MTP Daily, Transcript 5/22/2017
Show: MTP DAILY
Date: May 22, 2017
Guest: Zerlina Maxwell, Beth Fouhy, Aditi Roy, Rubin Wright, Ken Dilanian, Nick Akerman, Kasie Hunt, Karoun Demirjian, Kelly O`Donnell, Dave Brat, Elise Jordan
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicole. Thank you so much.
And if it`s Monday, 5:00 p.m. means breaking news.
(voice-over): Tonight, reports that the House Oversight Committee has documents proving Michael Flynn lied to investigators.
Plus, baggage claim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word, Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Why the president`s trip abroad isn`t giving him enough distance from his political baggage at home.
And after Flynn invokes the fifth amendment, we are counting down to the top five times President Trump has not pleaded the fifth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fifth amendment. Horrible, horrible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.
(on camera): Good evening and welcome to MTP DAILY. I`m Chris Jansing in New York in for Chuck Todd.
President Trump is on his first foreign trip but that doesn`t mean he left his problems in Washington.
We have breaking news right now about ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. The House Oversight Committee`s ranking member, Democrat Elijah Cummings, is sending a letter to Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz, saying the committee has documents that indicate Flynn lied to investigators when he was renewing his security clearance.
What about? Well, according to the letter, Flynn told investigators, he was paid by U.S. companies when he traveled to Moscow in December of 2015. That was the trip where he was pictured dining with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The committee says Flynn`s payment actually came from the Russian state media company, R.T.
Now separately, a U.S. official with direct knowledge told NBC that Flynn left blank a line on his security clearance form, asking him to disclose any business relationships or transactions with foreign entities.
Meantime, earlier today, we learned that Flynn will not testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. His lawyer confirming late today that Flynn plans to plead the fifth.
All this breaking news comes at the end of the day when President Trump hoped to turn page. A day of historic photo ops for Mr. Trump, including becoming the first sitting president to visit the western wall.
This White House is in desperate need of a change of narrative, after two weeks of bombshell negative headlines here at home. And despite what had been a mostly smooth trip so far, those problems at home are still tripping up the president.
In an earlier meeting with Netanyahu today, it was the president, himself, who brought up another one of the stories that are still dogging him in Washington, that he divulged classified information to Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name, Israel. Never mentioned it during that conversation. (INAUDIBLE.) So, you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word, Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: But no one ever accused the president of talking about Israel with the Russians. National security advisor, H.R. McMaster, in fact, told reporters last week that President Trump didn`t even know where the information he divulged came from because he was never briefed on the source.
Again and again, we`ve seen this presidency plagued by crisis after crisis, almost all of it has been of Mr. Trump`s own making.
We are covering this breaking story from every angle. NBC News Congressional correspondent, Kasie Hunt, is on Capitol Hill for us. Kelly O`Donnell is traveling with the president in Jerusalem. Karoun Demirjian is defense and foreign policy reporter at “The Washington Post.” Ken Dilanian covers national security for NBC News. He`s here in New York, as is Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who was an assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York.
So, thanks to all of you for being here. Let me start with you, Ken. What`s this letter about?
KEN DILANIAN, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Chris, this letter talks about Michael Flynn`s trip to Moscow in 2015. And then, what happened afterwards when he was reapplying for his security clearance from January to April 2016. Investigators asked him about that trip and other business transactions, and he claimed that it was funded by U.S. companies.
When, in fact, we know now, it was funded by Russian state media, R.T. He was paid $45,000 of which he received personally $35,000. So, to House Democrats, it`s pretty clear that he lied.
And this isn`t the only misstatement. There`s also a security clearance form where you`re asked to list your foreign business transactions and relationships. And, according to our sources, he left that blank, Chris.
JANSING: So, the other part of this is that there is a suggestion – he wasn`t really paid by the Russians. He was paid by the speaker`s bureau, even though they got money from the Russians. The pushback in this letter, by Elijah Cummings, is he also got air fare. He also got hotel that was directly paid, right, by the Russians?
[17:05:00] DILANIAN: Absolutely. I mean, that doesn`t fast laugh test. And when he did an interview about this in July 2016 with “The Washington Post,” he admitted that he got paid for this trip by R.T., as well as his speaker`s bureau.
And, you know, he`s talked about having dinner with Vladimir Putin and wanting to convey – wanting to work with the Russians about ISIS. But it was very clear what was going on.
JANSING: Nick, even if it doesn`t pass the laugh test, does it pass the legal test? If he says, I wasn`t paid by the Russians. The check I got came from the speaker`s bureau, is that going to fly?
NICK AKERMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Not at all. I mean, he still should have reported it. It should have been on that form. Even if you think, in your own mind, for some reason, that maybe it didn`t really come from the Russian government, even though R.T. is owned by the Russian government, he still should have put it down on that form.
