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MTP Daily, Transcript 3/31/2017

Guests: Abbe Lowell, Eliana Johnson, Bill Kristol, Jennifer Palmieri, Kevin Mandia

Show: MTP DAILY Date: March 31, 2017 Guest: Abbe Lowell, Eliana Johnson, Bill Kristol, Jennifer Palmieri, Kevin Mandia

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

There`s one thing the president is not immune from, controversy.  Tonight, a presidency on the brink.  And an ousted White House adviser says he`s got a story to tell. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is the White House concerned that General Flynn has damaging information about the president? 



TODED:  Plus, targeted trolling.  Life imitates art. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Organic news (INAUDIBLE) key word searches (INAUDIBLE) can`t get enough. 


TODD:  How Russia`s real life cyber-attack strategy is straight out of this season`s home land. 

And you can`t always get what you want.  And if you try sometimes, you just find out I`m obsessed with ugly compromises.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington.  Welcome to Friday`s MTP DAILY.  And we begin tonight with a presidency on the brink of irrepair.  Yes, it`s early.  But after just 70 days, the White House faces the very real prospect of a domino effect of cascading crisis.  Tremendous damage has already been done to this administration`s credibility, its authority and its ability to govern.

And things seem to get worse because the president, arguably, keeps making them worse.  His agenda is stalled so he`s declared war on a majority of Congress by threatening conservatives and Democrats.  More and more members of his own party are openly bucking him.  And, in some cases, mocking his threats of vengeance.

Then, there`s the Russia cloud which has infected everything but the president refuses to acknowledge it.  Instead, he`s doubling down on conspiracy theories, hoaxes and misinformation.  It`s arguably a disastrous place to be for a presidency that`s just 70 days old.

And now, we`ve learned that the president`s former security adviser, Michael Flynn, wants immunity to testify on Russia.  Congressional investigators have so far turned that request down.  And, remember, folks asking for immunity doesn`t mean you`re guilty of a crime.  But it`s not an argument that Mike Flynn or President Trump can creditably make. 


GENERAL MIKE FLYNN, FORMER SECURITY ADVISOR:  The very last thing that John Podesta just said is no individual too big to jail.  That should include Hillary Clinton.  I mean, five people around her have had -- have been given immunity, to include her former chief of staff.  When you are given immunity, that means you`ve probably committed a crime. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And her ring leaders were given immunity.  And if you`re not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for, right? 


TODD:  The White House said today that Mr. Trump wants Flynn to testify.  But President Trump defended Flynn`s request for immunity by calling the investigation a witch hunt after he called it a hoax.  The president`s comments today were rejected by the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is this a witch hunt? 

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH:  No, I don`t think it`s a witch hunt.  Look, it`s very mysterious, to me though, why all of a sudden General Flynn is out there saying he wants immunity.  That, A, I don`t think Congress should give him immunity.  If there`s an open investigation by the FBI, that should not happen. 


TODD:  Questions about the White House`s interference of a House probe of Russia are also piling up.  Remember, this is like a side bar story compared to these other two issues.

And after "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" reported that the White House, itself, actually fed the information to its top ally on the House Intelligence Committee, in this case, Congressman Devin Nunes, in what appears to be an attempt to use the investigation to prop up the president`s baseless claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

For the past eight days, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has arguably gone out of his way to mislead the press on this particular story. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you rule out that the White House or anyone in the Trump administration gave Chairman Nunes that information? 

SPICER:  I don`t know what he actually briefed the president on.  But I don`t know why he would (INAUDIBLE) brief the president on something that we gave him.  That doesn`t really seem to make a ton of sense.  So, I`m not aware of it but it doesn`t really pass the smell test. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why would Nunes need to brief the president on documents he viewed on White House grounds? 

SPICER:  Because that`s a big assumption that you`re making.  To jump to that conclusion is, frankly, irresponsible. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you have any information to live up to the commitment you made here on Monday to provide more detail as to how that happened in a process you just told us, yet again, is (INAUDIBLE) and totally appropriate?

SPICER:  I don`t have anything for you on that at this time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You told us that you`re willing to look into it. 

SPICER:  And I am. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And ask (INAUDIBLE) about the process and provide us answers. 

SPICER:  No, no, no.  I -- please don`t put words in my mouth.  I never said I would provide you answers.  I said we would look into it. 


TODD:  So, there you go.  And that`s just Spicer`s spin on this one topic.

Then, there`s the president`s escalating war with conservatives in his own party.  After threatening to campaign against them that 2018, he`s now begun to single some of them out on Twitter.

Folks, it should be obvious by now, but President Trump has a temperament problem now.  He cannot compartmentalize or let things go.  And if you`re always fighting the last fight, you risk being blindsided by the next one.

[17:05:07] Ask yourself, is this president prepared to lead if there`s a crisis in the world right now?  How do you think our allies might answer that question?  And, more important, how might our enemies answer it?

I`m joined now by Washington super lawyer Abbe Lowell.  He was chief counsel to House Democrats during the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  He`s the head of Chadbourne and Parke`s litigation department.

Mr. Lowell, always good to see you, sir.


