MTP Daily, Transcript 5/12/2017

Guests: Pete Williams, Kelly O`Donnell, Eliana Johnson, Lanhee Chen, Jennifer Palmieri, Richard Blumenthal

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST:  That does it for this hour.  I`m Nicole Wallace.  "MTP DAILY" starts right now.

Hi, Chuck.  How am I doing?  Two seconds. 

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST:  I think you`re doing great and I`ll cast you in my movie any day. 

WALLACE:  Thank you.  You too.

TODD:  You got it.

If it`s Friday, it`s tweets, tapes and threats.  Tonight, tale of the tape.  President Trump threatens his former FBI director, suggesting the president may have recorded their conversations.  Did he?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president has nothing further to add on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Plus, the backlash.  How the Comey firing is revealing a new credibility crisis inside the White House. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I mean, I`ve got real concerns about a cover-up here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  And the new prescription.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE:  There are so many flaws with the current law that we would like to fix.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  I talked to two Republican senators who say their Patient Freedom Act is the real reform the country needs.  And it`s not a full repeal of Obamacare.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now. 

Well, good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to MTP DAILY.

Quite a week, folks.  After firing FBI Director James Comey, the White House finds itself battling an historic credibility crisis at best and an obstruction of justice charge at worst.

Compounding matters today, the president publicly threatened Comey as the Senate Intel Committee saw his testimony.  Comey has declined, for now, though he`s agreed, apparently according to one report, to appear in principle, at some point.

Here`s what the president tweeted today.  Quote, "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."  Now, he did put tapes in quotes and we know in the past, there`s been an indication that quotes aren`t necessary for accuracy.

Now, the suggestion, though, that the president is recording conversations with his FBI director is major news today and has a lot of people raising their eyebrows and wondering, does this really exist?  It came amid some stunning revelations about a dinner meeting that Comey had with the president back on January 27th amid an active investigation into the Trump campaign.

Several sources close to Comey have told NBC News that the president asked Comey a couple of times, during that meeting, if he would be loyal to the president.  This came after a "New York Times" report that Trump wanted Comey to take a loyalty pledge.

Now, here`s what President Trump told Fox News in an interview that was taped earlier today and will air in full tomorrow. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I think it`s inappropriate.  Number one, it isn`t -- 

JEANINE PIRRO, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS:  Did you ask that question? 

TRUMP:  No.  No, I didn`t.  But I don`t think it would be a bad question to ask.  I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important.  You know -- I mean, it depends on how you define loyalty. 

PIRRO:  In a tweet, you said that there might be tape recordings. 

TRUMP:  Well, that I can`t talk about that.  I won`t talk about that.  All I want is for Comey to be honest. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  So, there you go.  Not quite a denial on either one of those charges.

Here`s why the January 27th, though, date of that dinner meeting is potentially very significant.  The day before that dinner meeting with Comey and the president, January 26th, the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, told the White House that the FBI had interviewed White House national security adviser Michael Flynn about conversations he`d had with Russian officials which Flynn lied about to the White House.  We know this because Yates disclosed this information under oath. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY YATES, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We also told the White House counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on February 24th.  Mr. McGann asked me how did he and I declined to give him an answer to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  She said February 24th.  She meant January 24th is our understanding.

Now, here`s a key question.  Did the president know of the FBI`s activity when he asked Comey to dinner and he met with Comey?  Is that why he wanted to meet with Comey in the first place?  That`s yet one of the unanswered questions.

Here`s more on that meeting.  Yesterday, the president told my colleague, Lester Holt, that he told Comey that his job might be on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on.  And I said, I`ll, you know, consider it.  We`ll see what happens. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  At the same time, he wanted to know what Comey might have on him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  The president`s claim that Comey told him he was not under investigation is now being disputed by FBI officials.  But, folks, by the president`s own account, he essentially sent Comey two messages.  Your job isn`t safe and what do you have on me?

And it raises the question, was the President trying to interfere in the investigation or simply intimidate Comey or both?

I`m joined by colleagues now.  NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent, Kelly O`Donnell; NBC News justice correspondent, Pete Williams; and MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber.

Pete, I want to start with you.  The FBI officials are disputing what the president has asked of Director Comey.  Is it -- are they disputing it because they just can`t believe Comey would say that?  Or do they know for sure because Comey has assured them he didn`t? 

PETE WILLIAMS, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  So, to be clear, Chuck, this is not coming from FBI officials.  We don`t think that Mr. Comey told many FBI officials even that he was going to or that he went to this dinner.

