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MTP Daily, Transcript 5/11/2017

Guests: Bill Kristol, Stephanie Cutter, Yamiche Alcindor

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST:  All right.  You guy, we`ll pick this up again.  Thank you to my panel, John Storyk, Steve Kornacki, Joel Benenson and Bianna Golodryga.

That does it for this hour.  I`m Nicole Wallace.  "MTP DAILY" starts right now.  Hi, Chuck.


WALLACE:  You`ve had a busy day. 

TODD:  I have.  So have you.  You had a great panel.  I promise a good show.  We`ve got some poll numbers coming so stick around.

If it`s Thursday, it`s a parade of contradictions. 

Well, good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in a very wet Washington.  Welcome to MTP DAILY.

We`ve got a ton of breaking news to get to this hour.  The fallout from the president`s decision to fire the FBI director has mushroomed into chaos for this White House as a series of claims they initially made with the firing has now begun to unravel.

President Trump sat down with my colleague, the anchor of the "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" Lester Holt, for a dramatic interview amid this escalating controversy.

We`ve also got some brand-new NBC News SurveyMonkey online polling that`s outright now on this very issue, sort of snapshot overnight numbers.  We`re going to get to them in a moment.  But we`re going to begin with the highlights of this Lester Holt interview with the president which began with Mr. Trump unloading on now former FBI Director James Comey. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Look, he`s a showboat.  He`s a grandstander.  The FBI has been in turmoil.  You know that.  I know that.  Everybody knows that.  You take a look at the FBI a year ago.  It was in virtual turmoil.  Less than a year ago.  It hasn`t recovered from that. 

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS:  Monday, you met with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.


HOLT:  Did you ask for a recommendation?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What I did is I was going to fire Comey.  My decision.  It was not --

HOLT:  You had made the decision before they came (INAUDIBLE.)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I was going to fire Comey.  I -- there`s no good time to do it, by the way.  They --

HOLT:  Because in your letter, you said (INAUDIBLE) accepted their recommendations.


HOLT:  You had already made the decision. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Oh, I was going to fire, regardless of recommendation.  They --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He made a recommendation.  He`s highly respected.  Very good guy.  Very smart guy.  The Democrats like him.  The Republicans like him.  He made a recommendation.  But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. 

HOLT:  Let me ask you about your termination letter to Mr. Comey.  You write, I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation.

Why did you put that in there?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because he told me that.  I mean, he told me that.

HOLT:  He told you, you weren`t under investigation, with regard to the Russia investigation?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, and I`ve heard that -- I`ve heard that from others.  I think he --

HOLT:  Was it in a phone call?  Did you meet face to face? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I had a dinner with him.  He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on.  We had a very nice dinner at the White House, (INAUDIBLE.)

HOLT:  He asked for the dinner? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our dinner was arranged.  I think he asked for the dinner.  And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head and I said I`ll, you know, consider.  We`ll see what happens.

But we had a very nice dinner.  And, at that time, he told me, you are not under investigation which I knew anyway. 

HOLT:  That was one meeting.  What was the -- what were the other two?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  First of all, when you`re under investigation, you`re giving all sorts of documents and everything.  I knew I wasn`t under.  And I heard it was stated at the committee -- at some committee level that I wasn`t.  Number one.

HOLT:  So, that didn`t come directly from him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Then, during the phone call, he said it.  And then, during another phone call, he said it.  So, he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls. 

HOLT:  Did you call him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In one case, I called him.  And in one case, he called me. 

HOLT:  And did you ask, am I under investigation? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I actually asked him, yes.  I said, if it`s possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation?  He said, you are not under investigation. 

HOLT:  But he`s given sworn testimony that there is an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government.  You were the centerpiece of the Trump campaign.


HOLT:  So, was he being truthful when he said you weren`t under investigation?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  -- well, I know -- I know that I`m not under investigation.  Me, personally.  I`m not talking about campaigns.  I`m not talking about anything else.  I`m not under investigation. 


TODD:  All right.  Let`s deconstruct the two big pieces of news from that interview excerpt.  First, the president said he had decided to fire Comey before he met with his attorney general and the deputy attorney general which actually directly contradicts the White House`s initial justification for the firing.

In the immediate aftermath of the ouster, the White House said, quote, "President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The White House then publicly flooded the zone with that said justification.


HALLIE JACKSON, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  You said last week, the president had full confidence in the FBI director.  What changed? 

SEAN SPICER, U.S., WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It`s the recommendation that came today and the rationale behind it.

JACKSON:  So, the president made the decision today?


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, U.S. DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  When you receive a report that is so clear and a recommendation by someone, like the deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act. 

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Because of the actions that the deputy attorney general outlined to the president, that were endorsed and agreed with by the attorney general, the president made the right decision at the right time. 


[17:05:08] TODD:  But you just heard the president tell Lester Holt that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein`s recommendation was, essentially, meaningless to him.  White House deputy press secretary today acknowledged that the White House`s story has now changed.  She said they were just going off the information they had at the time.