TODD:  OK, let`s give me some legal clarity here.  Mike Flynn asked -- his lawyer asked for some form of immunity, number one, saying he has an interesting story.  Number two, we now know that, essentially, the Senate said, too soon, no thank you, not yet.  Different ways, different people have interpreted that.  But explain why asking for immunity is not an admission of guilt. 

LOWELL:  So, it is a little ironic, right, that both President Trump and Mike Flynn, himself, during the campaign made those ridiculous statements, that if somebody gets immunity, they must be guilty of something.  But that`s clearly not the case, although I guess they`ll to have figure out a way to explain what they meant.

What it is, though, is a device by which the Senate, or it could be an agency, seeks the ability to get somebody`s testimony and their testimony can`t be used against they if the Justice Department then comes after them in a criminal case.  People don`t quite get right.

So, it`s considered what`s called used immunity.  It can`t be used.  It doesn`t mean you can`t be prosecuted.

TODD:  Right.

LOWELL:  It means your words can`t be used against you.  It makes it three times harder to get a prosecution but that`s what it`s about.

TODD:  OK, but let`s look at the way this story is.  Nobody has 100 percent confirmed but it appears that Mike Flynn is among the folks the FBI is investigating.  That he is at -- if he is not at the center of the investigation, he`s certainly within a few yards of the center there.

If the Justice Department is in an active investigation of him when he`s testifying before the Senate, how would the immunity apply or, at that point, what would happen? 

LOWELL:  So, if immunity occurs, at any point in the process, what happens then is a mad frenzy by prosecutors, they have to basically box up all the information they have, at that moment, and show somewhere, someplace, sometime that they had it without regard to anything he said after he got immunity.

People will remember that that became an issue during Iran contour when the Senate and the house gave immunity to Oliver North.  And, therefore, ultimately, it was found that the government couldn`t prove the evidence they had against him was untainted by what he had given in immunity.

So, what happens is if you get immunity, the prosecutors who bring your case have a burden of showing that not only they`re not using the words, but nothing derived from your words to be making the case against you?

TODD:  I`m glad you brought up Oliver north.  He had immunity to testify but he still was prosecuted. 

LOWELL:  Yes, but, ultimately, the prosecution failed and was reversed because the immunity tainted the case. 

TODD:  And so, in this case, this is why -- if you look at Oliver North, then this is why, if you were Mike Flynn, you want this immunity. 

LOWELL:  Absolutely.  And, by the way, I thought his lawyer did a very good thing for him by trying to be as provocative as he could be by saying, he has story to tell, trying to entice the Congress to give him immunity.  Because his assumption must be, my guy isn`t going into public service anymore, so I don`t care about what the ramifications of getting immunity is going to be.  But if I get him immunity, it will make it 10 times harder for anybody to ever bring a case against him.

TODD:  All right.  What if you`re currently in the White House staff right now?  Or n the NSC staff right now and all of this is happening.  Is it time to lawyer up? 

LOWELL:  Well, speaking as one the of lawyers in the Washington community, yes, it should have happened yesterday.  And my number -- no, no.

So, what I really think is, it is too early to lawyer up.  I mean. not everybody needs a lawyer, period.  The people who are the targets or the focus basically are already consulting.  When you say if you`re at the NSC or whoever.  No, not everybody who has ever spoken to Mike Flynn or anybody else about any of this needs a lawyer.

And, look, I want to say something that people also get lost here.  I know there`s a lot of rhetoric like anybody who gets immunity must have done something wrong.  There may not be anything underneath all this.  And I believe as others should that we believe that presumption of innocence means something.

Having said that, if you had to draw a line where there should be lawyering up, I think when you have Mike Flynn, that`s a good place. 

TODD:  So, what conditions -- why would the Senate feel as if they needed to get him immunity if the FBI is in the middle of an investigation?  What would be their motivation to -- essentially, to disrupt the investigation?  Because that`s what they`d be doing if they did this. 

LOWELL:  OK.  So, there`s only two reasons why either the Congress or even a prosecutor would give anybody immunity.  Reason one is because they can`t tell the whole story without that person, period. 

TODD:  That they are the lynchpin to -- that they --

[17:10:00] LOWELL:  That they are -- they are -- I would say, they are --

TODD:  -- are person X to person Y.

LOWELL:  OK.  But that`s, kind of, the first to the second, but you`re onto it.  They are that link in a chain.  And without that link, it does not work.  OK?

But the second reason is related.  They need that person to go rat out somebody higher or more important than they do and they think that the person that they will get evidence about is either more culpable or more important to go after than the person who gets immunity. 

TODD:  If you were Mike Flynn`s lawyer today and you saw the president`s tweet this morning, which indicated, no, I want him to get immunity.  He should ask for it.  Would that make you happy or nervous?

LOWELL:  If you were his lawyer, you would`ve been very happy because you thought that that tweet would influence the Congress to give you what you want for your -- for your client.  Is it a bluff on the president`s part?  Does Mike Flynn know something about the president?  We don`t know.  That`s, kind of, all the psychology we won`t know.

