MTP Daily, Transcript 5/18/2017
Show: MTP DAILY
Date: May 18, 2017
Guest: Kelly O`Donnell, Mike Viqueira, Ken Dilanian, Elise Jordan, Chris
Murphy, Richard Ben-Veniste
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: Guys, if you want to come on over here, we`re happy
to have you as well. There`s no longer table (ph), but we`d love to –
love for all of you to join us.
Anyway, though, good evening, I`m Katy Tur in New York in for Chuck Todd.
Welcome to MTP DAILY.
And welcome to another day of bombshells embroiling the president and his
associates. All of it coming less than 24 hours after the appointment of
the special counsel on Russia.
Let`s get right to today`s major developments. Moments ago, President
Trump took questions from reporters for the first time since allegations
were raised in a memo written by FBI Director James Comey that the
president urged him to shut down the investigation into his former national
security adviser, Michael Flynn.
It was also the first time he took questions since the Department of
Justice appointed former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as a special
prosecutor to oversee the agency`s wide-reaching Russia investigation.
Here is what the president said about that issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I respect the move but
the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between
certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and
the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a
very divided country because of that and many other things. Believe me,
there`s no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Just hours before the press conference, the president went even
further in his criticisms of the special counsel. Here is some of what he
said during a meeting with news anchors, quote, “I believe it hurts our
country terribly.” He went to say, quote, “It also happens to be a pure
excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have
This comes after he tweeted this morning, this is single greatest witch
hunt of a politician in American history. It`s a dramatic departure from
his reaction last night when he seemed to welcome the news. In an official
White House statement, he said, I look forward to this matter concluding
quickly, noting that a thorough investigation would vindicate him.
Moments ago, the president was also asked about those allegations that he
urged Comey to shut down the Flynn investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you, at any time, urge former FBI Director James
Comey in any way, shape or form to close or back down the investigation
into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back –
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. Next question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Despite the president`s quick answer, questions about Flynn are not
going away. Two former senior Obama officials tell NBC News that while in
the White House, Flynn halted a U.S. military operation that Turkey
opposed. This came after Flynn had accepted more than $500,000 as a
foreign agent to represent Turkey`s interests.
Did the Trump team know about Flynn`s conflicts of interests? Apparently,
yes. “The New York Times” is reporting that Flynn told the Trump
transition`s top lawyer on January 4th not only that he had double paid
lobbying work on behalf of Turkey, but that he was under federal
investigation for it. Those revelations raised serious questions starting
with the president and vice president`s claims that they didn`t even know
about Flynn`s conflict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has
filed with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent for making more
than $500,000 as a lobbyist essentially for Turkey.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say, hearing that
story today was the first I heard of it.
LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: Did you know that he had had –
that received payments from the Russian government? That he had –
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.
HOLT: – received payments from the Turkish government?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. But Obama perhaps knew
because he had clearance from the Obama administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: All of this comes as the president now says he`s close to naming a
new FBI director. His top choice right now, Joe Lieberman.
NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell is at the White House. NBC`s Mike Viqueira is on
Capitol Hill. We`re also joined by NBC intelligence and national security
reporter, Ken Dilanian.
Kelly, a remarkable change in tone with the White House. Last night, they
seemed to welcome the special counsel. This morning, Trump tweeted that it
was a witch hunt and you saw him right there, saying that he believes it
divides the country.
KELLY O`DONNELL, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: And he sort of found a middle
ground between the printed statement and his tweet. Not backing off in the
sentiment that he thinks having a special counsel is divisive, in terms of
dividing the voters, dividing his ability to pursue his agenda. Still
critical of the choice but not quite as, perhaps, bombastic as he might
At the same time, the president was very clear that he thinks this was the
wrong move but respects that the decision was made. And maybe that`s the
piece that we didn`t hear on his Twitter feed, the notion of respecting
that this was a decision that could be made.
So, perhaps some middle ground between the initial wave of response from
the White House, the tweets and then as the day evolved a bit.
So, that is where we stand, as far as president`s bracing for what will be
a period of time where the issues around Russia, around Michael Flynn, may,
in fact, be more subdued, only from the standpoint of a new investigation
may, sort of, tamp down on what`s being publicly discussed, in terms of
questions to him or new developments that are made public.
[17:05:05] If, in fact, Robert Mueller runs an investigation that is a very
tight ship. Now, that, of course, does not affect the congressional
investigations which move on separately.
So, a key point, today, is the president saying that, no, he did not tell
James Comey to slow down the investigation. That`s a direct contrast from
what we expect is in the memos, as they were described to reporters from
James Comey`s contemporaneous notes after meeting with the president.
