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MTP Daily, Transcript 4/12/2017

Guests: Jon Ossoff, Kate Rogers, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Mike Allen, Ruth Marcus, Robert Traynham, Elliott Abrams

Show: MTP DAILY Date: April 12, 2017 Guest: Jon Ossoff, Kate Rogers, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Mike Allen, Ruth Marcus, Robert Traynham, Elliott Abrams, 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: I want to thank our guests, all of them the very best in the business.

We're going to join, at this point, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY." Chris Jansing, today, anchoring in for Chuck Todd.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: If it's Wednesday, who's foreign policy anyway?

The President Tries on get his foreign policy agenda on track as the White House power center shifts. How could a shakeup reshape the Trump world view?

Plus, a matter of trust.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There is a low level of trust between our two countries.


JANSING: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson goes face to face with Vladimir Putin after days of tough talk.


TILLERSON: The world's two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.


JANSING: And Georgia on our minds. We'll walk exclusively with Jon Ossoff, the congressional candidate who Democrats hope will start a blue wave across the country.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

Good evening from Washington. I'm Chris Jansing in for Chuck Todd. Welcome to MTP DAILY.

Tonight, more mixed messages as the Trump administration struggles to communicate clear foreign policy goals. Just moments ago, President Trump and NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg stepped in front of the world together for the first time since the president took office.

Now, quite a lot has led up to this moment during the campaign. And during his early presidency, President Trump openly questions NATO's relevance.

Well, just days before his inauguration in a joint interview with two European publications, he said the alliance was, quote, "obsolete." But since taking office, the president has softened those characterizations. And today, he had this to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete. In facing our common challenges, we must also ensure that NATO members meet their financial obligations and pay what they owe. Many have not been doing that.

Secretary General, I'm honored to have you here today and to reaffirm our commitment to this alliance and to enduring values that we proudly, and I mean very proudly, share.


JANSING: Next week, House Speaker Paul Ryan will be traveling to Europe with a bipartisan delegation with the goal of what they call strengthening economic and security ties with our NATO partners.

Meanwhile, in Moscow today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met the with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Just ahead, we'll cover much more of Tillerson's trip to Russia and speak with a poisoned critic of Putin, Vladimir Kara-Murza.

And during another meeting between Tillerson and other Russian officials, NBC News reports that Russia's deputy foreign minister described rhetoric used by the United States as, quote, "primitive and loudish."

Folks, there are just 17 days left of the first 100 days of President Trump's presidency and big components of his foreign policy are still unclear. Administration officials have sent mixed messages on their position on Syria, and a large number of top jobs remain unfilled at the State Department.

All of this is happening as tensions have been escalating between top aides inside the White House over a slew of policy questions, including foreign affairs and America's place in the world.

Now, on the one hand, you have the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, whose war with top advisor, Jared Kushner, has spilled out into the public.

Just last week, Bannon was removed from his spot on the National Security Council, while Kushner traveled to Iraq with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And last week's strikes in Syria also ushered in headlines like this, calling it the latest sign of Steve Bannon's waning influence. Bannon has nicknamed Kushner and his allies the, quote, "west wing Democrats," while he sees himself as a guard of the president's campaign promises and a check inside the White House against any inclinations to appease the establishment.

Not to be underplayed. In an interview published last night with "The New York Post" where Trump didn't exactly give Bannon a ringing endorsement. He said, I like Steve but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late.

Trump continued. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors. I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist and it wasn't like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary. He ended by saying, Steve is a good guy but I told them to straighten it out or I will.

A source close to the president tells NBC that these comments were, quote, "a warning shot" and that the president doesn't say these things in haste. But a source close to Bannon says that the infighting has stopped.

Does Bannon have any allies left in the White House? And if Bannon's influence in the White House is diminishing, what does that mean for American foreign policy going forward?

Joining me now, Elliott Abrams, he served in foreign policy positions under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and a current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Great to have you here.


JANSING: We talked about how much happens in Washington these days. You have these two huge meetings on two continents. Let's start with what happened here and what you make of the president meeting with the NATO secretary general, after multiple times calling them obsolete.

ABRAMS: You know, it's normal to have a press conference with a head of state, a head of government, Merkel, Cameron. It is not normal -- you don't have to have one with the head of NATO.

So, that's really a decision on the president's part to, kind of, do show and tell. I'm really for NATO. I the want to have a press conference with this guy.

JANSING: So, what do you think the strategy is behind that?

ABRAMS: Well, I think there's a trend here. And the trend, I would say, is going back to what I call a normal Republican foreign policy.

