Closing arguments in Manafort case. TRANSCRIPT: 8/16/2018, The Beat w Ari Melber.

Guests: John Brennan

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: August 15, 2018 Guest: John Brennan

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (via telephone): -- the announcement.

And it`s not going to affect my speaking out, my criticisms of Mr. Trump. I`m going to try to do it in a professional way. But I don`t know what recourse there is, and so I`ll just take things one day at a time.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Thank you for absorbing it live on our air. We are very grateful to have you on all days, especially today.

Former CIA Director and NBC News and MSNBC senior national security analyst John Brennan. Thank you.

My thanks to Jonathan Lemire, Alicia Menendez, Jim Rutenberg, and Eddie Glaude. That does it for our hour. I`m Nicolle Wallace.

MTP DAILY starts right now with the fabulous Katy Tur in for Chuck. Hi, Katy.

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: If you`re wondering, Nicolle, whether this was a distraction from Omarosa and all of the devastating news that`s heading towards the President right now, whatever might happen with Paul Manafort, just take a look at the date of the statement that Sarah Huckabee Sanders put out in her reasoning for -- or the President`s reasoning for revoking his security clearance.

It`s August. The date on this is July 26, 2018. They have obviously kept this around --

WALLACE: That`s right.

TUR: -- for the day that they needed to use it.

WALLACE: They had it in their get out of doo-doo drawer. Jonathan Lemire brought that to us earlier in the hour, and it`s remarkable. Even when they try to get themselves out of trouble, they step in it.

TUR: Nicolle Wallace, thank you very much. Great interview with John Brennan.

WALLACE: Thank you, my friend.

TUR: If it is Wednesday, a disturbing distraction.

Good evening. I`m Katy Tur in New York in for Chuck Todd and welcome to MTP DAILY.

We begin tonight with a chilling action taken by the President of the United States that looks something -- like something you might see out of a dictatorship or authoritarian regime.

This afternoon, the White House announced that the President was revoking the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration and is now a senior national security analyst here at NBC News.

In doing so, the President also sent a warning shot to a number of his political critics. He`s threatening to revoke the clearances of former intelligence chiefs like James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Andrew McCabe. All outspoken critics.

And that`s just a few of the nine individuals they are singling out right now in addition to Brennan. The President`s argument is that he`s revoking Brennan`s clearance because Brennan has somehow become something of a threat to national security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.

Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the Internet and television about this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUR: And here is what Sarah Sanders said when asked about the sheer pettiness of this decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: How is this announcement by the President -- how can Americans not interpret that as a getting back against his critics? And isn`t it also an attempt to curtail their freedom of speech by penalizing them for being critical on television?

SANDERS: Not at all. The President has constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it. And that`s what he`s doing, is fulfilling that responsibility in this action. This is actually specific to Mr. Brennan, and the others are currently under review.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUR: And if you believe that this decision was made because of the President`s duty to protect Americans, then I`ve got a bridge to sell you. It comes at a moment when the White House has lost control of the political narrative.

One of the President`s top aides, Omarosa, is out there releasing secret audio tapes accusing the President of conspiring with WikiLeaks and confirming she spoke with Bob Mueller`s team. The President`s former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, is facing the possibility of life in prison for bank fraud and conspiracy.

We`re going to have a lot more on both of those stories ahead. But, yes, color us skeptical when amid all of that, the White House makes a list of its most outspoken political critics, retaliates against the person that is perhaps the most outspoken critic, threatens to retaliate against everyone else, and brazenly argues that there is nothing political about it.

Ned Price is an NBC contributor and former spokesman for the National Security Council. He joins tonight`s panel.

Phil Bump is "Washington Post`s" political reporter -- a "Washington Post" political reporter. Elise Jordan is an MSNBC political analyst and former aide to the George W. -- I`m sorry, the George Bush White House. And Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC political analyst and "Daily Beast" columnist.

George W. Bush White House, I`m sorry.

John Brennan was just in responding to this with Nicolle Wallace. I know some of that blends into this hour, but let`s go back and listen to the first part one more time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRENNAN (via telephone): Is this an effort to try to cow individuals, both inside and outside of the government, to make sure that they don`t say anything either that is critical of Mr. Trump or with which he disagrees?

And I`ve seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign tyrants and despots and autocrats for many, many years during my CIA and national security career. I never, ever thought that I would see it here in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUR: And here is what he tweeted -- this action is part of a broader effort by Mr. Trump to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics. It should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out. My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.

He`s talking about intelligence, Ned. He`s talking about freedom of speech. We should also note that the President has tried to threaten to revoke the T.V. license, the FCC license, for television networks, including NBC, because he doesn`t like what we report about him.

NED PRICE, DIRECTOR OF POLICY AND COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY ACTION: This very much fits a pattern, Katy. It`s a pattern of authoritarianism -- creeping authoritarianism that we see on the part of President Trump.

