MTP Daily, Transcript 6/16/2017

Guests: Deirdre Bosa, Ralph Northam Al Sharpton, Pete Williams, Amy Klobuchar, Steve McMahon, Ramesh Ponnuru

Show: MTP DAILY Date: June 16, 2017 Guest: Deirdre Bosa, Ralph Northam Al Sharpton, Pete Williams, Amy Klobuchar, Steve McMahon, Ramesh Ponnuru

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

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicole. Are you -- are you ready for Mark (ph) on Sunday? Are you going to be good to him?

WALLACE: Oh, yes, it`s Father`s Day.

TODD: You better be nice.

WALLACE: Happy Father`s Day.

TODD: That`s only one day here you have to be nice to Mark. Remember that. Thank you, Nicole.

If it`s Friday, did President Trump sound the fire alarm again at the White House?

(voice-over): Tonight, President Trump`s latest Twitter rant. Did he just confirm that he`s under investigation for obstruction of justice? Plus, dazed and recused? The president attacks his deputy attorney general. Will Rod Rosenstein be the next to step aside?

And the cure for cat scratch fever. Why I`m obsessed with rocker Ted Nugent`s new political pitch.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

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

The special counsel`s investigation is, indeed, expanding. And, in response, the president has basically declared war on his own Justice Department or it looked that way this morning.

Right now, everyone in Washington is waiting to see if Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein either recuses himself, resigns or gets fired. This comes after the president seemingly targeted Rosenstein personally today for the fallout after -- it was Rosenstein, of course, who officially appointed Bob Mueller as a special counsel in reaction to the Comey ouster.

The president today tweeted, I am being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt.

First off, the president appeared to be publicly confirming that he`s under an investigation, possibly a criminal one, for obstruction of justice. But, a source close to the president`s outside counsel then told us that when the president says, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI director," he doesn`t really mean he`s being investigated for firing the FBI director.

This source, who has asked to remain anonymous, says the president was not confirming an investigation. Instead, he was simply referencing "The Washington Post" story, which the president`s legal team has bashed for relying on anonymous sources. In other words, his legal team was basically leaking to say, don`t believe the president`s words.

Second, for Mr. Trump to pin the Comey firing on Rosenstein is arguably a bit absurd. Rosenstein told Congress that President Trump had already decided to fire Comey when he asked for Rosenstein`s input. And you don`t have topic that Rosenstein`s word for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLT, ANCHOR, NBC NEWS: You met with the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Third, the entire episode raises the very serious question about whether or not the president is laying the groundwork to fire Rosenstein or get him to recuse himself from the Russia probe or, perhaps, he feels the need to resign.

Rosenstein is the only one with the direct authority to fire the special counsel. But we know, based on his testimony, that he doesn`t want to do that.

He also oversees the special counsel`s budget. If Rosenstein, by the way, feels the need to step aside, and he may have to, because he was in the room with the president when he was pondering the firing of Comey, then the authority of overseeing the special counsel would fall to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who served in the Justice Department under President Bush. She`s also served on an advisory board under President Obama.

But, folks, what the heck is going on inside the White House right now? Honestly, when we woke up this morning, we didn`t know if the lead story today would be, say, about the White House`s new Cuba policy, their stance on the so-called dreamers, the feel-good unity of the Congressional baseball game.

It`s as if the president is telling us, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know what you should talk about, Russia, keep your eye on the ball, since he spent his morning tweeting about this. About half of the president`s tweets, since yesterday, have focused on the investigation. He slammed the probe, Congress, Hillary Clinton, and he`s now seemingly blaming his own Department of Justice for what he`s calling a witch hunt.

Yes, it`s extraordinarily confusing. I`m joined now by NBC Justice Correspondent, Pete Williams. Pete, let`s start with a simple question here. What`s the status of Rod Rosenstein?

PETE WILLIAMS, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, I can`t imagine that he`s going to resign. I`d be very surprised if he`s fired. But I think you`re right, at some point, he has to consider whether he`s going to recuse himself and he has said so publicly for the last couple of weeks. He has said, you know, if the time comes, then I will certainly consider that.

And the problem, of course, as you noted, is that he has a definite role in the firing of James Comey. He wrote that memo at the president`s request. The president initially said he relied on. He was in the meeting with the president the day before Comey was fired.

[17:05:04] So, if it comes to that, then he`s certainly prepared to do it. He`s talked about doing it.

The other thing I`d say about the president`s tweet there is that it`s factually wrong to say that he`s being investigated by Rod Rosenstein. Rod Rosenstein isn`t investigating anything to do with the president, because that`s the special counsel`s job.

TODD: It was also odd -- the tweet was odder this morning, because Rod Rosenstein put out one of the most cryptic statements we`ve seen from any governor official in some time.

He put out this release last night. Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous officials, particularly when they do not identify the country, let alone the branch or agency of government with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm or deny such allegations.

What was he responding to?

WILLIAMS: Well, a couple of things. What I`m told by people at the Justice Department is, number one, this was his decision to do this. One official told me today, this is 100 percent Rod. In other words, nobody put him up to this.