But, again, remember, if you`re protecting Mike Flynn`s interests, you`re going to do everything possible to get him Congressional immunity which will put a big monkey wrench in any prosecution that anybody would want to bring.  And if you`re anybody else on the planet, you don`t want him to have immunity. 

TODD:  Now, you have a situation with Mike Flynn where he may be being investigated with some things have nothing to do with the Russia issue.  He`s got this entire Turkey episode that`s sitting there, too.  At what point could those investigations get linked and the immunity gets linked? 

LOWELL:  Well, OK, so, understand the contours of immunity.

TODD:  Yes.

LOWELL:  We use that phrase.  We`re all using that phrase.

TODD:  I know.  That`s what I`ve been worried about. 

LOWELL:  So, if I got immunity and I went before Congress and I was asked, Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia and never asked a question about Turkey, Turkey, Turkey, Turkey, then your immunity on Russia isn`t going to stop the government from finding evidence about Turkey.

And, remember, they could still prosecute you about both.  The lynchpin is that if you`re given immunity for what you say, a prosecutor has to prove not only that he or she didn`t use what you said, but didn`t get any evidence derived from what you said.

It`s theoretically possible that he could be asked questions about what he did in the White House.  But what he did someplace which thinks like it`s Russia but also links something to Turkey, that wouldn`t be a good day for a prosecutor.

TODD:  Very interesting.  Abbe Lowell, there`s a reason Mr. Korinizer (ph) calls you the smartest man in Washington.  Appreciate you being here, sir.

LOWELL:  Good to see you.

TODD:  Thank you.

Let me bring in tonight`s panel.  Jennifer Palmieri was the communications director to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Obama White House.  Bill Kristol is the editor-at-large for "The Weekly Standard."  Eliana Johnson, National Political Reporter for Politico.  Welcome, all.

OK.  Eliana, it`s -- this is a White House that feels as if it is totally off the rails now.  Do they grasp how off the rails it is right now? 

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  I think they do.  I think the vast majority of the people in the White House and the president, himself, grasp that things are going awry. 

The -- I think the question is, who`s in charge there to put things back on the rails?  And I`m not sure there is anybody. 

TODD:  Bill.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD":  I mean, I think a White House in which a mid-level NSC staffer is looking through the most sensitive documents and then sharing them with a Congressman, a chairman of a committee, granted, outside of channels, not notifying his boss, a superior, or notifying him or notifying different superiors, perhaps, to whom he doesn`t directly report but who are -- were happy to have him do this.  That is a White House that is asking for huge trouble. 

This -- if you look at the history of White House scandals, this is often how they begin, right?

TODD:  Yes.

JENNIFER PALMIERI:  Yes, and we haven`t even gotten to the -- the underlying problem is still the investigation on Russia, right?  And this is just -- they are compounding all of their problems now because they`re panicking.  They`re inexperienced.  They`re turning on each other.  And the president is consumed by it.

TODD:  You know, --

PALMIERI:  Right?  Like, that`s a mess.  There`s no -- there`s no compartmentalization of this. 

TODD:  No.  And it`s funny you say that.  And you worked for a president that was under investigation in Bill Clinton.  He figured it out how to come out of it.  There`s a point, no matter how much --


TODD:  -- you`re in denial, no matter how much you`re angry and seething, he found a way to compartmentalize and said, OK, I still want to try to govern. 

PALMIERI:  Yes.  You put a team together.  You isolate the problem.  You say, these are the people that are working on this.  No one else talks to the press about it.  No one else talks to -- you don`t -- you don`t gossip about it internally.

And those are the people that manage this.  But you have -- now, you have, like, staffer turning on each other.  And you saw in "The Washington Post" story today about the Nunes meeting, that, you know, the staff trying on save each other by --

TODD:  Oh, it`s clear that it`s White House staff dropping dimes on other White House staff. 

KRISTOL:  They`ve gotten more sensitive about national security matters.  I mean, whatever everyone thinks of the Clinton White House, the Clinton foreign policy.  You know, I don`t think Sandy Berger allowed mid-level staffers to, sort of, freelance, to maybe take orders from some other counselor to the Lady Davis (ph) on the --


KRISTOL:  That is just -- that is such a recipe for disaster.  A, you`re breaking various protocols, probably, in how you`re handling classified material and so forth.  And, B, you`re just creating the situation they`ve now got which is why won`t they say -- people are going to think, why will they not say who the staff was who cleared the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee?

It`s not wrong to clear someone.  I`ve cleared thousands of -- you clear thousands of people in or your staff did.


KRISTOL:  When you worked at the White House.  If it`s -- if there`s no problem, who was it?

[17:15:02] The reason they don`t want to say who it was is that that who it was then get asked, immediately, by a congressional committee, well, who did you talk to while you were doing all this research? 

PALMIERI:  Yes, and we`re learning more -- I think that we`re learning more about the hand of Bannon and Kushner in all of this.  Like, they -- there is a 30-year-old who is in charge of national intelligence at the National Security Council.  It`s crazy.  And this supposed story today --


KRISTOL:  (INAUDIBLE) that General McMaster having been put in charge of the security council tried to --

TODD:  He tried to fire this person. 

