help more U.S. attorneys to help subpoena.  He needs subpoena power or more

subpoena power.

 

Would that satisfy you?  Is that a – is that a – if the FBI investigation

is, essentially, a – you have a couple of extra U.S. attorney offices

helping out with subpoenas? 

 

BLUMENTHAL:  I think that what`s needed is an attorney who will bring

together and coordinate and collaborate all of the lawyers and the agents

and other staff who are uncovering the truth here.  It`s not enough to have

more lawyers thrown at this case or more agents or more other resources.

 

There has to be an independent voice and face and mind that will make

decisions about whether charges are appropriate and have the credibility so

that the public respects it and there is confidence in the judiciary that

it`s nonpolitical, nonpartisan and nonbureaucratic.

 

And that`s why just having another assistant U.S. attorney, as much as I

respect them, or even another U.S. attorney involved will not be

sufficient.

 

[17:25:07] It has to be an independent counsel who is, under the

regulations, I think, perfectly appropriate right now for the deputy

attorney generals who appoint.  And the burden really is on Rod Rosenstein. 

 

TODD:  I was just going to ask –

 

BLUMENTHAL:  He has to redeem –

 

TODD:  He`s going to –

 

BLUMENTHAL:  – his career.

 

TODD:  It`s interesting, redeem his career.  That is rough.  So, you`re –

why do you say he has to redeem his career?  Are you taking the president

at his word on this?  Do you – or could it be that the White House maybe

misconstrued what Rod Rosenstein said to him? 

 

BLUMENTHAL:  Well, what the president said is he made the decision after

the White House, in effect, said it was the recommendation of the deputy

attorney general.  And that recommendation was based on actions 10 months

old in connection with the Hillary Clinton tape. 

 

I think that Rod Rosenstein, as a career prosecutor, more than 20 years, in

this professional career capacity, has the opportunity to, in effect,

restore his reputation by appointing a deputy, by appointing an independent

special prosecutor now.

 

And I`ve said this to him.

 

TODD:  Right.  He`s going to brief the whole Senate.

 

BLUMENTHAL:  I said it to him at the hearing. 

 

TODD:  Yes, he`s going to brief the full Senate next week, we understand. 

Is there anything short of that that he could do that would satisfy you? 

 

BLUMENTHAL:  I think, number one, he has to come before the Judiciary

Committee.  I have called on the Judiciary Committee to request and require

that both he and the attorney general separately come before the Judiciary

Committee, testify under oath in open forum which will not happen in that

all-senators meeting.

 

So that the public can evaluate what the reasons were that these steps were

taken.  Who said what to whom.  What the time line was.  And why his letter

was written to the president if the president had already made up his mind

which is what the president says?

 

TODD:  I`m curious, had Rod Rosenstein written that memo and the president

made a decision in January, based on what he wrote about Comey`s handling

of the Clinton situation, would you say he made good case against Comey? 

 

BLUMENTHAL:  No, because the case against Comey in that letter was based on

information 10 months old.

 

But even more important, as much as I disagree with the way that then

director of the FBI Comey announced his decision that Hillary Clinton had

been extremely careless, I believe that he was leading an investigation and

that firing of him potentially impeded the investigation in a way that

could amount to improper interference, maybe even obstruction of justice.

 

And particularly since the president talked about the Russia thing, meaning

the focus on his campaign`s potential collusion with Russian interference

in our election, I think was very problematic, whether it was done the day

after his inaugural or last week.

 

TODD:  All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal.  A little short on time

today.  I appreciate you rushing in and doing this for me and thanks for

coming on to share your views.

 

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you.

 

TODD:  You got it.

 

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you.

 

TODD:  Thanks.

 

Still ahead, as Senate Republicans work on their version of the health care

bill, as I told you yesterday, I spoke with two Republicans who already

have a plan, Senator Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy.  We had the Comey

stuff yesterday.  Today, we`re actually going to get into the substance of

health care.  They`ll join me next.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD: Up next, Senators Collins and Cassidy on the future of health care in

the Republican controlled Senate. But first, Hampton Pearson with the CNBC

“Market Wrap.”

