MTP Daily, Transcript 5/25/2017

Guests: Juan Zarate, Ken Dilanian, Jennifer Palmieri, Ramesh Ponnuru, Eliana Johnson

Show: MTP DAILY Date: May 25, 2017 Guest: Juan Zarate, Ken Dilanian, Jennifer Palmieri, Ramesh Ponnuru, Eliana Johnson

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: That was an all-star panel. I loved it. So, it`s good to see them there up in New York. We`ll see you soon, I hope.

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Thanks, Chuck.

TODD: Well, if it`s Thursday, the political punches have gotten real. Tonight, no apologies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, I think he should apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The Montana Republican special election candidate faces an assault charge for attacking a reporter as the final votes were being cast. Where is the outrage among Republican office holders?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN: The people of the state of Montana are going to decide today who they will send to Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Plus, the dubious document. Did unreliable intelligence inform James Comey`s handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation?

And America first. President Trump hits the world body he once called obsolete.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: NATO members must finally contribute their fair share --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

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

So, what the heck is going on in Montana and what the heck has happened to most of the Republican Party right now? Their reaction to Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte`s violent confrontation with "Guardian" reporter, Ben Jacobs, has been alarmingly apathetic.

In case you missed it, Jacobs says Gianforte body slammed him as he was asking a question about health care. Here`s what the exchange sounded like on tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BEN JACOBS, REPORTER: I was just curious (INAUDIBLE.)

GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: OK, speak with Shane, please.

I`m sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TODD: The Jacobs account was corroborated by a Fox News crew who saw it happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gianforte grabbed him by the neck, both hands. Slid him to the side. Body slammed him and then got on top of him and started punching and then yelling at him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But Gianforte`s campaign blamed Jacobs and then tried to smear him. Quote, "It`s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer barbeque."

Gianforte has since been charged with misdemeanor assault. But, folks, as bad as that incident was last night, it arguably got worse today. Some House Republicans seemed to almost defend what he did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: We didn`t have a course on body slamming when I went to school. I missed that course. I`m sorry I missed it.

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: It`s ironic that this focus is on this one event when occupy Wall Street, you know, attacking civilians. The left has precipitated this tense confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: OK then. A Republican Congressman Steve Stivers who runs the House Republicans` campaign arm also defended Gianforte, saying, quote, "From what I know of Greg Gianforte, this was totally out of character. But we all make mistakes. We need to let the facts surrounding this incident unfold. Today`s special election is bigger than any one person. It`s about the views of all Montanans."

And then, there`s Republican Congressman Glenn Grothman who said, I think he`d be very welcome here. Seems like a good guy. We need somebody who`s going to drain the swamp. And if you`re draining the swamp, you`re on our team.

Now, some Republicans did not condone what Gianforte did but they are rooting for him anyway to win tonight`s special election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I believe we should all treat the press with respect and I try to lead by example. I, of course, hope that the Republican is successful today because I think his views are the views of the people of Montana.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The conversation should always be civil.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would he be welcome in the Republican caucus if he wins tonight?

DENT: Yes.

RYAN: Should the gentleman apologize? Yes, I think he should apologize.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he wins, will you approve (ph) him?

RYAN: If he wins, he has been chosen by the Montana --the people of Montana who their Congressman is going to be. I`m going to let the people of Montana decide who they want as their representative. That`s not our choice. That`s the people of Montana who choose that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: For what it`s worth, we`ve really only seen two full-throated condemnations. Senator Ben Sasse who tweeted, a big part of a public servant`s job is teaching civics. If the first amendment means anything, it means you can`t body slam a journalist.

And then, there`s Congressman Mark Sanford who, strangely enough, seemed to channel what I was thinking on this. Quote, "People feel like if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, then I guess I can too. And that is a very, very dangerous phenomenon. I think it is more general than it is specific to the press, but the press is one of the bogeyman out there. There`s a reason the founding fathers put the first amendment as the first one we all need to think about."

And then, there`s the political impact of the race itself which has been thrown into total chaos. The race now looks more winnable than ever for the Democrats but this incident, ironically, might have been the worst thing could have happened to them.

[17:05:06] If Republicans lose, they can now blame on it a bad candidate who snapped at the end of a campaign. And if Democrats lose, they`ll be blamed for not spending enough time and money earlier in this race that clearly, by the end, was primed for an upset.

MSNBC Correspondent Garrett Haake is in Bozeman, Montana. And, Garrett, I think the big question is, we know two-thirds of the vote is in. And you assume that the people that have already voted are people that always vote. And they probably always vote the same way every time.

The people that vote today may truly be the swing voters. What have you seen today?

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chuck, it`s important to note that Gianforte has been totally silent today. He has not said anything beyond that statement last night.

And based on the voters I was talking to today, that strategy might actually work for him.

But we spoke to voters at a polling place in Bozeman that I would have to say was probably more friendly to Rob Quist, the Democrat who`s running in this race. And I`ve talked to probably two dozen voters, admittedly not a very scientific sample.