The information we have about what Mr. Comey said is from people outside the FBI that Comey talked to around the time of the dinner.  That`s the people that we`re talking to.  We`ve heard nothing, by the way, from Mr. Comey.

And they a couple things.  Number one, that Mr. Comey did not ask for the dinner.  One of them said to me today, you know, you -- people just don`t call up the White House and say, hey, can I come to dinner?

So, secondly, that he didn`t ask to -- he didn`t want to know whether his job would be extended because he had a 10-year term.  And then, of course, they also say that during the dinner, the president asked, will you say that you`re loyal?  And what Comey said is I can`t say that but I can say that I was honest.

So, in many ways, they say that his recollection and Mr. Comey`s are different.  And, by the way, these same people today, we went back to them and they say, you know, if there really are tapes, they assume that Mr. Comey would love to have them come out because they, in their view, would prove his version of what happened. 

TODD:  Kelly O`Donnell, I`ve got to and you, this revelation about tapes and now we have the president saying, I`m not going to talk about that.  it won`t talk about that.  Which -- call that a nondenial, denial, whatever you want to call.

But he certainly doesn`t want to get rid of the appearance that maybe every conversation that people have with the president is being recorded.  What was the reaction on the Hill today to that? 

KELLY O`DONNELL, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Well, I`m at the White House now, Chuck, and I would say that there has been strong surprise at the fact that both Sean Spicer, who is very careful to say to us in the briefing room that he had spoken to the president about this issue of his tweet that invoked the idea of tapes and that there was nothing further to add.

And then, we saw the clip of another interview the president gave where he said, I won`t talk about it.  I can`t talk about it.

And what comes to mind is the president`s strong desire to maintain leverage on issues from his business life.  This idea that all options for him, in his perceived tool kit, should be on the table.

Perhaps without the full sense of how this is heard around Washington and the kinds of things that it evokes.  Like Democrats on Capitol Hill immediately sending a letter, saying that they want the White House to produce these tapes.  And that, sort of, oversight that they want to do obviously would be the expected response.

And a typical president who had more typical conventional experience would have no using those kinds of words or suggestions would prompt that, sort of, response.

So, I`m struck by the fact that the president does not want to discuss it which does leave open the possibility there`s some kind of recording going on.  And does he not want to do that because either he stepped in something he inadvertently made his own mess or does he just want to preserve, kind of, --

TODD:  Right.

O`DONNELL:  -- the power of having people think they might be recorded when meeting with him or speaking with him? 

TODD:  No, you bring up a good point, an important point for people who have spent a long time covering Donald Trump in any walk of life. 

Ari Melber, the definition of obstruction of justice.  Has he met it? 

ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT:  The publicly available evidence does not provide that term.  I mean, to be clear and careful, obstruction of justice involves direct interfering or tampering with an investigation.

But your introduction to this, Chuck, I think does frame it very well because you point out the time line, the swirling questions about the pace of the Russia inquiry, and then what could be construed, depending on which account you believe, as an attempt to pursue a quid pro quo regarding the future of Director Comey`s tenure.

And that would be problematic if that were the direct exchange.  The president, of course, has put out multiple statement that contradict each other, that contradict himself and his own aides.  So, it`s hard to get a read on that.

I would make one other point about this so-called loyalty discussion.  That is pretty absurd, given that public federal officials already take an oath of loyalty to the Constitution as part of their formal job duties.  That`s done.

There`s no extra loyalty pledge and certainly not one that could construed or misconstrued as a personal loyalty pledge to the person in the White House while this investigation continues.

The other piece here that I think is important to watch, as there is more attention to the deputy attorney general, is what happens to this letter?  This three-page letter of memorandum that was extensively offered as a recommendation that the president responded to.

And we all know now that`s changed.  Does that letter just sit out in public the way it is?  Or does the DOJ feel, at some point, does Mr. Rosenstein feel some need to amend or clarify it?

TODD:  Well, I would imagine when he goes in front of the full Senate next week, we may get an answer to that question.

Kelly O`Donnell at the White House, you`re on Capitol Hill today, Pete Williams in our news room and Ari Melber in New York.  Thank you, all.

By the way, be sure to tune in to "The Point" with Ari Melber, Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.

Folks, the White House has done potentially irreparable damage to its credibility after President Trump directly contradicted not just the White House`s initial justifications for firing Comey but his own vice president`s. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE 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. 

TRUMP:  In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

PENCE:  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.

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS:  In your letter, you said, I accepted their recommendations.  You had already made the decision. 

TRUMP:  Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.  Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Let`s bring in our panel.  Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for President Obama and the Hillary Clinton campaign.  Lanhee Chen, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute.  He was a former advisor to Mitt Romney and Marco Rubio.  And Eliana Johnson, National Political Reporter at "Politico."

