Show: MTP DAILY Date: May 18, 2017 Guest: Kelly O`Donnell, Mike Viqueira, Ken Dilanian, Elise Jordan, Chris Murphy, Richard Ben-Veniste
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: Guys, if you want to come on over here, we`re happy to have you as well. There`s no longer table (ph), but we`d love to -- love for all of you to join us.
Anyway, though, good evening, I`m Katy Tur in New York in for Chuck Todd. Welcome to MTP DAILY.
And welcome to another day of bombshells embroiling the president and his associates. All of it coming less than 24 hours after the appointment of the special counsel on Russia.
Let`s get right to today`s major developments. Moments ago, President Trump took questions from reporters for the first time since allegations were raised in a memo written by FBI Director James Comey that the president urged him to shut down the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
It was also the first time he took questions since the Department of Justice appointed former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as a special prosecutor to oversee the agency`s wide-reaching Russia investigation. Here is what the president said about that issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the Russians, zero. I think it divides the country. I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things. Believe me, there`s no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Just hours before the press conference, the president went even further in his criticisms of the special counsel. Here is some of what he said during a meeting with news anchors, quote, "I believe it hurts our country terribly." He went to say, quote, "It also happens to be a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won."
This comes after he tweeted this morning, this is single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history. It`s a dramatic departure from his reaction last night when he seemed to welcome the news. In an official White House statement, he said, I look forward to this matter concluding quickly, noting that a thorough investigation would vindicate him.
Moments ago, the president was also asked about those allegations that he urged Comey to shut down the Flynn investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you, at any time, urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also, as you look back --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. Next question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Despite the president`s quick answer, questions about Flynn are not going away. Two former senior Obama officials tell NBC News that while in the White House, Flynn halted a U.S. military operation that Turkey opposed. This came after Flynn had accepted more than $500,000 as a foreign agent to represent Turkey`s interests.
Did the Trump team know about Flynn`s conflicts of interests? Apparently, yes. "The New York Times" is reporting that Flynn told the Trump transition`s top lawyer on January 4th not only that he had double paid lobbying work on behalf of Turkey, but that he was under federal investigation for it. Those revelations raised serious questions starting with the president and vice president`s claims that they didn`t even know about Flynn`s conflict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has filed with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent for making more than $500,000 as a lobbyist essentially for Turkey.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say, hearing that story today was the first I heard of it.
LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: Did you know that he had had -- that received payments from the Russian government? That he had --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No.
HOLT: -- received payments from the Turkish government?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. But Obama perhaps knew because he had clearance from the Obama administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: All of this comes as the president now says he`s close to naming a new FBI director. His top choice right now, Joe Lieberman.
NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell is at the White House. NBC`s Mike Viqueira is on Capitol Hill. We`re also joined by NBC intelligence and national security reporter, Ken Dilanian.
Kelly, a remarkable change in tone with the White House. Last night, they seemed to welcome the special counsel. This morning, Trump tweeted that it was a witch hunt and you saw him right there, saying that he believes it divides the country.
KELLY O`DONNELL, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: And he sort of found a middle ground between the printed statement and his tweet. Not backing off in the sentiment that he thinks having a special counsel is divisive, in terms of dividing the voters, dividing his ability to pursue his agenda. Still critical of the choice but not quite as, perhaps, bombastic as he might have been.
At the same time, the president was very clear that he thinks this was the wrong move but respects that the decision was made. And maybe that`s the piece that we didn`t hear on his Twitter feed, the notion of respecting that this was a decision that could be made.
So, perhaps some middle ground between the initial wave of response from the White House, the tweets and then as the day evolved a bit.
So, that is where we stand, as far as president`s bracing for what will be a period of time where the issues around Russia, around Michael Flynn, may, in fact, be more subdued, only from the standpoint of a new investigation may, sort of, tamp down on what`s being publicly discussed, in terms of questions to him or new developments that are made public.
[17:05:05] If, in fact, Robert Mueller runs an investigation that is a very tight ship. Now, that, of course, does not affect the congressional investigations which move on separately.
So, a key point, today, is the president saying that, no, he did not tell James Comey to slow down the investigation. That`s a direct contrast from what we expect is in the memos, as they were described to reporters from James Comey`s contemporaneous notes after meeting with the president.
So, taking on James Comey, yet again, in a very turst (ph) but forceful way. And so, the president not backing down but also trying to perhaps appear more respectful of the process. We`ll see if that holds but that was at least a note that stood out that was a departure from the Twitter messages today -- Katy.
