Show: MTP DAILY Date: July 12, 2017 Guest: Roy Blunt, Eliana Johnson, Anita Dunn, Sheldon Whitehouse, Kathleen Clark, Anita Dunn, Eliana Johnson
WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC HOST: Thank you all very much. Good to be with you today. I`ll see you tomorrow morning on "MORNING JOE." That does it for this hour. I`m Willie Geist in for Nichole. "MTP DAILY" starts right now -- Chuck.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Willie, wait a minute, is this Sunday morning?
GEIST: I was just going to say --
TODD: This is -- this is like our Sunday morning hand off.
GEIST: This is our Sunday morning hand off except it`s 5:00 in the afternoon on a gorgeous Wednesday.
TODD: That`s all right. It`s 5:00 somewhere. It`s what we like to say right here on MTP DAILY. Thank you, willie.
GEIST: Bye, Chuck.
TODD: If it`s Wednesday, timing is everything.
(voice-over): Tonight, tracking the Trump Russia timeline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA, VICE CHAIRMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Whether there was any cooperation, coordination or collusion is part of our investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Why the timeline suggests a willingness to work with the Russians and to cover it up.
Plus, a pledge of independence. Christopher Wray, the president`s pick to lead the FBI gets grilled on the Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: No, Senator. No one has asked me for any loyalty oath and I wouldn`t offer one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And his answers satisfied even Democratic senators.
Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse joins us with his perspective on today`s hearing.
And can Republicans win elections by embracing President Trump?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big loser`s a Trump man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Mitch McConnell`s big gamble in Alabama.
This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.
(on camera): Well, good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to MTP DAILY.
If you want to know why something happened, sometimes it helps to know when it happened. Federal and congressional investigators are trying to make sense of the Trump Jr. bombshell. We are too.
We typically view the timeline of events surrounding Russia as helpful context. Not anymore.
After these latest revelations, the timeline looks now like it could end up being evidence in and of itself. The president today called this story the greatest witch hunt in political history. His son, his lawyers and the White House are all flooding the zone right now trying to diminish the story or explain it away.
But boy, oh, boy, there`s a lot of explaining to do about what happened during the Trump campaign. The Trump transition and the Trump presidency.
So, here`s what we do know. The campaign was a willing partner, or at least Donald Trump Jr.`s e-mails indicate this, in Russia`s efforts to influence the election.
The transition tried to cover-up the full extent of its contact and communications with Russia. And it also tried to set up a back channel to communicate with the Russian government using Russian facilities. Those are facts we now know.
And as president, Mr. Trump has gone to some shocking lengths seemingly to either help Putin or give him some cover. He`s questioned U.S. intelligence, given Russia information that government officials say was highly classified, urged the FBI to drop its investigation into Michael Flynn`s contact with Russia. Then, he fired the FBI director.
And he`s made it clear to Putin during a face-to-face meeting that he wasn`t going to punish him for what he did. Instead, he`s discussed partnering with him on cyber-security matters.
And a deeper dive into the timeline, specifically surrounding Donald Trump Jr.`s meeting a Russia lawyer during the campaign paints an equally troubling picture of what happened and perhaps why it happened.
In early June, after Russian hackers penetrated the DNC and John Podesta e- mail accounts but before it was publicly known, Trump Jr. was offered a meeting with a Russian lawyer.
He was told it was part of a Russian government effort to back his father and, quote, "incriminate Clinton." A mere four hours after the date and time of that meeting was confirmed, Mr. Trump, as candidate, is teasing that he`s got dirt on his opponent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week. And we`re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you`re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So, now we now know that it`s two days after those comments that the Trump campaign ends up meeting with the Russian lawyer. And it`s right after the meetings` apparent conclusion that Mr. Trump is tweeting, quote, "Where are Hillary Clinton`s 30,000 e-mails that she deleted?" Unquote.
Just a few days later, the first batches of e-mails hacked from the DNC do begin to drop. And, of course, the floodgates open. At the July convention, there`s that bizarre change at the top of the GOP platform. Making it a bit more Russia friendly on the Ukraine.
And then there is this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: When the Trump campaign is at its lowest on the day of the "Access Hollywood" tape drop, they get WikiLeaks which Trump uses with gusto on his way to victory.
And then, there`s the U.S. intelligence assessment, on that same very day, by the way, exposing Russia`s effort, which then prompts a criminal investigation which brings us back to today.
Sources tell NBC News that the president was consulted with his son`s initial statement about his meeting with that Russian lawyer. That statement has proven itself to be a brazen effort to at least mislead the public on what actually happened.
In short, Donald Trump Jr.`s e-mails and the subsequent three days to get the story straight may give special counsel, Bob Mueller, two major pieces of evidence. Evidence of a willingness to work with the Russians and evidence of a willingness to cover up the extent of that content.
