MTP Daily, Transcript 5/26/2017

Guests: Leon Panetta, Matthew Continetti, Anita Dunn, Nathan Gonzales, Jennifer Duffy

Show: MTP DAILY Date: May 26, 2017 Guest: Leon Panetta, Matthew Continetti, Anita Dunn, Nathan Gonzales, Jennifer Duffy

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

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicole. Hey, how about the Rev.?

WALLACE: No one interrupt -- no one interrupt the Rev.

TODD: I`ve had that -- I`ve had that problem with the Rev. But you`ve got to let him finish. That`s -- you`ve got to let the Rev. finish. Amen to him.

All right, thank you, Nicole.

Well, if it`s Friday, the White House`s Russia war room will be up and running soon.

Tonight, as the president returns to Washington, we are learning just how close to home the FBI`s Russia investigation is getting. We`ll talk to former CIA director and defense secretary, Leon Panetta, in an exclusive one-on-one.

Plus, a big Republican win in big sky country. Republican Greg Gianforte wins the House special election despite an Election Day assault charge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: And for that, I`m sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you`re forgiven.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But the Democrats made huge gains. So, which party is truly feeling good today?

Later, the 2016 election that never ends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They may even call you a nasty woman.

(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 a Friday MTP DAILY. Tomorrow, it`s welcome back to Washington, Mr. President and welcome back to the chaos that you left behind.

If you want to get a sense of what the president is coming back to, just look back at what he left.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I`d like the get your reaction to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein`s decision to appoint a special counsel.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The entire thing has been a witch hunt. Believe me, there`s no collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you, at any time, urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?

TRUMP: No, no. Next question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: All of that was the day before the president left town.

Folks, the president`s first overseas trip then gave him and his staff a welcome vacation from the Russia feeding frenzy. The trip started fairly well but it`s arguably ending in a Trumpian fog of chaos in part thanks to, guess what? Russia.

Here`s the bottom line. The Russia issue was thrust back in the spotlight in the second half of the president`s trip abroad. And it`s likely going to dominate the conversation again when he gets home tomorrow but for different reasons.

Yesterday, the president met with NATO leaders in Brussels where the issue of Russian sanctions were raised. The White House then told reporters that the U.S. position on Russian sanctions was that we don`t have one.

Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council Director, told reporters, quote, "We don`t have a position on Russian sanctions."

Now, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Mike McFall, called that answer embarrassing.

Today, Gary Cohn offered a clarification.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Let me make just make one clarification from yesterday. I may have not answered the question -- I thought I answered it very clearly, but let me make it clear, on Russia. We`re not lowering our sanctions on Russia.

If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia. So, I don`t want there to be any confusion on that topic. And my fault. I should have just been much clearer.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TODD: It`s a fittingly strange way to cap off the president`s European portion of this trip which has arguably turned into a bit of a problem or border line disaster.

The president shoved the prime minister of Montenegro. It becomes symbolic of the NATO`s stop itself. He berated our NATO allies over their financial commitment to the alliance. He didn`t reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the core principle of NATO. He criticized our German as very bad on trade, according to German media.

And to make things even stranger, the White House said he confirmed those comments. Then, hours later, suggested Mr. Trump never said them.

The president also landed in a little bit of hot water with Britain`s prime minister because of U.S. intelligence leaks surrounding the Manchester terror attack.

By the way, though, the tough talk on NATO politically will play pretty well with much of the president`s base. But still, it is adding to uncomfortable ties in Europe.

Now, all of this chaos with our European allies is happening amid confusing White House statements about how tough we`re going to be on Russia.

And, speaking of Russia, as you know, NBC News, we`ve been recording that Jared Kushner, the president`s son in law and one of his senior advisors, arguably the seniorest of senior advisors, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, according to multiple U.S. officials.

So, tomorrow, the president comes home to that. And the chaos he left behind, the FBI firing, the special prosecutor, the allegations of meddling in the Russia probe are going to be there waiting for him, too.

And the White House realizes this and they`re readying up for a war on all of this. Just moments before we came to air, my colleague, Peter Alexander, reported that the White House is indeed setting up a war room on Russia.

It`ll be headed by Jerad Kushner, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. As aides prepare for what they`re describing as a, quote, "new reality" after the appointment of Bob Mueller, the special counsel.

Joining me now is Leon Panetta. He is -- it`s going to take me about an hour to get me through his resume here. He`s a former secretary of defense, a former director of the CIA, a former chief of staff to a president who also had to deal with a special counsel. Oh, by the way, he was also a member of Congress. Oh, and did I say an aide to a Republican president once, too?

Mr. Secretary, always good to see you, sir.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: Nice to be with you, Chuck.