TUR: And, Kelly, he goes on a foreign trip tomorrow. There`s an expectation that he might name a new FBI director before that. We`re hearing that Joe Lieberman is the front-runner. Why Joe Lieberman?
O`DONNELL: Well, the president is saying he is very close to a decision and could do that soon. We don`t know if it will, in fact, be before he leaves for Saudi Arabia, Italy, Israel and Belgium. But Joe Lieberman stands out, according to sources we`ve talked to, in part because the president wants someone who would be at least appealing to Democrats.
We heard on a different matter the firing of Comey. Yet again today, the president said he thought Democrats would support that decision because so many had been critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail situation and investigation.
So, looking for less Democratic pushback is one function of a Joe Lieberman candidacy. Also, the very person of Joe Lieberman, a well-respected, very experienced, but a politician. Not the kind of law enforcement or intelligence background individual that are among the other candidates.
So, today, we just started to get some nudging from advisors that Joe Lieberman had emerged as potential front-runner. That`s why he`s being talked about today. There are lawmakers who might be more receptive to Lieberman than perhaps some other picks.
The president is looking for a popular choice. That`s what it comes down to -- Katy.
TUR: Kelly, thank you.
And, Mike, the Senate held a meeting with Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein who appointed the special counsel. Run us through some of the highlights and the reaction from the senators. Lindsey Graham, not too pleased about this.
MIKE VIQUEIRA, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, it`s -- I don`t think we should say Lindsey Graham isn`t pleased. Lindsey Graham was emphasizing that, in his view, this has now moved from a counter intelligence investigation to a criminal investigation.
Now, what`s the upshot and how does that affect Lindsey Graham in the Senate and the rest of the Congress, for that matter? Well, according to Lindsey Graham who heads a subcommittee that has asked for documents and even the appearance of James Comey before a hearing, that means that Congress now takes a back seat if, in fact, this is a criminal investigation.
I should I hasten to add that there are Republicans who did not -- Republicans, generally, Katy, want to see the congressional investigations put on a back burner. Democrats, including the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, came out and said, look, these investigations need to move forward as quickly as they possibly can. And, of course Mike Warner, the top Democrat on Senate Intel, felt the same way.
On the Joe Lieberman question, I had an opportunity to ask many of these senators. It`s not going to be all joining hands and rejoicing at the nomination of Joe Lieberman, that`s for certain. While John Cornyn, one of our top Republicans, said he thinks it`ll get all hundred senators if, in fact, that comes to pass. Claire McCaskill was very forceful, no, we don`t need a politician. Someone who has been in politics or in Congress to lead to FBI. Too volatile a nomination.
Even Senator Blumenthal, Richard Blumenthal, from Lieberman`s home state of Connecticut, hedged a great deal. He wouldn`t come out and say he was against Lieberman, but he echoed those thoughts that a politician should not get this nomination.
One other thing, Katy, I want to point out. The original purpose of this hearing, you remember way back last Tuesday when the controversy struck James Comey`s firing by President Trump, the original purpose was to get Rod Rosenstein in here to figure out exactly how this went down and whether he was coerced in any way into writing that memo.
According to a couple of the Democratic senators who came out, including Claire McCaskill and Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat, Rosenstein wrote the memo to Donald -- President Trump on May 9th. But, according to Durbin and McCaskill, again, he learned that had Comey would be fired on May 8th. So, Democrats, even though Robert Mueller has been appointed special counsel, are not giving up on trying to dig in to the tick tock and exactly how that went down -- Katy.
TUR: And we`re going to talk about that a little later. Mike, thank you.
Ken Dilanian, Michael Flynn has also been a big part of news today. A number of different stories coming out about him. Run us through those.
KEN DILANIAN, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NBC NEWS: That`s right, Katy. Mike Flynn continues to cast a long shadow over this presidency, well after he`s been fired.
We have new reporting on two fronts from NBC News today. We`re reporting that Flynn, along with former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, are the subjects and the prime focus of this sprawling FBI Russia investigation.
[17:10:11] Obviously, they`re not the only focus. But their conduct, and it`s not so much evidenced, at least in public, of their collusion with Russia. There`s really no evidence of that. But it`s their other activities.
And with Flynn, you know, it`s the three things that we know well, at this point. He was paid half a million dollars to lobby on behalf of Turkish interests. He didn`t disclose that until after the Justice Department questioned him about it. He failed to disclose that he was paid to appear at a state dinner in Moscow on behalf of Russian state television.