You look at the cabinet picks. The main national security people. They could be in most Republican administrations and I think that's what you're seeing here. And so, endorsing NATO in a big way which is what the president did today, clearly is going back toward more traditional Republican foreign policy.

JANSING: Meantime, you have this drama that was built up. Would he or won't he? Would Putin see Rex Tillerson? Wouldn't he? They have a long relationship when he was the CEO. Finally, in the end, he did see him.

What do you make of that? I mean, he had kept John Kerry waiting in the past. He kept Hillary Clinton waiting in the past. But, this time, he made Rex Tillerson wait so late he didn't even know if he'd have a meeting that he has to stay there an extra day.

ABRAMS: Yes. I mean this is a little, petty powerplay, right? OK, I'll see you. You are a mere foreign minister but I will see you.

But it's a good thing that he did see him because I think if he hadn't, everybody would be saying, wow, ice in the relationship between Moscow and Washington.

And they do know each other so you have to assume that they were able to have what might be a better meeting, a better conversation than two people who had never met before. So, I'm glad that happened of will.

JANSING: But do you have a situation where anything can get accomplished? Because we had, again, a campaign where the president said, look, I think it's a good thing if we have a better relationship with Russia. He said he was the guy to do it. And now, he is saying, Rex Tillerson is saying, the president is saying we may be at our lowest point since the cold war.

ABRAMS: You know, here, the president was, again, way off let's call it Republican foreign policy on Putin and on Russia. He's a great leader, all this sort of thing. He's moving back.

And I think the president was probably very unhappy with what he saw about Putin supporting the use of chemical weapons. I mean, they didn't bat an eyelash.

You know, the Chinese did not criticize him for striking Syria. You've got the Russians all alone. The Chinese abstained today on a resolution in the U.N. Security Council. You've got Russia all alone.

I think the opinion of Putin is getting a little icier in the White House.

JANSING: It is fascinating that, today of all days, when this meeting is taking place, you have Montenegro brought into, you know, the place where absolutely Vladimir Putin did not want to see an expansion. He does not like any expansion of NATO.

ABRAMS: I think the timing of all this stuff is very interesting. We knew this is the day that he's going to see Lavrov -- Tillerson sees Lavrov.


ABRAMS: OK. This is the day that Montenegro gets into NATO. You could have put that off. This is the day that Stoltenberg is here. You could say, you know what? Come tomorrow. Come the day before.

When Xi Jinping is here for dinner, the president decides to strike Syria. Not wait a day. No, we can't do that while Xi Jinping is here. Boom.

So, I think, you know, he's not delaying things. He's really using the calendar to be a more forceful president.

JANSING: Do you think it is that strategic that he has made these conscience decisions. They've had conversations and said, should we move them? And he says, no. I'm going to send a direct message.

I mean, --


JANSING: -- it seemed to be clearly what was happening with Xi.

ABRAMS: I think so. Them -- somebody, I mean, if they're -- if the staff (INAUDIBLE) somebody said, oh, do you want to do this while Xi Jinping is here? We could wait a day or two you know. The same thing with Montenegro. The same thing with Stoltenberg.

It is obvious that there's some kind of -- you know, they're happening the same day so this -- it's got to be delivered.

JANSING: So, you have all of this happening. And there's a lot of critics out there who say, what is going on in the State Department? You don't have hundreds and hundreds of jobs that need to be filled, people who do the everyday work. You only have, really, one ambassador in place.

They have this thing that they call charm school where all the new ambassadors come in, their spouses come in. They, essentially get training on what it's like to be an ambassador. They get tips. They -- you know, the kinds of things you would expect.

They can't even hold it. They -- it should be -- it's sometime this next week, I think, and they can't even hold it.

Is this a problem or is everything running just fine without them?

ABRAMS: Well, everything is running too slowly. Normally, you would start getting your assistant secretaries confirmed in late April. I was the confirmed the first time in the Reagan administration on April 25th. That was considered normal.

Now, if I nominate you to be an assistant secretary today, you're going to get confirmed in July maybe. I mean, now, we're talking about, will this happen before the August recess? This is bad.

[17:10:08] You can't really run the kind of policies you need to have if you don't have the undersecretaries and you don't have assistant secretaries. So, they're -- they are way behind schedule on this.

And you can't blame the Democrats for this one because people haven't been nominated. It's not a confirmation problem. They haven't been nominated.

JANSING: Elliott Abrams, it's great to have you here. Thank you.

ABRAMS: My pleasure.

JANSING: And just last hour, President Trump was asked whether he thought it was possible that Russian President Vladimir Putin could have known about the chemical attack in Syria ahead of time and if he's been disappointed by Putin's reaction.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's certainly possible. I think it's probably unlikely. And I know they're doing investigations into that right now. I would like to think that they didn't know. But certainly, they could have. They were there. So, we'll find out.

