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For the Record with Greta, Transcript 4/14/2017

Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Richard Engel, Courtney Kube, Kelly O`Donnell, Scott Taylor, Kevin Barron

Show: For the Record with Greta Date: April 14, 2017 Guest: Barry McCaffrey, Richard Engel, Courtney Kube, Kelly O`Donnell, Scott Taylor, Kevin Barron

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, Chuck Todd. I am Chris Jansing in for Greta. Will the U.S. strike North Korea? It`s now 6:30AM in Pyongyang where the country is preparing to celebrate the day of the sun, the 105th birthday of the country`s founder and current leader Jim Jong-un`s grandfather. Now, those celebrations are traditionally marked with a show of force, and in a new interview, North Korea`s vice foreign minister warning President Trump, telling the A.P., we will go to war if they choose. Those comments after NBC News exclusively reported the U.S. is prepared to launch a strike against North Korea if that country is on the brink of yet another nuclear test. Satellite imagery suggests North Korea is preparing for its 6th test at the same site as the first five. And the U.S. navy has sent the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the waters off Korea. All this just one day after the U.S. dropped its largest nonnuclear bomb ever on ISIS forces in Afghanistan. Today, Afghanistan defense ministry said that strike killed 36 ISIS members, but no civilians were hurt. Let`s go to our panel now and break it all down, with me retired four-star general, Barry McCaffrey, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, NBC News national security producer, Courtney Kube, and NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell who is traveling with President Trump in West Palm Beach, Florida. OK, let me start with you, Richard, because you`ve been covering that part of the world for such a long time. How much of that statement, essentially, North Korea saying if Trump wants war, he`ll get war, how much of that is a real threat?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: Oh, I think it`s a very real threat. North Korea has missiles deployed all along its border. They are pointing at Seoul. And if North Korea feels that it is being attacked, that its grip on power is being threatened in any way, it will launch those missiles or launch some of those missiles. So, I think the U.S. needs to proceed with a great deal of caution here. If that report is, in fact, accurate and the U.S. plans to launch some sort of preemptive military strike, things could escalate very, very quickly and quite -- in a quite predictable way. North Korea feels threatened, it attacks Seoul, and then the entire Korean Peninsula goes up in flames. So, I think it is not a blank threat if they feel threatened

JANSING: And general, NBC is reporting that the U.S. is prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons if indeed they are convinced that this nuclear test is going to happen. What are the options and what do you see as the very real risks?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY FOUR-STAR GENERAL: Yeah, it`s never going to happen.

JANSING: Absolutely not?

MCCAFFREY: No, it`s not going to happen. The threat of North Korean nukes is a genuine one. And it`s unpredictable what Kim Jong-un will do. It`s not just that he`s young and untried and insecure in power. It`s also their rhetoric is so bellicose, so outrageous that at some point you`ve got to wonder do they believe it themselves. Certainly his generals may well. So, I think Richard Engel is entirely correct. Preemptive strike might well result in a massive artillery bombardment of the city of Seoul, for an example. And the North Koreans have a considerable number of diesel submarines which if they put to sea could be a real threat to the region. So, you know, I think appropriately we`re putting some military power behind an attempt to generate help from the Chinese. But we`ve got to build a defensive missile system in Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. navy in the region. These people are going to put the U.S. at great peril.

JANSING: And would the people on the military side of this, the other four-star generals, because we heard from the president when he was asked whether or not he had ordered that big bombing in Afghanistan. He said, you know, he`s given a lot of power to the generals. And we know before he struck in Syria there were a series of meetings over a 72-hour period. What you said to me is that exactly what you would expect the people in charge now in the military side to say to him?

MCCAFFREY: Yeah, I think so. By the way, I think the whole notion of, you know, have too much power been ceded to generals, I think -- we ended up toward the end of the Obama administration, the last three or four years, with grossly excessive micro management. You can`t run a 2.2 million person global force out of the White House situation room. But I think there`s a great deal of confidence in Secretary Mattis, appropriately, and Chairman Dunford and the field commanders, and they`re still under very tightly supervised rules of engagement. But I think they have been empowered to take tactical steps without going back to the White House situation room.

JANSING: Courtney, it is the Pentagon`s job that global force that the general just referenced to be ready for whatever military action any president may decide to order. So, tell us a little bit about the kinds of movements we`re seeing, whether they`re just to send a message or they`re really to get in place?