So, he seems to be on the FBI hot seat. And we also have reporting today from "The New York Times" that the administration knew he was under criminal investigation when they hired him. So, he doesn`t appear to ever have been properly vetted for the job of national security adviser -- Katy.
TUR: And what, Ken, these 18 phone calls. This Reuters report that there were 18 phone calls between the Trump campaign and between April and November and the Russians?
DILANIAN: Yes, that`s an interesting report. It appears to include some - - the Flynn-Kislyak contacts that we already knew about. But, again, you know, Flynn is also on the hook for failing to level with the vice president over those Kislyak contacts and he was interviewed by the FBI about that. We don`t know what he told the FBI.
And, you know, the other interesting report today came out of Yahoo! which suggested that Flynn is still in touch with the president.
DILANIAN: And he told friends that the president sent a message to him to stay strong. So, for those assuming that maybe Flynn will eventually, you know, give information about what happened behind closed doors in the Trump campaign, that`s a -- that`s an indication that the two are on the same page -- Katy.
TUR: Absolutely. Ken Dilanian, Kelly O`Donnell, Mike Viqueira, thank you, guys, very much.
O`DONNELL: Katy, one --
TUR: Go ahead.
O`DONNELL: While we were on the air here, I heard from a top Democratic Senate official who said the characterization of Joe Lieberman being easy to get through with Democrats is simply not true.
So, the assessment from the Trump team, thinking Lieberman would be more favorable, according to Democrats in the Senate, and Mike echoed this in his report. But I heard, as we were on the air here from top officials, saying a speed bump there. They don`t think that -- even though they like and respect Joe Lieberman, that a Lieberman appointment would be easy to persuade Democrats. So, that`s just coming through -- Katy.
TUR: Well, that shouldn`t come as a surprise. Nothing has been easy to persuade Democrats when it comes to the Trump administration, at least right now.
Kelly O`Donnell, again, thank you, Mike Viqueira and Ken Dilanian, too.
Let`s bring in tonight`s panel. Ari Melber is a MSNBC Chief Legal Analyst, Elise Jordan is an NBC political analyst and former White House aide and Rand Paul campaign advisor, and Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC Political Analyst as well and a "Daily Beast" columnist.
Guys, there is so much going on. And, remember, this is the witching hour, 5:00 is usually when more news comes out, so we`ll wait and see if that happens.
But, you know, given all the noise, what is -- what is the most important thing right now? What is the most important piece of news?
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the most important piece of news in the last 24 hours is clearly the Mueller appointment. This basically means that our institutions are strong and resilient, and that we`re going to be OK, as long as there`s not a war that Donald Trump gets us into that costs a lot of lives.
But there will be pushback from these very strong institutions of government. That there are a lot of people who recognize that we live in a society with the rule of law, and that the president can`t just shut down an investigation.
So, the system responded and I think we should all be happy about that.
TUR: If it does end up slowing down a congressional investigation or even putting speed bumps into a congressional investigation, Lindsey Graham saying it`s going to make it much more difficult to call witnesses they want -- they want to haul before Congress. Does that mean the information drip to the American public is also going to dry up?
ALTER: Probably. It will be less if the Senate and the Congress in a bipartisan fashion isn`t investigating this. The FBI does intel and they do crimes. And Rod Rosenstein basically went in and briefed them and Lindsey Graham`s summary is that he, Rod Rosenstein, said this should be treated, potentially, as if it were a criminal investigation.
Not confirming that it is but that gives, of course, the Senate more of a chance to say, yes, we should take a back seat.
TUR: And, Elise, what`s your reaction to the president coming out saying that basically the deputy A.G. was going to write that memo because of the poor, poor performance that FBI Director Comey gave in his Wednesday testimony. And then, we hear from the deputy A.G., according to Senators McCaskill and Durbin, that he knew that Trump was going to fire him regardless of the memo that he wrote.
ELISE JORDAN, POLITICAL ANALYST, NBC NEWS: President Trump can`t keep his story straight. It`s -- you know, like when you`re a child and your parents tell you that the truth is always the best way to go, simply because you aren`t going to mess up your story. He doesn`t know what his - - or he has a story that he simply doesn`t want to tell the public.
[17:15:08] I was in D.C. yesterday and it was really surprising to me how many Republicans are taking this seriously and are incredibly alarmed at the chaos that they`re seeing.
TUR: Oh, wait on that. What do you mean by taking it seriously?