 

HAMPTON PEARSON, WASHINGTON D.C BUREAU CORRESPONDENT, CNBC:  Thanks, Chuck.

We had U.S. equities closing mostly lower with corporate profits posting

their biggest jump in five years. The Dow is down by 22 points. The S&P off

3. The Nasdaq up by 5 points.

 

 

Retail and online sales post their strongest gains in three months

according to the Commerce Department – a sign that economic growth is

picking up. Uber may be in trouble again. A judge is recommending a federal

probe into allegations the company may have stolen Google`s data on

driverless cars. That`s it from Cnbc, first in business worldwide.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD:  Welcome back. We interrupt all of our Comey coverage with some issue

coverage which are now that the Republican push to pass an Obamacare

replacement. Right now the legislative ball is in the Senate`s court after

the House passed a bill last week. Republican health care working with an

upper chambers already met twice to start drafting a version of its own.

 

The working group has come under fire for not including any female members

of the Senate and for excluding two senators who actually were the first

two to introduce a plan of their own this legislative cycle. Louisiana

Senator Bill Cassidy and Maine Senator Susan Collins - they drafted what`s

called the Patient Freedom Act, which would give the option of essentially

keeping Obamacare or forming a new alternative.

 

Four additional Republican senators have signed on to this plan. As you can

see, one is a former governor, three are considered fairly moderate. I sat

down with Senators Cassidy and Collins in Capitol Hill earlier this week.

Here`s the health care part of our conversation.

 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

 

TODD:  You go through the first bill out of gate and I was – I think a lot

of us that have followed this debate closely were shocked when this working

group came out and neither one of you were on it. How did that happen?

Senator Collins.

 

SEN. MARGARET COLLINS (R), MAINE:  Well, the leader has the right to

appoint whomever he wants. The leader has brought us into some of the

discussions now and I`m really not that concerned about who is on the

working group. We do have our own bill. We have six people on our bill, six

Republicans. We`ve had expressions of interest from moderate Democrats and

I`m hopeful at the end of the day that we`re going to be able to craft a

workable alternative to the House bill that doesn`t leave people behind,

that lowers premiums and that will be a far better piece of legislation.

 

TODD:  Senator Cassidy, you were pretty tough on the House bill. You said,

you almost – you seemed to imply that it`s just a cover for a tax cut. A

little rough and you know.

 

SEN. WILLIAM MORGAN CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA:  Whether by intent or by

effect, it sets the stage for tax reform. It`s just empirically observable

fact, number one. Number two, I think that what we have to be concerned

about are those middle Americans paying incredible premiums. Under

Obamacare, $20, $30, $40,000 a year with deductibles on top. Connecticut

just announced their premium increases, 15 to 35 percent. Now, if we take

as our goal to lower premiums, then we`re going to achieve something

because here`s a lot of stuff that goes into that. The House bill was

scored as raising premiums. Even all you with it, that was scored as

raising premiums. Ours needs to be scored as lowering those payments (ph).

 

COLLINS:  There are so many flaws with the current law that we would like

to fix and one of them is that if you make just a dollar over 400 percent

of the poverty rate, you lose your entire subsidy. How does that make

sense? That discourages people from accepting raises from working more

hours, from getting a promotion. So, there are so many flaws in the bill.

The bill is going to, in my state, hit people between the ages of 50 and 64

particularly hard.

 

But one of the problems is that the House voted without having the

Congressional Budget Office analysis.

 

TODD:  We still don`t have it.

 

COLLINS:  We still don`t have it. We`re supposed to have it May 22nd. But

we don`t know for certain the impact on coverage, on cost, individuals and

families and also to the federal government. And that is such a flaw that

we don`t have the impact of what the risk orders would do. So, that is

something that to me, we can`t go forward without.

 

CASSIDY:  But can I praise the House bill just some (ph)?

 

TODD:  OK.