General Mattis is looking into with it the entire Pentagon group that does that kind of work. So, I -- it was very disappointing to see. It's disappointing no matter who does it.

But when you get into the gases, especially that form, it's vicious and violent and everybody in this room saw it all too many times over the last three or four days. Young children dying, babies dying, fathers holding children in their arms, that were dead, dead children. There can't be a worst sight. And it shouldn't be allowed. That's a butcher.


JANSING: Well, let's bring in our panel. Axios co-founder, Mike Allen; "The Washington Post" columnist, Ruth Marcus; and Republican strategist, Robert Traynham.

So, it's clear that the president was moved by these pictures that he saw, right? He's talked about it multiple times. He has said, dead babies, vicious, violent, the words he used. Assad, who he's been calling him, calling also a butcher, Mike. What does this mean, in terms of a clear foreign policy there though? What does it tell us, if anything?

MIKE ALLEN, CO-FOUNDER, AXIOS: Well, there's been a lot of conversation about how the Trump doctrine is flexibility, which, Ruth, who used to be my editor, will right away --

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Every -- I made him everything he is today.

ALLEN: -- will tell you is a way of saying, we don't know. But if he doesn't know, we can't know. And that's what we're seeing is we're seeing the president responding to both internal and external conditions.

So, today, an astonishing moment, standing with a NATO official, talking about how important NATO is. And this is the president responding to what's going to give him good response. We saw this throughout the campaign.

The president wants to -- rather than being ideological, this president wants to be -- he wants approval and we're seeing that internally.

In my newsletter, Axios AM, we talked about operation normal. And operation normal is the effort of Jared and Ivanka, Javanka as some are calling them, to get the president --

JANSING: The Brangelina of Washington, D.C., OK?

ALLEN: Perfectly put. To get president more in the, sort of, centrist, moderates, conventional way. And day by day, we're seeing operation normal winning.

JANSING: Is it becoming clearer and clearer, and we've talked about the comments that the president made, not exactly, shall we say, affirmative of Steve Bannon. Are we getting more clarity on who has influence and how that's going to play out?

MARCUS: Not quite. But that was a pretty extraordinary non-endorsement by a (INAUDIBLE.) You wouldn't feel so good if that was your boss talking about you.

The word --

JANSING: (INAUDIBLE) his camp is he's not worried at all.

MARCUS: And would you expect him to say what?

I think this normalization, and we've been talking about normalization in a different aspect in Washington, is really quite fascinating. Because we have seen this with previous presidents, right? You say something during the campaign, then it turns out that it's a lot more complicated once you take office.

President Clinton famously promised to cut off trade relations with China because of human rights' issues. It turns out China's an important player. That was hard to do.

We're seeing some surprising normalization from President Trump. How far that goes, whether it will continue, you know, more dots to be connected.

JANSING: And, I guess, will it make people feel like he, at least, is thinking things through? Or is it, we don't know where he's going to go with anything? We should talk about Chinese currency manipulation which was a very strong part of the conversation that he had with big parts of America, right.

ALLEN: Because everything is fine.

JANSING: And today, there is no --

MARCUS: Guess what?

JANSING: -- there is to currency manipulation. NATO is obsolete. Oh, not really. And I don't have to do this but I'm going to stand side by side -- as Elliott Abrams was pointing out, I'm going to stand side by side with the NATO secretary general. And, by the way, this Vladimir Putin, I was going to have a better relationship with, we're not so sure that he's not in cahoots with a butcher.

[17:15:00] So, where does that leave folks?

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it depends on who those folks are. I think if you're the freedom caucus, you're probably egging this on a little bit. But if you're a Trump supporter, maybe you're a little bit disappointed. I think if you're a Speaker Ryan or leadership, you're still trying to figure this out.

I think, to Mike's point, we've got to remember this president is not an ideologue. That is not who he is. He has never held a political office before. He was a registered Democrat for many years. He, himself, said he's a very instinctual person.

He's learning on the job and I think we're seeing that unfold as we speak. That's not a bad thing. The bad thing. I think the only bad thing about it is that when you deal with missiles and with nuclear weapons and so forth, you've got to make sure that he is thinking this through pretty thoughtfully and whether or not he has the right people around him to actually think this stuff through.

Angelina -- excuse me, Jared and Ivanka are --

JANSING: I'm sorry I put that in your head.

TRAYNHAM: -- they are family. But are they the most experienced people in the room for the president.

JANSING: But you're not suggesting that they're going to be out of the room any time soon.


JANSING: If anybody is going to be out of the room anytime soon, it's not going to be Jared and Ivanka.

