MTP Daily, Transcript 12/15/2016

Guests: Hampton Pearson, Roy Cooper, Beth Fouhy, Cornell Belcher

Show: MTP DAILY Date: December 15, 2016 Guest: Hampton Pearson, Roy Cooper, Beth Fouhy, Cornell Belcher

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: -- for the sports reporting field and, of course, for a courageous and very public battle with cancer that unfortunately ends in Craig Sager`s passing today at the age of 65. Somebody who by sports fans and non-sports fans will be missed dearly.

That does it for this hour. I am Steve Kornacki here in New York. "MTP DAILY" starts right now.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Yes, it`s Thursday,

President-elect Donald Trump is accusing intel agencies of playing politics, though this time in the face of nearly incontrovertible evidence.

(voice-over): Tonight, a U.S. intel bombshell ties Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to the election hacking. Will the president-elect now change his friendly stance on Russia?

Plus, the Democratic Party`s big dilemma. Do they have to decide between appealing to aggressives and appealing to working class whites?

And a wild Republican power grab at North Carolina. How much is too much? We`ll talk to the governor-elect Roy Cooper in his first national interview since the election.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in New York City and welcome to MTP DAILY.

If a foreign dictator tried to interfere with the U.S. election, it would be a big story. But what if they were doing it as revenge against the supposed front runner? And what if the front runner lost and what was a shocker to a lot of people? Then, what if they got caught? And what if the incoming president didn`t seem to believe a word of it?

What do you think the reaction would be? Here`s the reaction. Crickets, of sorts. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have told NBC News that they now believe with a high level of confidence. This is intel speak for nearly incontrovertible, meaning this is not just circumstantial.

It means they have hard evidence to prove the following, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the covert Russian campaign involved to interfere in the presidential election. First, as a vendetta against Clinton, then as a campaign to destroy American credibility when it comes to overall democracy.

Folks, it`s a story without historical parallel. In 1972, Watergate started when a couple burglars jimmied open a file cabinet. This time, we`re talking about the infiltration of an entire arm of American democracy by a foreign foe.

There is little dispute among the intelligence community that Russia`s actions were intended to hurt Clinton`s candidacy. And there is also little dispute from political analysts and Clinton`s campaign team that it did, to a point.

A Putin spokesman, today, told the A.P. that our NBC report was, quote, laughable nonsense. By the way, what`s interesting there is that the Russians hit the media, not the government sources behind it.

Trump`s transition did not dispute NBC`s story when it first broke. But this morning, Trump tweeted this. If Russia or some other entity was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?

That`s actually a fairly important question that we all need to find an answer to.

We`ll dive into Trump`s argument in a minute. But his public rejection of U.S. intelligence seems to have thrown a big caution flag on the entire issue for this Republican-controlled Congress.

It`s also convinced a lot of Trump supporters that the story is bogus. We`ve seen no statements from Congressional committees today, no calls from Republican leaders for a special investigation. And not much of a reaction from Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan today, either.

But it has lit a fire under Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Graham just went public with the fact that Russia hacked him back in June. And, today, he went right after Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am 100 percent certain that the Russians hacked into Podesta`s e-mails, the DNC and other political organizations. Most of the information that was released was unfavorable to Clinton, not Trump.

Here is president Trump`s dilemma. What are you going to do? Now, if you don`t believe that the Russians were involved in interfering with our election, then I am really troubled by that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The NBC reporting team that broke this story, Cynthia McFadden is our Senior Investigative and Legal Correspondent. And Ken Delaney is NBC`s Intelligence and National Security Reporter.

A big story, Cynthia and Ken. A giant one. First, let me start with this. It`s pretty -- it`s an incredible scoop that we have that Putin was intimately involved with this. Where is Congress on this? And have they been briefed on this yet?

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE AND LEGAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, we asked today, Adam Schiff, whether or not Congress had been briefed on the matter of Putin`s direct involvement, and he declined to answer that question.

But I --

TODD: Adam Schiff, by the way, the House Democrat ranking -- House top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, anyway.

MCFADDEN: Correct.

TODD: Yes.

MCFADDEN: And he said that he couldn`t comment on whether or not they had been briefed. But I think it`s pretty clear that the leaders knew. It`s also pretty clear that the White House knew.

[17:05:06] Certainly, they had drawn that conclusion at least a month before their now famous October 7th statement, because the White House did confirm that President Obama had directly confronted Vladimir Putin about this at the G-20 --

TODD: Right.

MCFADDEN: -- in early September.

TODD: Ken, help me with some intel speak here. High confidence. You know, you -- if you`re a layman reading this in the report, you know, high confidence, OK, whatever that means. But high confidence has a special place when it comes to a CIA report. Explain.

KEN DILANIAN, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Absolutely, Chuck. It`s about as high -- I mean, it`s about as firm as they can get, in terms of intelligence assessment.

It means, as you said in the introduction, that they have more than a supposition, more than a judgement. They have significant evidence that what they`re saying is true.