But nobody told me they were changing their vote because of what happened. Some of the Quist people said they were, sort of, pumped up. They felt like they had to defend Montana and come out and make their votes.

But even those the people who were backing Gianforte, the ones who were, sort of, more cautiously doing so, said, yes, maybe this is the kind of thing that might make me question his character a little bit. But the policy differences here were so stark, they were still going to pull the lever for him anyway.

So, what you didn`t see was anybody saying this is the kind of thing that moved me from one camp to the other.

TODD: You said that Gianforte has been silent and Quist has barely mentioned this, has he?

HAAKE: Yes. Quist -- I was with the Quist campaign yesterday when this happened. And his campaign staff, sort of, scrambled to respond at all. They brought him out on camera and his only comment at the time was that it was a law enforcement issue.

He didn`t comment on it again at another event later in the night. It`s possible his campaign just decided this was the kind of thing where they can`t really make this night any darker for Gianforte.

But the DCCC, the Democratic Campaign Committee, doesn`t necessarily agree with that. They`re running radio ads in Montana today to make sure people hear that sound.

TODD: Ah, they`re jumping in very, very late in this process. Garrett Haake in Montana on the ground for us. Garrett, thanks very much.

And joining me now is the chairman of the Democratic Party, Tom Perez. Mr. Chairman, welcome to the show, sir.

TOM PEREZ (D), CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Always good to be with you, Chuck.

TODD: Let me start with a simple question. I don`t know if there`s a simple answer. How do you explain losing -- how do you explain losing tonight if you come up short?

PEREZ: Well, you know, we`re moving forward into Montana. What happened yesterday, Chuck, is indefensible. It`s not only potentially criminal but it`s really conduct unbecoming a potential member of Congress.

If you can`t assistant the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And the irony about that was that he was asked a simple question about the Affordable Care Act. It is indefensible but there`s no excuse for knocking the guy over. And we`re working hard.

You know, underdogs win and Rob Quist, I talked to him a few days ago. He`s working his tail off. I think we have some wind at our back. We`ve got the issues on our side. It`s a state that Donald Trump won comfortably.

And so, he is undeniably an underdog. It`s vote by mail so a lot of people voted prior to when the assault took place.

At the same time, you know, again, I -- people -- this health care issue is very real because, you know, it`s not just Democrats that have pre-existing conditions. It`s people across the board. And what they`re trying to do to 10s of millions of people who rely on access to quality health care is unconscionable and indefensible.

TODD: Right.

PEREZ: So, I hope they`ll take that to the polls. And, by the way, people can register as we speak and I hope they get out there and register to vote.

TODD: But the reason I ask -- the reason I ask my question the way I asked it, which is you caught a break here at the end. A candidate gets exposed to character tests. He gets exposed in the last minute.

But the question is whether the Democrats were there in time to take advantage. I know it`s late here. But you look at the spending advantage. The Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has outspent the Democrats three to one. The Republican Pacs, including one led by Speaker Ryan, has outspent the Democratic Pacs in this race 16 to one.

Your own organization would not tell us how much money you`ve spent but the RNC has spent almost a million dollars. The fact of the matter is, why didn`t you guys take this race seriously earlier? You didn`t. You have lately but you -- the money -- you didn`t put your money where your mouth is.

PEREZ: Well, Chuck, you`ve run campaigns so you understand in the world of post citizens united, we`re never going to match the Republicans dollar for dollar. That`s why we need to overturn citizens united. All the dark money that goes there and elsewhere.

[17:10:05] But I`m proud of what we`ve done. You know, we have a -- we`ve had a digital team out there for some time. We`ve made significant investments, not only in the digital operation but --

TODD: So, you don`t acknowledge that you should have jumped in sooner? That if you guys come up two or three points short, you`re going to sit there and say, boy, imagine if you took this race as seriously as you took Georgia two months ago?

PEREZ: Well, you know -- well, Chuck, you know, the -- first of all, the polls aren`t closed yet. And we are --

TODD: No, you still might win. There`s no doubt.

PEREZ: -- I`m very -- I feel very good about this. And, Chuck, you know, the reality is he should be up by 20 points because that`s how things have happened in the past the in Montana.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: Well, wait a minute, the state has elected a Democratic senator. Not that long ago, the state had two Democratic senators. John Tester has been reelected twice. It is not a shock that a Democrat is competitive.

I was shocked, frankly, Mr. Chairman -- and this is more may be a question directed to the DCCC. I was shocked at the lack of interesting in the national party in trying to engage in this race sooner.

PEREZ: Well, I actually have great respect for Ben Ray Lujan who has done a great job at the DCCC. And you know what? They have been on T.V. for some time.

They have been, again, boots on the ground for some time. You know, I -- when I ran my first race -- when I ran, I got outspent, like, three to one, four to one.

And you know what? We spent smart. And we had both -- I thought a better candidate, a better message, and, you know, a better strategy out there.

And the grassroots support out there for Rob Quist is remarkable. Tapping into that through a lot of the digital investments that we`ve been making. Because in a state as wide as and big as Montana, what you have to do is, you know, connect with people virtually. Use all the digital tools you have.