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS: Well, you mentioned the Carl Vinson strike group, which was already in the pacific region. It was headed towards Australia for some exercises and it`s actually still going to those exercises. It just canceled a port call. It will be heading off the coast of Korea in a little over a week, about a week and a half. The carrier group, as far as some sort of specific response to some sort of North Korean provocation, and aircraft carriers it`s not really the kind of asset you would bring in for that, that`s really more of a show of force. But the military has a significant presence already in the region, in Korea, in Japan, both at sea and on the ground. They do have some missile defense capability. There`s a THAAD System that has been partially deployed to South Korea. It`s not operational yet, and it won`t be operational until later this year. But that`s one reason that the U.S. militarily has been so -- working so hard and trying so desperately to get that THAAD System to South Korea, is this constant threat from North Korea and from the leader there who is so unpredictable, Chris.

JANSING: And meantime, you have former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta who spoke exclusively to MSNBC`s Andrea Mitchell earlier today. He warned against tough talk from the Trump administration against North Korea, especially if this is just that, tough talk. Let me play what he said.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: There`s no question that this is a tinder box, has been for a long time. But we`re at a time when there is the potential for provocation with the testing of this nuclear weapon. And, you know, obviously, the words from the administration are creating even higher volume in terms of the provocations that are going on. I think we`ve got to be careful here. This is -- you know, we shouldn`t engage in any precipitous action.


JANSING: I`m curious, Richard, what you think because, again, you`ve been following this region for a long time. You know the players including Kim Jong-un. What do you think his thoughts...


ENGEL: I don`t know Kim Jong-un. I`ve been to -- I wouldn`t say I know him personally. I`ve been to North Korea.


ENGEL: I`ve been to festivals like the one that is taking place in Korea - - in North Korea right now. And this is a very significant moment. North Korea has these festivals every once in a while on key dates and they like to display their military. They like to have military parades. They like to launch missiles on these momentous occasions. The question is will it just be that? Will the U.S. respond in some way? And I think you`re hearing a lot of people, you heard General Barry McCaffrey just saying that is never going to happen. You`re hearing the secretary, Panetta, saying it will be very unwise. I`ve spoken to U.S. officials today also who are sharing that point of view. They`re not anxious to get into some sort of shooting war provocation or launch some preemptive strike against North Korea, even if there was to be some nuclear test. So, some of this might be posturing, might be a way to try and pressure China to do more, but we will see if North Korea uses this day to do some sort of military action and then we`ll see if this Trump administration, which is also unpredictable, we always say Kim Jong-un is unpredictable, but this administration has proven to be not as unpredictable, but full of surprises, at least. We`ll see how it plays out. But from the officials I`ve been talking to in the administration, I don`t see that there is this great appetite for launching some sort of preemptive strike against Pyongyang.

JANSING: But, Kelly, what are you hearing from officials there, what is the White House saying about all of this?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC BEWS: Well, at the risk of sounding like an echo to our other guests, I am also hearing from White House officials things like the expectation of North Korea showing some display of military power and something that should not be a surprise. It`s expected. It`s cyclical. And not getting any response to the reporting about a preemptive strike. The White House is just not talking about that. And, of course, we have to consider the vice-president is headed to that region, and the likelihood that the president would take a provocative action that could even imperil his own vice-president who is be in Seoul just seems very hard to imagine. And, in fact, as Mike Pence who will be traveling to Asia, a long-planned trip, months in the planning, it will be an opportunity for him to talk to his counterparts around the world and in that region where it is crucial to get support and buy-in on the U.S. position toward North Korea, and looking to have support and to provide reassurance to South Korea that the U.S. is not going to act without South Korea`s interest. So, there is not much being said about this idea from the White House. Again, of course, we`re in Florida. The president is here for the Easter weekend. He spent some time at one of his golf clubs today. He is back at his Mar-a-Lago home. No expectations of any additional news tonight. They have given us guidance that we should expect a quiet evening. And notably he does not have the typical complement of senior staff whom we`ve seen travel with the president before. So, today and this weekend, we don`t have the president`s chief of staff here or top advisors. He does have staff, but they are more junior. So, anyone who would be involved in such a big action would not be present physically. That doesn`t mean they can`t be in touch through all the communication devices that exist and the secure comes that exist at Mar-a-Lago, but it also seems unlikely that would take place when they are not present. We saw when the president did call for action against the Syrian air field. He did have his full team, his national security advisors, chief-of-staffs, all of the sort of usual high-level Trump officials were present with President Trump here. So, that`s another notable difference. Doesn`t mean it wouldn`t happen, but it certainly raises the question would the president act when he`s essentially sort of by himself here without those advisors to be in the same room to have these conversations. Chris?