So, taking on James Comey, yet again, in a very turst (ph) but forceful
way. And so, the president not backing down but also trying to perhaps
appear more respectful of the process. We`ll see if that holds but that
was at least a note that stood out that was a departure from the Twitter
messages today – Katy.
TUR: And, Kelly, he goes on a foreign trip tomorrow. There`s an
expectation that he might name a new FBI director before that. We`re
hearing that Joe Lieberman is the front-runner. Why Joe Lieberman?
O`DONNELL: Well, the president is saying he is very close to a decision
and could do that soon. We don`t know if it will, in fact, be before he
leaves for Saudi Arabia, Italy, Israel and Belgium. But Joe Lieberman
stands out, according to sources we`ve talked to, in part because the
president wants someone who would be at least appealing to Democrats.
We heard on a different matter the firing of Comey. Yet again today, the
president said he thought Democrats would support that decision because so
many had been critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail
situation and investigation.
So, looking for less Democratic pushback is one function of a Joe Lieberman
candidacy. Also, the very person of Joe Lieberman, a well-respected, very
experienced, but a politician. Not the kind of law enforcement or
intelligence background individual that are among the other candidates.
So, today, we just started to get some nudging from advisors that Joe
Lieberman had emerged as potential front-runner. That`s why he`s being
talked about today. There are lawmakers who might be more receptive to
Lieberman than perhaps some other picks.
The president is looking for a popular choice. That`s what it comes down
to – Katy.
TUR: Kelly, thank you.
And, Mike, the Senate held a meeting with Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein who
appointed the special counsel. Run us through some of the highlights and
the reaction from the senators. Lindsey Graham, not too pleased about
MIKE VIQUEIRA, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, it`s – I don`t
think we should say Lindsey Graham isn`t pleased. Lindsey Graham was
emphasizing that, in his view, this has now moved from a counter
intelligence investigation to a criminal investigation.
Now, what`s the upshot and how does that affect Lindsey Graham in the
Senate and the rest of the Congress, for that matter? Well, according to
Lindsey Graham who heads a subcommittee that has asked for documents and
even the appearance of James Comey before a hearing, that means that
Congress now takes a back seat if, in fact, this is a criminal
I should I hasten to add that there are Republicans who did not –
Republicans, generally, Katy, want to see the congressional investigations
put on a back burner. Democrats, including the top Democrat in the Senate,
Chuck Schumer, came out and said, look, these investigations need to move
forward as quickly as they possibly can. And, of course Mike Warner, the
top Democrat on Senate Intel, felt the same way.
On the Joe Lieberman question, I had an opportunity to ask many of these
senators. It`s not going to be all joining hands and rejoicing at the
nomination of Joe Lieberman, that`s for certain. While John Cornyn, one of
our top Republicans, said he thinks it`ll get all hundred senators if, in
fact, that comes to pass. Claire McCaskill was very forceful, no, we don`t
need a politician. Someone who has been in politics or in Congress to lead
to FBI. Too volatile a nomination.
Even Senator Blumenthal, Richard Blumenthal, from Lieberman`s home state of
Connecticut, hedged a great deal. He wouldn`t come out and say he was
against Lieberman, but he echoed those thoughts that a politician should
not get this nomination.
One other thing, Katy, I want to point out. The original purpose of this
hearing, you remember way back last Tuesday when the controversy struck
James Comey`s firing by President Trump, the original purpose was to get
Rod Rosenstein in here to figure out exactly how this went down and whether
he was coerced in any way into writing that memo.
According to a couple of the Democratic senators who came out, including
Claire McCaskill and Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat,
Rosenstein wrote the memo to Donald – President Trump on May 9th. But,
according to Durbin and McCaskill, again, he learned that had Comey would
be fired on May 8th. So, Democrats, even though Robert Mueller has been
appointed special counsel, are not giving up on trying to dig in to the
tick tock and exactly how that went down – Katy.
TUR: And we`re going to talk about that a little later. Mike, thank you.
Ken Dilanian, Michael Flynn has also been a big part of news today. A
number of different stories coming out about him. Run us through those.
KEN DILANIAN, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NBC NEWS:
That`s right, Katy. Mike Flynn continues to cast a long shadow over this
presidency, well after he`s been fired.
We have new reporting on two fronts from NBC News today. We`re reporting
that Flynn, along with former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, are the
subjects and the prime focus of this sprawling FBI Russia investigation.
[17:10:11] Obviously, they`re not the only focus. But their conduct, and
it`s not so much evidenced, at least in public, of their collusion with
Russia. There`s really no evidence of that. But it`s their other
And with Flynn, you know, it`s the three things that we know well, at this
point. He was paid half a million dollars to lobby on behalf of Turkish
interests. He didn`t disclose that until after the Justice Department
questioned him about it. He failed to disclose that he was paid to appear
at a state dinner in Moscow on behalf of Russian state television.