And I think we`ve been doing a pretty darn good job of connecting in that way. And I -- again, I spoke with Mr. Quist a couple days -- a few days ago. And, you know, as I`ve said throughout, you know, how can we be helpful?

TODD: Yes.

PEREZ: And I`m proud of the work we`ve been doing.

TODD: Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming on. Appreciate you coming on and sharing your views, sir.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

TODD: You got it.

Trying get some perspective from the other side. I`m joined by a former elected Republican member of Congress, Tom Davis. He was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

As you might expect, not a lot of elected -- currently elected Republicans were anxious to talk about this story today.

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER CHAIRMAN, NRC: Right.

TODD: Tom, welcome. Let me ask you this. Can you explain why it is so hard for so many House Republicans, including Speaker Ryan, to simply say, while we`re always pulling for the Republicans to win in these -- in these special elections, this man doesn`t have the character to be in the Congress. Why is it so difficult?

DAVIS: Because it`s a seat in Congress. This is a power struggle, at this point. Democrats need 24 seats. These are parliamentary elections, Chuck. It`s not about the person anymore.

TODD: I understand that but we -- is political expediency always going to trump small D Democratic decency?

DAVIS: You may -- you may get it tomorrow.

TODD: Right, it`s always the day after though. It`s always after the polls close.

DAVIS: After the -- the day after the election. Nobody wants to be the person that throws your candidate under the bus on election day.

TODD: You know, it was -- Josh Barrow had an interesting piece today in "Business Insider" where he essentially through all of this, sort of, the way the name calling goes on the right.

I think we have the quote we can pull -- put it up here. I hope we have the element in here. Republicans are a party who now celebrates the bully who steals lunch money because, hey, at least he`s not the nerd who gets his lunch money stolen. A party that celebrates not just cruelty but juvenile cruelty.

There`s been sort of a juvenile nature to by people I used to consider adults in the (INAUDIBLE.)

DAVIS: We`re in a system today and it`s such a divided country where bad behavior gets rewarded. That`s the reality. You get up and yell, you lie, in the State of the Union. You`ll -- you raise a million dollars online the next week. That`s the society we live in today.

TODD: You know it`s going to get copy catted.

DAVIS: It is being copycatted. You look at the 2010 Tea Party. Democrats are copying that -- have been using that same attitude now going into town meetings and everything else. We call it the herbal Tea Party --

TODD: Right.

DAVIS: -- on the left. They went to school on what the Republicans did. And each side, it tends to get exaggerated each cycle no matter which party`s in control.

TODD: Look, you`re a long-time handicapper as well on all of this stuff. Obviously, if Quist had won without this political earthquake.

DAVIS: I agree.

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) of the door.

DAVIS: I agree with that.

TODD: He wins now, Republicans can chalk it up to, oh, hey, this guy -- you know, hey, we had a bad candidate. And they`ll trash him and throw him under the bus. What`s the reality here? How much trouble -- how much trouble is Speaker Ryan in not becoming -- being speaker?

DAVIS: Well, let me give you historical perspective. The last three times one party has controlled the House, the Senate and the presidency was in 1994, 2006, 2010. Huge ways.

There is a vast group in the middle of this country that doesn`t trust either party and they use the mid-terms elections to make a correction. Basically, not to give the president an unchecked --

[17:15:08] TODD: (INAUDIBLE.)

DAVIS: Put the normal on the president instead of giving you a blank check.

TODD: Under normal times, this a difficult cycle. Throw in Russia, throw in health care and now what?

DAVIS: You throw -- yes, but under normal times it`s tough. And they haven`t been able to -- Congress, at this point, hasn`t been able to produce much of a legislative part.

Now, look, you`ve got 18 months. You still have a long way to go for Republicans to wake up and recognize, maybe we ought to pass some things and work together as a team.

Because I can tell you this, if they don`t work together as a team and get stuff passed, their base is just going to disappear and not show up.

TODD: And tell me about -- look, you were a former RNC guy. We are in this period. You have two types of candidate recruiting you have to do right now. Find candidates to run in seats. And find -- make sure incumbents don`t retire.

If I were Paul Ryan right now, how concerned -- I would be concerned about a bunch of members going, geez, I don`t know if this is worth the effort that it`s going to be, especially even if I win, I may be in the minority.

DAVIS: Well, you have a lot of long-term members that really never had a race and had to run an operation that are getting protesters at the town meeting, picketers outside. And you`re going to ask yourself, do I really want to go through this again? Do I want to go out undefeated and unindicted? Or do I want to come down and face a real tough reelect?

TODD: And when does that clock start becoming -- when are you up against that clock? Is this what the summer is about? Is this August recess? Is it the -- when does that assessment -- when do you start seeing that -- sort of, that assessment take place?

DAVIS: Well, I think when you go back in August, when you come back and you take a look at things, you`ll really start -- people taking a hard look. But (INAUDIBLE) Ross Leighton (ph) who had every right to retire because he had a great career, at this point.