He had -- we know he`s been bugged by a couple of things that he says are wrong from the day he came into office. There was a story that he threatened to resign over the way his handling of -- his role in the Comey firing was reported by the White House. He says that`s not true.

There was a story that he had met with Comey and turned Comey down on additional resources for the Russia investigation. He says that`s not true. And, by the way, so does Comey say that`s not true.

And then, you add the other stories, the two "Washington Post" stories today about the obstruction investigation, looking at Jared Kushner`s finances. And Rosenstein just, sort of, thought enough is enough.

And I think the message was intended to, A, express his own frustration. And, B, to be a message to the Justice Department and the FBI, stop leaking.

TODD: But what`s this message? It didn`t say anything. It didn`t talk about -- it`s, like -- it didn`t talk about that these leaks are illegal. And, in some cases, they`re not illegal at all.

WILLIAMS: Correct. If there`s no Grand Jury investigation, for example. But I think it was intended to -- here`s the issue. It was intended to be a message to DOJ and FBI employees, stop doing this. Maybe he was thinking, you know, this just annoys the White House. I don`t know about that part.

But the other problem is I don`t think he knows whether these -- where these leaks are coming from, because he doesn`t know what the special counsel is doing. By his own testimony this week before Congress, he`s talked to Mueller once and that`s when he was appointed. He doesn`t know the scope of Mueller`s investigation is. And I confirmed today that he hasn`t talked to Mueller since his testimony on Tuesday. So, he doesn`t know.

TODD: Does the special counsel have an obligation to let the president know if, indeed, he is under investigation for obstruction of justice?

WILLIAMS: No, any more than a U.S. attorney would have an obligation to tell anyone they`re under investigation.

I also think, maybe, it`s a little too grand a word to use, investigation, at this point. Because that, sort of, implies that they already know that somebody did something bad and they`re trying to build a case against them.

I suspect on this obstruction thing, for example, they just want to know what happened. They want to talk to these people that they`ve heard the president has talked to about this. They want to simply try to get the facts. Call that an investigation if you want to but just realize that it`s not the way we normally think of them as.

And of course, we all know, ultimately, it can`t lead to a criminal prosecution anyway.

TODD: Well, that`s what I mean. That`s what I mean. When is there ever a legal requirement to let somebody know their status, if they`re in -- being potentially -- or is it just wait until the papers are served, if papers get served?

WILLIAMS: No, there`s no legal requirement.

Now, the U.S. attorney`s manual says that if you`re going to nail somebody, you should give them the opportunity to try to talk you out of it and say why this is a bad idea. And it happens all the time.

And you can send them a target letter and say, you know, you`re the target of the Grand Jury. We`re about to make your life miserable. Tell us why we shouldn`t do it.

But why would the government do that? Because, remember, the way the Justice Department thinks of itself is not as trying to win a game, but trying to get justice. And so, their goal is not to bring cases that don`t have any merit.

If you think they`re wrong, try to talk them out of it. It doesn`t -- it very seldom works. Sometimes it does. But there`s no obligation to do that.

TODD: By the way, you brought up a Grand Jury. There`s no evidence that a --

WILLIAMS: No.

TODD: -- Grand Jury has been handled here. Right?

WILLIAMS: Good point.

TODD: OK.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely not.

TODD: All right.

WILLIAMS: No evidence that they`re -- and I -- by the way, I don`t think they ever would impanel a Grand Jury. if they need to issue subpoenas, as the FBI already has, they`d use existing grand juries.

TODD: Pete Williams, boy, your beat gets more interesting by the day.

WILLIAMS: It`s a living.

TODD: Yes, it is. Thank you, sir.

I`m joined now by Senator Amy Klobuchar. She`s a Democrat from Minnesota. She`s also a member of the Senate Democratic leadership and a member of the Judiciary Committee which, by the way, very quietly went under the radar. They just opened its own investigation into the president`s firing of Director James Comey.

Senator Klobuchar, thanks for coming on.

[17:10:00] SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, thank you, Chuck. It`s great to be on.

TODD: I want to get a little bit more on this decision. I -- Senator Grassley did this. He`s come under some criticism by Republicans to do this.

What`s going on behind the scenes here? Is it -- was it the letter from Dianne Feinstein that got Grassley to do this? What happened? Can you take us behind the scenes?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. One of the things that is clear is the Judiciary Committee has the primary jurisdiction here, when it comes to oversight of the Justice Department and the FBI.

And yet, despite repeated requests from individual members of the committee, we still haven`t had attorney general Sessions come before the committee and in an unprecedented move, he appeared before intelligence.

That wasn`t -- that has happened before with attorney generals, but what happened here was he went there first.

And so, I think we are glad or I am glad, I should say, the intelligence community is doing their thorough job and they called Attorney General Sessions there.

But Attorney General Sessions must come before judiciary. One, for oversight purposes to explain the Comey firing. But, two, there`s a lot of other things going on there. You`ve got to refugee order. You`ve got the change in some of the immigration policy. The criminal justice policy. The voting commission.