MARCUS: Never bet against family, when it's family versus outside advisers. I think we know that.

JANSING: But, Mike, would you bet against Steve Bannon, at this point?

ALLEN: Well, we'll see. The president said in the interview that he said they can solve it or I will. And he delivered the message privately. I can tell that you that allies of Steve Bannon were completely taken by surprise by the president's shot across the bow. And they're very worried and they definitely --

TRAYNHAM: This is the heart and soul of the party. I mean, these are true ideologues that believe that a Donald Trump, no matter what that is, could be the keeper of the Reagan flame. And so, you've got to be careful when you hit that hornet's nest. Because those individuals could come back in a primary, ala George H.W. Bush

JANSING: What would be the impact of that if Steve Bannon is gone? What does it mean -- all right, first of all, there is a political part of this but there is also a very real policy part of the voice that's gone, right?

MARCUS: You know, it depends on what the -- if Steve Bannon is gone sort of depends on what the Donald Trump foreign policy and Donald Trump domestic policy evolves into. I think, right now, you're talking about the Freedom Caucus being happy.

I think the Republican foreign policy establishment is feeling a lot calmer these days about the Trump, Mattis, Tillerson, McMaster situation than they were at the start, when it looked like things were going to be run by General Flynn and Steve Bannon.

So, you know, we'll see. The other thing that's real interesting, we talked about this at the start, is this, sort of, governing by video. He's not the first president to be really moved by a horrible video and to have a foreign policy that's affected by that.

But that can't be the totality of your foreign policy and he really does need to, sort of, let us know, figure out for himself probably, when it is that you're going to respond to videos. When are you going to not respond to videos? When are you going to respond to things that aren't on video?

ALLEN: Another -- excuse me, another fascinating input that we learned about from one of the president's son. Eric Trump gave an interview to "The Daily Telegraph" in London, where he said that a big input, or someone that put an input into that decision, was Ivanka who also was troubled by the videos. So, can we maybe say the Trump doctrine is situational?

MARCUS: I think that today is the best example of the correct use of the word situational on a lot of issues, from NATO to all the Chinese currency to everything else.

JANSING: All right, Mike, Ruth, Robert, stay with us.

Coming up, yesterday's unusually close House race in Kansas is giving Democrats renewed hope of making big gains in next year's mid-term elections.

And the big test will be in Georgia for the battle for Secretary Tom Price's seat. The Democrat in that race, Jon Ossoff, will join me next.



JANSING: Welcome back.

And back to that close race in (INAUDIBLE) Kansas I mentioned a moment ago. Republicans wound up holding onto a congressional seat in an election that was closer than many predicted. Ron Estes beat Democrat James Thompson in the race for CIA director Mike Pompeo's old seat.

But in a district where Donald Trump won by 27 points, it was just a seven- point victory for the Republican last night.

Now, there were many factors leading to the smaller margin, including motivated Democrats and independents against Donald Trump and widespread opposition to unpopular Republican Governor Sam Brownback.

Democrats are hailing the results as a moral victory, though some on the left are slamming national Democratic groups for not spending more time and resources on the race while the GOP hauled out their big guns in the final days of campaigning.

President Trump took to Twitter to claim victory. Great win in Kansas last night for Ron Estes. Easily winning the congressional race against the Dems who spent heavily and predicted victory.

A surprisingly tight victory, even though Democrats did not spend a whole lot of money.

Coming up, the race everyone is looking to for a clue about 2018. The one in suburban Atlanta.

We are back in 60 seconds.


JANSING: Welcome back.

The next special election on our radar is Tuesday's race to fill Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's old seat in suburban Atlanta. Democratic Jon Ossoff leads a very crowded field in the Republican leaning district.

But Democrats see opportunity. Ossoff has raised a spectacular $8.3 million and has the full support of all the leading national Democratic groups. It's a special election with a runoff, so if no candidate hits the 50 percent threshold in Tuesday's election, the top two finishers will face off in June.

Ossoff has been floating in the 40 percent range recently at 43 percent in this Meeting Street research poll from last week. Ahead of a host Republican candidates, including Dan Moody, Karen Handel, Judson Hill and Bob Gray. Republicans groups are throwing everything they've got to keep Ossoff from hitting 50 percent, attacking him for allegedly overstating his national security experience and his ties to national Democrats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jon Ossoff lied about his resume and at a time when America needs serious, honest leadership. Jon Ossoff fails the test.

Ossoff inflated his resume to fool you. Now, Ossoff's trying to hide his liberal values. The truth is Ossoff will rubberstamp Pelosi's extreme agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Al Jazeera, a media outlet that has been described as a mouthpiece for terrorists has been paying Jon Ossoff thousands of dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jon Ossoff, not honest, not serious, not ready.