And it`s all part of a pattern that we`ve seen over the last few months. He lied to the FBI when he was interviewed about the meeting with the Russian ambassador. He said – he never said anything about the sanctions, of the Obama sanctions.
So, I mean, this is a guy who has a real problem with the truth. And all of that can be put together in a criminal prosecution.
JANSING: So, this is a legal problem for him.
JANSING: Let me go to Kasie Hunt. As we said, Kasie, the letter came from Elijah Cummings. Sent it to Jason Chaffetz. Do we know, A, has anybody heard from Chaffetz? Number one. And, number two, what`s the next step here?
KASIE HUNT, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, Chris, we know that Chaffetz is still in Utah and he`s going to make his way to D.C. late tonight. We`ve actually been, kind of, following what he`s been up to today because he had been expecting a call from James Comey, the former FBI director, about whether or not Comey might be willing to testify in front of the Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
So, at this point, we don`t have reaction to him or from him on this particular issue. Of course, continuing to keep an eye out for that. There has been, you know, at times, tension but also cooperation between Cummings and Chaffetz on this issue. They have, at some turns, gone to microphones together, giving joint presentations around things that relate to Michael Flynn.
But at times when it has touched the Trump administration in a way that was potentially problematic for Republicans and for supporters of the president, you`ve sometimes seen the two of them split. And that would seem to be the case here. Simply because Cummings put out this letter independently.
And what we haven`t also seen is, of course, the document itself that they are referring to. This report of investigation from those who were clearing Michael Flynn. And, of course, that form that you have to fill out for that clearance has been, kind of, at the heart of a lot of this discussion, whether or not we can actually see it.
So far, that hasn`t been the case. It has not been produced. The White House had said, hey, sorry, we can`t give you that.
Then, there were reports that he hadn`t actually filled out a separate application and that – and this might indicate that, of course, the most recent time where there was – an inquiry was when, as Ken noted, he went to renew this clearance.
So, still trying to see what the next turn will take here on this, but it does seem to be yet another small piece of information in an ever-growing pile of potential problems here – Chris.
JANSING: Karoun Demirjian, you wrote today about the fact that Flynn had decided to plead the fifth. Now, there`s an actual letter out from his lawyer explaining it. Tell us about it.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, basically, what Flynn had been asked to do by the Senate Intelligence Committee – there`s two committees that are involved with Flynn news today. They had wanted him to produce a list of all the contacts that he had with any Russian officials, going back over a period of 18 months. And they also wanted any documents that were related to those conversations.
And his lawyers responded today saying, we`re not going to do that. We`re not going to let our client do that because he has a right against self-incrimination. They cited the fact that now Robert Mueller is pursuing the probe as special counsel. That wasn`t the case when the committee first requested the documents.
They also said, look, you know, fine, normally the fifth amendment applies to testimony. But by these conversations or making that list by producing these documents, it`s acknowledging that those conversations existed if we did that.
And that it`s a testimonial act and so that`s why they`re saying they have the grounds to say no. He`s not going to incriminate himself when there`s this other probe going on and he asked for immunity before and wasn`t given it.
JANSING: We should say, Nick, taking the fifth doesn`t mean you`re guilty of anything. That`s important to point out.
JANSING: Having said that, is anybody surprised that he`s decided to do this?
AKERMAN: Not at all. I mean, if I were his defense lawyer, I would tell him to do the exact same thing.
Keep in mind, if this was a civil case, the jury could infer guilt from taking the fifth. It`s only in the criminal system that we do not permit the jury to infer guilt from somebody being silent under the fifth amendment privilege. What you`re saying when you take the fifth is that I refuse to answer the question because a truthful answer would tend to be incriminating.
JANSING: In the meantime, Kelly O`Donnell, who has been with the president today – has there been any reaction from senior officials there to all of this that has been happening as they`re trying to turn the page away from all of the Russia controversies?
[17:10:11] KELLY O`DONNELL, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: No, it`s as if we`re in a separate orbit here as the president is on his first overseas trip, Chris. And, as would you expect, the White House is trying to minimize the intrusion, if you will, of the problems left behind in Washington for at least a respite as the president is pursuing foreign policy goals and relationships here.
So, no comments about it. And part of way they`ve been able to do that is to not have what would be traditional and expected opportunities for the president to take questions from the media traveling with him or the media of the host country, where he is visiting when we were in Saudi Arabia and now here in Israel.
That did not happen and certainly the kinds of questions that might have followed from back in Washington and the various controversies that have been swirling around the administration could have easily been put to the president.
The closest we have seen is that Benjamin Netanyahu anticipating these questions, offered up unsolicited, it appeared, we could not discern a question in the group of reporters who were in what became a very noisy exit from a handshake photo opportunity where he said, the prime minister, that the intelligence sharing is terrific. The cooperation is good between the U.S. and Israel.