I`ve got a ton to get to obviously here.  I want to start, though, with the contradiction of now the president -- it`s not just what he did and put Vice President Pence, yet again, having to say something that turns out to be contradicted.

But then he just tweets, you know what?  My entire White House communications staff can`t keep up with me.  Don`t take them at their word.  That`s a problem. 

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO":  Yes.  You know, President Trump has a team of people and a cabinet that he hired to do jobs to help him.  And his first line of defense on Wednesday was the vice president of the United States, his press team starting Tuesday night, and he was frustrated with the performance of his press team.  And this follows a very familiar pattern which he took the reins himself.  He began communicating this.

And in doing so, he undermined the people loyal to him.  And in doing so, disincentivised people loyal to him from going out and defending him, because they know that they could be contradicted by the president at any point.

If the goal of this was to shut down the Russia investigation, he`s drawing more attention to it.  If the goal was to have, you know, a better communications strategy by taking the reins from his aides, he was frustrated, he created a communications` crisis. 

TODD:  Lanhee, what would you tell -- how would you advise the vice president to handle this situation right now? 

LANHEE CHEN, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION:  Well, I think he needs to figure out how to cover his own rear end, to be honest with you.  I know that that`s not usually the role of the vice president in an administration.  I think really highly of the vice president.  I think the vice president`s got an incredible political future.

But, look, the reality is this is the second time he`s been compromised by, potentially, bad information.  The first time, obviously, being around the Flynn investigation.  And now, this second time.

And so, the vice president has to figure out what his role is going to be in all of this.  And he is a surrogate for the president.  He`s a very powerful surrogate --

TODD:  Honesty, I think he`s his best policy surrogate out there. 

CHEN:  No question.  No question.  I mean, --

TODD:  No doubt.

CHEN:  -- he understands the policy.  He`s got great credibility with main stream conservatives.

And, by the way, the only reason main stream conservatives are still hanging with the president now is because they think there some possibility that some policy gets done.  The more this investigation creeps into that, the policy agenda, the harder it`s going to be for people stick with him.

TODD:  You know, --

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN:  Yes.

TODD:  -- we said you worked in the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Obama White House.  You actually also worked in a Clinton White House where there were vice presidents that didn`t necessarily stay on message with the presidents, at the time.  Now, he had his own agenda because he was running for president, at the time.

PALMIERI:  Which White House are you talking about?

TODD:  Just thinking about it.  I know.

PALMIERI:  It sometimes would happen in both the White Houses.

TODD:  I`m going to say Clinton 1998, Gore 2000, if you recall.

PALMIERI:  OK, Gore 2000.  (INAUDIBLE.)

TODD:  It`s not a good place to be, if the vice president doesn`t feel comfortable --

PALMIERI:  It is a --

TODD:  -- speaking for the president.

PALMIERI:  Yes, I think that for that -- I mean, I can only imagine within that whole White House.  I think that -- I mean, if I was advising Mike Pence, I would say, you have to protect yourself.  You cannot -- you should refuse to be out speaking for the administration right now, until you have -- as you have a clearer sense.

But it -- there`s no faith in the communications` team either.  And it makes for a very difficult -- I mean, I think that the president has -- it makes the place inoperable.

And I`ve seen situations where you`re backward engineering decisions made and you`re trying to backward engineer the rationale for why that decision was made.  And then, to have it blow up the way that it did, I just don`t see how they -- how any (INAUDIBLE) can repair that (INAUDIBLE.)

TODD:  All right.  But you now have the president out there hinting at the idea of tapes.  And it goes to this -- I mean, --

PALMIERI:  Yes.

TODD:  -- you now have -- what you just said, that it`s only going to accelerate the Russia investigation.  And now, Congress, I don`t know.  Are they going to start subpoenaing the White House for tapes?  I mean, I don`t know if they can.  I mean, are we going to really have a fight over executive privilege --

JOHNSON:  Yes.

TODD:  -- executive privilege here?

JOHNSON:  The thing that strikes me is had President Trump, on day one of his administration, asked for the resignation of Jim Comey, I think there would have been bipartisan support for that.

It may have been somewhat controversial but the Republicans I`ve talked to in the House and the Senate have said, this is something that should`ve been done on day one.  "National Review" editorialized that Trump should ask for his resignation.

TODD:  Sure.

JOHNSON:  The root action is not -- was not necessarily controversial.  It`s the manner in which it was --

TODD:  Right.

JOHNSON:  -- carried out and its timing.

And once there was a controversy, the president has managed to escalate it and it is now mushrooming out of control. 