JANSING: The Republican hope is that if they force the election to a run- off, they can defeat Ossoff when the race is one-on-one.

Joining me now is Democrat candidate in the Georgia sixth congressional district special election, Jon Ossoff. Thanks for being with us.

[17:25:05] JON OSSOFF (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Chris, thanks for having me.

JANSING: I want to start with last night's election in Kansas because as we said, the Republican won by just seven points in a district Donald Trump won by 27. Is that a sign to you the landscape is better for Democrats in Republican strongholds right now?

OSSOFF: Well, it was an unexpectedly close result. If the energy there was anything like the energy here in Georgia right now, then I'm not surprised. Because here we've got thousands of volunteers. Many folks who have never been engaged in politics before, getting involved for the first time is a real sense of urgency and passion and optimism in George right now and it's an inspiring thing to be a part of.

JANSING: So, you say, optimism, while a lot of people on your side of the aisle, Democrats, think this is a reference on Donald Trump and disaffection with that. How much of this do you think is it about being a referendum on Trump?

OSSOFF: Well, there are certainly people in the community who have serious concerns about the direction of things in Washington right now and the administration. And I shared those concerns.

But fundamentally, my campaign is a positive one about a vision for our local economic development and about values that bring people in the community together, instead of division and fear.

JANSING: The Republican chairman in your state has been pushing the point, you don't live in your congressional district. And the enormous $8.3 you raised in the first quarter has come, largely, from out-of-state donors.

So, is it affective for Republicans to paint you with someone who will be more beholden to national Democrats than your constituents?

OSSOFF: Well, I grew up in this district. I grew up in this community. I've never seen political excitement at the local level like we're seeing right now. More than 10,000 Georgians have made contributions to the campaign. As I mentioned, there are thousands of volunteers. Many of whom are getting involved for the first time. So, I'm optimistic --

JANSING: But there are still more from outside the state than inside the state and many of them are famous. I'm looking at a list. Connie Britton, Judy Collins, Chelsea Handler, John Leguizamo, Rosie O'Donnell. They want to paint you as east coast-west coast liberal people supporting you. Having nothing to do with where you live, where you came from. You don't think that's a problem for you?

OSSOFF: Well, the average contribution to the campaign is $42. Nearly 200,000 people have made contributions. And --

JANSING: More of them from out of state than in state.

OSSOFF: And more Georgians have made contributions to my campaign than to any other candidate in the race's campaign. And when you're talking about millions of dollars of unaccountable super Pac money, coming into attack candidates like me who are running on a platform of anti-corruption and change in Washington, it's necessary to raise significant resources.

And I'm proud of the fact that it's been grassroots, small dollar fundraising. That means that I'm accountable to a broad range of folks whose interests have much more in common with the people in my district than big money special interests in Washington.

JANSING: You are taking a lot of shots from the other side so, to be fair, they're spending money against you as well. So, let's go to the issues that the people care about. I want to go through some very quickly because we don't have all the time that we would like. And I'd just like sentence or two from you, if you could, about these issues.

For example, a big one right now. Do you support the air strikes that were launched by the U.S. against Syrian -- against Syrians? And did the president need congressional authorization?

OSSOFF: Well, if U.S. intelligence confirmed that the Syrian military struck civilians with chemical weapons, then a swift, limited, punitive strike was a reasonable response. But any further action should require congressional approval. And I would urge the administration to avoid getting drawn into an intractable civil war that can't be resolved by U.S. military power.

JANSING: Number one issue on the other side for voters of Donald Trump, Supreme Court. Senators Manchin, Heitkamp and Donnelly, all Democrats, voted to confirm President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. Do you think they should be primaried?

OSSOFF: Well, that's up to the voters in those states. There's understandable frustration.

JANSING: Well, but the -- well, the primary, as you know, is coming from progressive Democratic groups who say, look, if you can't stick with us on something as important as the Supreme Court, then we need to put somebody in there who will.

OSSOFF: Well, I'm not going to comment on Senate elections in other states. But what I will say is that I understand frustration. Merrick Garland who was a well-qualified nominee was held up without cause for months. So, it is perfectly reasonable for folks to be asking whether or not we shouldn't give it back as good as we got.

JANSING: Who do you think is the leader of the Democratic Party right now?

OSSOFF: That's a good question. What I know is that folks in the community here are stepping up to lead in a way that they never had before. So, perhaps the leaders of the Democratic Party, right now, are the grassroots organizers who are getting it together and stepping up to win campaigns like the one we're fighting here in Georgia.