MCFADDEN: Yes, take it to the bank.

TODD: And so, the implication here means they have -- they must have hard sourcing. It`s not just a computer did this and a computer did that. They have something more. Is that fair to say?

MCFADDEN: And we reported last night that there were -- there were human - - human intelligence was a part of this, both diplomatic and now here`s some more intelligence speak.

TODD: Yes.

MCFADDEN: There were human intelligence resources from our allies. In other words --

TODD: Actual spies.

MCFADDEN: Spies.

TODD: Wow, we can say the word, spied, physical human beings.

MCFADDEN: Correct.

TODD: Yes

Ken, let me ask this. Let`s address Donald Trump`s question. Why didn`t President Obama say something before the election?

DILANIAN: Well, and, of course, he did, right? And the interesting thing is the intelligence committee viewed that October 7th statement as a very dramatic development. You know, all 17 intelligence agencies endorsing this conclusion and naming Russia has having interfered with the election.

But it, sort of, didn`t break through. You know, it wasn`t treated with the significance that maybe it`s being treated now.

And, you know, you had, today, the White House saying, hey, we basically said it was Putin. We said the highest levels of the Russian government in that statement.

TODD: All right. But, Cynthia, I remember, very vividly, when President Obama dramatically came out and accused Kim Jong Un in North Korea of the Sony hack. And it was -- he actually took a story that was being covered on the sidelines by us and by the American people.

And he said, no. We need to zero in and put this -- put the full camera on this story. He didn`t do that.

MCFADDEN: Well, and what -- and what you say, Chuck, is so telling because what this was, though, as Ken says, you know, the intelligence community viewed this as rather dramatic.

TODD: It`s big, yes.

MCFADDEN: It was a paper statement from intelligence officials. It was not the president of the United States going on television saying, this matters, listen up.

Nor did the president, for that matter, go on Congress and say, this is serious, to the American people. Serious enough that we ought to consider sanctions. I mean, some sort of overaction.

We don`t know, entirely, but we intend to find out, --

TODD: Right.

MCFADDEN: -- what covert activities have been or are going to be taken regarding this. We did report last night that the --

TODD: Right.

MCFADDEN: -- U.S. Intelligence community has dug very deeply into Vladimir Putin`s finances.

TODD: Right. Well, you know, it`s interesting on this, and, Ken, I want to bring you back into this conversation. So, I had an interview with Vice President Joe Biden.

MCFADDEN: You certainly did.

TODD: And I think it was about the middle of October.

MCFADDEN: Yes.

TODD: And I asked him the very question, will we know -- you know, it wasn`t just, will Putin know when we act? And he says, I hope so. Will we know? And he said, I hope not.

Is that -- what did the intelligence community think of that? I only say that is -- don`t you need to show the world what we`re capable of in that`s in an instance like?

DILANIAN: You -- that`s a great point. And so, the government is divided on that questions. There are people who think, hey, this is an espionage matter. This is an intelligence matter between great powers. We should keep this all quiet.

And there are others who are saying, no, this crosses a line. This is Russia interfering in American democracy. This is something we should go public with and take public action that -- so that the whole world that Russia`s paying a price for this. And those divisions are playing out in the administration.

MCFADDEN: And remember one thing. The administration did not want to get into a high-stakes game of cyber tit for tat with the Russians which is one reason why what president -- Vice President Biden said to you, you know, had resonance.

TODD: Right.

MCFADDEN: And yet, if you don`t take any kind of public action.

TODD: Right. How do you stop them?

Let me ask you this. Let me give you a different challenge I think we all are facing, us in journalism, these days. There`s people watching right now, and I`m going to get some e-mails saying, you guys are hyping up this stuff. And, you know, I don`t believe any of it.

MCFADDEN: Right.

TODD: I don`t believe any of it. It -- and it -- look, our sources can`t reveal themselves. It -- they`re -- some of them, they would go to jail --

MCFADDEN: Well, --

TODD: -- if they did, for revealing classified information. You know, and that`s the way they`ve been able to say, well, show your work. What do you say?

MCFADDEN: And that`s one of the problems. I mean, none of us want to do anonymous sourced stories. I mean, we want people to go on the record.

But, as you suggest, there are some stories you can`t tell if you just rely on people who will go on the record.

So, yes, the American public and this is part of the issue. Part of the issue and the credibility of this issue.

[17:10:03] And I would say something else. I think that there has been a problem by linking together what the intelligence community absolutely certainly knew --

TODD: Right.

MCFADDEN: -- and the speculation about what that impact of that was.

TODD: Right.

MCFADDEN: And I think what we can say for certain, the intelligence community agrees that the Russians were involved in this and that Vladimir Putin was directing it.

Now, whether or not they succeeded and what their motives were have been widely debated. When you link these two things together, it starts to get a little squishy and political.

TODD: Ken, how would you quickly -- how would you try to prove the -- have to prove this negative? Guilty until proven innocent, --

DILANIAN: I think --

TODD: -- as I always call it.