[17:05:05] And that, like this entire timeline, may now end up being crucial evidence against the Trump team.
Joining me now Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt. He`s a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also a member of leadership. So, we will talk a little health care. Senator Blunt, welcome, sir.
SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good to be with you.
TODD: So, I want to talk about this timeline now. How important is it to the Intelligence Committee investigation in context with what we keep learning now?
And I`m curious, did you know about the Donald Trump Jr. e-mails before it came out in public in the investigation?
BLUNT: I did not.
TODD: So, that had not somehow surfaced in the Intel Committee`s investigation?
BLUNT: It hadn`t surfaced in a way that I saw it. And I`ve spent a lot of time out at the CIA, at other places looking at the things that we have had and had a chance to look through carefully.
You know, my view, Chuck, the whole time has been that our committee should talk to everybody that a reasonable person would think we should talk to. We should look at everything that a reasonable person would think we should look at. And at the end of that process, reach a largely bipartisan conclusion on what happened and how it happened and when it happened.
And I think we`ve done a pretty good job of not rushing to conclusions too quickly. But, you know, all the people at that meeting, for instance, I think should be talked to. All of the ---
TODD: How about the Russian lawyer?
BLUNT: Probably the Russian lawyer.
TODD: Let me ask you this. Does the scope of the investigation continue to expand, though? Does it now -- there`s always been some question, how deep do you go into researching financial ties between Russian investors and the Trump Organization? Considering that it includes Donald Trump Jr., who is not an official part of the campaign. Does that mean the Intel Committee`s investigation needs to expand its scope a little bit?
BLUNT: I wouldn`t think so. I would think that the Intel Committee, when we get this more pressing issue of Russian involvement in the elections and any involvement that others had with them, if that was -- turned out to be the case, I think that`s got to be the top priority.
After that, I frankly think we have to -- it`s within our responsibility as the Intel Committee in the Senate to look at the leaks, to look at how secure our own national security structure is. That`s probably where we expand to.
In terms of expanding to things that are now under the responsibility of Mr. Mueller, I don`t know that the Intel Committee ever goes there.
But things that relate to Russia and the election and trying to prevent those things from happening again.
TODD: That`s your scope. That`s the lane you want to stay?
BLUNT: That is the lane I believe we were asked to be in and we should be in.
TODD: Considering that we have Donald Trump Jr. saying those words, typing those words, I love it, when it comes to those e-mails in there, when it comes to opposition research on Clinton, you`ve talked about what a reasonable person would consider should be involved.
Do you understand if a reasonable person now sits there and says, well, how is that not evidence right there of collusion or at least of openness to collude?
BLUNT: Well, I think you`ve got to -- you know, I`d like to know why he was at the meeting and what he expected to get from the meeting. That`s why we need to talk to him.
I do think that it`s hard to measure this campaign by the standards of a seasoned, well-run political operation, where you`d clear these things with your lawyers, where you`d do all sorts of things.
What you had in the Trump campaign was a candidate who had somehow figured out the exact communicating spot to be with the American people in 2016 and a campaign around him that I was never sure had the capacity to collude with the Republican National Committee, let alone anybody else.
Somebody asked me yesterday, would you have gone to that meeting if you had been him? And I said, you know, if I had never been involved in politics and I was just coming to this the first time, I don`t know if I`d have gone or not, but of course I wouldn`t go to that meeting knowing what I know.
TODD: By the way, I had somebody present an alternative theory using the same which is you had a campaign that couldn`t figure out how to work with the RNC. You had a campaign that nobody wanted to work with, at that point in time, for what it`s worth. The establishment --
BLUNT: I`m not sure, internally, the campaign ever communicated effectively with itself.
TODD: But that made campaign operatives more open to looking for help in alternative ways because they weren`t getting traditional help.
BLUNT: Oh, I don`t know about that.
TODD: Is that an excuse? Because I know there`s a growing, sort of, spin on this. Well, Donald Trump Jr. didn`t know what he was doing. Is that an excuse? Is that a legitimate excuse?
BLUNT: I think it could be a reason but I think that`s why we ought to talk to him. We ought to talk to him. We ought to talk to Mr. Kushner. We ought to talk to Mr. Manafort who has less reason to be in that meeting for some reason of not knowing what he`s doing than the other two might have had.
TODD: OK. You can explain away the meeting. How do you explain the decision to mislead on the first day of the story on Saturday, to write a statement that intentionally misleads what the meeting was about?
[17:10:08] BLUNT: I don`t know how that decision was reached. And, you know, it could have been -- this is an issue that I`ve been pretty involved in over the years, Russian adoptions, so I could -- I`d be sensitive to that as something that should be talked about. And definitely related to the Magnitsky Act that we passed when we passed the Russian trade agreement.