JANSING: So, general, let me ask you what are you going to be watching for this weekend? A lot of people have been pointing to the birthday of the grandfather of Kim Jong-un. What are you watching for over the weekend?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think it`s quite likely there will be some kind of provocation, probably a nuclear test, perhaps not this weekend, but very soon they will detonate their 6th device. They probably have 15 nukes already. They`ll have 100 or more within a very short time, two or three years. So, again, I think the South Koreans, Kelly said something very important. The South Koreans are not going to sign off on a minor preemptive attack on North Korea, just not going to happen. If we did go after them, to be blunt, it would probably be with nuclear weapons only when we thought they were a near-term threat to us. That`s the danger in North Korea. They`re going to end up with ICBM`s, submarine launch ballistic missiles. They`re going to be a real threat to the American people in a fairly short period of time.

JANSING: General, thanks to you, Richard Engel, Courtney Kube, Kelly O`Donnell, appreciate all of you. Thank you.

MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you, Chris.

JANSING: And coming up, the mother of all bombs to strike in Syria, what are Americans saying? In Afghanistan, what are Americans saying about how the show of military force went, and what about congress? Also, would Steve Bannon seek revenge if he`s booted from the White House? People that know Bannon say today he could strike back from outside the west wing. And with so much happening around the globe, as Kelly mentioned, President Trump back on the golf course in Florida. We`ll show you what he thought about other presidents hitting the links.


JANSING: Welcome back. Right now the United States and North Korea both threatening each other, a high stakes and potentially deadly escalation of tensions, all while the administration is dealing with Syria, Russia, the fight against ISIS, all putting President Trump`s foreign policy on the front burner, China warning today of storm clouds gathering, a situation that could spin out of control. It was a stark warning echoed by former secretary of defense Leon Panetta.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We shouldn`t engage in any precipitous action. There is a reason no U.S. president in recent history has pulled the trigger on North Korea. We have the potential for a nuclear war that would take millions of lives. So, I think we`ve got to exercise some care here. We`ve just given China the opportunity to engage. Let`s see how they do.


JANSING: And President Trump is putting the pressure on China to take action on North Korea. NBC News has learned that since their extensive meetings last weekend at Mar-a-Lago, president`s Trump and Xi have spoken twice. While Trump has had only good things to say about the relationship with Xi, but also says the U.S. could go it alone if China refuses to help. So, the question is after dropping the mother of all bombs on ISIS and sending 59 missiles to Syria, does congress need to approve any actions against North Korea? And will Trump`s voters who heard throughout the campaign about an America first policy stand behind another show of military might?

With me Republican congressman and former Navy SEAL, Scott Taylor, and Defense One executive editor Kevin Barron. Congressman, if President Trump decides to take any kind of provocative action against North Korea, and you couldn`t call anything against North Korea anything I think but provocative, and obviously unlike Syria and Afghanistan, it`s got nuclear weapons, does he need to consult with congress?

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Well, thank you for having me. I think it`s always important for an executive to consult with congress, of course. Now, as you very well know, the executive has to have a little bit of flexible, of course, if they`re our national security, our allies, our interests are threatened to be able to act. But in any kind of long-term, whatsoever, yes, they do have to come to congress. And, look, I`ve been very vocal about the authorization of military force. This is the second administration that`s using a third administration`s AUMF from 16 years ago. So, it`s important that congress gets engaged now actually for what`s going on in the world, period. But I think that you do have to be a precedent and the war powers act executive does have to have a little bit of flexibility to work in our best interest because of course congress is a little bit slower. So you don`t want to take away that flexibility, but yes, congress should be consulted and certainly for any kind of action that`s any long-term whatsoever. I think congress should debate and decide -- the American people should debate via congress.

JANSING: I`m just trying to make sure I understand, so, yes on North Korea?


JANSING: But when you look back at what he did both in Syria and Afghanistan, should you have been consulted, should congress have been consulted? Is that covered by the AUMF or just general executive powers?

TAYLOR: Well, I think what`s happening in Afghanistan is covered. I supported the strike in Syria because, again, I think that the U.N. chemical weapons convention as well as what`s the AUMF right now, the president has the precedent, excuse me, has the ability to do that. Now that being said, I do think that congress needs to take up actions in Syria moving forward and quite frankly around the world. And North Korea, as I stated, I believe that, yes, the executive should be consulting with congress for sure if there is an imminent threat and the president needs to take action, the executive has the flexibility to do that initially. But congress needs to be engaged in this debate and authorize use of military force, or not.

JANSING: Kevin, when you look at the big picture of this and you have, obviously, Syria, Afghanistan, now the threats against North Korea, one obvious interpretation is here`s the president keeping his campaign promise, right? On the campaign trail he essentially said Obama was weak, I will be strong. But what is the more in-depth nuanced view that you have of this?

