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Transcript 1/24/18 MTP Daily

Guests: Greg Orman, Jennifer Jacobs

Show: MTP DAILY Date: January 24, 2018 Guest: Greg Orman, Jennifer Jacobs

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: -- the fact that we hear more about the obstruction case than the collusion case, does that mean anything in terms of what Bob Mueller is up to?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think what we have to remember is that, of these two things, with the President, there is just a lot more things in the bucket of obstruction to look at. There is not a ton that we know about the President`s connections to Russia. But on that side, there are so many things to look at.

WALLACE: And people with lawyers.

SCHMIDT: And a lot of White House officials that need to go in and talk to Mueller --

WALLACE: All right.

SCHMIDT: -- about stuff that happened while he was President.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you so much to Michael, Jonathan, and Alicia. That does it for our hour. I`m Nicolle Wallace.

MTP DAILY starts right now. Hi, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle. My favorite cliche, we don`t know what we don`t know.

WALLACE: What we don`t know. Or Don Rumsfeld, the known unknowns.

TODD: That`s right. There it is. It`s the Mueller way too.

If it`s Wednesday, it`s the President versus the FBI.


TODD: Tonight, the President`s scorched earth campaign against the FBI. Why some Republicans are circling the wagons with conspiracy theories.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: When Strzok and Page described -- you know, as they described it, the secret society, that didn`t surprise me.

TODD: Plus, why Mike Flynn waited two days to tell the White House he had been interviewed by the FBI in the White House.

And the politician we once called the most interesting man in politics may now be about to prove our point again.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.


TODD: Good evening. I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington. Welcome to MTP DAILY.

Trump won the popular vote. Obama was born in Kenya. Ted Cruz`s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination. And the FBI is the deep state.

If you believe those things, especially the last one, you`re either called a conspiracy theorist or, perhaps, the President of the United States.

We begin tonight`s show with the President`s attempt to destroy the FBI`s credibility on the Russia probe and the elected Republicans right now who appear to be helping him do it and, frankly, in some cases, you would think know better.

Mr. Trump fired the FBI Director last year after allegedly asking him to pledge his loyalty.

And as "The Washington Post" now reports, that he then quickly summoned the FBI`s Acting Director, Andrew McCabe, to ask him who he voted for in the 2016 election while also venting his anger over McCabe`s wife`s political affiliation. To McCabe.

Now, the President then went on a very public mission to oust and smear McCabe who has been a well-respected 20-year veteran of the FBI.

McCabe is going to retire after a number of elected Republicans followed the President`s lead by pressuring him to go and hammering him constantly in closed-door interviews.

Folks, that kind of smear campaign against the FBI`s leadership and that kind of willingness to embrace the President`s conspiracy theories has gone off the rails. And it has gone off the rails with the help of elected Republicans who, I think, we all thought should know better.

Here is one of them.


JOHNSON: We have an informant who`s talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site. There is so much smoke here, there is so much suspicion --

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Boy, let`s stop there. A secret society that - - secret meetings off-site of the Justice Department?

JOHNSON: Correct.

BAIER: And you have an informant saying that.

JOHNSON: Yes. This is bias, potentially corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. Robert Mueller used to run the FBI.


TODD: Senator Johnson has spent the better part of the day trying to explain those comments. He says the secret society language comes from those text messages between a high-level FBI agent on Mueller`s team who is no longer there and a colleague that he was having an affair with.

The FBI can`t locate six months` worth of those messages which is sparking another round of conspiracy theories.


REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: These messages run from about the time that the Russia-Trump investigation started at the FBI and run to the day before special -- independent counsel Mueller was appointed. There is no coincidence.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: What`s missing is important but, also, what`s there is important. It is manifest bias not just against Trump, but against his kids, against his business interests.


TODD: And the attacks on the FBI don`t stop there. Not at all. The right is now calling for the release of a memo that one of its own hardliners wrote.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, who recused himself from the Russian probe over inappropriate coordination with the White House, put together, himself, a classified memo.