But how they got there, I don`t know. That`s another -- that`s another reason -- these people need to come. They need to be asked questions and see what their answers are.
TODD: Let me ask you this. Do you need to talk to the president? Should he voluntarily speak to the Intel Committee?
BLUNT: I don`t know that that`s somehow we should go. You`d have to --
TODD: Why is that?
BLUNT: The chairman and the ranking member would probably have to evaluate that after everything else. That is way outside the normal traditions of Congressional --
TODD: Do you feel like that would be the -- it would be an unusual thing. But if you`re trying to figure out what was going in there and what did he know, don`t you want to talk to him?
BLUNT: Not until you know what you`re going to ask him. That would be -- that would be the last person you`d want to talk to, I think. And it might be the last person you`d want to talk to. But it would be, even at that point, unusual.
There may have been other instances. I think Gerald Ford was the last president to come before a Congressional committee.
TODD: Let me ask you this. What`s -- where are you in the investigation? Give me a percentage, an estimate. At this point, do you think you`re 50 percent done? 25 percent? Where are you?
BLUNT: It could be -- it`s still -- I believe Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner`s goal to get done this year. But all of these things that come up, the new lane of traffic with Mueller. All of this has potential to make you slow down a little bit.
We clearly need, with the Justice Department, a lot of, sort of, quick and absolutely truthful green light, red light sort of lanes. OK, this is somewhere we`re looking. We`d rather you stay out of here for a while.
TODD: Has that not been made yet? Is there confusion there still at what Mueller`s doing and what you guys can do?
BLUNT: I think it`s still not clear as I`d like it to be, but I think everybody wants it to be clearer. So, it probably does get cleared up in the near future.
TODD: You, as a former law enforcement officer, who makes that decision? Is that Rosenstein?
BLUNT: Well, I was never a -- I`m not a lawyer and I wasn`t a former law enforcement officer. I would think Mueller makes that decision along with the committee.
BLUNT: And who we talk to that he designates becomes a really important relationship in allowing us to move forward with the work we need to do.
There`s no doubt the Russians --
BLUNT: -- I was the chief election official in our state for eight years. And there is no doubt the Russians were involved in the election in ways they shouldn`t have been and have been involved in elections the way -- in ways they shouldn`t have been for the last 15 years, just not as much here as in their neighbors.
I think we`ve looked back and wondered why we weren`t more concerned and sympathetic about what was happening in all those elections.
TODD: Do you think this Russia stuff is hurting your ability to get health care done in the Senate or is it not having an impact at all?
BLUNT: I don`t know that it has an impact on health care, but it certainly has diverted our ability to stay -- take advantage of the early days of the presidency, just like the Democrats slowing down the confirmation process.
I mean, we`ve been spending weeks on noncontroversial nominees with three people this week --
TODD: I hear you -- I have no doubts the Democrats trying to do some -- but you don`t have enough nominees.
BLUNT: Oh, no.
TODD: He could put --
BLUNT: No, no.
TODD: They`re not flooding the zone here.
BLUNT: No, no, no. They have plenty of nominees.
TODD: They don`t have -- they`re still behind.
BLUNT: They`re behind where they would normally would be because they started behind and the cabinet got in place behind.
But I think I saw these numbers yesterday and there are about 200 nominees. 23 percent of them have been confirmed. 69 percent of the Obama nominees had been confirmed by this time. More nominees for sure but 69 percent. 90 of the -- 90 percent of the Obama nominees by voice vote. 10 percent of the Trump nominees by voice vote. They are doing everything they can to slow down --
TODD: You do have the majority.
BLUNT: -- the work we need to do.
TODD: You do have the majority and 50 percent on this. You don`t need 60 votes --
BLUNT: And we have --
TODD: -- for confirmation.
BLUNT: -- and we have rules that are normally waived like the 30-hour rule of debate on people. But then, you have 30 hours of nothing happening.
TODD: I know they`re doing some of these things.
BLUNT: (INAUDIBLE) 90 votes.
TODD: I get that but you still don`t have enough nominees.
BLUNT: We have -- we don`t have all the nominees we`d need but that is not the problem. We have plenty of nominees. We are not confirming the nominees we have.
TODD: All right. I`ll leave it there. Senator Roy Blunt.
BLUNT: And we`ll talk about health care some other time.
TODD: We will talk about health care some other time as we discussed with that last question. Sir, thank you, appreciate it.
Candidate Trump and President Trump have said things about Russia and Putin that left members even of his own party unable to explain his motivations. Here are just a few.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But, in all fairness to Putin, you`re saying he killed people. I haven`t seen that. I don`t know that he has.
Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he`s killed? I haven`t seen any evidence that he killed anybody, in terms of reporters.
[17:15:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s a killer. Putin`s a killer.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are a lot of killers. We`ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think do you think our country is so innocent?
