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MTP Daily, Transcript 2/16/2017

Guests: Deirdre Bosa, Eliana Johnson, Jennifer Palmieri, Dan Balz, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kelly O`Donnell, Dan Balz, Eliana Johnson, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jennifer Palmieri, Kasie Hunt

Show: MTP Daily Date: February 16, 2017 Guest: Deirdre Bosa, Eliana Johnson, Jennifer Palmieri, Dan Balz, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kelly O`Donnell, Dan Balz, Eliana Johnson, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jennifer Palmieri, Kasie Hunt 

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: That full interview, 6:00 tonight, "FOR THE RECORD WITH GRETA."

That`s going to do it for us. "MTP DAILY" starts right now.

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

We are struggling to find new adjectives to describe where we are in the Trump presidency.

Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington. And welcome to a special MTP DAILY. After this afternoon, after President Trump`s first solo press conference. Let`s just say it simply. It was extraordinary.

It was extraordinary because it was an airing of grievances. He finally dismissed the flood of crises and controversies that have been enveloping his administration by simply blaming the press, blaming leaks, blaming the opposition party, blaming the courts, blaming the past administration, blaming Congress. And denying allegations of racism and anti-Semitism.

He cited campaign crowds, ratings, the electoral college as evidence of an adoring public, while also claiming he was running a, quote, "fine-tuned machine inside the White House west wing." All of it making historic progress. It was, at times, surreal. Sometimes it was strange. There were some echos of Richard Nixon circa 1973.

All this hour, we`re going to try to dive into this incredible and, at times, bizarre display of presidential behavior. We`re going to fact-check this thing as much as that`s possible.

We`ll also see how anxious Republicans on Capitol Hill are reacting. The sequester (ph) was supposed to calm things down here in Washington. Not sure it did that. We`ll also get reaction from Moscow and a lot more.

But we begin with the elephant in the room for this White House, Russia. During this press conference, and we can`t let it get lost in all of this media back and forth. The president bristled the questions on this topic, especially when reporters kept pressing him for a clear answer about possible contact that his campaign may have had with Russian officials amid their state-sponsored effort to hack the U.S. campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can talk all you want about Russia which was all a, you know, fake news, fabricated deal to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it. It`s all fake news. It`s all fake news.

Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.


TODD: We`re going to circle back to the Russian question in a moment because there`s a lot more to dive into and a lot more denials from the president.

But he also teed off on the issue of embarrassing leaks coming from inside his administration, while simultaneously claiming that the leaks were real but the news of the leaks was fake.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s an illegal process. And the press should be ashamed of themselves. But more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves.

I`ve gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies and where I`ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks. The leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.


TODD: Mr. Trump was also defiant when it came to criticisms that his White House was, to put it mildly, off to a rocky start.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To be honest, I inherited a mess. It`s a mess. At home and abroad. A mess. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

There has never been a presidency that`s done so much in such a short period of time. A lot of people are happy about it. In fact, I`ll be in Melbourne, Florida 5:00 on Saturday. And I heard -- just heard that the crowds are massive. There`s zero chaos.


TODD: The crowds are massive. Wow. He is promoting the rally.

Anyway, that Florida rally he references is a campaign rally and we`re not sure what campaign. And today`s performance from the White House played out, though, like one of those pep rallies that we saw during the campaign and it was a one-man pep rally today.

By the way, last but not least, the president retreated to familiar territory today by blaming all of the administration`s problems on, you guessed it, the press.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press has become so dishonest that if we don`t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. A tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it to find out what`s going on. Because the press, honestly, is out of control.

In other words, the media is trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they`re not happy about it.

[17:05:00] But I`ve never seen more dishonest media than, frankly, the political media.

I`m having a good time. Tomorrow, they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I`m not ranting and raving. I am just telling you. You know, you`re just dishonest people.


TODD: Wow. Folks, this may have been a feel-good moment for the president, in some ways. But this was not a moment designed to calm the waters on Capitol Hill, among anxious Republicans.

Just moments ago, "The Washington Post" reported that President Trump`s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, denied to FBI agents that he discussed U.S. sanctions with Russia during that call with the Russian ambassador. That was back there in that interview that Flynn had with the FBI early in this administration. And I know it`s early now but I mean earlier.

A senior law enforcement official recently told NBC News that Flynn`s answers on this point were ambiguous. And this official did not get the sense that they were proceeding towards concluding that Flynn had fully lied to them or that it was going to be prosecutable to prove that he lied to them, that he could, sort of, mess around with a parsing, a point "The Washington Post" also makes in its reporting.