We have long known that President Trump admires people like the president of Turkey, like the president of Egypt, like the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, people who are able to exert absolute control or at least near absolute control over their societies. And we have seen the President attempt to actually import some of those practices, most recently with this today.

Look, I am less concerned about those former senior government officials who are now outside government. Those people know that the revocation of their security clearances doesn`t revoke their First Amendment rights. They, I`m sure, will continue to speak out, to say not classified information but their principles, what they know to be true.

I am much more concerned, as John Brennan said, about the chilling effect this will have on people who are still in government, people whose livelihoods depend on their access to classified information who see illegal, unethical, immoral behavior, and will now think twice, three times or perhaps not even go forward if they are compelled to make public what it is they have seen in a responsible way.

That`s my real concern with this, Katy.

TUR: Ned, the intelligence chiefs were not informed of this decision, according to our own Andrea Mitchell.

John Brennan said he hasn`t heard from any government official since the President first threatened this and they have -- that he hasn`t heard from any government official today after the White House announced it.

He said he found out not through the current CIA Director, Gina Haspel, or somebody in the DNI`s office. He heard through Sarah Sanders who announced it on television.

PRICE: Of course, they weren`t informed. And that`s precisely because this was not a national security decision. This was a political decision. And we know that precisely because of the statement that Sarah Sanders read from the podium.

There were two words that you played that signaled that very clearly. She said John Brennan`s statements were outrageous and unfounded. A statement cannot both be classified and unfounded.

And it used to be that jeopardizing classified information or sensitive sources and methods used to be the only metric for the consideration of the revocation of a security clearance. What she said today is that John Brennan has been a critic of the President, and she, implicitly at least, confirmed that he has not divulged classified information.

So this is clearly a political move, a political stunt on the part of the President who, of course, didn`t consult his national security team because this is not a national security decision.

TUR: Elise, what`s more brazen, the President doing this, or the President doing it in the name of national security?

ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think this is clearly a political move, but I really differ from everyone on this. I think that this is very low in the priority list of what our concerns should be.

John Brennan had no business still holding a security clearance if he is, proceeding in public as a commentator. All of his utility with the administration to go back and to counsel -- to offer his counsel was blown because his relationship with the administration is so frayed. So it had no real utility anymore. I think this is to --

TUR: Do you think that applies for everybody else that they`re threatening?

JORDAN: No, and I think that this shouldn`t be a political decision. But I do think that clearances after the fact, why necessarily do people get to keep them? It just doesn`t make any sense, and the entire process is broken.

TUR: But there is a point to people holding clearances still. When a matter comes up in an agency that was dealt with in the past, those people go back and they give them their experience.

JORDAN: Well, yes, and they do --

TUR: And they need that national security clearance to inform them.

JORDAN: -- and they do if they still have a relationship with the prior -- with the previous administration. But John Brennan, in this case, it holds no utility anymore because his relationship is so frayed.

JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. I just strongly disagree with that. I mean, you`ve got to have institutional memory. You know, Ned talked about the livelihoods of people in the intelligence community. We need to focus on the lives of Americans and people overseas who are trying to protect from terrorists.

TUR: Yes.

ALTER: And the way we do that is with a first-class intelligence service. How do you get a first class intelligence service? Wise people who consult with other wise people who have institutional memory who have been in the government in the past.

And if you say that -- you know, forget the President for a second. If you say that senior people at the CIA, you`re on your own. Whatever happened, you know, with Bin Laden and all this in the past, you`re not going to hear about the people who were on the bridge in those days, that really hurts them. And when it hurts their ability to analyze intelligence, it hurts all of them.

(CROSSTALK)

TUR: Are you confident that John Brennan wouldn`t --

JORDAN: Let me make a point --

TUR: Hold on.

ALTER: Yes.

TUR: Are you confident that John Brennan would not be called back by somebody who`s not going to broadcast it to the administration, not going to call up the White House and say --

ALTER: Right.

TUR: -- hey, we`re going to call John Brennan in to get some information? Maybe it`s somebody slightly lower level than Gina Haspel or maybe it`s Gina Haspel herself calling John Brennan and saying, I know you don`t have a good relationship with the President, but I want to get your take on what`s happening here?

JORDAN: Well, and this is why intelligence officials stay fairly apolitical and fact-based after they leave, and John Brennan has crossed that line by saying that the President is treasonous, even if that`s opinion.

Because this is why -- in order for our intelligence services to be trusted and to be seen as apolitical, there`s a line. And there are plenty of intelligence professionals who thinks that John Brennan has crossed that line.