Let`s break down the other big claim from the Lester`s interview.  You heard the president say he asked FBI Director Comey if he was under investigation and Mr. Trump says Comey told him he was not.

First off, "The Washington Post" says, quote, "People familiar with the matter said that statement is not accurate, although they would not say how it was inaccurate.  And then, secondly, the White House was pressed today about the appropriateness of the president`s actions. 


JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS:  Isn`t it inappropriate for the president of the United States to ask the FBI director directly if he is under investigation? 

SANDERS:  No, I don`t believe it is. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One of these conversations, the president said, happened at a dinner where the FBI director, according to the president, was asking to stay on as FBI director.  Don`t you see how that`s a conflict of interest?

SANDERS:  I don`t see it as conflict of interest and neither do the many legal scholars and others who have been commenting on it for the last hour. 


TODD:  And there is a third explanation here, a plausible explanation, which is it`s the Trump campaign that`s under investigation.  And one theory is, Trump, himself, was kept out of the loop if there was a collusion.

Anyway, let`s bring in our panel.  Yamiche Alcindor, National Reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC Contributor.  Stephanie Cutter, former campaign manager for Barack Obama.  And Bill Kristol, Editor-at -Large at "The Weekly Standard."

OK, Yamiche, let me start with you on this.  I think we start with the Rod Rosenstein explanation.  What was used and then, suddenly, it is not used and the president decided to own it himself.  What I think we`re all trying to figure out is, why was there -- why did the White House put out one explanation at that moment versus now?  I think there`s a lot of theories but it seems to be a glaring gap here.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  It`s a glaring gap and there`s really no clear understanding of why you have a White House who wouldn`t stick to a story.  If you`re going to fire Director Comey, at least say, OK, this is what we`re going to do and stick to that story.  They could have said the president did not like what -- how he was running the FBI.  He made a decision.  He acted definitively and kept it at that.

But it started to seem as though, at the beginning, they wanted to put this on the DOJ to, kind of, distance Trump -- President Trump from doing this.  And, kind of, saying, no, this has nothing to do with the Russia investigation.  Because -- and I think, in that way, that would have, kind of, distanced him from that idea.

Now, you have President Trump saying, actually, after I was already told that I wasn`t under investigation, I acted in this way, it obviously makes it seem as though Russia was on his mind.  And there were all -- and this investigation was on his mind when he was acting this way.  And to say that he was completely divorced and he had made up his mind, it makes no sense why you would also put out all these surrogates to say the first, I guess, line (ph). 

TODD:  Both of you have worked in White Houses.  Both of you have been in west wings.  There`s two plausible explanations here.  One, the president misled his own staff, or, two, the staff made an assumption and didn`t ask the president. 

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER MANAGER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN:  I think there`s a third explanation. 

TODD:  What would be the third?

CUTTER:  The third explanation is that someone in there knew what a big problem it was for the president to be firing Comey, at this point, and wanted to create another explanation, another causation for this firing.  So, they manufactured this set of memos and got everybody to buy into it.

The problem is, and this is a consistent problem with this White House, manufacturing that memo, it`s actually a lie.  And these lies catch up with you.  And that`s what we`re seeing here.  They lied about it.  If the truth was, as the president now asserts, and he`s our commander in chief, we should believe him, that it was his decision.  He made it a long time ago.  Then, everybody else was lying.  I think it`s too naive to say that everybody else was out of the loop. 

TODD:  Well, and then, Bill, you would have -- if that`s the case, the president`s owning this.  Then, they`ve been misleading the public for the last three months about the confidence the president had in Director Comey.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD":  I mean, obviously, it`s the president`s decision.  He said -- the organization of the FBI director reports up through the deputy attorney general.  But the deputy attorney general can`t fire the FBI director.  And no president is simply going to take a memo that says, well, this FBI director has done some problematic things and say, OK, I have to fire the FBI director.

I mean -- and, incidentally, the deputy attorney general does not say that James Comey should be fired.  He reports criticism of James Comey`s behavior as FBI director.

So, they would have been better off just accepting the thing from the beginning and saying Donald Trump has decided to fire James Comey.  He was uncertain about him for the last few months.  Of course, publicly, you`ll express confidence.  I think that they could get away with.

I think the second opponent that you raised, though, the assertion that Comey told him three times he was not under investigation, is more problematic.  I don`t believe -- and, first of all, I don`t know what that even means.

And maybe -- well, I don`t know.  My impression from talking to some people in law enforcement is it`s inappropriate for the FBI director to say that, in any case.  You don`t know where an investigation is going to lead.

[17:10:07] But if your boss --

KRISTOL:  As of -- as of -- as of May 5th, maybe you`re not a target of the investigation.  But the president of the United States asking the FBI director, am I under investigation?  Why would he need -- let`s think about it this way.  Why would you want to know that?

TODD:  Well, that`s --

KRISTOL:  Think about that.  I mean, what`s the answer to that?

CUTTER:  Why is he worried about it?