Let me go to the White House right now. Our own Kelly O`Donnell is there. And, Kelly, I don`t know where to begin but let`s begin with what was -- what was the hope that the White House had that they wanted the president to do with this press conference before it was held?

KELLY O`DONNELL, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: -- as a planned event. It was not part of his schedule. Certainly, it`s legitimate to come forward and have a statement about a new nominee for the Department of Labor. That`s where we began.

But then, it really veered into kind of the classic performance of Donald Trump, part campaign, part new president. And, for his purposes, it was also about ticking through all of the things they believe they have begun to accomplish, want to accomplish and being much more aggressive about getting that message out. This is something Trump knows how to do. The president has demonstrated an ability to shift headlines, change the dynamic.

TODD: Right.

O`DONNELL: That was really where that was going today. He gave us so much information, it`s hard to grab onto just one thing.

And that, too, may be part of what he was hoping for. If you dilute the Russian news in a sea of other noteworthy moments, whether they be the interactions with reporters or the, sort of, emotions of the president or facts on other policy topics. There was so much coming at us, Chuck.

TODD: Well, it`s absolutely -- and you`re right. There`s something about this that tells -- that sends a signal that maybe this was designed to dilute Russia.

So, speaking of that, we`re going to dive right into Russia. Kelly O`Donnell at the White House. Thank you very much.

I`ve got a super-sized panel today. We didn`t have room at our normal table. We used a bigger table. So, for the hour, we have Jennifer Palmieri, she was communications director for Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign, as well as a former White House communications director. And I think Clintons came up -- name came up a few times in the presser.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a familiar face here, Senior Editor for "National Review." Eliana Johnson, National Political Reporter for Politico. And, of course, the chief, Dan Balz, from "The Washington Post."

So, Dan, you do this every Sunday for many of us. What did we and -- to quote, the famous Joe Buck -- excuse me, Jack Buck, Joe Buck`s father, after the Kirk Gibson home run, "I don`t believe what I just saw."

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, Chuck, I had two reactions to it. And the first, which may surprise you a little bit, is that this was the most comfortable I`ve seen Donald Trump in many, many weeks. Probably the most --

TODD: Is it battle mode?

BALZ: He was back to the campaign.

TODD: Yes.

BALZ: He was back to jousting with reporters, which he did quite frequently during the campaign until, you know, July when he stopped having press conferences. He clearly enjoyed that part of it.

I think, to those people, A, in the White House who want to see that from him, they were probably cheered by that. And his supporters certainly will see the Donald Trump they want out there bashing the media, taking -- you know, taking the fight on.

That said, this was an amazing and, in many ways, alarming performance. Because, I mean, he -- you know, he continues to spew misinformation. He airs, as you`ve said, the grievances. He can`t get away from the campaign. He`s still, kind of, stuck in that period.

And he won`t address, in any serious way, the issues that are cobbling his administration and hurting his presidency.

TODD: Let me put it -- and, Eliana, I want you to jump in. I want everyone to jump in. But let me play a mashup of the non-denial denials on Russia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Speaking for myself. I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don`t have any deals in Russia.

I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there. I have -- know anything. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does. Paul Manafort was replaced long before the election took place.


TODD: Eliana.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think what`s becoming clear is that Trump thrives when he has a foil, which he did always during the campaign.

[17:10:00} And there were opposing candidates in the Republican primaries. He talked about lying Ted and little Marco and crooked Hillary. And he`s trying to make the press in his foil now.

But when the focus is just on him, and what`s happening in his administration, and what`s going on, it doesn`t go so well for him. And so, I think you saw today an attempt for him to revert back to campaign mode to shake attention off of himself and his administration. Those are things he has a lot more difficulty talking about.

TODD: So, Ramesh, the goal of this was to distract from Russia, his inability to give a coherent answer on it, I don`t know if it stops the bleeding.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, you have to wonder what the goal really was. You know, so many times when White House surrogates have been on the air, people say they`ve got an audience of one. I think this press conference may have had an audience of one as well. President Trump just really enjoyed doing it.

The main takeaway I had from it was just because you are a teetotaler, doesn`t mean you can`t enjoy a good bar stool. And this president was expressing his views about things. I don`t think that it is going to distract anybody from the Russia story. I think, if anything, it accelerates the spread of that story because he seems so defensive about it.

TODD: Jen, I`ve got to think that this is pretty personal for you, hearing him, the Podesta e-mails and all this stuff.


TODD: You know, but if you`re advising Senate Democrats. If they`re coming to you saying how should they deal with this?

