Show: MTP DAILY Date: January 10, 2018 Guest: Cory Gardner, Adam Schiff, Yamiche Alcindor
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: We are going to pull that "Brady Bunch" music next time you see Steve Schmidt. That`s what you`re going to hear.
My thanks to Steve Schmidt, Robert Costa, Eli Stokols, Eugene Robinson, and Jen Palmieri. That does it for our hour. I`m Nicolle Wallace.
MTP DAILY starts right now. Hi, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. Well, he does it again, doesn`t he?
WALLACE: Every day.
TODD: That`s what he does for the afternoon hours, change the rundown!
TODD: All right. If it`s Wednesday, did the President just flip on cooperating with the Special Counsel?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Tonight, President Trump throws cold water on an interview with Bob Mueller.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When they have no collusion and nobody`s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you`d even have an interview.
TODD: But can the President legally avoid speaking to the Special Counsel?
Plus, the political banishment of Steve Bannon shows just how perilous it is for Republicans to challenge President Trump.
And then there were 31. Another prominent House Republican decides not to run for re-election. One more sign that a big blue wave may be building.
This is MTP DAILY, and it starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Good evening. I`m Chuck Todd here in Boynton Beach, Florida, which is really about a stone`s throw from Mar-a-Lago, if you`re wondering, on the map.
Welcome to MTP DAILY and welcome to another major development in the Russia investigation. The President has gone from 100 percent commitment to speak with Bob Mueller to now saying it seems unlikely.
This afternoon, at a joint press conference with Norway`s Prime Minister, the President was asked about reports that his lawyers are in talks with Mueller`s team about an interview, or perhaps ways to avoid one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you open to meeting with him? Would you be willing to meet with him without condition, or would you demand that a strict set of parameters be placed around any encounter between you and the Special Counsel?
TRUMP: Well, again, John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, or Trump and Russians. No collusion.
I`ve been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months, they`ve had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. It`s a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election. So we`ll see what happens.
ROBERTS: But, again, would you be open to --
TRUMP: We`ll see what happens. I mean, certainly, I`ll see what happens. But when they have no collusion and nobody`s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you`d even have an interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All right. So what is that supposed to mean? As you might have guessed from that answer, or non-answer, the President put up a bit of a smoke screen. Which he kept igniting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you talk about interviews, Hillary Clinton had an interview where she wasn`t sworn in. She wasn`t given the oath. They didn`t take notes, they didn`t record, and it was done on the Fourth of July weekend.
There is collusion, but it`s really with the Democrats and the Russians, far more than it is with the Republicans and the Russians. So the witch- hunt continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Folks, the President, threw out many questionable claims than just those first two clips. First off, the issue of whether or not there was Trump/Russia collusion is actually still a very open question. Don`t forget, Don Junior`s meeting alone makes that an open question.
None of the Russia probes have been closed, by the way.
Two of the President`s campaign advisers have pled guilty about lying about their contacts with Russia. Two others have been indicted. The President`s son met was so eager to get his hands on Russian dirt on Clinton that he met with some Russians.
And it was one of his own campaign advisers` knowledge of Russian dirt that apparently triggered the FBI to open an investigation in the first place. So to call this thing a Democratic hoax is obviously quite the stretch.
Now, as for the claims about the FBI`s interview with Hillary Clinton, whether or not she was under oath doesn`t mean anything. Why? It`s already illegal to lie to the FBI. That`s number one.
Number two, the FBI does not record any of its interviews. That`s longstanding policy. And they absolutely did take notes, as many members of Congress are aware of.
But all those smoke screens aside, the President`s apparent unwillingness - - and let`s put it as apparent, for now -- to commit to an interview with Mueller stands in stark contrast to what he told reporters last summer after former FBI Director James Comey alleged that the President had directed him to shut down part of his investigation and asked for his loyalty.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of these events?
TRUMP: One hundred percent.
I didn`t say under oath. I hardly know the man. I`m not going to say, I want you to pledge allegiance. Who would do that? Who would ask a man to pledge allegiance under oath?
I mean, think of it, I hardly know the man. It doesn`t make sense. No, I didn`t say that, and I didn`t say the other.
KARL: So if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you would be willing to talk to him?
TRUMP: I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you, Jon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All right. He did conflate some things there in Trump-speak a little bit, but you heard that first part, 100 percent.
But whether the President wants to be interviewed or not may be irrelevant. If Mueller subpoenas him for an interview, there isn`t much he can do, short of pleading the Fifth.
