MTP Daily, Transcript 12/16/2016

Guests: Michael McFaul, Hampton Pearson, Dallas Woodhouse, Karine Jean-Pierre, Michael Steele

Show: MTP DAILY Date: December 16, 2016 Guest: Michael McFaul, Hampton Pearson, Dallas Woodhouse, Karine Jean- Pierre, Michael Steele

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: President Obama steps up to the White House briefing room podium for one last time. A defeated President Obama stays above the partisan noise. Was it really effective?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Americas are left with unanswered questions on the intelligence on Russia`s hacking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And if you thought what was happening in North Carolina was weird, you ain`t seen nothing yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is partisan power grab that goes far beyond political power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington. Welcome to MTP DAILY.

Wow, that was some press conference we just witnessed. President Obama once called Trump unfit for the presidency, dangerous to American democracy, and now this stuff about (ph) Putin.

Now, he`s about to hand the reins of power to Trump amid an unprecedented breech of the American Democratic process arguably caused by Putin personally.

Folks, the president we saw this afternoon, at what could be his final press conference, seemed to be pained by the political climate around him, frankly, at times what you could call a defeatist tone.

President Obama spoke to reporters packed in the White House amid a dramatic escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

In fact, moments before the press conference began, two U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News that now the FBI and the director of National Intelligence were in agreement with the CIA`s assessment that Putin`s Russia intervened in the election, in part to help Trump win.

So, that was the backdrop when the president walked in. The president was asked about those reports and he didn`t deny them.

But here`s what really stood out. A foreign foe hacked part of our election process and much of the criticism was not aimed at Vladimir Putin for his involvement in the hacks. It was directed at the American Press Corps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m find it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single week. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip. Including John Podesta Risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And when the president was asked if he thinks Clinton lost because of the hacks, he seemed to suggest that she lost because of the press coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m going to let all the political pundits in this town have a long discussion about what happened in the election. I don`t think she was treated fairly during the election. I think the coverage of her and the issues was troubling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: President Obama also blamed certain U.S. news outlets for the rise of fake news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If fake news that`s being released by some foreign government is almost identical to reports that are being issued through partisan news venues, then it`s not surprising that that foreign propaganda will have a greater effect because it doesn`t seem that far-fetched.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But let`s return to the issue of Russian hacking. The president defended the administration`s reaction which some critics argue was not firm enough. But he also seemed to acknowledge that Trump had a big impact on his approach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of the goal here was to make sure that we did not do the work of the leakers for them by raising more and more questions about the integrity of the election right before the election was taking place. At a time, by the way, when the president- elect himself was raising questions about the integrity of the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: So, was the Obama administration cowed by that? Folks, this was a president that seemed to be finishing his term in quite the defensive posture.

Let`s bring in the panel. Karine Jean-Pierre is a senior adviser for MoveOn.org, Chris Cillizza, an MSNBC Political Analyst and "The Washington Post" Fix box. And Michael Steele is an MSNBC Political Analyst and former RNC chairman.

Chris, I`m going to start with you. I have to say, I -- what began with a stunning announcement that the FBI was --

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC Political Analyst: Yes.

TODD: -- in synch with the CIA. You thought, OK, that comes out literally minutes before President Obama.

[17:05:03] So, you think, OK, we know what the news of this press conference is going to be. It`s going to be straight forward on that.

And it was, like, nope. That was a different president. I have to say, I was surprised.

CILLIZZA: It`s funny, your opening and what I published five minutes before I came here is virtually the same thing which is it struck me that the thing -- given the fact that it now seems quite clear, not only that Russia was behind this hack, but also it was clearly intended to hurt Hillary Clinton and benefit Donald Trump. Right, FBI and CIA agree.

The thing that President Obama was engaged in and most passionate about, by a long shot, were the clips you just played.

TODD: Yes.

CILLIZZA: That the media -- he always says, I don`t like to be a pundit and then goes onto a long pundit -- you know, pundit train.

TODD: (INAUDIBLE.)

CILLIZZA: But, yes, again, I -- that`s been a consistent theme throughout his administration and throughout when he was running for office which is a disdain for the media. But it seems to me that the fault here lies in Russia --

TODD: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- hacking into the DNC.

TODD: Right.

CILLIZZA: If Russia hacked Donald Trump`s e-mails, we would have reported on that, too.

TODD: Right.

CILLIZZA: You know, this idea that the media was complicit in some way. That we were -- I hate to use the word, puppet. But that we were Putin`s puppet.