TUR: But the President is attacking our intelligence services --

JORDAN: Exactly. So it`s more important than ever --

TUR: I get what you`re saying. So if the President is attacking our intelligence services, would you argue --

JORDAN: So it`s more important than ever to say --

TUR: I`m not -- I don`t -- I take your point, seriously, and I don`t think it`s wrong one, but I think when you`re talking about the intelligence services, you`re obviously not going to get very many people inside the intelligence services speaking up for themselves from their positions right now because the President is the President and your -- part of your oath of office is you are -- I mean, you are taking an oath of office to the country, but you`re also going to be in line with the administration.

And if the intelligence services are being attacked, wouldn`t you expect those who were formally a part of them and are now free to speak about them to come out and blow the whistle when they feel the whistle needs to be blown?

JORDAN: I do. And I think there`s a line, though. And I think that you look at someone like Michael Hayden, and he`s done a pretty good job of not crossing that line and being --

TUR: But the White House is threatening him by taking away his security clearance.

JORDAN: He is, and he said --

TUR: They`ve already --

JORDAN: And he said, great, it doesn`t influence my commentary.

TUR: But they have already taken away from John Brennan.

JORDAN: So I don`t --

TUR: So doesn`t that say to everybody else, shut your mouth, don`t say a word that`s negative about this administration, or we are going to revoke your clearance?

JORDAN: Do it without a clearance.

ALTER: No, I think it`s abuse of power.

JORDAN: I think a clearance is a privilege.

ALTER: What we`re talking about here is --

JORDAN: And I think that we`re getting so upset over elites. This is really about elites. This is --

ALTER: Oh, come on.

JORDAN: Everyone is fine with executive power --

TUR: No, it`s about --

JORDAN: Everyone is fine with executive power --

TUR: No, no, no. It`s not about elites.

JORDAN: -- when John Brennan is the one calling drone strikes from the West Wing. But then when it affected --

ALTER: Elise, it`s about abuse of power.

JORDAN: No, but we --

TUR: I don`t think --

(CROSSTALK)

TUR: I think when you say everyone is fine with executive power when he`s calling drone strikes is way overstated.

JORDAN: Well, I`m saying that is --

TUR: There were a lot of folks out there who hate him for that and hate him for that decision and disagree vehemently for the way that that was done, so I think that`s overstated.

But I do think that regardless of how you feel about the way John Brennan carried out his job while he was in office, I think this sort of thing is crossing a different line. It is a different Rubicon.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: And here`s --

JORDAN: I absolutely think it`s political.

BUMP: Yes, absolutely. And I think we see that when we look further down that list because we`re talking about John Brennan, who is obviously the most high profile person and the only person who has actually been affected by this, so far.

But the other people on that list are not only people who are not as high profile as John Brennan, some of them still work for the government and are only in the public`s attention because they have been the subject of Donald Trump`s ire.

If we look at people like Bruce Ohr --

TUR: Yes.

BUMP: -- who works in the Justice Department, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. If we look at Andrew McCabe --

TUR: Bruce Ohr is somebody that almost never comes up.

BUMP: Right, and who no one has ever heard of except for the fact that he was in Devin Nunes` memo, except for the fact that he had this relationship with Fusion GPS. That`s why he is targeted here. And that, I think, is the bigger issue.

Yes, this Brennan issue has potential repercussions with it long-term, but what we`re talking about is Donald Trump picking out particular people who he doesn`t like for particular reasons and saying they may be subject to punishment simply because they were involved in a thing that makes me look bad.

ALTER: So this is -- as John Brennan said, this is banana republic stuff or banana Republican stuff since so many Republicans are acting like they`re living in a banana republic. And it`s gross abuse of power.

There`s no precedent for it in American history except if you switch the lens a little bit. So what Nixon did in auditing the tax returns of his enemies, wiretapping people inside the government who he didn`t trust, it`s in that department, right? That`s the kind of thing that this is.

When they impeached Nixon, all of that was thrown into the rubric of abuse of power. If Donald Trump is impeached -- and I think it`s becoming more likely every day -- this will be revisited because this is -- it`s not illegal what he`s done, but it is a gross abuse of power.

BUMP: Right.

TUR: But it is the precedent he`s setting not just with this --

ALTER: Right.

TUR: -- but the requiring to sign nondisclosure agreements if you work in this White House, meaning that you can never say anything negative about this White House if you leave this White House.

If it`s over and it`s 10 years down the line, you are still bound by that nondisclosure agreement. That`s not -- doesn`t just apply to the President, if you look at the campaign. It applies to his entire family and any asset they might have.

ALTER: It can`t be enforced at all.

JORDAN: Yes.

ALTER: The NDAs are completely ridiculous.

JORDAN: It can`t be enforced.

ALTER: There is --

TUR: But the fact that he thinks --

ALTER: Yes.

TUR: -- he thinks of it -- he thinks he can enforce it --

ALTER: Right.