PALMIERI: They should not -- they should not get distracted by the theatrics and they should focus on what we -- what we learned today. Which is, you know, first of all, most of America would probably be surprised to learn that the national security adviser is being interviewed by the FBI the second week of the -- of the Trump presidency as part of -- presumably, as part of the ongoing investigation the FBI has into the Trump campaign`s contacts with Russia. That in and of itself is a -- is an enormous and very concerning piece of news.

Second is that, you know, he said that Michael Flynn was doing his job when he talked to the Russian ambassador. No, Michael Flynn was doing Susan Rice`s job.

Michael Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions. This is the president`s national -- the incoming national security adviser talking to the Russia ambassador after we have learned that -- you know, after it has been well established that Russia influenced the election to help Donald Trump, to tell Russia we are going to let you off the hook. Like, that is an extraordinary development. That is what, I would say, Senate Democrats and the press should be focused on.

TODD: Well, and he -- it was interesting. This issue of Flynn. Why was he fired? Here is how Donald Trump answered that question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador?




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- inauguration.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then, why would you have fired him if the information hadn`t leaked out?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Excuse me. No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it, if I thought he wasn`t doing it. I didn`t direct him but I would have directed him because that`s his job.


TODD: I found that a fascinating --

PALMIERI: Sounds like there is a transcript somewhere, Dan.

TODD: That is -- that`s what -- that`s what went through my head. He knows what Flynn said because he`s now read the transcript of the call.

BALZ: Presumably.

TODD: So, that seemed to be someone who wanted to make sure. Sure, here, I would have ordered the code red. I didn`t but I would have.

BALZ: Well, step back a second, though. One of the things he said about the whole Russia thing being fake, he essentially took back what he had already said he agreed with which is that the Russians had interfered. And he finally -- before he was sworn in, --

TODD: Right.

BALZ: -- finally accepted the findings of the intelligence communities. Today, he appeared to roll that back.

TODD: It`s funny you say that. That was the one follow-up question I felt was missing from the press. And I don`t give -- I`m not -- you know, that was a -- I`m not going to micromanage and back-bench those guys today. That was a free-for-all.


TODD: But that is a follow-up. Do you still believe that the Russians interfered with the election?

BALZ: Right. Right.

TODD: Not for your benefit or someone else. Do you believe it happened? You`re right. He pulled it all back.

BALZ: So, then the question is, OK, I would have ordered him to talk to the Russians. He could say, well, I would have ordered him to talk to the Russians. He could say, well, I would have ordered him to talk to all the countries because that was part of what he was saying. Was he saying he would have ordered him to talk about the sanctions because there was a half-step away from that. That`s -- you know, --

PALMIERI: But he --

BALZ: -- but he`s very good at creating the gray areas.

PALMIERI: Yes, I think that he is good at creating a big enough space that he doesn`t get -- that he doesn`t caught in what could be -- which even for Trump could be a big lie if there`s actual -- knowing that there is an actual transcript of what Michael Flynn told the Russians.

JOHNSON: What was interesting to me in what Trump said was he said the problem was that he -- what he said to Mike Pence and he wasn`t truthful to Mike Pence. But he didn`t actually fire Mike Flynn until this came to light, though we now know Trump knew about it and Pence knew about it long beforehand.

So, the question to me is did he fire him because he lied to Mike Pence or did he fire him because that became public? And I think it raises questions, sort of, about the optics in this administration and what actually is a fireable offense and how the White House is being run.

[17:15:04] TODD: Last word, Ramesh.

PONNURU: The -- you have consistently seen from Trump this line that the entire Russia story is an attempt to distract from his allegedly magnificent, tremendous landslide. I think that, at least at some level, that is a genuine view on his part.

TODD: That`s right. He believes it himself.

PONNURU: And he just rejects the entire story line as something that is just designed to delegitimize him. And plus, he won`t admit there is anything real to investigate. I don`t think congressional Republicans are ultimately going to be able to land in that same place.

TODD: And I have to tell you, there`s something about this that tells me the staff is telling him what he wants to hear. And that is sometimes also what you may -- why a president says what he says.

PALMIERI: Yes. That -- Reince Priebus looks terrified of Donald Trump.

TODD: It loo -- that`s the thing. Is somebody --

PALMIERI: That`s such a dangerous thing.

TODD: -- comfortable giving him bad news, telling him what he doesn`t want to hear. I don`t think there`s evidence of that yet.

Let me pause it here. You guys are staying with us throughout the hour. Congratulations on that. Sorry, no breaks.

We`re going to fact-check some of what the president said today. Plus, we`re going to get reaction on the press conference from Capitol Hill and from Moscow.