Implicit in that was a, sort of, comment on the president`s own, sort of, stumble by speaking with the Russian foreign minister and the ambassador about intelligence in an Oval Office meeting that we later learned, separately learned, was derived from Israeli intelligence. The president speaking out saying he never mentioned Israel is about as close as we`ve seen from those problems back home interfering in the trip.
But, obviously, the framework of all of this is the journalists who cover him all the time. And the leaders he`s interacting with all know these problems are out there for President Trump. But he`s trying live in the moment with each of the events.
It`s after midnight here in Israel so this day is in the books. Tomorrow, he will visit with Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian authority. They`ll visit the holocaust museum, the Israel museum, and their other events.
And that`s where their focus has been. And they`ve been able to, for the structure of this trip, with important photo ops and important meetings and important gestures and symbols of interaction, keep some of that at bay – Chris.
JANSING: And even as we`re not hearing from the White House, maybe not surprisingly given all of this, Elijah Cummings does, Ken, address what the president has said in the past, what President Trump has said in the past about all of this controversy about whether or not Flynn was honest or, you know, who gave him the security clearance. He laid it directly on the doorstep of Barack Obama something Elijah Cummings says just doesn`t hold water here.
DILANIAN: Well, that`s exactly the point of today`s developments. Today`s developments would explode that argument that, hey, the Obama administration gave this guy a clearance so why are you questioning us about vetting him?
Well, if he misrepresented this key fact about this trip – and, by the way, the Pentagon is also investigating whether he should have gotten permission, separately, to be paid by Russia.
If Mike Flynn misrepresented to security clearance investigators, it throws the whole thing into question. Of course, you could question why they didn`t get to the bottom of it and how good are the security clearance vetters in this government? That`s a question that this raises as well.
JANSING: But that was a separate level of clearance under the Obama administration that he would need, taking this position –
DILANIAN: Absolutely right.
JANSING: – in the – in the Trump administration.
Let me go back to Kasie Hunt. Kasie, I understand you have some new breaking information.
HUNT: We have this new statement, Chris, just in the last minute or so, from Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner of the Senate Intelligence Committee, reacting to General Flynn`s decision to invoke the fifth amendment and not respond to their subpoena asking for documents.
And they say – I`m just going to read it to you because it`s pretty short. Quote, “While we recognize General Flynn`s constitutional right to invoke the fifth amendment, we`re disappointed he`s chosen to disregard the committee`s subpoena request for documents relevant and necessary to our investigation.
And here`s the key part, Chris. They say, quote, “We will vigorously pursue General Flynn`s testimony and his production of any and all pertinent materials pursuant to the committee`s authority.”
So, it sounds like they are not going to drop this, at this point. It`s important to point out, they had not actually subpoenaed General Flynn`s appearance before the committee. They had simply asked for these documents.
And in the letter from his lawyer saying that he was going to invoke the fifth, they spent a good chunk of time trying to, kind of, explain or justify that producing these documents would be the equivalent of testifying.
That, of course, if you look into the particulars of the fifth amendment, they, essentially, seemed as though they needed to prove that this would amount to him testifying against himself. The simple production of the documents that they had asked for.
[17:15:00] So, we`ll see if the committee is now going to go back and, again, subpoena him to appear in person and how they might respond to something like that – Chris.
JANSING: All right. So, we get a response to that. What do you make of it?
AKERMAN: Well, what I make of it is it`s a lot of hog wash. These are business records. There is no fifth amendment privilege that attaches to business records. He has to produce those.
If these were personal diaries, personal notations, thoughts, sure, he`d have a fifth amendment privilege. But these are business records that have to be produced. These are the records that were part of the White House, part of what was submitted to the Department of Justice as part of this whole process.
DILANIAN: But the problem, Chris, I`ve been talking to Senate aides all day about this, is that it would require the Republicans and Mitch McConnell to enforce this. The vote to go to court to enforce this subpoena and people think that`s very unlikely.
JANSING: That that`s not going to happen.
Let me go – one last question to you, Karoun, because while all this is happening and while we keep saying that the president has the rest of the week on a foreign trip, he would like the focus to be there, one more development that`s worth mentioning. That is that James Comey, who is going to potentially testify before a couple of different committees, now apparently is going to talk to special prosecutor Mueller before he figures out what he can and cannot say. Right?
DEMIRJIAN: Well, yes, there`s all kinds of questions here about what remains classified or where are the various investigations going to trip over each other? And that`s, kind of, the underwriting thing for all of these – all of these witnesses that have been asked to appear, have to decide whether or not they`re going to appear and have to decide what they are and are not going to say.
