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MTP Daily, Transcript 6/7/2017

Guests: Pete Williams, Dan Balz, Molly Ball

Show: MTP DAILY Date: June 7, 2017 Guest: Pete Williams, Dan Balz, Molly Ball

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: Well, Nicole. It looks like you had a bunch of New York City talk there. Tell the governor I miss him. It`s been a long time since we`ve sat down for an interview. Tell him hi.

WALLACE: Go Warriors.

TODD: Go Cavs.

If it`s Wednesday, the numbers, they all to go 11.

(voice-over): Tonight, the Comey testimony. James Comey will tell Congress tomorrow that President Trump repeatedly pressured him to say he was not under investigation. Also, that the president wanted Comey to help him, quote, "lift the cloud." That the Russia investigation has created.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was inappropriate to so obsessively hound him about making the case against Flynn go away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Plus, the unanswered questions, including what`s missing from James Comey` notes and how that could play in tomorrow`s hearing.

And political contagion. How the Russia probe is spreading like a virus in the executive branch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Are you aware of any efforts by anyone in the White House of the Executive Branch looking for advice from other members of the Intelligence community about how to potentially influence an investigation?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

(on camera): Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to MTP DAILY.

Ousted FBI Director James Comey is breaking his silence tomorrow in what is already seen as a blockbuster bit of testimony. We know it`s going to be a blockbuster because Comey`s opening statement is out already.

He exhaustively details nearly every interaction he had with President Trump and it`s loaded with bombshells. Comey lays it out in chronological order which is how we`re going to do it as well for you.

Here are the highlights. January six, two weeks before the inauguration. Comey describes meeting with Mr. Trump at Trump Tower to brief him on those explosive allegations made in the now infamous Russia dossier which would end up leaking just days later.

In that meeting, Comey also offers the president elect an assurance, quote, "Prior to the January six meeting, I discussed with the FBI`s leadership team whether I should be prepared to assure president-elect Trump that we were not investigating him personally.

During our one-on-one meeting at Trump tower, I offered that insurance. Then, just one week after the inauguration, on January 27th, President Trump invites Comey to dinner at the White House where he asked Comey if he wants to keep his job?

Comey writes, the president said, I need loyalty. I expect loyalty. I didn`t move, speak or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. I then, replied, you will always get honesty from me. He paused and then said, that`s what I want. Honest loyalty.

Comey notes it`s possible he and Mr. Trump had very different interpretations of what honesty -- honest loyalty meant. But he says he wanted to end an awkward moment. After that meeting, President Trump then crosses a big line, according to Comey.

During a meeting in the Oval Office, on February 14, the president tells him, I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go. To letting former national security adviser Michael Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.

I had understood the president to be requesting that we drop any investigations of Flynn in question with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December.

Comey`s critics on both sides of the aisle have questioned why he didn`t immediately speak out or offer his resignation after that incident with the president.

Here`s Comey`s explanation. The FBI leadership team agreed with me that it was important not to infect the investigative team with the president`s request, which we did not intend to abide. We decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road, as our investigation progressed.

The following month, Comey describes a president who is growing increasingly uneasy. The president called me at the FBI. He described the Russia investigation as a cloud, that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.

He said he had nothing to do with Russia, had not been involved with hookers in Russia, had always assumed he was being recorded when in Russia. He asked what we could do to, quote, "lift the cloud."

And then, during that conversation, we get what is arguably the single biggest bombshell from Comey`s testimony. More Comey. The president went on to say that if there were some satellite associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out. But that he hadn`t done anything wrong and hoped I would find a way to get it out, that we weren`t investigating him.

Folks, the president of the United States did not deny to the FBI director that members of his campaign play colluded with Russia`s interference in our election. He is, arguably, building his defense. And he arguably has doubts about whether or not his own campaign staff are breaking the law.

Does that not say at all? But that`s not -- there`s more.

[17:05:01] On April 11, the president calls Comey, again, about Russia. He said that the cloud was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. And added, I`ve been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know.

I did not reply or ask him what he meant by that thing. That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.

Well, this stuff is going to be rocket fuel, folks, for tomorrow`s hearing. Not just because of what it says but also because of what it doesn`t. Comey said he had nine one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump. But in this testimony, we can only count six. What about the other three?

No matter how you slice it, this is historic stuff and not in a good way. The president`s actions have arguably compromised the FBI. His actions have arguably compromised the entire Justice Department. How can the government properly function in such a state of utter turmoil?

I`m joined by NBC News justice correspondent, Pete Williams. And Ari Melber is, of course, MSNBC`s Chief Legal Correspondent.

OK. Pete, I don`t know where to begin but let`s take it the way James Comey did. He talked about that he had nine interactions with President Trump. He chronicled six. Do we have an understanding what the other three are?