We simply can`t have a Justice Department and an attorney general that doesn`t come before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

TODD: Now, there`s been some indication, at least that on the Republican side of your committee, they`d like to have this probe expanded to get into the role Loretta Lynch may or may not have played in the e-mail investigation into Hillary Clinton.

Are you comfortable that the scope of this investigation should include Director Comey`s interactions, both with the attorney general of this administration and the attorney general of the last administration?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, I think what we`re looking for right now is a hearing and having Director Comey come before us, getting his memos. And, obviously, in a public hearing, people are free to ask whatever questions that they can. We don`t limit the questions of members in judiciary.

I, myself, I`m going to focus on what happened with the firing and with Attorney General Sessions, not only the policy issues I mentioned. But also, what were his discussions with the Russian ambassador, right after the president and Putin had met?

And President Obama had said he wasn`t going to get rid of the sanctions. And here, you have a few days later, Jeff Sessions suddenly meeting with the Russian ambassador.

And those questions actually were not asked --

TODD: Is that the timeline? Is that the -- right. Wait, Jeff Sessions?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes.

TODD: We know Mike Flynn. But you`ve got a Jeff Sessions meeting as well?

KLOBUCHAR: No. Remember, this is why the Judiciary Committee is so key. My colleague, Al Franken, had asked then Senator Sessions about whether or not he had met with the Russians. He said he hadn`t. Then the meeting came out. Right? Remember the meeting he had --

TODD: But it was the September meeting --

KLOBUCHAR: -- with the Russian.

TODD: -- in his office. Yes.

KLOBUCHAR: Right. That`s right. And it was only a few days after Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama had met at the International Conference.

TODD: I got you. It`s that one. I was conflating.

KLOBUCHAR: And Barack Obama --

TODD: Yes. I got you.

KLOBUCHAR: There are so many meetings, Chuck, it`s hard. But the point is, no one has actually asked about -- in detail about the substance of that meeting and I am very curious about that.

TODD: All right. Did he --

KLOBUCHAR: And there`s many reasons he should come before the Judiciary Committee.

TODD: When you heard, though, former Director Comey talk about his interactions with the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, back then, and he seemed to be troubled by different things. Did that bother you at all?

KLOBUCHAR: Oh, well, I think that my colleagues will be asking about that. Loretta Lynch`s spokesperson issued a statement, saying that she simply wanted to make clear when she said it should be referred or they all agreed it should be referred to as a matter. She said that that was because she didn`t want to make it look like they were going to make a decision on this right before a campaign.

The point is, that did bother Jim Comey. I know him from law school. He`s by the book. And I`m sure my colleagues will ask questions about that and they have a right to.

TODD: Do you think Rod Rosenstein has to recuse himself?

KLOBUCHAR: No, I do not. I think Rod Rosenstein is a cautious prosecutor, someone who`s been doing this through many administrations. And he`s going to make that decision if that happens. I don`t know all the facts involved. What I do know is what he told us we could tell you and the public right after that briefing we had in a classified setting.

I specifically asked him and he said we could publicly explain what he told us. And that is that he had been told that the president was going to fire Comey before he wrote that memo. So, that memo was not the reason for the firing. And despite the fact that we were led to think that at point.

TODD: And you believe that is enough --

KLOBUCHAR: We believe the firing was what the president said.

TODD: And you believe that that --

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I don`t know that, Chuck.

TODD: -- keeps him -- that that alone -- but if that is the way -- if that`s -- that that means he can still supervise the special counsel, even if he`s called in as a witness?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. I could never say that for certain because I don`t know all the facts.

But what I do know is the most disturbing tweet I`d ever seen, and there have been a lot of them, was the four between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. from the president.

[17:15:07] But the one at the very end, where he said that the man who was -- who told him to fire Comey was the same man who was investigating him.

Number one, we know for certain that he decided to fire Comey before that memo was written. And number two, it is not Rod Rosenstein that is making those decisions.

This investigation is being conducted independently by Bob Mueller who`s the independent prosecutor. And when we get into all of these details, we sometimes forget, this is about a foreign power trying to influence America.

TODD: If Rod Rosenstein does recuse himself, Rachel Brand would be the next person up to supervise the special counsel. You voted to confirm Rosenstein, but you voted against the confirmation of brand. Why?

KLOBUCHAR: I was concerned about her -- the hearing that we had, she answered very few questions. She actually -- she and Rosenstein appeared together and Rosenstein answered most of the questions. I directly asked her some questions.

I had a pleasant meeting with her in my office but I was concerned about her in this job and she now has a job and I respect that. And I think you`ve got to take the words of Lindsey Graham. And the words of Lindsey Graham this week was if the president were to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, that would be a disaster.

Mueller has not even started to do his job. And I would hope that Rachel Brand, who does have legal experience here, would understand that and even if for some reason this went into her hands, would do the right thing for the Justice Department.

TODD: All right, Senator Amy Klobuchar, I`m going to leave it there. A Democrat from Minnesota. Thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Chuck.

TODD: OK.

Coming up, resign, recuse, fired. What is next for the acting attorney -- well, the acting -- the deputy attorney general who oversees this investigation? We`ll have more in a minute. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY.