It alleges -- well, actually, we don`t know exactly what it says because they won`t release it. So I haven`t read it. Neither has the Justice Department.

But the President`s allies have. Then they wanted it to be released. But when people asked for it, they said, no, no, no, no, you can`t read it. But it says, it proves everything.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I`m here to tell all of America tonight that I am shocked to read exactly what has taken place. I would think that it would never happen in a country that loves freedom and democracy like this country.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: What I read today in that classified briefing room is as bad as I thought it was.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: You are describing the very elements of a palace coup. And after Jim and Mark Meadows and many others of us reviewed the intelligence information today, it is abundantly clear that the entire Mueller investigation is a lie built on a foundation of corruption.


TODD: Again, they`re talking about a memo written by Devin Nunes. So I hold in my hand -- sorry.

All of this is seemingly to protect the President from a Russia probe that has metastasized on this White House. It`s no longer just about collusion. It`s about alleged obstruction, lying to the FBI, working for foreign governments, and money laundering.

The President is facing very serious allegations that he tried to corruption this investigation. And his response to those allegations is seemingly to corrupt the entire Justice Department with help from allies in the GOP, which used to call itself the law and order party.

Folks, the point here isn`t to indict the entire Republican caucus. I`m talking about a very small but loud group of Republicans, not folks like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Although you can argue -- some will argue that their silence is a way of being complicit in this destruction of the FBI`s credibility.

But we should know the Republicans don`t have a monopoly on criticizing the FBI. Sixteen months ago, Harry Reid said there was evidence James Comey broke the law and that he had done more damage in the -- to the FBI than anyone since J. Edgar Hoover.

But as is often the case, what`s happening now just seems to trump anything we`ve seen before.

I`m joined by now by Chuck Rosenberg. He`s a former U.S. attorney, a former senior FBI official. He was Jim Comey`s Chief of Staff and has worked for Bob Mueller too.

Mr. Rosenberg, welcome to the show.


TODD: So let me ask you this. I`m sure you at least know. What is morale like in the FBI right now?

ROSENBERG: Well, there`s two morales in the FBI. One is that these men and women are mission-oriented and mission-focused, and I mean that sincerely. They care a lot about helping victims of financial fraud or finding missing children. That FBI is fine.

There is another FBI that listens every day to this drumbeat and that hurts. I mean, people join the FBI because they believe in what it stands for: fidelity, bravery, and integrity. But to have that sort of undermined by the leadership is a difficult thing to listen to every day, Chuck.

TODD: What do you make of the text messages? Are you disturbed by any of it?

ROSENBERG: Look, I know those two folks. They`re good people. I think they exhibited bad judgment. Good people sometimes exhibit bad judgment. The problem with the text messages, of course, is that it lends an appearance of impropriety.

TODD: Right.

ROSENBERG: Don`t forget that when Bob Mueller found out about that, he removed that special agent from his team. That`s exactly what he should do.

TODD: Let`s talk about the issue of political bias.


TODD: What that means. What are the rules in the FBI? So what is it -- if you join the FBI, does your spouse no longer able to express a political opinion or work in partisan politics?

ROSENBERG: There is still this thing out there called the First Amendment, and so that actually doesn`t just apply to everyone else but the FBI. It applies to everyone. And what you try and do -- and I did this for many years -- is keep those views out of your work.

TODD: Right.

ROSENBERG: I was a federal prosecutor for a long time, Chuck. I literally didn`t know how other people in my office thought about politics. Why didn`t I know that? We didn`t talk about it.

TODD: You had a no policy, but let me ask you this. What are the parameters? From everything we understand, when she announced -- when Andy McCabe`s wife decided to run for office, he implemented -- he made some decisions about what he could work on and what he couldn`t.

ROSENBERG: That`s right.

TODD: Was that standard policy, or was that just decisions he made on his own?

