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MTP Daily, Transcript 4/4/2017

Guests: Mike Lee, Eliana Johnson, Ruth Marcus, Ramesh Ponnuru, Patrick Leahy, Aditi Roy, Rajesh De, Ramesh Ponnuru, Ruth Marcus, Eliana Johnson

Show: MTP Daily Date: April 4, 2017 Guest: Mike Lee, Eliana Johnson, Ruth Marcus, Ramesh Ponnuru, Patrick Leahy, Aditi Roy, Rajesh De, Ramesh Ponnuru, Ruth Marcus, Eliana Johnson

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Yes, it`s Tuesday. Some pain relief for President Trump but no cure in sight. (voice-over): Tonight, the White House`s troubles with Russia and health care are more than a pain. Can Republicans find more than temporary relief?


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We don`t have a bill taxed or an agreement yet, but this is the kind of conversations we want.


TODD: Plus, the unmasking.


SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, PRESIDENT OBAMA: I leaked nothing to nobody and never have and never would.


TODD: Is this just a White House attempt to distract from the Russian investigation or is there more to know? And it`s the end of the world as we know it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJORITY LEADER: We`re moving forward with the Gorsuch nomination for the Supreme Court that should be wrapped up sometime Friday.


TODD: The nuclear stress test and the breakdown of the U.S. Senate. This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(on camera): Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to Tuesday`s MTP DAILY.

Folks, the White House and the Republican Party were in desperate need of a little political pain reliever, something to give them a little relief from President Trump`s two biggest headaches right now. That health care vote failure and, of course, Russia. Well, today, they got some relief, temporarily. But it doesn`t change the fact that they still have two major sources of heartburn right now which is more than a little plop, plop, fizz, fizz can cure. On Russia, there was more smoke today, but Republicans have jumped on the news that President Obama`s former national security advisor, Susan Rice, tried to unmask the identities of Trump associates whose names appeared in intelligence reports. Today, Andrea Mitchell reports, Rice denied any allegations of wrong- doing.


RICE: The allegation is that somehow the Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That`s absolutely false. I leaked nothing to nobody. And never have and never would. There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to. Name not provided. Just U.S. person. And sometimes, in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was.


TODD: So, it`s possible this is a nothing burger. It`s also possible politics may have played a role in her request. Either way, Susan Rice is a lightning rod, particularly on the right. And Republicans gladly teed off on her today.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I believe Susan Rice abused the system and she did it for political purposes. She needs to be brought in and questioned under oath.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARIZONA: Susan Rice is the typhoid Mary of the Obama administration foreign policy. Every time something went wrong, she seemed to turn up in the middle of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To me, enough seriousness about it that we have to, you know, investigate it fully.


TODD: Now, what Susan Rice did or didn`t do does not make the Russia issue or the FBI`s investigation into possible collusion go away. Again, at best, this is a temporary relief for Mr. Trump on a story that could get a lot worse, depending on what the intelligence says about his associates. And that`s not even all of the Russia smoke today. Trump campaign associate, Carter Paige, revealed that he was a target of Russian spies. And two intelligence sources told NBC News that Blackwater founder, Eric Prince, who`s the brother of secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, repped Trump at a secret meeting with a Russian envoy. Then, of course, there`s the temporary relief for the -- for Mr. Trump and the Republican Party. They have health care, as the White House revives talks with Republican critics. But already, some within the party are pouring a little bit of cold water on a new deal being floated by the administration. Today, Republicans left a closed-door meeting saying there is no deal. And House Speaker Paul Ryan was quick to tamp down expectations.


RYAN: I don`t want to put some kind of an artificial deadline, because we`re at that concentra (ph) stage. We`re throwing around concepts to improve the bill. That`s occurring right now. But that is not to say that we are ready to go because we want to make sure that when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill. We`ve got the consensus that we`ve long been looking for.


TODD: A group of House Republican leaders are expected to meet tonight with Vice President Pence and a few others for more talks. Folks, the revival of health care may give republicans some cover when they go back to their districts next week. But it doesn`t change the big picture that Republicans are divided in both chambers. Like the Russia cloud, it`s a headache that probably isn`t going away anytime soon. I`m joined now by Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah who`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and who told me, on "MEET THE PRESS" two Sundays ago, that he certainly hoped health care wasn`t in the rearview mirror. So, I want to start with that, Senator Lee. I know you`re in conversations off and on with the Freedom Caucus. What have you heard about what`s being floated and what`s your take on the situation?

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTHAL, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: They`re still working to find a deal and this is consistent with efforts that are going on on both ends of the Capitol.