And just – and just one more comment on the Flynn`s memo thing – actually, the Flynn document`s thing. Part of it, certainly, is asking for documents that already exist, that may have been recorded. And then, it is a question of documents that exist, having to prove those.
But also, part of the request from the committee was for him to make list of other calls that happened. And that`s the part that they are more strenuously argument, his lawyers are more strenuously arguing.
It`s kind of like keeping a diary and kind of like testimony which kind of throws us into a strange middle ground where it`s not an absolutely hard and fast line because it`s a combination of things that they were asking for.
JANSING: I knew I should have gone to law school. Karoun, thank you. Kasie, Kelly, Ken, Nick, thanks to all of you.
Up next, we`ll get reaction to this breaking news on the Flynn investigation from Republican Congressman Dave Brat.
And we`ve rounded up five times President Trump has taken a stand against invoking the fifth amendment.
Stay with us.
JANSING: Welcome back.
As we said, just one of the breaking stories tonight. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn will invoke his fifth amendment right in response to a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
On the campaign trail, candidate Trump slammed the use of the fifth amendment when commenting on, of course, Hillary Clinton`s staffers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you have your staff taking the fifth amendment, taking the fifth so they`re not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the fifth, I think it is disgraceful.
[17:20:00] Fifth amendment. The mob takes the fifth. If you`re innocent, why are you taking the fifth amendment?
Fifth amendment. Horrible. Horrible.
He pleaded the fifth and that was the end. We never heard about him again.
This is like Watergate. Only it`s worse because here, our foreign enemies were in a position to hack our most sensitive national security secrets.
JANSING: Welcome back.
Republicans on Capitol Hill are preparing for a big week of legislative work from health care to the budget and the last thing the party needs is for their president to become more of a liability, especially as multiple Russia investigations threaten to take focus away from their priorities.
Joining me now, Republican Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia. Good to see you Congressman. And I want to start with the breaking news just this hour that Elijah Cummings released this letter.
He said there are documents in possession of the Oversight Committee that indicate – that appear to indicate, I should say, that Michael Flynn lied to investigators who interviewed him in 2016 as part of his security clearance. If there is evidence of that, and we haven`t heard from Chairman Chaffetz yet, but does this need to be pursued?
REP. DAVE BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: Yes, sure. I mean, there`s a lot of qualifiers and ifs in there. And I taught ethics for years and, sure, if the evidence is there, we need to do that.
But it is important to note that Alan Dershowitz, a civil liberties Harvard scholar, has said, so far, there`s no evidence that would lead to indictment of Trump or the administration, over the weekend.
And so, it – there`s a lot of – people have reported a lot of smoke. But let`s just follow the evidence and go in order. And Alan Dershowitz, I applaud him for standing up for the rule of law so solidly.
JANSING: Well, in February, “Politico” reported that you said this. There is no allegation of wrongdoing with Michael Flynn, when you were asked if you`d support an independent probe into former national security advisor`s firing.
NBC has reported that he is a subject of an FBI investigation. And with all this news today, the allegations of wrongdoing continue. Is there something else to be looked at here, in terms of vetting?
BRAT: I trust you guys. We have a pretty good system in the country. Senator Mark Warner is head or one of the heads on the Senate Intelligence investigation. So, you have partisan incentives. You`ve got the main stream press looking for evidence. And so far, I mean, “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post” have been coming out with unsourced documents.
So, I`m just waiting for – show me the evidence. And we – you – we`re a nation of laws, not of men. Anyone that`s guilty is guilty. And if you go back to Comey on the – on the Clinton server, et cetera, he basically laid out felony charges and said you need intent. It turns out you don`t need intent.
And so, I didn`t hear the same amount of reporting on the $2 billion in the Clinton Foundation, et cetera, raised, some of them, from foreign sources. While she was secretary of state, there wasn`t the same aggressiveness.
And so, let`s just wait until the evidence comes in. That`s the way the nation`s set up. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We should pursue the law vigorously for every person. But that`s just, I think, common sense, the way the American people like to see it.
JANSING: Do you have a sense of concern, though, Congressman, that so much of this, and obviously if someone who was appointed by the president of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, decided that there was a need for a special prosecutor, there has to be at least some there, there if he came to that conclusion. We`re seeing this, some would say, deluge.
You could call it a drip, drip, drip, drip, depending on your perspective. But there seems to be some breaking news with evidence almost every day. How much is this affecting your ability to get done what you want to get done? And how concerned are you about how this is being viewed abroad as the president makes this very important first foreign trip?
[17:25:01] BRAT: Yes, a lot to unpack in that series of questions. With respect to is there a there there? Dershowitz, Harvard, proudly voted for Hillary, says there`s no there there.
JANSING: Well, but that`s a single – that`s a single comment –
JANSING: – on a single issue, previously.