So, he seems to be on the FBI hot seat. And we also have reporting today
from “The New York Times” that the administration knew he was under
criminal investigation when they hired him. So, he doesn`t appear to ever
have been properly vetted for the job of national security adviser – Katy.
TUR: And what, Ken, these 18 phone calls. This Reuters report that there
were 18 phone calls between the Trump campaign and between April and
November and the Russians?
DILANIAN: Yes, that`s an interesting report. It appears to include some -
- the Flynn-Kislyak contacts that we already knew about. But, again, you
know, Flynn is also on the hook for failing to level with the vice
president over those Kislyak contacts and he was interviewed by the FBI
about that. We don`t know what he told the FBI.
And, you know, the other interesting report today came out of Yahoo! which
suggested that Flynn is still in touch with the president.
DILANIAN: And he told friends that the president sent a message to him to
stay strong. So, for those assuming that maybe Flynn will eventually, you
know, give information about what happened behind closed doors in the Trump
campaign, that`s a – that`s an indication that the two are on the same
page – Katy.
TUR: Absolutely. Ken Dilanian, Kelly O`Donnell, Mike Viqueira, thank you,
guys, very much.
O`DONNELL: Katy, one –
TUR: Go ahead.
O`DONNELL: While we were on the air here, I heard from a top Democratic
Senate official who said the characterization of Joe Lieberman being easy
to get through with Democrats is simply not true.
So, the assessment from the Trump team, thinking Lieberman would be more
favorable, according to Democrats in the Senate, and Mike echoed this in
his report. But I heard, as we were on the air here from top officials,
saying a speed bump there. They don`t think that – even though they like
and respect Joe Lieberman, that a Lieberman appointment would be easy to
persuade Democrats. So, that`s just coming through – Katy.
TUR: Well, that shouldn`t come as a surprise. Nothing has been easy to
persuade Democrats when it comes to the Trump administration, at least
Kelly O`Donnell, again, thank you, Mike Viqueira and Ken Dilanian, too.
Let`s bring in tonight`s panel. Ari Melber is a MSNBC Chief Legal Analyst,
Elise Jordan is an NBC political analyst and former White House aide and
Rand Paul campaign advisor, and Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC Political
Analyst as well and a “Daily Beast” columnist.
Guys, there is so much going on. And, remember, this is the witching hour,
5:00 is usually when more news comes out, so we`ll wait and see if that
But, you know, given all the noise, what is – what is the most important
thing right now? What is the most important piece of news?
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the most important
piece of news in the last 24 hours is clearly the Mueller appointment.
This basically means that our institutions are strong and resilient, and
that we`re going to be OK, as long as there`s not a war that Donald Trump
gets us into that costs a lot of lives.
But there will be pushback from these very strong institutions of
government. That there are a lot of people who recognize that we live in a
society with the rule of law, and that the president can`t just shut down
So, the system responded and I think we should all be happy about that.
TUR: If it does end up slowing down a congressional investigation or even
putting speed bumps into a congressional investigation, Lindsey Graham
saying it`s going to make it much more difficult to call witnesses they
want – they want to haul before Congress. Does that mean the information
drip to the American public is also going to dry up?
ALTER: Probably. It will be less if the Senate and the Congress in a
bipartisan fashion isn`t investigating this. The FBI does intel and they
do crimes. And Rod Rosenstein basically went in and briefed them and
Lindsey Graham`s summary is that he, Rod Rosenstein, said this should be
treated, potentially, as if it were a criminal investigation.
Not confirming that it is but that gives, of course, the Senate more of a
chance to say, yes, we should take a back seat.
TUR: And, Elise, what`s your reaction to the president coming out saying
that basically the deputy A.G. was going to write that memo because of the
poor, poor performance that FBI Director Comey gave in his Wednesday
testimony. And then, we hear from the deputy A.G., according to Senators
McCaskill and Durbin, that he knew that Trump was going to fire him
regardless of the memo that he wrote.
ELISE JORDAN, POLITICAL ANALYST, NBC NEWS: President Trump can`t keep his
story straight. It`s – you know, like when you`re a child and your
parents tell you that the truth is always the best way to go, simply
because you aren`t going to mess up your story. He doesn`t know what his -
- or he has a story that he simply doesn`t want to tell the public.
[17:15:08] I was in D.C. yesterday and it was really surprising to me how
many Republicans are taking this seriously and are incredibly alarmed at
the chaos that they`re seeing.