DILANIAN: Yes. No, Chuck, I think people are absolutely right to be skeptical of anonymous intelligence sources. We go back to Iraq, WMD. People were sure of their sources at that time, too.

That`s why I`m really glad the administration is saying there`s going to be a public accounting of this. A public disclosure of some of the evidence before Obama leaves office.

TODD: An Adlai Stevenson moment, perhaps. More so than they say a Colin Powell moment, right? Show your work.

MCFADDEN: There you go. And Donald Trump says, why so late?

TODD: Well, we`ll find that answer to that question tonight, perhaps, on the "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS"?

MCFADDEN: Let`s hope.

TODD: All right. We`ll be looking.

Thank you so much, Kim, Dilanian as well.

DILANIAN: Thank you, Chuck. Nice of you.

TODD: I`m joined now by someone who helped write the book on Vladimir Putin. Literally, not figuratively or seriously these days, since we always have to balance that literally word, apparently. It`s Fiona Hill. She was a former U.S. intelligence officer. She`s co-author of "Mr. Putin, Operative in the Kremlin" and is now a senior fellow at Brookings.

Fiona, let me start with our report. Does it surprise you that we`ve got sources essential saying, not essentially, that Vladimir Putin was personally involved with this? I take it from how you wrote your book, it wouldn`t surprise you. Do you know anything beyond that?

FIONA HILL, FORMER U.S. INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: It certainly wouldn`t surprise me, Chuck. I do not know anything beyond that, so let me state that at the outset.

However, having talked to an awful lot of people, myself, over the last several weeks and months as this story has played out, I think we can be fairly confident, as the intelligence services state that we can, that we have an awful lot of information that has led us to the conclusions that are being stated.

I mean, one of the questions that you`ve been raising in the discussion with Cynthia and Ken is, like, why did this take so long? I think this is, actually, a sign that we can have confidence in this information.

In previous instances, where there`s been a lot of criticism of intelligence and of conclusions, you know, for example, on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction which President-elect Trump has pointed to very explicitly.

TODD: Yes.

HILL: There have been a lot of pressure to rush to judgment. There have been a lot of political pressure on the intelligence agencies to come forward with conclusions that they weren`t ready to make.

In this case, they`ve obviously spent a lot of time passing information from all kinds of different sources, from private sector sources to the kind of human intelligence that Cynthia and Ken have just been talking about. To, frankly, the work of investigative journalists.

And I think that this is why we have got to this point in December where there`s been many months of this unfolding.

So, I`m not at all surprised by where we are.

TODD: All right.

HILL: But I don`t have any information, personally, beyond what we already know. And I think it will be very interesting how this plays out.

TODD: Explain --

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Yes.

TODD: -- I want to --

HILL: Sorry, Chuck.

TODD: No, no, it`s all right. I want to go to a part of this that appears to be the motivation for Putin which is he --

HILL: Yes.

TODD: -- firmly believes that Hillary Clinton, personally -- it`s almost more so than the American government. That Hillary Clinton, personally, was trying to mess or did mess with the parliamentary elections in Russia.

Is there any evidence of that, number one? And number two, is this truly the driver of this for Putin?

HILL: Well, it`s a very interesting thing. I mean, President Putin made those accusations very openly in response to protests that emerged in 2011 and 2012 against Russian parliamentary elections in December 2011 and in the run-up to his own presidential reelection in 2012.

He did not provide any evidence at the time. But he made a very flat assertion that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, and the State Department had been very much involved in this.

And so, ever since that time, we have really seen a very negative reaction on the part of Putin, personally, and the political structures in Russia toward Hillary Clinton. They`ve made no secret of the fact, whatsoever, that they did not want to see her as president of the United States.

So, I certainly think that we can be confident that there`s something of a vengeance motive behind this.

TODD: Right.

HILL: But I think, more broadly, Russia has been very disturbed and Putin, himself, has marked the idea that the United States might interfere in their elections.

TODD: Right.

HILL: And one thing to bear in mind is that Putin is going to have to go for reelection again sometime around 2018. There`s a lot of speculations as to whether he intends to go for yet another presidential term of six years, whether he might hand the baton to someone else or what might happen with the system.

[17:15:07] And you can be sure that they want to preempt the idea --

TODD: Yes.

HILL: -- of any kind of external interference in their election. So, there could also be, you know, an element that they preempt on the idea that we might do something or that they think that we might do something.

TODD: A final question for you. What would sting? What kind of response from the United States, that`s within reason, that would sting Putin?

HILL: Well, there are a whole variety of things. I think, you know, one of the things we have to bear in mind, however, is that, you know, they have had quite a significant advantage of the United States, at the moment, ever since Edward Snowden appeared in Moscow.

I mean, really, they have been able to reveal an awful lot of information about the United States on intelligence capabilities.

TODD: Let me pause you there a minute.

HILL: So, the Russians --

TODD: That`s a very -- you are implying that Snowden is being helpful to them. Are you?

HILL: Well, I think he has become helpful to them by his presence there.