And tonight, an official familiar with the negotiations told NBC News that a potential interview is still under discussion because, guess what, he could get subpoenaed to do so.
So let`s unpack this a little bit. Joining me is Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. More importantly, interim chief of "Lawfare." And he is also now an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst.
Mr. Wittes, welcome to the show, sir.
BENJAMIN WITTES, SENIOR FELLOW IN GOVERNANCE STUDIES, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Thank you. Good to be here.
TODD: Let`s start with what the President said. He said it`s unlikely. He doesn`t need to.
Can you imagine a scenario where the Special Prosecutor, given everything he`s looking into, in particular -- I`ll just pull out one event -- the Donald Trump, Jr. meeting and the initial response written on Air Force One to the "New York Times" about said meeting, just that alone, is there any way that Robert Mueller would not want to talk to the President?
WITTES: It`s inconceivable that Mueller would close this investigation without talking to the President for at least three reasons.
One is, if you`re going to pursue criminal charges, in the most extreme case, of course, it would be totally irresponsible to do that without hearing the President`s side of the story.
If you`re planning not to pursue criminal charges, similarly, making sure that the President`s account is, in fact, consistent with what you think you know from other sources is pivotal to doing that responsively.
And moreover, if you`re contemplating charges against other people who might call the President as a defense witness, you need to know what he would say.
WITTES: So there`s no -- I think there`s no scenario in which the -- these matters would get closed out without some interrogatory mechanism with the President.
At the end of the day, as you pointed out, Mueller has the ability to issue a subpoena and compel -- and have the court compel the President`s testimony. And for that reason, there will be a negotiation, and there will be a lot of posturing.
But at the end of the day, as Bill Clinton did with Ken Starr, I think it`s very hard to see how the President does not submit to an interview in some form.
TODD: All right. So let`s take this for what I believe it is, too, which is a very Trumpian move, which is, he likes to negotiate. So he`s going to take an extreme position publicly because, clearly, his lawyers are in the middle of this negotiation with Mueller.
What`s realistic? What`s the minimum that you think the President might be able to get Mueller to commit to? You know, no recording of it? Maybe written -- what do you think -- if you were the President`s lawyer, what would you be trying to convince Mueller to do under this scenario because my guess is the President`s lawyers are worried about a perjury trap?
WITTES: Yes, I think that`s probably right and perceptive of you. I mean, this is a client who has a penchant for saying whatever comes to his head. He is not especially bound by things like the truth, and this is a very dangerous moment for him, therefore, as his lawyer, right?
So, look, ideally, you want to keep it out of the grand jury and as an interview. You want it, ideally, to be not under oath, although I think most of these investigations have been done as FBI investigations, which are not sworn.
WITTES: And I think if you`re his lawyers, you`re probably dreaming about doing it as a set of written questions which some of the news stories have floated.
WITTES: But I can`t imagine a situation in which Mueller or his people would accede to that.
TODD: So very quickly, realistically, you expect an interview similar to what they did with -- with what Starr did with Bill Clinton?
WITTES: Well, so, Starr`s interview with Clinton was actually a grand jury testimony that was done --
TODD: It wasn`t.
WITTES: -- by video conference from the White House. The accommodation that Starr made to Clinton was that his lawyers were present.
I think this is likely to be an interview. I suspect it will be conducted not by the agents but by some of the prosecutors. And I suspect Trump`s -- you know, it will be done on Trump`s turf, and it will be done with counsel present. But, you know, that`s just a guess.
TODD: All right. Ben Wittes --
WITTES: I don`t actually think --
TODD: Right. No --
WITTES: -- Trump has that much negotiating room here.
TODD: Well, that`s probably the most important point there. And we don`t know when Mueller wants this. We could be months away from when he wants this, not days or weeks away.
Anyway, Ben Wittes, our newest contributor here in NBC News and MSNBC, welcome aboard. Glad to have you and thanks for being on today.
WITTES: Good to be here, thanks.
TODD: Let me bring in tonight`s panel -- remotely, so be patient with me guys. MSNBC political analyst and former RNC chairman, Michael Steele. Triple E Steele, we like to call him here.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: There you go.
TODD: MSNBC contributor and incoming PBS News Hour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and NBCNews.com Doctor-doctor-doctor-doctor contributor Howard Fineman -- Mr. Fineman. Welcome, all.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBCNEWS.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
TODD: That`s a little La Cheeserie joke. Howard, let me start with you. What do you make of what the President did today, pure posturing or something else?