Republicans are trying to reach across within the party, the ideological spectrum and to trying to find areas of compromise so that we can get a bill passed. [17:05:09] I`m certain that this is not behind us and I`m certain that we are going to get something passed. But what remains to be seen is exactly what it will look like.

TODD: What -- strategically here, is it better to get -- for the House members to have a better understanding of what can pass the Senate? Or do you think it`s incumbent upon the House to produce something first?

LEE: Well, the plan, thus far, has been for the House to produce something first. And I think they ought to be taking into account their own concerns of those of their constituents when they do that. Not necessarily what can pass the Senate.

We`ve seen in the past sometimes rampant (ph) speculation about what might or might not pass in the Senate. I think it`s best for the House to focus on the House and ask whatever they can get. And then, send it over to us see what happens there. I think that`s where we`re moving and I think that`s the direction in which things are moving. Probably in a direction that will result in something passing within the next couple of months.

TODD: This is probably somewhat of an awkward question for you because if this bill moves more to the ideological right, a little less government involvement, that is good -- that`s something and you can support, but doesn`t that make it harder to get through the Senate?

LEE: Yes. The most important thing, for me and for many like me, is to see what in this bill will bring down the cost of health care. That was the concern expressed by many in response to the first iteration of the bill was that it didn`t do enough to alleviate the burdens of hundreds of millions of Americans who have found their health care costs skyrocketing since Obamacare took effect.

That`s what we`re concerned about more than some abstract ideological --

TODD: Let me ask you about that on cost when I hear this. Because, to me, there`s two costs here we`re dealing with. There`s the cost of health care and then there is the cost of health insurance. What is this bill intended to do?

LEE: Really, it deals as Obamacare did primarily with health insurance. And the whole idea and the whole hope is to increase the ability of the American people to afford their health care. It tends to do that through health insurance.

Obamacare regulated the market for health insurance and it did it in a way that resulted, among other things, in escalating premiums and deductibles that went through the roof. And that`s part of what we`re focusing on here is how to deal with those regulations in a way that will bring down the cost.

TODD: Is there a way that you think you can to bring down the cost of health insurance and not protect these insurance companies in some way that -- I mean, I think part of the problem with some of these insurance companies is that it -- they don`t want to go in the smaller more rural markets because they don`t think there are enough customers. And, originally, there was a -- those risk corridors. Originally, there was this idea of, essentially, subsidizing those insurance companies so that they would come into those smaller markets. How do you incentivize these folks to get into smaller markets?

LEE: Well, I generally believe that when you unlock free markets and you unlock the power of federalism, the laboratories of Republican democracy that did exist in all 50 states, you`re going to have experimentation that will result in increased competition. And what we know about increased competition, is that it tends to bring down prices and tends to increase quality.

Now, the problem we have with Obamacare is that it tended to diminish competition. It resulted in more consolidation within the health care industry, especially among health insurers. And this is one of the reasons why we haven`t seen the alleviation of the cost of health care. We`ve seen it escalate.

TODD: I want to move onto what`s going to happen this week in the U.S. Senate. The elimination of the filibuster is very likely. And I want to not get into the finger-pointing game here a minute but I want to talk about the future. Is it good or bad for the institution if the filibuster continues to be weakened overtime?

LEE: Look, many of us are very concerned about the possibility of what happened in November of 2013, meaning the moment that the Democratic majority decided to go nuclear on the executive calendar. We`ve been very worried about that metastasizing, spreading onto the legislative calendar. We don`t want that to happen.

But the nuking of the executive counter, that did, in fact, occur in November of 2013. It is in place. We`ve followed it ever since then. And the logical implications of that decision in November of 2013 still apply today. They apply with equal force with respect to Supreme Court nominees. All the same arguments apply logically in this step. What we need and what I hope desperately to protect against is the metastasis, the spreading of the nuclear option onto the legislative calendar whereby you could close debate on a piece of nonbudgetary legislation with fewer than 60 voters. We don`t want that to happen. I don`t think it will happen. And I don`t think there is anything about that for this week that`s going to lead to that.

TODD: And you know how many folks said it wasn`t going to happen in 2013? And, you know, I mean, you and I both know what a slippery slope is. It happens. I think -- do you admit that, maybe at this point, both parts -- both parties now have joined hands and are going right down this slope?

[17:10:08] LEE: Well, we went down this slope three and a half years ago. And the Senate has been operating for the last three and a half years with the post nuclear executive calendar. It is what it is. We are where we are. And it`s our job now to protect the legislative calendar.

TODD: Why -- let me ask you this. There`s some conservatives, actually, that have argued that another part of the filibuster they`d like to see gotten rid of is the idea that you need 60 votes to bring legislation to the floor. People forget this. You need 60 votes to bring legislation to the floor and then you need 60 votes to close debate and then start -- and then actually vote on the legislation. Where are you on that?