KEVIN BARRON, DEDENSE ONE: Right. Well, surprise it`s a lot more in-depth than that. And there are a lot of folks, I think, at the Pentagon who would like to -- if they have a chance in time to separate all of these things. You know, since Trump has come to office, we have seen a couple things that are news making events, the civilian casualties, the big bomb in Afghanistan. Now it`s going on in North Korea. They`re not related, though. The only thing that`s remotely related is this -- I`ve heard Trump saying to his generals, you have more authority to take action in these things. But that`s different than saying, Trump came in, therefore things are getting reckless, or he wants more military conflict or generals want more military conflict. The generals are the last who want military conflict, especially in this North Korea crisis. They`re the ones I think who want as much tensions tamped down as possible. They`re not the ones who are tweeting out, you know, threats and challenges to the North Koreans. So, there`s a lot to parse out in all of this.

JANSING: Yeah, one of the keys of this obviously is the relationship with China. Pretty new for many people, very surprising relationship that the president says is so strong...

BARRON: Right.

JANSING: ... between himself and President Xi. They had like six hours of meetings at Mar-a-Lago last weekend, meetings that were supposed to go for 15 minutes went for two hours. He called him twice, including on Tuesday, we`re told a one-hour phone call specifically about North Korean tensions. What do you think the chances are that China steps in here?

BARRON: Well, I think they already are. But remember, Trump also said -- it took ten minutes for him to realize that suddenly this was a complicated situation, right? So, I think the Chinese can step in with everything -- everything but military action. It`s the Americans who can bring in the aircraft carriers, who can run jets down the runway in Japan, and just do things to deter. But ultimately this is all to deter for what? It`s to get the leader of North Korea to change course or step down, have some sort of massive change within North Korea. That`s still far away from what we`re talking about now. What`s different is they`re closer to an ICBM. They`re closer to a nuclear war head that`s miniaturized. They`re closer to other missile technology. That`s the difference. And with combined with all these heated political rhetoric, it`s got a lot of people in the military nervous. And it got all of us on watch all weekend because of this anniversary date. So, you know, they may do something. If I had to bet I`d bet on an underground nuclear explosion than another missile going off in the air. That`s the one thing...

JANSING: So you have all this very heated rhetoric, obviously. You have the diplomatic realities. You have the military realities. Congressmen, can we talk a little bit about -- I`m sorry? So, we`ve lost the congressman. I want to ask you about the political realities because you cannot even -- how much does that play into the military? Did they look at that and do they say, look, for example, a political poll that shows 66 percent supported, 24 percent opposed, U.S. air strikes in response to the Syria attack? And I ask this because of the statement that the president made, which was -- I want to let the generals sort of do a lot of this, you know. They`re going to -- it certainly in this case, it seems as though they decided to drop that bomb that had never been dropped before without consulting the president.

BARRON: It`s not without consulting. It`s whether or not President Trump actually said go and do it, right? That`s the difference. Nobody wants to say overtly, but all of the signals that we`re getting are -- that was the case. The president did not need to be -- just did not need to rise to that level. (INAUDIBLE) it was President Obama or it was President Clinton, it wouldn`t have risen to that level in the middle of that war that`s been going on for 16 years. That`s a lot different then what would be the United States first overt military action against North Korea should they get far enough advanced in their missile technology that a preemptive strike is due. That`s what we`re all talking about right now. The military doesn`t care about polls. Their job is to present options to the president if he wants to go that route and that`s what they`re doing and that`s what they`ve always done since the Korean War. That`s not new. There`s nothing new about that. But, again, they`re also the ones -- the last ones to press the go button and fire into North Korea because everybody knows there are no good results of that. It`s going to cause a lot of people to die. It`s going to cause South Koreans to die. It`s probably is going to cost American military personnel to die if the north decides to retaliate in any way shape or form. So, we`re all still where we were six months ago. It`s just a lot more tense. No one wants the Koreans to advance. The Koreans are advancing in their technology. At some point it`s going to come together. That might not be today, but it`s not, you know, 50 years in the future. It`s a little bit closer. Maybe we can all take a breath.

JANSING: Congressman, for a president who ran on jobs, the economy, as a businessman who is going to, as he said, turn things around, what do you see as the political reality of all of this, of this focus suddenly on military action? And I`m wondering, you`re back in your district, are you hearing from constituents about this?

TAYLOR: Well, let me have the great honor of representing the district that has the most military veterans of any congressional district in the nation. And, so...

JANSING: I should say that`s Norfolk, Virginia, correct?