KRISTOL:  -- he tried to remove him or move him over or fire him, right?

JOHNSON:  Tried to remove him.  He -- the National Security Council staffer, by the name Ezra Cohen-Watnick, had developed a relationship with Jared Kushner, appealed to Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon who then took his case to the president.  And the president overruled his national security adviser.

So, you know, really, I think this Russia issue is not that complicated.  Either investigators will find Trump campaign officials had inappropriate contact with the kremlin which was interfering --

TODD:  Right.

JOHNSON:  -- with the campaign or they did not.  But what I think is amazing about this White House is it has managed to stir up so much controversy, in the course of this investigation, and undermine its own case, that I think it really does make the case that there is a lot of dysfunction going on in the White House.

TODD:  It is not this White House.  It is one individual.  OK, the president cannot compartmentalize.  It`s the president that cannot let the Russia story go.  Because he says, oh, -- he says, oh, no, it`s a hoax.

What`s wrong saying, Bill Kristol, with saying, this is a serious problem what Russia tried to do.  I was astonished that they went after Marco Rubio, they went after Ted Cruz.  Clearly, this is no longer a Democrat or a Republican problem.  This is an American problem.  How do you not say that? 

KRISTOL:  Well, you should you say that but maybe he doesn`t -- you`d think, yes, just have an investigation.  If he wants to -- if he doesn`t trust Congress, appoint Joe Lieberman and, you know, some other distinguished former senator or judge or something. 

TODD:  Yes.  Joe Lieberman and Dick Lieder.

KRISTOL:  Sixty days.  Well, maybe he doesn`t want the truth to come out.  Can we just be honest?  Usually --


KRISTOL:  Usually, when people -- when people keep blowing smoke and doing these complicated things, I`d say you could use Clinton as an example.  One reason they didn`t come clean. 

This is -- we had this same conversation in February, March, April of 1998.  Why doesn`t he just -- why doesn`t he just let people know what happened?  You want to know why he won`t let people know what happened?  Because there was a problem.

PALMIERI:  One thing to do is still to say, no one`s working --

KRISTOL:  (INAUDIBLE), I don`t want to make this painful for you. 

PALMIERI:  None of it bothers me anymore.  But --

TODD:  Yes, it`s a code of armor. 

PALMIERI:  Yes.  But the -- you know, it is -- it -- the smart thing to do is to say, no one is more concerned than me.  No one wants to get to the bottom of this more than I do about what really happened with Russia.  And, like, at least give lip service to it and say you`re trying to -- you want to solve the problem.  You want to understand what happened.

And even if you`re not prepared to tell the truth.  But that -- but they can`t even see clearly enough to know that`s a smart thing to do. 

JOHNSON:  When you talk about the one individual, I would add that if the president was interested in burying this scandal, he`s taken step that have hurt him.  It`s not like he wasn`t warned that Mike Flynn was cozy with Russia and might not be the best choice or the most prudent choice of national security advisor.  He chose him, nonetheless.  And because of the Russia angle, it blew up in his face.

So, I think the president has made some bad decisions that have, you know, added fuel to the fire in this scandal.

TODD:  No, I mean, that seems to be ultimately the biggest issue here.

All right.  There`s more -- we haven`t even gotten to the party infighting yet there.  It`s unbelievable.

We`ll pause here.  You guys are sticking around for the hour.  Coming up, the truth might be stranger than fiction, when it comes to Russia`s cyber strategy.  How the kremlin used social media to try and influence voters.

And President Trump, I swear to God, what I saw on "Homeland" on Sunday, I saw testified on Thursday.

Stay tuned.



TODD:  Welcome back.

As Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell weighs using the so-called nuclear option to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, now says he regrets using the same gamut or regrets that Harry Reid used it to get President Obama`s judges through Senate in 2013.

In fact, the Democratic leader told the Associated Press, we made one mistake.  We shouldn`t have changed the rules for lower court judges, but we never did it for the Supreme Court.  This is a much bigger mistake on their behalf.

Well, Schumer is referring to the so-called Reid rule enacted by then majority leader Harry Reid that let some lower court nominees be confirmed with a simple majority and not allow them to be filibustered.

Well, NBC News now reports 36 Senate Democrats say they will oppose Gorsuch, including six Democrats up for re-election next year in red states.  And if five more Democrats follow suit, they will have the votes to filibuster and, potentially, trigger McConnell using the nuclear option.

Well, Guess what?  This Sunday, Senators Schumer and McConnell will be my exclusive -- semi-exclusive guests on "MEET THE PRESS."  Check your local listings.

We`ll be back in 60 seconds.


TODD:  Welcome back to MTP DAILY.

The Senate Intelligence Committee`s first public hearing on their Russian investigation revealed some things about the kremlin`s cyber tactics that seem straight out of a spy novel.  Expert witnesses explained the complex tools the Russians used during election and that are still being deployed now, including some of the way they use everyday social media sites to spread misinformation and fake news.