TODD:  What is the answer?


KRISTOL:  (INAUDIBLE) you`re trying to get.  They don`t seem to be worried, right?  But what would he do if the answer were yes?  That would be the question, right?  But, I mean, why would you ask the question otherwise?

TODD:  Now, I know there`s been some criticism, you know, should Director Comey have answer the question.  This is a case where --

KRISTOL:  We don`t know if he did or not.


TODD:  We don`t know, that`s right.  And it is, sort of, a -- but I go back to, it`s not surprising, to me, that the president, individually, is not under investigation here.  They`re not looking at that.  They`re looking at collusion mostly having to do with associates.

And, again, one very plausible theory is that whatever was done, there was stuff they kept -- because, frankly, he doesn`t know how to keep secrets.  There`s an argument to be made.  He would`ve kept (INAUDIBLE.)  So, it`s -- to me, it`s a -- it`s semi-pointless.  But it`s obviously important to him to publicly get it out there. 

ALCINDOR:  But I guess if there`s two things going on.  One is that President Trump knows more, obviously, about whatever was happening.  If there is collusion, hypothetically, not saying that there is.  But if there is collusion, Donald Trump knows what that collusion might have been.

So, at some point, there`s no way that he was completely kept out of loop.  So, asking that question might be getting in front of the -- in front of the obvious end of this investigation.

Now, whether or not that ends that way is a completely different story.  But you have to beg the question of why you`re asking it.

But I think the second thing is that this is also President Trump`s personality.  He doesn`t want to look as though he`s getting bossed around --

TODD:  Yes.

ALCINDOR:  -- by the DOJ.  And I don`t think that we can -- we can, kind of, at all --

TODD:  Well, --

ALCINDOR:  -- gloss over that.  But he has -- he started with this one theory and then says, you know what?  I make decisions myself and I can`t even hold onto what maybe I told my staff to say. 

TODD:  My point is that it`s not exculpatory just because he`s not a target.  That`s the point.


KRISTOL:  If you say to me, --

TODD:  Yes.

KRISTOL:  -- gee, am I under investigation?  The most simpleminded thing is, gee, he`s worried. 

TODD:  Why are you asking?  Yes.

KRISTOL:  I mean --

CUTTER:  Well, he should be worried.  I mean, there are grand juries looking into this.  You know, that grand juries -- whether or not you`re a target, all roads lead back to the person at the top.  So, --

TODD:  What was amazing was how he said, well, you know, when you`re a target because you`re having to give -- wait. 

CUTTER:  Well, that means you`re the subject.

TODD:  That`s right.  That --

CUTTER:  It doesn`t mean that you`re not being also investigated as -- in relation to that. 

TODD:  But let`s get to why the story changed about whose decision it was to fire Comey.  There was another development today that got overshadowed by Lester`s interview and that was the fact that Rod Rosenstein went to Capitol Hill and, essentially, got Mark Warner and Richard Burr out of their hearing to have a meeting with him.  We don`t -- we don`t yet know exactly.

But there has been reporting, Bill, that he didn`t like that he was being used as the scape goat here.  And, clearly, they were concerned.  Now, they deny that he threatened resignation.  But something got them to change their story. 

KRISTOL:  I just think if you`ve been in the White House and had some sense of how careful people get when you`re in the middle of a possibly criminal invest -- or national security investigation, at the level this is going on, with an FBI director, people close to the president, whether the president will personally will be drawn in or not, we don`t know.

When you just have worked -- and you know how careful everyone is about everything you (INAUDIBLE) not say.  The idea that they put out the statement that the president seems personally to -- in the president`s name with this para -- middle paragraph. 

TODD:  A first person. 

KRISTOL:  First person.

TODD:  A first person (INAUDIBLE.)

KRISTOL:  And the White House counsel didn`t say, wait a second.  Wait a second.  This -- we know how to put out statements with this kind of thing and you don`t put in anything at all problematic when it`s going to lead to all these questions.  And then, you have the deputy attorney general.  He swore on top of all the Constitution, et cetera.  There are all kinds of rules and regulations about how he`s supposed to conduct it.

And he`s apparently a man of integrity and a great experience.  And he`s suddenly being, sort of -- it`s one thing for him to write a memo at the request of the president, detailing some problems James Comey was having directing his agency.  I think that`s legitimate.  It`s a little bit exceeding to the president.  But then, to, sort of, throw him under the bus the way they did.  I mean --

ALCINDOR:  Yes.  Well, I heard something about tax returns yesterday.  And it stuck with me, this idea of how he`s delaying, delaying, delaying.  And the continuous changing of why the tax returns aren`t released.

First, it`s because I`m under audit.  Then, it`s because the American people don`t care about it.  I don`t think that we`re talking about this in a logical way as if the story was going to be this way.  There was all this -- that Trump had made up his mind that it was going to be this way.

But this is a president who constantly changes his mind.  So, why -- to me, it`s not -- it`s completely plausible that he sits down with Lester Holt and says, you know what?  This is -- I want to run this.  This is exactly what I want to do.  And I`m going to make this decision on the fly.