TAYLOR: Yes. So, folks back home, there`s something going on in the world. We are absolutely there. Kevin, he just said, listen, we`re the last people that want to go to war, you know what I mean? It`s our job -- you know our folks back home, of course, to present options to be ready for war if a president, he or she decides that it`s necessary. But it`s not something that we`re chomping at the bit to do. And, yes, the situation is extremely tense there, but there is a reality that`s going on here where they are advancing in technologies and at what point do you engage. Listen, the president has quite frankly done a good job of getting China engaged in this problem. So, we`ve seen North Korea send missiles and shoot them into the sea close to our allies in Japan and South Korea. What happens when they get technology where they can shoot it right off the coast of California? That`s unacceptable. It`s unacceptable to any president, any United States president, Democrat, Republican. It`s something that has to -- you have to look at. So, you may want to do something different in your agenda. But when things like that come up, it`s your job to deal with them basically. So, yes, it is tense, and the last thing we want war, hopefully cooler heads will prevail, that prudent decisions will happen with diplomatic or economic tools to be able to simmer down the tensions that are there right now. But at some point the strategic patients of the previous administration clearly did not work. North Korea has continued to advance and continuing to be provocative, continuing to say things. But it is my hope and I`m optimistic that tensions will reduce and that China will step up and help because quite frankly they`re the ones with the most leverage over North Korea.

JANSING: Congressman, thank you very much. Kevin Barron, thank you. Appreciate it.

And coming up, pay back from Steve Bannon, the president has publicly dressed down his chief strategist calling Bannon someone who works for me, yet in spite of all the speculation Bannon is on his way out, could firing him be politically dangerous? And Trump versus Trump, President Trump slammed China and embraced Russia during the campaign, but now a big reversal. What`s it all mean?



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can`t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that`s what they`re doing. It`s the greatest theft in the history of the world.


JANSING: The guy who bad-mouthed China and loved Russia as a candidate now seems to be flipping, at odds with Putin and saying this about one three- hour meeting with the Chinese president.


TRUMP: President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together.


JANSING: Now, President Trump once praised Putin as a strong leader and very smart, but now?


TRUMP: Right now we`re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia.


JANSING: What are the implications of those personal relationships, joining me now former Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Good to see you.


JANSING: Let me start with Xi. Who would have thought during the campaign that we have six hours of meetings at Mar-A-Lago, a couple of phone calls this week, do we know if this is two-sided and what do you think, could it help with North Korea?

MCFAUL: Well, it`s a remarkable change. Let`s just be clear, right?


MCFAUL: Both China and Russia and his reversal on NATO and his attack on Syria, none of those were positions that Candidate Trump took. And he used a very strong verb in that clip that you just used to describe what the Chinese were doing to us, a giant reversal. And, you know, you can think about two explanations.

One is -- and they`re both probably true. One is he`s learning about diplomacy. He`s learning about the world. Nobody seemed to care that he didn`t know these things during the election, except for people like me probably. But now that he sits down and he realizes what his options are, he realizes it`s much more constrained than he thought.

And the second, as you just rightly pointed out, is he needs a way -- he needs a policy to deal with North Korea giving all -- given all the very provocative things he said about that country recently.

JANSING: So, you`re talking about this learning curve that a lot of us have been looking at, but I wonder, are you a big believer in general? And you`re somebody, obviously, with your diplomatic background who knows a lot about this, that personal connections matter. Obama and Modi, Reagan and Thatcher is this important that he seems to have, I guess we`ll use the word, bonded, with President Xi?

MCFAUL: Well, it certainly seems important to him. Just like the clip you just played, he went out of his way to talk about their chemistry.


MCFAUL: --that`s not something President Obama would have ever said. Well, that`s where it can be deceiving. That`s what I wanted to say, which is one should not overestimate just because you had a nice chat, you had a nice dinner together that relations have changed, because nobody does anybody any favors in diplomacy. That`s what I learned five years in the government.

Countries and leaders act in their national interest, and we shouldn`t be deceived into nice talking means that the policy is changed. That said, it always helps -- it always helps to have a rapport, and I just point out President Trump has yet to meet President Putin. Despite all that happy talk during the campaign, they`ve never sat down yet for a meal. They`ve just had a couple of phone calls. So, maybe that dynamic could change as well once they do meet.

JANSING: Well, that would be interesting to see given that he has a secretary of state who does have a relationship with him. And I want to look at it in the way of -- by the way of Syria, because those devastating pictures did seem to be a wakeup call for Trump. And Syria`s dictator, Assad, after all the things that President Trump had to say, said this about the chemical attack.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT: It`s not clear whether it happened or not because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now and you have to prove that those videos were fake. We don`t know whether those dead -- the children, were the kid, (INAUDIBLE), were they dead at all?