FINEMAN: No, I think you`re right, Chuck. I think it`s negotiating. I think he is backing away from the inconvenience of having said, sure, I`ll be glad to cooperate, because now it`s getting more real.
NBC has reported on the negotiations. They`re ongoing. I agree with you, it could still be weeks or months away, but I think Donald Trump is beginning the process of setting up the negotiations for the terms for the inevitable time when he has to testify or give his testimony to the investigators.
It`s a nightmare for any attorney, for a defense attorney, for who -- his team of attorneys. You let Donald Trump loose, under oath, in front of a bunch of prosecutors? It could be very scary.
TODD: Yamiche, it seems like -- let`s talk about this timing a little bit. I don`t think it`s clear Mueller`s even done with Donald Trump, Jr. yet in various aspects and let alone other aspects of this investigation. It seems like we`re longer away -- a longer way away from this than maybe the President`s team wishes?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and it`s been out there that the President`s lawyers have been telling him that this investigation, Mueller`s investigation, was going to be over by the end of last year. And now, of course, we`re into 2018, and that`s not true.
So I think it`s pretty clear that this is going to be an investigation that`s sprawling. And we`re talking about people that have very, very complicated financial backings, financial backgrounds, so he`s really going to have to wade through all of that.
So I agree, I think that he is probably still dealing with between Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner and all the other people in his orbit, and Paul Manafort and all these other people. It`s clear that he`s going to be going on for a while.
And I think that you`re right in that the President is likely negotiating and starting to say, OK, what have I gotten myself into, because now he`s seen Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort`s issues. And, yes, I think he is, in some ways, a little scared about what`s next for him.
TODD: You know, Michael Steele, I was not surprised today, but I still think it was a missed opportunity by the President when he immediately jumps into, everything about this is a hoax --
TODD: -- this is an excuse for the Democrats for losing.
By the way, there was a report today about how the U.S. election system. We basically haven`t -- we`re not prepared for the current attacks that are likely coming from the Russians today. He doesn`t ever mention that threat. Everybody else does. Does that not make him look guilty?
STEELE: Well, if not guilty, at least clueless. I think that the lack of sincerity on this subject of voter integrity with respect to what the Russians -- we know what the Russians did in 2016.
We`re going into what will be a pivotal election this fall, as you know, Chuck, where there are going to be a lot of questions raised about ballot security. We`re already beginning to see that. The Supreme Court and the Supreme Court courts are starting to throw out the -- you know, lines have been drawn by various state legislators.
So this is going to be a tumultuous cycle, and the President is going to have to give us some clarity about whether or not he really thinks voter integrity -- voter ballot box integrity is something important to him and that he is prepared to push back against the Russians based on the known activity, let alone what we don`t know of them doing.
TODD: You know, Howard, I noticed today that the President this morning -- you can always tell Russia is just under his skin. And I`m guessing it`s the release of the transcript of the Simpson testimony, of Fusion GPS.
Very (ph) under his skin. He spent at least three hours (ph) that I know of this morning then attacked Dianne Feinstein. And this was all after what he arguably had as one of his better public days as a President yesterday, you know, if you don`t want to pay attention to the details about the DACA.
FINEMAN: Yes. Well, nobody can step on his own lines better than the President of the United States. And I think -- yes, I think Di Fei`s release of that transcript bothered him.
I think, basically, the whole atmosphere of politics right this minute, mounting resignations and departures of Republicans in Congress, the Michael Wolff book, the questions about his stability and his genius and so forth, they`re all under his skin.
And they all come back to his explanation for why he`s so on the defensive. And in his own mind, it`s because of these unfair attacks on the -- his legitimacy because of the Russia story. So he goes back and back and back and back to it because of the way his mind works, and that`s not going to change.
I should also mention, on the investigative details, Paul Manafort, for example, has not talked substantively to the prosecutors really. I mean, he is fighting the jurisdiction of the prosecutors at this point.
I can`t imagine Bob Mueller`s team wanting to talk to the President until they`ve figured out what Paul Manafort really knows and what he`s willing to say. And there`s several other people in that category.
So this whole sort of tortured process for the President mentally, as he deals with it minute by minute, is going to continue. And we`re going to see it day after day after day. It`s going to erupt like a -- like some kind of obsession that he can`t get rid of.
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: You may wonder why I am suddenly showing up on your screen. Katy Tur. We`re having an audio issue with Chuck`s mic. We`re going to try to fix that.
In the meantime, Michael, Yamiche, and Howard, stay with us.
TUR: Up next, Republicans are running for the hills, trying to escape the big blue wave.
Plus, what lessons are Republicans learning from Bannon`s banishment?