His -- he could`ve told his staff, you know what?  We`re going to stick to the story.  Mike Pence and him could`ve had a meeting and said, this is the story.  And then, he goes and Mike Pence has to watch what everybody else - - him telling Lester Holt that this is the decision that I made. 

TODD:  Welcome to the attempt to try to find logic in this administration.  Sometimes it`s not there.  And sometimes it`s very difficult.

[17:15:02] All right.  We`re going to pause here.  We`re going to chew over this basically most of the hour.  We`ve got more to come so stick around.

You can see more of Lester Holt`s interview.  An exclusive interview with the president from the White House tonight on the NBC "Nightly News" where, at one point, he`ll refer to Comey as if it`s a trilogy.  One, two and three.

Coming up, more White House claims about the Comey story that are unraveling today.  And next, some brand-new poll numbers on how the public views snap chat in time, the firing of Comey and the White House explanations that followed.


TODD:  Welcome back.

We have the brand-new NBC News SurveyMonkey online polls out tonight, showing what Americans think about the firing of James Comey.  Overnight survey, 54 percent, the majority, responded saying the dismissal was inappropriate; just 38 percent characterized it as appropriate; 46 percent said that they think President Trump fired Comey because of the way he handled the Russia investigation; 24 percent said it was because of the way he handled the Clinton e-mail case which was, of course, the initial White House explanation.

Meanwhile, 55 percent say the firing makes them less confident that the Russian investigation will be conducted fairly.

We`re going to dive into all of this and President Trump`s interview today with NBC`s Lester Holt.  All of it in 60 seconds.


TODD:  Welcome back.

Let`s dive into the big story as the White House scrambles to explain a series of claims about the president`s firing of FBI Director James Comey that today showed signs of unraveling.  We deconstructed two big claims at the top of the show.  Here`s a third claim that`s been thrown into question. 


SANDERS:  This absolutely has nothing to do with any investigation into Russia. 

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  This has nothing to do with Russia. 

KRISTEN WELKER, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Intelligence officials have said there`s investigation into potential ties between campaign officials and Russian officials.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That`s not what this is about.


[17:20:00] TODD:  But leaks today from inside this White House paint a very different story.  "The Washington post," quote, "The president fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe."  "Politico" has a source that said he had grown enraged by the Russia investigation."  "New York Times," Mr. Trump has been nursing a collection of festering grievances, including Mr. Comey`s handling of the Russia investigation." 

And the president, himself, also referenced the investigation in his letter that fired Comey.  So, let`s move, now, to a fourth claim from the White House justifying Comey`s outer.


SANDERS:  Most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director. 


TODD:  But here`s what the acting director of the FBI said during testimony on Capitol Hill today. 


ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI:  I can tell you that I hold Director Comey in the absolute highest regard.  I can tell that you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. 


TODD:  Now, we`re going to move on to yet a fifth White House claim that`s now been called into question as well. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes or no, did the president direct Rod Rosenstein to write this memo on James Comey? 

SANDERS:  No.  The president had lost -- again, like I said, he had lost confidence in Director Comey. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who told him to do the report?

CONWAY:  He oversees the FBI -- you can and him.  I assume that he put together the report on his own. 


TODD:  Well, "The Washington Post" reports today that, on Monday, Mr. Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive to explain in writing the case against Comey.

And there are more reports today that suggest Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein was not happy with the White House decision to initial pin this firing on him and may have even threatened some form of public action if it hadn`t stopped.  Which, of course, it ended up stopping.

I`m joined now by NBC justice correspondent, Pete Williams, and NBC Capitol Hill correspondent, Mike Viqueira.

Pete, I want to start with you.  First of all, any clarification here on Rosenstein.  Where this memo, the origins of this memo?  Did he write the whole thing?  Did he have help from the White House?  What do we know? 

PETE WILLIAMS, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Well, the White House and the Justice Department were both pretty clear about this yesterday, Chuck.  That the way they tell it is this.  This is their version of it.  That the president came to this meeting Monday intending to fire James Comey.

Asked the deputy and the attorney general to come in there and ask them what they though.  And they said, yes, we`ve reached the same conclusion.  And the president said to Rosenstein, OK, then put your thoughts in writing.

In other words, the way they tell it, both these parties arrived together thinking James Comey had to go.  But there was no memo, at that point.  Nobody thought about writing a memo until the president said to Rod Rosenstein, well, then put your thoughts in writing to me.

Now, I think it`s pretty clear, from what the president has said, that his thoughts about why James Comey should he fired, let`s say, there wasn`t exactly a one-to-one correlation between what he was thinking and what`s in the Rosenstein memo.

The Rosenstein memo is a reflection of what the Justice Department says why Rod Rosenstein thought he should go.  Common conclusion both had reached but they say for different reasons. 