BRAT: Yes, but he also said –
JANSING: And he – and he is not obviously the final –
BRAT: Yes, you have about 40 seconds of questions here so I`m just giving you a response to what you said, is there a there there?
JANSING: Well, I didn`t ask you if there was any there there. What I said was that there was a determination by Rod Rosenstein that there was enough there there that he appointed special prosecutor.
BRAT: Yes, that`s doesn`t – and he – with – specifically with respect to that story, he said there`s a lot of people covering their reputations. And he went down the list. And there`s too much people covering their reputations instead of providing the there there. And that`s important to the rule of law.
So, he said, so far, there`s no there there. This is someone who proudly voted for Hillary. Too many people protecting reputations instead of following the evidence. So far, we have not seen the evidence. He said there is no statute you can name and that`s what you need to do.
So, when you`ve got someone of that stature on civil liberties grounds saying no statute has been violated yet at all. That`s where the bar should be. He got it right. We all should pursue vigorously.
JANSING: So, if Alan Dershowitz changes his tune on that, you`ll go with him?
JANSING: He`s your level of who you`re going to trust for all things legal.
BRAT: No, no, no, no. I trust any of you. If you, right now, can tell me what statute has been violated, I`m listening. Can you name a statute that`s been violated?
JANSING: Well, I can read to you, from the letter from Elijah Cummings, if you want to go there. But I`m not a lawyer. I don`t – I don`t want to get into that detail.
BRAT: Right, yes.
JANSING: How concerned are you about what you`re able to get done on the Hill?
BRAT: Right. No, that`s right.
JANSING: How concerned are you about what the president is able to get done abroad?
BRAT: Yes. No, that`s – the key for the American people right now is economic growth. Tax cuts are one means to achieve economic growth that will provide Americans with more median income and more jobs. That`s what we`re all waiting for.
So, you`re right. The distractions. We need to get away from it. The White House needs to tighten the messaging so that we can move on. Finish up health care. Go to tax reform. Get the economy growing at three or four percent again.
Kennedy achieved it. Kennedy did supply side tax cuts. Lowered the corporate rate. Got the economy moving. Reagan did the same thing. The American people are waiting for that. The business sector is waiting for that.
And if we do that, everyone will be happy again. We can move beyond some of the drama. And that, I think, is good news we all agree on.
JANSING: Congressman Brat, good to see you. Thank you.
BRAT: You too.
JANSING: And if Alan Dershowitz wants to cut a T.V. ad, we know where he can get some of (INAUDIBLE) from.
BRAT: Yes, thank you.
JANSING: Well, let me bring in tonight`s panel. Beth Fouhy, Senior Politics Editor for NBC News and MSNBC. Zerlina Maxwell, Director of Progressive Politics for SeriusXM and former director of progressive media for the Clinton campaign. Elise Jordan is an NBC News political analyst and a former adviser to Senator Rand Paul`s presidential campaign. You two are a Republican. Do you take all of your legal advice from Alan Dershowitz?
ELISE JORDAN, POLITICAL ANALYST, NBC NEWS: Certainly not. And certainly not – you know, Alan Dershowitz isn`t on the inside. He hasn`t seen all the evidence at hand. And so, just kind of blindly saying, I`ll follow anything that – you know, certainly an esteemed lawyer says, it baffles me.
JANSING: He is an esteemed lawyer. We will give him that.
JORDAN: Yes. But someone who`s – didn`t he defend Jeffrey Epstein? I mean, I – you know, this is not necessarily a lawyer that I`m going to just go –
JANSING: He was on the O.J. dream team.
Let`s talk about the breaking news though, because you have Elijah Cummings –
JANSING: – who is making this push now. He says, look, we have evidence that suggests that he lied. That he lied about a couple different things. But is this, do you think, just a little bit of grand standing knowing that he`s not going to get anywhere with it? Or is there, and I`m afraid to use this term now, some there there?
JORDAN: Do you care if I interrupt?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, go.
JORDAN: That`s because this is really topical right now. So, my late husband, Michael Hastings, in his 2011 book about, you know, General McChrystal and his gang of operators who surrounded him, notedly Mike Flynn, he reported that Mike Flynn said, then in 2010, that he had lied to get his security clearance.
So, this is not anything new. This has been out there. This – and, actually, everyone should watch the movie based on the book that`s going to be on Netflix –
JORDAN: – on Friday. But this is not – this – the problems with Mike Flynn and his credibility have been out there in the open for many years. So, this is – I mean, this goes with Michael`s reporting.
JANSING: But for the Congress to say – because they have all been saying, we`re going to get to the bottom of this. You just heard a Congressman say, we ought to follow evidence where it goes. Is this evidence that needs to be followed?
ZERLINA MAXWELL, DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE POLITICS, SERIUSXM: Yes, absolutely. I think there`s a number of different places in which Mike Flynn is clearly vulnerable, based on reporting and based on facts that we know now.