 

CASSIDY:  The House bill does begin to remove power from Washington back to

states. And that`s part of the Cassidy Collins. To think that Louisiana and

Maine and California and Alaska could thrive under the same set of rules.

That again was the conceit of Obamacare. The fact the House bill begins to

move back to states I think is a good direction.

 

TODD:  But I guess what I don`t understand about the state differential is

are pre-existing conditions the same way that you live in Alaska or

Louisiana or Maine.

 

COLLINS:  I was just going to say to add to what Bill said, one huge

difference is while we move power back to the states, give states a lot of

freedom to decide how to design their plan or even keep the current law. We

require are states to follow the consumer protections that are in the ACA.

And that includes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, no

lifetime or annual caps, allowing young people to stay on their parents`

policies until age 26. No discrimination based on gender, race or national

origin. Those are key consumer protections.

 

TODD:  Let`s look to the politics to this. You`re going to have to do this

with only Republican votes. How does it happen? How do you keep Mike Lee

and you in the same vote?

 

COLLINS:  Well, I don`t think we should do it just with Republican votes.

 

TODD:  I hear you. I`m living in the world that we`re living in right now.

 

COLLINS:  I know but I`ll tell you at 7:30 this morning, I had a call from

a Democratic senator who is very interested in our bill. We`ve had good

conversations with our colleagues from across the aisle. And I think it`s

worth a try to see if we can identify common ground. There are certainly –

 

TODD:  You think you can pass a bill that could pass the House?

 

COLLINS:  I`m not saying this is going to be easy but we owe it to the

American people to try to come up with the best possible plan that we can,

that fix the flaws of the Affordable Care Act. And yet, this does not

decimate coverage and does not lead to premiums going sky high. So to me

it`s worth an all out effort to do that. And there are going to be

compromises along the way, but I`m certainly going to try and I know Bill

knows too.

 

CASSIDY: And you know one thin, Ted Cruz recently was quoted as saying he

thinks our goal should be the lower premiums. President Trump ran and won

in the lower premiums. We think you should lower premiums.

 

TODD:  It`s the chief complaint about Obamacare. The cost, not the

coverage.

 

CASSIDY:  How can anybody in the spectrum of right to left oppose that

policy which reasonably speaking is sustainable. Can`t be like dump the

treasury upon this problem. But is sustainable and lowers premiums. I think

that`s the common ground. You ask about the House, I think they would favor

policy which lowered premiums.

 

TOD:  How many – how is this going to work or has it been decided yet? Is

there going to be concurrent bills? You`re going to have a bill, others

will have a bill or will this be one bill? What`s the goal here?

 

COLLINS:  I suspect that the leadership will come up with a bill that will

be a substitute for the House bill. All of the senate leaders have said

they`re going to start from scratch, that they`re not bound by what`s in

the House bill. They obviously going to be respectful of it and take a look

at it, but we`re going to draft our own bill here in the Senate.

 

We`ll obviously take a look at that, but I hope it will be a free and open

amendment process and that not only will we have the opportunity to get

some of our ideas into the leadership bill, but we may end up offering our

own bill. And I hope that bill might be bipartisan.

 

TODD:  So you`re still going to work on your bill while leadership does its

thing?

 

CASSIDY:  But we have adapted, and it`s a work in progress. I don`t want to

suggest that Susan is obligated the dispersion (ph), but I have my staff

and working with her staff, we`re taking the Cassidy-Collins Bill and

making it compatible with the rules of reconciliation. We think that is a

good-faith effort.

 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

 

TODD:  Yes, there`s even more of that interview of the two senators. It`s

online at meetthepress.com. Still ahead, the ever changing definition for

what makes a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day in politics.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD:  Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with the almost countless this

is it moments for Donald Trump. First as a candidate and then as president.

Under normal conditions, if a president were to fire an FBI director who is

investigating his or his campaign ties to America`s greatest adversary,

terms like constitutional crisis and impeachment would be tossed around by

Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, urban and rural

voters.