TODD: See? We`re just testing all of our backup systems. It`s all working.
Anyway, welcome back. Congressman Darrell Issa says he`s out, for now. The California Republican joins the already crowded pack of Republicans that are -- appear to be sprinting to the exits ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Issa is now the fourth Republican to announce his retirement since last week. He is the second in California behind Ed Royce who said he wouldn`t seek re-election earlier this week.
So far, 19 House Republicans are retiring outright before the midterms. Twelve more House Republicans are leaving to run for higher office, governor or senator, making a total of 31 Republican House seats being vacated so far.
And by the way, the month isn`t over. There are now, of those 31, eight of them, of those House Republican retirements, are from districts that Hillary Clinton either carried in 2016 or narrowly lost. That includes Martha McSally who is expected to announce a Senate bid later this week.
Those eight seats represent one-third of the 24 Democrats need to win back the House in November. Now, why do we care about these numbers so much? We haven`t seen these many open seats for the majority party since 1994 when President Clinton faced his first midterm.
That cycle, 28 Democrats decided to leave the House. Well, we know what happened there. Republicans ended up gaining a whopping 54 seats that year and control of the House. At that time, it was the first time in nearly two generations they got the Senate. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. So is the Bannon banishment a cautionary tale for Republicans overall? That is, if you break with the President, he can break you. Does that put some Republicans in tight races this year in a tricky spot?
I`m joined now by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado who is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which means it is his job to get Republicans elected to the Senate this year. I`m guessing he`d like to get some of those incumbents re-elected as well.
Senator Gardner, I got a lot I want to talk to you about -- marijuana, DACA, and this. Let`s start with DACA.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO), CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: A lot to go through, Chuck. You got it.
TODD: There is. I want to start about DACA with you first. I know there were some Hill meetings today. Yesterday`s White House meeting had a lot of rhetoric, but it wasn`t clear what direction things were going. Is there direction today after the House and Senate meeting?
GARDNER: Absolutely, there is. And I think yesterday`s meeting actually was very constructive. It was constructive in that we now have parameters of negotiations or discussions, the four things laid out by President Trump.
These are not easy things. And I don`t want to try to gloss over how difficult they will be to find a bipartisan agreement on, but I think it was important to hear from the President his support for a solution, his support for what it would look like, the four parameters laid out. And then, also, I think it did a little bit of expediting the conversations we`re having.
And so I think this is a good path forward to a solution that both Republicans and Democrats can agree to, something the President can sign and I believe will inure to the benefit the American people in an immigration conversation that`s bipartisan, addresses what we need to do with these kids who are brought here through no fault of their own, and security.
TODD: Right. Is this something -- are you comfortable with this being connected to the January 19th budget vote or not?
GARDNER: Look, I`m comfortable moving forward in any way we can. I`d like that -- I`d vote for an agreement today if it had all the principles met that we need. If it`s connected to the January 19th agreement, then I think that`s fine.
I`d like to see this done sooner rather later. But the bottom line is coming up to an agreement that we can get the support of the House, the Senate, and the President. That`s the most important thing because that`s a solution that we have to have.
TODD: All right. I want to ask you about what you look for in a candidate, and I`m going to single out the state of Ohio right now.
There`s a lot of published reports that indicate you, among others in the Senate Republican caucus, would like to get the "Hillbilly Elegy" author, J.D. Vance, to run. There`s another candidate in the race that is already attacking J.D. Vance by noting he didn`t vote for President Trump.
So I`m curious, is that a -- or do you -- are you comfortable recruiting Senate candidates who publicly did not support Donald Trump for president?
GARDNER: Well, look, I think the last thing that the people of Ohio want - - the people of any state want, for that matter -- is to see that Washington, D.C. has decided they`ve picked the candidate for that state. I think that`s not in the interest to the voters of Ohio. That`s not in the interest of any voter across the country.
What I think Republican candidates ought to represent is ideas on growing the economy, what we can do to limit the role and scope of government in people`s lives, how we can put a positive message and an optimistic vision in front of the American people. That`s what, I think, anybody is looking for in a candidate.
So we`re -- there`s going to be a lot of candidates in the Ohio Senate primary. There`s going to be candidates and there are candidates in races across the country, whether it`s Indiana or West Virginia, in primaries. But I don`t think anybody in West Virginia, Indiana, or Ohio is going to say, I need to check with the Senatorial Committee to decide who I`m going to vote for.
TODD: No, I understand that. But do you think Trump support is a fair litmus test for candidates in the Republican primary?