We have an update on the condition of House majority whip, Steve Scalise, who was, of course, shot earlier this week during the Republican Congressional baseball team practice. The doctors at MedStar Washington Hospital say the Congressman`s condition remains critical.

The good news is his vital signs have stabilized. They say they`re encouraged by Scalise`s improvement over the last 36 hours, compared to his status when he reached the hospital, which they characterized as at imminent risk of death.

The good news is that that`s no longer the case. Congressman Scalise will require additional surgeries and will certainly be in the hospital for a considerable period of time.

Meanwhile, some good news about special agent Crystal Griner who was shot while protecting the lawmakers from that gunman. She`s now in good condition. Doesn`t mean she`s out of the hospital yet. But that also another good sign.

[17:20:00] So, relatively speaking, some improved news today on that front.

We`ll be back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

The panel is here. "National Review`s" Ramesh Ponnuru, Democratic Strategist Steve McMahon, and "USA Today" senior politics reporter and MSNBC Political Analyst Heidi Przybyla. Welcome all.

I go back to something -- we are not kidding. This morning in our morning meeting -- this morning, when I was up at my usual early time, deciding which direction are we going to -- how much Cuba should we do today? And the president did his -- did the budget meeting for us. And he said, no, no, no. Pay no attention to what I`m doing today. Refocus on -- he cannot get this out of his head. Obviously, something triggered this.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: What is the one thing that we know angers this president almost more than anything else? A leak. And that is how I interpreted this was that he was angry that someone -- and he thought it was the FBI, who heads the FBI? Rosenstein. Leaked out that he is, in fact, under investigation. And so, of course he tweeted out.

But this is creating, as in so many cases in this whole episode, a pattern of the president essentially going after any individual who is in a position of power over this investigation. You saw it with Mueller, you saw it previously where he was angry at Sessions, because he didn`t recuse himself -- and there is --

TODD: That he did recuse himself. He`s still upset about that.

PRZYBYLA: I apologize, that he did recuse himself.

TODD: Yes. And Comey, you forgot that.

PRYZYBYLA: Right.

TODD: And we know what he did there.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And it`s not really easy to do what he did today. He actually was able to get two lies into 140 characters. I mean, think about that for a second. By saying that he was being investigated by the man who ordered him to fire Comey. Neither of which was true, by the way.

TODD: Well, we don`t know about the investigation.

MCMAHON: But we do know --

TODD: But we do know it`s not Rosenstein.

MCMAHON: We do know it`s not Rosenstein. And we also know that Rosenstein didn`t tell him to fire Comey.

So, it is interesting. It absolutely drives him crazy.

Last week was infrastructure week. Does anybody remember that? Today, you know, he made news on this Cuba thing, rolling back --

TODD: And DACA.

MCMAHON: And DACA.

TODD: DACA is a different story in a -- in a -- way that was a semi- surprising (INAUDIBLE.)

MCMAHON: And what are we talking about? We`re not talking about either of those things nor are we talking about infrastructure?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, it`s driving the news today not only because he`s lashing out and he`s not talking about the other events of the day, but also because it`s mysterious. And it`s not entirely clear what exactly he means.

TODD: Yes, and what triggered it?

PONNURU: Yes, I do think that there is a legitimate complaint about the leaks. I don`t see what the whistle blowing justification for this leak is. I mean, I think some leaks you can justify that way. At this point, I don`t really see the public interest in it.

But you`ve got to stop and think, presumably, if you`re the president of the United States, does my complaining about this serve any interest of the public`s or of my own? And here, it`s hard to see how it does.

PRYZYBYLA: I actually disagree. There is a huge public interest in this leak. And that was that prior to this, the news was that the president might fire Mueller.

So, if you get the information out there that Mueller is investigating the president, that makes it much harder for the president to go ahead and do that.

MCMAHON: Doesn`t it, though, seem really obviously, though. Given the fact pattern, that Mueller had to be investigating the president for obstruction of justice because it would be negligent not to. I mean, you have -- you have, like, bread comes everywhere. And if you follow any --

TODD: Oh, by the way, and if you take Pete`s (ph) words, I thought that was a very -- you know, it`s, like, an investigate -- if you want to investigate something doesn`t mean it`s a formal investigation where you`re going to impanel a Grand Jury. There is a difference.

But I think you`re right. There`s enough bread crumbs out there.

MCMAHON: You have to.

TODD: I need to understand the motivation behind this.

MCMAHON: You absolutely have to.

TODD: How do you not, right?

PONNURU: Well, and that`s why most people who read that story believed it. It was plausible that that`s what would be happening. It`s what people expected to happen.

MCMAHON: My wife who worked with Bob Mueller for years over at the U.S. attorney`s office said, of course he`s investigating. Why is this even news? It`s obvious. It`s obvious to anyone.

And remember this. You know, Donald Trump, with great bravado, said he`ll go under oath and he`ll testify and do all of this. It wasn`t anything that occurred in white water or even with Monica Lewinsky that brought down Bill Clinton in the -- in the impeachment. It was -- it was what he did under oath with -- in a deposition.

[17:25:00] And Donald Trump lies. And he lies routinely, repeatedly and he can`t help himself. He will be --

TODD: It`s a perjury charge.