Stay tuned.


TODD: Coming up, we`re going to dissect more of President Trump`s epic press conference. But first, the president talks fake news and his role in the war on the press.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media. The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it`s true. I am not OK when it is fake. I want to see an honest press. The public doesn`t believe you people anymore. Now, maybe I had something to do with that. I don`t know.


TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY.

The president`s press conference today, at some -- on some level, you thought was -- should be aimed at Capitol Hill. But this one was aimed squarely at his core base of supporters.

[17:20:04] Conservative media outlets loved it, with drudge proclaiming Trump eats the press. On Capitol Hill, it might have made some Republicans cringe and squirm.

Let me go to Kasie Hunt who is our Capitol Hill correspondent. So, Kasie, I noticed we`re having a lot of trouble getting Republicans on camera. I`m guessing a lot of people were busy during the press conference today.

KASIE HUNT, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: You know, it`s remarkable, Chuck. If I thought it would be appropriate to stick my fingers in my ears and say, la, la, la, on the air, I might be tempted to do so to describe what Republicans seem to be doing in reaction to this press conference. The number of Republicans I have talked to who said they just missed President Trump`s hour and 15-minute press conference is really remarkable.

Now, all the Democrats I`ve talked to, on the flip side, seemed to have plenty of time to catch up --

TODD: Right.

HUNT: -- with what he had to say.

So, I mean, look, I think this is yet another -- he clearly went to that podium amid these reports that his administration was in chaos to say that that wasn`t the case. And the reality is that the chaotic feel of what was coming from 1600 Pennsylvania really has had Republicans on edge for the last couple of weeks.

The Russia, in particular, has started to seem like something up here that has the potential to be a major game-changing crisis for the administration, in a way that the, kind of, more run-of-the-mill Donald Trump tweets are not. And it`s had people on edge.

And it`s that way because they really do want to get big things done. They want to change the health care laws. They want to pass tax reform. And it`s getting to the point where they feel like the distractions at the White House are really putting that in jeopardy.

That`s why, you know, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, behind the scenes, have been willing to put up with Donald Trump as much as they have because they know it represents a chance to get big things done.

And then, of course, there`s the reality that they still don`t totally understand the furvert and the base of support that elected Donald Trump in the first place. And so, they have to be careful about that as well.

But I think, you know, the more episodes we have like this and whatever effect this does have on President Trump`s real approval -- President Trump`s real approval numbers, if that`s going to start to jeopardize, you know, the reelection for people up here, that, combined with an inability to move an agenda, could really change the calculus, I think, for the White House.

TODD: I think that was well said. Kasie Hunt on Capitol Hill. Kasie, thanks very much.

Let me bring the panel back. Ramesh, I was on with Hugh Hewitt this morning and he was really upset about what he called weak-kneed Republicans on Puzder, on the labor nomination. He was really upset about it.

And I said, OK, but I said I think you have to blame Michael Flynn in the White House. And I want to run this theory by you which is simply (ph) said, if the White House were running smoothly and you didn`t have this Mike Flynn distraction, those so-called weak-kneed Republicans wouldn`t feel comfortable bucking him publicly.

Do Capitol Hill Republicans either see a little blood in the water or fear a little blood in the water? Because suddenly, they seem comfortable bucking him on one nomination. You see Senate Republicans now arguing about who gets to investigate Russia. Something`s happened.

PONNURU: Well, with the Puzder nomination, there was also some opposition from the right because of the issues of immigration where people thought he wasn`t actually sufficiently with the Trump program on immigration. So, that complicates that story.

But I do think that congressional Republicans are looking at a different electorate. They are seeing November 2018 get a little bit closer every day, and they`re understanding that it may not make a big difference to Donald Trump if his strong approval rating is still at 29 percent which is what Pew has it at this week. But it`s going to be a serious problem for them if they have to defend a White House with these kinds of numbers.

JOHNSON: I think you`re absolutely right about Flynn affecting the Puzder nomination. Because we had a situation yesterday where the withdrawal of a cabinet nominee was literally the bottom story on the news hours. You know, the prime minister of Israel`s visit to the White House was the bottom of news.

TODD: Right. Did that happen yesterday?

JOHNSON: I mean -- and so, you had a White House subsumed by this Flynn scandal and unable, really, to deal with the troubles of the cabinet nominee.

PALMIERI: I have -- I think the Hill`s being ridiculous. I mean, like, what about the last four weeks tells Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell that this White House is capable of passing a tax reform package? Are capable of, like, replacing Obamacare? There`s just -- it just seems -- and I know Paul Ryan keeps trying to hang in there with him.