PETE WILLIAMS, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, presumably -- no. The simple answer is no. We don`t know. We just have to guess that he didn`t think they were significant enough to write about.

TODD: If -- in here, when the various times -- is James Comey intending to describe obstruction of justice or is he just describing everything that`s there and letting others decide to take it for what it`s worth?

WILLIAMS: Well, there is no overt reference in these notes to obstruction of justice. And what we`ve been told by friends that he`s talked to about this is that he didn`t think it reached obstruction of justice. That he thought that a lot of this was, in essence, the necessity of the, sort of, house break the White House staff and the president about how you deal with the FBI. That there are certain things you don`t say. There are certain channels that you communicate through. And that he thought he could, sort of, school the president.

And then, of course, later one, he says he just decided the best thing is not to have any interactions with the president, asked Jeff Sessions to prevent them. And that Sessions never responded.

So, you know, there`s no -- he`s not directly trying to make a case for obstruction of justice here. Or if he is, he`s leaving that to someone else to reach that conclusion. s

TODD: All right, let me bring in Ari Melber into this. Ari, obviously, what stood out to me was satellite associates. I feel like there`s that and then there`s everything else.

One of my questions to Director Comey if I were up there would be, he brought up satellite associates. What did you take -- what did you do with that information? Did it -- did it raise a red flag for you, et cetera? What stood out to you besides that?

ARI MELBER, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I thought that was striking. Although anything that would implicate an answer regarding what was occurring inside the investigation, former Director Comey is likely to resist or duck tomorrow.

I think what jumped is beyond all the legal questions, the story line here, which is obviously unusual for dealings between a president and an FBI director, is one of President Trump being very consumed and intent on certain things.

We do know a part of President Trump from his public discussion, his public demeanor and tweets. But here, we saw, according to at least Director Comey`s account, the private version. And that is one where he was clearly fixated on the allegations and the dossier.

I thought it was fascinating that Director Comey, former Director Comey, says that Donald Trump basically said to him, well, why don`t you start an inquiry to disprove these, quote, "unsavory and unverified allegations of dossier"?

And to Pete Williams` point, that the director saw his role as trying to teach. He said, sort of, well, actually, if we even went down that road, it would look like an investigation into your personal conduct. That would be bad for you, Mr. President. Number one.

And number two, it`s very hard to prove a negative, even for the FBI. So, that was just the fascinating part that would suggest that, according to Comey`s account, Donald Trump thought that any research into the dossier would help him which is different, of course, than what you think of, in terms of obstruction which is trying to obstruct or stop an inquiry. But that was on a different topic.

When you get over to Mike Flynn, clearly, the president thought that it would be best if that just went away -- Chuck.

WILLIAMS: So, a couple of things, by the way, I think you have to say. One is this substantiates the president`s claim, in his letter firing James Comey, that three times Comey told him he wasn`t under investigation.

According to Mr. Comey`s own prepared testimony, that`s correct.

TODD: Right.

WILLIAMS: There`s a very different explanation, though, for the dinner, the loyalty dinner shall we call it. Comey says in the letter that he got the request from the White House that day. That the president called him around noon and said, you come to the White House tonight. Comey had thought that he was going to invite his family, at some point. Comey -- the president says, we`ll do that later.

During the interview with Lester Holt, the president said that Comey had asked for the dinner because the president thought he wanted to come and ask to keep his job.

[17:10:00] Comey says, in the statement, that he had talked twice before about the president about staying on and thought that was very odd. And thought, in essence, the president was trying to extract some commitment from him to be loyal in return for letting him stay on.

TODD: Well, and, Ari, that explanation, it feels as if Comey`s is a more plausible explanation when you know the timeline around the 27th. The 24th, the FBI interviews Mike Flynn. The 26th, Sally Yates, then the deputy attorney general, goes to the White House counsel and implores the White House both apparently on the 26th and even on the morning of the 27th, concerned about Mike Flynn and this idea he could get black mailed.

And then, all of a sudden, the dinner invitation comes. All within that -- all that -- all that happened in 72 hour hours.

MELBER: As you say, there`s that circumstantial timeline which is relevant. There`s also the fact that law enforcement officials, if they want a formal meeting with the president, they would do a formal meeting. They wouldn`t normally invite themselves over for dinner.

And then, you have the prior precedent, which I think is relevant here, that he says in the letter he only, you know, talked to Barack Obama as president, really twice one-on-one. And that goes to another piece that you said, what else jumps out? It jumps out that the FBI director felt that the repeated contacts were so concerning that he didn`t want to have one-on-one contact with the president at all.

All of this against the backdrop of what we know to be Donald Trump`s assertion that, while he was going to fire Comey, quote, "anyway," the other DOJ leadership, the attorney general and deputy attorney general, put together this letter focusing on the handling of the Clinton case.