I mean, the man has very strong control over a country. Now, it`s a very different system and I don`t happen to like the system. But certainly in that system, he`s been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.
I don`t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She`s saying Russia, Russia, Russia. But I don`t -- maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. OK?
I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and,or countries.
And I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Let`s bring in tonight`s panel. Anita Dunn, former White House communications director under President Obama; Eliana Johnson, National Political Reporter for "Politico"; Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chairman and MSNBC Political Analyst. Welcome, all.
Eliana, it feels to me that over the last 72 hours there`s two basic facts here that are really problematic. Donald Trump Jr. showed a willingness to collude and the horrible statement on Saturday to try to explain it the first time showed a willingness to cover-up.
ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I would add a third aspect. I think the timing of this was really bad for the White House.
I personally -- but I have the sense that people more broadly were beginning to think there`s really nothing to this Russia investigation, and it`s becoming a political problem a little bit for Democrats.
And then, this came. And it not only showed that you can`t trust what you`re being told from the White House. And so, we do have this Donald Trump Jr. thing. But it leads me to wonder, are they being honest now and when is the other shoe going to drop on this?
And I think that`s what Republicans are really worried about now and that I think the Democratic Party is very excited about.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: We talked about the drip, drip, drip several months ago. And we are in that zone right now. And this is another example of it.
I think you`re exactly right. There was some air kind of being breathe into the system for Republicans. They were trying to turn the attention on health care.
And then, boom, you`ve got this coming and landing the way it is. You cannot trust the words coming out of this White House right now.
TODD: Go ahead, Anita.
ANITA DUNN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, PRESIDENT OBAMA: OK. So, I agree with both of the panelists.
And I want to add one other really bad fact which is that for all the president likes to talk about fake news, the two really devastating things that have caused the biggest problems for this White House have been the president`s own admission that the reason that he fired James Comey was because of the Russian investigation, done on network television.
And then, Donald Trump Jr.`s first, shall we say, dissembling about the true reason about the meetings, that initial statement.
Then, releasing his own e-mails that are as -- you know, really, I do think not only breathe new life into this investigation but made everybody say, maybe we have been just taking collusion off the table too soon.
Everybody had said well, maybe not collusion, but something happened. But, you know, you don`t answer e-mails like that on campaigns, Chuck. You just don`t.
TODD: You know, the other thing that`s interesting to me is how it came out. We`re now -- the reason it came out is because Jared Kushner corrected his lawyers.
And he`s got two very prominent ones, Jamie Gorelick and now Abbe Lowell, particularly Abbe Lowell who`s been through this before. They clearly, to me, are giving him the advice, whatever you`ve got get it out and fix.
TODD: So, they find this e-mail, yet another Russian they didn`t identify. Go fix your form. Well, fixing that form means more people find out about it. Now, we know how this gets out.
But, Michael Steele, so you have Jared Kushner getting advice that says everything you know, get it out, get it out, get it out. That ain`t the way Trump roll.
STEELE: No, that`s not --
TODD: And so, that is a -- that is a clash that I`m wondering how long can it last?
STEELE: You hit a very, I think, sensitive point flaw between the Jared Kushner world and the Trump world. I mean, the Jared Kushner world is, like, look, we`re not all up into this. Let`s get this out here. Our lawyers -- we`re listening to our lawyers.
TODD: He`s listening to his lawyers.
STEELE: He`s listening to his lawyers. And the Trump team is, like, we`ll play it a little bit loosey goosey. And loosey goosey is not going to win the day on this.
JOHNSON: You know, "The New York Times" reported and "Politico`s" own reporting also suggests that the president`s lawyers are increasingly frustrated with him. And that the reason that Trump is at odds with his lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, is because he`s listening to Jared Kushner.
And so, the real -- you know, the real disagreement is between Jared Kushner and the president`s lawyers, which I think hints at the disagreements that you suggested.
TODD: Go ahead, Anita.
DUNN: Well, you know, Jared Kushner has two experienced Washington lawyers.
TODD: Who have been through a lot of this.
DUNN: They`ve been through this. Jamie was a senior Justice Department official. Abbe Lowell has been through this before. And neither Don Jr. nor the president have lawyers who actually really understand Washington.
[17:20:03] And I think that difference is a huge tension internally probably between legal teams but almost certainly between principals.
TODD: And that is only adding to the chaos --
TODD: -- that we are all, certainly Eliana and I are experiencing in dealing with the White House right now. I mean, it`s just --
TODD: -- you deal with one faction, and automatically the other faction (INAUDIBLE.)
STEELE: And they`re scapegoating again so now they`re looking to fire someone.
TODD: It`s in a rough situation.
Let`s take a pause here.