TODD: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I mean, I think that oversimplifies saying it puts a -- the blame where it should not go.

TODD: To defend -- I guess the way to defend the president`s tone today was he was trying to deescalate the partisanship, right?

That is -- that is what, you know, a -- I`m sure what we`re going to hear from Obama aides about why he chose to do what he did today. That he wants to maybe it`s preserve a relationship with the president-elect so that he can have some influence on him.

Maybe it`s to see if he deescalates it now, he can convince him that Russia is a real threat. He may have a lot of reasons why he did it. But it struck me today that Donald Trump was probably a lot happier with that press conference than Hillary Clinton.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, SENIOR ADVISOR, MOVEON.ORG: Yes. I guess it goes back to that, you know, peaceful transfer of power that started on day one, right? On November 9th right after the elections.

But, look, just to Chris`s point, just for a second. I mean, this has been an unprecedented election, right? We`ve used that word, ad nauseam, right, for the last 18 months. And we had a candidate who really did manipulate the media, right? And in every way that you can fathom.

He is still doing it, using Twitter to misdirect when he doesn`t want to talk about the real issues.

And here`s the thing -- and the Russia part. It`s not just one thing. But the Russia part as well. Where did -- it was so insane. And we did cover it as a pundit, right?

You`re -- I know you`re a journalist. As a pundit, I had to -- we talked about it. Almost every time that I was on T.V., we talked about WikiLeaks. We talked about the DNC -- the DNC hacking. And it was -- and we didn`t focus as much as we -- as I had wanted to.

I understand I`m a Democrat. But on the foundation -- Trump Foundation. On other things that would have been important to talk about when it came to Trump. And it`s almost as if we normalize. Not as if we normalize but (INAUDIBLE) his candidacy.

TODD: I want to play something else for you, though. Because I thought the other thing was President Obama seemed to, on one hand, say he tried to do what he could with Putin but nothing worked. Let me play this byte about what he said about his one-on-one conversation with Putin in September.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn`t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out and there were going to be serious consequence if he didn`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Michael Steele, it`s December. That didn`t work.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Also, you have a conversation with the president of Russia, given all the intel and information that you had at that time.

TODD: Right.

STEELE: And so, you`re suspicions were clearly higher than --

TODD: High enough that you chose to --

STEELE: Thank you.

TODD: -- talk to him about it?

STEELE: To talk to you about it. And so, what have you done about it between September and December? You have 35 days left in office. You have a new administration coming in and it has a very different posture on Russia, for example.

This issue will likely not raise to the same level for Trump as it does necessarily for this president. So, why didn`t you take advantage of this opportunity to really focus the nation`s attention on what was happening then?

TODD: Right.

STEELE: And then, to now sit back and blame the press for, you know, talking about a Risotto recipe, as opposed to this. Well, you had the bully pulpit.

Not only did you have the bully pulpit, but you had the ear of the president of a foreign country that was injecting itself in our nation. And you did nothing.

CILLIZZA: I -- go ahead.

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I just wanted to say, back in -- back in, what, October, 17 federal agencies came out --

TODD: Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE: -- and said, hey guys, waved the flag and said, this is a problem.

[17:10:00] TODD: Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE: Russia is potentially involved in this election.

And Donald Trump was actually asked about this during one of the debates. So, it`s not as if we didn`t know that this was going on.

CILLIZZA: I totally agree. But, see, the thing that -- I`m with you 100 percent. The thing that`s frustrating for me as a reporter, a journalist, is it`s hard for me -- I think what a lot of people are saying is, why didn`t people care more about this?

TODD: That`s exactly right.

CILLIZZA: Not necessarily why didn`t they know more about it. Because a poll came out yesterday that said people didn`t really.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Because we did cover it. I mean, maybe we didn`t cover it as much as people wanted to. And, yes, we absolutely --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: OK. You know what a president of the United States does at a time of -- look, this was an act -- this was an attack. A Russia attack on the United States. What the president of the United States does is usually you galvanize the American public. You walk them through it.

CILLIZZA: That`s it.

TODD: You -- maybe you lay out the case. Where is the evidence? He didn`t say he was going to do that.

And you know what`s something else he didn`t say today. While he was lecturing the American Press Corps, Russia has gone into the U.K., France, Germany, eastern Europe.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: So, make the global case against Putin. Put Putin on the spot. And here, none of that was done.

CILLIZZA: He -- I think -- I think his worst trait, the trait that has done him the least good, is the professor background which many people who support him think is the best part of him.