JANSING: You know, I`ve heard that like 20 times and it`s still sickening to hear him question whether or not those children were killed. But, are we, ambassador, to imagine that if they had met and if Candidate Trump got his way, he and Putin found some meeting of the minds that Assad would somehow have done anything different?

MCFAUL: I don`t think so, because I think leaders act in what they think to be their national interest. They`re not interested in us explaining to them what their national interests are. You know, I would have liked to have hoped that maybe a meeting would have prevented that, but I`m doubtful. And at the same time, you know, I think President Trump does need to meet with President Putin and begin to talk about ways to reduce potentially the violence in Syria because we don`t have good options there alone.

JANSING: I`m out of time, but I have to ask you before I let you go. Do you believe that the relationship between the U.S. and Russia is at its lowest point ever or at least since the Cold War?

MCFAUL: Definitely since the Cold War. I think you have to go deep into the Cold War to remember a time when we`ve been at this level of confrontation, not just about interests, but even ideologically, we`re now at loggerheads.

JANSING: Ambassador Michael McFaul, always good to talk to you. Thank you.

Coming up, if President Trump fires top strategist Steve Bannon, could it come back to bite him? A new report is out on that.

Plus, two police officers caught on camera beating a handcuffed man, exclusive reporting on other cases, those officers investigated.


JANSING: I like that power influence action. Here`s what more than a few folks on the right have been saying. If President Trump fired Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, watch out. He`d get his revenge. Politico has an extensive article on it talking to Steve Bannon`s friends and foes on the possibility of payback if he`s booted out of the White House.

One Republican operative saying, "He`ll have his minions eviscerate you on twitter and write articles with fake information. You will be attacked and lied about." The speculation, he`d go back to Breitbart, the far-right website he used to had, and President Trump will pay the political price.


LEE STRANAHAN, FORMER BREITBART INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: His approval ratings are about 40 right now. If he kicks Steve Bannon out of this White House, now and I`m not even going to argue policy, I`m just going to state realistically if he kicks Steve Bannon out of the White House, if Gary Cohn and Dina Powell continue to ascend, he`s going to go down to about 20 percent because he`s going to lose at least--


STRANAHAN: --half the basic.


JANSING: Let`s bring in our panel Ken Vogel, Chief Investigative Reporter for Politico; Jonathan Swan is National Political Reporter for Axios; and Sabrina Siddiqui, Political Reporter for the Guardian. All right, I want to get to the story but first we have to get to the obvious. How close is Steve Bannon to being out real quickly?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, GUARDIAN: Well, I think he`s certainly being sidelined. I would be reluctant to say that he`s out. But the warning shot for Trump did not go unnoticed. Any time he says, "Well, I like Steve but", when there`s a but, that means that if I were Steve Bannon I would be concerned also because Stephen Miller has been elevated in Trump`s eyes.

JANSING: Well, and when the but, is he`s somebody who works for me. Jonathan, how close is he?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, this is, you know, Trump was sort of giving him the opportunity to leave, you know, if he wanted to. This was a very much, you know, if you want to leave with your dignity intact, here`s your opportunity. Steve Bannon has told his associates that he doesn`t want to leave and I think the question now becomes he`s already had his portfolio diminished.

What is his role in the White House? How much influence does he have? He got completely rolled on the Syria argument. Bannon fought very aggressively against intervention. So, the question, and he`s off the NSE, so the question is trade, immigration does he continue to flex his muscles or does he get squeezed?

JANSING: So, Ken let`s start with the history lesson for those who don`t know about Steve Bannon. What would suggest that he would take revenge on a president if he got kicked out of the White House?

KEN VOGEL, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, we`ve seen at Breitbart News an effort to really shape the Republican Party in an aggressive way, going after establishment Republicans who they deem to be anathema to the populist national brand of conservatism that they espoused, Steve Bannon was the keeper of that flame on the Trump Campaign.

And in the White House, he also as Jonathan discussed has tried to shape the presidency so it is more America First and some of these recent decisions suggest that it`s moving away from America First. Breitbart has at times launched salvos at the Trump Administration, but our sources tell us that Bannon has been the one urging them, hey, guys, tamp it down a little bit.

If Bannon is out, there`s no one to urge that and I think we would see Breitbart really come at the Trump Administration all guns blazing.

JANSING: You just heard from -- I did that interview this morning with a former Breitbart employee who said, I think his approval rating now, you know, 39-40 percent, would go down to 20. What would this mean to his base? What would the risks be? What would the political calculation have to be if Donald Trump decided to fire him?

VOGEL: Well, you know what, on some of these issues that we`re talking about that, you know, we see as real indicators of a shift towards a more moderate centrist or even liberal form of economic policy certainly or a more interventionist form of foreign policy, I don`t know that the base is necessarily all that enraged by them.