MCMAHON: It`s perjury.

TODD: If he`s not careful, right? You wanted --

PONNURU: Although nobody can actually be trapped into perjury. You have to decide to do it yourself.

MCMAHON: Do you have any doubt that he will?

TODD: It`s a perjury trap if you -- if you don`t know how to tell the truth.

PONNURU: I think Mueller, obviously, has to conduct himself in a way that he`s walking the line and so there`s no excuse for firing him. I think he needs to make contingency plans for the investigation to proceed, if he does get fired.

I don`t think it`s right for the -- for Mueller to be taking steps to try to reduce the likelihood that he`s going to be fired.

TODD: But in terms --

(CROSSTALK)

I was just going to say, we don`t know that.

PRZYBYLA: We don`t know where that came from. We don`t know where that came from.

TODD: We don`t know that.

But let me bring up the Rod Rosenstein situation. Obviously, the president`s very angry at him. He may be simply angry because he`s the guy that appointed the special counsel. OK.

We know that Jeff Sessions, he`s upset that he recused himself. Which gave the authority to Rod Rosenstein. Which, then in turn, led to this. Which then leads to the mysterious Rod Rosenstein statement from last night.

First of all, how long can he go without recusing himself, at this point?

PRZYBYLA: Well, that`s a big question because at the epicenter of this investigation is now obstruction of justice over the Comey --

TODD: If at the epicenter, I was just going to say there is --

PRZYBYLA: If that is a big part of this investigation now is over obstruction of justice and Rosenstein would be central to that, given that he is the one who wrote the letter and that there is a dispute over what the genesis of that was. Whether it came from him or whether the president ordered him to do it. He would seem to be possibly central to that investigation.

MCMAHON: If he becomes a witness, an actual witness, and I presume he would have to recuse himself. But, right now, he`s not conducting the investigation. He`s supervising the individual who is. And so, I don`t think there`s any reason for him to recuse himself currently.

And unless he becomes a witness, I don`t think there will be, at any point, any reason for him to recuse himself.

TODD: Ramesh, what`s this do to the White House if everybody`s -- it seems like anybody who the president touched on Comey, and perhaps Flynn because then that becomes related to the Comey firing, has felt the need to get a lawyer.

Vice president Pence we know has an outside counsel. We know Jared Kushner has an outside counsel. Who -- I mean, is that where this is heading inside that west wing?

PONNURU: Well, you`d think that anybody, even peripherally involved here, would be well advised to lawyer up. That`s the way these things work. And if you don`t get good legal representation, you can end up facing some pretty serious consequences.

That is going to -- you know, this is going to be just occupying the minds of people when other things could be about how to drive the president`s agenda. That`s one of the reasons why Trump resents the investigation.

TODD: By the way, that -- it ends up building trust issues. Because then, everybody`s looking over their shoulder. You know, how do you -- wait, wait, wait, wait, you went to the special counsel. Wait, are you cutting a deal? Oh, wait, what`s going on here? And then, that only creates more problems.

PRZYBYLA: I talked to sources within the White House who say that, on a certain level, people are willfully ignorant of what`s going on. People who are in positions who should know things don`t because they don`t want to know them. They -- they are --

TODD: Stay away from that meeting, yes.

PRZYBYLA: You know, walling themselves off. And then, there`s this layer of people, like Mike Pence, who are in the inner circle and who, under these circumstances -- not under normal circumstances but under these circumstances, he had to.

TODD: Of course he did.

MCMAHON: And these are people who, most of whom, with the exception of the Goldman Sachs crew, they don`t have the kind of money it`s going to take to write these checks month after month after month to these lawyers. I think George Stephanopoulos came out of the White House with about $6,000 in legal fees. And that`s about what --

TODD: He`s doing OK now.

MCMAHON: He`s doing OK now but that`s what a lot of these people are going to be looking at.

TODD: And these are young folks that don`t have that --

MCMAHON: That`s exactly right.

TODD: -- kind of money.

All right, you guys are sticking around. We`re going to talk about something that`s not Russia, I think, in the e-block. I promise.

Coming up though, Democrats are starting out with a big advantage in the Virginia general election. Can they hold onto it all the way to November?

And if it`s Sunday, I will be focusing on the Russian investigation. I`m going to talk to the president`s -- one of the president`s outside legal counsels, Jay Sekulow.

Plus, Senators Marco Rubio in an exclusive interview with Angus King, both on the Intel Committee. This Sunday on "MEET THE PRESS." Check those local stations. And, yes, they`re on the air on normal times. Don`t miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: A lot more "MTP Daily" ahead, including the special election that could be a game changer for the Democrats and it`s not the one you think it is. But first, a programming note. Tomorrow night, on the 45th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, MSNBC will bring you a special presentation of "All The President`s Men Revisited."

The documentary narrated by Robert Redford offers a comprehensive look of the Watergate scandal, weaving firsthand accounts from those at the center of the storm with the scenes from Redford`s movie, "All The President`s Men." It`s an enjoyable way to remember and sort of relive some of that history for some of you and perhaps it`s history you need to know. That`s tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. eastern, only on MSNBC.