ROSENBERG: There is an ethic`s office and Andy sought its guidance. And they suggested to him -- although, knowing Andy as well as I do, I`m sure he would have done it anyway -- that he will wall himself off from certain, you know, public corruption cases, for instance, in Virginia.

Remember, at the time, he wasn`t the deputy -- he wasn`t the deputy director.

TODD: At that time, he`s just in Washington office -- field office.

ROSENBERG: He ran the Washington field office.

TODD: Right.

ROSENBERG: And so he walled himself off from any case that might even come close to his wife`s political activities.

TODD: As somebody who worked as a U.S. attorney, are the President`s public comments about Andrew McCabe, does it actually strengthen a case of obstruction of justice if Bob Mueller is trying to make it based on his motivation for removing Comey and things like that?


TODD: Does that actually play -- is that actual circumstantial evidence that if you were to try him for this, you could introduce?

ROSENBERG: It might, sure. I mean, you could see the argument right in your question, Chuck. If you`re trying to undermine the people who are investigating you, you`re trying to undermine the institution in charge of the investigation, then, sure, that smacks of obstruction.

TODD: We seem to know a lot about what Mueller may or may not be focusing on the -- when it comes to obstruction of justice. I think it`s leading to this assumption that it is the larger part of his investigation.

Based on what you know, what can you say the scope of what the -- the obstruction of justice charge versus everything else he`s looking at?

ROSENBERG: So it -- so there is an unknown there, right? The obstruction seems relatively easy. We can understand it. In fact, we can read it.

TODD: Is that why we know so much about it because it`s sort of a beginning, a middle, and an end already?

ROSENBERG: It seems to be a more discreet act. The Russia interference piece writ large is much more complex, much more nuanced, much more layered. And we don`t have the same sort of visibility into that because a lot of that work is being done on the counterintelligence side.

So two different pieces, one that seems relatively discreet and one that seems quite large and somewhat amorphous.

TODD: If you were asked to come back to the FBI, it`s like, look -- and the fact that`s -- you know, I brought up that Harry Reid stuff.

Right now, it`s partisan Trump supporters that are going trying to go after the integrity of the FBI. In the summer of `16, it was partisan Clinton supporters that were questioning the integrity of the FBI.

How does the FBI recover from this?


TODD: What would you do? What you would recommend?

ROSENBERG: Implicit in your question is that the FBI is reeling from this. I still believe, in all my heart, Chuck, that the FBI is fine. They`re awesome, but they`re not perfect. And those are two very different things.

The coin of the realm for the FBI is that when it`s in the field, when it`s looking for a missing child or working a financial fraud case or a public corruption case, is that it has to be believed, right?

I mean, information is the -- is what they try to get, and they get it when people believe they`re credible and faithful and honest. As long as that holds, as long as that dam holds, they`re OK. And my sense is that they`re OK, but the attacks don`t help.

TODD: How long -- you could argue it took the FBI how long to recover from J. Edgar Hoover.

ROSENBERG: It took a while.

TODD: Is this as bad?

ROSENBERG: Time will tell. I`m not trying to be Pollyannaish.

TODD: I understand that.

ROSENBERG: I`m not trying to Pollyannaish. This is bad. I don`t believe it`s fatal. I tend to be, as I said before, recklessly optimistic.


ROSENBERG: And I am so here because the FBI has been around for 109 years. These attacks are sort of a small, small fraction of that tenure.

TODD: Chuck Rosenberg, former Justice Department official, FBI official, former chief of staff of Jim Comey. You got a lot of titles there. Thanks, sir.

ROSENBERG: I do. Can`t keep a job.

TODD: Fair enough.


TODD: Good to have you with us. Appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

TODD: I am joined now by an MSNBC political analyst, my friend, Hugh Hewitt. Of course, he has a nationally syndicated radio show.

Host of "HUGH HEWITT ON MSNBC," Mr. Hewitt, welcome, sir.