But once you have the Conservative media and Conservative populist figures who are popular out there going after them, that would be I think the signal for the base that, hey, we`ve lost this guy -- this guy Trump, he is no longer the person who we thought during the campaign. That`s why it`s so important to keep the Conservative media, folks like Breitbart on the side of the Trump Administration.

JANSING: All right, so let me play devil`s advocate here. You have a person who is consistently underestimated who nobody thought two years ago would be president of the United States, who won in pretty spectacular shocking fashion, are we to believe that a Steve Bannon could help take him down?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that whether it was a telling quote from Republican close to Trump that got -- give you a window into the family`s thinking, which is if we are up for re-election in 2020 we`re not going to win with the same road map as we did in 2016. It won`t be about offending the establishment.

It`s going to be about having to broaden his base of support and to reach out to more centrists and even potentially Democratic minded voters. But Donald Trump can`t really rewrite history having said that. If you look at the imprint of his first nearly 100 days, there has been the cracked on immigration.

There have been the failed travel ban, and other policies that a lot of Americans have been uncomfortable with. I don`t think he will necessarily be able to pull off the pivot as convincingly as those people around him might appear to believe.

JANSING: All right, you`re all going to stay with us. We have a lot more to talk about. But, just ahead, two police officers kicking and punching a man on the ground and handcuffed. Today a major new development with dozens of other cases involving those officers dismissed. Will they face criminal charges? That`s next.


JANSING: Two police officers in Georgia fired after a video showed them punching and kicking a man NBCs, Gabe Gutierrez, with new details.


GABE GUTIERREZ, NBC REPORTER: He had his hands up when a Gwinnett County Police Sergeant clocked him during a traffic stop. Another officer then kicked him after he was handcuffed.

How scared were you?

DEMETRIUS HOLLINS, STUDENT KICKED AND PUNCHED BY OFFICERS: Scared, on a scale of one and 10, say 20.

GUTIERREZ: In an exclusive interview, 21-year-old college student Demetrius Hollins tells NBC News he had a previous run-in with the sergeant during another stop last year. So, this time he tried to reach for his cell phone camera to record the encounter, but he never got the chance.

HOLLINS: Well, I thought that he was going to at least grab one of my arms and put me in handcuffs, but I didn`t realize he was going to punch me in the face.

GUTIERREZ: Officer Robert McDonald and Sergeant Michael Bongiovanni have both been fired and can now face criminal charges. Police Chief, Butch Ayer says McDonald owned up to his actions once the first video from a bystander surfaced. He says Bongiovanni, a 19-year veteran, did not once the second video emerged.

BUTCH AYER, GWINNETT COUNTY, GEORGIA POLICE CHIEF: --he felt the force was justified.

GUTIERREZ: The initial police report said Hollins was tasered and handcuffed after he refused to get out of the car, but the document made no mention of any punching or kicking.

AYER: Admitting something that occurred in an official report, in my opinion, is lying.

GUTIERREZ: Tonight Hollins and his family are still in shock.

TAMARA CRENSHAW, MOTHER OF DEMETRIUS HOLLINS: When you see that happens to your own child, it breaks my heart.

GUTIERREZ: Late today, 89 cases the officers were working on were dismissed including the charges against Hollins.


JANSING: That was Gabe Gutierrez. Katie Phang is a former prosecutor and MSNBC Legal Analyst, let`s start with the criminal charges apparently that the police officers could be facing. What are we talking about here, something like assault and battery?

KATIE PHANG, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Oh, at a minimum, Chris. You`re looking at battery. You`re looking at aggravated battery especially with the kicking and the punching that happens. You`re looking at perjury and official misconduct, and that is at a minimum. Those all have extensive jail terms, and they are associated with each of those charges. And, again, that`s the least last Bongiovanni and McDonald could be looking at at this time.

JANSING: Well, today the Gwinnett County Solicitor General announced she was dismissing 89 cases related to the fired officers, and I mean 89 cases, which has got to make prosecutors a little bit crazy. But obviously the reason would be right that you can`t have these guys on the stand. They have no credibility?

PHANG: Exactly. So their credibility is shot based upon what the videos exposed in terms of how they lied about their encounter with Mr. Hollins and, you know, I`m a little bit surprised, though to dismiss all 89 summarily. Some of those cases, the solicitor general in Gwinnett County, Chris prosecutes misdemeanors and traffic offenses.

There could have been some of those cases that could have been proven up by maybe victims like in another battery case or maybe like in a theft case, but hopefully the solicitor general looked at on each case-by-case basis and decided it merited dismissal because again like you said no credibility. They kick, they stand, they pledge and tell the truth under oath then they lie, so that`s a problem for the prosecutors.