TODD: Right.

DAVIS: But the Republican vote would have probably held that seat because she`s got her own --

TODD: She could have held it.

DAVIS: Yes, her own personal brand.

TODD: Yes.

DAVIS: But you take that out and it becomes very difficult in a tough year.

And the other thing is the transactional money in this town and across the country.

TODD: Yes.

DAVIS: They like to go with winners. And if it looks like you`re going to lose, you`re going to see some of that money shift over to the Democrats as well.

TODD: Very interesting. Tom Davis, a little bit of a reality check. Good to see you, sir.

DAVIS: Thanks, Chuck.

TODD: By the way, Greg Gianforte was originally scheduled to be on the show tonight. He cancelled this morning.

Next, we`re going to hear -- we`ll hear from Ben Jacobs, a reporter involved in the confrontation in Montana.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

A big question heading into the president`s first NATO summit today. Would he reaffirm the United States` support for NATO`s article five? That`s the NATO requirement that an attack on one member country is an attack on all.

Well, after Mr. Trump`s tough rhetoric regarding NATO on the campaign trail, many NATO members were hoping to hear specific reassurance on article five.

Now, President Trump did mention article five in his remarks to NATO, but he stopped short of explicitly endorsing the provision.

But is that actually unusual? It happens to be not that unusual. We went back and checked. The last four U.S. presidents also did not mention article five by name in their first NATO addresses either.

And that said, none of their -- none of them were being questioned on whether they considered NATO an important alliance or not.

[17:20:00] A senior White House official told NBC News that the president`s participation in today`s summit should be seen as an endorsement of article five. And White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said after the speech that the president is 100 percent committed to article five.

We`ll have more on the tensions surrounding the president`s meeting with the NATO allies after the break. We`ll be back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

Top story, of course, is body slamgate, if you want to call it that. It has shaken up American politics as Montana voters head to the polls.

Kasie Hunt, my colleague, who cover Congress for us, spoke to the reporter, Ben Jacobs, just a few moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASIE HUNT, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: And he ended up physically on top of you.

BEN JACOBS, REPORTER, "GUARDIAN": Yes. Yes.

HUNT: And you did not touch him, at any point during this contrary to the statement they made later?

JACOBS: No. No. No. No. I would never touch him. I would never. And my job is to -- I mean, I`m there to be a reporter. I`m not -- this is not -- this is -- you know, it`s American politics. It`s not supposed to be professional wrestling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: I`m joined now by the panel. Eliana Johnson, the National Political Reporter with "Politico." Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for the Clinton campaign and the Obama White House. And Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor for "The National Review."

Eliana, let me start with you. I guess, it feels sad today that there hasn`t been more outrage on the official right, I guess is probably the way to put it, among official Republic -- elected Republicans. Why do you think that hasn`t been the case?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": You know, I think the Congressman is right that Republicans are reluctant to throw a candidate under the bus on the day of the election.

But I actually don`t agree that this is some sort of a broader Trump phenomenon. I think this is a guy who`s clearly temperamentally unfit for office. I don`t think it matters, really, that this was a journalist. It`s a terrible thing to do to anybody.

And, beyond that, his team has shown they have zero political skill in not coming out and apologizing, offering a transparently false explanation. I think that`s almost reason alone enough for Republicans to distance themselves. The guy is temperamentally unfit. His team has no political skill. I mean, goodbye.

TODD: I guess, it`s just been startling, Ramesh, the amen choir, you know, on social media.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, I think it`s appalling. I think the other factor that`s causing this, not that I endorse it, is that people think he probably is still going to win and then they`re going to be having him as a colleague, needing his vote. And that, I think, is another thing that`s causing them to say, well, you know, we didn`t like Trump. We didn`t like his behavior. He won, too.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes, but it`s, like, another example of the -- of Republicans buying into Trumpism. Like, I`m looking the other way and being OK with it.

And I think it wouldn`t have happened -- I mean, I think Trump -- the Trump phenomenon, in and of itself, is partly a result of the coursing (ph) of our culture. And, you know, I think these are -- these two things are related.

But I think -- I don`t think this would have happened without Donald Trump being president.

TODD: I guess, when is, sort of, elected leadership in Washington going to have a Samuel Jackson moment with snakes on a plane? Like, enough is enough. I`m tired of these -- and if we --

PALMIERI: Well, it`s June so --

TODD: -- if we -- if just -- but we have just -- we just allow to it happen. We`re just like, well, that`s just the way it is.

PALMIERI: Yes. And the Republicans are either going to have the moment where they -- where they understand that they`re looking at a generation of losses following Trump and get --

TODD: But are they? Well, wait a minute. Are they?

PALMIERI: Either they will or they --

TODD: What if the voters don`t see --

PALMIERI: I just don`t --

TODD: I mean, look, Garrett Haake went to plenty of voters and said --

PALMIERI: No, no, no, I agree with that in Montana. I`m not talking about Montana. I`m talking about the whole country, though.