TUR: Oh, wait on that. What do you mean by taking it seriously?
JORDAN: The expose – the potential exposure by not only Donald Trump but,
perhaps, Mike Pence. Republicans are very concerned that this is full-
blown crisis mode.
TUR: So, if a circumstance comes – there are whispers – and I don`t say
this just out of nowhere. There are whispers on Capitol Hill about how
much better a president Pence would be. That`s not surprising. People
have said that all along, privately, not publicly.
But is president Pence somebody, if Trump did end up getting – leaving the
presidency in some manner, is governor Pence or Vice President Pence
someone that would be able to take over that role in a – in a clean way?
ALTER: Well, it was complicated, in the last couple days, because it came
out that even though he`s not a liar on the scale of President Trump, he
lied. You know, he was alerted that the new national security adviser was
on the pay roll of the Turkish government and was asked about it directly
on Fox and on NBC and he said no. He had said no before it came out. So,
it`s – that`s not credible.
TUR: And Flynn alerted the transition. He was the head – he was the head
of the transition.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: One point on that. I think
the theory of the case which is how investigators look at it. What kind of
case are we looking at? Is this a theory where there was an incident and
now, afterward, people are trying to explain it or potentially cover it up?
Or is the theory of the case that there is an ongoing problem? Right, that
is the worst situation probably for the country but certainly for the
And if that is your theory of the case, and that doesn`t mean it`s been
proven yet, that would explain some of the odd ongoing behavior because
you`re not just trying, to your point, get your story straight about one
thing and then put it behind you if it is ongoing.
Are there ongoing contacts, relationships or financial questions that may
or may not touch the presidency? The grand jury subpoenas that have been
reported and not wholly confirmed because they`re not a public matter
related to finances, related to people`s financial decisions, related to
these payments, the nonregistration under the Foreign Agent Registration
Act is a felony if you fail to register.
It is not often prosecuted but that is another potential felony here. It
doesn`t mean that you made a deal with a foreign adversary. It might just
mean you failed to disclose things.
So, whether these are ongoing problems is a big question. And if it is
ongoing, and the theory of the case, to your point, how do you get people,
A, to get on good behavior with the government? And, B, how do you recruit
new people? If you ever want a, quote, unquote, shake-up, do people want
to enter that environment as a place to work?
TUR: How consequential are Donald Trump`s competing statements?
MELBER: Well, they`re hugely consequential if an investigation rises to
the level of looking at his statements. Now, that is, I want to remind
everyone, disfavored under longstanding bipartisan precedent.
In other words, criminal investigators, even in a special counsel scenario,
are not usually focused on the president`s conduct. And you do not indict
a sitting president over normal crime. So, that would take a lot, even
with this special counsel.
But it`s not good, if I can restate the obvious, to have other recent
former aides, senior aides, implicated in what Sally Yates said, quote,
“underlying criminal conduct” and underlying criminal statute.
TUR: I want to get –
ALTER: If there was nothing to hide, why would he be calling it a witch
hunt when you have a widely respected former director of the FBI in charge?
TUR: Well, it could be that Donald Trump does – never wants to back down.
I mean, just looking at it from a psychological standpoint of how he
behaves. It could just be him not – refusing to admit any wrongdoing
whatsoever, even if it was initially not so significant.
ALTER: And we shouldn`t get ahead of ourselves in thinking that there will
definitely be collusion at the end of this investigation. It could be that
there are no indictable crimes that were – that were committed and – but
this Reuters` story that there were 18 contacts between people from the
Trump campaign and the Russians is a big story. Because you have to
believe for the president, or then candidate Trump, not to have been
implicated, that those 18 contacts took place without his knowledge.
JORDAN: But this is an ongoing crisis primarily because of Mike Flynn. At
the – you know, just separate of everything else, Mike Flynn`s conduct has
really caused such a serious problem within this White House.
And you look at President Trump`s response to it and his inability to cut
ties with Mike Flynn, and his ongoing support of Mike Flynn, despite these,
you know, allegations that are quite incredible. He was accepting money
from the Turkish government and called off an operation. Influents –
CentCom wanted an operation to go forward. And because Mike Flynn was on
the payroll of the Turkish government, he stopped it. It`s just
ALTER: This is a fiercely important point because Donald Trump cuts people
loose without a thought. He even cut Roy Cohn loose when he had aids.
[17:20:00] You know, the only people that he doesn`t have a nasty word for,
in the last two years, are Vladimir Putin and now Mike Flynn.
So, what do they have on him? That`s the question that we have to ask.
TUR: And that is a good point.
ALTER: It`s probably something.
TUR: Because, frankly, you know, Donald Trump has let a number of people
go that had been loyal up unto a point, and useful to a point, and then not
so useful any longer.