And today, he put out a statement saying there should be a criminal investigation of the leaks. It`s embarrassing. Like this is -- he is still trying to cover up for Trump because he thinks that he can get that tax reform package but that is a really hard thing to do. This White House is not capable of doing that.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, the most troubling part, I think, for Republicans on the Hill is this is a time when the congressional majority and the president is supposed to have the most political capital.


JOHNSON: And, you know, these things have enormous costs and I think we`re seeing those costs right now.

BALZ: I think it`s remarkable that given every -- all the pent-up demand on the right for a number of these things, that there is just no movement of any consequence on these big issues. None.

[17:25:02] TODD: Think about this. George W. Bush came in at a similar time, divided electorate and all this stuff. He had sent his tax cut plan and he was dining Max Baucus and Mary Landrieu. And he was working at finding those five or six Democrats that he knew he need.

Barack Obama had the -- I think it was this week eight years ago that he signed the stimulus in Denver I think. And there`s been no move of legislation, right? Where is it?

BALZ: Part of it is the paralysis about the specifics of the legislation.

TODD: Right.

BALZ: We`ve seen that on the Hill.

TODD: Certainly on Obamacare. Certainly on Obamacare tax reform.

BALZ: But I think tax reform is in -- is in a similar place. I mean, what do they do about the border adjustment tax? And if they don`t do something about that then what do they do about the offsetting revenue? I mean, it`s a -- it`s a problem.

PONNURU: Part of the problem Congress is having is that although there`s been a lot of discussion of Trump as a kind of authoritarian strong man, he`s actually, in a way, a kind of very weak president who isn`t supplying much direction for them.

Whereas, these other presidents, they were elected on detailed platforms. The internal debates, about which way do you go on taxes, which way do you go on health care, were settled during those campaigns.

Trump didn`t settle them. Doesn`t care much about those details. And so, they don`t really know what to do. They`re trying to do it by themselves.

JOHNSON: That`s ever -- I mean, on tax reform, it`s a great example where congressional Republicans, Paul Ryan, who`s trying to get this border adjustment tax done so that he can move tax reform which he`s been wanting to do for eight years or 16 years.

PONNURU: You know, I think it`s like a small child. JOHNSON: You know, they don`t know where the White House stands on this. But they have no idea whether Trump supports it. If he`s against it. On Obamacare repeal, they don`t know where Trump stands on it. It`s hugely problematic.

TODD: And guess what? Because he went out there and floated the border adjustment tax, the first round of special interest money to kill part of it is aimed at the border adjustment tax which I believe is the Koch brothers. I think it`s a group that`s ready to go kill it. So, you`re starting to kill tax reform before you`ve introduced it.

BALZ: He promise to have the health care plan out by early March, today. That was -- that was one marker he put down. Now, he has indicated earlier that it would be imminent. So, we`ll see whether this deadline holds.

TODD: All right. We`re going to take another break. That give you a little taste of Capitol Hill.

Up next, as President Trump denies he has ties to Russia, we`re going to go live to Moscow to get the word from there. There was a lot of chatter about other issues that the United States has with Russia since the inauguration. Right after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven`t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don`t speak to people from Russia, not that I wouldn`t. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration a few days ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: Welcome back. I want to go live to Moscow where our own Bill Neely is monitoring how both Russian people and Russian government are reacting to the president today. Bill, I actually want to get on a little more substantive issue.

Since the inauguration, there has been some antagonism by the Russians to the Americans. We have the boat that got a little too close, the buzzing of the aircraft, and then also the missile test. And the president seemed to shy away from punishing Russia on any of that.

BILL NEELY, CHIEF GLOBAL CORRESPONDENT FOR NBC NEWS: Yeah. I think he said three times, not good. He also said, maybe I won`t get along with Vladimir Putin. Even here, Chuck, this extraordinary news conference looked unprecedented, extraordinary. But it wasn`t covered live by any Russian TV news channel. Amazing since Russia was virtually at the center of the news conference.

And also because the Kremlin had ordered state media to cut back on its coverage of Trump. So, tonight the official news agency task just has one line from the whole news conference quoting President Trump saying that the whole wave of actions against Russia are fake news. And also.

TODD: Wow. NEELY: . interestingly on that team, a very influential senator here Aleksey Pushkov re-tweeted the words of President Trump word for word. He said the fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. He just re-tweeted that without comment. That gets to the heart of what people here were listening for in that news conference and perhaps didn`t hear.