TODD: Let me start -- we`re going to start in, sort of, backwards chronological order on your resume and your expertise. I want to start, first and foremost, with the NATO -- the NATO speech that the president made and the discomfort that our European allies have.

But at the same time, is there any part of what the president did in delivering, I guess if you wanted to be generous, tough love to NATO allies that could actually be effective?

PANETTA: Well, you know, at least in my experience, if a president is going to make points that may be uncomfortable with the people you`re talking with, you usually make those points in private, not in public. In public, you reaffirm the relationship and the alliance.

And I think it would have been better for the president to have reaffirmed the NATO alliance, reaffirm the fact that we abide by Article Five. And make clear to the world that we stand with the NATO alliance and with the history that that alliance has provided, in terms of providing security to Europe against Russia.

TODD: Are you concerned that had the perception that the president isn`t necessarily fully on board Article Five, when it comes to, say, an Estonia is going to something that is going to tempt Vladimir Putin to test that?

PANETTA: Well, that`s the concern. Because I think one of the things that Putin has sensed, in the last few years, is that the United States is weak in responding to Russia.

And so, he`s been taking advantage of it whether in the Crimea or the Ukraine or Syria or in these intelligence attacks against the United States, trying to interfere with our elections.

He`s obviously been very aggressive. If he reads the tone of this meeting as somehow raising a question as to whether the United States will stand with Article Five and will stand with our NATO allies, that could be trouble for the future.

TODD: All right. Let me move now to put on your intelligence hat. And I want to get to this issue that`s been -- one aspect of the Russia investigation that`s been percolating this week. And that is this potential that it was actually fake intelligence or fake potential e-mails that motivated then FBI Director Comey to essentially take the decision process over whether to prosecute -- or the announcement of the decision on the Clinton part of e-mail investigation to essentially take that away from the Justice Department.

And what`s -- wait, look, "The Washington Post" and CNN are reporting that it`s -- that they thought it probably wasn`t true, that there was somehow Justice Department collusion with the Clinton campaign. But they were concerned about it anyway.

How troubling is it if the FBI is essentially making decisions based on fake intelligence if they know it`s fake intelligence?

PANETTA: Chuck, what we`re hearing is the most convoluted reasoning I`ve ever heard from the FBI. I cannot -- I cannot imagine that the FBI would allow something that they knew was fake and was something that the Russians were trying to issue, to influence what would happen in this country, that they would allow that to, in fact, influence a decision a decision by the FBI on an investigation. That just doesn`t make sense to me.

TODD: Look, I know you didn`t work directly with Director Comey. Does this sound like a way he would operate?

PANETTA: No, it really doesn`t. Based on his reputation, based on the kind of integrity that I think he`s shown throughout his career, in terms of calling issues the way he sees them.

And that`s usually the way the FBI operates. Normally, if the FBI determines that there`s a violation of law or there`s evidence to prove a violation of law, then that`s what they say and that`s what they go with.

They don`t try to manipulate a presentation, based -- certainly based on something that they know to be fake. I don`t get that.

TODD: I guess, look, my concern over this is I feel as if any FBI investigation now becomes tainted in the eyes of many in the public.

And it -- could we get -- be at a point where even if there is a definitive charge that is made by Bob Mueller, the special counsel, or by the FBI, that you`re going to have a lot of the public question it and not believe it because there seems to be such concern about how the FBI operates?

PANETTA: Chuck, I think what all of this proves is that the Russians were very successful in their attempt to destabilize our country and undermine credibility in our basic institutions.

If anything, Russia has taken a lot of satisfaction over listening to how they were able to manipulate the FBI with regard to an investigation. This -- you know, this is disturbing, in terms of our national security that the Russians were so successful at being able to influence what happened in this country.

And it`s for that reason that we are dealing with a very serious national security issue. And we have an obligation to the American people to determine what happened and how we prevent it from happening in the future.

TODD: Let me -- now put your former White House chief of staff hat on. When you became chief of staff in the Clinton White House, there was an outside investigation that was rattling the White House a little bit. You were brought in, essentially to try to bring some adult supervision to the -- to issue.

We now know this White House is, sort of, accepting reality now and has to set up a war room. You know, what`s the best way to do this? How do you compartmentalize as a White House under investigation?

PANETTA: Well, the most important thing in this kind of situation is not to let an investigation totally dominate everything that`s happening in the White House. The president of the United States has a responsibility to deal with a lot of issues confronting this country.

He`s got an agenda that he wants to get through the Congress. He`s dealing with foreign affairs issues. He is dealing with crisis. That`s what a president ought to focus.

And if this investigation dominates a White House and has everybody running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to deal with that, it creates chaos.