And Nicole Wallace made this point a moment ago, in the last hour. She
said, three of his most loyal surrogates and advisers, Chris Christie, Rudy
Giuliani and one other that`s escaping me at the moment, none which of got
any sort of role.
MELBER: Corey Lewandowski.
ALTER: Corey Lewandowski.
TUR: Corey Lewandowski as well, you could say that.
TUR: Gingrich, that`s who it was. Newt Gingrich. That none of them got a
role in the Trump administration.
I want to mention this. The White House spokesman – a spokesman from the
White House is now saying “The New York Times” story is flat wrong.
Neither Michael Flynn nor his attorneys told transition counsel that he was
under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for
Turkey during the campaign.
So, they are denying that Michael Flynn or any of his representatives told
the transition on January 2nd that he was under investigation.
MELBER: And briefly, the problem with that is that Mike Flynn has criminal
exposure, criminal liability for the failure to notify. Because under the
foreign payments did he receive, he should have notified and didn`t. So,
he`s kind of in a bad spot either way. Did you notify people in the
transition about something true or did you fail to do so? It`s not
actually good either way.
ALTER: When he gets squeezed, it`ll be very interesting to see what he
says. Now, right now, he`s supportive of the president. But, down the
road, as the wheels of justice grind down, he`s going to have to tell what
he knows in detail.
TUR: We`re going to have to leave it here, because we want to get the rest
of the breaking news and the news of the hour in. And we`re going to come
back a little bit later in the hour to talk to you guys.
There`s a lot more we need to get to on all these breaking stories. And
don`t forget, 5:00 p.m., again, has been the witching hour for breaking
news this week so stick with us because you never know what`s going to
Coming up, we head to the Hill where deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein
just wrapped up a briefing with senators. Senator Chris Murphy was there
and he joins us straight ahead.
TUR: Welcome back.
Here`s what Republicans were saying about a special counsel before former
FBI director, Robert Mueller, took over the Russian probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: The notion that somehow a special counsel
will bring facts to light just isn`t true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this demand for special prosecutors every time you
turn around is just sickening.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, U.S. PRINCIPAL DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:
We don`t think it`s necessary. You`ve got a House committee, a Senate
committee and the Department of Justice all working on this.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: To suggest that I`d be for a
special prosecutor would say I don`t think I can do my job.
SEN. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don`t think that`s
a good idea. I think the Intelligence committees are the ones that should
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: A new investigation which could only
serve to impede the current work.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I see no need for a special
prosecutor. It`s not a criminal investigation.
SEAN SPICER, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have plenty of entities
looking into that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Less than enthusiastic but that was then. Today, Republicans were
much more open to a special counsel, saying things like they commend the
Department of Justice. They welcome Mueller`s role. And they respect the
[17:25:07] More MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) When you heard today, sir, do you believe
that the deputy attorney general knew before he wrote that memo that James
Comey was going to be fired?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was it that he said that led you to believe
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knew the day before.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I`m not sure he addressed that with a level
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: He did acknowledge that he knew Comey
would be removed prior to him writing his memo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Welcome back.
Just one day after he jolted the political world by appointing a special
counsel to handle the FBI`s investigation into Russian interference in the
last election, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein went to Capitol Hill
today to brief the entire Senate.
Leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer initially invited him to speak
about the firing of the former FBI Director James Comey, but we`ve had
quite the week of fallout since then.
Rosenstein, of course, is overseeing any investigations concerning Russia
and associates of the Trump campaign, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Joining me now is one of the senators that went to that briefing today.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Foreign
Relations Committee. Senator, thank you for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Thanks
for having me.
TUR: I want to get a little bit of clarity from you. Did you hear that
Rod Rosenstein knew that the president was going to fire James Comey before
he wrote his recommendation?
MURPHY: Clear as day. There`s no question about it. It was in his
opening statement. He laid out the narrative that ultimately led to the
decision to fire Comey. Now, there are lots of holes in that narrative.
But in his own opening statement, he told us very clearly that he found out
that the president was planning on firing Trump and then he wrote the memo
which was used as the justification for it.
Now, the dates on the memo already hinted that that`s how the timeline
worked but he confirmed that for us this morning. And it means that the
letter that Donald Trump delivered to James Comey, which says he relied on
the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, just isn`t true.
TUR: And did he indicate that he really also wanted Comey to go? That
this was something that he believed in as well?
MURPHY: He did. Now, he was totally unable to discuss his conversation
with the president. He didn`t want to talk about the circumstances
surrounding his memo. He didn`t want to talk about whether there were
edits made to his memo.