But he has a tendency to talk around things. To -- he doesn`t -- the galvanizing of the American public. I think he`s always saying, from this view over here or from this view over here.

Whereas -- I mean, it is fascinating in that we have now elected someone who is the literal exact opposite of that. Like, it`s -- I see the world this way.

TODD: OK. As somebody -- as somebody who pointed out to me (INAUDIBLE.) You always have to remember, the president is his mother`s son. And his mother was an anthropologist.

CILLIZZA: Yes, absolutely.

TODD: He does always look at it -- he looks at it in an anthropologist- type way.

STEELE: But I still get back to the point -- I go back to that conversation now that the president has admitted publicly that he had it with Putin. That, to your point about the globalizing effort and recognition of what Putin was doing, to say to the American people at that time.

And I know the concern about, well, I don`t want to inject myself into this president`s race. But this supersedes that, in my view. Because this, as you put it appropriate was an attack.

And to put it into context, I had a conversation with the president of Russia today and I let them know that what they are doing and this is what we know that they`re doing stops now.

And that kind of -- not only does it freeze things where they are, it does take it out of that political and elevates it to whole -- another level of importance. And he didn`t do that.

TODD: He so feared the political -- look, there`s no doubt he feels pained by the political atmosphere and the hyper partisanship. But he almost as if he feared the partisanship so he didn`t act.

JEAN-PIERRE: Right.

STEELE: Right.

TODD: Is that what happened?

JEAN-PIERRE: Well, --

TODD: Is that what we`re going to conclude?

JEAN-PIERRE: -- from what I`ve read and what seemed to have happened is he wanted this to be a bipartisan kind of effect, right? Back in October. And he reached out.

Mitch McConnell and other Republicans were, like, we don`t -- this is not something we want to talk about right now.

And so, he seemingly pulled back and didn`t want to make -- to politicize it.

So, it is a -- it is a tough place to be. This is -- as we`ve said over and over again, this has been unchartered territory with this -- with this presidential election.

CILLIZZA: I just -- I feel like if you watch that press conference, the first five minutes he devoted to, sort of, which they all do, the recitation of successes. What is hard and what he, of course, 100 percent knows.

Because he`s a smart guy and a smart political strategist, whether he likes to admit it or not. He knows that when he`s talking about Obamacare, he`s talking about Russia.

So, these are things that -- the chairman makes the point. These are things that will be undone.

TODD: Yes.

JEAN-PIERRE: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Right? So, they are his legacy for whatever it is, 34 more days.

STEELE: Thirty-five days.

CILLIZZA: These are things that will be done. I think he -- you sense that for him. This was in a robust defense of Obamaism such as this.

STEELE: Listen, --

CILLIZZA: The robustness that existed, eight questions for more than an hour, was when he is talking --

TODD: (INAUDIBLE.)

CILLIZZA: -- about the media. That`s it. That`s it. Just watch --

TODD: You`re right. That was the only energy he had.

CILLIZZA: Right. That`s what he cares.

TODD: He came across as a defeat -- a bit defeated.

STEELE: Yes.

TODD: All right. You guys are sticking around. We`ll have more from the press conference.

Just ahead, the former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, and David Sanger of "The New York Times" on the implications of Russia`s hacking and what the president could do that the president-elect would accept.

Keep it here.

[17:14:47]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Devastation in Syria continues today. Evacuations from the rebel- held strongholds of Aleppo paused with thousands of civilians still trapped inside the eastern part of the city. The root of the impasse remains in dispute.

President Obama responded to questions about whether the U.S. has done enough to help this besieged city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems. And that everything else was tempting because we wanted to do something and it sounded like the right thing to do but it going to be impossible to do this on the cheap (ph). And in that circumstance, I have to make a decision --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have said and I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government. And I will let you make that determination as to whether they are high level Russian officials who is go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Back now with more. I`m joined now by Michael McFaul who is a special assistant to the president, a senior director of the National Security Council, and, of course, served as U.S. ambassador to Russia. He is also an NBC news and MSNBC Contributor.

Also joining us, "The New York Times" national security correspondent, David Sanger, who, as you know, has broker quite a few stories on this beat over the last few weeks.

Ambassador McFaul, let me start with you. I was struck -- and I know you heard our conversation earlier. I was struck by what I thought was the president`s, almost, I don`t want to say lack of blaming of Putin but sort of deescalating this a little bit.

He seemed intent on doing that. He made it clear he though Putin was behind it. But he seemed to almost be angrier at the media than Russia.