TODD:  Yes.  And I want to follow up quickly on that before I go to Vic here which is the idea that -- I saw Senator Dianne Feinstein really erupted over this memo.  And she put out a statement after, she goes, I`ve read this memo three times.  Almost implying as if she didn`t believe that Rosenstein wrote it.  That he had some help or that it was a political document, not a legal document. 

WILLIAMS:  It reads like it was written in a hurry because it was.  I mean, this meeting was Monday and the memo was sent to the White House on Tuesday.

So, you know, regardless of what you may think, and there are people in town, outside the White House, who thought James Comey should be fired, too, for a lots of different reasons.  But regardless of your thought about that, you would think this would be a little more deliberative. 

TODD:  Viq, I want to go to Capitol Hill because Mr. Rosenstein made an appearance there.


TODD:  You had to do old-fashioned stakeouts.  They`re always fun.  What did you learn?  And I know that the two -- the two people that Rosenstein met with, the Senate Intel chair and vice chair, Burr and Warner, you had some time with them.  What did you learn? 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, first of all, we asked them, when they appeared after that surprise visit from Rod Rosenstein, if, in fact, they had discussed the reports that Rod Rosenstein had threatened to resign over all of this.  They said it didn`t come up.

They said Jim Comey`s name did not come up at all, although Chairman Burr did confirm that he and Mark Warner, the Vice Chairman, had invited Jim Comey up to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to come and speak with them, presumably in a closed-door session for their investigation on the Senate Intelligence Committee.  They have not yet heard back from Comey.

One more inconsistency, shall we put it, to add to the list that you did at the top of this block, Chuck.  Andrew McCabe, in testifying today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the investigation undergone -- now ongoing at the FBI, is highly significant.  A highly significant investigation and not the hoax or other adjectives that were applied --

[17:25:02] TODD:  Right.

VIQUEIRA:  -- to it by President Trump and others at the White House.

So, overall, really a stunning day, an extraordinary day here in -- on the cap -- in the Capitol.  Rod Rosenstein appearing before those two.  They`re talking about deconfliction, Chuck, because of -- obviously, there are two parallel investigations, the Senate Intelligence investigation and the FBI investigation.  So they don`t step on each other; interview the same witnesses at the same time and all the mechanics and logistics that go into that.

What`s clear is, and McCabe made this very clear at the hearing, is that investigation is going forward.  They have the resources they need.  No one has been reassigned.  And both Burr and Warner say that they are moving a pace as well. 

TODD:  Viq, what`s the -- what was Republican reaction today?  Yesterday, you had some running from cameras, some expressing dismay.  After hearing the president --


TODD:  -- give voice and explanation, what has that done to Republican reaction on the Hill? 

VIQUEIRA:  You know, Chuck, I think we start to see a pattern.  And I`ve only been back up here for two weeks but I think I`m starting to see a pattern.  You know, there`s a tweet from the White House.  There`s some sort of explosion.  Controversy, fewer or certainly this is at the top of the list, in terms of the decibel level of what we`ve seen over the last 48 hours.

But a lot of Republicans take a step back.  They`ll put out, sort of, a tepid statement or, perhaps, express concern and, sort of, walk that line.  But don`t burn any bridges back to the base.  I mean, we`ve been seeing this since the campaign, since the "Access Hollywood" tapes, frankly, --

TODD:  Right.

VIQUEIRA:  -- when some Senators or Congressmen just jumped ship and they lived to regret it, from a political standpoint.  And I think that`s the lesson that we see manifest now in some of the reactions we`ve seen from Republicans. 

TODD:  Say as little as possible.

Pete, back to you.  We heard the deputy -- the now acting director of the FBI say that Director Comey enjoyed broad support.  That`s headquarters. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  And then, appointed by James Comey (INAUDIBLE.)

TODD:  Yes, I was just going to say -- I mean, should -- how much of his words should we take on this?  What could you say, in talking to various officials?  What`s the real -- what`s your take?

WILLIAMS:  Well, I think, on the one hand, you, sort of, expect James Comey`s hand-picked number two to say that.  He was very loyal to the director.

Secondly, though, I think while they`re -- and, you know, give credit to Andrew McBride.  He admitted this.  There were some agents in the FBI who were not happy -- with McCabe, rather.  Who were not happy with the director`s decision on the Clinton investigation. 

TODD:  But that was interesting that he made --


TODD:  -- a point to say that.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, and admitted that that didn`t go over well with some people.

But he did say that, generally, James Comey had the respect of the rank and file. And from everything I`ve heard, that is correct.

This firing of James Comey has been an enormous shock to the FBI.  They are still reeling from it. 

TODD:  And my guess is, even if there were some fence is sitters, it seems like -- the FBI, they`re all jumping in the same bunker right now.  A little bit.

WILLIAMS:  Absolutely.

TODD:  All right.  Pete Williams right here in our studio.  Mike Viqueira on Capitol Hill.  Thank you both.

Still ahead here on MTP DAILY, a (INAUDIBLE) with a couple of Republican senators, Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy.  The whole point of interview was to talk about health care a couple days ago.  But we sat down today and ended up talking a lot about the FBI, the shakeup and how that could impact the entire legislative agenda.