TODD: Got you.

HILL: And, of course, by the statements that he has made about an NSA overreach. And the impact that his revelations made on the intelligence surfaces. It got -- it got them on the defensive in the United States.

And he`s also created a rift between the U.S. intelligence services and the loss of the allied intelligence services, especially in Europe. By the implication that the United States had been spying on its friends.

TODD: Right.

HILL: So, it put our intelligence services very much on the defensive. And it also has given the United -- the Russians, rather, a pretty much of an idea of what the United States might be capable of.

So, I think that, you know, it`s going to be very difficult for the United States to launch something retaliatory. That may have been one of the reasons why the White House has been more reticent.

But I think there are certainly (INAUDIBLE) capabilities. Russia is clearly worried about interference in its own political system. It`s clearly worried about the kinds of other attacks that we`ve talked about that might have been a denial of service, --

TODD: Right.

HILL: -- or attacks against its infrastructure. You might remember that recently they`ve come down hard on Microsoft, even going so far as to potentially ban Bill Gates from visiting Russia. Clearly, they`re very concerned about this kind of activity. So, they were very worried that there might be an escalating in response.

TODD: All right.

HILL: So, this may give an opportunity for to (INAUDIBLE) actually really see this heart to heart. A very firm discussion with Russia about saying, look, you know what we`re capable of. Is this really what you want to have happen?

And then, there is a cross of their nobilities. At least externally, perhaps not internally, about Russia`s -- you know, the questions about --

TODD: Right.

HILL: -- the personal financial holdings of Vladimir Putin and the people around him which, clearly, is a soft spot, certainly in a rather larger international arena where there`s also scrutiny about dealings and having business dealings with Russia at this particular juncture.

TODD: And who knows how the people of Russia would react to finding out just how wealthy he is.

HILL: Yes, what would happen and how they might react. Exactly.

TODD: All right. Fiona Hill, I could go on but I have to leave it there. From Brookings, former U.S. intelligence officer. And, of course, author of -- writing the book on when it comes to Putin and espionage. Fiona, thanks very much.

HILL: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: And we`re going to have much more on this bombshell story just ahead. What did our government know about Russia`s interference and when did they know it? We`ll dig deeper into the timeline. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Tonight, secretary of state, John Kerry, is calling on the Syrian government to end the fighting in Aleppo for good with this impassioned plea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Assad regime is aiding and abetting. And the Assad regime is actually carrying out nothing short of a massacre.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The first time it`s been said, not the party, but the first time it`s been said by John Kerry. He said, though, it appears airstrikes had stopped in some areas and that a cease fire might be taking hold. But 10s of thousands of civilians are still trapped there.

And, today, busses and ambulances transported 2,000 Syrian civilians out of the rubbled held areas. The Red Cross says a full evacuation could still take days. It`s still pretty dire and it`s unclear whether the bombing actually has fully stopped.

We`ll have more on MTP DAILY right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: People need to remember that the president issued a warning but he had to be obviously sensitive to not being viewed as inferior on behalf of the candidate or against the candidate or either way that promoted unrealistic assessments about what was happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The admiral act for our defense, right? It was a trap, no matter what happened. That was secretary of state, John Kerry, today, defending the administration`s response or low-level response to the Russian hacks at the time, depending on the point of view.

The White House did tread cautiously with this issue because they were worried about the appearance of medaling in the election which arguably is ironic, considering it was about meddling in the election.

Let me bring in the panel. Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster, Beth Fouhy, politics with NBC News and MSNBC, Elise Jordan is an MSNBC Political Analyst and a former aide to Rand Paul`s presidential campaign and the Bush White House.

So, you know, this timeline, and it was interesting, Beth, they talked about the 17 intelligence agencies. And, yes, I believe -- I think Jeh Johnson did some T.V. the day they put out the joint statement. And he was -- but his primary goal that day, if I`m not mistaken, was don`t worry, the election systems are fine.

BETH FOUHY, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, NBC NEWS: Oh, yes. We were assured repeatedly that the election systems were fine, that the machines were not going to be compromised, and nobody was going to go hacking into those election machines.

TODD: That`s true. Well, for the most part. I mean, that wasn`t the issue, though.

BETH: Right, right. Clearly not. And just what you were saying before, I mean, the administration was so bent on not appearing to be meddling in the election. It allowed this meddling to happen.

But remember at the time, Chuck, I mean, from last summer, Donald Trump started talking about a rigged election. He started ringing the clacks, saying that the election was going to be rigged. Who knew that it was rigged against the Democrat?

But he had deficiently (ph) raised that issue. And Obama being the kind of person he is, the kind of leader he is, he`s very rational. And he decided that rather than act in a way that, you know, would make this dramatic intrusion into the election, he sort of stepped back. He played that, sort of, rational role and he can perhaps, you know, be wondering why he did that now.