JANSING: But that's not suggests, and you're not alone in this, that there isn't a clear leader on the Democratic side. Which could be construed as a problem if the Democrats would, for example, take back the House in 2018. Would you want to see Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House or somebody else? Is it time for new blood?

OSSOFF: Well, let's see how that shakes out when the time comes. We need to be focused, right now, on taking back the House. It starts right here in Georgia's sixth district.

We're -- we're building a coalition by the way that is broader than just a party, that includes Republicans and independents who are excited about the prospect for fresh leadership, who are excited about a positive campaign focused on local economic issues.

There will be plenty of time for Democrats who are now newly in the opposition to get things in order at the national level. We need to be focused on winning these local races right now. JANSING: Jon Ossoff, thanks so much for your time.

OSSOFF: Thank you for having me.

JANSING: Still ahead, Rex Tillerson meets with Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as tension rise between the nations. We'll have details of the secretary of state's meeting in Moscow. Stay tuned.


JANSING: Next on "MTP Daily," new insight into the growing tension between the U.S. and Russia. But first, Kate Rogers has today's "CNBC Market Wrap."

KATE ROGERS, REPORTER FOR CNBC: Thanks, Chris. Stocks ending slightly lower today. The Dow down almost 60 points, the S&P up by 8, the Nasdaq falling 30 points. President Trump may want to lower interest rates but another FED official just said they're going up. Dallas FED Robert Kennedy is pushing for three rate hikes this year.

The Central Bank is still planning to shed $1.5 trillion off its balance sheet. U.S. dollar dropping sharply against the yen today, that after President Trump said the currency is quote, getting too strong. That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now we're not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all time low.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JANSING: Welcome back. That was President Trump just moments ago with his presidential news conference with the NATO secretary general. After a meeting with Vladimir Putin, sharp divisions marked Secretary of State Tillerson's encounter with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.


REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There is a low level of trust between our two countries. SERGEY LAVROV, FOREIGN MINISTER OF RUSSIA: There are certain issues that have been inherited so to speak as time bombs. TILLERSON: The reason chemical weapons attack carried out in Syria was planned and it was directed and executive by Syrian regime forces.

LAVROV: We are not convinced that this was the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JANSING: That meeting followed damming comments from both President Trump and Vladimir Putin. Here's the president on "Fox News Business." (START VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Frankly, Putin is backing a person that is truly an evil person. And I think it is very bad for Russia. I think it is very bad for mankind. It is very bad for this world. But when you drop gas or bombs or barrel bombs, this is an animal.


JANSING: On Tuesday, the White House accused Russia of acting to cover up last week's chemical weapon attacks by the Syrian government. Putin told Russian media the relationship between Russia and U.S. had deteriorated under the Trump administration. The foreign ministry called it the worst since the cold war. And just this afternoon, Russia vetoed the U.N. security council's resolution to condemn Syria.

I'm joined by Russian opposition activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is the vice chairman of Open Russia and said his criticism of Vladimir Putin led to two poisoning attempts in two years. Thank you so much for being here. You hear the way that both sides are talking about it. A low level of trust. We may be at an all time low in this relationship. Where do you see the U.S.-Russia relationship right now?

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST, VICE CHAIRMAN OF OPEN RUSSIA: Well, of course, there is nothing particularly new about this. Everyone of the last three U.S. administrations have begun by declaring some form of reset or improvement in relations with Vladimir Putin's regime and of course it hasn't end so well for the previous two. I think the terminology is important even in your question now. What do you consider to be the relations between the U.S. and Russia?

Well, Russia is not confined just to the Vladimir Putin's regime. Russia is much more varied, much bigger. There are many different opinions in Russia society of course and of course it is also important to understand that Vladimir Putin's regime is not democratically elected and we are, you know, living in the 21st century. I think the unacceptable legitimacy for our government should be.

JANSING: So you're suggesting that the Russian people may have a much fonder view of the American people than the people who run the country?

KARA-MURZA: I think it is important and it is also important for this new U.S. administration to send a signal that they're willing to engage in a dialogue with Russia and not just with Vladimir Putin's Kremlin. There has been a lot of talk today about whether or not the meeting with Mr. Putin will happen for Secretary Tillerson and it has in the end. But there was another meeting that didn't happen in Moscow and I would say that this is very regrettable.

Last week, several members of the U.S. senate, both sides, Republicans and Democrats, including -- there was a letter signed by every single member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with responsibility for the State Department urging Mr. Tillerson to find time while he is in Moscow to meet with representatives of Russian civil society. This has been a long tradition, bipartisan tradition of U.S. secretary of state in the past.

Unfortunately, he has not found time for this meeting. This is the first official visit of Mr. Tillerson as secretary of state to Moscow, so many people were watching for the signals. (inaudible) delivered signal, but nevertheless the meeting didn't happen.