JORDAN: The expose -- the potential exposure by not only Donald Trump but, perhaps, Mike Pence. Republicans are very concerned that this is full- blown crisis mode.
TUR: So, if a circumstance comes -- there are whispers -- and I don`t say this just out of nowhere. There are whispers on Capitol Hill about how much better a president Pence would be. That`s not surprising. People have said that all along, privately, not publicly.
But is president Pence somebody, if Trump did end up getting -- leaving the presidency in some manner, is governor Pence or Vice President Pence someone that would be able to take over that role in a -- in a clean way?
ALTER: Well, it was complicated, in the last couple days, because it came out that even though he`s not a liar on the scale of President Trump, he lied. You know, he was alerted that the new national security adviser was on the pay roll of the Turkish government and was asked about it directly on Fox and on NBC and he said no. He had said no before it came out. So, it`s -- that`s not credible.
TUR: And Flynn alerted the transition. He was the head -- he was the head of the transition.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: One point on that. I think the theory of the case which is how investigators look at it. What kind of case are we looking at? Is this a theory where there was an incident and now, afterward, people are trying to explain it or potentially cover it up? Or is the theory of the case that there is an ongoing problem? Right, that is the worst situation probably for the country but certainly for the people involved.
And if that is your theory of the case, and that doesn`t mean it`s been proven yet, that would explain some of the odd ongoing behavior because you`re not just trying, to your point, get your story straight about one thing and then put it behind you if it is ongoing.
Are there ongoing contacts, relationships or financial questions that may or may not touch the presidency? The grand jury subpoenas that have been reported and not wholly confirmed because they`re not a public matter related to finances, related to people`s financial decisions, related to these payments, the nonregistration under the Foreign Agent Registration Act is a felony if you fail to register.
It is not often prosecuted but that is another potential felony here. It doesn`t mean that you made a deal with a foreign adversary. It might just mean you failed to disclose things.
So, whether these are ongoing problems is a big question. And if it is ongoing, and the theory of the case, to your point, how do you get people, A, to get on good behavior with the government? And, B, how do you recruit new people? If you ever want a, quote, unquote, shake-up, do people want to enter that environment as a place to work?
TUR: How consequential are Donald Trump`s competing statements?
MELBER: Well, they`re hugely consequential if an investigation rises to the level of looking at his statements. Now, that is, I want to remind everyone, disfavored under longstanding bipartisan precedent.
In other words, criminal investigators, even in a special counsel scenario, are not usually focused on the president`s conduct. And you do not indict a sitting president over normal crime. So, that would take a lot, even with this special counsel.
But it`s not good, if I can restate the obvious, to have other recent former aides, senior aides, implicated in what Sally Yates said, quote, "underlying criminal conduct" and underlying criminal statute.
TUR: I want to get --
ALTER: If there was nothing to hide, why would he be calling it a witch hunt when you have a widely respected former director of the FBI in charge?
TUR: Well, it could be that Donald Trump does -- never wants to back down. I mean, just looking at it from a psychological standpoint of how he behaves. It could just be him not -- refusing to admit any wrongdoing whatsoever, even if it was initially not so significant.
ALTER: And we shouldn`t get ahead of ourselves in thinking that there will definitely be collusion at the end of this investigation. It could be that there are no indictable crimes that were -- that were committed and -- but this Reuters` story that there were 18 contacts between people from the Trump campaign and the Russians is a big story. Because you have to believe for the president, or then candidate Trump, not to have been implicated, that those 18 contacts took place without his knowledge.
JORDAN: But this is an ongoing crisis primarily because of Mike Flynn. At the -- you know, just separate of everything else, Mike Flynn`s conduct has really caused such a serious problem within this White House.
And you look at President Trump`s response to it and his inability to cut ties with Mike Flynn, and his ongoing support of Mike Flynn, despite these, you know, allegations that are quite incredible. He was accepting money from the Turkish government and called off an operation. Influents -- CentCom wanted an operation to go forward. And because Mike Flynn was on the payroll of the Turkish government, he stopped it. It`s just staggering.
ALTER: This is a fiercely important point because Donald Trump cuts people loose without a thought. He even cut Roy Cohn loose when he had aids.
[17:20:00] You know, the only people that he doesn`t have a nasty word for, in the last two years, are Vladimir Putin and now Mike Flynn.
So, what do they have on him? That`s the question that we have to ask.
TUR: And that is a good point.
ALTER: It`s probably something.
TUR: Because, frankly, you know, Donald Trump has let a number of people go that had been loyal up unto a point, and useful to a point, and then not so useful any longer.