TODD: Cornell, I`ve heard from a lot of Democrats who were just, it`s starting. You know, Adam Schiff said it on my show on Sunday when he said he thought President Obama should have not only said something sooner but, more importantly, done something already.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think it -- the calculation from the White House probably was something, like, you know, if, one, I think we`re going to -- Hillary was going to win the camp -- win the election, right?

TODD: So, no sense of urgency.

BELCHER: So, no sense of urgency there. I guess we were wrong.

And two, I mean, he has been someone who`s tried to step back and not politicize this. So, as the president, you know, not to politicize. And imagine, for a moment, if he had jumped in the fray and said that. He would have been attacked, you know, immediately for doing that.

[17:25:01] So, armchair quarterback. I wish he had jumped in and taken the attack and gotten the information out there now.

ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look at where his, President Obama`s, approval rating was at that time versus Trump`s.

TODD: He was very credible.

BELCHER: Yes.

JORDAN: He was incredibly credible. I just think he went so out of his way not to over-politicize this. And it`s really in keeping with a pattern throughout the Obama administration`s foreign policy. Particularly, he starts off the one foreign policy he did politicize, the Afghanistan War. That didn`t go too well for him. And he got pulled into a war, he got pulled into escalating when he really didn`t want to.

TODD: Right.

JORDAN: So, you see from that point on, looking at these different conflicts. Yes, he did go into Libya. But with Syria, you know, tip toeing around. Not making any kind of decision. And then, we`re left with what we`re left today by a small half measure.

TODD: Now, it`s fascinating today to see -- to sort of read Trump. There`s a couple of things that took place over the last 12 hours. One was you did have, I believe it was a Trump spokesperson of sorts. In fact, I want to play it from -- it was on Brian Williams` show last night. Let me play a clip of what he said. It was, sort of, the first time you`ve seen an acknowledgment that this stuff did happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS SHOW: Tell me why we`re wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t think anybody thinks that you`re wrong. I think what we`re -- I think the -- our position right now is that we`re waiting for a little bit more information. I don`t think there`s anybody on the 14th floor of Trump Tower or the 26th floor where the president- elect sits that thinks that this is a sanction thing to do.

In fact, we find it reprehensible. We reject the notion that people will cyber attack our institutions, our Democratic institutions, the DNC or other places.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And then, of course, Donald Trump tweeted today, essentially, why didn`t you do it sooner? But the implicate -- it seems as if he`s trying to get on the side of, oh, yes, I`ll -- yes, this is bad. Maybe I will do something about it. He`s not there yet, but it -- you can see they`re moving that way.

FOUHY: No. And just this morning on the -- every day the transition team has a phone call with reporters. And Jason Miller was act -- went after our reporting, NBC`s reporting, and called it. What did he say, continued efforts to try to delegitimize the election. So, there -- we are still seeing from the Trump team that any suggestion -- this sound bite notwithstanding --

TODD: Right.

FOUHY: -- from --

TODD: Which is actually in contradiction to what --

(CROSSTALK)

FOUHY: Right.

TODD: -- saying one thing and Jason Miller --

FOUHY: Is reflecting, basically, what we`ve seen from Kellyanne Conway and Trump, up to this point.

TODD: Or doing the Julian Assange which is attack the outlet not the report.

FOUHY: Right. And in so doing, it`s allowing, basically, one grown-up to sort of at least open the door to a potential investigation. I mean, let`s face it, Trump is so thin skinned about the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Just this morning, he was out tweeting against "Vanity Fair" because they wrote a scathing review of his restaurant.

(CROSSTALK)

FOUHY: It makes you want to go to Trump Tower and try the restaurant.

So, he has to -- he has to stay firm on this, at least as firm as possible. Before he can become president to say, there is no way this election result is going to change. And that is the posture of the majority of his team.

TODD: By the way, the other thing that happened today that was -- every increment -- every incremental development in this has inspired Lindsey Graham to talk more.

BELCHER: Well, and it`s amaze --

TODD: And I thought that`s fascinating.

BELCHER: And that`s fascinating to me, because, look, as long as I can remember, Republicans, part of the brand has been, you know, the party, particular against Russia. You know, Reagan very strong on --

TODD: (INAUDIBLE.)

BELCHER: Yes. The evil empire. And his famous ad, the bear in the woods. This has been sort of what Republicans` have been for, right?

Now it`s an -- because Reagan has to be rolling over in his grave, this idea that know the Republican standard bearer is someone seeming to be in bed with the Russians. And it cannot be helpful long term for the Republican brand.

FOUHY: Well, I think it`s incredibly important that Republicans treat this as a national security matter. Not letting it be politicized. Democrats also shouldn`t politicize it. And I think that John Podesta`s moves trying to, you know, say that the electoral college could possibly rethink the election. I think that`s a mistake. I think -- I think it has to be a national security.

TODD: That does conflate it and you end up politicizing and not everybody listens.

All right. I`m going to pause here. You guys are sticking around.

On another story we`re going to tackle today. North Carolina Republicans already making efforts to make life very uncomfortable for the new Democratic governor before he even takes an oath of office.