LEE: That makes me a little nervous. I`m not eager to get rid of it. And what you`re talking about is what we call cloture on the motion to proceed or front end to cloture. Closing debate on the opening debate, essentially. And each step, each individual senator loses power when we move away from the 60-vote cloture standard.

So, yes, that would cause me great concern. I think that`s not something we should undertake lightly. To my knowledge, there`s nobody actively campaigning for that. And if they are, they`re not catching a whole lot of momentum because I`m not hearing about it.

TODD: Senator Lee, I want to ask you finally on Russia. What is your bigger concern here in this debate about what national security advisor -- former national security advisor Susan Rice did? Is it what she did or what could be in those intelligence reports? What do you think should matter more?

LEE: Well, they`re both important, obviously. But I do want to focus here on the Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This is something I`ve been warning about ever since I`ve been in the Senate for six years now.

I`ve been very concerned about the possibility for abuse. Whether you`re talking about a Republican administration or a Democratic administration. Technology being what it is and human nature being what it is, unless we have very tight controls on how these powers are used, they`re going to be abused, eventually.

I`ve written about this extensively. I`ve devoted an entire portion of my book, "Our Lost Constitution," to this topic, reminding people that when telephone entered into widespread use, they were abused. They were illegally tapped and that`s what led to these title three reforms. We need similar reforms with respect to this technology that`s utilized under Section 702. These allegations about Susan Rice, whether they prove to be entirely correct or embellished or untrue or whatever, they are indicative of the kinds of concerns we ought to have about the modern intelligence surveillance apparatus that`s within the federal government and the potential for rampant political abuse.

TODD: I get that and there is plenty of people that have gotten off because of misuse of -- by the criminal justice system of misuse of evidence or things like that. But let me ask you this. Should this somehow overshadow the substance of what could be in those intelligence reports?

LEE: No, no, certainly not. Look, the facts need to be followed. The evidence needs to be followed wherever it may lead.

But my point is that in pursuing that evidence and looking into it, -- TODD: Right. LEE: -- figuring out what the implications of that evidence might be, we also shouldn`t lose sight of the Section 702 problem. They are both important and neither should be neglected.

TODD: Well, on the privacy front, let the record show you have been one of those fighting on that for quite some time. Senator Lee, a Republican from Utah, thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.

LEE: Thank you. TODD: You got it. Let me bring in tonight`s panel. Ruth Marcus, Columnist for "The Washington Post;" Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor for "National Review;" and Eliana Johnson, National Political Reporter for Politico. All right, Eliana, bigger picture here. If you`re the Trump White House, you at least found defenders today on the Hill for the first time on Russia, even if it wasn`t on the substance. Because they brought somebody up that the right love to hate.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think that`s true and it`s somewhat ironic, I think, to see Democrats who were up in arms over the NSA`s collection of meta data brushing off concerns over the unmasking of the identities of American officials.

I think the issue here is what`s the standard for the unmasking? I don`t know what it is or what it should be. I don`t think to brush aside the merits of having a debate about this or whether, you know, the national security advisor -- I think there`s no question what she did was legal. But should we talk about what the standards should be and what they were during the Obama era and whether they were appropriate.

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think on the big picture question, it`s not just that they found some defenders on the Hill but they actually really, for the first time, have managed, during this moment, to shift media attention from the issue at hand of Russia collusion, interference in the election, to allegations of potential misconduct. That`s not just -- I mean, you were very good and the senator I thought was very good, in terms of talking about the remaining fundamental issue.

[17:15:05] But from the point of view of the Trump White House which has not had a lot of very -- TODD: Right. MARCUS: -- good days recently, this was a better day than most.

TODD: you know, Ramesh, it sort of -- it -- that`s why we compared it to, sort of, getting temporary relief, right? It`s, sort of, like, they made the pain go away today. But Susan Rice is a subpoenaed witness in front of the Senate Intel Committee suddenly could start talking about what`s in those raw (ph) intelligence reports.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Right. We`re at a very odd moment. For the first time that I can think of, we have a, kind of, cross-cutting scandal allegations where it`s not just one side`s playing offense and the other side`s playing defense. But both of them are, sort of, in different universes. And one world, a right world, the story is illegitimate and improper activity by the Obama administration against the incoming Trump administration. And in the other world, it`s Trump ties to Russia. Now, the -- one of the other funny things about this is there`s no reason why they can`t both be true.

TODD: Yes.

PONNURU: There`s also no reason they can`t both be false. It`s just a question of which of these stories is going to get the critical and the attention. TODD: Well, and, by the way, the word, unmask. And I`m going to talk about it later in the show. We`re going to talk about what it means. It doesn`t mean it was made public. But the word, unmask, has been a very beneficial word to the Trump White House here because it sounds like it is. On its face, you`re, oh, unmasking. Oh, they`re leaking.