TODD: You`ve hosted quite a bit of these lawmakers making this case that there is -- that there are a lot of questions about the FBI`s investigation. Why not wait for the Inspector General to do its job before muddying the waters here as badly as some in the House Republican caucus want to muddy it?

HEWITT: I`ve talked mostly to senators, Chuck, 11 of them over two days on the air, including today, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mike Lee of Utah, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Four very responsible, all of whom want a dig deep investigation into the Bureau concerning the text messages.

They are all willing to wait and see what it comes up with, but Dan Sullivan was very pointed. He pointed out that the FBI and the DOJ took down Ted Stevens in a corrupt prosecution a few years back in Alaska, and he has no hesitation to believe that a few bad actors in the Bureau or the DOJ can take it rogue.

I personally think the Republicans in the House are overselling the Nunes report. They ought to lay it back, put it out in two weeks, and see what`s in it. But I would not over promise and I would continue to say, leave Special Counsel Mueller alone.

TODD: Yes.

HEWITT: But, Chuck, I`ll ask you -- it reminds me so much of Spiro Agnew in 1973 where a U.S. attorney investigated him for 11 months, and then, all of a sudden, one day, he resigns because of tax evasion charges and gives up his office in order to avoid prosecution.

I don`t think you can prosecute the President of the United States.

TODD: Right.

HEWITT: I don`t believe it`s constitutional to indict him, but I do think Mueller may be working along those lines.

TODD: Let me ask you about the attacks on Andrew McCabe because I feel as if we`ve crossed a line here that we`re never going to get back. Does this mean that anybody who works in government, suddenly everybody in their life contributes to whether they`re biased about something? Do you see what I`m saying here?

HEWITT: No, I draw that line, too.

TODD: This has --

HEWITT: Yes, I draw that line.

TODD: To me, what`s happened to Andrew McCabe based on what his wife did seems to be over the top and a new level of absurdity in this town.

HEWITT: I draw the line that what your spouse does has anything to do with what you do. However, I do think it`s appropriate for the President of the United States to ask his senior political appointees in the unitary executive that we have whether or not they can support his agenda and move forward.

I don`t know what went on in that conversation. We`ll find out in the Mueller report. I do think we ought to be all very careful about calling people good hats and bad hats, black hats and white hats, until the end of this thing.

TODD: Yes.

HEWITT: I trust Mueller -- he`s got such a great reputation -- that what will come out will come out, but I am open to the possibility that there were some very bad actors at the FBI. And I remind you of one name, Mark Felt. He turned out to be a hero to history, but he was a deputy FBI Director who was, in fact, deep throat.

So the FBI has a history of putting their fingers on the scale sometimes. One or two people at a time. So we just need to be open to what Dan Sullivan said to me today. There needs to be a lot of transparency, a lot of openness at the Bureau.

TODD: I`m trying to figure out a time when the FBI made up evidence because that -- I mean, at this point, the implication is what? That they`re -- that they supposedly had a political bias.

And by the way, maybe it wasn`t a political bias, it may have just been a personal bias. We don`t know what that bias is. A lot of people are trying to draw conclusions here.

But go down that road, nobody has come up with a single piece of evidence that it`s somehow -- it`s somehow coming up with false allegations or they`re making up allegations. The Mark Felt situation, did he make up anything?

HEWITT: The Ted Stevens` investigation involved the suppression of exonerating information, and that seems, to me, to be the closest parallel to what is being alleged as the worst-case scenario for the FBI. Again, we don`t know.

If they suppress exonerating information about the President or if the foreign intelligence surveillance corps, which I used to serve as the assistant to two attorney generals, preparing the warrants with senior counterintelligence agents at the FBI, if they made that system pervert in order to get a FISA warrant in order to surveil Trump Tower, there is a big problem there if the intelligence community and the Justice Department are misusing Section 702 or other authorities.

But we don`t know any of that. My appeal to everyone is slow down and wait for Mueller.

TODD: Right.