GARDNER: I think any topic is going to be a fair attack or a fair positive-to-negative in a race, and I think candidates are going to use that. Candidates are going to use that for or against each other in primaries, and who knows what President Trump would decide to do with that?
So I think that`s why you have campaigns. That`s why you run campaigns. And that`s why you hope good candidates can get through, at the end of the day, with that positive message and a great vision for this country.
TODD: All right. I think you`re trying to avoid saying it specifically, so let me ask you this. If you have a choice of a candidate who did not support Donald Trump but fits the state and could win versus a candidate who did support Donald Trump but then he doesn`t fit the state as well, what`s your preference?
GARDNER: Well, look, I want to win races. I think President Trump wants to win races. Bottom line is, that`s not my call for Ohio, that`s not my call for Indiana or West Virginia or any of the other states that have primaries.
So, obviously, I think the President wants to win races. I want to win races. But those states are going to make that decision. It`s not my decision to make.
TODD: All right. I know you will not say who the NRSC supports in a given primary, but Joe Arpaio, if he is the Republican nominee for Arizona`s Senate, does he fall into the Roy Moore category for you? Somebody you just not only can`t support, you don`t want to see the party support, and the Committee wouldn`t support him.
GARDNER: Look, I think there`s going to be, again, a number of candidates in the Arizona race. It`s too early to speculate who is going to win, who is not going to win. It may be even too early to speculate who all is going to be in the race, and so I think that is a conversation much further down the road. But it`s difficult to compare what happened in Alabama to any other state.
TODD: So you`re not ready to make a judgment on Joe Arpaio as a candidate? If he`s the nominee, you`re not ready to judge whether he is somebody the Republican Party will get behind?
GARDNER: Well, look, I think -- is he going to be the nominee? I can`t tell that. You can`t tell. Only the people of Arizona can tell that. And that`s why we have campaigns, that`s why we have primaries and races.
That`s not my choice. That`s not my decision to make at the Senatorial Committee. It`s what the people of Arizona are going to decide.
TODD: All right, now let`s go to something a little more local. I know you were scheduled to have a meeting, I believe, with the Attorney General about his decision on marijuana.
TODD: And obviously, you would like him to rethink that decision. How did that meeting go? What can you report about it?
GARDNER: Well, the meeting went as I expected it. He is going to hold to his position for now. I`m going to hold to my position. My position, of course, is that I believe, prior to his confirmation, he made a commitment that we wouldn`t see the kind of significant shift in policy that we are now seeing the administration pursue.
But I actually think that it`s not necessarily the administration. It`s the Attorney General who, I actually believe, has a difference of opinion on this than the White House does right now. And so I`d like to see that worked out. I`d like to see this done in a way that protects states` rights, a federalist approach.
GARDNER: I`m somebody who didn`t support the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, but I also think it`s necessary to protect that state`s decision. Colorado had a vote again today. I think it would probably pass with an even higher margin now than it did several years back.
So let -- this is about states` rights. This is about a federalist approach to government.
GARDNER: And I hope that`s something that we can find a solution upon.
TODD: My guess is the Attorney General reminded you that he doesn`t make law. That`s your job. So let me ask you this. Isn`t there a way you could codify the protections that the Obama Justice Department put in there?
GARDNER: There is. And certainly, Chuck, that`s something that we continue to look at. I gathered about a dozen of my colleagues in the Senate in my office yesterday. We had a discussion about how to move forward.
Whether that`s approach through the appropriations process, whether that`s looking at long-term legislation that could sort of adopt that federalist state-by-state approach, that`s something that we have to consider.
And quite frankly, I think that this decision by the Attorney General spurred that conversation and raised it to a level it simply hasn`t been in the past.
TODD: All right, put your campaign hat back on again and your senator hat. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Democratic side, put out this report that`s very concerning about potential Russian interference in the midterms.
It`s still happening. It`s still going on. Meanwhile, the President keeps referring to everything about what the Russians did as a hoax.
Are 2018 campaigns safe from Russian interference? Can you say that definitively right now?
GARDNER: Well, look, we`re going to do everything we can to make sure that we are protecting and defending the integrity of our elections from people inside the country who would wish to stop somebody from voting or change the influence, illegally, of the election, or people outside of this country, whether that`s Russia, whether that`s Iran.
This is something that we`ve seen from Russia. There`s no dispute on the Hill that this occurred. I think it`s something that we`ve got to make sure that we help the states with and help them prepare, do everything they can to uphold the integrity of what happens in 2018, November.