TODD: Well, I mean, and that`s -- there`s plenty of voters who think, yes. And the thing is they`ve been conditioned for 25 years to just assume the media is the enemy.

JOHNSON: You know, in the 19th century, we had congressmen slamming chairs over each other`s heads on the House floor. But I think Paul Ryan came out today and he said, the people of Montana will make their choice or, you know, the people in the district.

[17:25:00] But I don`t think it would have been inappropriate for him to say, should they choose Gianforte, that he`s not somebody that House Republicans are looking forward to having as a colleague. I think that would have been a greater moment of leadership than a, sort of, anodyne statement --

TODD: Right.

JOHNSON: -- that seemed -- obviously -- he was obviously reluctant to distance itself from the guy (ph).

TODD: And, buddy, just wait until you see the committee assignments you`re going to get from me. Well, I mean, you know, I think send some message here that, you know what? Not all behavior is condoned.

PONNURU: And Speaker Ryan did the right thing on a few occasions, with respect to Donald Trump last year and every single time it backfired.

PALMIERI: Well, every single time he walked it back. I mean, --

TODD: Right, he gets a lesson. That`s a lesson to learn.

But let`s go to the "Politico." There`s another story here which is, the Democrats have this -- Jennifer, have this opportunity sitting in front of them.

PALMIERI: Yes.

TODD: But as I went through with the DNC chair. Basically, the Democratic Party has discovered the Montana special election about 10 days ago. And they chose not -- and this has been a continuing, I think, push-pull in the Democratic Party more so than in the Republican Party. Which is Republicans see -- they see -- they see wind against them and they throw money at it.

PALMIERI: Right.

TODD: Democrats see wind against them and they run away.

PALMIERI: See, I think that -- I think what they`re trying -- what you`re trying to balance is, do I go all in in a race in one -- you know, for one seat in a race in Montana in early -- you know, relatively early 2017.

And then, you get to 2018, and we`ve got a bunch of seats that are competitive that we have, like, blown a bunch of money in Montana and Georgia. And this is, like, really a smart thing? And that`s really a smart thing to do. And, like, this is the stuff that you`re all -- that they are always balancing and how helpful is it for the national party really to come into Montana and get involved?

TODD: I get that explanation. It seems -- it seems like a weak explanation. I mean, I get -- look, I know that`s thinking that goes into it.

PALMIERI: Yes, that is -- that is the thinking that goes into it.

TODD: But is it out -- is it outstated thinking these days?

PALMIERI: Meaning is a win a win and you should grab a win when you can?

TODD: Yes.

PALMIERI: Well, I`m a little more -- I am, personally, a little more aggressive about, you know, taking opportunities where you can see it and not assume you can`t --

TODD: So, you think Democrats deserve --

JOHNSON: And I really want to throw the Democrats under the bus at the end of the day.

PALMIERI: I think you should not assume -- I think you shouldn`t assume that -- you shouldn`t assume that what was not possible last year, isn`t possible this year.

JOHNSON: Right.

PALMIERI: Like, I think, that, like, we -- like, we should throw out our filters of how we look at races and see new -- and see things as a new opportunity because we are definitely in a different universe.

PONNURU: It`s clearly an unpredictable time in American politics. That means that opportunities can arise for each party in places you hadn`t expected it.

TODD: That`s right.

PONNURU: And so, you`ve got to be prepared for that and be able to take advantage of that.

PALMIERI: Ride the wave that`s there. Be ready to ride it.

TODD: I mean, you know, look, if Gianforte wins, he`s got one person to thank, ironically. It`s Paul Ryan. No spending entity has been more important here than Paul Ryan`s Pac in all of these races but particularly this one. They went in early.

PALMIERI: Yes, not smart (ph).

JOHNSON: You know, I`m not sure how much I think that the spending mattered. I mean, it`s a district that normally would be 20 points Republican. I think you --

TODD: It defined Quist. It did -- no, they went in and defined Quist before the Democrats every did anything.

JOHNSON: Well, and as it turned out, I mean, I think you can say, who would have thought that the banjo playing, you know, music artist would have been the more normal candidate come Election Day? But he is -- he is so you may be right.

PALMIER: Yes, Gianforte is from New Jersey.

PONNURU: They defined --

PALMIERI: That`s all.

PONNURU: -- they defined Quist before they realized who Gianforte was.

TODD: They should have been worried that in a state that Donald Trump won by 20 points, that Gianforte lost a statewide race for governor on the same day. That should hit big, maybe a yellow flag.

PALMIERI: Maybe not the best.

TODD: You know?

PALMIERI: Maybe not the best thing.

TODD: Just saying. All right. Eliana, Jennifer and Ramesh, you`re sticking around.

Still ahead, President Trump calls on NATO nations to pay up. We`ll recap the president`s first meeting with NATO leaders next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: Welcome back. Speaking at his first NATO summit, President Trump reiterated one of his major campaign themes to the assembled leaders.

(START VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations. But 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Joining me now is former deputy national security adviser for President George W. Bush and an NBC News senior national security analyst, Juan Zarrate. Juan, good to see you, sir.