And Nicole Wallace made this point a moment ago, in the last hour. She said, three of his most loyal surrogates and advisers, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani and one other that`s escaping me at the moment, none which of got any sort of role.
MELBER: Corey Lewandowski.
ALTER: Corey Lewandowski.
TUR: Corey Lewandowski as well, you could say that.
TUR: Gingrich, that`s who it was. Newt Gingrich. That none of them got a role in the Trump administration.
I want to mention this. The White House spokesman -- a spokesman from the White House is now saying "The New York Times" story is flat wrong. Neither Michael Flynn nor his attorneys told transition counsel that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign.
So, they are denying that Michael Flynn or any of his representatives told the transition on January 2nd that he was under investigation.
MELBER: And briefly, the problem with that is that Mike Flynn has criminal exposure, criminal liability for the failure to notify. Because under the foreign payments did he receive, he should have notified and didn`t. So, he`s kind of in a bad spot either way. Did you notify people in the transition about something true or did you fail to do so? It`s not actually good either way.
ALTER: When he gets squeezed, it`ll be very interesting to see what he says. Now, right now, he`s supportive of the president. But, down the road, as the wheels of justice grind down, he`s going to have to tell what he knows in detail.
TUR: We`re going to have to leave it here, because we want to get the rest of the breaking news and the news of the hour in. And we`re going to come back a little bit later in the hour to talk to you guys.
There`s a lot more we need to get to on all these breaking stories. And don`t forget, 5:00 p.m., again, has been the witching hour for breaking news this week so stick with us because you never know what`s going to break next.
Coming up, we head to the Hill where deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein just wrapped up a briefing with senators. Senator Chris Murphy was there and he joins us straight ahead.
TUR: Welcome back.
Here`s what Republicans were saying about a special counsel before former FBI director, Robert Mueller, took over the Russian probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: The notion that somehow a special counsel will bring facts to light just isn`t true.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this demand for special prosecutors every time you turn around is just sickening.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, U.S. PRINCIPAL DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We don`t think it`s necessary. You`ve got a House committee, a Senate committee and the Department of Justice all working on this.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: To suggest that I`d be for a special prosecutor would say I don`t think I can do my job.
SEN. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don`t think that`s a good idea. I think the Intelligence committees are the ones that should do this.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: A new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I see no need for a special prosecutor. It`s not a criminal investigation.
SEAN SPICER, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have plenty of entities looking into that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Less than enthusiastic but that was then. Today, Republicans were much more open to a special counsel, saying things like they commend the Department of Justice. They welcome Mueller`s role. And they respect the decision.
[17:25:07] More MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) When you heard today, sir, do you believe that the deputy attorney general knew before he wrote that memo that James Comey was going to be fired?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was it that he said that led you to believe that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He knew the day before.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I`m not sure he addressed that with a level of clarity.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: He did acknowledge that he knew Comey would be removed prior to him writing his memo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUR: Welcome back.
Just one day after he jolted the political world by appointing a special counsel to handle the FBI`s investigation into Russian interference in the last election, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein went to Capitol Hill today to brief the entire Senate.
Leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer initially invited him to speak about the firing of the former FBI Director James Comey, but we`ve had quite the week of fallout since then.
Rosenstein, of course, is overseeing any investigations concerning Russia and associates of the Trump campaign, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Joining me now is one of the senators that went to that briefing today. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thank you for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me.
TUR: I want to get a little bit of clarity from you. Did you hear that Rod Rosenstein knew that the president was going to fire James Comey before he wrote his recommendation?
MURPHY: Clear as day. There`s no question about it. It was in his opening statement. He laid out the narrative that ultimately led to the decision to fire Comey. Now, there are lots of holes in that narrative.
But in his own opening statement, he told us very clearly that he found out that the president was planning on firing Trump and then he wrote the memo which was used as the justification for it.
Now, the dates on the memo already hinted that that`s how the timeline worked but he confirmed that for us this morning. And it means that the letter that Donald Trump delivered to James Comey, which says he relied on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, just isn`t true.
TUR: And did he indicate that he really also wanted Comey to go? That this was something that he believed in as well?
MURPHY: He did. Now, he was totally unable to discuss his conversation with the president. He didn`t want to talk about the circumstances surrounding his memo. He didn`t want to talk about whether there were edits made to his memo.