MARCUS: Americans` personal privacy --

TODD: Yes. MARCUS: -- thrown to the wolves.

TODD: And I hate -- the language here is, I think, very big.

JOHNSON: Well, and in the case of Michael Flynn, it was made public through media reports. And so, they have -- you know, they have one example of that. And all the talk of leaks, I think, makes it seem that way.

It is noteworthy in Susan Rice`s interview with Andrea Mitchell, she, herself, allied the distinction when she said, I never leaked anything. She did not say, I never unmasked these names in intelligence reports. TODD: It`s true, she even said she did. JOHNSON: In fact, she confirmed that. TODD: Yes. JOHNSON: But you saw here when she said, I never leaked anything. You know, allied the distinction between the two. So, I think you`re exactly right that there is confusion between those. TODD: But there -- and, at the end of the day, if you believe a foreign power intervened in the election, was she operating out of bounds or not?

MARCUS: We have no idea from where we stand.

TODD: If your belief is the foreign power is doing that, Isn`t the national security advisor`s job to find these things out?

MARCUS: The president told his national security team to try to figure out what happened, it would be a little odd to try to figure out what happened if you can only imagine one side of the conversation and, sort of, guess about who they`re talking to.

We -- I think Ramesh makes a really important point. We just need to make sure, on both sides of this story, that we don`t jump ahead of where the fact -- where the facts have taken us so far. TODD: I want to get, though, quickly to Mike Lee`s point on -- look, and to his credit, he has been worried about this for years before we even saw it. This is a concern. Like, you put this information in the wrong hands or it just takes one rogue operator and it does feel a little invasive. And, you know, you can`t help it. Sometimes, geez. I understand why there`s some concern about this.

RAMESH: Yes, you could have this incidental collection where it`s actually the entire purpose, for real, of the investigation and of the surveillance. And then, maybe you`re not leaking the story to somebody. You`re just unmasking but you`re sharing it in the executive branch and somebody else leaks it. There are kinds of potentials for abuse.

TODD: That Dara doll is capable of anything, right? Oh, no, no, no. Oh, I`m sorry. I`m complaining (ph).


MARCUS: I used to have that with west wing.

TODD: Yes. MARCUS: I got confused. And now, I`m having it with home life (ph). TODD: If the public sort of thinks, well, geez, I watch it on T.V. It probably is all half true.

JOHNSON: Well, I said this to Ramesh before the show. If somebody noted to me, a "Wall Street Journal" article from 2015 where this came up where the national security agency was eavesdropping on Benjamin Netanyahu for legitimate purposes. But it came up, his conversations with members of Congress trying to scuttle the Iran deal.

And in "The Wall Street Journal" article, it refers to a moment where the Obama administration had an, oh, blank, moment where they realized they could have been accused of spying on members of Congress. I think that`s where this gets really tricky. And it could be that all of this was not about Trump. Was -- were they spying on Trump?

But what is the policy for the incidental collection of intelligence and unmasking of American citizens in the process? TODD: We`re going to pause the conversation here. I want to get to health care. We`ve got some time for you guys to get to health care later in the show, I promise you that. You guys will stick around. Coming up though, throwing Senate traditions out the window. The future of the filibuster hangs in the balance. Can the Senate avoid going nuclear? The longest serving Democrat in the U.S. Senate right now. Senator Patrick Leahy will join me next on this conversation.



TODD: Well, the timing couldn`t have been worse. Less than one week after the Trump administration said that it is no longer prioritizing the ousting of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, it appears Assad`s government has perpetrated one of the deadliest chemical weapons` attacks in Syria in years. I want to warn you, these pictures are very disturbing. At least 83 people, including 25 children, have been killed, according to a relief agency that`s on the ground. There are 350 more that are injured. A senior State Department official said this chemical weapons` attack looks to be a war crime. Both the White House and the State Department have condemned the attack. The White House called it reprehensible but also blamed the Obama administration, saying the on slot, quote, "cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar Al Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration`s weakness and irresolution." Today, Senator John McCain slammed both the Obama and Trump administrations for the lack of action on Syria and he called on President Trump to speak out against Assad.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I wanted to hear him say, we`re going to arm the Syrian. We are going to dedicate ourselves to the removal of Bashar Al Assad. We will not sit by and watch chemical weapons being used to slaughter innocent women and children. (END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK) TODD: Welcome back. The Senate, as we know it or have come to know it, might not be the same after the end of this week. The question is is the public going to care? Today, majority leader, Mitch McConnell is filing a procedural motion to get us a bit closer to the final vote on President Trump`s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. Forty-four Senate Democrats say they all support a filibuster. All they needed was 41. That means it`s all but certain McConnell will deploy what`s been dubbed the nuclear option, changing the Senate rules for the foreseeable future. So, Supreme Court nominees, as well as lower court nominees, as well as cabinet picks could all be approved with just 51 votes rather than allowing them to be filibustered with 60. In the senate world, that`s a big deal. There`s a lot to blame to go around and neither side will budge.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: If Senator McConnell is willing to be reasonable and cooperate in a bipartisan way, we can avoid the nuclear option.