MICHAEL MCFAUL, CONTRIBUTOR, NBC NEWS: Well, two things. First of all, I did hear your first panel and not all professors talk around issues. OK, folks?

TODD: You never do. That is true. You never do.

MCFAUL: And my father and mother grew up in Montana where we talk straight and not like anthropologists.

So, a couple of things to -- I have lots of different impressions, Chuck. But on this point, let`s dig down a little bit on the past before the future.

[17:20:05] So, on the past, there is this tension here, that you all were rightly talking about, between what the U.S. government did to alert the American people and voters about what was happening during the campaign. And then, your reaction to it. And I think we need to investigate both.

Let`s just be clear. If the Obama administration wanted to make a major story about what they released on October 9th, there would have been a different way to do that.

What did they do? They put out a statement by Mr. Clapper and the DHS, Homeland Security. That`s one way to do it. And, by the way, that happened on a day when there was a lot of other news.

TODD: Right.

MCFAUL: Let me tell you another way to do it because I did it, personally, with David Sanger who`s on the program with you here. We were in Pittsburgh together in September of 2009. And we declassified and made the world aware of new news and information that we had about Iran`s nuclear program.

TODD: Right.

MCFAUL: That was a very different way that we handled the same kind of information because we wanted the world to know.

So, I think there are some legitimate questions there. Why wasn`t there another report, for instance, after the Podesta hackings?

TODD: Right.

MCFAUL: The president for -- I think he made news today, by the way. He`s the first administration official I know -- maybe I could be wrong. David, correct me. But he said that we know that the Russians did that.

Why didn`t we have a press conference about that? Why didn`t we have a statement about that? Why didn`t we even have a statement from the FBI that they were investigating that?

And then, I do think it was an underreported story. And, by the way, that`s an empirical question. That`s not a question about opinion. There is a lot of political scientists working on this story right now.

And what you`re going to see when that data is published is that the word e-mail in a word map for secretary Clinton appears in a big, big, bold way.

And on the other side of the ledger, there`s all kinds of different scandals that don`t add up on the Trump side. But let`s leave that for the noodle head political scientists --

TODD: Right.

MCFAUL: -- later for the historical record.

TODD: By the way, I remember that Pittsburgh story very well. I remember the moment when you did show David Sanger everything because we all caught you, I think, by accident when some of us walked in on that meeting.

But, David Sanger, let me get your impression. What did you hear today?

DAVID SANGER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, a few things. And it`s great to be out with Mike. And just for the record, Mike, we knew about that. That`s why the White House had to go declassify all of that stuff. But that`s a separate issue.

TODD: All right, here we go.

SANGER: But that`s a separate issue.

MCFAUL: But you were doing good reporting, David. And that`s the kind of reporting that I wish more people would have been doing earlier in this story, with all due respect.

SANGER: So, Mike makes a good and a serious point here. And I think we were reporting, as hard as we could, the Russian hacks. But the fact of the matter is that this White House wasn`t terribly helpful with it. For three reasons, I think.

First is they were concerned that it if they talked about this, it would undercut people`s confidence in the election system. And President Obama said almost as much today.

Secondly, they were concerned that if they escalated with the Russians, that they would retaliate, in turn, on Election Day. And the president said that explicitly.

And, thirdly, the White House came to this a little bit late. If you look back at our reconstruction of these --

TODD: Right.

SANGER: -- events that we published earlier this week, all, I don`t know, 7,000 plus words of it. The events begin with the FBI warning the DNC in the fall of 2015. The president in his press conference today said he first heard about this in June of 2016.

Well, there are seven or eight months in between there in which no one told the president of the United States that they had evidence that the DNC was being broken into. There`s a big problem there.

And I think had they been aware earlier, they would`ve had time to work up some options a little bit earlier.

TODD: Peter, it`s interesting what David just said about what President Obama said he -- that this idea that if he came out too strongly, they undercut confidence in the election.

Well, Ambassador McFaul, we`re still there. We do have a public that lacks confidence right now. They don`t believe half -- you know, half the country, perhaps.

And even the incoming president does not believe these intelligence assessments. So, it happened anyway.

MCFAUL: Well, just to agree with David, I mean, I was talking to people in real-time at the White House. I still have some friends there, at least for a few more weeks. And there`s no question that what he just reported was exactly their anxieties in real-time.

What is mysterious to me, and then I`ll answer your question about confidence in a minute. What David just reported, and the incredible reporting that he did, that the president doesn`t find out until June.