So, I do think that what we`re seeing as a preview of tomorrow is a timeline and a storyline that`s very problematic for the White House because of the assertions it makes, the facts it makes. I don`t think that means it makes a federal case, so to speak, nor is that the job of any single witness even one who used to run the FBI.

But the sum takeaway, right, is of repeated meddling that this FBI director viewed as inappropriate.

TODD: Pete, I want to go to a larger issue here that I think that we`ve missed today. Missed is not the right word. There`s just so much going on. But here we have the president of the United States, no confidence in his current attorney general. The former FBI director, in this memo, says he didn`t know who he could trust at the Justice Department to essentially report this interaction that he had with the president.

WILLIAMS: Although he did report it to somebody.

TODD: He does eventually report it but he openly admits he didn`t know -- by the way, he knew some -- he knew two weeks before Jeff Sessions knew that he`d end up recusing himself. I think that`s an interesting side note to this testimony.

But I want to ask you this. What is -- what is the state of our Justice Department right now? For two very different reasons, two very important figures, the president of the United States and the former director of the FBI have introduced questions about the ability of the Justice Department to be independent.

WILLIAMS: Well, the president`s questions about the Justice Department, of course, have been about why they can`t win for him in court on the travel restrictions.

You have to remember, Jeff Sessions is recused. I`m not actually surprised to hear Comey say he thought that he was going to recuse because we got the impression that Comey -- or that Sessions was already thinking and talking about this internally before he announced it publicly. So, that part didn`t surprise me.

And, of course, the real challenge now, speaking of news of today, is the president has nominated Christopher Wray, a Justice Department veteran, to come in and take over the FBI. And he`s going to have to have to figure out what is his role here in the Russia investigation, when there is this special counsel who arguably knows the ins and outs of the FBI better than any other living human, having run it for 12 years.

TODD: Other than James Comey.

WILLIAM: Well -- but -- well, I`d say even better.

TODD: Maybe more so, right, they had Mueller 12 years.

WILLIAM: Exactly. Hard to beat that knowledge. That puts Chris Wray in a tough spot.

TODD: Oh, an incredibly tough spot. Pete Williams, you`re on deadline. You`ve got to get out of here. I appreciate it. Ari Melber, you`re in demand as well. You`ve got 17 other things to be working on. Thank you, both. ` Coming up, we`re going to put the Jim Comey statement in context. We`re going to match up his timeline of conversation with the president to the ongoing Russia investigation so that you see how it all fits in. Don`t miss this. That`s next.

[17:14:56]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

We want to take you through timeline to help put James Comey`s statement in context with what we already know. December 29th, the Obama administration imposes sanctions on Russia officially in response to their election interference.

That very same day, Michael Flynn discusses those sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. January 6th, Comey travels to New York to brief President Elect Trump on Russian efforts to interfere in the election.

And then, separately, he, alone, briefs Mr. Trump on a dossier containing salacious and unverified allegations about Trump.

Here, Comey says to the president-elect for the very first time and assures Mr. Trump, there`s no open counterintelligence case on him. Comey, then, begins documenting every interaction he has with Donald Trump.

January 10th, Buzz Feed publishes said controversial dossier. January 24th, the FBI formally interviews Michael Flynn at the White House. Two days later, January 26th and 27th, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates meets with White House counsel, Don McGahn, about Flynn`s calls with Kislyak.

The next night, January 27th, at a White House dinner, Comey says the president tells him, quote, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Comey says he agrees to give the president honest loyalty.

Three days later, Trump fires Yates, who refuses to defend the administration`s travel ban. February 13th, Michael Flynn resigns after it`s reported he misled the vice president about his conversations with Kislyak.

The next day, Comey says the president told him, quote, "I hope you can see your way clear of letting this go," meaning the Flynn investigation.

March 2nd, Sessions recuses himself from parts of the Russia investigation. March 20th, Comey publicly confirms the FBI is investigating whether associates at the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

March 30th, Comey claims Mr. Trump says that if there were, quote, "satellite associates of his who did something wrong, it would be good to find that out."

April 11th, Comey says, President Trump, again, wants to know that he wasn`t under investigation, telling him, quote, "I`ve been very loyal to you. Very loyal. We had that thing, you know."

May 3rd, Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and says that infamous world (ph) phrase, mildly nauseous. May 9th, Trump fires Comey nearly a month after they last spoke.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL)

TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY.

We have panelists here. Molly Ball, Politics Writer at "The Atlantic," Michael Steele, former RNC chair and MSNBC Political Analyst, and Dan Balz, Chief Correspondent at "The Washington Post."

And, of course, we`re calling you the unofficial mayor of the Washington press corps. I didn`t know we had elected you mayor.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": What?