Still ahead, how much legal jeopardy is Donald Trump Jr. really in? We`ll talk with an expert lawyer on that. That`s coming up. But let`s take a quick break.
TODD: Welcome back.
President Trump`s pick to replace the fired FBI director, Jim Comey, was, himself, in the hot seat today on Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing. Christopher Wray pledged to keep the FBI independent and that he would loyal only to the Constitution.
The overwhelming themes of the questions he faced from both Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee today was about the Trump team`s ties to Russia and the firing of the last FBI director.
In fact, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham pressed him on those Donald Trump Jr. e-mails, specifically. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LINSDEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You`re going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So, here is what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.
WRAY: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Well, there you go. And other senators asked Wray what he would do if put in a tough position by the president as he did to Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If the president asks you to do something unlawful or unethical, what do you say?
WRAY: First, I would try to talk him out of it. And if that failed, I would resign.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: During the course of coming to this table today and being nominated, you mentioned that you will owe your duty of loyalty only to the Constitution and the rule of law. Has anybody asked you otherwise?
WRAY: No, Senator. No one has asked me for any loyalty oath and I wouldn`t offer one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: It may have been a tough hearing for Christopher Wray, but maybe the tough hearing is what he need to earn Democratic support because he did well enough to get at least two Democratic votes already, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Amy Klobuchar and probably more. We`ll speak to a Democratic, in fact, the one that you just heard questioning Mr. Wray in 16 seconds.
TODD: Well, as promised, joining me now is Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He is, of course, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, as you saw there, among those that questioned the president`s FBI director pick today.
Senator Whitehouse, welcome back to the show.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Good to be back.
TODD: So, I just read your statement after the hearing. You sound like not a reluctant yes. You sound like a fairly enthusiastic yes for Mr. Wray as FBI director. Am I wrong?
WHITEHOUSE: Yes, I think he did a very good job in the hearing today. I think he hit all the right notes about protecting the independence of the FBI. I think he clearly recognized the pressures that the Trump administration is putting the Department of Justice under.
And I think even in areas of recognizing the mistakes that Comey made without throwing his friend and former colleague under the bus, he handled himself very well.
TODD: Why do you trust the president to make this selection but probably not trust the president on other things on this? What is it about Christopher Wray that makes you think -- even though he was nominated by President Trump, who just fired a director, what is it about him that he overcame that? That to me seems like a high hurdle to overcome.
WHITEHOUSE: Yes. And I asked him for a full explanation of everything he knows about how his name came to be before the president of the United States. So, we may find out something damaging or derogatory in the course of the answer when we get it in writing to that question.
But to the point that you made, my experience is that the Department of Justice has the ability to build a loyalty to the mission of the department and (INAUDIBLE) and a desire for the approval of your colleagues around you in a good way that becomes kind of a badge of honor for people who have served in the Department of Justice.
And I think that Wray comes out of that tradition. And people like Mueller and Rosenstein and Comey, before his mistakes, also embody that tradition.
He was one of the people who, in the Bush administration when they were fighting over the warrantless wiretapping program, signed up and said, you can count on me to resign if you guys have to resign, too. We`re not going to let the White House push our department around.
It`s that tradition and legacy of the Department of Justice that allows somebody to take a position and enjoy some confidence, even when appointed by this president.
TODD: Do you at all feel as if he has to recuse himself in investigating Donald Trump or not?
WHITEHOUSE: I wouldn`t think so but maybe circumstances where he may have to if it rely -- relates to former clients of his and so forth. But the mere fact that the president appointed him, I don`t think alone is cause for recusal.
If anything, frankly, somebody like him may want to make sure that they go the extra mile in that case because their own reputation, their own legacy, the department that they care about, all of those things are at stake in getting the job done right.
TODD: Hey, there`s a lot of investigations now happening in relation to the Russia investigation. You`ve got the big one in Bob Mueller. I just had Senator Roy Blunt on, a Republican colleague. He`s on the Intelligence Committee.
And I was asking him about whether the scope needs to expand on intel. And he`s, like, well, no, we`re still trying to figure out what lane we definitely stay in, what lane belongs to Mueller, et cetera.
And I`m thinking -- and if I`m not mistaken, there`s a bunch of you on the Judiciary Committee that want in on this investigation. When is there too many investigators?
WHITEHOUSE: I think that the arena of investigation is so big that it is hard to have too many. This is a nine-lane highway of investigation. So, the issue isn`t that there is too many people in it. The issue is that we need to be respecting each others` lanes and not bumping into each other and causing unnecessary collisions.
[17:30:00] TODD: All right, let me just start with your committee.
TODD: Let`s start with your committee.
TODD: What is your lane that you believe belongs to you that you don`t want to collide with the Intel Committee or with Mueller?