TUR: -- or wants to give the impression to those staffers --

BUMP: And if you --

TUR: -- that they need to legally --

ALTER: Right.

TUR: -- they`re legally bound to say good things about him.

BUMP: And if you have a junior staffer who has seen something, are they going to hire a lawyer to fight this NDA, or are they going to say, I don`t want to take the risk of having to pay millions of dollars?

ALTER: Right. People should know that there are strong whistleblower statutes and other laws that protect people disclosing things from --

BUMP: Particularly in the government.

ALTER: -- from the government.

TUR: This statement, guys -- I know I said it at the top of the hour, I`ll say it again -- was crafted on July 27th.

JORDAN: Yes, because it`s a political --

TUR: July 26th.

JORDAN: This is clearly a political move, but I do hope that, in general, we can re-examine the clearance process and how people maintain their clearances in the aftermath.

TUR: I don`t think you`re wrong about that, but I wonder, if this sort of thing is just allowed to keep happening and nobody speaks up, nobody in the Republican Party speaks up, what happens down the line?

Not only when Donald Trump is president. What happens with the next president or the president aftermath -- after that, and where does the line keep moving? And then, at what point do we become a country where persecuting your political opponents is commonplace?

JORDAN: We need --

TUR: It`s just what we do.

JORDAN: We need a Congress that actually puts a check and balance on the executive and reins in some of the executive power that`s been running amok. And when Republicans are in power, Republicans embrace it. When Democrats are in power, Democrats embrace it.

ALTER: Right.

JORDAN: So it`s -- now is a great time for us to look at some of the underlying systemic failures of our system.

TUR: Well said.

Ned Price, thank you very much. Sorry you got lost in that.

Philip, Elise, and Jonathan, stay with us.

And ahead, the jury in the Paul Manafort trial is about to get the case. We`ll have a live update from the courthouse, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TUR: Welcome back. You`re looking at a live picture, or you will be in a moment, of the federal courthouse in Virginia where closing arguments just wrapped up in the Paul Manafort trial. Now, the jury is getting instructions and soon the case will be in their hands.

And the stakes could not be higher. We cannot lose sight of the fact that the person who ran the winning presidential campaign could go to jail for the rest of his life, depending on what that jury decides.

And this isn`t just about the fate of President Trump`s former campaign chairman if he is convicted on the 18 counts of tax and bank fraud. The credibility of the rest of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation is on the line as well.

Julia Ainsley is an NBC national security and justice reporter. She is also our eyes and ears inside the Manafort trial.

And Harry Litman is a former U.S. attorney and Deputy Assistant Attorney General.

Julia, tell us about how both sides made their closing arguments today.

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: We heard a really firm case from the prosecution. They took an hour and 45 minutes to walk through everything that Paul Manafort did on bank fraud, on tax evasion, and on not giving the information he should have on his foreign bank accounts.

The defense really put a lot of their eggs in the basket of discrediting Rick Gates. They wanted to say he is the one who`d led this double life. He stole from his boss. You can`t believe what he is saying.

And that they said that the prosecution is actually kind of nitpicking and cobbling together some evidence that they wouldn`t have brought otherwise if it hadn`t been for the Special Counsel`s office. They said that`s the only reason why we`re here, is because of the Special Counsel`s office.

But then there was a rebuttal from the prosecution. And one of the things that they said, Katy, is, look, Rick Gates is not a boy scout. We didn`t pick him, Paul Manafort did. He picked someone who would do criminal activity because he is a criminal himself. But they said, take everything he said aside, it is consistent with all the documents we have shown you.

Now we`re going through the very end of jury instructions. The judge is giving those orally, which is a little unusual, and a little problematic because they`ll have to go back and listen to everything he said on tape rather than having that in their hands. And then we can expect deliberations to begin sometime tomorrow, Katy.

TUR: And how much -- Harry, how much is this going to weigh on the entire credibility of the Mueller investigation?

If the jury does not come back with a guilty plea, does that discredit the broader investigation? Even if they come back with 17 guilty verdicts and one not guilty verdict, is that going to hurt Robert Mueller?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Seventeen and one, I think, will be fine. And there`s zero chance here of an acquittal. So that can`t happen. The one possibility is, will there be some kind of holdout juror, not based on the evidence but for some kind of, you know, jury nullification reason?

Well, it shouldn`t really hurt Mueller who has come forward with a basically bulletproof case and has proven it -- and, really, the defense had nothing to counter it with today -- but I think so. I think if there is a holdout juror and a mistrial, even though they`d go immediately back to retrial, it will generally hurt him.

And conversely, if there`s a solid conviction here, I think it will muffle the cries of witch-hunt even further.

TUR: Harry, zero chance they`re going to come back with an acquittal?

LITMAN: Zero. Zero.

TUR: Why zero?