We`ll be right back. But first, here`s Deirdre Bosa with the Friday Market Wrap. What do we got? DEIRDRE BOSA, TECHNOLOGY REPORTER FOR CNBC: Happy Friday, thanks, Chuck. Stocks ending today mixed. The Dow rose 24 points, the S&P gained just a fraction, and the Nasdaq lost 13. The big news of the day, Amazon is expanding its presence in brick-and-mortar retail.

The e-commerce giant will buy supermarket chain whole foods for more than $13 billion in cash. And new home construction was slow for a third straight month. The commerce department reports housing starts fell 5.5 percent in May, while building permits fell nearly 5 percent. And that`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

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TODD: Welcome back. The race is set in what may be one of the most competitive races this November. It`s the fight to be the next governor of Virginia. We get this every off off year, every four years, thanks to the term limit, one-year term limit, one-term term limit in Virginia. After the primaries earlier this week, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam will go head to head with former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie.

Both are moderates candidates within their party who will do their best to paint each other as extremists of their party. Democrats are riding high on data from primary. There were about 200,000 more Democratic ballots cast than Republican ballots. It`s early, but the general election strategy for both parties seems clear. Tie the opposing candidate to each party`s extremes.

Democrats are portraying Gillespie as a close ally of President Trump in a state where the president is not so popular. Republicans are labeling Northam as the most liberal Democratic nominee in Virginia history. They even purchased a domain name, tooliberalralph.com.

Well, joining me now is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Virginia and current lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam. Mr. Lieutenant Governor, first congratulations on your primary win. That`s a big deal.

RALPH NORTHAM, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA: Thank you, Chuck. Happy Friday to you and your viewers.

TODD: Yeah, thank you very much. So let me start with the portrayal that the Gillespie campaign wants to make of you. They say you`re the most liberal nominee for governor in the history of Virginia. Do you accept that label, number one? And number two, are they right?

NORTHAM: Well, Chuck, as you know, I grew up in rural Virginia over on the eastern shore and attended Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. I don`t know how many liberals come out of VMI, but I`m not sure why there`s confusion.

But, you know, the most important thing is we`re promoting economic opportunity for all Virginians here, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, and we`ve been very successful and will continue to do that over the next four years.

TODD: You voted, you know, one of the things that gives you the perception among many Democrats that you`re moderate and not a part of the progressive side of things is that you supported George W. Bush not once, but twice. What made George W. Bush a better presidential candidate in your mind than John Kerry in 2004?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, I had served in the United States army, I served during desert storm, taking care of wounded soldiers, and at that time of my life, I was starting my medical practice in Norfolk as a pediatric neurologist. I was doing a lot of volunteer work for pediatric hospice. I was underperformed (ph) politically.

And knowing what I know now about George Bush`s policies and principles and values, it was a wrong vote. The one thing I would say, when I was asked, I didn`t dance around the question, I told the truth. And, you know, Virginians are looking for a leader that will look them in the eyes and tell them the truth. And that`s what I bring to the table.

TODD: Speaking of that, let me ask you this, because what adds to this evidence of, you know, of where you are on the party scale. In 2009, it was reported that Republicans were courting you to switch parties, right after you got elected to the state senate. What was that about and how serious did you consider it?

NORTHAM: Well, it was really more about power sharing with the finance committee. There were some things that I was working on for my district to include our children`s hospital and the medical school. I had never considered switching parties.

That was a tweet that went out by one of the Republicans, I guess, that had wishful thinking. But, you know, I have fought for Virginia`s progressive democratic values for 10 years. I`m proud to be a Democrat and I believe that when we elect Democrats in Virginia, good things happen.

TODD: You know, during your primary debate with Tom Perriello, at one point you seemed to say, hey, this race isn`t about Donald Trump. And in a general election campaign, I have a feeling we`re going to hear a lot about Donald Trump. Is it or isn`t it?

NORTHAM: Well, Donald Trump, in my opinion and a lot of Virginians opinion is a dangerous man. You know, Mr. Gillespie is nothing more than one of his lobbyists. He`s a Washingtonian with a Virginia address.

You know, we`re going to be very careful to continue to our promote our economy. We`re going to do it with workforce development and inclusivity here in Virginia. And the hatred and the bigotry that`s coming out of Washington, we`re not going to tolerate it here in Virginia.

TODD: Is that a fair hit on Ed Gillespie? I mean, he basically almost lost the Republican nomination, because he wasn`t close -- perceived as close enough to President Trump.

NORTHAM: Well, you know, his tax plan is a disaster. It just gives tax cuts to the rich on the backs of the working class in Virginia. He supports Mr. Trump`s now new medical plan that puts 23 million Americans at risk, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

He agrees with Mr. Trump that he should have separated from the Paris Agreement, putting a lot of detriment and just bad things for environment in Virginia. So, you know, he`s just cut from the same cloth as Mr. Trump, and again, that`s not what we stand for in our Democratic Party in Virginia and we`re going to do everything we can to keep that influence from coming to Virginia.

TODD: You have been very tough on President Trump the individual. Is there anything in his agenda that as a governor of Virginia, you would want to work with him on, not against him?