So, the best thing to do is to put this investigation into a separate area. If they`re establishing a war room, that`s fine, to be able to focus on it. He`s got, I assume, lawyers that will deal with issues, regarding that investigation.

The best thing to do is to separate it from the responsibilities of the presidency. Allow that investigation to go its course and do your job as president of the United States.

TODD: Well, give some advice to a Reince Priebus. You probably had a president that would fume at something the special counsel did, that would fume at media coverage, that would want to respond.

And we have since heard stories about how angry then President Clinton would get at some aspects of things. Obviously, we know President Trump`s upset about how this investigation goes, how this played.

He hasn`t kept it under wraps. How hard was that for to you keep it under wraps for Bill Clinton?

PANETTA: Well, you know, presidents are human beings and they react emotionally to issues that bother them. And President Clinton was no different, I`m sure from other presidents, including President Trump, with regard to those kinds of issues.

But you are president of the United States. And your first responsibility is to be president. It`s not to react emotionally to issues that pop up every day.

So, my responsibility, as chief of staff, was to focus on what is the issue that we want to emphasize that the president wants to emphasize on that particular day? Is it an education issue? Is it a foreign affairs issue? Is it going on a trip?

Focus on that issue because if you simply allow the president to react emotionally to what concerns him, then that will be the headline the for day. And that`ll hurt his agenda and his mission as president.

TODD: What`s your confidence level in President Trump right now, as command-in-chief after his first trip overseas?

PANETTA: Well, you know, I`ve said this before that I think this is a tale of two presidencies. On national security, I feel like he`s got a pretty good team working for him. They do present positions that are more in line with, kind of, the traditional positions that the United States ought to be taking. And he does seem to be listening to them. Sometimes not all the time but at least he`s listening most of the time.

On the domestic side of it, I don`t see that. I don`t see anybody who`s got political experience, who has experience running a White House.

I sense that there is a lot of competing centers of power within the White House and it`s creating a chaotic background to try to support the president of the United States. And if that continues, I think this presidency is going to be chaotic into the future.

TODD: As I said at the top, I wanted to use different parts of your resume to ask you about different issues that we`re dealing with right now. And the final one has to do with, sort of, our coarsening politics.

And later in the show, I`m going to indicate that patient zero in our polarized politics may have been something took place while you were in Congress. And that was the dispute over what was known as the bloody eighth, the Indiana eighth congressional district. And it took over a year to decide who won.

You know -- and I know sometimes we like the say, oh, in the good old days things ought to -- compare that moment. Number one, was that the moment that, sort of, launched the polarizing nature of the House at least and deteriorated relationships. And it, sort of, launched Gingrich? Do you buy that, that that was patient zero here?

PANETTA: No, not necessarily. I think -- I think there were a lot of factors at play that created this divisiveness that we see today. Part of it was, you know, just the way Newt Gingrich handled himself and went after the institution of the Congress. The whole issue with the House bank that he raised. The whole issue, you know, dealing with this election.

But, more importantly, just, I think, the attacks that were made that were really undermining the relationship between Democrats and Republicans that historically have created bipartisanship.

Add to that money, add to that sound bites in the media, add to that a lot of other issues and that`s the result we have today which is a very divided country, a very partisan Washington, and a very dysfunctional Washington, in terms of governing.

TODD: Well, I didn`t want to limit this to a sound bite. That`s why we did 15 minutes with you, sir. Leon Panetta, I`m not going to bother with all the titles. Just one of the Washington wisemen who is wise enough to know he should be living on the west coast. Mr. Panetta, thank you, sir.

PANETTA: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: You got it.

PANETTA: Thank you.

TODD: Coming up, Republicans held onto that congressional seat in Montana but what does that tell us about the wave that Democrats have been hoping to surf?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Great win in Montana.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Welcome back.

Despite the controversy and despite the political environment, Republicans won another special election last night, just one day after their candidate was charged with misdemeanor assault. Republican Greg Gianforte captured 50 percent of the vote. The Democrat, Rob Quist, got 44 percent and a libertarian, Mark Wicks, got six percent.

It was only after he won and after polls closed that Gianforte apologized for allegedly assaulting a reporter who tried to ask him a question about health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIANFORTE: I took an action that I can`t take back. And I`m not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I`m sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you`re forgiven.

GIANFORTE: I should not have treated that reporter that way. And for that, I`m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs. That`s not the person that I am and it`s not the way I`ll lead in this state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Remember, when you take the oath of office to preserve and protect the Constitution, you know what that first amendment is.

So, who should be happy tonight? The Democrats who came closer to winning than they have in past elections or the Republicans who had to spend big to win a usually safe seat but came out on top in the end?