Here`s how it works.  Basically, a Twitter user, you see in your feed, might look and sound like an American sitting behind his or her computer here in the United States.  But they`re actually fake profiles created by the Russians to spread conspiracy theories.  Complete with hash tags and photos and they specifically targeted the president when they knew he was going to be online. 


CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI AGENT:  Part of reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measure at time against his opponents.  Gray (ph) outlets that are Soviet pushing accounts tweet at President Trump during high volumes when they know he`s online and they push conspiracy theories.  So, if he is to click on one of those or cite one of those, it just proves Putin correct. 


TODD:  And, yes, if you are watching every single current else of "Homeland" and you`re up to date, then, yes, that was part of last week`s episode.

Well, to help us understand these tactics, let me bring in Kevin Mandia.  He`s the CEO of FireEye, a fiber security company.  And he was among the folks that testified yesterday at that Senate Intelligence hearing.

Mr. Mandia, thank you for coming on the show. 

KEVIN MANDIA, CEO, FIREEYE:  Thanks for having me, Chuck. 

TODD:  OK, I`ll be honest.  Some of this will seem surreal to folks.  That it seems, most, oh, come on.  Are you really telling us a bunch of Russians who may not speak the language as well as us are suddenly fooling all these Americans?  Why shouldn`t we be skeptical of the testimony we heard? 

[17:25:00] MANDIA:  Well, I can tell you, I first responded to Russian intrusions back in 1996, when I was in the United States Air Force.  And we`ve seen gradual incrementalism ever since.

So, I know it`s very real.  It`s part of -- you know, I would say for maybe the first 20 years, fair game for espionage was just defined differently and had different tools.  So, they used to just break in and surreptiously steal information.

But, over the years, you`ve seen an escalation from Russia doing it this.  And, by the way, it`s not just Russia.

TODD:  Right.

MANDIA:  You`re going to see Iran start getting into doing this and other modern nations starting to use the same tools at their disposal to influence public opinion, to invade our privacy, to hackle organizations. 

TODD:  Has the United States ever done this? 

MANDIA:  You know, I can`t speak for that.  I haven`t responded firsthand to an intrusion that I would have attributed to the United States. 

TODD:  And we don`t know of any reports of other countries claiming this, at any point in time?

MANDIA:  No, there`s been reports being claimed in that.  Now, it would stretch credulity to think we don`t have modern weaponry that`s available in the cyber domain to meet diplomatic needs.  And I think everybody`s been trying influence public opinion with whatever media tools they had at their disposal throughout history.

But now, we have different tools.  We have Facebook.  We have Twitter.  We have other anonymous ways to push different agendas.  And as these tools emerge, I would expect every modern nation will use them to propagate their ideas. 

TODD:  You know, it -- you know, when the -- Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, during his opening statement, he was outlining that this operation was so sophisticated that it was even, essentially, targeting the swing states.  And making sure voters in the Wisconsins, the Michigans and the Pennsylvanias, they were seeing some of this fake news or they were making sure that they were, sort of -- making sure it was high on those social media he feeds.

MANDIA:  Right.

TODD:  Is the Russian operation that sophisticated?  Have they been downloading voter files in order to, essentially, micro-target their fake news? 

MANDIA:  You know, I don`t have firsthand knowledge as to how sophisticated they are to that specific that Senator Warner brought up.

But I can tell you this.  With the anonymity of the Internet, and with just -- you know, you can certainly peruse your agenda and push it into different geographies.  We didn`t see the evidence.  But it wouldn`t not have been in plain view during the investigations that we did into the cyber intrusions during the election time frame and over the last 12 to 15 years. 

TODD:  You know, and the most startling part it was when Clint Watts said that the person who helped spread this misinformation the most was the candidate himself.  And that he -- that they timed it -- they would time some of these stories so that he would see it. 

Is -- was that the fastest way to spread this?

MANDIA:  I have no idea.  I think there could`ve been analysis done to try to figure that out.  But I`m certain there`s -- whenever you see what`s called doxing or the leaking of information, it`s probably done strategically.  It could be done under some guise of threat.  There could be communications before it happens.

I think in what you`re referring to, there probably wasn`t communication beforehand.  But I`m sure that whoever is behind it has to be thinking about how to get maximum impact based on timing. 

TODD:  Now, you brought up the fact that it was 1996 was the first time --

MANDIA:  Right.

TODD:  -- you knew that Russians were trying to do this.  I`ve had intelligence sources tell me, for years, that, look, yes, there are other countries.  But while the Chinese throw a lot of resources at this, the Russians have been much more sophisticated, really, than anybody else.  And that there is a nuance to what they do versus everybody else.

Is this run out of all GRU?

MANDIA:  Right.

TODD:  I mean, is this a Putin program?  I mean, who run this program? 

MANDIA:  Well, it`s hard for me to tell.  You know, what we get to see firsthand is basically the results of doing nearly 20 years of responding to computer intrusions.  We have over 150 threat analysts in 19 different countries that speak 32 languages.

But we`re responding to the victim networks.  We`re analyzing the evidence that`s left behind from these intrusions.  And I would definitely say, throughout history, what I`ve witnessed is Russia seems to have the tools and capabilities to be more surreptitious, more successful.