What we don`t know, though, is what conversation – what was the con – the content of the conversations he was having with the Russians before the camp – before the election, after the election, before the inauguration, and subsequently after that?
And so he has a number of different places where he`s vulnerable. I think that his attorneys are being really smart here in that they`re invoking the fifth amendment as a released document as opposed to coming forward in terms of testimony.
What I think they`re going to come up against is the congress can actually hold him in contempt and he can still end up in legal trouble if he doesn`t come and testify before the congress or hand over the documents. So, I think there are still really relevant legal questions that are going to come up.
And I would not want to be on TV declaring that there`s no there, there at this stage because we don`t know yet. There are a lot of details now that we do know that are very problematic for the White House and for Mike Flynn personally.
CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We don`t know where this is going, that`s for sure, but we know it has been a distraction for the president, we know this has been a destruction for this White House.
And then today when everything seemed to be going pretty well for the president, he was sticking to script, there are a lot of great photo ops right where he had the ability to look presidential, unasked, no question was asked. He comes out with, I want to say that I never said in the meeting with the Russians, Israel. No one ever said he said Israel.
BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: And not only that, Chris. By even doing what he did, he basically acknowledged that there was that intelligence breach that had been reported. So while Trump was up there saying, you guys got story wrong, I never said Israel, but the story was that the president breached, had that intelligence breach and shared what he shouldn`t have shared.
The president today in President Netanyahu`s presence acknowledged that. That to me was the takeaway. Not only that, but earlier in the day, Rex Tillerson had a press conference on the plane where he said there would be no apology forthcoming to the Israelis because of the intelligence breach. Again, acknowledging the intelligence breach.
So now we all know that that conversation did in fact take place in the White House and so much of the push back that took place last week from the president staff and others basically evaporated because the president and his secretary of state have now said that it did take place.
JANSING: Elise, can they get their messaging together?
ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, not as long as Donald Trump is at the helm running the operation. We`ve seen repeatedly throughout the campaign, he would manage to get on message for a week or two, and he would read from the teleprompter. You could see the correlation with his poll numbers and then he goes off the message just as quickly as he stay on it. So I think that as long as Donald Trump is commanding his operation and he is ultimately in charge of his communications, he is going to keep veering off track.
MAXWELL: They also have to stick to the truth because if you stick to the truth and you come out with what actually happened, you are not going to find yourself having to walk back an explanation that fell apart.
JANSING: Zerlina, Beth, Elise, thanks to all of you. Stick around. Coming up, we`re going to dive further into the president`s trip abroad. Keep it right here.
JANSING: Welcome back. More breaking news right now. “The Washington Post” reporting that President Trump is moving toward hiring outside counsel to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign. We are going to have a lot more on that ahead. Plus, the president`s foreign policy focus gets fuzzy. But first, Aditi Roy has the “CNBC Market Wrap.”
ADITI ROY, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER FOR CNBC: Thanks, Chris. The markets ending in positive territory as President Trump continues his first foreign trip. The Dow closing up nearly 90 points, the S&P gaining 12, and the Nasdaq rising 50. Ford is replacing CEO Mark Fields who has been under fire for slumping profits and a lag in high-tech vehicle development. Jim Hackett who headed up the company`s self-driving car division is now taking the helm. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.
JANSING: Welcome back. Amid all the breaking news here at home tonight, in Israel today, the president is trying to do what so many of his he predecessors have attempted, to begin working toward a peace deal in the region. An effort he (inaudible) at his joint appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ve heard it is one the of toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we`re going to get there eventually. I hope.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Mr. Trump will meet tomorrow with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to further discuss the peace process. The two met earlier this month when Mr. Abbas came to Washington. Israel is the second stop on the president`s trip. His first was Saudi Arabia where he called on Arab leaders to unite against terrorism.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this earth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Robin Wright is the joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a contributing writer to “The New Yorker.” Good to see you. Good afternoon.
ROBIN WRIGHT, JOINT FELLOW AT U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE AND THE WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS, CONTRIBUTING WRITER FOR THE NEW YORKER: Great to be with you.
JANSING: It was interesting to hear the way Rex Tillerson described the president`s views on Islam. He said they are evolving. He went from a candidate who said, I think Islam hates us, to now he is saying, Islam is not – we`re not here to tell other people how to live their lives. There was a lot of stage craft. In terms of messaging, are we seeing a more moderate President Trump?
WRIGHT: Well, that`s a big question. This is a man who on this issue of Saudi Arabia charged that they threw gays off buildings and enslaved women when he was a candidate. Now he is talking about doing mega deals with the Saudis and having them be the cornerstone of a counter extremist or counter terrorist message, to be the headquarters of new global counter terrorism center, and to help build a coalition, a kind of Arab NATO to deal with Islamic extremism.