LITMAN: Look, the case is overwhelming. There was a little bit of a mystery at the beginning here, why is Manafort going forward with such evidence against him? And the answer is, you know, does he have something special up his sleeve?

The answer is clearly no. It really was an overwhelming case and it`s so strong on paper. The best line of the day, Greg Andres, the star witnesses here are the documents. The defense then stands up and gives peons to beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

The evidence, to all observers, anyone who`s watched it from the beginning, is overwhelming. And I think the only possibility -- there wouldn`t even be more than one or two holdouts. That is the best hope now, however, for Manafort. There`s just -- there`s just no possible road to acquittal.

TUR: Interestingly, Rudy Giuliani seemed to suggest last night that Robert Mueller`s team has not gotten back on Giuliani`s proposal for a -- in the scope for a presidential sit-down because they`re waiting for the Manafort trial to end. Here`s what he said on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Are you any closer to having a deal with Mueller to sit down?

RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY OF DONALD TRUMP: No. Haven`t heard from him in a week.

CUOMO: How do you interpret that?

GIULIANI: I think they`re waiting for the -- I hate to bring up the case. I think they`re waiting for the Manafort case. I think they feel if they win, they`re going to be empowered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUR: You know, I wonder what the government thinks.

LITMAN: Yes.

TUR: And by the government, I mean I wonder what Rudy Giuliani, the President`s team of lawyers, think when they watch the Manafort trial, when they get the updates on the Manafort trial, and all of the evidence that`s been submitted by Mueller`s team against Paul Manafort, the 27 witnesses to back up their argument.

Do you think, Harry, that that`s the sort of thing that would make them nervous?

LITMAN: Sure. I mean, for the reasons I said and also because it begins to have, at the end of the evidence, a little bit of an inroad into the story of the campaign. Because that last loan, remember, is engineered by Manafort`s trying to arrange for a position.

I should say on the Giuliani point, right, there`s no reason at all that Mueller couldn`t be discussing it with him. And now, we have that artificial deadline coming at September 1st that-- well, they couldn`t possibly have an interview after that.

So I think it`s all just meant to gin up an argument that we can`t have an interview that`s or -- with some excuse other than we don`t want to have an interview.

TUR: And we will wait and see what happens with this jury.

Julia Ainsley, Harry Litman, thank you very much.

Ahead, red alert over a blue wave. Is there any room for traditional Republicans in the era of President Trump? Just judging by last night`s primary results, maybe not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KATY TUR, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." Alex Jones will not be tweeting for the next week. Twitter suspended the conspiracy theorist and InfoWars owner after he tweeted a link to a video that Twitter said violated its rules against inciting violence.

NBC`s Lester Holt asked Twitter`s CEO, Jack Dorsey, about the video and Jones` suspension in an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LESTER HOLT, JOURNALIST AND NEWS ANCHOR, NBC: Alex Jones on Twitter posted this week what essentially is a video calling for people to get their battle rifles ready against the media, saying it`s time to act, it`s got to be done now, move criminally against people. It sent a chill up my spine. How about yours?

ALEX JONES, CEO, TWITTER: It did. I mean, there`s a number of actions that we believe help a call to incitement to violence and those are the things that we need to make sure that we`re taking action on.

HOLT: You`ve taken action against him in this instance. Can you tell us what it is?

JONES: I believe we put him in a time-out, removing his ability to tweet for a time period. HOLT: A time-out seems minor compared to the implications of someone suggesting a call to arms against a particular group, in this case the media. How do you respond to that?

JONES: Well, I feel, you know, any suspension whether it be a permanent one or a temporary one makes someone think about their actions and their behaviors.

HOLT: Do you think Alex Jones is going to change his behavior based on a time-out? JONES: I don`t know. We have found that it does have the potential to change impact and change behavior. So, whether it works within this case to change some of those behaviors and change some of those actions, I don`t know, but this is consistent with how we enforce.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUR: You can see much more of Lester Holt`s exclusive interview with Twitter`s CEO, Jack Dorsey, tonight on "NBC Nightly News." We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TUR: Welcome back. Another round of primaries in the books, another round of alarm bells for Republicans this November. Last night`s primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin showed robust Democratic turnout and another big blow for the Trump skeptic wing of the Republican Party.

Former Minnesota Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty was defeated in the bid for his old office by a candidate who sounded like President Trump. And in Wisconsin, about 80,000 more gubernatorial ballots were cast for Democrats than Republicans in Governor Scott Walker`s bid for a third term. If this Republican environment carries on to November, is the GOP looking at a midterm disaster?

Joining me now at the big board is, who else, but NBC News national political correspondent, Steve Kornacki along with our panel, Philip Bump, Elise Jordan, Jonathan Alter. Steve, first to you. Take it away. STEVE KORNACKI, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, you mentioned the governor`s races there in the upper Midwest. Minnesota, interesting story there. Pawlenty obviously going down, quite a fall for him. Two-term governor, former presidential candidate loses this Republican primary. You mentioned the Trump dynamic there.