MCCONNELL: It appears as if they will not be invoked, but we will find out on Thursday. But either way, we`ll be moving toward confirming Judge Gorsuch on Friday.


[17:25:07] TODD: Republican Senator John McCain tried to work with Democratic colleagues to avoid this change, but to no avail. And today, he had some tough words for anyone who says this change could make the Senate better.


MCCAIN: After 200 years, at least 100 years of this tradition where the Senate has functioned pretty well, they think it would be a good idea to blow it up. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some that say -- MCCAIN: Idiot. No, whoever says that is a stupid idiot, who has not been here and seen what I have been through and how we were able to avoid that on several occasions.


TODD: Just hearing the phrase, stupid idiot, tells me we, for sure, can confirm that audio with Senator John McCain. Anyway, joining me now is Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has said he will vote against Gorsuch. And just yesterday announced that he would also support the filibuster. Senator Leahy, welcome back, sir.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you. Before we go into this, I just -- I couldn`t help but hear what was being said about Syria and Assad.

TODD: Yes, sir. LEAHY: The typical fashion even though that happened the last 24 hours. The Trump administration is blaming it on the Obama administration (INAUDIBLE) months ago. The fact is Assad is a war criminal. He`s been aided and abetted by Mr. Trump`s friend, Vladimir Putin. I think what we ought to do is face the reality today. He is a war criminal. That should be the policy of this country to treat him as a war criminal and to go after him as a war criminal.

TODD: OK. That means by any means necessary in regime change, sir?

LEAHY: No, that means that the Trump administration can`t blame it on somebody else. They ought to sit down and figure out how do you treat a war criminal?

TODD: Well, let`s -- before I jump to this, let me ask you --

LEAHY: I`m not asking you -- TODD: -- though, I mean, we have let this fester. The Obama administration -- President Obama`s policy was regime change. Tut they -- the main criticism of him was it was all talk and it was not backed up with anything. How do you back this up? LEAHY: Well, we backed it up with a lot of things over the -- over the years with our military and aide. The thing is trying to find who you back. Who is the best? But the point is that we have to have the position of being the United States to be considered however this comes out. Assad is a war criminal. He`ll be treated as such. He`ll be treated as such when his fortunes are being transferred from bank to bank --

TODD: Right.

LEAHY: -- and so forth. But that`s -- but that`s not why you invited me here. TODD: No, no, no, no. And it`s a -- look, it`s a -- but I`m going to actually follow-up with one more on this which goes to the issue of -- if you recall, we supposedly cut a deal with the Russians to get rid of Assad`s chemical weapons. Obviously, that didn`t -- that deal fell through. What should our response be now? LEAHY: Well, we -- yes. A lot -- a lot of chemical weapons were removed and were destroyed. We know that for a fact. And that was certified by the Russians. Somebody did not tell the truth.

TODD: All right. Let me go to the U.S. Senate. There are -- there are some arguments being made on a generational basis here that says, you know what? The folks that have been around the Senate a long time are overly protective of these rules. We live in a -- this is a different time. There`s a different set of expectations by the public and how the Senate needs to work this way better.

It seems to me we might be headed to the eventual elimination of the filibuster or narrowing it even more. First of all, do you think we`re about to make a mistake, collectively that you guys made a mistake in 2013 and Republicans are making a mistake now?

LEAHY: Well, I think blocking things for the sake of blocking things is a mistake. And the Senate worked a lot better when you had leaders in both parties who would sit down and try to work together. Not be a winner take all. Not doing it on a partisan basis.

I`ll give you an example. Somebody says one of the most difficult things to ever have to change is Social Security. A conservative Republican Robert Dole sat down with a liberal Democrat Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and they worked on something where they decided, hey, that`s a better way of doing it. Trent Lott and Tom Daschle did it. But then, when the -- if the White House thinks they can control whoever`s the leader and if the leaders wanted to go along with that control, then it does break down. TODD: Well, what you`re saying is you think the last two Senate leaders, this one and the last one, where (INAUDIBLE) to the White House too much?