TODD: One of my producers thought they want to elevate you to mayor. And I`m thinking, no, no, he`s the chief.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: He`s the chief.

TODD: Dan, you wrote a piece today. I think it was headlined -- and correct me if I`m wrong, it was something -- the president is divorced from the executive branch. I believe that was the headline over this.

BALZ: Yes.

TODD: This, to me, is the larger, dominant story of the day, while the details, obviously, are very important on Comey. But we have an executive branch that`s not functioning.

[17:20:00] BALZ: We do have an executive branch that`s not functioning. And we have a president who sits above the entirety of the executive branch and is disconnected from it and operates on his own. He undercuts his own people. He is seemingly has no trust in Jeff Sessions, at this point.

He went against his national security advisers on Article Five about NATO. He`s saying one thing about what happened in the Gulf states with Qatar and Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis are trying to say something more diplomatic.

At every turn, he`s doing things that are undercutting, harming the normal operations of the White House and the administration.

TODD: Michael Steele, he -- there are guardrails in our system. The guardrails of our democracy. Dan just laid out, essentially, all the different ways where the president essentially said, I`m going to --

STEELE: Run right into the guardrail.

TODD: -- run into the guardrail and take it out.

STEELE: That`s right.

TODD: Republicans seem to be privately concerned and publicly wary of expressing that concern on Capitol Hill.

STEELE: I`m so glad you`re asking me this question because I just want to go on the record and say, can we stop being stupid for a moment and recognize exactly what Dan has just laid out. Stop making excuses that somehow, well, why didn`t you expect -- we should have expected this. This is -- this is -- this how Trump is. We all knew this.

Now, we did not expect the presidency to be roiled in this kind of a mess four months in. We did not expect this level of independent investigations to be occurring. If anyone thought that this would be the case, back at the time during primary or the general election, then why didn`t you step up and say something?

So, you`ve got the House and the Senate leadership talking about, we`ve an agenda. We`re going to move forward on health care. We`re going to move forward on taxes. You`re not moving forward on anything.

So, get a grip and understand that somebody, and I`ve said it before on this program, need to take their behind down to the White House and say, it stops now. Because otherwise, it`s over. Where do you go from here? You`ve got -- you`ve got Comey testifying tomorrow. You`ve got all of these investigations that are going on. There is a bottom line here and it`s not necessarily a good one.

MOLLY BALL, POLITICS WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, but if there`s anything that we learn, I think, from Comey`s testimony, and some of this we already knew from the leaks the memos, is that that conversation has already occurred and the president has ignored it.

I mean, to me, what is most damning about Comey`s testimony -- you know, I think the first time the president veers into the guardrail, you can ascribe that to his learning curve. You can say, here`s a man who`s never been a politician. Maybe he didn`t know the guardrail was there.

TODD: It was Chris Christie who said, oh, OK, you can chalk it up to New York City talk. You get that excuse once.

BALL: But he is repeatedly warned, this is not how you do things. And not only because we have our silly little Washington ways but because it is inappropriate, because this independence needs to be preserved, because we have a Constitution. And he repeatedly ignored those warnings. It`s not that no one has told the president this isn`t how you`re supposed to do it. It`s that he`s ignored that.

BALZ: And I think there are people on the White House staff who have tried to say this. I mean, if you talk to people close to the White House, they will say, it`s not as though there are not people at the White House who are trying to --

STEELE: And how do you impress the gravity of the situation? How do you impress the gravity of the situation on the president if he`s not listening to counsel, if he`s not listening to people inside the White House? Where do you go from here?

TODD: He`s only going to listen to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Until the two -- I think that`s the only time he will think this is suddenly real. You -- am I wrong?

STEELE: I think you`re right. So, do -- which begs the question for me, have they had this kind of conversation with him where they say, guess what? It`s real. This is -- this is happening right now. And it`s having a very negative impact on not just your leadership but any agenda items you want to get done.

BALL: I don`t think he respects their opinion much more than anyone else`s, honestly. I mean, I think if there was anyone in this White House that he was going to listen to, it would be someone like a Jeff Sessions who has been extremely loyal to the president, who was with him from the beginning.

TODD: But he respects the institutions. It is very interesting and this, to me, gets at where I think the president has set himself up to lose -- to lose all his allies. If you turn on Jeff Session, he stood by you when nobody else would. Jeff Sessions went on cable T.V. to defend him on "Access Hollywood" tape, you name it. And the president is turning on him for respecting the institution?

BALL: He`s even raised the possibility of turning on his own family which that is a remarkable level of isolation for any human being, much less the president of the United States.

BALZ: I had a conversation with somebody today who made the point you just made which is if you are somebody in the administration or perhaps being recruited to come into the administration in a senior job, and you see that the president will not return the loyalty that he`s gotten from Jeff Sessions, you have to be extremely wary about being anywhere close to the administration.