HEWITT: Slow down and wait for the I.G. And by the way, I think Rod Rosenstein ought to recuse himself and turn it over to Rachel Brand. So I just think it`s a mess at DOJ and FBI --

TODD: But isn`t it a mess -- well, no --

HEWITT: -- all driven by the fact that the Attorney --

TODD: But why is it a mess? Is it a mess because you have somebody who is making a concerted effort to muddy the waters?

I would ask you this, Hugh, if the President has nothing to afraid of -- to be afraid of, then why isn`t he open to an investigation?

HEWITT: He keeps saying he doesn`t and he`ll talk to them and he wants all of his people to talk to them and he`s not concerned about Jeff Sessions talking to them. Don McGahn -- you can`t let your lawyer talk to them.

So I actually think he is pretty relaxed about this whole thing because he doesn`t believe there`s any collusion, but --

TODD: Really? Have you seen his Twitter feed?


TODD: That doesn`t -- that feed doesn`t --

HEWITT: I do, but there is no collusion.

TODD: That feed doesn`t exactly come across as somebody who isn`t concerned about it. If I wasn`t concerned about it, I wouldn`t be tweeting about it.

HEWITT: Oh, you know, I think he has learned that if you want to change the subject away from anything you don`t like, tweet about the Russia investigation. And if you`re perfectly confident that there is no collusion, tweet about it a lot.

But I am still open to anything. I remember Agnew -- you`re too young, Chuck --

TODD: I`m -- I hear you.

HEWITT: -- coming after them at the left field.


HEWITT: Agnew walked out and resigned. So if they`re assembling a case and they walk in and they sit down with the President and they say, here is money laundering, here is family involvement, here is collusion, here is the data company, a lot of things could change overnight. But let`s all just wait and see because these text messages are deeply concerning.

TODD: No, I understand that. Then why --

HEWITT: They`re not just pillow talk.

TODD: I agree. So do you think Rod Johnson then shouldn`t have come out and gone so public because you actually -- the responsible thing is let the I.G. do its job and then Congress can question the I.G. report?

HEWITT: I think it`s fine for senators as a co-equal branch to bring a spotlight to bear on the Bureau and the need perhaps for a second Special Counsel. I wouldn`t discuss any particular one because I don`t have a full lawn -- you know, you`ve got to lay out every play that`s been called to understand the game plan.

TODD: Right.

HEWITT: Picking and choosing text messages tells me nothing as a former DOJ person.

TODD: Right.

HEWITT: So I thought that was a little intemperate. A little intemperate. But we do have a lot of smoke coming out of the Bureau.

TODD: Hugh Hewitt, as always, sir, thank you. Glad to have you on.

HEWITT: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: Come back to the East Coast, buddy. California can`t be that warm.

HEWITT: Oh, it`s beautiful out here.

TODD: All right. I know it is.

TODD: Up ahead, Michael Flynn`s secret meeting with the FBI. Why did the former national security adviser hide it from the President?


TODD: Welcome back. Even as the march to discredit the FBI rolls on, we have a lot of new developments today on the Trump-Russia front.

NBC News reports that exactly one year ago today, then-national security adviser Michael Flynn apparently did not tell top White House officials about his meeting with the FBI investigators. In his West Wing office, by the way.

The White House was first informed about that meeting two days later by the Acting Attorney General at the time, Sally Yates.

NBC News also has learned that Yates is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation into the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, CIA Director Mike Pompeo who was allegedly asked by President Trump to lean on then-FBI Director Comey to drop his investigation into Flynn has also been interviewed by the Mueller team.

Remember, he went -- he tried to lean on the reports of Coats and Pompeo on that front. Anyway, looking ahead, while the Special Counsel is seeking an agreement to talk to President Trump, they plan on talking to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon by the end of the month.

We`re going to have a lot more on the Special Counsel investigation and the push to investigate the investigators after the break.


TODD: Welcome back. Plenty to talk about there, huh?