So what we don`t know is whether he has abandoned the phrase, radical Islamic terrorism, whether he has moved on and whether he is really willing to embrace the idea of doing business with the very parties that he once was most critical of.
JANSING: In the meantime, Robin, since you mentioned mega deal, let`s talk about Middle East peace, about which he said today, there are new reasons for hope. Are there?
WRIGHT: Well, it is very hard to see how he is going to overcome the same problems that previous presidents have had including the issue of borders, just what happens to the settlements. What are the boundaries of a new Palestinian state? And even bigger question of the status of Jerusalem, is it the eternal Jewish capital? Do the Palestinians get to impart of its territory for their own capital?
These are issues that have been obstacles to many of his predecessors and it is hard to see how the current leadership in either Israel or the Palestinian authority are going to break new ground. There is always hope that there is movement on the peace process. But President Trump`s claim that this is a process not quite as difficult as others have described it may not prove to be true.
JANSING: What do you make of his visit to the western wall, obviously praised by Bibi Netanyahu although he did not go with him there? Some people have said, this is not the move of someone who really wants to be able to broker a peace deal between these two sides.
WRIGHT: Remember, he is also going to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. This whole tour is crafted around seeing the three great Abrahamic faiths. He goes next to the Vatican. He needed to do something. He had hoped to get to Mossad and give a speech there. This is a site that is sacred to the Israelis both as a religious and a nationalist site dating back more than two millennia.
But because of the antiquities, it was difficult for him to get approval for his helicopters to land there. So the wailing wall was an obvious alternative. I think this was a symbol and it doesn`t reflect anything more than that.
JANSING: In our last 30 seconds, let me ask you what to expect tomorrow for his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas.
WRIGHT: Well, I think he is trying on orchestrate a meeting between two leaders who have not seen each other a long time, at least to talk significantly. I think he hopes to bring together a meeting. Whether that will then herald something bigger of course is a much more difficult question to answer. I would not be optimistic.
JANSING: Robin Wright, always good to see you, thanks.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
JANSING: We`ll have more on all today`s breaking news on the Russia investigations. House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz tweeting just moments ago. Spoke with Comey. He wants to speak with special counsel prior to public testimony. Hearing Wednesday postponed. We`ll be right back.
JANSING: Welcome back. It is special election week in Montana. A race for sole representative in the house. Democratic musician turned politician Rob Quist looking to score an upset over Republican business Greg Gianforte on Thursday. Recently, Chuck talked to Montana`s Democratic Governor Steve Bullock who defeated Gianforte in gubernatorial race in November. Chuck asked the governor about Quist`s odds on Thursday.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, “MEET THE PRESS DAILY” SHOW HOST: Why do you think Democrats actually have a shot here?
STEVE BULLOCK, GOVERNOR OF MONTANA: I mean, Rob Quist is about as Montana as Montana can come. He is raised in a small town called Cut Bank. You know, he has been in every corner of this 147,000 square mile state. Not just campaigning but it is his life, as an entertainer. He ran into health problems quite a while ago.
He has lived that world of sort of the challenges that people have and Montanans can relate to that. Greg Gianforte who I ran against, he put in $6 million of his own in my race. More ads were run than anywhere else in a governor`s race. I think that when you look at sort of who is going to fight for main street Montana, it`s Rob Quist.
TODD: All right. But for Rob Quist to win, he`ll have to win Trump voters. How is he going to do it?
BULLOCK: How did I win Trump voters?
TODD: How do you think you won?
BULLOCK: I think in part, showing up. In part, talking about the public good versus narrow self interest. In a state like Montana, one of our great equalizers is public lands. It doesn`t matter how (inaudible), you can enjoy those. Another is public education. It gives everybody an opportunity.
Another is making sure to fight for some of those values that aren`t unique to Montana, but are actually so, so important of saying I want a fair tax system. I want an economy where everybody can get ahead. And that`s why more Rob Quist (inaudible).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: A lot of people watching that election. You can catch Chuck`s entire interview with Governor Bullock on our website, meetthepress.com. We`ll be right back.
JANSING: It is time for “The Lid.” Let`s bring back our panel; Beth Fouhy, Zerlina Maxwell, Elise Jordan. Shockingly, another piece of breaking news. It comes to us via “The Washington Post” which is locked in a deathmatch with “The New York Times.”
This one says that Trump is close. In fact, there`s a list of possible lawyers for his legal team and not just one lawyer that looking at potentially hiring a team of lawyers, including Elise Jordan, Ted Olson. What do you make of it?
JORDAN: That Ted Olson would want any part of this is kind of surprising to me just because he has such a stellar reputation. Although, he would be outside counsel, the Trump White House is where Republican reputations go to die these days.