WHITEHOUSE: Well -- well, in the subcommittee we have been doing is try to lay out what the Russian playbook is of election interference here and in other countries, so that we can develop legislative recommendation as to how to protect our country from what every single witness has told us will happen which is that the Russians will come back and do this again.
This is a known threat. We have to prepare for it. The Intelligence Committee has no capability to make those recommendations. The -- Mueller is not a legislative committee. He is not going to be credible making legislative recommendations, I don`t believe.
That`s a Judiciary Committee role. We also have over sight over the Department of Justice. So to the extent that the department did not stand up for itself, allowed itself to be rolled or sustained pressure from the White House that was improper, that is all in the Judiciary Committee`s wheelhouse.
TODD: Final question. There was a perception that not everybody -- not every Republican on the Judiciary Committee was enthusiastic about opening up separate lines of investigation on this Russia hearing and the motivations could be many, and let others interpret that.
Is it now -- is it fair to say there isn`t that hesitation with your Republican colleagues on the other side? They`re a little more enthusiastic about investigations today than they were, say, two weeks ago?
WHITEHOUSE: Yeah. I think we`re over that. One thing that I think helped with our subcommittee hearing just recently that brought in experts who had participated in both legislative and criminal investigations, that basically walked us through what the rules were, how you should avoid conflicts, how do you de-conflict.
And to a person across the board, majority and minority witnesses reassured us that Congress has an important roll to play and at times it`s even important for Congress to be able to push aside special counsel where certain things need to be made public, not that we`re going to do that.
But that we don`t need to reflexively just drop everything when we get near a special counsel. So it was a strong, strong hearing and I think it provided strong reassurance that we were doing the right thing to continue.
TODD: All right. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island. Thanks for taking a few minutes with me today. Appreciate it.
WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure.
TODD: Still ahead, how Donald Trump Jr.`s legal options are shaping up.
TODD: Coming up next, new comments from the president about when he learned about his son`s meeting with the Russian lawyer. Stay tuned.
TODD: Welcome back. The president`s lawyer says Mr. Trump did not know about his son`s meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump Junior says the president didn`t know about it either.
And now just moments ago Reuters punished an interview with the president himself and he told them -- you guessed it, that he didn`t know about it. He also defended his son for taking the meeting. Trump Junior defended himself last night on Fox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: I don`t even think my sirens, you know, went up or the antennas went up at this time because it wasn`t the issue that it`s been made out to be over the last, you know, nine months, ten months since it really became a thing.
In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. Again, this is before the Russia mania. This is before they were building it up in the press. For me, this was opposition research.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And President Trump`s attorney today also adamantly defended the president`s son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, LAWYER, PRESIDENT TRUMP: The truth of the matter is that a meeting under the circumstances that were described by the release of the e-mails that Donald Trump Jr. did yesterday is not a violation of the law.
No exchange of information, the meeting ended up producing nothing, and now there`s a media frenzy going around us because Russia is in vogue to attack as -- you know, as kind of, you know, the great involvement in the campaign. Well, the fact is zero happened here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Joining me now is Washington University Professor Kathleen Clark. She`s an expert in legal ethics and national security law. She joins me now. Miss Clark, thanks for coming on.
KATHLEEN CLARK, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, PROFESSOR: Thank you.
TODD: So let`s talk about this issue of legal jeopardy for Donald Trump Jr. From just simply what we know -- there`s things we don`t know, but from what we know, in the e-mail release and, frankly, in the multiple explanations that he gave The New York Times over that forty-right hour period, what legal jeopardy is he in?
CLARK: He may be in legal jeopardy because it is illegal for someone to assist a foreigner in contributing to or providing assistance to a U.S. campaign. And what Donald Trump Jr. did is he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer and in advance of that meeting, he was told that the lawyer would be -- you know, may be able to provide assistance to the campaign, provide information that would be helpful to the campaign.
TODD: Can you get charged with a crime if you take that meeting knowing the motivation behind the meeting, but don`t act on it?
CLARK: It`s not illegal to take a meeting. It`s not illegal to meet with Russians or representatives of the Russian government as such. The question is whether Donald Trump Jr. or any of the other people at that meeting or in the Trump campaign aided and abetted the Russian government or any foreigner for that matter in providing assistance to the Trump campaign. That`s what criminal liability could arise.
TODD: So it`s aided and abetted a foreigner working on behalf of a foreign government or is it any foreigner at this point?
CLARK: It doesn`t have to be a foreign government.
TODD: It can be a foreign citizen.
CLARK: A foreign citizen, that`s correct.
TODD: Because the idea is foreign money is illegal in campaigns, period, so an in-kind contribution, assistance from them, a foreign citizen, is that seen through the law as simply foreign money?
CLARK: That`s exactly right. But the definitions in the statute there such that it doesn`t have to be money, it doesn`t have to be cash. It can be something of value -- anything of value is what the statute says.