TODD: Why isn`t there more talk of how shockingly inappropriate it is and bad for the system that a super pac is running attack ads --

STEELE: Yes.

TODD: -- on the former director of the FBI? I -- it feels, to me, this is like a horse`s head in a bed. It`s, like, this is what`s going to happen to anybody`s reputation that crosses me. We`re going to destroy you. A private -- a private citizen, mind you, who`s not ever run for office.

[17:25:09] STEELE: Right, who`s never ever run for office. There is a water`s edge for politics. And --

TODD: There is?

STEELE: There is.

TODD: It used to be there.

STEELE: It used to be there. There is.

TODD: Why do I have a feeling Charlton Heston is going to go, start just screaming (ph) and find it, like, thousands of years later.

BALL: Can you imagine if there had been a nationally televised ad campaign against Anita Hill, for instance? That seems to me to be --

STEELE: Well, and that`s -- that`s the -- that`s a very good point. And I think, again, when you`re -- when you`re bringing the party apparatus into this process, you`re -- again, not only are you short changing the very things you`ve talked about, but you are undermining the ultimate goal that the president wants to establish. And that is his legitimacy as president.

And everything, to this point, I think has hurt that. And this ad running tomorrow, they should pull it, step back from this and let Comey do his thing and let the chips go from there.

BALZ: But I think that within the administration, there is a belief, starting with the president, that nobody is defending me. And people need to start defending me.

TODD: I hear this --

BALL: I think it is also a strategy, right? Because if you partisanize the debate, then automatically anybody who is not on your side is just an opposing partisan.

STEELE: Right.

BALZ: Right.

BALL: And so, the goal there is to turn Jim Comey, who was hither to be seen as relatively apolitical.

TODD: Right.

BALL: If not, you know, as the president said, unpopular with both parties, to turn him into, basically, a politician who is opposed to Trump and therefore --

STEELE: They`d weaponize the process.

BALL: You weaponize the process.

BALZ: But, in a sense, that`s the nature of the politics that existed before Donald Trump came in. They are continuing to --

(CROSSTALK)

BALZ: At a high stakes level.

TODD: There`s no doubt. And they`re not -- they didn`t invent this.

STEELE: No, they didn`t invent this.

TODD: We`ve escalated to destructive methods and this is what we wrought.

STEELE: Yes.

TODD: Congratulations, Washington.

All right, you guys are sticking around. MSNBC will, of course, have full coverage of the Comey hearing tomorrow, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Still ahead, we know there are bars that are opening up early, so get them to turn it over to your -- to your favorite cable channel.

The other big news from today. The headlines on Russia from today`s Senate Intelligence hearing.

[17:27:12]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: Next up on "MTP Daily," why the Russia probe seems to be spreading a bit like a virus in the executive branch. We will dissect today`s testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And up ahead next hour, my colleague, Greta Van Susteren will have an exclusive one-on-one interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan, his first reaction to the Comey testimony. Right now, Hampton Pearson with the "CNBC Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. Stocks on Wall Street closed higher. Investors hoping former FBI Chief James Comey`s testimony will be less damaging to the president previously feared. The Dow rising by 37 points, the S&P up 3, the Nasdaq gaining 22 points.

Oil tumbled more than 5 percent due to an unexpected jump in U.S. inventories last week. The third round of layoffs this year happening at home improvement retailer Lowe`s. The company says it will cut about 125 information technology workers. Lowe`s says it will relocate some of those jobs to India. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. We were expecting today`s top story to be the president`s top intelligence chief and his deputy attorney general who had to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But then of course, the Jim Comey testimony came out today for tomorrow.

That said, let`s take a step back for a moment and recognize the full extent of the extraordinary crisis facing this White House and the government it oversees. The handling of the Russia probe has ignited a historic firestorm that has now engulfed and paralyzed this town.

Russia is a virus for this White House and it reveals an executive branch that looks like it is broken right now. As the (inaudible) called it, at least the president is divorced from it.

Tension is boiled over during the hearing today as both the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and the director of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, appear to deny allegations that the president pressured them.

But then they pushed back at the committee when asked to say what exactly did the president tell them. For example, here is the director of National Intelligence`s apparent denial.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

DANIEL COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I have never felt pressured to intervene or interfere in any way with shaping intelligence in a political way or in relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: But Coats specifically would not speak about his interactions with Mr. Trump. Take a listen.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

MARCO RUBIO, JUNIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM FLORIDA: Are you prepared to say that you have never felt, that you have never been asked by the president or the White House to influence an ongoing investigation?

COATS: What I`m not willing to do is to share what I think is confidential information that ought to be protected in an open hearing. And so I`m not prepared to answer your question today.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: That actually is a pretty alarming answer, not answer in some cases. It was the same story for NSA Director Mike Rogers. Here is his apparent denial.