And how I`ve described them, kind of in a hockey analogy, is it`s kind of like playing goalie against Mario Lemieux on a breakaway.  I mean, the Russians put --

TODD:  Wow.

MANDIA:  -- the puck in the net when they try to hack you.

China has always been more polite about it.  They`ve always, kind of, carried the -- you know, I always say they wear the Chinese jersey when they hack you.  But we seem to have come up with some kind of treaty and rule of engagement that we`ve agreed upon with China.  So, we`ve seen that threat largely abate.

But we`re seeing Iran develop capability.  And we`re seeing North Korea develop capability.  And the bottom line, Chuck, is there`s asymmetry here that`s, sort of, dangerous for a nation.

Right now, in cyberspace, in the cyber domain, the United States is actually in the glass house here.  And there`s a lot of nations that can`t beat us kinetically, but they can get a lot of impact to their agenda in the cyber domain.

TODD:  And, very quickly, look, how much more resources would a company like yours need now from the federal government? I mean, is there a point where there is only so much you can do for private firms that need your help from like this? I mean, do we need a better national strategy here?

MANDIA: Well, we definitely need a better national strategy. And I`ll speak for every single victim company CEO. We need a deterrent, and we need attribution to have a deterrent. Meaning, you got to know who is behind these attacks so that you can determine what is the proportional to these attacks. And that`s a diplomatic thing. You got to have the current administration work with other nations to figure out what`s gonna be fair game for espionage.

TODD: Right.

MANDIA: . and start working on that. Otherwise, we can do our best playing goalie, but the asymmetry, it won`t bode well for us if all we do is think about defense. We have to think about diplomatic ways to get deterrents in place.

TODD: That is the challenge that I`ve heard over and over again, and no one knows what that answer is yet. Kevin Mandia, thank you for giving voice to this and providing some expertise. Thanks for coming on, sir.

MANDIA: Thank you.

TODD: Still ahead, the new president wants to know what the last president knew and who he told about the Russian investigation. I`m going to talk with somebody who was in the White House on the last day the president was in the White House. Josh Earnest. Stay tuned.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA: I don`t settle cases. I don`t do it because that`s why I don`t get sued very often because I don`t settle.


TODD: Fast forward about a year from what you just heard and three lawsuits against the now shattered Trump University have ended in a settlement. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, do you remember him? Approved the $25 million settlement today. It ends two class action lawsuits and a civil suit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

President Trump opted to settle the cases shortly after his election in November tweeting, as president, I have to focus on our country. Under the settlement agreement, the Trump Organization admits no wrongdoing. Attorneys for the former students involved understood that they will get at least 90 percent of their money back. We should note that while some former Trump University students alleged they were defrauded, others have said they were happy with the school.

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization have commented on the settlement decision. Up next, former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on what the Obama administration knew about Russia`s election interference and when they do it. But first, Hampton Pearson with the Friday "CNBC Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. We had the three major index posting quarterly gains as we close out this quarter. The Dow falling by 65 points. The S&P down 5. The Nasdaq down 2 points, had it`s best quarter since 2013. The number of retailers filing for bankruptcy is marching toward a post recession high.

Nine retailers have filed for Chapter 11 in just the past three months. Consumer spending barely up last month amid delays and tax refunds. Inflation continues to rise though, pointing to a likely interest rate hike. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.


TODD: Welcome back. New developments today on the Obama administration`s efforts to preserve intelligence of Russian election hacking. A former Obama administration official told NBC News that Obama officials were so concerned about what would happen to key classified documents related to the Russia probe once Donald Trump took office, that they created a list of document serial numbers to give to senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Obama official said the purpose of this document list was to make it quote, harder to bury the information.

This comes just one day after the White House Counsel Donald McGahn sent a letter to the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee saying the White House hopes the community will investigate whether the Obama administration inappropriately gathered disseminated classified information.

In simpler terms, Trump White House wants to know what the Obama White House knew about the Russia probe and how much they shared it and who they shared it with. Communications of those Trump associates are of course were picked up by the intelligence community.

Joining me now is a former Obama White House official, former press secretary, Josh Earnest, who of course is a brand new NBC and MSNBC political contributor. Mr. Earnest, how are you, sir?


TODD: Nice to see you.

EARNEST: Happy Friday.

TODD: Happy Friday. In this case, I want you to put on your Obama administration hat.

EARNEST: All right.

TODD: So we have this news on the serial numbers. How did that work? Explain what was happening during this transition. How concerned, how much of an issue was inside that west wing?

EARNEST: Yeah. President Obama in December ordered the intelligence community to actually dig in to what exactly happened with regard to Russia and their involvement in the presidential election. And he asked them to put together a report before the end of the administration. And the president`s directions were actually quite clear.

He suggested that they actually brief the contents of that report not just to the White House but to intelligence officials on Capitol Hill, in both parties, in both the house and senate, and to the Trump transition team.

TODD: Okay, this is about whether -- okay, you had intelligence that there was some of this intelligence gathering that there was concern it might disappear. So what -- there obviously was another order that was given by the president for preservation. Explain that.