TODD: OK, that`s on campaign finance side.
TODD: Is there any National Security Law that he broke in here?
CLARK: I`m not aware of any National Security Law that has been violated. A number of commentators have raised the question of whether Donald Trump Jr. or Donald Trump Sr. for that matter have committed treason.
TODD: You use that word and it`s a buzz word.
CLARK: It is a buzz word.
TODD: We`ve talked to a lot of lawyers that have said actually, no, it`s not. And I take it you`re one of those that believes that, too?
CLARK: I think that they`re partially right to be concerned about treachery, if not treason. This is the distinction I would draw. What Donald Trump Jr. seemed to be willing to do was put himself and his father`s campaign in a position where they would owe a debt of gratitude to the Russian government.
He was told in that initial e-mail that the Russian government had information that would be helpful, and he took the meeting and seemed enthusiastic about it, and suggested exactly when that -- that information should be released later in the summer. So it`s -- I`m concerned about it not in terms of are criminal liability for treason, but the treachery of betraying the United States and becoming indebted to the Russian government.
TODD: So you`re being very careful here with your words. So there`s a specific case. The law sort of has a distinction between the two. Because everything -- legal experts we`ve talked to on treason have said, we`ve got to be at war for that country for that -- for actually the specific definition of treason to be applied here.
CLARK: That`s my understanding. But I really think we need to focus on...
TODD: You kept saying treachery.
CLARK: Yeah, on the treachery -- on the disloyalty of choosing to put yourself in a position where you`re going to owe a debt of gratitude to Vladimir Putin. This could be possibly good for the United States somehow, it`s inconceivable.
TODD: And is this something that`s prosecutable?
CLARK: Oh, I don`t know that that`s prosecutable, but it is subject to -- it`s sort of political analysis and the body politic of whether or not this resonates with the body politic and frankly with Congress.
TODD: All right, Kathleen Clark, we`ve got to leave it there. Washington University, we don`t to take those (Inaudible), thanks very much.
CLARK: Thank you very much.
TODD: When we come back, what`s the smart thing for Republicans up for election to do, support President Trump or start running away? In Alabama, they have some interesting choices. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. I`ve had a day off to be more obsessed about something, so I decided to get overly obsessed. Today, I`m obsessed with the love for President Trump, specifically how much love should Republican candidates show the president in upcoming elections.
Senator Luther Strange of Alabama is betting the answer is a lot. Strange was appointed to the Senate when Senator Jeff Sessions became attorney general. He`s now running in a Republican primary right now and he`s on the air with an ad that doesn`t just support the president. It hugs him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUTHER STRANGE, SENATOR, ALABAMA: Big losers a Trump man working to pass the president`s agenda, a border wall to stop dealing the immigration, extreme vetting of Islamic terrorists, repeal Obamacare, pro-life endorsed by the NRA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Now, one of Strange`s primary opponents is Congressman Mo Brooks, who was the target of a Mitch McConnell aligned super pack ad for not being with Mr. Trump from the beginning. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Career Congressman Mo Brooks.
MO BROOKS, CONGRESSMAN, ALABAMA: I don`t think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They all attack Donald Trump, trying to stop him.
BROOKS: I don`t think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And yes, those were pictures of Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi just thrown up there, right, because you know, Mo Brooks and Nancy Pelosi. So why is McConnell doing this? Well, here`s why, because he fears Brooks will be harder to corral than Strange. That he`s hell be in econo class, kind of like Mike Lee or Ted Cruz, or Rand Raul.
And Mo Brooks has been that in the House, just ask Paul Ryan. He`s not the easiest guy to corral. But this is a risky strategy for McConnell saying the more pro-Trump you are, the better, at least some Republican primary in Alabama. And as Strange wins, expect the Russian Republican candidate to fall during this Republican primary.
But what if this strategy doesn`t work and Brooks winds up winning? He`s further in the right than Strange. Might just -- just be keep a sing that keeping your distance from President Trump is better politics, even in a Republican primary than holding him close.
The point is, this is a risky strategy in Alabama, this primary and run off, and all that business is in August and September. Is this the time to be playing around there? We shall see. Stay tuned.
TODD: Time for -- the lead panel is back. Anita Dunn -- Anita Dunn, Eliana Johnson, Michael Steele. All right, let`s pick up on the conversation.
We learned a little bit. Chris Raines, I am mildly surprised how quickly neither the Democrats are rallying around him very quickly. Dianne Feinstein show at White House -- people who have been highly critical of how the decision went down to fire Comey.
ANITA DUNN, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I think if you look at Chris Raines reputation and you look at his answers today, he was very clear with the committee and with the Democratic members in particular.