So I know, today, it was also reported that the Department of Homeland Security is expediting assistance to states to help prepare for their elections.
I think this election -- this investigation needs to be wrapped up as soon as possible so that -- Mark Warner and Richard Burr -- the great bipartisan work they have done during this investigation can get out to the states, what has happened, what needs to be done, and make sure that we never have this cloud over an election ever again.
TODD: What`s your -- when you say you want it wrapped up quickly, what`s your definition of quickly?
GARDNER: Well, I`d like to see it done in time for if there`s something that needs to be taken by a state election official, whether it`s the Secretary of State or their voting division, that they have the chance and opportunity to get that done. That`s probably not September/October. It`s as soon as possible.
TODD: Fair enough. Senator Cory Gardner, Republican from Colorado. We got through a lot of it. I appreciate it. Thanks for your time.
GARDNER: Thank you, Chuck.
TODD: All right. Still ahead, more on the Russia investigations, plural. Are these capital investigations going south on us? I`m going to talk to Congressman Adam Schiff.
TODD: Coming up, that new warning I just told you about, well, we`ll have more on what the Democrats are concerned about with Russian tactics in 2018.
TODD: President Trump now says it seems unlikely he`ll meet with special counsel Robert Mueller on the ongoing Russia investigation. It seems by the way good luck for any congressional committee that would like to speak with the president.
Mueller is of course not the only one investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Today, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as I hinted out earlier, released a report that says the United States lacks, quote, a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to counter future election interference.
Report details two decades of Russian tactics undermining democratic institutions around the world and offers recommendations to defend against future attempts. It seems like something basically that both parties could agree on. It`s pretty simple, right?
But in our toxic congressional environment, this report was written without Republican involvement. It comes as it seems Republicans and Democrats can`t manage to cooperate on any aspect of the Russia investigation anymore. It used to be a disease that only impacted the House investigations. And now the Senate investigation as well.
Joining me now is a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He`s California Democrat Adam Schiff. Congressman Schiff, I want to talk about those congressional committees here in a minute, but let`s talk about this alarming report from Ben Cardin and the democratic side of things on that side.
Let me ask you this, you have been looking at this longer or as long as anybody. What`s the first two or three things in a congressional bill that would be unveiled, say, soon, that you would like to see done to prepare us against election interference in 2018?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think actually the first and most important thing that we ought to be doing isn`t going to be contained in a bill. That is, we need to forge a national consensus, perform power intervenes in our affairs again. We will all reject it no matter which side that helps or which side it hurts.
But the biggest impediment to that is the fact that our president won`t even acknowledge that it happened. He calls it witch-hunt and a fake, so it`s very hard for us to get to that consensus. I don`t doubt that the reason why the Senate report is a democratic report only is not unlike the situation in the White House where it`s been reported if you bring up Russia to the president, he uses it as an attack on legitimacy of his holding office.
And it wouldn`t surprise me if the Republican senators on the Foreign Affairs Committee felt that if they joined the report, cataloging all the Russian intervention around the world, the president would read that as a hostile act, but that leaves us very unprepared.
So I would say developing that national consensus, hardening our election`s infrastructure, making sure that we have our intelligence agencies focus on detecting Russian intervention. Those are among the top three steps that we could take.
TODD: I want to get to this issue -- look, the House Intelligence Committee early on, you guys were used sometimes as a punching bag by the Senate. They say, oh, look, those guys aren`t getting along, it`s all partisan over there and lo and behold, partisanship has now found its way to the Senate investigation.
So, obviously, you`re in this dispute. At this point, are you dealing with Congressman Conaway or Congressman Nunes in this dispute about a witness list?
SCHIFF: Well, my interactions are with Mr. Conaway, and we have a very good working relationship. And it has, I think, been in many respects a model of bipartisanship, but the ultimate decisions are made by Chairman Nunes.
For that reason, subpoenas that should go out aren`t going out and frankly subpoenas that are not necessary and that carry us in a completely different direction are going out. So, at the end of the day, the leadership of the committee in the investigation is in Mr. Nunes` hands.
I will say, you know, the problem from the very beginning, Chuck, with that midnight run our chairman took to the White House and the effort to camouflage where he obtained those documents and information really poisoned our committee thereafter. It does gives me no sense of enjoyment to see the Senate run into the same problem.
But if one party views this responsibility as circling the wagons around the White House and protecting the White House at all costs, it`s very hard to do a bipartisan investigation.
TODD: Let me ask you this. At this point, we have a special counsel. At the end of the day, obviously, you guys have a fact-finding mission. You`re a separate branch of government.