TODD:  Well, it gets to the fact, Lanhee, that the president can`t be disciplined himself.  If he could have disciplined himself and taken an extra week.  I want to fire Comey but I need one more week.  I need to find a replacement.  Right?  So that I can announce the replacement immediately.  Whatever.

JOHNSON:  And to do it in person.

TODD:  He seemed impatient about it. 

CHEN:  I mean, that would have -- that would have taken care of this whole probable.  If he had said, I`m firing him.  Here`s his replacement, by the way.

TODD:  Right.

CHEN:  you know, the other issue is, again, it gets back to the expectation, do we really think the president is going to behave in a way different from how he behaved during the campaign?  Do we believe that this person is going to have a new set of behaviors simply because he has a new office?  And I would argue that we shouldn`t have expected that in the first place. 

PALMIERI:  Yes.

TODD:  Very quickly, you tweeted you had mixed emotions the second it went out, when that Comey announcement.

PALMIERI:  Yes.

TODD:  Do you still feel that way? 

PALMIERI:  No.  No.  I mean, now, it is -- I mean, my -- it was, sort of, stunned and then my second thought was, he must -- the FBI must be getting very close on Russia and that freaked Trump out.

TODD:  OK.  I`m going to pause it here.  I have an interesting special counsel conversation I want to have with you guys when you come back.

There`s an interesting new advocate for a special counsel.  Anyway, you guys will stick around.

Coming up, speaking of special counsel, I`m going to talk to Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal on why he believes this is the only route to go in the Russia investigation. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  If it`s Sunday, "MEET THE PRESS" will be digging deeper into the fallout over James Comey`s firing.  I`m going to talk with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina.  And he`ll join me for an exclusive interview.  He`s been looking into the president`s finances, by the way, on Capitol Hill.

More MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to the show.

Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, many Democrats have called the move Nixonian and many of them have called for a special or independent prosecutor.  Some are even trying to use it as leverage before a new FBI director can be confirmed.

One of the loudest voices calling for a special prosecutor, a special counsel, joins me now.  It`s Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.  He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Senator Blumenthal, welcome back. 

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT:  Thank you very much, Chuck.

TODD:  It`s -- I`m still, sort of, shell shocked.  The day we talked -- 30 minutes before the announcement of the Comey firing, we talked.  And you had -- you had actually expressed -- you wouldn`t quite express confidence in Comey but confidence in the FBI.  In hindsight, how would you answer that question now? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I still have confidence in the FBI.  In fact, I think the FBI is going to be one of the heroes when the history of this era is written, along with the press that is uncovering this story every day.  And what I said then about my confidence of the FBI uncovering the truth --

TODD:  Yes.

BLUMENTHAL:  -- means we have an additional obligation to appoint a special prosecutor who can lead this investigation and bring charges where they`re appropriate. 

TODD:  I want to ask you about the issue of the special prosecutor because I want to get you to react to what your Democratic colleague, Sheldon Whitehouse, also a former state attorney general like yourself, an argument he made against asking for a special counsel.

Take a listen and I want to get to you listen on the other side. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  So, if you`ve got something going like that, if you look at the special counsel rule, you`ve got to bring in somebody new.  You`ve got to bring them in from outside the department.

TODD:  Right.

WHITEHOUSE:  And they have the choice to make their own decision if they want to start from fresh, perhaps.  And I kind of wanted to work my way through that before I was absolutely convinced that that was the right way to go.

TODD:  Well, it`s interesting you bring that up.

WHITEHOUSE:  If someone comes in new and tries to start from scratch, --

TODD:  Yes.

WHITEHOUSE:  -- that`s a huge setback for what could be a good ongoing investigation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  So, respond to Senator Whitehouse there.  Are you concerned?  What about his concern that a special counsel would actually make everything start over? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I`ve come into investigations as a federal prosecutor, as well as state attorney general.  And, yes, there is a learning curve when someone starts from scratch.

But there is an enormous value here to having someone with a fresh perspective and hopefully the right determination to uncover the truth and to bring charges where they`re appropriate.

And an independent special prosecutor is really necessary here.  As we see these contradictions and confusion mount and the possibility that there may be tapes to be subpoenaed in connection with this investigation, -- 

TODD:  Right.

BLUMENTHAL:  -- the need for more resources all point to the need for someone with credibility and integrity that an independent special prosecutor would have.

TODD:  There`s been some reporting out there that when -- that, you know, there was, sort of, this idea that Director Comey went to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, looking for more resources.  People took that as money.

It turns out, we`ve -- it`s our understanding that it was actually, no, he was looking for more prosecutorial help, meaning he needs, essentially, to help more U.S. attorneys to help subpoena.  He needs subpoena power or more subpoena power.