JUAN ZARATE, NBC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Chuck, good to see you.

TODD: Look, a lot of people, not just reporting, but you can visually see the discomfort there between President Trump and the rest of the NATO allies. They were hoping that he would speak to them. It seemed to me, Juan, that the president was speaking to America in that speech, not to NATO allies. Fair to say?

ZARATE: I think that`s right. I think he wanted to demonstrate that he was keeping to some of his commitments, certainly his rhetoric that he`s laid out in the United States, and frankly was willing to confront NATO leaders directly.

Something frankly that other U.S. leaders have been unwilling to do. Frankly, Secretary Gates when he left his position at the Pentagon made many of the same arguments but did so on his way out. This is a president who is just starting his relationship with NATO and with these leaders.

He is going to have to see them again, deal with them again, and they did look a little bit uncomfortable. But he was very clear in his message. He wants more commitment from NATO allies in terms of budget and he didn`t mince words.

TODD: You know these folks pretty well. You know these different governments pretty well in considering your past life. Will they view this -- I mean, in some ways, candidate Trump`s rhetoric actually got these NATO nations to get nervous. Oh, my God. No, no, no. Look at how much money we`re spending.

They were being responsive to his criticism. If you`re now President Trump, don`t you look at that and say I`ll keep pushing them? Will they continue to respond that way? Or is there a point where you get diminishing returns to this style of negotiating?

ZARATE: I think it really has helped that he has put this issue on the table, been willing to articulate it pretty openly. But, I think you`re right. At a certain point, you do get diminishing returns. You certainly don`t want to embarrass your counterparts, you don`t want to embarrass heads of state in this public forum.

That`s why you saw the body language or discomfort there among the leaderships. I think you can take it to a certain point but you don`t want to do it too much. And I think what you do at this point is to move those discussions into DOD state department lanes and certainly into quiet discussions, not in these open speeches in front of the leadership.

TODD: Given that you`re in London bureau, I want to ask you about the allegation from Theresa May`s government, the U.K., that its intelligence sharing with the United States that has contributed to all of these leaks having to do with the, what happened in the Manchester bombing, the cell, who is responsible, different things like that. Number one, is that a fair charge by Theresa May? Is it truly American leaks? And number two, how big of a problem is this?

ZARATE: Well, the British are incredibly emotional about the attack. I think we have to be incredibly sensitive about this. And I do think they`re angry. They`re angry with the perception that there are leaks coming out of the United States.

Perhaps the law enforcement community, the intelligence community. It is not clear yet. But certainly there is a lot of raw emotion here. And I think on the U.S. side, there has to be a clear recognition that not only are the British in the lead here, but the British authorities are trying to run down very real leads.

You can feel the tension. We`re not in lock down mode here in London, but you can sense that there are some urgency here. I think anything that is done to jeopardize or compromise that investigation, to understand where there are networks or leaks, excuse me, networks or threats coming to the British people, that will be taken very seriously, and that`s why you`ve seen Theresa May and others react as they have.

TODD: All right. Juan Zarate, I`m going to leave it there. Juan, as always, thank you, sir. Appreciate your expertise.

ZARATE: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: All right. Up next, did the FBI director get duped? New information about a possible dubious document that could have influenced Jim Comey`s decision on the Clinton case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(START VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR OF FBI: The capper was, I`m not picking on the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who I like very much, but her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me. And I then said, `You know what? The department cannot, by itself, credibly end this.`" That was a hard call for me to make, to call the attorney general that morning and say I`m about to do a press conference, I`m not going to tell you what I`m going to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: It turns out when Director Comey used the word "capper," that was an incredibly important code word then. That was James Comey earlier this month, explaining why he made the decision last summer to announce that the FBI was closing its case on Hillary Clinton`s emails and that the bureau was not recommending charges and they were going to do this without informing the attorney general.

Among all of the Russia-related stories this week was one published in "The Washington Post" that alleges a quote, dubious Russian intelligence document purportedly claiming there was some kind of understanding between Clinton`s campaign and the Justice Department headed by Loretta Lynch that somehow played a role in Comey`s move that day.

"The Washington Post" reported current and former officials have said that document played a significant role in the July decision by then FBI Director James Comey to announce on his own without the Justice Department involvement that the investigation was over. But according to the FBI`s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence, and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau.

We should note this though. We at NBC News have confirmed the existence of this document and that it was a factor in Comey`s decision. There`s been no confirmation that was fake. Joining me now is NBC News` intelligence national security reporter Ken Dilanian. Capper here. He said that was the capper here. Now we can understand what he meant by capper.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Right.

TODD: Which was Loretta Lynch on the tarmac. It wasn`t the only reason why he did this. This memo seemed to indicate that there was -- that one political operative indicated that they got some assurance from Loretta Lynch that don`t worry, this Clinton email thing isn`t going to get any more than it is. Is it true or not?