And what does the answer to that question tell us about 2018 and the fate of the House? We`re going to have a dive into that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

Chaos at home, chaos abroad, Trump in trouble, intel leaks, FBI confusion, Russian probes, Montana body slams. We`ve got a lot to talk about with our panel right now.

Anita Dunn was White House communication`s director in the Obama White House. Yamiche Alcindor, an MSNBC Contributor, "New York Times" reporter; Matthew Continetti, the Editor-in-Chief with "The Washington Free Beacon."

All right, Yamiche, the president comes home after a brief respite from the Russian feeding frenzy here in Washington to right back into it. I mean, we now have our weekly story about a White House shake-up. I say this because every week, there`s speculation about it. But they clearly want to reorganize themselves around this war room and the special counsel.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And, unfortunately, I doubt that that`s going to be able to happen.

I mean, there`s so much news that was breaking while he was there, even just today, learning about this idea that James Comey might have acted on what he thought -- what he knew was to be a fake document that was possibly leaked by Russia. The idea that his administration continues to have all these issues with Russia. The idea that we`re still talking about now Jared Kushner, kind of, becoming one of the central people being looked at by the FBI.

I mean, he comes back to the exact same chaos that he left, including the chaos that was created abroad when he was talking about Germany being very bad guys.

TODD: Yes. And the problem is they`re in the middle of -- we`re not sure of -- well, there`s -- wait, there was a translation problem here or is this there? I mean, they are having to do a lot of explaining right now, Matthew.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON FREE BEACON": I`m finding it hard to keep track of everything Jared Kushner is responsible for. In addition to the Middle East peace, domestic policy, reinventing government. Now, he`s going to be running the war room to conquer the investigation that he is part of the inquiry.

So, I mean, I think -- you listened to Leon Panetta, right? I mean, the Clinton White House, when faced with these challenges, brought in new people, established separate structures.

I think that`s important for the Trump White House to keep in mind if they want to have any stability as they handle these investigations and try to pursue domestic agenda at the same time. Of course, that`s not the president we have.

TODD: No. And you`ve got to compartmentalize here. But, look, you`ve done crisis communications for various clients. I mean, we know what the right answers is. The answer is going to be his self-discipline, I think.

ANITA DUNN, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: There are two issues for this White House. One is that, as former Secretary Panetta pointed out, they have a process for foreign policy. If they have a process for domestic policy, any kind of regular process, it has not been evident since he took office.

So, now they`re trying to develop a new process and they already don`t have a process. So, I think that that is a huge challenge.

But, more to the point, the discipline that`s going to be needed starts with the president who has given us, so far, kind of, real-time tapes with his tweets. Some kind of real-time what I`m thinking, what my motivations are and what I`m --

TODD: You don`t need on subpoena anything. He just tells you.

DUNN: Listen, he told -- he told -- it`s not like there was a cover-up. He told Lester Holt, on your network, why he fired James Comey, right? So, --

TODD: To the shock of his own staff.

DUNN: To the shock of his own staff.

ALCINDOR: So, here is Leon Panetta saying, oh, well, he needs to be someone who`s more disciplined, some who`s not emotional, someone who is not concerned with every single day a new thing that`s happening.

And then, I was thinking to myself, OK, but we`re talking about President Trump. So, clearly, that`s not going to happen. So, really, what he`s going to need is, I think, what the Clinton White House did which is new people, new blood.

But the people that are with him are so close to him and so loyal. I have no idea whether or not it`s getting through to him how bad things are.

TODD: Matthew, actually, I -- if I were them, I would move the White House to another time zone. I do think keeping him away from cable news has helped his tweets this week.

CONTINETTI: Absolutely. And I think the trip has largely been a success, from the White House perspective. One reason is because the president has been occupied.

TODD: Right.

CONTINETTI: He has had his calendar filled. He has -- he`s jetting from country to country. He`s probably tired. He doesn`t have time to --

(CROSSTALK)

CONTINETTI: Of course, you can`t do that when he`s in Washington and he insists on having unstructured time when he`s in Washington and that leads to these P.R. blow-ups.

TODD: Listen, you brought up this FBI story and all this and I brought it up with Leon Panetta. It seems, to me, more than ever, what did -- what motivated Director Comey here? And I think he`s got to answer this question. The credibility of the FBI is at stake, at this point. Is it not? Doesn`t -- I mean, I -- either the FBI was duped knowing or he did not pursue what is an alarming allegation.

DUNN: So, my modest prediction is that the day that he goes into public testimony for the first time, probably in front of Senate Intelligence Committee, you know, will be the day that Washington stops, except perhaps a certain tweeter in chief.

TODD: Oh, I think everybody watches. I think he, too.