Would that satisfy you?  Is that a -- is that a -- if the FBI investigation is, essentially, a -- you have a couple of extra U.S. attorney offices helping out with subpoenas? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I think that what`s needed is an attorney who will bring together and coordinate and collaborate all of the lawyers and the agents and other staff who are uncovering the truth here.  It`s not enough to have more lawyers thrown at this case or more agents or more other resources.

There has to be an independent voice and face and mind that will make decisions about whether charges are appropriate and have the credibility so that the public respects it and there is confidence in the judiciary that it`s nonpolitical, nonpartisan and nonbureaucratic.

And that`s why just having another assistant U.S. attorney, as much as I respect them, or even another U.S. attorney involved will not be sufficient.

[17:25:07] It has to be an independent counsel who is, under the regulations, I think, perfectly appropriate right now for the deputy attorney generals who appoint.  And the burden really is on Rod Rosenstein. 

TODD:  I was just going to ask --

BLUMENTHAL:  He has to redeem --

TODD:  He`s going to --

BLUMENTHAL:  -- his career.

TODD:  It`s interesting, redeem his career.  That is rough.  So, you`re -- why do you say he has to redeem his career?  Are you taking the president at his word on this?  Do you -- or could it be that the White House maybe misconstrued what Rod Rosenstein said to him? 

BLUMENTHAL:  Well, what the president said is he made the decision after the White House, in effect, said it was the recommendation of the deputy attorney general.  And that recommendation was based on actions 10 months old in connection with the Hillary Clinton tape. 

I think that Rod Rosenstein, as a career prosecutor, more than 20 years, in this professional career capacity, has the opportunity to, in effect, restore his reputation by appointing a deputy, by appointing an independent special prosecutor now.

And I`ve said this to him.

TODD:  Right.  He`s going to brief the whole Senate.

BLUMENTHAL:  I said it to him at the hearing. 

TODD:  Yes, he`s going to brief the full Senate next week, we understand.  Is there anything short of that that he could do that would satisfy you? 

BLUMENTHAL:  I think, number one, he has to come before the Judiciary Committee.  I have called on the Judiciary Committee to request and require that both he and the attorney general separately come before the Judiciary Committee, testify under oath in open forum which will not happen in that all-senators meeting.

So that the public can evaluate what the reasons were that these steps were taken.  Who said what to whom.  What the time line was.  And why his letter was written to the president if the president had already made up his mind which is what the president says?

TODD:  I`m curious, had Rod Rosenstein written that memo and the president made a decision in January, based on what he wrote about Comey`s handling of the Clinton situation, would you say he made good case against Comey? 

BLUMENTHAL:  No, because the case against Comey in that letter was based on information 10 months old.

But even more important, as much as I disagree with the way that then director of the FBI Comey announced his decision that Hillary Clinton had been extremely careless, I believe that he was leading an investigation and that firing of him potentially impeded the investigation in a way that could amount to improper interference, maybe even obstruction of justice.

And particularly since the president talked about the Russia thing, meaning the focus on his campaign`s potential collusion with Russian interference in our election, I think was very problematic, whether it was done the day after his inaugural or last week.

TODD:  All right, Senator Richard Blumenthal.  A little short on time today.  I appreciate you rushing in and doing this for me and thanks for coming on to share your views.

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you.

TODD:  You got it.

BLUMENTHAL:  Thank you.

TODD:  Thanks.

Still ahead, as Senate Republicans work on their version of the health care bill, as I told you yesterday, I spoke with two Republicans who already have a plan, Senator Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy.  We had the Comey stuff yesterday.  Today, we`re actually going to get into the substance of health care.  They`ll join me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Up next, Senators Collins and Cassidy on the future of health care in the Republican controlled Senate. But first, Hampton Pearson with the CNBC "Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, WASHINGTON D.C BUREAU CORRESPONDENT, CNBC:  Thanks, Chuck. We had U.S. equities closing mostly lower with corporate profits posting their biggest jump in five years. The Dow is down by 22 points. The S&P off 3. The Nasdaq up by 5 points.

  Retail and online sales post their strongest gains in three months according to the Commerce Department -- a sign that economic growth is picking up. Uber may be in trouble again. A judge is recommending a federal probe into allegations the company may have stolen Google`s data on driverless cars. That`s it from Cnbc, first in business worldwide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back. We interrupt all of our Comey coverage with some issue coverage which are now that the Republican push to pass an Obamacare replacement. Right now the legislative ball is in the Senate`s court after the House passed a bill last week. Republican health care working with an upper chambers already met twice to start drafting a version of its own.