But is this sort of partisan politics gone too far? Governor-elect Roy Cooper will join me to respond to the Republican legislature. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Up next, protesters are crowding the state capitol in North Carolina as republican lawmakers try to strip powers from the new democratic governor-elect. That governor-elect will be here to respond, but first Hampton Pearson with the CNBC Market Wrap.

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC REPORTER: Thanks, Chuck. We had stocks gaining back some ground after Wednesday`s sellout. The Dow rising by 59 points, the S&P up 8, the Nasdaq up by 20 points.

Oracle shares are sinking after hours. The company`s earnings beat estimate but revenue came in light. The stock is down about 2 percent.

And Yahoo shares slipped more than 6 percent today after disclosing a massive 2013 hack amid fears a Verizon might also back out of a deal to acquire that company. Authorities are investigating the breach. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back to MTP Daily. We`re all used to partisan power plays but there`s something brewing in North Carolina that`s taking partisanship in power grabbing to a whole new level. Republicans in the North Carolina legislature are trying to strip power from the newly elected democratic governor just before he`s sworn in.

It has just been going on all day at the capitol state. They actually had to empty the gallery this afternoon because of the protests. Just moments ago, some demonstrators were reportedly being arrested. Here`s what`s happening. First, republican lawmakers called a surprise special session this week amid protest and confusion from democrats.

Then they filed 20 new bills. Many of these bills would make the democratic governor a lot less powerful, and hand more power to the republican controlled state legislature. And now those bills are being rushed through before the republican Pat McCrory, the current governor, leaves office.

The bills include a requirement for the governor`s cabinet to be approved by the state senate. Another new bill would limit the members of the governor`s staff from 1500 to just 300. They also want to take control of state board of elections away from the governor and they want to change elections to the state supreme court so that they become partisan elections, meaning the candidates would be ID`d bi-party on the ballot.

One of those bills, the one overhauling the state board of elections, was passed in the state senate this afternoon. That bill now goes to the house. Folks, it`s one thing to lose a close race and be bitter about it. It`s entirely a different one to try to jam through changes to strip away your opponent`s powers. It could be setting a dangerous new precedent.

Then again, this has actually happened in North Carolina before. I`m gonna get into it. Joining me now in his first national television interview since this election is the governor-elect of North Carolina, democrat Roy Cooper. He is currently by the way still the state`s attorney general governor-elect. Mister attorney general, welcome to the show, sir.

ROY COOPER, GOVERNOR-ELECT OF NORTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: Let me ask you this. Do you have any of the bills that they`ve introduced? Are there any of them that you actually would be willing to sign if they would wait to do this after you took office?

COOPER: One of the problems is that there`s not enough time to read them all, Chuck. This is a partisan power grab that goes far beyond political power. It`s about public schools, it`s about Medicaid expansion, it`s about tax relief for the middle class.

They know my priorities, and what they are trying to do with these process changes is to limit my ability to work to raise teacher pay, to expand Medicaid, to protect our air and water, and it`s not time for this.

They go into session in a few weeks after the new year, after I`m sworn in. I`ll roll up my sleeves and work with them, but this is why people are mad, and this is why people don`t like government, because of these kinds of shenanigans.

TODD: You guys have a unique system in North Carolina. The legislature is awfully powerful. There is a veto-proof majority that the republicans have. There are many republicans quietly who believe that handcuffed Governor McCrory on the whole HB2 bill because he knew there is nothing he could have done about it. He couldn`t veto it because it was going to get overwritten. How tied are your hands on this?

COOPER: Well, I have a vision for where we`re going to go in North Carolina. I have a history of being able to work with republicans. When I was the senate majority democratic leader, our house was republican. We raised our teacher salaries to the national average. We were able to cut taxes for the middle class.

I`m willing to work with them and I believe that I can form some coalitions with moderate republicans on specific issues like renewable energy. And I plan to do that. But if republican leaders are trying to grab this power early and are going to thwart my ability to do that, that will make it much more difficult for us to work together cooperatively.

Our supermajorities, Chuck, are the product of partisan, gerrymandering. North Carolina has been in the courts about this issue and ours are some of the most extreme in the country. We are a very purple state. We vote pretty evenly in democratic and republican races. But to have supermajorities in our state legislature, to have 10 to 3 in our congressional delegation republican, it shows you the trauma of that kind of redistricting, and it`s not right.

TODD: Governor-elect, you indicated you thought this was unconstitutional. What makes it unconstitutional? They have the ability to call their own special session. The governor did not call the special session, they did it on their own because they have this supermajority.

COOPER: What I`ve said is, Chuck, is if i believe any legislation that they pass hurts working families, and if I believe it is unconstitutional, then I will challenge it in court.

TODD: Right now you don`t know of anything that`s unconstitutional yet.

COOPER: Well, we`re still looking at it all. The whole process of how they called themselves into this second special session is questionable. So potentially everything that they do at this point is unconstitutional. We don`t know yet. We`re examining it. This has all happened in the last 24 hours.