DUNN: Everybody watches. And because he does have a lot of questions to answer. And they`re not necessarily classified information that he`ll be talking about.

I think the credibility of the intelligence community, the credibility of the FBI, the credibility of the American government writ large is very much a question right now.

TODD: I think it is.

CONTINETTI: If you trace the stock market of Jim Comey`s reputation, it is a series (INAUDIBLE.) And this latest news has sent him back into a trough (ph). Probably by the time he testifies in public, he`ll be back at a peak. So, it`s just -- in the run down, you mentioned, the intel leaks, chaos abroad, chaos at home. And I thought to myself, just another day in Donald Trump`s Washington.

TODD: I -- and -- but I come back -- I just -- will the public -- if the FBI comes to a definitive conclusion, I`m concerned that you`re going to have a large chunk of the country that doesn`t believe that. And, by the way, they have earned the skepticism themselves because of Director Comey`s actions, even if they were motivated by good.

ALCINDOR: And as much as we talk about the polarizing effect of this -- of this country, I think when it comes to Director Comey`s stock market, it`s, kind of, going up and down and with different populations.

But I think this idea that you`re acting on false documents, that, kind of, makes everybody mad. The idea that the FBI, the revered institution that we -- that we think is going to keep us protected, that`s going to do all this stuff, that they could be doomed (ph) by the Russians, that says so much about this country and says so much about where we are.

TODD: That`s the most troubling aspect of this. And I have talked to multiple members of Congress who have been briefed in different ways about this particular issue. Their just as confused and, frankly, just as frustrated. And it`s bipartisan.

CONTINETTI: It`s probably important that Mueller is there now.

ALCINDOR: Yes.

CONTINETTI: And you have an independent voice now. Because if we have reached the point in our media culture as well that no matter what`s concluded, you won`t have people leaning on some side.

TODD: That`s right.

DUNN: Right.

CONTINETTI: That`s just a -- the media has a kind of authority, I think, with --

TODD: We expected that with the media over the last 10 years for good or bad.

DUNN: But you probably already had that situation with the FBI even before these revelations, Chuck. Because the reality is that Democrats had grave doubts about the FBI based on the Clinton investigation. Republicans had grave doubts about the FBI, based on the Russia investigation.

TODD: Mostly based on the Clinton investigation, too, actually.

DUNN: But based on the Clinton investigation, too, actually, that`s correct. Talk about not pleasing anybody and feeling like you`ve done the right thing.

But, at the end of the day, I think that the way that Mueller handles this -- and he does have bipartisan support in this town, right? But the way that he handles it is going to put everything that`s happened beforehand very much in stark contrast.

TODD: I think we`re all hopeful that Mueller can do this.

DUNN: Yes.

TODD: We`ll see. I have -- I have doubts that anybody can survive in this culture these days.

You guys are sticking around. We will talk some Montana a little later in the show. In fact, still ahead, after the big Republican win in big sky country, we`re going to look at the next key races on the horizon and how they could shift the landscape heading into the big mid-term year or not.

Keep it here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: You know the saying, if it`s Sunday, it`s "Meet the Press." I know it wasn`t that way last Sunday but we`re back this Sunday. I`m going to talk with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Republican Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker.

We got a lot to discuss, the president overseas, terrorist attacks, et cetera. Then there`s my conversation with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu whose message on race went viral this week after the city finished the controversial process of removing four confederate-era statues from public spaces.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: This is actually a divisive move to many southerners. What do you say to them, that this debate has become more polarized?

MITCH LANDRIEU, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Well, first of all, I didn`t start the civil war and I certainly didn`t start the racial divide that this country has had. I simply recognize for the people that we still have it and that the monuments that were in place were really signs of oppression for 67 percent of my city that is forced to walk by them. And I found that morally offensive and so it didn`t make any sense. This didn`t have anything to do with politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: You`ll be able to see a lot more of that conversation on Sunday as well, all of it on "Meet the Press." Check your local NBC station. I will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Another special election, another race with Democrats making up ground, but still coming up short. As we said earlier, Republican businessman Greg Gianforte notched the 6-point win over Democratic musician, cowboy poet Rob Quist. But that is a much more narrow margin on the Democrat 16-point defeat in that same house election and the 21-point loss that Hillary Clinton had to Donald Trump in Montana.

Democrats have boosted their margins over 2016 in all the three house special elections so far this year. Kansas, Georgia part one, we`ll get part two later in June, and Montana. But, they have yet to notch a win. So what`s next? Here`s the calendar. On June 6, a house run up in California. That is a safe Democratic seat and is to replace Xavier Becerra.