I worked at the White House for three years. I dealt with intelligence with the Russians every single day. Something is not right about that story. I want to know more about that.

[17:25:09] And something also is really strange about "The New York Times" story where an FBI agent is --

TODD: Yes.

MCFAUL: -- calling the I.T. guy at the DNC and they`re not meeting. I have personal experience with that. The Russians tried to hack my personal account when I worked at the White House. I think it was on a Friday. Sunday morning, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, three FBI agents showed up at my house.

So, why was there not that kind of investigation? Why did that not happen there?

But, Chuck, to your point. That`s right. People don`t believe it. The president was even citing polls about Republicans and Putin. And I think the only way we`re going to have the facts in a more believable way is if we have a bipartisan independent commission.

It`s not going to happen with the Obama administration investigating themselves. And it`s most certainly not going to happen in the partisan context of hearings on Congress.

We need an independent commission so that we get the facts to the best of our ability and then, prepare for the future. Because, remember, the Russians did have the capacity to intervene on Election Day. Maybe other people did. We need to make sure that they don`t have that capacity come 2020.

TODD: You know, David, I was also struck by another aspect of this which was the president didn`t talk about the global threat that is Putin. Why is that?

SANGER: Well, it`s a fascinating question, Chuck, because he actually did the opposite. He went out of his way to describe Russia today, accurately I think but this is Mike`s territory, as a declining overly oiled dependent state that is broke, that doesn`t innovate as he said. And, yet, has posed this significant threat to our Democratic process.

And I think it was sort of his subtle way of saying to President-elect Trump that, hey, you`re going to have to deal with these Russians because they may be more dangerous as a failing power than trying as he is as a rising power.

But don`t kid yourself, they`re not what they would like to go be. They have struck out on this in this way because it`s the cheapest available weapon to them.

TODD: Ambassador, very quickly. President Obama is still promising some action. Well, he doesn`t have that many more days to do -- to be in charge of making that decision.

What is realistic given -- what can he do that would either be effective against Putin, to the point where president-elect -- the next president would feel compelled to keep it going or what can he do that would have an impact on Putin, even if president Trump doesn`t want to do anything about it?

MCFAUL: I don`t think he has very good options especially with the time left. And knowing the president the way I do, I don`t think that`s going to be his inclination to start a kind of tit for tat cyber war with the Russians 33 days before he leaves.

There`s one other thing to add to what David said about, I think, his tone. They are predicting, in the Obama administration, a pivot with Russia and a honeymoon period. And so, talking about the threat, six or seven months from now, may look like they were being hyperbolic about it. So, that`s another concern they have.

And, therefore, I think he has two options. One, declassify and tell us as much as you know. That is something he has direct authority over. I`ve seen him do it before when I worked at the White House. He can`t do everything, of course. But he can advance the story.

And two, support this idea of a commission so that there`s something that ties the king`s hands, if you will, moving forward.

TODD: OK.

MCFAUL: I`m not optimistic but those are the two things I would focus on before he leaves office.

TODD: All right. Ambassador McFaul, David Sanger, whoof (ph), quite the conversation. Appreciate both of you being on and sharing your views.

Still ahead, what amounts to something close to a Republican coop in North Carolina? A Democrat won the race for governor so Republicans just stripped him of his power. And the outgoing governor who lost the race signed that bill into law.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: If it`s Sunday, we`re gonna be talking transition and a lot more "Meet the Press." Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates joins me to discuss Trump`s pick for Secretary of State. He is also a former CIA director by the way.

And then former Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta joins me for his first post-election interview. It`s an exclusive this Sunday. We will discuss the loss and what role they think that Russia and the FBI played in it. We`ll have more on Podesta`s comments on the FBI just ahead, but first here`s Hampton Pearson with the Friday "Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC REPORTER: Thanks, Chuck. We had stocks finishing slightly lower. The Dow shedding eight points, the S&P falling four, the Nasdaq sinking by 19 points. Housing stocks were much weaker than expected last month. Groundbreaking slid more than 18 percent from a nine-year high.

Building permits engage in future activity sank 4.7 percent. And the Labor Department said unemployment fell in 18 states in November and was virtually flat in 32 others. Florida saw the biggest hiring gains along with Indiana and South Carolina. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(START VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I now declare this House of the Fourth Extra Session of the 2015 General Assembly (inaudible).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Whew! In what has been called a partisan power grab and a political coop, republican lawmakers in North Carolina today successfully stripped power away from the incoming democratic governor and then quickly gavelled out.