The working group has come under fire for not including any female members of the Senate and for excluding two senators who actually were the first two to introduce a plan of their own this legislative cycle. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy and Maine Senator Susan Collins - they drafted what`s called the Patient Freedom Act, which would give the option of essentially keeping Obamacare or forming a new alternative.

Four additional Republican senators have signed on to this plan. As you can see, one is a former governor, three are considered fairly moderate. I sat down with Senators Cassidy and Collins in Capitol Hill earlier this week. Here`s the health care part of our conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD:  You go through the first bill out of gate and I was -- I think a lot of us that have followed this debate closely were shocked when this working group came out and neither one of you were on it. How did that happen? Senator Collins.

SEN. MARGARET COLLINS (R), MAINE:  Well, the leader has the right to appoint whomever he wants. The leader has brought us into some of the discussions now and I`m really not that concerned about who is on the working group. We do have our own bill. We have six people on our bill, six Republicans. We`ve had expressions of interest from moderate Democrats and I`m hopeful at the end of the day that we`re going to be able to craft a workable alternative to the House bill that doesn`t leave people behind, that lowers premiums and that will be a far better piece of legislation.

TODD:  Senator Cassidy, you were pretty tough on the House bill. You said, you almost -- you seemed to imply that it`s just a cover for a tax cut. A little rough and you know.

SEN. WILLIAM MORGAN CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA:  Whether by intent or by effect, it sets the stage for tax reform. It`s just empirically observable fact, number one. Number two, I think that what we have to be concerned about are those middle Americans paying incredible premiums. Under Obamacare, $20, $30, $40,000 a year with deductibles on top. Connecticut just announced their premium increases, 15 to 35 percent. Now, if we take as our goal to lower premiums, then we`re going to achieve something because here`s a lot of stuff that goes into that. The House bill was scored as raising premiums. Even all you with it, that was scored as raising premiums. Ours needs to be scored as lowering those payments (ph).

COLLINS:  There are so many flaws with the current law that we would like to fix and one of them is that if you make just a dollar over 400 percent of the poverty rate, you lose your entire subsidy. How does that make sense? That discourages people from accepting raises from working more hours, from getting a promotion. So, there are so many flaws in the bill. The bill is going to, in my state, hit people between the ages of 50 and 64 particularly hard.

But one of the problems is that the House voted without having the Congressional Budget Office analysis.

TODD:  We still don`t have it.

COLLINS:  We still don`t have it. We`re supposed to have it May 22nd. But we don`t know for certain the impact on coverage, on cost, individuals and families and also to the federal government. And that is such a flaw that we don`t have the impact of what the risk orders would do. So, that is something that to me, we can`t go forward without.

CASSIDY:  But can I praise the House bill just some (ph)?

TODD:  OK.

CASSIDY:  The House bill does begin to remove power from Washington back to states. And that`s part of the Cassidy Collins. To think that Louisiana and Maine and California and Alaska could thrive under the same set of rules. That again was the conceit of Obamacare. The fact the House bill begins to move back to states I think is a good direction.

TODD:  But I guess what I don`t understand about the state differential is are pre-existing conditions the same way that you live in Alaska or Louisiana or Maine.

COLLINS:  I was just going to say to add to what Bill said, one huge difference is while we move power back to the states, give states a lot of freedom to decide how to design their plan or even keep the current law. We require are states to follow the consumer protections that are in the ACA. And that includes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, no lifetime or annual caps, allowing young people to stay on their parents` policies until age 26. No discrimination based on gender, race or national origin. Those are key consumer protections.

TODD:  Let`s look to the politics to this. You`re going to have to do this with only Republican votes. How does it happen? How do you keep Mike Lee and you in the same vote?

COLLINS:  Well, I don`t think we should do it just with Republican votes.

TODD:  I hear you. I`m living in the world that we`re living in right now.

COLLINS:  I know but I`ll tell you at 7:30 this morning, I had a call from a Democratic senator who is very interested in our bill. We`ve had good conversations with our colleagues from across the aisle. And I think it`s worth a try to see if we can identify common ground. There are certainly --

TODD:  You think you can pass a bill that could pass the House?

COLLINS:  I`m not saying this is going to be easy but we owe it to the American people to try to come up with the best possible plan that we can, that fix the flaws of the Affordable Care Act. And yet, this does not decimate coverage and does not lead to premiums going sky high. So to me it`s worth an all out effort to do that. And there are going to be compromises along the way, but I`m certainly going to try and I know Bill knows too.