NORTHAM: Well, obviously, he wants to build our military up. And we build a lot of warships and submarines right here in the commonwealth of Virginia. He also says that he`s going to get rid of sequestration. Sequestration hurt our economy a couple years ago. So, if he wants to end sequestration and build up our military, you know I`ll work with him on those issues.

TODD: And another issue that comes up very much more in state races than it does in national races and it`s come up off and on in Virginia. And I didn`t ask you this before, but I`m curious, where are you on the death penalty?

NORTHAM: Well, I oppose the death penalty. I certainly support life in prison without parole. At the same time, Chuck, we have to be very cognizant and aware of the tragedies that the victims go through, so I`m all about taking care of them as well, but I`m opposed to the death penalty.

TODD: Now, Tim Kaine was opposed to the death penalty personally, but he implied that he would if necessary let one go through if somebody did indeed get the death penalty, get sentenced to death. Where are you on that? Would you -- if somebody is sentenced to death, will you enforce the law?

NORTHAM: Absolutely. I`ll uphold the law of Virginia.

TODD: So you would, while you`re personally against, will you work to undo it or just simply, you`re personally against but you`ll enact it if necessary?

NORTHAM: Well, that`s certainly something that the legislature will address and you know, if the house and the senate vote to do away with the death penalty, I would certainly sign that piece of legislation.

TODD: And finally, I want to ask about the tragedy this week in -- that happened in Virginia. What happened in Alexandria. Governor McAuliffe, when he was there, he brought up the issue of guns.

NORTHAM: Yes.

TODD: And saying that that needed to be -- this has been an important issue to you. How much of a priority do you think gun control needs to be for the next governor?

NORTHAM: Well, certainly our thoughts and prayers go out to the folks that were shot and also to the police and first responders that took such excellent care to these folks. But we for too long said that our prayers and thoughts are with these families. But we really need to honor these folks with action. So it`s time for us to come together in a bipartisan way and support responsible gun ownership in Virginia and that`s what I plan to do as the next governor.

TODD: What does that mean? What`s one concrete step you think you can do?

NORTHAM: Well, the first step, Chuck, is universal background checks. You know, that`s what most Virginians agree on. It`s all about having a conversation and say, look, let`s agree that we need to promote responsible gun ownership, just like we promote a safe drive-in in on our highways in Virginia.

That`s not asking too much. And so once we agree on that, let`s take the next step to make our society safer so that people can live and work and raise their children here in Virginia and not be worried about such tragedies as we saw a couple days ago.

TODD: All right. Lieutenant governor, I appreciate your time. I hope to have you on again, to get into more issues as well. Stay safe on the trail.

NORTHAM: Thanks a lot and you all have a great weekend.

TODD: You got it. Programming note by the way. We here at "MTP Daily" also plan to see Republican Ed Gillespie right here. We talked during campaign and we hope to have him on the program very soon as well. Up next, what President Trump could learn from Ted Nugent.

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TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed, of course, with the coarseness of our politics. I`ve been obsessed about it for a long time. And with a high-profile violator who has promised to actually do something about it. And an even higher-profile violator who many of us wish will do the same. At this point in his career, Ted Nugent is known more for some of his hateful statements about President Obama and Hillary Clinton than any song he did.

If there is a Hall of Fame for incendiary comments, Ted Nugent might get his own wing. But yesterday on a radio talk show in the wake of this week`s shooting here in Washington, Nugent said, enough already, it`s time to tone things down. I`m not going to engage in that kind of hateful rhetoric anymore, Nugent said. And then he went further. Take a listen.

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TED NUGENT, MUSICIAN AND POLITICAL ACTVIST: I cannot and I will not and I encourage even my friends/enemy on the left in the Democrat and liberal world that we have got to be civil to each other.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Hear, hear. Good on you, Ted Nugent. Seriously, thank you. A lot of us say, good on you. But there`s someone even more famous and more prominent and more influential who could do well to follow Ted Nugent`s lead. President Trump. Instead of attacking Hillary Clinton the day after Steve Scalise was shot, would have been worthy of saying cooling down the rhetoric just for that day.

Doing so would not only have been worthy of the dignity of the office but it would have sent a signal to those on the left and right, that though we may disagree in the end, we are all Americans and no one has a monopoly on love for their country. That would have helped make America again, that`s for sure. But again, even the timing of it, just as everybody in Capitol Hill does want to do this. We`ll be right back.

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TODD: Welcome back. Time for "The Lid." Ramesh, Steve, Heidi. Okay. We got some actual election next week, special election Georgia 6. Ramesh, impact on the parties, impact on the agenda. Does Donald Trump have more at stake, the future of health care? What`s at stake here between Handel and Ossoff?

RAMESH PONNURU, COLUMNIST AND SENIOR EDITOR FOR THE NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE: I do think that the obvious, Democrats will be buoyed if they win that seat, which is a seat held by Newt Gingrich in the old days and was held more recently by Tom Price, the president`s secretary of health and human services. I think it plays into the health care debate.