JANSING: In our last 20 seconds, would you expect a civil suit here?

PHANG: I do. You know, at a minimum, I expect a civil suit against the individuals. If it looks that Gwinnett County`s Police Department was aware that there was a history of violence pattern and practice by these cops and they didn`t do anything about it, then there will be a lawsuit that includes Gwinnett County Police Department as well.

JANSING: Katie Phang, thanks so much. You have a great weekend.

PHANG: You too.

JANSING: Ahead, the world is watching North Korea. The mother of all bombs dropped in Afghanistan. And President Trump back on the Golf Course, that`s next.



TRUMP: --he plays more golf than people on the PGA Tour, it`s true. He`s played more rounds just about 10 people that played professionally on the PGA Tour.


TRUMP: I mean this guy. Obama, it was reported today played 250 rounds of golf, and he`s going to be in Hawaii, I think, did they say for three weeks? How can a president -- for three weeks. I don`t have time for that. He played more golf last year than Tiger Woods. You need leadership. You can`t fly to Hawaii to play golf.


JANSING: That was then Candidate Trump on the trail, slamming President Obama for golfing and taking vacation while now President Trump today spent another day on the Golf Course in Florida. While president`s golfing is nothing new and neither is the criticism, it comes as he is threatening to strike a nuclear North Korea.

Let me bring back my panel Ken, Jonathan, Sabrina. Jonathan, I want to read to you what President Trump once tweeted. "With all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf." He obviously has a theme there. Given the difficulties, the military strikes, the problems with North Korea, is it a little disingenuous to him to be out -- for him to be out on the golf course again?

SWAN: Well, it`s obviously hypocritical, but I fail to summon any outrage about Donald Trump playing golf. I mean I just, you know, it`s like one of a string of things that he said on twitter and now it`s -- but these tweets have become a theme. It`s like Trump says something and now he`s doing it. It`s like this me now and this is just the latest one.

JANSING: You know, I want to say two things. One is that wherever a president is, he can be set up to take care of whatever happens in the world. And, number two, presidents maybe more than anybody, the leader of the free world, needs to have a little downtime, right? But having said that, does timing matter?

SIDDIQUI: Well, timing is an issue. But one of the concerns that I`ve heard is that he`s not going to Andrews Air Force Base. He is going to his privately owned commercial property in West Palm Beach, the cost of which to taxpayers has been estimated at 1 million to $3 million per trip, and he`s spending the majority of his weekends in office there thus far.

And then it also goes forth with the idea that he`s using the presidency to build his own brand. He`s calling leaders to meet him there. He`s also not being forthcoming about who exactly he`s golfing with, who is he meeting with on that property. So I`m hearing concerns that have more to do with the cost as well as the ethics.

JANSING: Well, he was able to raise the fee to get into the club of Mar A- Lago, but, you know, I want to go back to the timing a little bit because the one time in the Obama Presidency where I think it kind of took hold this criticism of him golfing, was he made a statement about the beheading. It was a time when there were a lot of beheadings by ISIS, the beheading of journalist, James Foley who had been kidnapped in Syria and then he went to golf. And then a couple of weeks later, he said this to Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press."


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is always a challenge when you`re supposed to be on vacation, but there`s no doubt that after having talked to the families, where it was hard for me to hold back tears listening to the pain that they were going through, after the statement that I made, that, you know, I should have anticipated the Optics.


JANSING: Do the Optics matter here, now, this time with North Korea and everything else that`s going on or do you think people are shrugging?

VOGEL: I think for the most part, they shrug. They don`t begrudge presidents their vacation time. I think occasionally you do have where the president sort of -- has a potential to bring it on themselves, this scrutiny. So, for instance, we saw Trump giving an interview where he was talking about the decision to launch the air strikes in Syria, and he`s talking about sitting with Chinese President Xi and having a piece of chocolate cake at Mar-A-Lago.

JANSING: A big beautiful piece, a big--

VOGEL: --the most magnificent piece of cake--


VOGEL: --and then, you know, I told him that the missiles were headed to Iraq and he actually got it wrong and the interviewer had to correct him. They says Syria, oh, yes Syria. It`s like he remembered the details of the cake more than the missile strike. And so you wrap that all together and yes there are opportunities where the Optics can become problematic. I don`t think though just necessarily going golfing is problematic.

JANSING: Thank you all for being with us. And it`s good to end on a little light-hearted note. We appreciate it. Anybody going golfing this weekend?


JANSING: No. All right, thanks for watching. I`m Chris Jansing. Have a great weekend. "Hardball" starts right now.


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