It is interesting, Johnson certainly trying to run to Pawlenty`s right in this thing. Trump became a bit of an issue. Both of them had very negative things to say about Donald Trump back in 2016. In 2018, it seemed they both wanted to get as far as they could away from those comments.

But, yes, Jeff Johnson knocking off Tim Pawlenty and Republicans thinking, hey, the reason they worked so hard to recruit Pawlenty, at least some of them, to recruit Pawlenty is the race was they thought, hey, Minnesota is a tough road to climb for Democrats, but maybe Pawlenty was the guy who could do it.

Now they`ll have to do it with Johnson. A lot of conventional wisdom there, certainly that could hurt their odds. The other thing is, who do the Democrats nominate? They nominated Tim Walz, a congressman from a district that went for Trump by 15 points in 2016 down in there in the rural southern part of Minnesota. Walz is getting through that primary. So he`s got some appeal to the Trump, to the Republican parts of the state. That could help him as well.

The other big marquee governor`s race, you mentioned it in the upper Midwest, Wisconsin. We will be talking a lot about this in the fall. Scott Walker, Democrats couldn`t beat him in 2010 when he first ran. They couldn`t beat him when they tried to recall him in 2012. They couldn`t beat him in 2014 when he ran for reelection.

Now, Democrats have a candidate to go after him for a fourth time. Tony Evers nominated last night. We have a poll, NBC-Marist poll taken on that race very recently. Interesting result, if I can find it here. That was clearly the wrong button. It`s not that button either. Let`s see if this works. Oh, there it is.

Tony Evers, our poll, our NBC-Marist poll has him starting 13 points ahead of Scott Walker. Look, here is the bottom line with Walker. I don`t know why I had to switch. The bottom line with Walker, 2010 and 2014 when he won and when he was re-elected, those were extremely favorable national midterm climates for the Republican Party.

Now, Walker running for a third term, he faces the prospect of running in a Democratic climate. He hasn`t had to do that before. We will see. Early on, our polling certainly favorable to the Democrat. Boy, this thing has a life of its own right now.

TUR: Steve, you have a possessed big board. KORNACKI: I don`t know what it is. Electromagnetic energy or something. Maybe --

(LAUGHTER)

KORNACKI: That`s probably what it is.

TUR: Maybe you have static on your shirt, who knows. Panel, OK, Tim Pawlenty more not of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party -- I`m sorry, not of the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

Interesting, though, his contender, Johnson, who won basically said that he wasn`t loyal to Trump enough, as in he didn`t stand by him during the "Access Hollywood" tape. He even ran an ad criticizing Pawlenty for not standing by the president in his most reprehensible moment, that "Access Hollywood" tape.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think this is a sign. Pawlenty actually referred to this as he was sort of leaving the stage. He said this is now essentially Trump`s party. He made reference to the fact that what Johnson did is not necessarily embrace Donald Trump or try to emulate Donald Trump.

What he did instead was he tried to appeal to the fact that Donald Trump is extremely popular among Republican voters including in Minnesota where he has an 86 percent approval rating according to a recent poll. Johnson understood that the way to win a Republican primary is to hug Donald Trump as tightly as you can.

You don`t have to be Trump, but you have to show that you love Trump. That`s what he did. He ran that ad. There were a lot of other issues with Pawlenty. He is a more moderate guy than Trump voters are looking for, tends to be more conservative voters in primary. But that`s what he did and it`s a strategy we`ve seen happen over and over in Republican primaries with success. TUR: I get that being successful for a Republican primary. What does it mean for a general election?

ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it means that the Republican candidate for governor in Minnesota is very likely to lose probably. It also means that you`re going to see the continued coward`s row in Capitol Hill among Republican lawmakers who are not going to stand up to Donald Trump.

You hear constantly, well, what is going to be enough for Republicans on the Hill to finally stand up? Look at what happened yesterday. Look at what has happened in these special elections and other primaries, and that`s your answer.

JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST FOR THE DAILY BEAST, MSNBC ANALYST: What will happen after November if there`s a thumping?

JORDAN: Yeah.

ALTER: Right now there are lemmings going right over the cliff, and what happens when they actually hit the bottom and basically commit suicide as a party or partial suicide? At that point, do some of them start to get the message that this is a pretty dumb approach for them in the medium and long term, or do they continue to in a tribal way wrapped their arms around Donald Trump?

JORDAN: They`re politicians. They`re going to do what`s politically advantageous. ALTER: That would mean that they will put some distance --

JORDAN: Yes.

BUMP: I disagree, because they will also have just gotten a lesson that all of them won in a tough pro-Democratic election cycle. They all won reelection, right? There is no reason.