But he did stand by what eventually ended up in it. He believed that the
conduct of James Comey, surrounding the Flynn investigation, merited his
dismissal. But he would not confirm that that was the reason that led the
president to make that decision. In fact, he hinted, at the very least,
that that was not ultimately the reason. We all know, of course, now that
TUR: Did he say why he decided to appoint a special counsel to bring in
MURPHY: You know, again, he was very reluctant to go into details. But I
think he said there was a combination of the unique nature of this
investigation and he wouldn`t go into any more detail about what that
meant. And the fact that the public faith had really eroded in the ability
of the FBI and he wanted to restore that faith.
And I take him at face value. And I`m glad he appointed not only a special
counsel will somebody that both parties can have faith in. And he further
made several assurances, Katy, during that meeting that he would let
Mueller bring this investigation wherever it led. That he wasn`t going to
have to come back and check with Rosenstein to make sure that the
investigation was as expansive as it needed to be.
TUR: And are you confident right now in the deputy A.G.? In the A.G.?
MURPHY: I would have liked him to answer some more questions today. But,
you know, I took his carefulness around giving us details as an indication
as to how expansive he thinks this criminal investigation is going to be.
He would not talk about the circumstances that led to his memo being
released to the public which suggests he thinks that there`s a potential
that even his memo is subject of an obstruction of justice case that the
new special counsel may be pursuing. He took pains to tell us that there
was going to be no political check on the scope or size of this
investigation. And I`m trying to take him at his word.
TUR: Senator, what else did you want to hear from him?
MURPHY: Well, I guess I was a little shocked at how little he was able to
tell us about the exact nature of the conversations and the construction of
the memo that led to Comey`s firing. And the reason for that seemed pretty
clear, that there is a potential obstruction of justice case surrounding
the way in which Comey was fired, and so he felt that he couldn`t share any
of those details with us.
So what he basically said is I stand by the memo but I can`t talk to you
about almost anything else surrounding the decision to fire Comey because
that is potentially within the scope of the special counsel. That was a
little stunning to many of us.
TUR: Did he say he thought it could be a criminal investigation? Or that is
in fact was a criminal investigation?
MURPHY: I think he said that this all could be within the criminal
investigation. I think his main message was that he wanted to allow for
Mueller to be able to decide the scope of that investigation before he gave
us any information that might end up being inside that scope.
So, no, I don`t think he was telegraphing that there was definitely a
criminal case to be made on the construction of his memo or the firing of
Comey, but he certainly didn`t rule it out.
TUR: So, my question is, how does this affect the senate investigation.
Lindsey Graham a few minutes ago after that meeting said a criminal
investigation would limit the authority that congress has to call certain
witnesses because the special counsel could put a kibosh on that. Are you
concerned this is going to jam up your investigation?
MURPHY: I think that was always the potential because if there is a
criminal case that is moving forward whether it was under the FBI or a
special counsel, that would limit the information that can go to the senate
and the house committee. So, there would always going to be some
constraints on what our process was able to look at. And that`s in part why
we wanted the special counsel.
In the end our job is different. We are not trying to come up with criminal
charges. We are on a fact finding mission in part to understand whether the
senate and the house need to take action against people in the executive
branch and will be informed by their investigation. We are not going to be
coming up with our own criminal recommendations, I don`t think.
TUR: Senator, what if congress doesn`t agree with the recommendations or
the findings that Robert Mueller gets?
MURPHY: Again, that`s why we are going to be doing independent review of
the information that they glean. I think once they have gotten to the
logical end of a potential criminal case, then they can forward that
information to us. And they can do so along the way as well.
I think the Intelligence Committee is also going to be getting information
from plenty of other sources. They have independently subpoenaed Michael
Flynn, so there will be some concurrent fact-finding to be done. It is just
in pursuit of different ends.
TUR: Senator Chris Murphy, thank you very much.
MURPHY: Thanks, Katy.
TUR: Still ahead, Robert Mueller`s fact-finding mission. We`ll talk to a
legal insider about the scope of the new special counsel`s Russia
investigation. Keep it right here.
TUR: Up next, we`ll hear from a D.C. legal titan who first rose to
prominence working on the Watergate case. Richard Ben-Veniste joins us with
his insight to what`s ahead for Robert Mueller`s investigation. But first,
here`s Hampton Pearson with the “CNBC Market Wrap.” Hi, Hampton.
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Katy. So we have
stocks rebounding from the biggest sell-off of 2017 as at least some
investors rumor confident President Trump will shake off the latest
controversy and move ahead with his pro-business agenda. The Dow adding 56
points. The S&P gaining 8. The Nasdaq advancing by 43 points.