We`ll be back.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: James Comey`s abrupt dismissal has been rocking Capitol Hill and it has already made its way down to congressional special elections and the Virginia gubernatorial race. In Georgia`s sixth district special, the Democrat Jon Ossoff says there quote, should be bipartisan support for a special prosecutor.

Republican Karen Handel backed President Trump. She says Comey`s removal was quote, probably overdue. In the Montana House race to replace Interior Secretary Zinke, the Comey divide created a sharp back and forth. The Republican candidate, Greg Gianforte, says America lost trust in the FBI and looks forward to a replacement to restore confidence.

The Democrat, Rob Quist, took the opportunity to blast what he calls Gianforte`s shady Russian investments. In Virginia, the leading Republican candidate in the race tried not to talk about it at all. The candidate and former RNC chair, Ed Gillespie, questions about Comey from reporters twice before releasing a statement that took no sides on the issue.

The Democrats in the race have been quick to pounce on Gillespie but they kept that short as well. Former Congressman Tom Perriello replied, huh. And the lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, simply said the statement was quote, BS. The point is you can see a pattern there.

Democrats wanting to jump on the Comey news in this special elections and the Republicans wanting to duck and cover a little bit. Up next, Republican Senator Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy. We talked Comey, Russia investigation, and the future of the Republican agenda. But first, Hampton Pearson with the "CNBC Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. We have stocks finishing lower. Retail plunges triggering fears that consumers aren`t spending enough to support strong economic growth. The Dow ending down 23 points. The S&P down 5. The Nasdaq finishing off by 13 points as well. Macy`s falls 17 percent after reporting weak earnings.

The retailer posting adjusted earnings of 24 cents a share and revenue up 5.34 billion. Social media company Snapchat taking 21.6 percent a day after the parent of Snapchat reported a huge loss. The stock slid $4.96 to close at $18.02. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.


TODD: Welcome back. President Trump`s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey is not the only thing going on in Washington but it is certainly casting a shadow over everything that is going on in Washington including the Republican legislative agenda specifically health care. I sat down this morning with Republican senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins.

It is an interview that was supposed to be focused almost solely on health care. I asked them how the president`s move (ph) impact business on the Hill and things like that. Unfortunately, you`re only going to see half this interview today. You will see the other half tomorrow where we dive deep on health care. Because I started asking Senator Cassidy about the timing of the Comey dismissal.


BILL CASSIDY, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM LOUISIANA: (inaudible) timing, but we can say in defense of the president, because there are reports he wished to fire Comey when he took office. He did not have an attorney general. It took him two and a half months or something like that to get an attorney general.

And then he did not have the assistant attorney general which gave an arm`s length. And when that finally got approved, it was shortly thereafter that the firing occurred. So in fairness to the president, there is a process that had to work through. But on the other hand, I`m not sure timing would ever been good.

TODD: Senator Collins, do you think -- do you buy the White House`s claims that this had nothing to do with Russia?

SUSAN COLLINS, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM MAINE: I don`t think that it was linked to the Russian investigation. But that is an issue that we need to get to the bottom of. I`m a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. We are expediting our investigation. We are going to be talking to former Director Comey. And those will be questions that we will be asking of him.

The irony here is that there is no doubt when you look at the actions of the FBI director starting last July, that he did not follow the standard protocols of the Department of Justice. Now clearly, it would have been very awkward for President Obama to remove him because of that. But if you look at the proper role of an FBI director versus the Department of Justice prosecutors, he usurped that role.

And that had a snowball effect that allowed him to keep being embroiled in political controversies up to the day in which he was fired. But certainly, if I had been advising the president, I would have said, you got to be careful about how this is going to look regardless of what the merits of the situation may be.

TODD: Restoring credibility to the FBI and to the FBI investigation is going sit on whoever replaces Director Comey. Senator Cassidy, how important do you think it is that this person that gets nominated can get 70, 75 votes, so that people think there is independence there? And what is -- define what an independent FBI director looks like?

CASSIDY: Comey was not heading the investigation. He had a chief lieutenant. Comey also had responsibility over budgets, over other investigations, over H.R., over the cafeteria. So he has a chief lieutenant presumably she or he is still there. I think whoever takes his place will feel, and this is pattern of such things, an incredible impetus to show that she or he is independent and will pursue as vigorously as the.

TODD: This almost empowers the investigators to feel strengthened.

CASSIDY: You know it is going happen. Because people will feel incumbent upon them to show. Now, I am not going to say that Democrats have to support. I think they should. I think the picture appeal to them. But I don`t want to give them veto power over credibility. This is because right now, it would be so easy for them to play politics.

TODD: But at 51, 52-vote confirmation for FBI director is not going to look good.

COLLINS: It would not be good. But I am very hopeful that the person who is nominated will be an experienced law enforcement official with impeccable credentials, with unquestionable integrity. And I do want to add to what Bill said. The president fired the director of the FBI.