His -- the segment you played with Lindsey Graham though, I think is probably where Democratic members took their most solace, which is, you know, for him to basically say very honestly, you know, you get that kind of e-mail you should call the FBI.
It is clear he has a problem with the approach that was taken by Don Jr. and I think that, you know, Democrats want an independent, strong FBI director as much as anybody, and they heard what they wanted to hear.
TODD: I want to shift a little bit to what I did in my obsession, which is there`s sort of like trying to plot a political campaign strategy in the middle of dealing with two big problems you`re staring at if you`re Mitch McConnell.
One is wherever health care is going to end up and dealing with that but then, two is the drip, drip, drip of Russia. So you have a base that`s still fired up about Donald Trump. At the same time, in six months, embracing Donald Trump could be a bad idea. What do you do?
ELIANA JOHNSON, WRITER, POLITICO: You know, I`m not actually so sure what the political climate is in the country. I think here in Washington...
TODD: I`m with you. I don`t know either.
JOHNSON: We have our noses very deeply into this Russia stuff, but I think the majority of people who voted for Donald Trump didn`t vote for him because they think he has, you know, sterling character and because they love his personality. They voted for him because they were fed up with Republicans and fed up with Democrats.
And I don`t think that`s changed at all. Donald Trump hasn`t gotten to work at fixing any of the problems that he was elected to fix, and so I don`t think the Democrats are going to sweep to major victories in 2018. And it is not clear to me that Republicans are at risk running -- running with Donald Trump. To me the political climate in the country is a real mystery right now.
MICHAEL STEELE, POLITICAL ANALYST, MSNBC: It`s more of a risk running against Donald Trump next year than running...
TODD: I think that`s obvious, but when -- that still seems short -- it seems like that`s the short-term view. Is there a long-term like riskier of getting yourself too tied?
STEELE: Well, the long-term...
TODD: These things unravel.
STEELE: And just to be frank about the long-term risk isn`t with individual candidates, they come and go. It is the party. It is what does the Republican Party look like after 2018. What does it look like after 2020? That is at the core, for at least for guys like me, of -- of the conversation we need to have.
Because guess what, Chuck? We still did not settle the issue that we had before we elected Donald Trump. All of those fractures, all of the crazy that was existing within the base, none of that has been resolved. Donald Trump in some sense has been a nuclear band-aid, but the reality of it still remains. What does the party look forward going forward?
JOHNSON: Sound like the disruption to politics that happened in all of the other industries.
TODD: Uber to taxis.
JOHNSON: Exactly. If Republicans don`t know what their party stands for, Democrats don`t either, and I think what the Russia scandal is papering over because it takes up so much oxygen is there`s a dirt of ideas in both parties, and all of the anger that got Trump elected isn`t getting resolved because nothing is happening.
DUNN: Yeah but in midterm elections that anger tends to get focused very clearly on the party that controls the White House, because at the end of the day, they own things. If I`m a Republican running for reelection in 2018 right now for the House or Senate, I`m going to be more concerned about the passage of health care bill than I will be about Russia right now because that is actually what people care about.
It is the story they`re following. Sure, it is a most personal issue. We lived for eight years with having everything that happened in health care be ascribed to the Affordable Care Act. It was all the Affordable Care Act`s fault.
And the -- and the Republican Party is about to find out what it feels like when the shoe is on the other foot if they pass something and it is a deeply unpopular plan, Chuck. It takes a while to get that unpopular in this country, and they have achieved it in record time.
TODD: All right. I will leave it here. We`re running out of time. Good time. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it. Up next, iceberg right ahead.
TODD: Well, in case you missed it, what if Delaware just broke off the United States tomorrow? You`d notice, right? Lovely beaches, Joe Biden, milk. It is the official state beverage. And Delaware brought us this great moment from movie Wayne`s World.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE MYERS, AMERICAN ACTOR: Imagine being able to be magically whisked away to Delaware. Hi. I mean, Delaware.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: In all seriousness, Delaware has a lot to offer and you would miss it if it decided to float away. Well, in case you missed it, that`s exactly what just happened in Antarctica, an iceberg briefly the size of Delaware broke off the continent. Sometime this week, this chink of the (Inaudible) is one of the largest icebergs ever, weighing around one trillion tons.
Believe it or not, it is not necessarily climate change related. We`ll let the scientists dig into this. That`s big and it`s hard to comprehend without comparing it to, well, Delaware. We don`t want to gang up on Delaware, so, folks, here are some other comparisons.
The iceberg`s volume is twice the size of Lake Erie. It`s also twice the size of Luxembourg, you know, that country in Europe that everybody knows is there but you`re not quite sure where it is. It is more than three times the size of London.
So don`t worry, Delaware, we still love you and we would notice if you went away missing. That`s all we have for tonight. We will be back tomorrow morning daily. It is Chris Jansing who picks up our coverage right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END