Fewer Americans are filing for unemployment. Weekly jobless claims fell by
4,000 in the last week. A surge in online and store traffic helping Wal-
Mart sales. Stock in the world`s largest retailer rose 2.3 percent after
quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations. That`s it from CNBC, first
in business worldwide.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: The general consensus is
it was a good decision to pick a special counsel. A lot of confidence in
Mr. Mueller. I think the shock to the body is it is now considered a
criminal investigation and congress`s ability to conduct investigations of
all things Russia has been severely limited.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Welcome back to “MTP Daily.” That was Senator Lindsey Graham after
that all senators` briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So
with former FBI Director Robert Mueller taking over the FBI`s
investigation, how will that impact the other ongoing investigations in
congress? Is congress sidelined?
Let`s break it down with, let`s break down what the appointment of a
special counsel or prosecutor means. Joining me now is Richard Ben-Veniste.
He was one of the lead prosecutors during Watergate and he served on the
bipartisan 9/11 commission. So, Richard, thank you very much, first of all.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE COUNSEL: Glad to be here.
TUR: Your expertise is much needed here because there are a whole lot of
terms, special counsel versus special commission. What`s the difference
there, and is special counsel not quite as independent?
BEN-VENISTE: A special counsel is far more powerful in the sense that the
special counsel is in the same position as the attorney general of the
United States for conducting this investigation. Mr. Mueller will have at
his disposal the entire resources of the FBI. He will have the benefit of
everything that has been investigated up to this point.
He will have such agents as he needs and resources. He will have a staff.
He will select that staff from among prosecutors who are now in government
as well as others who he will bring into the fold. The task of the
independent, rather, the special counsel, is to investigate and then if
warranted, to bring charges through a grand jury, indictments for
violations of criminal law.
And that`s much different than a commission such as the 9/11 commission,
which was empowered to investigate and make recommendations. Both of those
things are different than senate investigations while they.
TUR: That`s my question. Is this going to have a problematic effect on the
– or at least sidelined the congressional investigations?
BEN-VENISTE: No, it should not. There should be coordination between the
special counsel and between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House
Intelligence Committee so that no one is stepping on the other`s work. But
the priority will be that of the special counsel in doing his
That doesn`t mean that the senate and the house committees who have
independent constitutional obligations to investigate should be sidelined.
This is in addition to the work that the congressional committees are
obliged to do in connection with oversight.
TUR: So what is the obligation that a special counsel has to keep the
public updated and eventually to inform the public of the findings of their
BEN-VENISTE: Well, the special counsel really has no obligation to speak
other than through official acts, meaning the return of an indictment in
the trial of a case. And so, and to explain in connection with those public
actions what the meaning is of what he`s doing. But it is not for the
special counsel to keep the public apprised about what he`s doing.
Contrary to that, it is very much the function of congress to hold open
hearings and bring the public along, utilizing their power of compulsory
process, subpoenas, to get that information out in the public and to bring
the public along. Now, where there is potential conflict is in witnesses
who are reluctant or unwilling to testify.
The power invested in the attorney general and now the special counsel is
to be able to trump the invocation of fifth amendment privilege by granting
use immunity to witnesses who assert their privilege. Now it would not be
appropriate in my opinion in this case now that we have a special counsel
for congress on its own to grant immunity to any witnesses without explicit
coordination with the special counsel.
TUR: Richard Ben-Veniste, thank you so much for giving us clarity on that.
There is a lot of new terms, a lot of different definitions for those
terms, and we appreciate your expertise, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: You`re very welcome.
TUR: Still ahead, President Trump is making fund raising great again but
not exactly in the way you might think. Keep it here.
TUR: Welcome back. A big sign today that President Donald Trump is
motivating Democrats, at least when it comes to their pocket books. The
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced they have gotten $20
million in online contributions since beginning of the year. That`s already
more than they raised during all of 2015. The most recent off election
And that`s not the only good news about campaign money today for Democrats.
Montana`s special election candidate, Rob Quist, announced he surpassed $5
million raised from more than 200,000 individual contributors. $5 million
doesn`t sound like a ton of political money but it does go a long way in
Montana. We`ll be right back.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
MURPHY: I was a little shocked at how little he was able to tell us about
the exact nature of the conversations and the construction of the memo that
led to Comey`s firing. And the reason for that seemed pretty clear, that
there is a potential obstruction of justice case surrounding the way in
which Comey was fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: That was Senator Chris Murphy moments ago and that brings us back to
“The Lid.” The panel is here; Ari Melber, Elise Jordan, and Jonathan Alter.