But he did stand by what eventually ended up in it. He believed that the conduct of James Comey, surrounding the Flynn investigation, merited his dismissal. But he would not confirm that that was the reason that led the president to make that decision. In fact, he hinted, at the very least, that that was not ultimately the reason. We all know, of course, now that it wasn`t.
TUR: Did he say why he decided to appoint a special counsel to bring in Bob Mueller?
MURPHY: You know, again, he was very reluctant to go into details. But I think he said there was a combination of the unique nature of this investigation and he wouldn`t go into any more detail about what that meant. And the fact that the public faith had really eroded in the ability of the FBI and he wanted to restore that faith.
And I take him at face value. And I`m glad he appointed not only a special counsel will somebody that both parties can have faith in. And he further made several assurances, Katy, during that meeting that he would let Mueller bring this investigation wherever it led. That he wasn`t going to have to come back and check with Rosenstein to make sure that the investigation was as expansive as it needed to be.
TUR: And are you confident right now in the deputy A.G.? In the A.G.?
MURPHY: I would have liked him to answer some more questions today. But, you know, I took his carefulness around giving us details as an indication as to how expansive he thinks this criminal investigation is going to be. He would not talk about the circumstances that led to his memo being released to the public which suggests he thinks that there`s a potential that even his memo is subject of an obstruction of justice case that the new special counsel may be pursuing. He took pains to tell us that there was going to be no political check on the scope or size of this investigation. And I`m trying to take him at his word.
TUR: Senator, what else did you want to hear from him?
MURPHY: Well, I guess I was a little shocked at how little he was able to tell us about the exact nature of the conversations and the construction of the memo that led to Comey`s firing. And the reason for that seemed pretty clear, that there is a potential obstruction of justice case surrounding the way in which Comey was fired, and so he felt that he couldn`t share any of those details with us.
So what he basically said is I stand by the memo but I can`t talk to you about almost anything else surrounding the decision to fire Comey because that is potentially within the scope of the special counsel. That was a little stunning to many of us.
TUR: Did he say he thought it could be a criminal investigation? Or that is in fact was a criminal investigation?
MURPHY: I think he said that this all could be within the criminal investigation. I think his main message was that he wanted to allow for Mueller to be able to decide the scope of that investigation before he gave us any information that might end up being inside that scope.
So, no, I don`t think he was telegraphing that there was definitely a criminal case to be made on the construction of his memo or the firing of Comey, but he certainly didn`t rule it out.
TUR: So, my question is, how does this affect the senate investigation. Lindsey Graham a few minutes ago after that meeting said a criminal investigation would limit the authority that congress has to call certain witnesses because the special counsel could put a kibosh on that. Are you concerned this is going to jam up your investigation?
MURPHY: I think that was always the potential because if there is a criminal case that is moving forward whether it was under the FBI or a special counsel, that would limit the information that can go to the senate and the house committee. So, there would always going to be some constraints on what our process was able to look at. And that`s in part why we wanted the special counsel.
In the end our job is different. We are not trying to come up with criminal charges. We are on a fact finding mission in part to understand whether the senate and the house need to take action against people in the executive branch and will be informed by their investigation. We are not going to be coming up with our own criminal recommendations, I don`t think.
TUR: Senator, what if congress doesn`t agree with the recommendations or the findings that Robert Mueller gets?
MURPHY: Again, that`s why we are going to be doing independent review of the information that they glean. I think once they have gotten to the logical end of a potential criminal case, then they can forward that information to us. And they can do so along the way as well.
I think the Intelligence Committee is also going to be getting information from plenty of other sources. They have independently subpoenaed Michael Flynn, so there will be some concurrent fact-finding to be done. It is just in pursuit of different ends.
TUR: Senator Chris Murphy, thank you very much.
MURPHY: Thanks, Katy.
TUR: Still ahead, Robert Mueller`s fact-finding mission. We`ll talk to a legal insider about the scope of the new special counsel`s Russia investigation. Keep it right here.
TUR: Up next, we`ll hear from a D.C. legal titan who first rose to prominence working on the Watergate case. Richard Ben-Veniste joins us with his insight to what`s ahead for Robert Mueller`s investigation. But first, here`s Hampton Pearson with the "CNBC Market Wrap." Hi, Hampton.
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Katy. So we have stocks rebounding from the biggest sell-off of 2017 as at least some investors rumor confident President Trump will shake off the latest controversy and move ahead with his pro-business agenda. The Dow adding 56 points. The S&P gaining 8. The Nasdaq advancing by 43 points.