 

But of course these are not normal circumstances and we should have learned

by now that President Trump plays by and is judged by a very different set

of rules. After all, what other politician could have survived calling

Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, denying John McCain was a war hero,

saying Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her whatever, claiming falsely

that thousands of American Muslims openly celebrated 9/11, mocking a

disabled reporter, duping students at Trump University, the “Access

Hollywood” tape and accusing without evidence the previous president of

wiretapping him.

 

It`s just a handful of the “this is it” moments. So to those of you in blue

America who think this latest it is finally the “it” while waiting for the

other shoe to drop, just remember, President Trump seems to have an

inexhaustible number of shoes. Many of them have dropped already and he`s

still here rewriting the play book every day. And as they say, once bitten,

a thousand times shy. We`ll be right back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  You have a level of hostility that`s incredible and it`s very

unfair. Sarah Huckabee is a lovely young woman. You know Sean Spicer. He is

a wonderful human being. He`s a nice man.

 

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST:  Is he your press secretary today and

tomorrow? Will he be tomorrow?

 

TRUMP:  Yes, well he`s doing a good job but he gets beat up.

 

PIRRO:  Will he be there tomorrow?

 

TRUMP:  Yes, well, he`s been there from the beginning

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD: That`s President Trump talking cautiously about his press secretary

in a Fox News interview, that brings us to the lid. The panel is back.

Welcome back all. Nothing like reading about this concurrently, I play this

quote and the “Wall Street Journal” says, “Trump weighs shake up of press

team including this, a senior communication staffer was reaching out to

people from a network of supportive cable TV surrogates to gauge their

interest in joining the team.

 

Well Jennifer Palmieri, you`ve been a member of White House communications

it seems. That must be just awesome to read about your job being on the

line.

 

PALMIERI:  His defense of Sean Spicer basically is Sean Spicer exists. That

was basic –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

PALMIERI:  – when the president of the United States says basically he is

here, he has been here from the beginning –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

TODD:  I`m sorry.

 

PALMIERI:  – people because they should never have taken the job because

you know that is an impossible job because you work for somebody who

doesn`t believe in the truth and you are never going to be able to

reconcile that if your job is to talk to the press and tell them the truth.

 

TODD:  Some would say Donald Trump –

 

PALMIERI:  That`s impossible.

 

TODD:  That Donald Trump likes to speak for himself and isn`t very good at

getting others to speak for him.

 

PALMIERI:  Yes because he –

 

TODD:  They`re uncomfortable.

 

PALMIERI:  To tell the truth.

 

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  He is constantly

undermining his own communications people because he think he does – I

think he has a mistaken belief that he does the job best. But underlying

this view is, you know, he`s a media president. He`s not a D.C. president.

He`s not a lawmaker. He`s not a policy guy and views everything through the

prism of television and media coverage and so, as a result, he thinks

everything is a press problem and there is enormous pressure on his

communications aide. They`re never going to meet the mark for him.

 

TODD:  They won`t Eliani. Donald Trump is Donald Trump because of Donald

Trump. And that`s – he believes it, by the way and that score he`s right.

 

LANHEE CHEN, FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION RESEARCH:  Well, on to your point,

your previous point about all of the near misses, right. He has managed to

– manage his way out of them through the way that he deals with the media,

through the way that he deals directly with –

 

TODD:  Sheer force of nature.

 

CHEN:  It is him. It is entirely about him and his interactions that has

enabled him to get to where he is.

 

TODD:  I want to switch, I did a nice little tease, like wait till you hear

who is calling for a special council next. Well, wait till you hear. Here

it is.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We wanted a special prosecutor on the Hillary e-mail

scandal. Why is this any different?

 

ROGER STONE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I actually agree with you. In other

words, I think Jeff Sessions because of his partisanship is the wrong

person to pursue this and I would welcome a special prosecutor. I think the

president should pick the right woman to do that.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  There you go.

 

CHEN:  Case closed.

 

TODD:  There it is. Roger Stone wants a special counsel. All right, what`s

he doing on “The View,” I don`t know. Why do half the people that go on

“The View” – sometimes I don`t understand either decision. Why they book

them and why they go on, right.