I`m not disputing that, but because there`s a special counsel basically looking at everything you want to look at, how damaging is it, really, to the investigation, since Mueller has all the powers and the ability to get all of these witnesses that you would like to have?
SCHIFF: It`s a really important question. And I think that the key is this. Mueller`s responsibility is actually quite narrow. It`s his job to figure out what laws have been violated, who should be prosecuted. If it doesn`t lead to indictment, he is very unlikely to be able to tell the country what happened.
Let`s say the evidence he believes reaches a preponderance of the evidence or clear and convincing, but not something proof beyond a reasonable doubt, if he doesn`t seek an indictment, we may not know about this connection, this conversation, this meeting, this aspect of collusion or conspiracy, and it falls on the Congress to give a full recitation of the facts to the American people.
This is what happened. This is what we know in the issue of a collusion. This is what we know in the issue of potential obstruction and make that report to the American people. That is not Bob Mueller`s job and he may very well be prohibited from speaking outside of an indictment.
TODD: All right. Let me ask you about your meeting today with the FBI director, Christopher Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. I assume it has to do with -- with your investigation, with who, who will -- what files they may send over, what folks may come over. Did you have that meeting alone with those two or were either Congressman Conaway or Congressman Nunes with you?
SCHIFF: Chuck, this is an example of the question, is going to be a lot longer than the answer. I really can`t comment on that. The only thing I want to say generally on the issue of the majority`s attack on the FBI and the Department of Justice, this is, I think, a profound distraction from what Russia did from the issues that we`re charged with investigating.
It`s quite by design and I think it is frankly very much in combination with the referral of Christopher Steele in a criminal investigation and will do potentially long-term damage to these institutions. TODD: Can you simply say if after your meeting was done you came to a -- you came to some sort of agreement?
SCHIFF: You know, I really don`t want to comment, but, except for talking about the more general issue, Chuck. TODD: Fair enough. Well, that`s why I saved you for last. I had a feeling that might be your answer. Congressman Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Appreciate it.
When we come back, is President Trump making a joke or is the joke on him?
TODD: Welcome back. Tonight I`m obsessed with something President Trump said today unironically.
(START VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness. So we`re going to take a strong look at that. We want fairness.
Can`t say things that are false, knowingly false. And be able to smile as money pours into your bank account. We`re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the American people want to see is fairness.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Really? You can`t say things that are knowingly false and watch money pour into your bank account. This from a president who brags about his truthful hyperbole. This is from a president whose lies as determined by The New York Times have been chronicled since the inauguration.
This is from a president whose false and misleading statements as determined by The Washington Post hit an astonishing 2,000 yesterday. This from a president who also could use a lesson from first amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams who points out again that there is no federal libel law. Every state has its own. So good luck changing 50 of those laws plus the district of Columbia.
It is impossible to know whether the president was being ironic or is making a joke but it should be noted that he was reading a statement. But it certainly looked like a joke. By the way, if you get those libel laws changed and you get sued for knowingly false statements while money pours into your -- well, you get where I`m going here. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Time for "The Lid." Panel is back. Michael, Yamiche, Howard. I promise I will start and finish this segment, so help me God. Anyway, Michael Steele, Darrell Issa -- Darrell Issa made it 31 today.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
TODD: Second in as many days out of the state of California. That is now more open seats from a majority party than we`ve seen since 1994. We know what happened there when 28 Democrats saw the writing on the wall and took off. Is this the sign that the wave is already building?
STEELE: I`m afraid to say yes, I think it is. I mean, you don`t give up your chairmanship. You don`t leave the majority if you don`t sense or have a polling that shows you in your district and elsewhere around the country that things are not going to be good for the Republicans this fall. I hate saying that as the guy who helped build the house, I like to call the house of Steele, that clearly has got some rust on it.
STEELE: So the fact of the matter is, yes, there is some real problems here, Chuck. You know, look, the Democrats at this point can just wait. We`re going to give the majority by attrition at this rate. So it is not, you know, it is not something where they actually (INAUDIBLE) compete because Republicans are leaving their seats behind. TODD: Yamiche, January is not over. I assume the rest of this month, we could -- I mean, we can see another half dozen that either do full retirement or an up or out like Martha McSally.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. When I heard about Darrell Issa, the thing struck me with this former Capitol Hill reporter, he was a very outspoken Republican. He was someone that was really out there talking about the Republican agenda with someone who was very forceful in his defense of the party.