CASSIDY: And you know one thin, Ted Cruz recently was quoted as saying he thinks our goal should be the lower premiums. President Trump ran and won in the lower premiums. We think you should lower premiums.

TODD:  It`s the chief complaint about Obamacare. The cost, not the coverage.

CASSIDY:  How can anybody in the spectrum of right to left oppose that policy which reasonably speaking is sustainable. Can`t be like dump the treasury upon this problem. But is sustainable and lowers premiums. I think that`s the common ground. You ask about the House, I think they would favor policy which lowered premiums.

TOD:  How many -- how is this going to work or has it been decided yet? Is there going to be concurrent bills? You`re going to have a bill, others will have a bill or will this be one bill? What`s the goal here?

COLLINS:  I suspect that the leadership will come up with a bill that will be a substitute for the House bill. All of the senate leaders have said they`re going to start from scratch, that they`re not bound by what`s in the House bill. They obviously going to be respectful of it and take a look at it, but we`re going to draft our own bill here in the Senate.

We`ll obviously take a look at that, but I hope it will be a free and open amendment process and that not only will we have the opportunity to get some of our ideas into the leadership bill, but we may end up offering our own bill. And I hope that bill might be bipartisan.

TODD:  So you`re still going to work on your bill while leadership does its thing?

CASSIDY:  But we have adapted, and it`s a work in progress. I don`t want to suggest that Susan is obligated the dispersion (ph), but I have my staff and working with her staff, we`re taking the Cassidy-Collins Bill and making it compatible with the rules of reconciliation. We think that is a good-faith effort.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD:  Yes, there`s even more of that interview of the two senators. It`s online at meetthepress.com. Still ahead, the ever changing definition for what makes a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day in politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with the almost countless this is it moments for Donald Trump. First as a candidate and then as president. Under normal conditions, if a president were to fire an FBI director who is investigating his or his campaign ties to America`s greatest adversary, terms like constitutional crisis and impeachment would be tossed around by Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, urban and rural voters.

But of course these are not normal circumstances and we should have learned by now that President Trump plays by and is judged by a very different set of rules. After all, what other politician could have survived calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers, denying John McCain was a war hero, saying Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her whatever, claiming falsely that thousands of American Muslims openly celebrated 9/11, mocking a disabled reporter, duping students at Trump University, the "Access Hollywood" tape and accusing without evidence the previous president of wiretapping him.

It`s just a handful of the "this is it" moments. So to those of you in blue America who think this latest it is finally the "it" while waiting for the other shoe to drop, just remember, President Trump seems to have an inexhaustible number of shoes. Many of them have dropped already and he`s still here rewriting the play book every day. And as they say, once bitten, a thousand times shy. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  You have a level of hostility that`s incredible and it`s very unfair. Sarah Huckabee is a lovely young woman. You know Sean Spicer. He is a wonderful human being. He`s a nice man.

JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST:  Is he your press secretary today and tomorrow? Will he be tomorrow?

TRUMP:  Yes, well he`s doing a good job but he gets beat up.

PIRRO:  Will he be there tomorrow?

TRUMP:  Yes, well, he`s been there from the beginning

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: That`s President Trump talking cautiously about his press secretary in a Fox News interview, that brings us to the lid. The panel is back. Welcome back all. Nothing like reading about this concurrently, I play this quote and the "Wall Street Journal" says, "Trump weighs shake up of press team including this, a senior communication staffer was reaching out to people from a network of supportive cable TV surrogates to gauge their interest in joining the team.

Well Jennifer Palmieri, you`ve been a member of White House communications it seems. That must be just awesome to read about your job being on the line.

PALMIERI:  His defense of Sean Spicer basically is Sean Spicer exists. That was basic --

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  -- when the president of the United States says basically he is here, he has been here from the beginning --

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I`m sorry.

PALMIERI:  -- people because they should never have taken the job because you know that is an impossible job because you work for somebody who doesn`t believe in the truth and you are never going to be able to reconcile that if your job is to talk to the press and tell them the truth.

TODD:  Some would say Donald Trump --

PALMIERI:  That`s impossible.

TODD:  That Donald Trump likes to speak for himself and isn`t very good at getting others to speak for him.

PALMIERI:  Yes because he --

TODD:  They`re uncomfortable.

PALMIERI:  To tell the truth.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO:  He is constantly undermining his own communications people because he think he does -- I think he has a mistaken belief that he does the job best. But underlying this view is, you know, he`s a media president. He`s not a D.C. president. He`s not a lawmaker. He`s not a policy guy and views everything through the prism of television and media coverage and so, as a result, he thinks everything is a press problem and there is enormous pressure on his communications aide. They`re never going to meet the mark for him.