The June 20 special house election in both South Carolina and Georgia, South Carolina replaces Mick Mulvaney and of course the Georgia contest is the one most people have been focused on, Ossoff and Handel. That`s the race to replace Tom Price, the HHS secretary. On August 15, there will be primaries in Alabama for their special senate election to finish out the term of Jeff Sessions.

Then November 7th is this year`s election day, gubernatorial races in both New jersey and Virginia. Finally, December 12 will be the Alabama senate special election, full run-off there. And that brings us to the all important 2018 mid terms. As you can see there, many more Democratic senate seats in the ballot than Republican ones.

Plus the two independents in Maine and Vermont who caucus with the Democrats. That`s why they`re in light blue. So, it is a long shot for Democrats to take the senate majority. In the house, Democrats would need to flip 24 seats in 2018 to take control. A tall order but something that can be pulled off in a relatively modest wave election.

Joining me now are two election experts; Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor of the Cook Political Report where her focus is senate and gubernatorial races and Nathan Gonzales is the editor and publisher of the Inside Elections. Welcome to you both. Let me just start with Montana. Basics. What did you take away from it, Nathan?

NATHAN GONZALES, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, INSIDE ELECTIONS: Well, I think that you talked about the trend. I think it is possible for Democrats to lose these elections and have the momentum at the same time. It is true, don`t look too much into any one special election when you take a step back and look at all of them.

I would even throw in the post inauguration marches, town hall protests, the energy and enthusiasm, or in Georgia 6 where a 30-year-old former Capitol Hill staffer is raising over $20 million. I think Democrats have the momentum and that`s an important factor when you get to a midterm election.

TODD: Jennifer, you and I have been doing this a long time together. Compare Memorial Day now to the environment the way it look like Memorial Day of `09 to Memorial Day of 1993, right? Those elections. What does it feel like now?

JENNIFER DUFFY, SENIOR EDITOR, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I mean, you do feel a democratic energy. We`re seeing some interesting things in the senate. You know, here we are, the end of May, there`s not one senate retirement that has been announced. And going back to 2006, almost all retirements have been announced by March 31st.

TODD: And by the way, this year we would have expected democratic retirements.

DUFFY: Yes, that`s right.

TODD: Because there were so many more. That means Democrats feel good about running, right?

DUFFY: They do feel good about running. We`re not seeing major candidate announcements yet from Republicans. There have only been a couple. We will see what July looks like. July is kind of my test about how recruiting is going, where the people get in after this next step. You see the deadlines. So, yeah, there is a lot of energy, there is a little bit of panic on the Republican side. There is no question about that.

TODD: Let`s talk about the democratic side though. Do they have a problem with the DCCC? I say this because they seem to only go half into Montana. And they went in just enough to sort of please activists but not enough to please activists. And it was not enough to make a difference. In fact, Speaker Ryan`s pack is why Greg Gianforte survived.

GONZALES: You know, they`re in a difficult spot about having to balance, yes, we want to challenge everywhere. It is not actually everywhere but as many places as possible. But does that mean going all in or spending millions of dollars.

TODD: They don`t look like they want to be one. GONZALES: I think they are still doing -- even though fund raising is going better, particularly on the candidate side, but they`re still dealing with a finite amount of money. And so to say, why didn`t you -- they`re still looking for winnable races.

I mean, this is still an equation about where can you maximize your funds. And their data coming into the Montana election show that it was not a close race. And so why dump money in I think is part of mindset.

TODD: All right. Let`s dig in. The next -- the impact of the these next few special elections. The impact it has is usually on perception of whether it is a good environment to run or not a good environment to run. You`ve been saying we have had a surprisingly lack of retirement announcements.

On the house side, too, mind you. Do you expect that to change basically, people watching Georgia? Could Georgia be that trigger point that sort of either gets -- becomes a windfall for Democrat candidates recruiting wise or sort of stops the momentum?

DUFFY: I don`t see Georgia being windfall for Democrats in the house. I`m not sure senate candidates are going to take that seriously. The windfall though, you might see it in the gubernatorial races in November. You know, I think, first of all, I think Democrats are pretty well positioned to win in New Jersey.

You know, Virginia is going to be close but if Democrats pull that off, you know, electing yet another democratic governor, I think that helps. And then you have Alabama. TODD: Weird, wild senate special election.

DUFFY: Exactly.

TODD: I don`t know if it`s going to tell us anything about the national environment but it does tell us about the problems inside the Republican Party.

DUFFY: Absolutely. But I think that, you know, there are enough Republican candidates there. It`s a run-off state. If they force a run-off, and that Democrat suddenly looks more competitive than any Democrat ought to be in a statewide race in Alabama, I think that may be the thing that really flips.