As we told you last night, the state`s republican-controlled general assembly called a surprise special session this week and filed multiple bills aimed at making the incoming democratic governor less powerful. One of those bills has already been signed into law and another is heading to the governor`s desk.

That`s right, the defeated governor is signing these things into power to weaken the governorship. Protesters were at the state capitol again today. The state senate had to clear the spectator gallery of protesters this morning and demonstrators were tossed out of the state house too.

Governor-elect Roy Cooper told me yesterday that potentially all of the bills could be unconstitutional and if they are, he said republicans will see him in court. Joining me now, the other side of this dispute is the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, Dallas Woodhouse. Mister Woodhouse, welcome to the show, sir.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Chuck, that`s the funniest thing I have ever heard. Merry Christmas, Chuck.

TODD: Let me ask you this.

WOODHOUSE: That`s the funniest thing I have ever heard. We ain`t seen Roy Cooper in a courtroom in 16 years as attorney general defending the state. I don`t know if he can find his way. TODD: Let me -- okay, let`s go to this. Try to defend what seems to everybody outside of the State of North Carolina pretty indefensible and frankly looks like sour grapes over a lost election. No, defend this move beyond sour grapes.

WOODHOUSE: This is the inevitable result of divided power in a state that loathed executive power. Just a few years ago, the democrat legislature stripped the republican lieutenant governor of every power they had. They stripped Governor Jim Martin of his ability to hire people.

Governor Jim Martin and what was known as the Christmas massacre don`t win and then tried to fire a bunch of republicans before he was in office and right after the first of the year, the democrat legislature passed a law allowing them to fire any state worker, teachers, construction workers, cooks, if they had simply been hired in the last five years during republican administration.

This is a bunch of crocodile tears. This is what happens when you have divided power in a state that since King George`s time loathes executive power.

TODD: So let me ask you this. Let me ask you this. Did you think what the democrats did in the 80s and 90s was wrong?

WOODHOUSE: I certainly thought what Roy Cooper did in 2000 when he helped pack the court once we won. TODD: No, that`s not the question I asked you, sir. Do you think it was wrong to do that? You pointed out all of these issues that you said hey, you know, but do you think it was wrong what the democrats did then?

WOODHOUSE: Chuck, I think wrong is always in the eyes of the beholder of whose ox is getting gored. That is why it has always been in this thing and what you`re saying.

TODD: So you are saying you violate the -- two wrongs don`t make a -- so what you`re saying in this case, two wrongs make it right?

WOODHOUSE: What I would say is that legislature over time on both side of the aisle has been that they loathe executive power but they will give a little more to their guy, but when the other side gets in, they scale it back. Hey, guess what, Chuck. The next thing you know you`ll say there is gambling in Casa Blanca. I mean, come on. This is (inaudible) partisan political system.

TODD: Well, you could -- here`s what I don`t get about this. You would have a lot more legitimacy. You have the veto proof legislature. You have a lot more legitimacy if you actually had the guts to pass these bills, send them to the governor`s desk. He may veto. You`ve got the ability to override it, so do it in a straight forward way rather than this sneaky way that was done. WOODHOUSE: What was sneaky about it? We have a legislature that serves until the end of the year and here`s the thing, perhaps we would rather not get off to the foot with the new governor of shoving a veto override down his throat in the first week. Maybe we would like to have a little more cooperation and work with him. That is another.

TODD: Is this a way to show -- let me ask you this -- is this the way to show potential cooperation? Before we -- before we let you take office, we are going to strip you of powers. In fact, fewer powers. Here is the other thing.

When -- explain this to me and you can say that it is perfectly legal, but in the spirit of democracy to make changes after the voters have voted, how does that -- how does that send a message that it`s somehow on the up and up?

WOODHOUSE: Chuck, it`s in the message that we have fixed terms in America. I believe that President Obama held a press conference today. I believe he`ll be doing executive order at 11 a.m. on January 20th. I suspect he`s still gonna pardon people. That is the way or system works.

And I`ll say this. It`s funny that governor-elect Cooper fussed that we cut back his political appointments to about 300, about where they were during the last democratic governor. Did you know he sponsored a bill cutting political appointments down to 100?

He sponsored it and helped pass it. I mean, people have to be held accountable for their actions and hold us accountable. Of course there is politics involved, but I will tell you this. There is some really good policies that were passed this week after a very divisive election.

TODD: Right.