(START VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL ROGERS, DIRECTOR OF U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: I have never been directed to do anything I believe to be illegal, immoral, unethical or inappropriate. And to the best of my recollection during that same period of service, I do not recall ever feeling pressured to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: The words were careful, but Rogers would not speak about his interactions with Mr. Trump either.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

MARK WARNER, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM VIRGINIA: Let me ask you specifically, did the president, the reports that are out there, ask you in any way, shape or form, to back off or downplay the Russia investigation?

ROGERS: I`m not going to discuss the specifics of conversations with the president of the United States, but I stand by the comment I just made to you, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Remember the key word was "directed." Everyone who testified today repeatedly dodged questions about their interactions with the president or with James Comey and multiple senators on the committee were furious that the questions were not being answered.

(START VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ANGUS KING, I-MAINE: I`m not satisfied with I do not believe it is appropriate or I do not feel I should answer. I want to understand the legal basis. You swore that oath to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And today you are refusing to do so.

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, D-NEW MEXICO: At this point, you filibuster better than most of my colleagues. So I`m going to move on to another question.

WARNER: Senator King, Senator Heinrich, and my questions deserve answers and at some point, the American public deserves full answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Let me bring in my colleagues who are covering this story for us from a couple of different perspectives. NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt and NBC News intelligence and national security reporter Ken Dilanian.

Kasie, let me start with you. Up in the hill, by the way, wasn`t just Democrats who were getting their answered questions, Marco Rubio as well with answering the obvious question, when they were denying the specific, he went for the general and they wouldn`t talk about it.

What is the real rationale? What are you hearing? Did they do it in closed session? Did they get their questions answered in at least a closed, nonpublic setting?

KASIE HUNT, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT FOR NBC NEWS AND MSNBC: It doesn`t sound like it, Chuck. The reason that they had behind closed doors was mostly with technical staff later on today. We do know that Admiral Rogers had at least one private meeting with Adam Schiff who is actually over here on the house side. We don`t know much about the contents of that meeting.

We know it wasn`t related to the committee. But the frustration on the part of members from both parties is very real here. And I think represents a real risk for President Trump. It is clear that neither one of these men who were in the spotlight today, you know, wanted to be the center of attention in any of this. And they certainly were pretty careful to make sure they didn`t give any ammunition to the president`s opponents here in congress.

But I think that that really sharpened the divide between Republicans in congress we characterize as skeptical of the president. Look, most of them frankly are skeptical privately. But you`re seeing more of them be willing to be more skeptical in public.

Another example of Marco Rubio being willing to do that. John McCain has obviously been a critic, but he used the word "Orwellian" to describe the difference between what (inaudible) were saying and what has been published in the press about what has happened. I thought that was remarkable.

TODD: I`m glad you brought up John McCain. I don`t think we have that fully here on this front. We`ve had so much on our plate. Ken, look, let`s go through what "The Washington Post" reported here. That apparently both Dan Coats and Mike Rogers were in some form, the president asked them, at least with Dan Coats, were they willing to, I don`t know, put in a good word? If they were willing to talk to Comey, explain what we know.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: There are actually two stories. One of which we at NBC News I personally have confirmed. It is an earlier story from few weeks ago that both Rogers and Coats were asked by Donald Trump on separate occasions to say publicly that they had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

And I`m told that both men found that request to be inappropriate. And that Rogers caused a memo to be written about this. He was asked about it and he didn`t comment.

TODD: Right.

DILANIAN: What`s interesting about today`s session is these guys didn`t even come to the hearing prepared with a good answer about why they wouldn`t want talk about it.

TODD: It was coordinated. I thought that was interesting. Both Rogers and Coats. It felt as if they discussed how they are going to answer this question. They both answered at the same way.

DILANIAN: The same way. But they couldn`t say, were they citing executive privilege? Was it because it was classified? They kept changing their answers about that. You know, these guys work for the American public as well as the president. The public wants answers about this. And Angus King is a pretty mild mannered guy. (inaudible), former college instructor (inaudible). He was furious today. He asked some very good questions.

TODD: Kasie, I want to go back to what John McCain said. He was clearly frustrated with Dan Coats, not necessarily personally but sort of how the whole thing. He said, so "The Washington Post" has all of this detail about what the president may ask of you. What did the post get right or wrong? And it was awkward because Coats wouldn`t deny a single individual fact in the post story but then generally characterized it oddly. Fill in the gaps here.

HUNT: Yeah, well, he was very vague about what details were correct, what were not correct, and he essentially said, I`ve been in Washington long enough that I don`t believe every word that is written in "The Washington Post." But at the same time, he wouldn`t say which of these words were to be not believe, which words were to be actually believed.