LEAHY: I`m not -- no, I wouldn`t say that. But I`m saying that if you try to have it winner take all, you want to make the Senate like the House, except with a six-year term, that is a mistake. Now, I would hope the press will look at the some of the committees to do work.

I`m the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. This is the chairman. We have already begun to work quietly, Republicans and Democrats together, work things out. I think we will. It is not as easy a headline, but what it does for the American people is very significant.

In this case and the Gorsuch, they -- we have a problem because the White House did not follow the usual procedure where they sat down with Republicans and Democrats and talk about advice. Here, the president said I will take a list from an efficacy group, they will tell me who I can nominate. I never heard of president take that position. Let some group tell him who he would nominate.

TODD: Look, I understand. There is nothing -- there is nothing in the constitution that says that`s wrong.

LEAHY: I like following the constitution. The constitution says the president shall nominate, the senate should advise and consent. We saw this on what happened when President Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland. And in the senate, where every one of us has taken an oath to uphold the constitution said sorry, we are going to ignore the constitution, we are not going to advise and consent, we are going to give you in effect year-long filibuster.

TODD: You know, very quickly, because you probably remember this, a deal -- Ruth Marcus actually reminded me of this, back during the Clarence Thomas hearings, there was a reason Democrats didn`t filibuster his nomination. You cut -- a larger was cut on some other, you know, what was Democrats wanted something on another bill.

Republicans said hey, don`t filibuster him. I mean, sort of there was this general agreement that happened. Let me ask you this, Senator Leahy, you made your share of deals. Is there any active negotiations going on to prevent this rule change in exchange for something that would prevent the filibustering of Gorsuch?

LEAHY: I`m not involved in one. I wish we could have. I think it is -- how distressed I am to see how this reach this place. You know, there is a lot of fiction that goes on. I`m not aware of the Clarence Thomas one. I thought he did not tell the truth. I thought that others did.

But I will give you an example, talk about Bork. Well, Robert Bork lost in committee, but we all said he should be allowed to have a vote on the senate floor. He would have been confirmed if all the Republicans have voted for him. There is a large number of Republicans who voted against him. At the same time when the Republican president was trying to get him to withdraw his name. TODD: An important historical addendum there, Senator Leahy. Thanks for teeing up the conversation. There was nothing wrong with doing that. Sir, appreciate it. Thanks for coming on. LEAHY: Thank you very much. Take care.

TODD: You got it. Still ahead on "MTP Daily," understanding this word. Unmasking. What it really means, and whether it should really matter. Stay tuned.


TODD: Up next, what does unmasking mean? And what`s the process behind it? But first, Aditi Roy with the "CNBC Market Wrap."

ADITI ROY, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER FOR CNBC: Thanks so much, Chuck. Stocks closing mostly flat ahead of President trump`s meeting with the Chinese president this week. The Dow gained 39 points, the S&P inching up a point, the Nasdaq up by nearly 4.

The U.S. trade deficit fell sharply last month as exports of American-made products increased. The Commerce Department Data points to a stronger global economy. Payless shoe store has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, adding to the list of struggling chains. Four hundred stores will close immediately. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.


TODD: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." If you are confused by the swirl of controversies, conspiracies, and leaks that has grown out of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, you are not alone. President Trump`s own widely debunk claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower only added to the confusion and is distracting obviously from the larger issue of the Russian investigation itself.

Folks, for weeks, the White House hasn`t` backed down on that tweet. Instead, they repeatedly changed the meaning of what the president accused President Obama of doing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: When I say wire tap, those words were in quotes. That really covers because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When he talked about wiretapping, he meant surveillance and that there have been incidents that have occurred. On March 4th, the president as you all know raised serious questions about surveillance practices by the Obama administration including whether or not the president-elect or the transition team members were being improperly monitored for political purposes.


TODD: And now, the waters have gotten muddier, seizing on the fact that Susan Rice and what they say is a scandal of improper unmasking by her when she was national security adviser. Seemingly hoping to perpetuate the debunk wiretap claim itself while simultaneously pinning the leaks on Rice and the previous administration.

(START VIDEO CLIP) SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The notion that which some people are trying to suggest that by asking for the identity of an American person, that is the same as leaking it, is completely false. There is no equivalence between so-called unmasking and leaking. The effort to ask for the identity of American citizen is necessary to understand the importance of an intelligence report in some instances. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: All right. We know some of you won`t necessarily take the word of a partisan here on this, so we we reached out to Rajesh De. He was general counsel for the National Security Agency. Yes, the NSA. And a senior adviser to NSA director during the years of the Obama administration. Thank you for coming in. I appreciate this. So let`s walk through this issue of unmasking. What`s -- whose names get masked first? RAJESH DE, FORMER NSA GENERAL COUNSEL: Masking is a fancy way of saying redacting the name of a U.S. person.