TODD: Right.

COOPER: These bills were being filed last night. This is exactly how North Carolina got into trouble with House Bill 2, and I disagree with something you said earlier. Governor McCrory signed House Bill 2...

TODD: He did, that`s right.

COOPER: ... which discriminated that night and gave no time for input or input from the business community or anyone else, and I believe that if he had vetoed that legislation and waited, it would have been just like Georgia and other states who turned down this type of discriminatory law.

TODD: Now, some republicans are saying hey, you`re crying over something that democrat did to a republican governor in North Carolina back in the late 80s, to a republican governor named Jim Martin.

You were pretty active in politics then. Is there -- do you admit there are some similarities here, that democrats acted this way when they were in control of the assembly in the late `80s and early `90s, and maybe that was a mistake too?

COOPER: That`s just not true. There have been power struggles between the executive and legislated branch in North Carolina for decades just as there have been in other states. This is unprecedented. You`re talking about governor`s authority of appointments. You`re talking about massive changes in our state court system.

TODD: Right.

COOPER: Because we had a victory in the North Carolina supreme court. They are making it more difficult there. Massive changes in our election laws and all within a day or so. And this is what frustrates people. This is what we need to stop. I`m going to be working for better education, for clean air and water, for fair taxes for the middle class, we need tax cuts.

What they`re trying to do, one of the reasons they want control of my appointments to revenue and commerce is because they want to continue these big tax cuts for corporations at the expense of the middle class. And I`ll work with them on issues, but I`ve got principles too and when it`s time to fight, we will fight.

We can put pressure on from the business community and other people. I believe we`re gonna be able to make some forward progress. They need to stop these shenanigans and let`s get sworn in...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Very quickly. If you had any conversations with the outgoing governor, with...

COOPER: Yes.

TODD: ... Governor McCrory on this very issue?

COOPER: No. Not on this issue. We have talked a couple times about transition and issues within the departments, but this is brand new. This has just happened. We`ve not had any discussion. I would hope, because he also had his struggles with this legislature and gubernatorial authority. I would hope that he would veto this legislation because it`s wrong in and of itself.

TODD: Well, we may find out soon enough. The governor-elect, democrat Roy Cooper in North Carolina. I have say what a startling story to read about this morning, that`s for sure. Appreciate your coming on.

COOPER: Thanks, Chuck.

TODD: Just ahead in The Lid, there`s more interest in Donald Trump`s potential conflicts of interests. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Tonight, I`m obsessed with a damn good looking suit more specifically the technicolored dream coats that made TNT basketball sideline reporter Craig Sager, a sight to behold, always put a smile on your face. Sager passed away today after battling cancer for more than two years.

If you`re a fan of basketball, you know that Sager was a broadcasting legend. We`re all battling within it felt like on this one. We are just pulling form. He covered the NBA for more than 26 seasons with probing questions and flashy suits that became a larger than life trademark look. Sager took pride in his head-turning style. So what better way to honor him tonight than to look back at a few Sager` styles.

Like this rose in blazer he wore at the ESPY earlier this year where he gave an emotional speech while battling cancer. It`s a look that he even vice president Joe Biden seemed to enjoy as you can see there. Then there was this orange sports coat with blue and yellow handkerchief that Sager wore at the NCAA final fourth tournament this year, an instinct classic.

How about this variation of a two-tone look, the bright orange coat with black handkerchief there. Think of rock look like this classic jacket from 2015 game between the Bulls and the Thunder. One thing is for sure. There would never be another Craig Sager. And we think that is a description that suits him nicely. Craig Sager was 65.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for The Lid. The panel is back. Cornell, Beth, and Elise. I know I said -- I want to go to the North Carolina story here. I want to paint a scenario for you guys. President Obama signs an executive order that says the sitting president and vice president has to abide by all the conflict of interest laws that the rest of the executive branch does.

If he did that today, Beth, there would be, you know, screams from republicans and all this stuff. You could argue that`s what happening in North Carolina right now.

BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR EDITOR: I guess you could argue that.

TODD: Basically you`re trying to, you know, someone is trying to basically make life uncomfortable for the successor in an election to be bitter about.

FOUHY: Right. I mean, in this case, I mean this is In this case, this is the super majority republicans in the legislature who are already going to cause problems for the incoming democratic governor, anyway. For them to step out and do this on behalf of, you know, the 10,000 or so vote differential between McCrory and Cooper is pretty extraordinary.

They clearly have the power to do it. Governor-elect Cooper was very clear that they can get away it. He is trying to take the and say I just want to talk about good education and clean water and jobs. But clearly they`re pulling the legs out from under him in order to do exact power.

CORNELL BELCHER, PRESIDENT OF BRILLIANT CORNERS RESEARCH AND STRATEGIES, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: At some point we have to stop and pull back and this is sort of an elapse of the people right. We got to stop being democrats and republicans because this is...

TODD: At some point.