Clearly what we have since learned in the intervening hours of the afternoon is that quite a bit of detail that was reported in the press has now been corroborated on the record by the former FBI director. So kind of a difficult back and forth with the two of them there.

McCain has obviously been around a long time. But one thing I will say to Ken`s point on Angus King, he is actually somebody that I always watch in these hearings because this is not the first time Angus King has made news in a session like this.

And he does come across as kind of a mild mannered guy, but he is somebody who and I`ve been on the receiving end of this. If you got your facts wrong and you ask him a question, he will snap at you right away, and I think he is going to be really somebody to watch tomorrow as well.

TODD: That`s a fair point. I want to go back to another person who testified today that sort of got a little bit lost and that`s Andrew McCabe who certainly is the acting director of the FBI. Two things of note there. One, he was pressed about, look, Comey has, we had known that he had briefed McCabe on his interactions with the president and that was in published reports. McCabe testified before Comey statement came out. But McCabe refused to talk about his interactions with Comey. He was a third individual.

DILANIAN: Right.

TODD: . that would not answer any questions. And it wasn`t executive privilege. Wasn`t because it was classified. It was simply -- we`ll let Comey speak for himself.

DILANIAN: Well, he also said that this could fall under Robert Mueller`s investigation which I found interesting because you know what? It could. If Robert Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice. You know, we don`t know. James Comey has assured the president that he wasn`t a target of the investigation. We don`t know whether that`s still true.

TODD: No, we don`t. And the other thing interesting on McCabe is that it was on President Trump`s mind according to Comey in his memo when he associated McCabe immediately with Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia. Explain why.

DILANIAN: Because McCabe`s wife -- I don`t know if I have facts.

TODD: Yeah, ran for office. DILANIAN: The Democratic activist.

TODD: Ran for office in Virginia.

DILANIAN: Right.

TODD: And somehow that is all connected to Clinton e-mails. You know, if you connect the dots somewhere in Richmond to.

DILANIAN: Donald Trump would raise this in a meeting with.

TODD: He raised it with Comey. Very interesting. Anyway, Kasie and Ken, thank you both. Wait until tomorrow. Today it is only Wednesday. Up next, wait until you hear about the big news we didn`t have a chance to get through tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I along with many other journalists in town are obsessed about all the things that we haven`t had time to obsess about today. Just consider the news that we haven`t had time to get to. How about President Trump naming a new head of the FBI, former Assistant Attorney General Chris Wray? How about the debate over surveillance of foreigners even if it sweeps up Americans in the process?

That also happened in Capitol Hill today. There was an ISIS attack in Iran. And the growing crisis in the gulf over Qatar which involves Iran. The fact that tomorrow`s U.K. election could end up in a hung parliament further fracturing Europe. And then how about the news that a guy no one ever heard of named Scooter Gennett on the Cincinnati Reds hit four home runs in one game last night after having hit just 38 in his four-year career.

All right. That wasn`t big news. What may be the biggest domestic news story of all at least politically, Kansas Republicans overriding a veto by Republican Governor Sam Brownback in agreeing to raise taxes. Let`s repeat that. Republicans in Kansas defied their governor and voted to raise taxes. Any one of those stories, sorry, Scooter, aside, would have been huge news today. Our lead, perhaps. Maybe tomorrow. Unless of course James Comey testifies.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." We just got a statement from President Trump`s outside counsel reacting to the James Comey testimony. Quote, in full, the president is pleases that Mr. Comey has finally publicly confirmed his private reports that the president was not under investigation in any Russian probe. The president feels completely and totally vindicated. He is eager to continue to move forward with his agenda. End of statement.

The panel is back. Molly, Michael, Dan. Okay. The president is, he does not deny a single thing in the Comey testimony and cherry picks what he wants out of it. Wow! Dan?

DAN BALZ, JOURNALIST AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AT THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, they`re always entitled to their own view of the world. But as we`ve seen throughout this administration, events continue to overwhelm them. And we`ll have another day of this tomorrow. People will draw their own conclusions. They will try to do what they want to do, but people are going to come to different conclusions than that. It`s not a full exoneration.

TODD: It`s not at all. The president is singularly focused on himself.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The key thing and has been from the very moment apparently from that first conversation has been oh, you said I`m not under investigation. Okay, that`s all I`ve heard. I don`t hear anything else. I`m not under investigation. And this is further confirmation of that singular-minded perspective of this whole affair. Everything else may be crumbling around you, but I`m not under investigation.

MOLLY BALL, STAFF WRITER FOR THE ATLANTIC: If I can just be a little bit skeptical, however, I wonder if the president is actually pleased. I am looking forward to reporting from the White House about whether Donald Trump is actually in a good mood, having read this statement from Jim Comey. He actually legitimately sees this as a wonderful thing and is skipping off to work tomorrow morning.