TODD:  They won`t Eliani. Donald Trump is Donald Trump because of Donald Trump. And that`s -- he believes it, by the way and that score he`s right.

LANHEE CHEN, FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION RESEARCH:  Well, on to your point, your previous point about all of the near misses, right. He has managed to -- manage his way out of them through the way that he deals with the media, through the way that he deals directly with --

TODD:  Sheer force of nature.

CHEN:  It is him. It is entirely about him and his interactions that has enabled him to get to where he is.

TODD:  I want to switch, I did a nice little tease, like wait till you hear who is calling for a special council next. Well, wait till you hear. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We wanted a special prosecutor on the Hillary e-mail scandal. Why is this any different?

ROGER STONE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I actually agree with you. In other words, I think Jeff Sessions because of his partisanship is the wrong person to pursue this and I would welcome a special prosecutor. I think the president should pick the right woman to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  There you go.

CHEN:  Case closed.

TODD:  There it is. Roger Stone wants a special counsel. All right, what`s he doing on "The View," I don`t know. Why do half the people that go on "The View" -- sometimes I don`t understand either decision. Why they book them and why they go on, right.

Roger Stone, who we know does whisper into the president`s ear. There might be a nefarious reason why he`s for a special counsel and let me lay it out, which is the Sheldon Whitehouse point that he made earlier on the show that I played for Richard Blumenthal. A special counsel actually slows down the investigation because you start over.

JOHNSON:  I`m skeptical that a special counsel will be appointed. I think both Republicans and Democrats have seen these things go sideways and the motives of them are just not good. And I`m not sure I believe that Roger Stone has as clear-cut a motive as you describe, but we`ve been talking a lot about Nixon and Stone is a Nixon era figure who has re-appeared. So, I`ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

TODD:  How about this? How about the fact that he just openly says Jeff Sessions, yes, because of his partisanship, he`s the wrong person to pursue this.

JOHNSON:  I don`t think that`s such a controversial statement.

TODD:  No, it`s not, but it is coming from a Trump surrogate.

CHEN:  I mean, these special counsels end up being perjury traps. They always end up sort of meandering into areas maybe that they really don`t need to be getting into.

TODD:  Is that right?

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  They have hammers and they find nails.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  It might take a while, but be my guest.

CHEN:  Someone -- will they get someone --

PALMIER:  Yes, they get somebody --

CHEN:  In a normal situation we would say this is the job of the Congress. The Congress should be conducting appropriate oversight when this sort of thing happens. So, I still think this is Congress`s obligation.

PALMIERI:  But they can`t do charges. The FBI can pursue this. They can bring it to the courts, but you know, Congress can only look into it, they can`t do charges.

TODD:  My guess is the initial compromise is going to be Rod Rosenstein is going to agree to give the FBI more access to U.S. attorneys. That`s what the subpoena power.

PALMIERI:  Roger Stone`s thinking is flawed because this isn`t -- you can`t isolate this issue because it`s not about just one issue. I mean like, he has -- he is obsessed with Russia-Trump. He`s going to continue to do things in office that are going to make it an issue so you can`t isolate it until he stops talking about it which is not going to happen.

TODD:  Well, I`m going to end it there. You guys can keep talking after the break. Thank you very much. After the break, lights, camera, executive action. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  As developments in the Russia investigation piled up this week, President Trump`s attempt to de-escalate the spectacle only put him further in the center. In case you missed it, he let us know he`d be the center of this show for a long time, and he said so a long time ago. In fact, here`s one of our favorite moments from my time interviewing candidate Trump. This was back in 2015 on "Meet the Press."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  I sort of was amused about this little excerpt from you "Playboy" interview in 1990. The questioner asked, what is all this, meaning talking about your yacht, the bronze tower, the casino, what does it really mean to you and you replied, "props for the show." And I said what show is that? And you replied, "the show is Trump, and it is sold out performances everywhere."

TRUMP:  And it has been for a long time.

TOD:  Is this -- are we all a part of the show? I mean, there is something -- you know that some of the criticisms, some that we all feel like we`re in -- are we in a reality show?

TRUMP:  No, this is not a reality show, this is the real deal. Our country has --

TODD:  You did smile when I read the show stuff because it resonated with you.

TRUMP:  I think it`s -- I mean, look, my life has been an interesting life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Anyway, just it felt like something that was worthy of remembering this week. Of course if it`s Sunday catch "Meet the Press" on your local NBC station. This will be a good one I promise you. "For The Record with Greta" though starts right now.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOR THE RECORD SHOE HOST, NBC:  You know Chuck, I never miss "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

TODD:  I appreciate that.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END