WOODHOUSE: . where both sides were distrustful of the election apparatus. We created a fully bipartisan election commission that both sides can begin to develop trust on. So you might not like how we did it.

TODD: Do you take.

WOODHOUSE: . but I think we have done some good policy work.

TODD: We live in a hyper polarized environment. This seemed to be on a level we haven`t seen before. And this was an election.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: By the way, you had a very contentious gubernatorial election. You had the outgoing governor who took a long time before he would concede. So it was already fraught with political, you know, disunity. Why go and throw gasoline on this fire? Why divide the state even more?

WOODHOUSE: You know, I don`t believe it is a division because I would say this. They may have elected Governor Cooper. He won one election. We won a ton of elections. It`s 109 out of 170 in the general assembly. I think you can make a strong argument that the people of the North Carolina elected divided government and part of that is checks and balances which we are reasserting. For example, we`re gonna.

TODD: Why not do it when the new governor is in there? You are not doing it right now because you are waiting -- you are using your outgoing republican governor to sign these bills. Again, what I don`t get here is you have a lot more legitimacy.

WOODHOUSE: Chuck, I would be.

TODD: You got a lot more legitimacy if you have done this after the new governor took office.

WOODHOUSE: I would be glad to answer that question. Two things. First of all, probably the governor signed the bills out of expediency but they passed veto-proof margin. We can get them through anyway. The legislature is good. And also again, I think that they would like to start off the new session on a different foot rather than sending him these things and overriding him that way.

Look, Mister Cooper is the governor. He gets to move into the mansion, he gets to ride in the back of the fence, he escalates, and he has a choice. When that republican bills are sent to him, he can sign them, he can let them become law without a signature or it can be overridden in most cases. That`s what he ran for and that`s what he has. TODD: And you don`t think this somehow is in a front to the plurality and majority of North Carolina voters who said they wanted a democratic governor?

WOODHOUSE: And they are going to have a democratic government in line with the powers...

TODD: With your powers than the republican governor had because the legislature decided he shouldn`t have the same amount of power.

WOODHOUSE: And this is the same decision that legislatures have made over the last 50 years when confronted with divided government. It is also a state that I would remind you, we elect a state-wide council of folks to divide executive power.

Our state has loathed executive power. And any time there is a split in executive power between the legislative and executive branch, we trim it back. It happened every time over the last 50 years.

TODD: Dallas Woodhouse, you are a spirited defender of this and of your party. Always a pleasure to have you on. WOODHOUSE: We passed good policies this week. Merry Christmas.

TODD: You got it. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays and happy Hanukkah. Thank you, sir.

Clint camp calls out Jim Comey and the FBI for playing a role in their loss this November. We`ll have the details ahead in The Lid. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Tonight, I`m obsessed with a debacle over a deer. You know the old saying, you can`t fight city hall. Well, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York would beg to differ. The governor of New York and the mayor of New York City don`t get along at all. They got a longstanding public rivalry going on.

And this week, a deer found itself caught in the headlights between the city and the state. Yes, a deer. Nicknamed J.R. because it had been living in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem in New York City. Sadly, that deer did die today. A New York One reporter tweeted that perhaps it was the first casualty of the Cuomo-De Blasio feud.

Here`s a clip (ph) version of what happened. A deer shows up in a city park. He hangs out for a while and becomes a minor celebrity. The deer wonders out of the park and is captured by the city. And Mayor De Blasio orders it euthanized because state wildlife officials say that`s the right thing to do.

But Governor Andrew Cuomo`s office stepped in, giving the deer a reprieve, offering to relocate it upstate, despite that being against state policy because deer usually don`t make it when they`re relocated.

Unfortunately, the deer died while waiting to be relocated. Now, like any good political stories especially one that stands from an ongoing feud, there is blame game. We will just leave it at that. Oh, deer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." Hillary Clinton and her team blame the Comey letter, believe that cost them the White House. "The New York Times" obtained audio of Clinton talking to donors last night. Take a listen.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Take it from Nate Silver who`s pointed out that swing state voters made their decisions in the final days breaking against me because of the FBI letter from Director Comey. I happen to believe this. That that letter most likely made the difference in the outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And Clinton`s campaign Chairman John Podesta speaking out as well, writing in an op-ed in "The Washington Post" today that slams the FBI director for the FBI`s priorities. Quote, comparing the FBI`s massive response to the overblown e-mail scandal he writes with the seemingly lackadaisical response to the very real Russian plot to subvert a national election shows that something is deeply broken at the FBI.