Chuck, the one thing you got to remember is, Democrats only have nine targets in the senate, one of them being Alabama. There is only one state up, Nevada, that Hillary Clinton carried.

TODD: Right.

DUFFY: The next vulnerable one is Jeff Flake in Arizona which Trump carried by 4. The next one is Ted Cruz.

TODD: Right.

DUFFY: . in Texas which Trump carried by 9. The remaining six seats, Trump carried by healthy double digits. So there aren`t a lot of targets. So we start to see some bizarre things going on in places like Alabama. Then it gets interesting.

TODD: (inaudible).

GONZALES: The thing about special elections is there`s something that you can take from each of them to make your case. If Jon Ossoff wins in Georgia, if a Republican wants (inaudible) that was just because you raise all that.

TODD: (inaudible) your own analysis.

GONZALES: . you raise all that money and every house candidate is not going to raise $20 million which is true but that doesn`t mean that Republicans don`t have a fundamental problem in this cycle.

TODD: House retirements. I have to say I have been impressed that they limited them so far. What do you hear?

GONZALES: I mean, I think, history tells us that there is going to be more. I think there is still time. I think August recess, coming out of August recess, we could see more. I went back to the 2010 cycle.

TODD: It is the sweet spot of the first.

GONZALES: Well, 2010 cycle, it wasn`t until the fall where like the two Democrats in Tennessee retired and then those seats were basically off the table in the Republican column. So there is still just because -- right now, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the big one.

TODD: Right. GONZALES: But there is still time for some of these more competitive district for members to leave and be a problem.

TODD: Well, we will continue to overcover and overanalyze these one elections at a time as the big (inaudible) of 2018 comes. We`re going to see a lot more too. Thank you very much.

DUFFY: Thank you.

GONZALES: Thank you.

TODD: Up next, the ugly state of American politics and the race that may have started it all.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed still with the ugliness and toxicity of our politics these days and I think many of us can point to one moment that may have started it all. Call it the Patient Zero, this ugly trend. The virus hit perhaps in 1984 in the race in Indiana`s 8th congressional district. The fight was so ugly and so emotional it became known as the Bloody 8th.

Don`t adjust your television sets. We are going to use some vintage footage and graphics from NBC Nightly News back then. It was Democratic freshman Frank McCloskey who was being challenged by Republican Richard McIntyre. To say the vote was closed doesn`t do it justice. Here`s 1985 NBC News correspondent, Jamie Gangel.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE GANGEL, 1985 NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The problem both men claim they won. At first, McCloskey had the numbers. Then it was McIntyre. Then it was McCloskey. Then it was McIntyre again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: After some sparring, the democratic-controlled house ordered the counting of some 5,000 or so votes that had been uncounted for technical reasons. The Democrat McCloskey was back on top for good, the winner by a grand total of 4 votes. It was good enough for speaker Tip O`Neill and his democratic majority. They seated McCloskey and the Republicans in the house temporarily unseated themselves and walked out in protest.

The Republican anger led to Newt Gingrich becoming house minority leader and what followed was the win at all costs attitude that we see today. Republicans believe Democrats are winning at all costs. Democrats believe Republicans are trying to do it this way and well off.

Remember, all this happened in 1984. That was before Robert (inaudible), before Clarence Thomas, before Monica, WMD, you lie. You know, we now know maybe where it all started. Does anyone have a good idea of where it might end?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." Our panel is back. Anita Dunn, Yamiche Alcindor, Matthew Continetti. Montana, what did we just experience? And what do you take away from it? Matthew, look, I am not done with the -- I think it`s kind of lame that he apologized after he won. I`m sorry, it doesn`t feel.

CONTINETTI: It was lame.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTINETTI: He was lame.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTINETTI: You know, you talked about the Bloody 8th. This is the whacky at large.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTINETTI: Both candidates were extremely flawed. That`s why you see Gianforte in a Republican state getting 50 percent.

TODD: Right.

CONTINETTI: It`s not something to write home about. Quist, on the other hand, was also a mess. He had a stack of opposition research that reached to my shoulders. Interesting take away for me, Sanders campaigned for Quist.

TODD: Right.

CONTINETTI: And Quist lost. Now, Sanders is not campaigning for Ossoff in Georgia, and Ossoff looks like he`s going to win. TODD: That`s an interesting -- what do you make of that?

DUNN: Well, I just point out you can`t get two more different districts than Montana and suburban Atlanta.

CONTINETTI: The country is politically distinct. The new south versus the rural upper mid-west.

DUNN: Which is and is one of the reasons some people such as me think that Georgia has a state wish to be paying a lot of attention to make a lot of investments for 2020. Let me make three very quick points about Montana. First of all, Speaker Ryan gets a huge amount of credit for saying, I`m not going to let this become a psychological blow to my caucus and putting -- they ended up spending 6, $7 million.