JANSING: Do you think it will be taken that way?

KARA-MURZA: It remains to be seen. Of course, this trip has been completely overshadowed by the events in Syria, the chemical attack, and of course Mr. Putin's regime coming to the defense of its all Syrian ally, Mr. Assad, and so on and so forth. So, of course, there will be explanations (inaudible) and, you know, something to that extent.

But I think it is a very important signal that in my view, I am an outside, a Russian citizen, it is not for me to say anything to the U.S. administration, but I would say it is very important for us as citizens of Russia to see that the U.S. and the U.S. administration is willing to engage in dialogue with Russian society as well as with Vladimir Putin's regime.

And if the U.S. administration really wants to build a long-term relationship with Russia, based on trust, as we've just heard in those remarks few minutes ago, I think the only relationship that is based on trust can be a relationship between the United States and Russian as a whole of Russian society, not just with Mr. Putin's regime.

And I think there should be more contacts and more dialogue and more engagement between the leaders of western democracies, including the United States and Russian civil society groups, Russian democratic organizations. JANSAING: Along that leadership here and congress on Capitol Hill, decided they need to mount these investigations and I want to play for you what Foreign Minister Lavrov said about Russian interference in the U.S. election.

(START VIDEO CLIP) LAVROV: We have not seen any facts. We have not seen any evidence. We do understand that there are many people who want to undermine our relations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JANSING: He said Russia will respond when they get proof. What do you take away if anything from what Lavrov had to say? KARA-MURZA: Well, of course, Mr. Lavrov and his officials have denied many things before. Denied for instance interfering in the Ukrainian elections, elections in other countries of the so-called former Soviet Republic. Of course, we know the Putin regime has intervened in those elections. Frankly, it shouldn't be surprising that they decided to up the scale and tried to interfere in the U.S. election process, why not go for the gold?

And because the U.S. has basically become -- because Russia, forgive me, has basically became a domestic political issue here in the United States, it seems that way in the last few months, many people are beginning to pay attention to what is actually Happening in Russia, to what has been happening for years. You know, we have lived in Russia for years and have begun discovering that Vladimir Putin's regime is not a democratic one.

The Russian people today have no opportunity to freely elect or freely criticize their leaders. That the Kremlin has been interfering in elections for many years, first of all with elections in Russia, because we haven't had a free and democratic election in our own country for 17 years now. Don't take my word for it. Just look at the reports from OSC observers for the old past national elections in Russia after 2000.

And there have been cases of interference by Mr. Putin's regime in elections in other countries for a long time now. And frankly, it doesn't come as a surprise that it tried to interfere in the U.S. elections. And generally, I think it has been a longstanding feature of Russian history that domestic oppression and aggressive behavior abroad and foreign policy go hand in hand.

JANSING: And you say there were two poisoning attempts on you and yet you'll go back. KARA-MURZA: I am definitely planning to go back. Yes. The latest poisoning attempt was just a couple of months ago in February. So I'm still recovering from that. The last time after the first poisoning in 2015, it took me more than a year. So I'm expecting this not to be a quick process again. But, yes, I do want to go back because I think that the work we do, the work of the democratic opposition in Russia is important.

I think we have to continue because there are many, many people in Russia who reject Mr. Putin's regime, who reject its authoritarianism, its corruption, it's aggressive stance towards the outside world, and who wants to see Russia become a normal modern democratic European country. There are many, many people in our country like that. And I think it is important we continue our work in this direction.

JANSING: Vladimir Kara-Murza, great to have you on the program. Thank you very much for coming in.

KARA-MURZA: Thank you very much.

JANSING: We'll be back with "The Lid." Stay tuned.


JANSING: Welcome back. Time for "The Lid." Mike Allen, Ruth Marcus, Robert Traynham. We were talking before about Assad and we were talking about the emotional impact this seems to have had on the president, whether it was brought to him first by his daughter or not, he did seem multiple times to talk about it. Just a couple of days ago, Sean Spicer wouldn't go so far as to call Assad a war criminal but listen to what Rex Tillerson had to say today.


TILLERSON: As time goes by and more and more evidence continues to be gathered, it is possible that the threshold necessary to charge individuals including Bashar al-Assad may be achieved.


JANSING: More than a few people have talked about there -- there a lot of levels of responsibility. One of them is moral leadership in this world, right? And there are awful lot of people particularly on the left who think that there is no more leadership that is possible from Donald Trump. Talk to me, Michael, a little bit about this in that context and how it could -- could it change things if the United States decided to take a lead on something on like this.