Guys, Chris Murphy, you just heard him talking about the meeting that the
senators had with Rod Rosenstein saying that he wasn`t very forthcoming on
how the recommendation process came the other week when Donald Trump asked
the A.G. to lay out the case for firing Comey. There is a potential
political obstruction case there, Ari.
ARI MELBER, CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT FOR MSNBC, JOURNALIST FOR NBC NEWS:
Look, there`s three categories here. There`s what they were originally
investigating, if there were any crimes committed. Then there`s whether
there was any inappropriate conduct in covering that up. And everyone knows
Watergate was more about the cover up than the original bungled burglary.
And then because of the way Donald Trump has spoken in public and because
of what Comey has appeared to release through contemporaneous
documentation, there is a wider question on whether apart from all that
there is an attempt to shut down the investigation. I would say with
today`s news, we don`t have any reason to believe that Mueller and the
special counsel will be focused on the third door.
TUR: So if Mueller only focuses on whether or not there was collusion or
coordination between the campaign and the Russians, is that going to be
enough for folks out in the country who say they want to know everything
that Donald Trump is trying to do, and that does include whether or not
he`s trying to impede an investigation?
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that depends on how
aggressive Mueller is, and his history is he is a very aggressive
prosecutor. Before he was head of the FBI, he was a very, very successful
prosecutor. Actually left private law practice at one point, even though he
had held a senior position in the Justice Department, to go work at a local
level prosecuting crime.
He loves finding where crimes have been committed. The reason that so many
Democrats also want a broader congressional investigation is that that that
is so focused on criminal – potential criminal activity that it might miss
larger lessons that we need to protect us against the Russians should they
try to interfere in another one of our elections, which I think is
inevitable unless we develop some means of guarding against that.
So, that kind of thing, which the public very much wants to hear about,
it`s not clear whether that will be covered by this investigation.
TUR: So, Elise, what does this do for Republicans on Capitol Hill? Does
this give them some breathing room or does this underscore the significance
of the questions about how influential Russia was and whether or not there
are ties between the Trump transition, Trump campaign, and a foreign
ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I`m just watching Senator
Mitch McConnell really closely because he is going to kind of –
congressional Republicans are really going to follow the tone that he sets.
And so far it looks like he`s kind of letting Senator Burr do what he
And he and Senator Warner are like minded with how they are going to
proceed forward with intel committee. So, I think that while Republicans
are wary of what the results are going to be, they`re keeping their
distance because they just don`t know what`s going on.
TUR: But ultimately, this is a question of a foreign government
infiltrating, trying to manipulate, trying to attack, if you will, our
sovereignty, our democracy, our election process. That at its core has got
to be something that Republicans – you would imagine that they would be a
little bit louder about that.
JORDAN: You know, for the past 16 months Donald Trump has forced
Republicans to defend the indefensible so many times. I mean, you have,
just from the Access Hollywood video, you know, our traditional values.
TUR: That`s crude language. This is a foreign government.
JORDAN: But Donald Trump`s behavior throughout the course of the campaign
and the thing – you know, he`s supporting single payer tax and health
care, Republicans have abandoned all those principles and they decided
let`s put down, you know, let`s go with Donald Trump. Now, though, his
behavior while in office has been so destabilizing.
They can`t just do that any more because the stakes are so high, and
because they`ve seen how his own staff, they`re just dropping like flies,
abandoning their integrity when they enter the White House and try to back
ALTER: The truth is going to come out. The question is will we see the
taxes or not. I think with Mueller in there, there is a better chance
before this is out, we`ll know what`s in those Donald Trump taxes.
TUR: We will see. That`s quite a tease to say. Thank you so much.
MELBER: Katy, I don`t know if you notice, but.
TUR: Ari, hold on, I got to go. I`m getting.
MELBER: . death and taxes are the only two things you can`t avoid.
TUR: Ari Melber, who always wants the last word.
TUR: Appreciate it. Guys, thank you very much. Up next, senators, they`re
just like us.
TUR: In case you missed it, senators, they`re just like us. A photographer
snapped a few shots today. Republican senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse
shooting the breeze with their colleagues. The pictures show a side of the
senate we don`t often see on C-SPAN, oh they`re funny. They hang out in
workout clothes. They chat outside their office when they`re supposed to be
inside doing work.
A couple of senators had some fun with the shots on Twitter. Ben Sasse
twitted, “holy moly, it looks like Senator Schumer and I are smoking reefer
outside of a wedding.” Look at Senator Schumer there. And Schumer
responded, “well, that escalated quickly.”
That`s all tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more “MTP Daily.” Hopefully
some more funny pictures of senators hanging around in workout clothes
shooting the breeze. I`m Katy Tur. You can catch me at 2:00 every day. “For
the Record” with Greta starts right now. Hi, Greta.
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