So when you see people like that, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, people who are very vocal basically getting to a point where they are saying, OK, actually I don`t want to talk about this anymore, I don`t want to defend this party. That`s a real bad sign for the Republicans. And I think that Democrats have been saying it.
While they said that they are going to have all these different messages, I think at the end of the day, Donald Trump and Michael Wolff book is going to be a lot of what people are talking about. It`s going to be part of the midterm conversation, whether or not the president is stable, and whether or not people want a check on this president. And I Democrats are definitely getting ready to ride a very, very big wave. TODD: Howard, I want to do the math here just in California. So we have 20. They need -- the Democrats need 24 to take the House. They got 31 open seats. But the state of California is a unique opportunity. Even though, yes, Democrats have a major advantage, there`s still another five, six, maybe seven seats they can get out of that seat alone.
And because of their weird primary system, there might not be a statewide Republican campaign for Senate or governor, because there may be two Democrats facing off in general election. This could be a disaster for Kevin McCarthy and his delegation out there.
HOWARD FINEMAN, ANALYST AND CONTRIBUTOR, NBC NEWS: Yes. Well, I wrote about Ed Royce the other day. He`s the other guy who this week has announced his retirement from the California delegation. Some of these members by the way are term-limited in their chairmanships, meaning they have to get out of the chairmanship. It is no fun after you`re chairman to go back to the anonymity of the House.
But there is a much bigger thing going on here. I`ve been around a long time, Chuck. I came into the movie long ago. The Democrats took huge numbers against Ronald Reagan in 1982. They of course took huge numbers against Bill Clinton in 1994, the other direction. And the same thing happened to Barack Obama in 2010.
This feels very much like that and I think Yamiche has the right point which is that people in general seem to be looking for at this point a check on Donald Trump. A stronger check on Donald Trump than the Republicans are going to provide.
Because the Republicans are falling in line. To the extent that they remain, they`re falling in line. That`s what the people are looking for and you`re right about California.
TODD: Michael Steele, were you surprised that Corey Gardner hesitated on Joe Arpaio? He would not definitively say that the party would -- I was -- if I were Democrats thinking about registering Hispanic voters, I would be pretty giddy about that.
STEELE: Well, the problem is, I can tell you, I was feeling for him, because as chairman, I have been in that situation. I remember a few races back in 2010, I didn`t necessarily want to talk about. But, you know, you try to figure out a way to sort of get around the edges of that. That`s what he tried to do. He is right though. He has to wait and see how the primary plays out.
You know, he is not going to be the only, you know, player, if you will, in that primary race. And I think that`s one of the things that gives Corey the advantage to sort of sit back and wait and see what comes out on the other end. Ask him that question after the primary and then see how the answer goes.
TODD: Yamiche, I want to bring up a point I think you`re about to hit on, about Darrell Issa. He really made an effort over the last two cycles to try to fit his district. Orange County is changing. It isn`t the Orange County from Ronald Reagan`s party in California. It`s a different Orange County. Darrell Issa made every move you can think of to try to stay sort of relevant in his district. It worked in 2016, but it almost as if he said, it`s too hard.
ALCINDOR: Yes, and I think that`s what you see going on in a lot of different people district. Darrell Issa, I`ve interviewed him several times in the hallways. He was someone who was very vocal. He wanted to talk to the press. He wanted to kind of be out there in the news, being seen as a player in Washington.
So I think that he made a name for himself not just by being a chair of the different committees but also this idea that he was someone who you could go to and point to in the national media and say here he is talking about our interests.
In this case, you see someone like him saying, you know what, I`m done with this, I`m not going to be able to withstand the heat. And obviously, he sensed that he might have to lose. And I think that would have been a little bit too embarrassing for him. As a result, he stepped down or he`s not going to run, essentially.
TODD: Well, all right, guys, thank you very much, but don`t be surprised if Darrell Issa is on a ballot in 2018 if he finds a friendlier district. In Orange County, that may come open.
STEELE: There you go.
TODD: That is all. All right, guys. We`ll be back in a moment with something you definitely missed.
TODD: Well, in case you missed it, sometimes things happen while we`re in a commercial break, so this is one you just missed. There was a little bipartisanship at the White House. Moments ago, President Trump signed into law a bill designed to combat part of the opioid epidemic. This law aims to help border agents screen for certain opioid like fentanyl.
It has been a huge problem coming over the border, but folks, it is not every day you get Louie Gohmert and Sherrod Brown to agree on something. So for that, I don`t think it is sign of something negative. We don`t want to say it is a sign of the apocalypse. Louie Gohmert.
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