MIKE ALLEN, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF AXIOS MEDIA: Well, first of all, people around the world are looking at that clip and saying oh, that's Rex Tillerson. We see him in a leadership pole and delivering a clearly important message and we saw the president in this news conference on MSNBC saying he talked very shortly with Rex Tillerson. But your point about global leadership is something.

This is a big part of the evolution that we saw today. And on MSNBC shortly before you took the air, there was some conversation about the president here showing himself as the leader of the Atlantic alliance. This administration has shied away from that deliberately. And that's why I -- I would like to ask them, when you talk about America first, when you're abroad, how they respond to that?

Because it may play well with a lot of places here but there are very few other places around the world that want to hear America first. So, here, we are seeing a much more layered, textured, contoured message.

JANSING: Is it a message that more people around the world want to hear? That it is a more direct message, it seems to be a more forceful message.

RUTH MARCUS, JOURNALIST FOR THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it is a message that leaders around the world want to hear because they want a strong America standing up.


MARCUS: Leaders. When I say leaders around the world, I mean allies of the United States, traditional allies of the United States around the world. Because if you don't have American leadership speaking up for democracy and human rights, you're missing a big voice there. The thing that's gonna be interesting is to see how the Trump voters respond to this. I had a conversation over the weekend with folks in the administration about the meaning of America first.

And I started to hear a different definition of America first which might include America's leadership for all in the world. Well, that is like 3-180 from where we have been in this conversation. We will see -- I am not positive that we are in linear state in the Trump administration. I think we could be going in one direction then head back and, you know, and then zigzag our ways along.

JANSING: In a world that the president says is a mess, nasty, has lots of problems. He talked about being vicious, violent, and yet there seems to be a lot of people who want to lead this country. Maybe I'm jumping ahead but Martin O'Malley is going to New Hampshire.


JANSING: Joe Biden is visiting New Hampshire. Amy Klobuchar is going to Iowa. These are very interesting coincidences. What do you make of it?

TRAYNHAM: They're testing the waters. They clearly see that this president is vulnerable. He's got a.

JANSING: It's not even 100 days yet.

TRAYNHAM: Well, but it feels like 100 years right now for some people, given the administration, some of the chaotic, you know, knee jerk reaction of the policies that are coming out. So look, as I said before, you know, this president is barely breaking 40 percent, if that.

You would think -- I hate to say this, but you will think after the Syria incident, that his numbers would have risen a little bit, they haven't. And so if I'm a democrat out there and were a little leaderless now, on the democratic side, I'm thinking myself, hmm, maybe I should go up to New England, maybe I should go over to Iowa and have some fried pork chops.

JANSING: So, Mike, is Axios gonna sign campaign reporters to the Klobushar, to Martin O'Malley, to the Joe Biden campaign?

MARCUS: O'Malley juggernaut.

ALLEN: Axios would make you smart fast about what you know about their trips to the states which is probably very little. Robert, who will be the first Republican to go to one of those states?

TRAYNHAM: As a primary?

ALLEN: Of course.

TRAYNHAM: Yes, that is a good question. I don't count that out. I do think that if, in fact -- again, the president is not an ideologue. It's in fact Republicans think that he is not a true standard bearer and if the polling still looks the same, there very well could be someone. I don't know who. Ted Cruz, maybe.

JANSING: Are you going to be in New Hampshire and Iowa in the next couple of months?

MARCUS: I love going to New Hampshire and Iowa. I say, guys, wait just a bit, 2018. Keep an eye on that.

JANSING: Yeah. And in the meantime, by the way, the president did make his comments on united and said it was horrible. We call all agree on that.

MARCUS: We can all agree on that even the president of united.

JANSING: Thank you, Mike, Ruth, Robert. After the break, California's 2020 primary goal. Stay tuned.


JANSING: In case you missed it, the countdown to 2020 is officially on. California lawmakers are taking higher billing for their state during the presidential primary process. In fact, California wants its primary to directly follow the long-time first in the nation contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. But California could face opposition from South Carolina and Nevada, the next two states on the calendar.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla made the case saying, quote, a state as populous and diverse as California should not be an afterthought. The golden state's primary has jumped around over the years. Back in 2008, it was held on super Tuesday. In February, Hillary Clinton won that primary. Picking up a big chunk of delegates before eventually losing the nomination to Barack Obama.

According to the L.A. Times, turnout was the highest in three decades. Now, California Democrats want to return the primary to that place of prominence and we'll be watching. And that's all for tonight. Chuck will have an exclusive interview with republican political consultant and long time advisor to Donald Trump, Roger Stone, tomorrow on "MTP Daily." You won't want to miss it. "For the Record" with Greta starts right now. Hey, Greta.


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