TODD: Taken your black sharpie, crossing it out (ph).

DE: Exactly, and over that is written U.S. person, a generic term.

TODD: (inaudible). It will sometimes come in initials, right? (inaudible).

DE: Exactly.

TODD: All right.

DE: Exactly.

TODD: So what would prompt someone to want a name unmasked?

DE: There are two primary reasons under the law why someone can request the unmasking of a name which means unredacting that name in the classified report. First reason is maybe necessary to understand the foreign intelligence in the report. The second reason maybe, it could be evidence of a crime. TODD: All right. Who grants this request? Who do you have to make the requests for? DE: The authority rests in the agency that wrote the report and the handful of small -- small handful officials at the top of that agency. The director, the deputy director, and a few other senior officials or the FBI.

TODD: Okay. I was just gonna say, which agencies do mask? Is it just those two when it comes to these type of reports? Are we also talking CIA, DIA, go down the line about intelligence agency.

DE: It could be any of the 16 intelligence agencies in the U.S. community.

TODD: All right. So, you get this information. What is your legal you get it? Not everybody -- you don`t always grant it. But when it`s granted, what is the legal requirement now for the official that has gotten this piece of information? So to use the Susan Rice example, she makes a request to see what was the U.S. person named in this -- in this intelligence report. She gets the name. What is her legal requirement to protect that name going forward?

DE: I think there is a couple important points that you made, Chuck. One is, there is more than one person involved in this decision. There is the requester and there is the granter at the agency. Second, the request is only granted to the person who made the request. It`s not like the name is unmasked for lots of people in the government, only for the person who made the request.

And that person is then obligated to treat that information only for an authorized purpose which may include of course respecting it`s classification (ph) and only using it for what their job duties require them to.

TODD: All right. Let`s use our example here, Susan Rice. So she gets this information. She said she didn`t leak it. That doesn`t mean she didn`t use that information to brief the president or somebody else. Anybody that is - - can get -- can have the clearance to receive this information. Is that correct?

DE: Any recipient of an unmasked name or intelligence report has a whole suite of obligations and those are attended here which is using it only for those purposes for which their job requires.

TODD: So she got this information, so it`s very likely she could have passed it along to two, three, or four other very senior officials in the Obama administration. DE: As it would be for any senior official.

TODD: And maybe even to key leaders in Capitol Hill or something like that. DE: There are even more requirements if you go outside the executive (inaudible).

TODD: So in this case, there are extra requirements inside.

DE: Correct.

TODD: What is that extra requirement? DE: Any classified information that is sent to the Hill in any capacity has other requirements. You would have to get approvals from the organization that had the classified information and so forth. TODD: It seems to me we can find out if this is some sort of -- if something was done off, you know, off the books or different. I mean, what is the requirement of NSA in particular, general counsel, of keeping track of every request for an unmasking?

DE: There are requirements not only to keep track, but to record the justification for why a name was unmasked. In fact, congress has obligation on the executive branch to report the number of times a nmae is unmasked.

TODD: How often does congress go to NSA and say let me review this and let`s see it.

DE: There is constant oversight from various committees on the Hill and there are regular reporting requirements every six months, for example, for the numbers of being said are unmasked.

TODD: So the next time -- so let me just -- any unmasking that took place after the election, it won`t be for another couple of months until congress gets its report from NSA.

DE: Gets a standard semiannual report. But the congress asks these questions all the time. And the agencies are responsive all the time.

TODD: So, inspector general, they are ask to investigate getting these records from the NSA is not gonna be difficult.

DE: Easily verifiable.

TODD: Well, I have a feeling that`s coming next and we will easily find out how this went about.

DE: Thank you.

TODD: Rajesh De, thanks for coming in trying to explain. Again, the word unmasking does not mean it`s been made public.

DE: Correct.

TODD: Well, (inaudible). Maybe be need a fourth definition of the word in the dictionary. Appreciate your coming in. Up next, why I`m obsessed with how a baseball legend spent opening day. Stay tuned.


TODD: Tonight, I`m obsessed with the Dodgers` first opening day in the post Vin Scully era. The legendary broadcaster signed off last year after 67 years calling games for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. In fact, the last Dodgers` opening day without Vin Scully was in 1949. By the way, they beat across town rival giants that day, 10-3. Well, without Vin behind the mike yesterday, the Dodgers laid a similar beat down on the division rival.

This one to San Diego Padres, notching a 14-3 victory behind the greatest living left-handed pitcher whose name is not Koufax. So what was Vin Scully doing during the game? Watching from a legendary box, throwing out the first pitch. Maybe following along at home with his family. I actually asked Vin about his plans back in November.