EARNEST: I think the goal was to make sure that everyone was read in on what exactly happened. When we sustained a significant attack on our electoral system, that`s not a minor deal. And so the president wanted to make sure that the intelligence community was taking a deep dive look into this to get to the bottom of what happened, to try to assess the aims of the Russians, but also to make sure that Democrats and Republicans were read into what had happened so that we can take steps to prevent it from happening again.

TODD: All right. I want to talk about a previous story, "The New York Times" story which was one that NBC, MSNBC contributor, former assistant national security secretary defense on Russia issue, Evelyn Farkas, she sort of gave voice to it.

It became part of this Don McGahn letter, but essentially it was on that "New York Times" story, that said not only did you guys try to preserve documents but you aggressively disseminated them. Perhaps even lower classification levels in order to say make sure a Ben Cardin, who happens to be the ranking democrat on foreign relations, could have the clearance to receive this intelligence. Did that happen?

EARNEST: I obviously wasn`t involve in the decisions that were made about how to.

TODD: (inaudible) decisions, but you might be involved -- you might be aware (inaudible).

EARNEST: And what I can tell you about is the motivation of those decisions. The motivation of those decisions was to make sure that as many intelligence officials, again we`re talking about intelligence professionals at the FBI and other places, but also at the relevant committees in congress were read in on what happened. This has a serious attack on our political system. This is not a small matter that we have Russia intervening in a presidential election in rather brazen fashion.

So the Obama administration did make a concerted effort to make sure that relevant officials were aware of all the evidence, had access to all the materials that could us some insight and to what tactics were used, what motives could contributed to Russia`s decision to get involved in this way. But also to think about what sort of response would be most effective in trying to be, to deter Russia in this kind of activity in the future.

TODD: Do you understand why the Trump White House believes this was a -- or at least maybe perhaps the president believes that this was a concerted effort to undermine his legitimacy as president?

EARNEST: Well, again, if they don`t have anything to hide, it raises questions about why they are refusing to be so forthcoming. Why are there so many Trump officials hiding, or at least not being forthcoming, with so many meetings they had with so many Russian officials?

For example, there is now this investigation into what kinds of conversations Jared Kushner, the president`s son-in0law, was having with the Russian ambassador. I remember during the Trump transition, there were all kinds of people being paraded through the lobby of Trump Tower. Kanye West, Don King, but for some reason the Russian ambassador was snuck in through the back door. Why is that?

And if the White House says, this is just typical of what you would expect the transition team to do in terms of meeting with ambassadors, then why hide it? Why is this such a -- this is just not the only example, we`ve got Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, others who are accused of not being forthcoming with this information.

TODD: One other story that popped this week. James Comey, it was reported, wanted to do an op-ed, very early, I guess late June or early July, about Russian interference and it was somehow -- the reporting says, it was nixed by the White House. What do you know about this?

EARNEST: I actually don`t know about those conversations.

TODD: That was news to you?

EARNEST: That`s news to me.

TODD: The idea that Comey wanted to go public?

EARNEST: Yes, that was news to me. What we know is that he did that extraordinary news conference where he announced.

TODD: He wanted to go public on Russia as well with an op-ed. It was nixed by the way.

EARNEST: I can`t speak to this conversation. I wasn`t involved in those. But if James Comey was making his own decision about what he wanted to communicate publicly and there was some heartburn about the manner that he chose to communicate publicly, not just in July, but also in that letter that he released in October.

TODD: Josh Earnest. Do you miss the podium?

EARNEST: Not today, no.

TODD: Fair enough.


TODD: Welcome aboard. Thanks for being here.

EARNEST: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: Coming up, why I`m obsessed with the reaction to North Carolina`s HB2 repeal and the dying art of the political deals.


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight I`m obsessed with reminding people that politics is the art of the possible, not the art of the ideal. Democrat Roy Cooper won North Carolina`s governorship largely due to his opposition HB2, the law mandating that transgender people use the bathroom corresponding with their gender shown on their birth certificate.

But on Thursday, Cooper and North Carolina`s Republican state legislators agreed on a compromise that got rid the law name that prevents municipalities from allowing transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. Not surprisingly, LGBTQ advocates are outraged of the compromise.

Charlotte Observer, Cooper turns back on LGBT community. "The New York Times," North Carolina`s bait-and-switch on transgender. Slate, The HB2 repeal bill is an unmitigated disaster for LGBTQ rights and North Carolina. Maybe in a less polarized era, deal more acceptable to the LGBTQ community would have been possible.

But you have to remember what`s going on in North Carolina. Republicans have a vetoed proof majority in the state legislature. It was this or the status quo. If we`re going to start punishing politicians by demanding all or nothing at all, then nothing at all is what you`re always going to get.

This is what compromise is going to look like in this polarized era. It`s gonna stink. It`s gonna feel like loose, loose. But if you refuse to compromise, you won`t get anything. Just ask the Republicans in congress how repealing and replacing Obamacare is going. We`ll be right back.


TODD: We`ve got some breaking news. We`re now learning more about why the government issued that ban on laptop computers and other electronic devices from carry-on bags on some overseas flights to the United States. U.S. officials say that the decision was made based on an assessment that suggests that various terrorist organizations have developed the means to conceal explosives in laptop computers in a way that could elude security screening, particularly in some of those countries that were identified.