Let`s get to tonight`s panel. Howard Fineman, contributor, MSNBC analyst; Jennifer Jacobs, White House reporter at Bloomberg News; and Michael Steele, former RNC chair and the -- an MSNBC political analyst.

All right. Jennifer, let me start with you. This White House effort, it`s - - I`ll say this, they no longer -- the White House press office no longer distances themselves from the President`s attempts to discredit the FBI. That, to me, has been an interesting change over the last month.

JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: One thing I want to point out, that what this has led to is you have some Republicans and those in the legal community defending Andrew McCabe. Like the former U.S. attorney at the top of your show said, you know, this --

TODD: Right. A Republican appointee, even, last year too.

JACOBS: Right, saying, Andrew McCabe, the Deputy FBI Director, has been scrupulously nonpartisan in his role despite his wife`s leaning. So that`s one thing.

But I did have a Trump administration official say to me today, he speculated, that the net effect of all this GOP assault on the FBI is that it does sully Bob Mueller indirectly.

That you start having people who start doubting the honesty and the professionalism of the FBI, and the net effect of that is that people start blurring the letters FBI into FIB, which, you know, essentially, what -- you know, whatever Bob Mueller comes out with, in the end, is sullied.

TODD: Howard? Wow, huh? I mean, listen to what --


TODD: I mean --


FINEMAN: No, no. And I talked to a lot of --

TODD: We`re reliving the 1950s.

FINEMAN: -- a lot of conservatives and -- look, it took the FBI, from the time after Watergate, decades to really rebuild its credibility for independence and total professionalism and nonpolitical behavior. And Donald Trump and his allies are perfectly willing to wreck it if it gets in the way of defending him.

I have not covered Washington for a long time. I haven`t seen a kind of direct attack on the credibility of the FBI, in the independence of the FBI, on its nonpartisanship, on its professionalism. I haven`t seen anything like that. And Donald Trump is doing a lot of things that nobody has seen the likes of.

TODD: Right.

FINEMAN: And he`s utterly unembarrassed and unashamed about doing it. And he and his allies are going to do whatever it takes. They`re using social media, they`re using direct attacks, they`re unearthing some e-mails that quite frankly are problematic, I think, and they`re going to play that for all its worth.

TODD: Right.

FINEMAN: And this is a huge endgame that`s beginning now in earnest and in public.

TODD: You know, Michael, it is -- I guess I`m just curious, like, I know what they`re trying to do, but don`t they look guilty here? The more they do this, I feel like they only --


TODD: Like, it`s sort of like when my -- you know, the more they`re explaining, the more you`re, like, going what are they worried about?

STEELE: Yes, that, for me, is the thing. If there`s all this innocence that`s out there surrounding the campaign and the White House, you sit back and go, do your investigation.

Meanwhile, we`re going to go and we`re going to lay down the tracts for infrastructure. We`re going to lay down the tracts for healthcare. We`re going to lay down the tracts for broader policy initiatives.

No, we`re not doing that. We have now have set up a wholesale operation between the White House and Capitol Hill to sully the reputation of good men and women who work inside the FBI because of, as you noted, Howard, some e-mails. Yes, they`re problematic, but let the appropriate authorities ferret that out.

To do what they`re doing, the end game they`re playing right now, what they don`t seem to understand, it could blow up in their face just as much as it could sully the FBI. And that`s a real problem.

TODD: And the irony is we were talking about, like, Trump always takes something and goes with it. What Harry Reid said about James Comey was outrageous in the summer.

STEELE: Right.

TODD: And yet somehow like --


STEELE: We topped that.

TODD: -- the President tops it.

JACOBS: Right. Keep in mind that he has been, privately, to people in the White House, saying he has full confidence. And Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this at the press briefing -- I think it was yesterday -- that the President does have confidence in Christopher Wray, the current FBI Director, and that`s true.

I was told that he has told people that he does believe that Christopher Wray has the character to clean this up. And so he is speaking in some positive ways about the FBI.