They want better relations, of course, with the United States. They want to see sanctions lifted, but there is a growing belief here that somehow President Trump is the victim of a political vendetta, that the intelligence agencies are out to get him. I think the mood is changing, you know.

When I came here, first of all, after the election, there was a delight that President Trump had been elected. Now I think there is growing doubt that he will be able to deliver that new relationship with Russia. That`s what people here are worried about. Chuck. TODD: So Bill, to sum up what you`re saying is that somehow they`ve separated Trump the person from Trump the president? They just think the American government is not going to be friendly towards Russia but that`s not Donald Trump`s fault?

NEELY: No. Correct. They still, in a sense, have faith in him, but they believe very much here in what they call the deep state, that the U.S. intelligence agencies might be capable of what one tabloid newspaper here called a coup, a soft coup. And they believe Mike Flynn, for example, was a victim of a political assassination.

So they may still, you know, admire Donald Trump for being the strong man and admire what he did, but they simply don`t believe that the United States is capable of changing, that the U.S. is like a -- you know, a huge battleship, an aircraft carrier that is very, very difficult to turn. Chuck.

TODD: All right. Bill Neely, stationed in Moscow for a fascinating reporting there. Bill, thanks very much. Coming up, we`re gonna be fact- checking President Trump. But first, let`s go to Deirdre Bosa with the "CNBC Market Wrap."

DEIRDRE BOSA, CNBC TECHNOLOGY REPORTER: Thanks, Chuck. Stocks ending today flat. The Dow rose 8 points, the S&P dropped 2, and the Nasdaq lost 4 points. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits ticked up last week by 5,000, but that number remains at a level indicating a healthy job market.

Monopoly players have given the thimble a thumbs down. Hasbro asked players to vote on which eight tokens will be included in the newest version of a classic board game. The winning tokens will be announced on World Monopoly Day March 19. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.


TODD: Welcome back. Time for a few fact checks from President Trump`s press conference this afternoon. First, here is the president on his approval rating.


TRUMP: New Rasmussen poll just came out a short while ago. It has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up.


TODD: I am not getting involved in like Rasmussen`s track record. But here, that is a fact. President Trump has a 55 percent approval rating from Rasmussen. That is -- that a 10-point spread stands alone in the latest polls that are even gathered by real clear politics. President Trump is either treading water or under water in all other recent polls.

Why is Rasmussen different? They`re calculating its number based on their own likely voter model. We don`t know what voters are likely to vote in any election that`s coming up, but they`re using likely voters. There is no presidential election for some time, and no traditional polling organization uses likely voters because you don`t have a likely voter.

By the way, this is all Americans. It`s called adults. It`s called the country. That`s where you find out what do presidents think, what do public think of the president. Period. It`s not a likely voter model. Next on the fact check list, here is President Trump on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (START VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent. I find that hard to believe. That`s just a number I heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Our friends at Politifact rated this claim false last week. In fact, the Ninth Circuit reversal rate is higher than average but not at a record number as the president stated. There are two our circuit courts with actually a higher reversal rate than the ninth. Moving on. Here`s President Trump on his electoral college victory.


TRUMP: People came out and voted like they`ve never seen before. So that`s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.


TODD: Well, my NBC News colleague Peter Alexander actually live fact- checked that one at the press conference.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan, 304, 306 electoral votes. In fact, President Obama got 365.

TRUMP: Well, I`m talking about Republican.

ALEXANDER: President Obama, 332. George H.W. Bush 426 when he won as president. So why should Americans trust you?

TRUMP: Well, no. I was given that information. We had a very, very big margin.


TODD: One more. Here is what the president said about the America he took control of last month.

(START VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It`s a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: He also talked about at one point jobs were bleeding. By most economic indicators, President Trump did not inherit a mess. The unemployment rate in President Obama`s final month was 4.7 percent. Nowhere near where that number was during the recession. The stock market also boomed during the Obama years and booming lately too. Dow Jones industrial average also grew by almost 8,000 points from the first day of the Obama presidency to the last day. That`s just two figures there.

Let me bring the panel back. Jennifer, Ramesh, Eliana, Dan. Eliana, it is this part of the president where, and in fact two times he said, well, somebody told me this. He just feels comfortable repeating these little lies. They`re sort of like unnecessary lies in some cases. ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER AT POLITICO: Yeah, you would think if he has staffers presenting him with false information, that would be presumably a fireball offense. But it`s a feature of Trump, and I think of his entire life. We have seen it in, you know, in legal disputes that he has had, that is -- it`s a constant.