TODD: Sixteen to 1. Sixteen to 1 pack (ph) wise as far as speaker versus Nancy Pelosi.

DUNN: But, you know what? But they did what they needed to do.

TODD: Yeah.

DUNN: Second point though which is the downside for Speaker Ryan is that this is a Republican candidate in a state that Donald Trump carried by 20 points who could not take a position on the health care bill. I mean, refused to take a position because it is so unpopular in a deep red rural state like Montana and who when he was asked about the CBO score, not exactly a gotcha, kind of lost it, right?

TODD: Right.

DUNN: The third thing I would point out is that the tension between kind of the grassroots Democrats and the Washington Democrats, you`re never going to have a race that better illustrates it than this one I think.

TODD: There is no doubt. Democrats need to realize, you know, Republicans can keep the grassroots, win the grassroots, and the establishment were fighting, you know, it ended up biting them. Yamiche?

ALCINDOR: I of course want to talk about body-slamming.

TODD: Yes.

ALCINDOR: . because I think that like, that to me, it is also something as a working journalist who covers candidates that could be in people`s faces asking tough questions. The fact that it is at all acceptable that somebody can be body slammed and then be elected and then be given and then only apologize after you`ve won the election, to me is disgusting.

And it`s this idea that I think it is going to be an escalation and it says a lot about where we are as a country. It also says a lot about where we are heading. As a reporter, I`m thinking to myself, is it now politically acceptable for someone to put their hands on me and people voters are just going to say, well, it`s okay, you know, that press, we don`t like them anyway.

When you`re driving and I just came back from rural Mississippi trying to do some reporting on poverty, people are getting so angry that they are thinking that they`re physically going to be assaulting people because they don`t agree with whatever "The New York Times" printed that morning. I think we`re getting into really scary territory here.

I think both sides in some ways have something to do with the obviously -- I covered for President Trump and he put up some fence and pointed at us. But I would say that Bernie Sanders also told people that the media was lying, that we were not covering things correctly. And I think we`re getting into a space where people are not just not trusting us. There is kind of palpable anger toward reporters.

TODD: To me, I go, it`s like, I actually -- I`m not saying the burden is on the populist. I think the burden is on the leadership to sort of stand up and say this is enough. It`s not who we are.

CONTINETTI: You know, it`s important to remember too, we talk about the course of our politics. I believe politics is downstream from culture. These trends that we`re seeing, they`re apparent. It`s -- if you flip your phone and you go on to social media, this is much larger than one special election in a house race in Montana. It has to do with our inability to control ourselves. And I think what the solution for that is may be beyond politics.

TODD: Mark Sanford I thought put it as eloquently as anybody has in "The Washington Post this morning, Anita. He basically said, look, A, it`s weird out there right now. DUNN: No question.

TODD: You and I experience a lot of weirdness covering these things. But that there is this sense of a permission slip that anything goes. And he attributed it to the president. This is Republican Mark Sanford attributing it to the president, not some whacky left wing pundit. DUNN: This is Mark Sanford who also probably was the most eloquent person in denouncing the monopoly money budget that the president decides to send up to congress this week as well. This is a Mark Sanford that many of us are surprised to find, you know, ourselves agreeing with a great deal of the time.

Chuck, you know, the Republican Party has had a history, though, of using the presence of foil going back really to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew who I think did describe you as nattering nabobs of negativism.

TODD: (inaudible).

DUNN: . as I recall. But also if you recall how.

TODD: Miscellaneous footsie putters too is Pat Buchanan.

DUNN: Yeah. If you recall how the Bush campaign in 1988 set up the press in the Dan Quayle event and they miked the crowd so that when reporters were asking Quayle questions, the crowd was booing them. If you think about what Sarah Palin did with the press in 2008. So this is not new but they`re taking it to a level, and I think the president is taking it to a level that is very scary.

ALCINDOR: The Democrats did it, too. So the reporter who spent a lot of time on a campaign trail covering the Clinton campaign and Sanders campaign, they were not saying the press is amazing people and they`re here to tell the truth. They were also very angry at reporters. I think they contributed to it, too.

TODD: Unfortunately I`m out of time and I wanted to bring up Matthew`s favorite topic since you wrote about it so well a couple of weeks ago which is the 2016 campaign was still going on today.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Thank you to the three of you. Exactly. It`s May 2016 broadcast. Anyway, Anita, Yamiche, Matthew, thank you. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: That`s all we have for tonight. If it`s Sunday, catch "Meet the Press" on your local NBC station. "For the Record" though with Greta starts right now. My good friend, Chris Jansing is in.

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