TODD: Well, let me tweet this -- this is what he tweeted today: where are the 50,000 important text messages between FBI lovers Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung.

Obviously, he`s going down that road. This is the President of the United States going after going after civil servants. That`s what makes this to me -- they`re not elected officials. This is like a new -- we`ve crossed yet another line and erased another norm.

FINEMAN: Well, this is Donald Trump using Twitter to say, I will stop at nothing. And if it means stooping to attack civil servants, I`ll do it. If it means transgressing traditional rules in Washington, I will do it.

TODD: By the way, he`s doing the same thing he used to do with Page Six --


TODD: -- on his personal life.


TODD: Except the stakes are so much higher.

FINEMAN: Yes. And again, I say, it`s -- this is just the beginning of what I see as a political war that`s now broken out full on and in public between Donald Trump and his allies and the FBI.

And he may say, right now, that he`s fine with the FBI Director and so on. He`s fine with him until he isn`t fine with him, which I predict --

TODD: Ask Jeff Sessions.

FINEMAN: Yes, which I predict is down the road.

STEELE: Right. And the truth of that is, again, going back to where Republicans are standing on this.

They`re going to rue the day of going down this road and having this institution come apart in solid and have the kind of morale problems that could be long-lasting down the road. And then who are they going to look to?

And then what happens and the next administration comes and, Republican or Democrat, you now have this seabed of suspicion about these institutions, CIA, FBI, Justice Department?

What is the end game here? That`s the question I have for the Republicans. What is the end game?

FINEMAN: Well --

STEELE: What is your expectation, when it is all said and done? When the Mueller -- Mr. Mueller puts this report on the table, are you going to laugh at it? You`re going to take it seriously? What`s your end game?

FINEMAN: Well, in a game of brute survival, the durability of institutions doesn`t matter to the people in the ballgame, and that`s where we`re at.

TODD: All right. I`m going to pause here. You guys are coming back, I promise.

Up ahead, there`s no place like Kansas. Where have I heard that before?

The man we once called the most interesting man in politics may become the State`s next governor, and he`s not even a Republican or a Democrat. That`s coming up.


TODD: Welcome back. At this hour, a bipartisan group of senators is meeting to discuss the next step forward in the fight for an immigration deal, a DACA deal.

According to West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin`s office, 36 senators were invited to attend the discussion. It is more than a third of the Senate. We don`t know if Susan Collins brought her talking stick with her.

This comes after the White House announced it will release their legislative framework on immigration this coming Monday. Not a whole lot of other details on either front but we will be sure to keep you updated with the latest. More "MTP Daily" after this.


TODD: We know 2018 is going to be a heck of a year in politics. There are so many key races we are keeping our eye on across the country. Tonight we`re going to pull back the curtain on what could shape up to be an unpredictable race in -- ready for this? Ruby red Kansas.

Kansas had quite a few years. Last summer, their conservative legislature turned on the Republican governor, Sam Brownback, when they removed -- moved to reverse some of his deep tax cuts after the state faced a huge budget shortfall and serious economic woes.

Brownback was ranked one of the least popular governors in the country, so the environment is pretty ugly out there for Republicans. One of the Republican front-runners to replace in the secretary state, Kris Kobach, who stood behind some unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud and headed up President Trump`s voting commission before it was disbanded.

Democrats have a number of candidates for governor but as of today, there is one more person running. It is independent businessman Greg Orman, who we call the most interesting man in politics back in 2014 when he gave a surprise race in a near upset against Senator Pat Roberts back in 2014.

Well, Mr. Orman joins me now in the studio. Welcome to the show, sir.


TODD: All right. Let me start with this. Are you running for governor and not Senate?

ORMAN: Well, you know, Kansas right now is at a critical juncture. What happens over the next five years is really going to determine the path of the state on for decades and like so many Kansans, I want my daughters to be inspired to build their lives in our state. I don`t think that`s going to happen unless we fundamentally change the direction we`re on.