If you are a House Republican who is sitting in a district that is, you know, R plus 12 at this point in time, you survive this election cycle and you go into next year, your base is still probably going to love Donald Trump, barring who knows what happens with Robert Mueller or whoever else.

Your base is still going to love him, you just won reelection, why over the next two years would you then buck Donald Trump? I mean, it just --

ALTER: You lost the gavel. You want the gavel back.

JORDAN: People who win are actually --

ALTER: Sure, but that comes (INAUDIBLE).

JORDAN: But I think your point is correct in that those who win will be of the more radical faction and are going to dig in. BUMP: That`s right.

TUR: So in Vermont, we`re seeing some real signs of real progressive Democrats winning and gaining steam. Democrat Christine Hallquist won her primary -- her party`s gubernatorial nomination and she`s going to face Governor Phil Scott. Hallquist is the first transgender woman to win a primary.

Are these -- are these the Democratic candidates of the future? Are Democrats just better at embracing the change of this country, the way we are moving forward than the Republicans are? ALTER: Well, they haven`t -- first of all, she`s likely to lose to Phil Scott, who`s leading in the polls. He`s a more moderate Republican. He`s pretty popular. But as a general matter, yes, the Democrats for a while now have been the party of diversity and that is a good in many ways.

The problem is, if identity politics push out other themes and then they just become a party of diversity and identity, then they`re back in the ditch again. TUR: Interestingly though, Steve, you have Hallquist on the one hand but when you look at the Democratic candidates that are being put up in the Midwest, a lot of them are run-of-the-mill, middle of the road white candidates.

KORNACKI: You know, it`s interesting too. The Vermont story is -- every time gun control sort of comes into the news, you hear this refrain from Democrats. Why won`t Republicans stand up for the NRA? Why won`t they do anything?

Vermont to me is actually a little bit of a lesson in that because Phil Scott, a Republican, in April, he signed gun control legislation in Vermont, a rural state, huge gun-owning state. You know, even Bernie Sanders, Howard Dean, Democrats in Vermont, they have been pretty pro-gun.

And what happened to Scott is the polling out there show Scott is now more popular with Democrats than with Republicans. I think one of the reasons you got this dynamic and he`s so favored to win is a lot of big-name Democrats in Vermont just decided, you know what, I`m not going to run against Phil Scott this year and threw the nomination wide open.

So in some ways it`s the answer to the question, what happens when a Republican actually bucks the NRA and sort of comes around to that view on gun control? In Vermont, it made Phil Scott more popular with the other party than with his own party. TUR: Very interesting. Steve Kornacki, thank you very much. Panel, you are sticking around, I haven`t released you yet. You can`t leave. And ahead, Kansas finally has a Republican gubernatorial primary winner, but could the drama only be beginning for the GOP?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TUR: Welcome back. In today`s "Meet the Midterms," one electoral nightmare is over for Kansas Republicans, but another one may be just beginning. After an ugly week of back and forth over the integrity of the vote count, the Republican gubernatorial primary is finally over.

Governor Jeff Colyer conceded the race to Secretary of State Kris Kobach last night. But now the new nightmare for Republicans is whether Kobach, a staunch ally of President Trump, will be too polarizing for moderate voters in November. Kobach on the ballot could allow Democrats to pick up the governorship in Kansas and could even put Republicans at risk to lose two House seats there.

Kobach told the Kansas City Star last night that Trump`s endorsement tweet the night before the election was "absolutely crucial" in turning out votes. And the president congratulated Kobach in a tweet giving him his "complete and total endorsement." Kobach will face Democrat State Senator Laura Kelly and independent Greg Orman in November. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TUR: Time now for "The Lid." The panel is back, Phil Bump, Elise Jordan, and Jonathan Alter. OK, guys, the president and the White House were trying to take Omarosa out of the headlines today. Let`s talk about Omarosa.

Clearly they`re worried about it. Clearly the president is worried about it. He`s tweeting about it. They pulled up the John Brennan thing today, even though it was dated July 26th. Politico headline, "People are terrified. Trump staffers live in fear of Omarosa`s next tape."

BUMP: This may become a new head with the release of the book, but it`s fascinating to see this dynamic which we have seen over and over again since 2016, which is someone`s got dirt and they trickle it out, right?

It started with Hillary Clinton e-mails. E-mails were released a little bit. You had WikiLeaks doing the same thing with things going on with Podesta. Now, we are seeing the Russian investigation, Trump a little trickling out of the Russia investigation, sometimes deliver, sometimes not.