Fewer Americans are filing for unemployment. Weekly jobless claims fell by 4,000 in the last week. A surge in online and store traffic helping Wal- Mart sales. Stock in the world`s largest retailer rose 2.3 percent after quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.
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LINDSEY GRAHAM, U.S. SENATOR FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: The general consensus is it was a good decision to pick a special counsel. A lot of confidence in Mr. Mueller. I think the shock to the body is it is now considered a criminal investigation and congress`s ability to conduct investigations of all things Russia has been severely limited.
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TUR: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." That was Senator Lindsey Graham after that all senators` briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So with former FBI Director Robert Mueller taking over the FBI`s investigation, how will that impact the other ongoing investigations in congress? Is congress sidelined?
Let`s break it down with, let`s break down what the appointment of a special counsel or prosecutor means. Joining me now is Richard Ben-Veniste. He was one of the lead prosecutors during Watergate and he served on the bipartisan 9/11 commission. So, Richard, thank you very much, first of all.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE COUNSEL: Glad to be here.
TUR: Your expertise is much needed here because there are a whole lot of terms, special counsel versus special commission. What`s the difference there, and is special counsel not quite as independent?
BEN-VENISTE: A special counsel is far more powerful in the sense that the special counsel is in the same position as the attorney general of the United States for conducting this investigation. Mr. Mueller will have at his disposal the entire resources of the FBI. He will have the benefit of everything that has been investigated up to this point.
He will have such agents as he needs and resources. He will have a staff. He will select that staff from among prosecutors who are now in government as well as others who he will bring into the fold. The task of the independent, rather, the special counsel, is to investigate and then if warranted, to bring charges through a grand jury, indictments for violations of criminal law.
And that`s much different than a commission such as the 9/11 commission, which was empowered to investigate and make recommendations. Both of those things are different than senate investigations while they.
TUR: That`s my question. Is this going to have a problematic effect on the -- or at least sidelined the congressional investigations?
BEN-VENISTE: No, it should not. There should be coordination between the special counsel and between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee so that no one is stepping on the other`s work. But the priority will be that of the special counsel in doing his investigation.
That doesn`t mean that the senate and the house committees who have independent constitutional obligations to investigate should be sidelined. This is in addition to the work that the congressional committees are obliged to do in connection with oversight.
TUR: So what is the obligation that a special counsel has to keep the public updated and eventually to inform the public of the findings of their investigation?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, the special counsel really has no obligation to speak other than through official acts, meaning the return of an indictment in the trial of a case. And so, and to explain in connection with those public actions what the meaning is of what he`s doing. But it is not for the special counsel to keep the public apprised about what he`s doing.
Contrary to that, it is very much the function of congress to hold open hearings and bring the public along, utilizing their power of compulsory process, subpoenas, to get that information out in the public and to bring the public along. Now, where there is potential conflict is in witnesses who are reluctant or unwilling to testify.
The power invested in the attorney general and now the special counsel is to be able to trump the invocation of fifth amendment privilege by granting use immunity to witnesses who assert their privilege. Now it would not be appropriate in my opinion in this case now that we have a special counsel for congress on its own to grant immunity to any witnesses without explicit coordination with the special counsel.
TUR: Richard Ben-Veniste, thank you so much for giving us clarity on that. There is a lot of new terms, a lot of different definitions for those terms, and we appreciate your expertise, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: You`re very welcome.
TUR: Still ahead, President Trump is making fund raising great again but not exactly in the way you might think. Keep it here.
TUR: Welcome back. A big sign today that President Donald Trump is motivating Democrats, at least when it comes to their pocket books. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced they have gotten $20 million in online contributions since beginning of the year. That`s already more than they raised during all of 2015. The most recent off election year.
And that`s not the only good news about campaign money today for Democrats. Montana`s special election candidate, Rob Quist, announced he surpassed $5 million raised from more than 200,000 individual contributors. $5 million doesn`t sound like a ton of political money but it does go a long way in Montana. We`ll be right back.
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MURPHY: I was a little shocked at how little he was able to tell us about the exact nature of the conversations and the construction of the memo that led to Comey`s firing. And the reason for that seemed pretty clear, that there is a potential obstruction of justice case surrounding the way in which Comey was fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TUR: That was Senator Chris Murphy moments ago and that brings us back to "The Lid." The panel is here; Ari Melber, Elise Jordan, and Jonathan Alter. Guys, Chris Murphy, you just heard him talking about the meeting that the senators had with Rod Rosenstein saying that he wasn`t very forthcoming on how the recommendation process came the other week when Donald Trump asked the A.G. to lay out the case for firing Comey. There is a potential political obstruction case there, Ari.