 

Roger Stone, who we know does whisper into the president`s ear. There might

be a nefarious reason why he`s for a special counsel and let me lay it out,

which is the Sheldon Whitehouse point that he made earlier on the show that

I played for Richard Blumenthal. A special counsel actually slows down the

investigation because you start over.

 

JOHNSON:  I`m skeptical that a special counsel will be appointed. I think

both Republicans and Democrats have seen these things go sideways and the

motives of them are just not good. And I`m not sure I believe that Roger

Stone has as clear-cut a motive as you describe, but we`ve been talking a

lot about Nixon and Stone is a Nixon era figure who has re-appeared. So,

I`ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

 

TODD:  How about this? How about the fact that he just openly says Jeff

Sessions, yes, because of his partisanship, he`s the wrong person to pursue

this.

 

JOHNSON:  I don`t think that`s such a controversial statement.

 

TODD:  No, it`s not, but it is coming from a Trump surrogate.

 

CHEN:  I mean, these special counsels end up being perjury traps. They

always end up sort of meandering into areas maybe that they really don`t

need to be getting into.

 

TODD:  Is that right?

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

PALMIERI:  They have hammers and they find nails.

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

PALMIERI:  It might take a while, but be my guest.

 

CHEN:  Someone – will they get someone –

 

PALMIER:  Yes, they get somebody –

 

CHEN:  In a normal situation we would say this is the job of the Congress.

The Congress should be conducting appropriate oversight when this sort of

thing happens. So, I still think this is Congress`s obligation.

 

PALMIERI:  But they can`t do charges. The FBI can pursue this. They can

bring it to the courts, but you know, Congress can only look into it, they

can`t do charges.

 

TODD:  My guess is the initial compromise is going to be Rod Rosenstein is

going to agree to give the FBI more access to U.S. attorneys. That`s what

the subpoena power.

 

PALMIERI:  Roger Stone`s thinking is flawed because this isn`t – you can`t

isolate this issue because it`s not about just one issue. I mean like, he

has – he is obsessed with Russia-Trump. He`s going to continue to do

things in office that are going to make it an issue so you can`t isolate it

until he stops talking about it which is not going to happen.

 

TODD:  Well, I`m going to end it there. You guys can keep talking after the

break. Thank you very much. After the break, lights, camera, executive

action. Stay tuned.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

TODD:  As developments in the Russia investigation piled up this week,

President Trump`s attempt to de-escalate the spectacle only put him further

in the center. In case you missed it, he let us know he`d be the center of

this show for a long time, and he said so a long time ago. In fact, here`s

one of our favorite moments from my time interviewing candidate Trump. This

was back in 2015 on “Meet the Press.”

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  I sort of was amused about this little excerpt from you “Playboy”

interview in 1990. The questioner asked, what is all this, meaning talking

about your yacht, the bronze tower, the casino, what does it really mean to

you and you replied, “props for the show.” And I said what show is that?

And you replied, “the show is Trump, and it is sold out performances

everywhere.”

 

TRUMP:  And it has been for a long time.

 

TOD:  Is this – are we all a part of the show? I mean, there is something

– you know that some of the criticisms, some that we all feel like we`re

in – are we in a reality show?

 

TRUMP:  No, this is not a reality show, this is the real deal. Our country

has –

 

TODD:  You did smile when I read the show stuff because it resonated with

you.

 

TRUMP:  I think it`s – I mean, look, my life has been an interesting life.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

TODD:  Anyway, just it felt like something that was worthy of remembering

this week. Of course if it`s Sunday catch “Meet the Press” on your local

NBC station. This will be a good one I promise you. “For The Record with

Greta” though starts right now.

 

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOR THE RECORD SHOE HOST, NBC:  You know Chuck, I never

miss “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

 

TODD:  I appreciate that.

 

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

BE UPDATED.

END   

 

Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC.  All materials herein are

protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,

distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the

prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter

or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the

content.>