The panel is back with me now, Karine Jean-Pierre, Chris Cillizza, Michael Steele. Karine, what you make of the John Podesta op-ed?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG SENIOR ADVISOR AND NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: Well, I think the bigger thing that I saw from the op-ed is, what happens next, right? Like the concern of Donald Trump`s closeness with Putin. Especially when you look at Tillerson and Flynn and what does that mean for the American people, right?

So I do believe that, I do believe that the Comey letter and, you know, the Russia impact did have an influence. Did it sway the election? We just don`t know yet. I do believe that it would be great for the president to declassify the evidence on what the FBI and the CIA have and let the American people decide.

Because we`re about to see a president who has a long list of potential conflict of interests. It will be good for the American people to see what`s going on. TODD: What was interesting, Podesta was pretty critical of the FBI and Comey. And you just heard Mike McFaul earlier on the show, sort of similar criticism. President Obama defended the FBI today.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. Again, I think he`s -- look.

TODD: I know. He`s walking that line.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: He is the president of the United States and you know the -- I mean, Donald Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: By the way, Donald Trump has not shown the same approach as the president-elect. He essentially said, oh, the CIA, what do they know? But I do think Obama is very aware, particularly at the end of his term, very aware of the importance of not undermining these institutions, even while, my guess is, President Obama in private feels quite differently.

TODD: Right.

CILLIZZA: Just one thing about the Hillary blaming the FBI. I think it is demonstrably true that that is going to take a little enthusiasm out of her base, drive enthusiasm, convince some people that didn`t really want to be for Trump, well, I don`t want to go through all of this.

She lost the election because she -- Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were states that they assumed they had. That their polling suggested they had, that she didn`t go to. She wins those, she wins. Well, you can say, broadly, sure, it had an impact. It was a factor. It was not the factor.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: I don`t even think it was much of that, at the end of the day. I think those states were -- were losing ground for her long before that Comey letter hit the street. Largely because she did not translate. At the end of the day, I`m sorry, I`ve been a candidate for office. And if you don`t translate, you don`t win. TODD: Right. In those areas. I mean, I know people are going to say popular vote, but in Michigan.

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Michigan is your backyard. Wisconsin is your backyard. Pennsylvania is your playground. And so we put those three up against everything else, you`re going to tell me that the Comey letter had such an impact that the Michiganders went, oh.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: . every democratic nominee except her won. TODD: I want to -- we`ve got a little bit off-topic here. I want to go back to whether the FBI`s priorities -- I mean, how -- what`s interesting here is the Trump people weren`t happy with Comey either, right? They thought Comey was dragging his feet on some of these things. Comey is just in a political -- I don`t know how to put it. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah, I mean he did something that was unprecedented for the Department of FBI. I mean, 11 days before the election you`re going to put out a letter that`s essentially a nothing burger, and then two days before, you prove that the letter was a nothing burger.

(CROSSTALK) TODD: Another thing I think today about the FBI, it`s Brennan that put out the statement that said the FBI.

STEELE: Right.

TODD: Why did they.

JEAN-PIERRE: I agree, yeah.

CILLIZZA: I agree that -- I don`t think she loses because the FBI letter, but in hindsight, we knew this before the election, why did James Comey come out 11 days before? The assumption has to be, by anyone paying attention, is he knows something that they have found on this computer.

JEAN-PIERRE: Right, exactly.

TODD: Right.

STEELE: Right.

CILLIZZA: And it turns out to be absolutely nothing.

TODD: I think he got cowed by leaks. CILLIZZA: He did, but a remarkable thing, regardless.

JEAN-PIERRE: It started with the press conference in July. That`s why it led to the letter.

TODD: That press conference doesn`t happen if Bill Clinton doesn`t go on Loretta Lynch`s plane. Okay, there you go. Karine, Chris, and Michael, thanks very much.

STEELE: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: A quick reminder, John Podesta joins me exclusively this Sunday on "Meet the Press." Coming up after the break, what a difference eight years can make. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Well, in case you missed it, being president isn`t easy. Take a look. Here`s the president at his first press conference, February 9th, 2009. And here`s President Obama today. Show these photos there. As you can see, nothing like eight years and what it does. It adds a lot of gray.

Did it with Bush, we did it with Clinton. Let`s see what four years and possibly eight does to Donald Trump. That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back Monday with more "MTP Daily." And of course, if it`s Sunday, catch "Meet the Press" on your local NBC station. Ari Melber picks up our coverage right now.

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