ARI MELBER, CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT FOR MSNBC, JOURNALIST FOR NBC NEWS: Look, there`s three categories here. There`s what they were originally investigating, if there were any crimes committed. Then there`s whether there was any inappropriate conduct in covering that up. And everyone knows Watergate was more about the cover up than the original bungled burglary.
And then because of the way Donald Trump has spoken in public and because of what Comey has appeared to release through contemporaneous documentation, there is a wider question on whether apart from all that there is an attempt to shut down the investigation. I would say with today`s news, we don`t have any reason to believe that Mueller and the special counsel will be focused on the third door.
TUR: So if Mueller only focuses on whether or not there was collusion or coordination between the campaign and the Russians, is that going to be enough for folks out in the country who say they want to know everything that Donald Trump is trying to do, and that does include whether or not he`s trying to impede an investigation?
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that depends on how aggressive Mueller is, and his history is he is a very aggressive prosecutor. Before he was head of the FBI, he was a very, very successful prosecutor. Actually left private law practice at one point, even though he had held a senior position in the Justice Department, to go work at a local level prosecuting crime.
He loves finding where crimes have been committed. The reason that so many Democrats also want a broader congressional investigation is that that that is so focused on criminal -- potential criminal activity that it might miss larger lessons that we need to protect us against the Russians should they try to interfere in another one of our elections, which I think is inevitable unless we develop some means of guarding against that.
So, that kind of thing, which the public very much wants to hear about, it`s not clear whether that will be covered by this investigation. TUR: So, Elise, what does this do for Republicans on Capitol Hill? Does this give them some breathing room or does this underscore the significance of the questions about how influential Russia was and whether or not there are ties between the Trump transition, Trump campaign, and a foreign government?
ELISE JORDAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I`m just watching Senator Mitch McConnell really closely because he is going to kind of -- congressional Republicans are really going to follow the tone that he sets. And so far it looks like he`s kind of letting Senator Burr do what he wants.
And he and Senator Warner are like minded with how they are going to proceed forward with intel committee. So, I think that while Republicans are wary of what the results are going to be, they`re keeping their distance because they just don`t know what`s going on.
TUR: But ultimately, this is a question of a foreign government infiltrating, trying to manipulate, trying to attack, if you will, our sovereignty, our democracy, our election process. That at its core has got to be something that Republicans -- you would imagine that they would be a little bit louder about that.
JORDAN: You know, for the past 16 months Donald Trump has forced Republicans to defend the indefensible so many times. I mean, you have, just from the Access Hollywood video, you know, our traditional values.
TUR: That`s crude language. This is a foreign government.
JORDAN: But Donald Trump`s behavior throughout the course of the campaign and the thing -- you know, he`s supporting single payer tax and health care, Republicans have abandoned all those principles and they decided let`s put down, you know, let`s go with Donald Trump. Now, though, his behavior while in office has been so destabilizing.
They can`t just do that any more because the stakes are so high, and because they`ve seen how his own staff, they`re just dropping like flies, abandoning their integrity when they enter the White House and try to back him up.
ALTER: The truth is going to come out. The question is will we see the taxes or not. I think with Mueller in there, there is a better chance before this is out, we`ll know what`s in those Donald Trump taxes.
TUR: We will see. That`s quite a tease to say. Thank you so much.
MELBER: Katy, I don`t know if you notice, but.
TUR: Ari, hold on, I got to go. I`m getting.
MELBER: . death and taxes are the only two things you can`t avoid.
TUR: Ari Melber, who always wants the last word.
TUR: Appreciate it. Guys, thank you very much. Up next, senators, they`re just like us.
TUR: In case you missed it, senators, they`re just like us. A photographer snapped a few shots today. Republican senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse shooting the breeze with their colleagues. The pictures show a side of the senate we don`t often see on C-SPAN, oh they`re funny. They hang out in workout clothes. They chat outside their office when they`re supposed to be inside doing work.
A couple of senators had some fun with the shots on Twitter. Ben Sasse twitted, "holy moly, it looks like Senator Schumer and I are smoking reefer outside of a wedding." Look at Senator Schumer there. And Schumer responded, "well, that escalated quickly."
That`s all tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." Hopefully some more funny pictures of senators hanging around in workout clothes shooting the breeze. I`m Katy Tur. You can catch me at 2:00 every day. "For the Record" with Greta starts right now. Hi, Greta.
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