We`ll have a lot more details from Pete Williams on the NBC nightly news in a little bit. Let me bring the panel back in. Jennifer Palmieri, Eliana Johnson, Bill Kristol. Very quickly. Not surprisingly, there had to be something connected with that. Jen, there`s plenty of times that temporary decisions were made when you were there about what could go in, and remember we had toner cartridges we were worried about at one time.


TODD: We had the shoe issue before that. This is sort of almost a regular thing that happens inside the international sort of screening process, isn`t it?

PALMIERI: Yeah, and the fact that we first heard about it from the airlines made me understand that it was legit and that it was something that had been worked through the bureaucracy unlike other things that came out of the Trump White House. Because that`s how, you know, you work with the airlines actually to figure out how you`re going to tell everybody what they can bring on and what they can`t bring on.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF THE WEEKLY STANDARD, NEOCONSERVATIVE POLITICAL ANALYST AND COMMENTATOR: I`ve had my cross with the intelligence community. (inaudible) a little bit and to degree I was able to understand that stuff. And also when I was outside, I`ve been critical -- you do want basically to have citizens trust what the intelligence community tells the White House and then when the White House announces something like this or some other agency announces it, you want some level of trust. This is damage the Trump is doing.

TODD: It`s interesting that you bring this up and we`re connecting it to the trust issue early on because, look, I had somebody say to me their biggest fear right now with the current state of the Trump White House is if you were Kim Jong-un, if you were Putin, if you were an adversary of the United States, this is a time to strike. This is the time to do something because, you know, maybe you moved troops to the border of Estonia. I mean, I hate to be -- but that is a concern. Is this White House ready for this?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER AT POLITICO: For a while I had thought that there would be some sort of international crisis that will reveal sort of the character of the White House and how everything really works. Whether the president listens to his cabinet secretaries and takes their counsel or whether this completely falls apart and the administration comes to an untimely end.

And I think truth and trust are two really important things and Donald Trump was a product of a lack of faith in institutions and the weakness of institutions. And now that he`s president, he`s further undermining people`s faith in institutions, the intelligence community, political parties, congress, you know, health care bill not getting passed, wasn`t good for people`s faith and the ability of congress to function. He`s undermined people`s trust in the intelligence community and so on. He`s compounded the problem that he`s been elected to fix.

TODD: She has made a point that a crisis does reveal that initial character.

PALMIERI: Right, yes.

TODD: I remember you weren`t there in the Obama White House in `09. I remember the underwear bomber incident.


TODD: There`s a lot of things that the White House learned.


TODD: And, you know, some of the things.

PALMIERI: And how you lock down the chain of information about who knows what, what they need to know and who.

TODD: And they were 11 months into the presidency then and they were still making.

PALMIERI: And having the wherewithal to not answer questions or not put information out until you`re sure that it`s right because I get -- I mean, every time there`s a major incident or terrorist act or something, the first reports were always wrong, without exception, always wrong. And you have to be careful.

TODD: Bill, last word.

KRISTOL: You need allies to trust you in an emergency, right? If President Trump calls Chancellor Merkel and says hey, we have real problem, we have intelligence to show us something is happening in Estonia, you need it to be a reliable statement.

TODD: That was the word of the economist today in that deadly cover that they had today. Anyway, Jennifer, Bill, Eliana, thanks for being flexible with me. I appreciate that. After the break, has the internet taken the fun out of April fools? Has the internet taken the fun out of all snark? Stay tuned.


TODD: Well, in case you missed it, the internet, of course, maybe social media ruined April Fools` Day. As a public service, let us remind you that tomorrow is April 1st. What you really need to know is it`s crab season. It used to be the time to trick your family or friends with a goofy gag or a lighthearted frank. Perhaps a few M&M mixed in with can of Skittles or some surprise redecorating a co-worker`s office.

And sometimes the TV networks got in on it, on the fun. Here you see the BBC`s 1957 special report on the Swiss spaghetti harvest. But in the age of the internet, April Fool`s Day changed entirely. The spoof shared between friends became overshadowed by large-scale hoaxes and marketing opportunists. We used to seeing at least one fake celebrity death spread around on Twitter and with the goal of going borrow, companies these days push outrageous phony products that I will admit we all still get a kick out of.

And then like, you know, Jim Bean`s can of Jim beans or Burger King`s whopper toothpaste or even Google`s Miss Pacman overhaul under Google map. So yes, the internet kill April Fool`s Day. But if you must celebrate, do it in person. Do it with kids. Maybe try putting some toothpaste between two Oreo cookies. Old-fashion fun. Keep your April Fools` Day off of social media since guess what, in the age of fake news, how do you even know what is real anymore on that feed.

That`s all we got for tonight. We`ll be back on Monday with more "MTP Daily." And if it`s Sunday, don`t forget to catch "Meet the Press." McConnell and Schumer. No place else, just see them both. "For the Record with Greta" starts right now. Go ahead, Greta.