I mean, this seems like spin. If I were Donald Trump, I would not be pleased. And I think the important thing to remember, too, is the statement from Jim Comey is only the starting point. The hearing tomorrow, this is the thing that everybody goes into it already knowing, and the questions go on from there.

BALZ: I think there are two points, two quick points. One, he has been looking all along for ways to say there`s no evidence that we colluded or that my campaign colluded. And, again, with what we`ve found today in the Comey statement, there is no specific hard concrete evidence of that.

There is still a lot of smoke. There`s investigation going on. We`ll get to the bottom of that. But the other is just in the way he thinks about these things. He`s walled himself off from all of the other aspects of it, and that continues to overwhelm him.

TODD: All right. Let`s take the president at everything the president said at his word. He knows nothing about this, he did nothing about this, and he`s just fuming. He now at least at one point admits to Comey he`s maybe somebody associated with me did something. You need to find that out. It`s possible, like take him at his word, that he`s sitting there going, everybody is delegitimizing me. I didn`t do anything.

STEELE: Right.

TODD: And he`s lashing out.

STEELE: Right.

TODD: But he`s now realizing this is not being dropped because maybe there is something out there that he had nothing to do with. STEELE: This speaks to the importance of counsel and taking that counsel to heart. So, when you`re thinking about the precipitous firing of the FBI director, when you`re thinking about the next tweet that you`re about to send out, all of this plays into the narrative that, you know, which at the end could be just smoke.

You know, that could happen. There is nothing there. There is no there- there. By your own actions, your own words, your own tweets are creating an environment in which you are creating a separate narrative which is driving a story line that doesn`t look good for you.

BALL: And I think the other thing that`s important to remember is how this story ends because Jim Comey rather poetically ends on this note that I never spoke to him again. But where it actually ends is he got fired.

And so all of the statements that he made at the time that he was the director are only good until the time that he was no longer there. And the firing is a pretty significant event in setting off this whole sequence. So, you know, that`s a big.

BALZ: And in bringing an investigation that in a sense was largely focused toward the campaign and outside the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD: That`s to Mike Flynn. I mean.

BALL: There`s nothing here, I wish you would clear me. And Comey says, no, and there`s no evidence of anything involving Trump and everything goes on. Instead, he gets rid of him.

TODD: Look, again, the most generous defense of the president here, Michael, is that, look, he always believes in fighting.

STEELE: Yeah.

TODD: You fight everything.

STEELE: Yeah.

TODD: And he mistakenly views people he`s appointed to office, they work for him personally and, okay, this is somebody that hasn`t been a career in government.

STEELE: Right.

TODD: But even in those most generous ignorance of the law or ignorance of how a process works isn`t a defense that usually gets you off.

STEELE: It is not a defense that gets you off and it certainly won`t get you off when you are presumably the most powerful person on the planet, when you`re the president. There is built into that office a certain knowledge that he clearly is not tapping into to help him. And right now, he is back on his heels.

TODD: Headlines say it best, divorce from the executive branch.

STEELE: Yeah.

TODD: Thank you, guys. And we thought tomorrow was going to be a big day.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: After the break, fighting for the right to free tweets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Finally tonight, in case you missed it, those tweets from President Trump are more than just a stream of consciousness or a vehicle for early morning venting. Since the president was sworn in, they`re also part of the public record. His official statements from the commander in chief. In case you missed it, official presidential statements come with some constitutional requirements.

It could actually place Mr. Trump in the First Amendment crosshairs. Here`s what we mean. The president`s personal Twitter account at real Donald Trump has 31.9 million followers. He follows only 45 people. Then there is an untold amount of people the president has blocked or somebody has blocked for him which means he doesn`t see their tweets and they don`t see his.

I know, I know, before you tweet at me, we should point out there are work around like logging out of your account, you can still see this page, blah, blah, blah. But blocking people could actually get him in a technical legal fix. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University thinks the president might be actually violating the constitution`s free speech clause.

The group sent a letter to the president yesterday arguing that the real Donald Trump account constitutes a designated public forum. So, they say the government cannot exclude individuals from it just based on their views. So, folks, I know from personal experience how much it stinks to be told or harassed or yelled at on Twitter.

And I have to admit at times when someone has crossed the line on Twitter whether with their language or attacking my family, I have blocked a few people. But I`m not the president. You know what? That`s why Twitter invented the mute function. Looks like the president legally may be required to use it rather than block because he is now in government. It`s fascinating argument.

Look, I`ve had it myself. We`re advocates of the First Amendment. Who are we to tell somebody whether or not they are allowed to see our tweets? That`s all for tonight. Back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." I would say on another day, I would be bugging Greta right now and "For the Record" to about this First Amendment question, but man does she have a great interview, so it`s all yours.

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