TODD: What are you going to do on opening day? Are you going to watch baseball? Are you going to be in the stands? What are you going to do?

VIN SCULLY, SPORTSCASTER: I don`t know. I will be in the stands. May or may not watch baseball.


TODD: Well, Vin was right. Yesterday, he told "The L.A. Times" this. I was engaged in that other national pastime, paying bills. And I went to the post office to mail them, and now I`m just leaving the post office. By the way, he added, and this is just Vin being Vin, right? I`m aware that I`m not where I`ve been for about 60,000 years. But I`m just where I want to be. Vin, come on, those of us wish you were in Dodgers stadium yesterday behind that mike. We`ll be right back.


TODD: Time for "The Lid." Panel is back. Ruth, Ramesh, Eliana. Ramesh, let me start with you and talk health care. Do you believe it? Do you believe this deal is real? What`s going on? RAMESH PONNURU, COLUMNIST AND SENIOR EDITOR FOR THE NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE: I don`t think they got a deal yet. I think that they are trying to get a deal. And I think that right now even though the story has been about the house freedom caucus, the most conservative members of the house, and their alleged (inaudible), it`s the moderates who don`t want to budge any further from where they were before. They don`t want to meet the house freedom caucus.

TODD: How much.

PONNURU: They don`t even want to talk about the house freedom caucus. TODD: I was just gonna say, Ruth, how much of this do you think is really just about calming the waters during the recess, so that they can say hey, look, we`re still trying, we`re not done yet, don`t give up on us. Because the word two weeks ago was they were done. RUTH MARCUS, JOURNALIST FOR THE WASHINGTON POST: I think last week a decision was made. This is not just about getting through the recess. This is about getting through 2018. There is a lot of fear among the house leadership that if they can`t deliver on this fundamental promise, the voters are going to have a reason to boot them out. TODD: Which fear is worse, that the change will be unpopular or not doing anything will be unpopular, right? ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER AT POLITICO: You know, Arizona`s Trent Franks who is one of the most conservative members of the house told my colleague, Rachael Bade, something very interesting. He said, you know, we went into this and we didn`t get a deal. If we get a better deal in future negotiations, we will have made the right calculation.

Otherwise, we overplayed our hands on this. And I think that really -- it was very telling and it said a lot. It means, they do want another deal and they realized they could have miscalculated on this first deal.

TODD: I want to move quickly to the court. It`s a foregone conclusion, right, Ramesh? PONNURU: I think it is. And I think it`s one that has been building up for several years. And part of what is going on is just mutual distrust. You talk to Democrats and you say, don`t do this, you could hold the filibuster for next time. They`ll get rid of the filibuster whenever they need to do it and if you talk to Republicans, if we don`t do it, they take the senate, they`re getting rid of it. TODD: The most fascinating thing Patrick Leahy said to me, I thought, it seemed to me he was alluding that Harry Reid made this mistake and Mitch McConnell is making the same mistake, don`t do the bidding (ph) in the White House when you`re in power in the senate. It`s too much. But that was interesting. MARCUS: It`s really interesting. I`ve been talking to senators in both parties over the last few weeks and one of the things -- and including Republicans who are anguished about the move they`re about to make. No one wants this to happen. And yet it seems almost inevitable.

TODD: It`s not the end of the story. Very quickly, Patrick Leahy and Robert Bork. The votes, he said if Republicans voted for Bork, Bork would have gotten in. You were saying, he`s too short in it.

MARCUS: Not exactly right. Though I did want to skip the senator`s age wrong and made him 10 years older. So, I may not be the best fact checker. It`s amazing to recall, Judge Bork had 58 votes against him, six Republicans voted against him in addition to -- there were two democrats who voted for him. It was a different bipartisan age. TODD: That`s for sure. Thank you all. We`ll be right back with something you missed.


TODD: Well, in case you missed it, while senate Republicans leaders today were criticizing Democrats for backing tradition with their plan to filibuster Neil Gorsuch, Republicans seemed to be taking a sledge hammer to a different question, taking questions after their weekly lunch. McConnell gave a brief statement then just walked away. And then his fellow GOP senators walked away, too. Reporters weren`t very happy.

(START VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, guys. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, come back. This is a press conference.


TODD: Well, to their credit, McConnell himself did come back 20 minutes later.

(START VIDEO CLIP) MITCH MCCONNELL, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM KENTUCKY: Sorry, I wasn`t dodging you, guys. I had to do something on the floor.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: All right. In a week where a lot of senate rules and traditions are going out the window, we`re glad that at least one particularly when it comes to the press attacks, seems safe these days. That`s all we have.


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