DILANIAN: We don`t know if it is true. It is incredible if true. Here`s what we know is true. This memo exists and that it was a factor in Comey`s decision. We know this from a source close to Comey. So it`s incredible to me if it was a factor, did he not go to the attorney general? I mean, it essentially alleges a corruption of sorts, that she was willing to go easy on Clinton, right?

TODD: Ken, it seems to me there are only two possible explanations. There are only two things here and neither are good explanations for the FBI. Either, Director Comey got duped, the FBI has been duped by a hoax, like fake news, voters are getting duped by fake news. This is a fake intelligence.

DILANIAN: Right.

TODD: And that`s scary of how sophisticated they are. That would be -- that`s problem one. Or problem two is, he has an issue with the attornry and he doesn`t go to anybody about it. So that`s what sort of -- something doesn`t, there`s something missing in this story and clearly, Comey`s folks are not confirming or denying whether this memo is real or not. There seems to be something missing here.

DILANIAN: And that`s why critics are accusing the FBI of reversed engineering in this very controversial decision, right? And it goes back to what we learned this week is that we learned a lot more about what the intelligence community and the FBI knew about potential Russia collusion with Trump campaign before the election. And we knew they weren`t talking about any of that, but they were talking about the Clinton email investigation.

TODD: It seems the implication was that Comey`s motivation in doing this was he was worried that if Loretta Lynch announce the no charges, that the Russia would release this document or release this series of emails. We now have plenty of people who are also saying they had these conversations. So it seems, according to the post reporting, that there is something questionable about this intelligence.

DILANIAN: It does. I spoke to somebody who said, "Whether the memo was false or true, it would have been devastating to leak." And that does seem correct, right?

TODD: In either way. As fake. We know a third of the country might believe it.

DILANIAN: Exactly. Exactly. But, I mean, maybe it would have taken a week for people to realize it wasn`t true. So, it boggles the mind, really does.

TODD: Does this impact, do we think now that Comey will have second thoughts about doing a public testimony? Or does he now hold off? Because this memo is such now an issue.

DILANIAN: The people I`m talking too close to Comey say he still very much wants to testify publicly. They say the biggest mitigating factor there is what Bob Mueller wants to do. If Bob Mueller is investigating obstruction of justice or what the president said to Comey, he may now want Comey to tell his story publicly. But I believe Comey badly wants to do that.

TODD: All right. Ken Dilanian, our national security investigative reporter. Good to see you.

DILANIAN: Thank you.

TODD: Thank you, sir. Republican Senator Bob Corker will join me this Sunday on "Meet the Press" to discuss the latest on the senate`s Russia investigation. After the break, why I am so obsessed about what happened in Montana yesterday and Washington today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed, really obsessed with what happened in Montana last night and the creeping sense that journalists are on fair game not just for verbal abuse but physical assaults as well. Yes, President Trump and his conservative (inaudible) are partly responsible for this reprehensible trend. But let`s not pretend they started it. This is a cancer half a century in the making.

President Nixon unleashed his vice president, Spiro Agnew, on reporters almost 50 years ago. Agnew famously called reporters nattering nabobs of negativism. That was of course speechwriter William Safire`s phrase. And (inaudible), that one came from Patrick Buchanan (ph). These days, those clever alliterations seem quaint. We`ve now moved from blame America first to blame the media first.

It matters when candidate Trump encourages supporters to beat up protesters. It matters when another Nixon (inaudible) uses the appearance of journalism as a vehicle to attack journalism. It matters when so many members of the president`s own party can`t bring themselves to condemn the condemnable. Can`t bring themselves to criticize the man running to be one of their colleagues for assaulting a reporter.

Actually a fellow American. Can`t bring themselves to find a response beyond simply blaming the left or coming up with mythology about the media. You want to rage against the so-called liberal media? Fine. You want to send a juvenile tweet? Go right ahead. Let`s at least draw the line against physical violence and even the threat of physical violence.

Look, the media is not blameless in creating our polarized environment, but there are plenty of elected officials and paid political consultants who are way too eager to exploit misplaced anger out there to make the media look bad. I`ve been looking in the mirror and plenty of my colleagues have been looking at the mirror at our coverage. But elected officials and paid political folks, particularly on the right these days, you look in the mirror too.

Greg Gianforte`s attack last night is a dangerous moment, a milestone in a war against Fox and the people who report them. But even more toxic is the conspiracy of silence among those who should know better.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." Eliana Johnson, Jennifer Palmieri, Ramesh Ponnuru. Ms. Palmieri, I know you probably have a lot of thoughts on this report out of "The Washington Post."

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It`s something I`ve given a lot of thoughts.

TODD: I have a feeling you have. Look, I go to the larger question here. Neither outcome seems good here, whether the memo is real or not. Either the FBI was duped by a hoax.

PALMIERI: Right.

TODD: Or James Comey didn`t seem to go -- raise enough alarm bells that he thought Loretta Lynch was compromised. There`s no good answer here.

PALMIERI: Right. First of all, I think it is a hoax. It`s ridiculous to think that Amanda Renteria got an okay from Loretta Lynch. Amanda Renteria, you know, a California political person, she won`t know Loretta Lynch. That is a laughable thing.