He did not fire the whole FBI. He did not fire the head of the Russian investigation. They`re still on the job just as if you rob a bank or kidnap a child today, the FBI is still going to be on the job. The FBI is still on the job when it comes to the Russian investigation.

TODD: How concerned are you about Russian interference? How concerned are you, sir?

CASSIDY: Comey just testified and Susan can speak better to this. They testified to her committee that they had seen no collusion. And so of course we have to investigate and be concerned. But Comey himself have said so far none. And so I have to draw comfort from that.

TODD: Finally, how the legislative -- the environment right now, Comey and all this stuff. How concerned are you that this derails your ability to get health care done by the end of the summer?

COLLINS: Well, it does seem like we have an upheaval or crisis almost every day in Washington that changes the subject. But the health care debate is so important. We have states where people who qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act aren`t going to be able to buy insurance that qualifies for those subsidies. So regardless of who was selected president, we were going to have to act to fix the flaws in Obamacare.

And that is a powerful incentive for to us act. And as Bill said, health care is so personal. It is something that everyone relates to. And we have an obligation, no matter what else is going on, and there are an awful lot of important issues going on, to pursue this path. And that`s what we`re committed to doing.

TODD: Are you concerned about how this could all scramble?

CASSIDY: (inaudible). Insurance companies are about to start announcing rates for next year. We just mentioned in Connecticut, 15 to 35 percent premium increases. I spoke to another CEO of an insurance company. They`re projecting 30 to 40. The American people cannot afford $24,000 premiums increasing by 35 percent.

TODD: So events on health care are going to force you guys to work no matter what is happening to the White House.

COLLINS: Absolutely.


TODD: You got a little taste there of part of the health care conversation. I did speak in depth with them about both their bill and how the Republicans in the senate will write a bill. What`s wrong with the current system? All the different plans.

That portion of the interview we`re airing tomorrow on "MTP Daily" because frankly, I didn`t want to see it get overshadowed by everything that was happening today given its own platform tomorrow. Up next, why I am obsessed with the second Russian conspiracy that threatens the good people of Washington, D.C.


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with the widespread Russian interference and our beloved institutions. Let`s start with the obvious. The Russians attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election with fake news, email hacking, and WikiLeaks. Who was reportedly behind this operation? This man. Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation and former KGB intelligence officer.

But this Russian campaign against Washington does not end there. Last night, the Washington Capitals hockey team lost in the Stanley Cup playoffs again, in game 7 again, in the second round again, to the Pittsburgh Penguins again. The final score, Pittsburgh 2, Washington nothing. Who was behind that operation? This man. Alexander Ovechkin. Star of the Capitals.

The man responsible for the Penguins` second goal. Ah, Trojan horse, if there ever was one, or should we call him (inaudible) horse. I know what you`re thinking. Todd has lost it. He`s become a conspiracy theorist just like everybody else. But theorize this. Who is that second from the left? Vladimir Putin. And who is smiling next to him? Alexander Ovechkin. And what are they doing?

Celebrating a Russian hockey win. That`s right. A Russian hockey win. That was in 2014. Here they are chumming it up again in 2012. It`s nice, he`s missing a tooth. And here they are again chumming it up again in 2007. Why doesn`t Vladimir Putin just put on a hockey uniform and play himself? Oh, right. Now tell me there isn`t a Russian conspiracy against Washington. Here he is. All right there staring us in the face. Sorry, caps fans. We`ll be right back.


TODD: Time for "The Lid." The panel is back. Yamiche Alcindor, Stephanie Cutter, Bill Kristol. I want to talk about, we haven`t been able to sort of unwind some of this Republican reaction here. How it impacts Capitol Hill, Bill. Look. Both Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy have to say what they had to say.

But the fact of the matter is, you have a whole bunch of congressional Republicans who last week thought, maybe we will start getting some stuff done, and then this just puts a pall over this probably for the summer.


TODD: I know, I`m with you and I have said it before.

KRISTOL: Yes, I know.

TODD: The Trump campaign. The Trump this, the Trump that.

KRISTOL: Or the other way, too, the state of the union, now he`s really president.

TODD: Yeah.

KRISTOL: I`ve said two things. People who have been around for a while and know that an FBI investigation is different from a bad P.R. day or two. I think that really and I think the media covered just sort of missed that a little bit. We are also interested (inaudible) here and there, the way Trump is, he`s impulsive. FBI investigation, that`s just a whole different ballpark, A.

TODD: Right.

KRISTOL: And B, I have talked to several Republicans on the Hill who are a little freaked out. I mean, leave aside the legal side. The degree of recklessness and incompetence and willfulness that shows in the White House, it`s been in now for what, 3 1/2 months. The executive order was the first week.

Okay, the first week, they`re impulsive, they do something foolish. Now, they have to do this now and Trump to be seeming to glory in it and digging deeper today by giving interviews, giving your colleague interview. He didn`t have to give an interview to Lester Holt on camera. They did today.

TODD: Well.

KRISTOL: They`re not really into that.