(CROSSTALK)

This is like stuff that happens in Banana Republic right? You`re not supposed to do this. This is against American values.

TODD: It`s not illegal.

BELCHER: It should be.

TODD: But it isn`t.

BELCHER: It`s fundamentally wrong, right? If you`re democrat or republican you shouldn`t be playing these games because quite frankly, it undermines our values and undermines our democracy.

ELISE JORDAN, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that`s so much of what this past year`s election was about. Frustration that Washington couldn`t get anything done because they`re so divided. And then when republicans would actually go to the middle ground, they would get blown up by their base who didn`t want any compromise on the budget. They didn`t want any compromise period. What we see happening in North Carolina is just more of the same.

TODD: Thank you. It`s emblematic. We have apocalyptic mentality right now with the basis of both parties. And it`s like I don`t know how we get out of this.

BELCHER: Stop the gerrymandering. I mean...

TODD: Bring back swing voters. I agree.

BELCHER: Take politics out. Listen, both sides have played this game. Take politics out of the drawing of our maps.

TODD: In all 50 states.

BELCHER: At all 50 states and let people -- we believe in free markets. Let them compete in a much more free market.

FOUHY: But we lost the point where any decision can be made not in a partisan way. I mean, what you`re saying we shouldn`t be republicans, we shouldn`t be democrats, we should be Americans.

TODD: Yeah.

FOUHY: Perhaps.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: The republican in power will say that`s a partisan statement because you`re not in power, right? I mean, yeah.

JORDAN: And looking a the first hundred days. I`m incredibly curious what exactly they`re going to do about Obamacare because there has to be a replacement and it has to be up and running immediately so the 22 million people don`t lose coverage.

FOUHY: Not just coverage.

BELCHER: Right.

JORDAN: Now the rhetoric has taken us to this crucial boiling point and are they going to be able to deliver? I don`t think you can immediately deliver. I think with time you can put in a replacement. But that hasn`t been what the language has been in the past, you know, eight years.

TODD: And I just -- and obviously, look, North Carolina, the power of their legislature is. It is extraordinary, just in general, that branch. I mean, congress jokes that article 1, you know, they should be more powerful than the president, but they`re not. In this case, they really are. That legislature does run roughshod over governors.

FOUHY: Yeah. If this is to pass and if they`re to be successful, what is stopping them from just thwarting everything he`s going to try to do for the rest of his governorship? There`s no reason why they wouldn`t so that.

TODD: You don`t have retribution too much in the ballot box. Retribution goes to the primary I believe.

BELCHER: Right. But leaders matter, right? So if you`re the current sitting governor especially on the way out, do the right thing.

TODD: Well, I`ll be curious what McCrory does. What do you think, Elise?

JORDAN: It`s a big move. I think that McCrory is going to try to do the right thing. I think that he`s been fed up with the legislature...

TODD: The legislature is the reason why he`s going to be the next governor.

(LAUGHTER)

JORDAN: Exactly.

TODD: Okay. He knows it. That`s what I wonder too.

JORDAN: Potentially gives a little bit of a middle finger on the way out.

BELCHER: Do the right thing.

TODD: There you go. You said do the right thing. You said middle finger.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Nobody is saying all right. I`ll leave it there.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: After the break, the wake forest spice scandal that is reminding people of the Russian spy scandal. In other words, it`s WikiLeaks! Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Finally, in case you missed it, we`ve seen another example of the intersection between politics and sports. You know me, I`m always looking for it. And in this case, Russian spying. Here is the story. Last month, Louisville beat Wake Forest 44-12 in a college football game. Nothing unusual about that.

Now, we learned that Louisville was given, quote, a few plays in the -- from Wake Forest`s play book by none other than Wake forest`s radio analyst. Now, why would Wake Forest`s radio guy feeding his team`s plays to one of the its assistant coaches? Well, it turns out the announcer and the coach once worked together at Wake Forest.

What is Louisville`s reaction to all this news? Well, they admit it`s true, but they`re holding their hands in the air going saying, nothing to see here. Whatever we were told, we knew already. And even if we didn`t know it, we didn`t need to use it. What a shame that this is distracting attention from the upcoming bowl game.

Hey, look at the time. Anyway. It`s hard to hear that and not hear echoes of the controversy surrounding Russia meddling in the election. In that case, it`s the Trump transition team saying nothing to see here. Could be Russians, could be the Chinese, could be some 400-pound guy in his basement. And it didn`t mean anything because Hillary would have lost anyway. She is with no instinct and hey look at the time.

The fact is both responses have an element of truth. Louisville would have beaten Wake Forest no matter what. And it`s possible that Donald Trump would have beaten Hillary Clinton no matter what. But couldn`t each side admit that someone was interfering with what should be a fair process trying to tip the balance for one side over the other?

Would that be so hard? By the way, my next great fear is paranoid college football coaches you guys are paranoid enough. Don`t beat up my poor college football beat writer. Too bad. Still let them see some practices anyway. That`s all for tonight. Ari Melber picks our coverage though right now.

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