It`s never going to go away. And I think it gives him a sense of control. He has got a narrative in his mind where he is constantly victorious. I think telling these small lies does feed into his view of himself as the constant victor, crushing everybody around him. TODD: Does anybody here thinks he does it on purpose just to sort of distract everybody?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER OBAMA AND CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: No, I don`t think he`s that smart. I think you`re right. I think that he has to live in his own self-contained universe of, you know, the facts that always make him be -- always make him the winner. But I don`t think that -- I think that it`s very dangerous to subscribe smarts and motivation that aren`t there with him. I think we have to take him at face value. DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT AT THE WASHINGTON POST: I think of him as a serial exaggerator. He`s always somebody who -- excuse me.

TODD: A golf course exaggerator, yeah.

BALZ: . who wants to embellish. Everything has to be embellished. And sometimes it`s deliberately to mislead. Sometimes, as you say, they`re little lies. Sometimes they`re bigger. Sometimes, you know, they`re falsehoods. I am not sure you can say every time he says something that`s incorrect that it`s a deliberate lie, but there is a constant aspect to this of self-aggrandizement about his own persona.

TODD: I think staff doesn`t serve him well here. I really think -- Ramesh, I know a lot of people figured out if you compliment him, that`s your way in. Are people over-complimenting him so he doesn`t bark at them and then feed him whatever he wants to hear.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR FOR NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE: Ho Picks (ph) was quoted yesterday saying that Trump`s brilliance was matched only by his stamina. So I think that is.

TODD: That is a real quote.

PONNURU: That is a real quote.

TODD: Okay.

PONNURU: And so I don`t know that he is getting negative feedback. I don`t know if anyone is saying, Mr. President, you got to be more careful that what you say is actually true. I think that he is careless with respect to the truth. I don`t even know if some of these things are lies. I think he probably believes them at the moment when he is saying them.

Some of them though when he talks about his alleged landslide, when he talks about the crowds at his inaugural. It`s central to his self- conception as a populist. I speak for the people.

TODD: Yeah.

PONNURU: So he can`t -- there have to be 3 to 5 million illegal votes because you can`t acknowledge I eked out a win.

TODD: Yeah.

PONNURU: . of 78,000 votes in three states.

TODD: But then there is like these moments of acceptance of the political situation. He acknowledged how divided the country is. That is something he doesn`t always acknowledge.

PALMIERI: He doesn`t acknowledge that it`s his job to repair it. He won`t accept any -- he won`t accept responsibility for what he did during the campaign or say that as president of the United States -- he didn`t even say I want to bring the country together. He just put it off.

TODD: Working on it.

PALMIERI: . as someone else`s problem. You know, he didn`t even suggest that he need to repair this divide.

JOHNSON: I think he laid a heaping dose of blame on the media for that. He has talked about the tone of hatred he feels from the media. I think -- and the disastrous state of the country he inherited. Some of that may be true, but you don`t hear him taking responsibility for solving some of these problems or for any of the mistakes. BALZ: We`ve talked about this a lot. This country was divided -- deeply divided before Donald Trump ever came on the scene politically. It became more divided during the campaign. But the remarkable thing is, as president, he has done very little to talk to people who didn`t support him. And in fact has, in a sense, enlarged those divisions. We see the reaction on the left of the energy that he has helped to create in opposition to him.

PONNURU: There is a cycle of mutual delegitimization here.

TODD: Yeah.

PONNURU: . because he`s not just not talking to the opposition. He is saying that people who show up to republican congressman town halls are, you know, they are fakers and not really republicans. They`re not some of the real Americans that he is representing.

TODD: That`s a scary proposition. 330 of us are real Americans the last time I check anyway. Let me hit the (inaudible). Still ahead, why I am obsessed with what the president didn`t say during today`s press conference.


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I am unfortunately obsessed about something the president didn`t say and what he has to say about anti-semitism in the United States or more to the point what he didn`t say about anti-semitism in the United States. At his news conference today, Mr. Trump was again actually asked about the uptick in bomb threats against Jewish centers across the country among other evidence of anti-semitism. Here is what he had to say.

(START VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: So here is the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti-semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist person. I hate even the question because people that know me - - and you heard the prime minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday. Did you hear him? Bibi, he said, I have known Donald Trump for a long time. And then he said, forget it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: The question, of course, was not about the president. I`m willing to say right up front that in many ways the United States has been a promised land for Jews. As a general rule, anti-semitism has not been a big problem here. I hadn`t experienced it in 43 of my 44 years. So why can`t President Trump simply denounce anti-semitism? He declares that he is the least anti- semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life. Fine.