I think there is no question that the unpopular, the Republican health care bill has been a bigger issue for the Democrats there than any of this Russia controversy has been. If Karen Handel the Republican loses, and Jon Ossoff the Democrat wins, I think it is going to scare more Republicans off the health care bill because they are going to think it`s political poison.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Interesting. Here`s an interesting number. I know you love numbers. The president`s numbers have gone down in that district from 54 percent favorable to 45 percent favorable today which is still 10 or 11 points higher than it is nationwide. So, you know, I think there`s a lot of pressure on Democrats to win this because if we do, it puts us in a pretty good position to argue that the house is within reach.

People will believe it. Donors will follow. But I also think, you know, if you`re Republican, you`re looking at Donald Trump at 45. If you don`t win that seat, how are you going to win the seats where Donald Trump is at 35? And there are a lot more of those than there are 45.

TODD: It is interesting. I think 45 is sort of the new 50 in this case. I think Obama proved that. I think Democrats held any seat where his approval rating didn`t drop below 45 back in those 10 and 14 rates.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER FOR USA TODAY: There`s a lot of benchmarks you can use, right? You can put out the approval rating and I can put out the fact that there`s 24 seats out there as well where Hillary Clinton won in Republicans are representing, or I can look at political report partisan voter indexes which showed that there are 60 more districts that will be more favorable to Democrats.

Look, Tom Price won this by 20, over 20 points a mere months ago. The fact that even if it`s like -- it is a cliff hanger, right? And there`s going to be a very, very minor difference, whatever the outcome is, it`s going to be very close. This is proof positive that Trump is starting to rub off on these Republicans. That`s a problem. I don`t think any of us can say that means the house goes or the house doesn`t go.

TODD: Oh, that I agree.

PRZYBYLA: It does mean that it`s going to be really close.

PONNURU: We should guard against having a misleading picture based on the special elections of the strength of the two parties because you have the special elections because there isn`t an incumbent.

TODD: Special elections are special for a reason. They`re special. It means they`re not normal. Anyway, go ahead.

PONNURU: The Republican incumbent would have an opportunity to create an identity. He will have or she will have an opportunity to vote against and for the president. They will have ties to the community that are deeper than a newcomer in an open seat. I think that Republicans are likely to do better in race than Democrats (ph). Everybody knows that.

MCMAHON: All of that is correct. However, there is a reason for the saying canary in the coal mine. Every indicator that Heidi just mentioned favors the Democrats and so one of the things you have to do in an off-year is you have to generate momentum for the on year.

And Democrats so far haven`t done as much of that by winning as they might be able to do on Tuesday. That will be a big, big night for them because it creates momentum that it`s hard to turn back.

PRZYBYLA: At the same time, I do think Ramesh is right, that the real indication on this may be for health care just because if you look at the way that Ossoff ran, it was mostly railing against health care and not necessarily the president personally.

TODD: Yeah, he did not touch that.

PRZYBYLA: The implications of that at this very fragile moment where senate Republicans don`t even want to tell us what`s in their bill and the implications of how they could kind of back off from that.

TODD: Ramesh, I want you to comment on that really quick. Do you think senate Republicans -- this feels like a smart short term play but a questionable long term play on keeping this so secret.

PONNURU: Well, regardless of the political implication, I think it`s just hard to defend on the merits. This is an incredibly important piece of legislation. And, you know, I just like Obamacare a great deal, but it did go to the committee, it was debated openly for months. We were talking about specific provisions. This right now is a black box and the question is are they going to allow it to be debated for a sufficient time with enough openness?

TODD: All right. I have to leave it there. My guess is he would just simply concur.

MCMAHON: I would say it`s interesting that Mr. McConnell won`t let the Republicans see what`s in it.

TODD: Ramesh, Steve, Heidi, that`s all I have, I`m sorry. I have to let you go. After the break, Georgia 6 is not the only race on the ballot next Tuesday.

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TODD: Well, in case you missed it, the Georgia 6 congressional race is not the only special election that is happening this coming Tuesday. There is another house seat left open by another of the president`s cabinet members. Democrat Archie Parnell and Republican Ralph Norman are facing off to fill the South Carolina seat that used to belong to the office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

In case you missed it, everything you`re hearing about the Georgia race will determine the future of health care in this country, then will decide whether the president can be impeached, everything. I mean, everything is at stake. Well, we know it is a bit of an exaggeration. But if the Democrats don`t manage to pull of South Carolina 5 in a district that President Trump carried by 18 points and Mick Mulvaney also won by more than that, 20 points, then all those world changing things that you`re hearing about may actually be true.

Bottom line, keep an eye on the South Carolina race on Tuesday and watch the margins. Those will matter here, too. The big money and all the attention is focused on Georgia. But it`s the South Carolina one that actually would be the real game changer if something happened. And remember conventional wisdom, we all thought we were spending Tuesday night on the Virginia race refreshing those Democrat primary numbers.

Little did we know it was the Republican race that turned out to be the squeaker. What if that`s what Tuesday is like? That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back Monday with more "MTP Daily." Of course, if it`s Sunday, catch "Meet the Press" on your local NBC station. "For the Record" with Greta starts right now. Go, Greta.

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