TODD: Well, that`s because -- everybody around him is, but Trump, Stephanie, believes, you don`t run from controversy, you run toward it. And if you don`t react, somebody else will for you. So, you might as well do it yourself.


TODD: And to Trump`s credit, it has worked for him in the past.

CUTTER: In the past, but now he`s, you know, singularly united the intelligence agencies and the FBI against him. So, let`s see if it works now. I think also the other thing to consider on Capitol Hill is that, I know we talk about this every week, but he is at a record low. That doesn`t even include what`s going to come from the last 24 to 48 hours.

The generic ballot between Democrats and Republicans is only getting worse for Republicans. So, when do they understand that loyalty to Trump means the end of their careers? I think it`s a matter of time. And I think slowly but surely as these investigations continue, we`re going to see that.

TODD: It`s interesting, Yamiche, I wanted to check in on how the special election campaigns and the off-year elections were dealing with Comey. Obviously you see the Democrats think it`s an asset, Republicans are trying to deflect, at best. But that`s the test.

Democrats start winning these specials in June and we`re going to get three in June, including one in South Carolina that I bring up. It`s probably not going to -- probably Democrats don`t have a chance, but it was represented by a Democrat not that long ago. That is when the rubber could meet the road.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL REPORTER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES: Completely. And I think that even if you see Democrats getting super, super close in red states, that tells you something about how the morale is going, that tells you something about whether or not voters are sticking with him, whether or not he`s motivating new voters to come out and say, look, I wasn`t paying attention before, now I`m really paying attention.

We all know so many people who were kind of out on sleeping for some reason during the campaign and are super plugged into what`s going on now. I think these elections are going to say a lot about where Democrats stand.

TODD: There are some more poll numbers I wanted to put up and let you guys chew over here. They all have to do with Director Comey. We asked, and again, online poll, but it`s a big sample. Director Comey`s handling of his job, 44 percent were disapproving, 25 percent approved. Now, look at this, his handling of the Russia investigation, 34 percent approved, 27 percent disapprove, 34 percent were in the unknown factor.

His handling of the Clinton investigation, 57 percent disapprove, there was bipartisan support for different reasons, 19 percent approve. So, it sounded like Comey isn`t fairing that well either, but Trump is fairing worse.

KRISTOL: He`s not the leader of one of the two major parties, not the president of the United States, and now he`s just a lawyer in private practice. I think the politics will matter in the special elections. I also think there is something that happens with the leads.

It`s a little separate from the voters. Makeup their mind more slowly. I would say also they got other issues. They want a congressman who is going to vote to cut taxes or not. They want a pro-life or pro-choice congressman. They have a lot of other issues.

TODD: Which guides which?

KRISTOL: I think the elites.

TODD: The elites have been tough on Trump for two years now.


TODD: It hasn`t impacted voters.

KRISTOL: (inaudible) important. The Republican elites rallied to him. Christie (ph) and those guys, reluctantly, but that is the key point. That is the key point. Look, the Trump base isn`t going anywhere. The reluctant Republican supporters for Trump, a lot of the voters and a lot of elite Republicans, I think that`s the thing to watch over the next few weeks.

CUTTER: The most telling thing was your reporting earlier about Ed Gillespie`s statement.


CUTTER: Who, you know, used creative word choice to say nothing about it. That`s because Ed Gillespie has been here.

TODD: He`s been here.

CUTTER: And he`s been in the situation and he knows where this is going.

TODD: Yeah.

CUTTER: So, that was the most telling thing, I think.

TODD: He`s the most experienced ex-operative turned candidate. As you say, he`s had his share. Another crazy day. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it. Yamiche, Stephanie, Bill. After the break, just who is the president tapping to head his voter fraud investigation? Stay tuned.


TODD: Well, in case you missed it, tonight, remember when President Trump wanted to do a big investigation into voter fraud? This was after the president claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, and all of them for Hillary Clinton, as an attempt to try to explain why he lost the popular vote.

So, today, after months of vowing to address it, he indeed did sign an executive order that establishes a commission that is aimed at investigating so-called voter fraud. So, we`ll finally get to the truth, right? Well, not so fast. Guess who is helping lead the so-called election integrity commission? It`s this man, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, one of the only voices who defended the president`s assertion of illegal voting last fall.

Kobach said Trump was quote, absolutely correct when he said the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton. It would be the greatest scandal in our American democracy. In fact, Kobach has quite a long history of wallowing in these voter conspiracies. Calling voter fraud a rampant problem, the Kansas official questioned whether thousands of Massachusetts residents illegally voted in New Hampshire.

He`s been sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for voter suppression himself four times. So now you`re putting a man like Kobach on this commission. Maybe a boost for the conservative base that wants to believe in voter fraud, but it isn`t going to help the president with the credibility -- his credibility if there truly is a problem with our voting systems.

Sort of a strange choice, unless it`s only supposed to be a fig leaf decision. That`s all we have for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." "For the Record" with Greta starts right now. Take it away, Greta.