But this is the new standard in Washington, D.C. and now it is being turned against Donald Trump by Omarosa very successfully in a way that we`re left wondering what else she`s got. JORDAN: It makes me wonder how calculating she was about recording throughout the campaign and throughout her time in the administration, and if she was brazen enough to go into the White House Situation Room and record the White House chief of staff, if I`m a Trump staffer who was possibly recorded, I`m pretty nervous right now. ALTER: Absolutely. Tapes, I mean, that`s Nixon, Watergate, impeachment, you know, that`s what it conjures for people. And I also think that she has hinted that this friend in Los Angeles that she`s been talking about really might have this tape with the N-word on it. TUR: What`s that tape going to do? What more do people need to know about Donald Trump? ALTER: If they detonate it not long before the midterms, it could depress turnout on the Republican side even more. People might go --

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER: -- not showing up.

TUR: It`s not a bad point. I do want to play Brian Kilmeade on Fox & Friends this morning, saying Omarosa is beating the president in his own game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN KELMEADE, HOST, FOX NEWS: In order to sell a book, she`s come out with a series of tapes, and in many ways seems to have outsmarted the president, who has taken the bait and gone out and tweeted directly after it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUR: Oh, my god, to be Donald Trump watching, to watch Donald Trump as he watch Fox & Friends this morning. BUMP: It`s like seeing the cheerleader clapping for the other team`s touchdown is what that is.

TUR: It is remarkable to watch his preferred, his chosen network say, hey listen, this is not so great.

ALTER: (INAUDIBLE).

TUR: Yeah.

JORDAN: That`s why we had how many tweets yesterday, eight about Omarosa? TUR: Eight?

BUMP: Oh, god.

JORDAN: This is a level of concern when you`ve got Fox & Friends really striking a low blow like that. You`re hurting --

ALTER: And Geraldo, if you`ve lost Geraldo, you`ve lost America, right?

TUR: What did Rudy Giuliani say, he`s making threats to Robert Mueller saying, send out this damn report now so we can refute it and we can comment on it. It seems like they are getting nervous about this sort of thing.

I mean, Omarosa is talking about Wikileaks and how the president knew before Wikileaks released it. Here`s what Giuliani said. "If Mueller doesn`t get it done in the next two or three weeks we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks."

JORDAN: I think Omarosa`s restraint in doling out her little nuggets of information is what has them clearly on edge. TUR: Look at this week for the president, Manafort, his campaign chairman, might be going to prison for the rest of his life. We`ll see what the jury decides. You have his former, most loyal -- one of his most loyal aides, woman he has known for years, secretly taping him and other staffers and unloading it piece by piece.

Michael Cohen, by the way, still hasn`t been indicted. There`s all this talk about whether he`s going to coordinate or cooperate with SDNY. Will he cooperate with Robert Mueller? I mean, that is a lot of pressure on the president. Also, his press secretary can`t say that he`s never used the N- word.

ALTER: You know, the point on the Mueller report is, it is -- I`d be amazed if it`s released between now and the election. They have a dead zone that prosecutors use before elections in some cases, six weeks, eight weeks, where they don`t want to -- Jim Comey, notwithstanding, generally the policy is they don`t want to do things that might -- TUR: Aren`t we in that time zone already?

ALTER: No, I think it sort of starts in September. But it is -- what you just said about Michael Cohen, they`re not nearly done in Mueller`s office. So the idea, Giuliani is dreaming, it`s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks.

BUMP: I think it`s worth remembering, too, that most everything we`re hearing comes through Giuliani`s and Trump team.

TUR: Yeah.

BUMP: It is sort of like this puppet show where I said this, he said this. We don`t know what Mueller is doing or thinking. Keep in mind, all the context, all this back and forth is solely coming through the lens of what Trump`s team knows and says, which I think --

JORDAN: So you think Rudy Giuliani might not know the facts?

TUR: We`re going to leave it on that. Phil, Elise, and John, guys, thank you very much. Ahead, fire and furious.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TUR: In case you missed it, up is actually down, dogs are actually cats, and wildfires are actually caused by the people trying to protect the wild. Here`s secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN ZINKE, UNITED STATES SECRETAR OF THE INTERIOR: I`ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management. The extreme environmentalists again have shut down public access. They talk about habitat, and yet they`re willing to let it burn up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUR: That is the secretary of the interior saying wildfires are caused, in part, by overzealous activists, but not by climate change. And perhaps he has a point. Seriously, maybe what we need is less interior. Zinke believes the logging industry should have more access to national forests.

Fewer trees means fewer chances for a wildfire. Right? Right? Stop environmental groups. But I say we need to go further. The time has come for bold action. That`s why we need to endanger more endangered species. Some of them are very big and could eat us. We are protecting Americans, people. Stop animal activists.

You want cleaner oceans, why? We should want filthier oceans. More polluted water means fewer people would swim in it. That means fewer drowning victims. American lives saved. You`re welcome.

Stop pollution opponents. Don`t litter, you say. I say do litter. More littering means more people would be needed to clean up the trash. Good jobs for hardworking Americans. Stop anti-littering group.

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