TODD: I would hope that the political director of Hillary Clinton`s campaign didn`t know who Loretta Lynch was.

PALMIERI: Doesn`t know her, not know her. Anyway, that is ridiculous and bizarre that they would come up with that. But I think the bigger problem for Comey is that he forgot he was the FBI director. He is not the deputy attorney general. He`s not part of the Justice Department. His job was to do the job of the FBI director. He always would say, I make my decision and I don`t worry about consequences. And that is a lie.

The guy over thinks consequence of his decisions. Are you supposed to make a decision based on the facts that he has before them and let the chips fall where they may? He was doing the job not just of the FBI director, but like, you know, at one point he was the deputy attorney general for Bush.

I think he still thought he was the deputy attorney general. It is not his job to worry about the attorney general or to worry about whether or not his investigation was going to look -- was going to look as if it had been influenced by the attorney general. That`s the attorney general`s problem.

TODD: Ramesh? It does seem as if to take on Jen`s point, he took on the burden of being the ombudsman for all of Washington apparently.

PALMIERI: Yes.

RAMESH PONNURU, COLUMNIST AND SENIOR EDITOR FOR THE NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE: Look, I can`t disagree with that. I do think that the parties and the voters put him in an extremely difficult set of situations.

TODD: Totally agree.

PONNURU: Which it was very hard to navigate. But I don`t think looking back on it, you can say that the decisions were the correct ones. And I don`t think it was just this. I think there were a series of them.

TODD: Eliana?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER AT POLITICO: I agree with that and I don`t think that anybody can look back and think that, you know, Bob Mueller got in some hot water with the Bush administration several times, two threatened resignations that were reported at the time. Comey seems to have operated a little bit differently, and it is, you know, looking back, I think with a very careful, clear regard for his reputation. And I think that`s what there are some objections too.

PALMIERI: I thought it was a bad choice.

TODD: Well, what do you mean?

PALMIERI: You know, he was lauded on the left, right, because we all knew about the great story about him and John Ashcroft`s hospital room and how he defied the White House counsel.

TODD: You think President Obama made a mistake?

PALMIERI: Yeah. Why do we know that story? We know that is true. He made sure the press knew about it. That tells you the back guy is more interested in his own reputation than doing the job that was put before him.

TODD: I believe Donald Trump called him a grandstander. It sounds like (inaudible). I believe you.

PALMIERI: I believe our president is right. TODD: I was just going to frame that quote for folks, Jennifer Palmieri.

JOHNSON: And I think that the ex post facto emergence of these memos, if he had a problem with what the president was doing, we should have known about it at the time. That also seems to me a reputation preserving and, you know, guarding.

PONNURU: But I think he was also trying to guard the institution of the FBI, whether or not he made the right decision about how to do that.

TODD: I think it was more than FBI, I think he was worried about the institution of the Justice Department. He was concerned about -- that the Russians would leak all of this, true or not, and that the pure existence of it would call into question the legitimacy of the Justice Department.

PONNURU: I don`t think it`s just his own reputation that he was concerned about.

TODD: Right, I agree with Ramesh there. I don`t think it`s bigger than that.

PALMIERI: Okay, I`ll accept that, but it`s still not his job. Whatever fake emails that the Russians cooked up that they based decisions on.

TODD: Eliana, this means -- I mean, congress really is going to want -- there`s going to be a lot of Comey memos they`re going to want to get their hands on, Clinton-related and Russia-related.

JOHNSON: I think more and more it`s very clear that this is going to be a year`s long investigation. It may consume Trump`s entire term, whether it`s his first term, we don`t know. But the White House better prepare for this and, you know, figure out a way to seal this off and direct inquiry somewhere specific.

TODD: Well, we shall see that. There is a larger conversation about whether the president has the ability to compartmentalize.

PALMIERI: Yeah.

TODD: Eliana, Jennifer, Ramesh, thank you. After the break, why a new bipartisan senate measure probably won`t be getting bipartisan support.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: In case you missed it, because guess what, pretty much everyone did. Two senators from different parties introduced a bipartisan measure today, a pretty important one. Rarely happens, right? But no one cares that it really happened. Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia proposed a new authorization of military force or what we`ve been calling an AUMF.

It would replace the one that has been in place since 2001 that authorized force, essentially a military campaign, against those responsible for 9/11. The replacement AUMF would authorize force against ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Taliban, three groups that were never named in the first AUMF. And it would give congress more oversight authority. Folks, there have been bipartisan call for a new AUMF for years and individual members of congress always say they want to have more accountability on these things.

But that doesn`t mean this bill has a one iota chance of passing or even making it to the floor for a vote. The reason? The leaders, they don`t want to force their members to defend a war vote, period. In case you missed it, political expediency wins out every time. That`s all for tonight. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta will be my guest tomorrow right here on "MTP Daily." Coming up next, we got "For the Record" with Greta. It starts right now. My good friend, Stephanie Ruhle.

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