We`ve seen all the trouble that people have by hinging their credibility with this president and how he undercuts their own credibility. Whatever his moment – his morning tweet storm decides to be. It is interesting that he`s choosing to pursue this.
JANSING: When you look at somebody who would be sort of the ultimate Washington insider, right, somebody who goes back to Reagan and (inaudible), Ted Olson would have to be at the top of the list.
FOUHY: Yeah, I mean, it`s a very smart move actually if the Trump White House does this. Ted Olson has got a great reputation. He was one of the lawyers on Bush V. Gore of course in 2000. One of the historic Supreme Court case that gave us George W. Bush as the president. Then went on and paired up with the same lawyer he fought against in Bush V. Gore to go and see that same sex marriage become legalized in the Supreme Court.
He`s kind of run the gamut on huge cases in Washington. He`s an affable guy. People like him. We were talking about the communication problems that this White House has. Basically, one of these outside counsels in these type of situations ends up being a P.R. representative as much as possible. And Olson is so well-respected, yes.
Republican reputations do take a beating right now in the White House. But as long as he stays outside, chooses his battles, speaks for the president authoritatively and speaks for the overall White House, he is really going to help Trump, if Trump could kind of keep his mouth shut and not tweet.
JANSING: But the worse nightmare of any lawyer as you well know, Zerlina, is somebody who won`t listen to you…
JANSING: … when you say to him or her, shut up.
MAXWELL: I think that`s the challenge for anyone working in the orbit of Donald Trump right now. I think that going forward, it`s going to be really interesting to see who he puts on his team of lawyers. If it`s a Ted Olson.
I do think that would be a smart choice. It would be a surprising choice but it is smart. I think that – one of the things I`m thinking when I hear that they`re trying to get a team of lawyers is, didn`t you tell us that this was all a hoax and not a real story?
JANSING: Somebody who, frankly, he is incredibly litigious and he is used to being around lawyers, right? I mean, this isn`t like something shocking for him.
JORDAN: He needs a lot of lawyers.
MAXWELL: Smart but signals that they`re taking it seriously, as they should.
JANSING: In the meantime, we`ve been talking about all of this, his ruling here in the United States is affecting what he`s doing overseas. Argument can be made based on just one of the comments that he made today that he is making a lot of problems of his own by saying, for example, I never said Israel in that meeting with Russia.
And though no one said he ever said Russia, but now we have this. When he sat down one-on-one in front of cameras with the president of Israel. Take a listen.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Just got back from the Middle East, we just got back from Saudi Arabia, and we were treated incredibly well. And there`s tremendous well, really good feeling toward Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Well, Twitter is having quite a time with this one. When he`s sitting in Israel and he said I just got back from the Middle East.
JORDAN: Maybe he sees the relationship as so warm that it`s also the homeland.
FOUHY: You know, I`m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. He`s probably tired. It was…
JANSING: They said he`s exhausted. When he said Islamist and Islamic and mixed them up, he said look, this is a guy who is exhausted. But again, to your point, this is a problem you could argue of his own staff`s making. They are the people who decided to land and hit the ground running. They didn`t get there ahead of time. They didn`t have downtime…
FOUHY: Right. And he doesn`t have much of a diplomatic presence yet establishing in these countries with the exception of Israel. But at the same time, Chris, to your earlier point, I do think that yes, that he stepped in it when he talked about I didn`t speak about Israel.
But the rest of the trip thus far has been a pretty good trip for Trump. The Saudis just bent over backwards to say how wonderful he was. There was a 125-foot projection of Trump`s face on the side of the hotel where he was staying.
JANSING: Everywhere they went, there were billboards of him, pictures of Trump.
MAXWELL: That is exactly what Donald Trump loves, is people praising him. I do think that there are some hurdles for him to overcome when you`re meeting with the allies because there`s a lot of tense that a lot of those comments that he makes in these closed door meetings that are off color or typical Trump will be leaked to the press and will embarrass the president.
I do think that coming up, he has a few more challenges in terms of this foreign trip than he had so far in Saudi Arabia and Israel.
JANSING: Let`s hope they put in some time for sleep. This is a daunting trip. There is no doubt about it. Beth, Elise, Zerlina, thanks to all of you. Next, a big headline out of the Supreme Court that you might just have missed in the flurry of breaking news. Keep it here.
JANSING: In case you missed it, it`s business as usual for at least one of the branches of government. The Supreme Court gave a major victory to voting right advocates ruling today that North Carolina illegally relied on race when drawing two congressional districts.
But the high court found that the state packed African-American voters into the first and 12th congressional districts to minimize their influence statewide. That`s all for tonight. Chuck will be back tomorrow with more “MTP Daily.” “For the Record” with Greta starts now. Hi, Greta.
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