Mr. President, we`ll take you at your word. Indeed, you have family, friends, and colleagues who are Jewish. Your actions do speak for itself. So instead of telling us that you are not an anti-semitic. The question was about denouncing the rise in anti-semitism. Could it be because some of the president`s supporters are not as welcoming as he is and the president doesn`t want to insult or criticize them?

That`s what some are hearing. Could it be that the president needs and welcomes their support of this alt-right and some of the less enlightened people that reside there when it comes to what they think of people of the Jewish faith. Again, Mr. President, we believe you and many other Jews believe you. So please make it clear that not only are you not an anti- semitic but that you reject people who are even if they did vote for you. We`ll be right back.


TODD: Time now for "The Lid." Panel is back. Ramesh, Jen, Dan, Eliana. I want to start with Russia and the reaction from Russia, Dan. I mean, this is, you know, I love the one-line statement from task where they basically say, yes, it`s all fake news. BALZ: Well, they participated in our election as we knew. And they want Donald Trump to continue to say there was nothing to what Russia did during the election. There`s a mutual self-interest that the two sides are engaged in at this point. And Donald Trump is playing into their hands on that.

TODD: It is stunning that this keeps happening.

BALZ: He has not found a way to accept some aspects of it while rejecting other aspects of it.

JOHNSON: We just talked during the break about his need to personalize everything.

TODD: The question on anti-semitism was not about him.

JOHNSON: . but this is a perfect example of it where yes, Russia was, you know, involved in the campaign, it was inappropriate, and Trump`s victory was still legitimate, and he cannot seem to internalize these two things. It`s not rocket size, but he seems to have a real psychological block on this issue that is now doing tremendous damage I think to his presidency.

PALMIERI: I think what we should be concerned about is again, you know, his personality is assassinating it can be distracting but to strip that away and take -- look at what happened at face value. This is Donald Trump said it`s fake news that Russia played a role in the election. We know that they did.

Russia -- you know who knows that Russia played a role in the election, Russia. And Russia did today was collude with Trump to say yes, this is all fake news. And I think that is we can`t look too deep beyond the facts in this case to show that`s what happened and that`s what troubling people.

TODD: Ramesh, to go back to this whole thing we were talking about Capitol Hill. I have been stunned now that all of a sudden there is a whole bunch more senate republicans who want a piece of the Russia investigation. And that -- that was another major development today that sort of flew under the radar. Bob Corker, come on, maybe intel isn`t the only place it should be or the best place it should be. PONNURU: And Senator Blunt earlier this week was talking about that as well, talked about the intel community doing the investigation. I do think that it`s just hard to sustain the position that there is nothing to see here move along which sometimes the Trump administration takes.

I want to say this though, when, you know, the Russia view that we were told about during the report was that there`s a deep state, there`s intelligence community that is conspiring against Trump. Look, at a certain level, isn`t there kind of a war between the intelligence community and the Trump administration where there`s.

TODD: A 100 percent. Look at the last 48 hours. Somebody is leaking on Flynn from intel. Clearly the president is upset. And then suddenly we have the report in "The Wall Street Journal" that claims that we`re holding some intel from him because they don`t trust him.

BALZ: Which he then denies.

TODD: And then there is the hard high one from the Trump White House that says oh, yeah, we`re gonna bring in outside arbiter. How do you like them apples which he pulled (ph) back a little bit today?

BALZ: He did. I want to go after the point you made though. If you`re a congressional republican, you know that if you launch a big investigation into Russia, it will consume everything else that he want to do this year. And this is the year that they got to move if they`re gonna move on health care and tax reform.

PALMIERI: 29 percent strongly approve of Trump that`s most republicans.

TODD: Right. And there you go. The question is going to be I do think house republicans truly have that view. It`s senate republicans that are I think struggling here a little bit. You guys are great. Jennifer, Ramesh, Eliana, Dan. After the break, the news you probably did miss from today`s press conference. Stay tuned.


TODD: In case you missed it, President Trump named a new cabinet nominee today before this afternoon became a festive (inaudible) grievances and one of the more surreal presidential press conferences we can remember. It did begin actually rather traditionally.

(START VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I just wanted to begin by mentioning that the nominee for secretary of the Department of Labor will be Mr. Alex Acosta.

TODD: In case you missed it, he has confirmed Alexander Acosta, who is currently the dean of Florida International University Law School in Miami. He would be the first Hispanic in Trump`s cabinet. Of the 15 traditional cabinet positions, 13 of the president`s picks are men, 12 are whites. That`s all for tonight. "For the Record with Greta" and her exclusive with prime minister.