TODD: When you almost beat Pat Roberts, Democrats basically cleared the field for you nationally to give you that shot. They figured the only shot you had of beating a Republican in a ruby red state was with somebody with an "I" next to their name.

This time, Democrats want to run for governor. They almost won the governorship four years ago. They say your -- a lot of Democrats are arguing that your candidacy guarantees Kris Kobach`s victory. What do you say to that?

ORMAN: Well, I think that`s nonsense. I mean, the reality is I`m sort of tired of the argument that only two parties are entitled to govern in this country. The reality is Kansans want something different.

We saw that in 2014 when 43 percent of them voted for an independent running for the United States Senate. And we`ve built on that foundation. I think we`re going to run a great campaign this cycle and I`m confident that we`re going to ultimately win.

TODD: One of the ways you projected your bona fide as an independent was number one, you said you were going to caucus with whichever party had the majority, if you had won that Senate race.

What kind of independent guarantee do you give -- what -- what -- if you get elected and voters still want a republican legislature, does that tell you you need to govern more like a Republican?

ORMAN: You know, the reality is a governor doesn`t caucus. You know, a governor listens and leads. And ultimately, what we are doing is talking to the voters of Kansas about our vision for the state and it is a positive vision that is focused on growing the state`s economy, protecting the pillars of our community, bringing transparency back to state government.

And when we travel the state, when we talk to voters, that`s resonating with people, Republicans, Democrats and independents. It is resonating across the spectrum.

TODD: Why aren`t you a Democrat?

ORMAN: I am an independent for one real simple reason and that is because I put my country and my state ahead of a political party. I also believe as an independent it allows to think for myself and use facts and common sense to solve --

TODD: You feel like if you are a member of a political party, people don`t look at you credibly?

ORMAN: I think if you are a member of a political party, ultimately you have to answer to the special interests and the party bosses that control those parties. I mean, just look at what happened in the shutdown recently.

That was really about two people in the United States Senate. It wasn`t about senators from either party. And ultimately, I want to be able to serve the people of Kansas, not have to serve special interests or party bosses.

TODD: You get asked this question a lot so I assume you are prepared for -- you announced in 2014 that you voted for Obama in `08 and Romney in `12. Who did you vote for in `16?

ORMAN: Well, you know, interestingly I didn`t vote for either of the major party candidates. I thought --

TODD: You picked a third party candidate?

ORMAN: I picked a third party candidate. Frankly in June or July of 2016, I wrote an article about the presidential contest where I -- where I referred to it a a crisis of legitimacy in our country.

I wanted to send a message to both parties that I was very dissatisfied with the choices that they gave us. And I think a lot of Americans and a lot of Kansans are right there with me.

TODD: What something Sam Brownback has done well as governor that you would continue if elected?

ORMAN: You know, I like his focus on vocational education. I mean, the reality is we tend to in this country value an academic education more than a vocational education and there is a real opportunity to reach a good middle income and middle class life if we allow people to pursue a different path. So I think that focus is positive.

TODD: When it comes to frankly any race, but especially when you are trying to sort of break through in a red state, culture issues are going to be front and center with your opponents. On abortion, what is your position?

ORMAN: Well, you know, I -- I sort of --

TODD: Should be legal?

ORMAN: Yes, it should be legal, but again, I`m not -- I`m not --I understand the points of view of people who are in the pro-life community. My mother is very pro-life. I understand a lot of people come to that position out of love and caring and frankly faith.

And so I think we need to talk about the thing that we all agree on, which is how do you reduce the number of abortions --

TODD: What restrictions are in favor of?

ORMAN: I think we need to talk about how we reduce the number of abortions and I think we`ve seen examples from other states where they`ve done things and seen significant reductions in the abortion rate. And I think if we can come together on both sides of this issue, I think we can do that in Kansas as well.

TODD: Some state legislators try to push what is a -- to ban abortion after 20 weeks. If that ended up in your desk, would you sign that bill?

ORMAN: You know, I would have to look at the bill at the time. Ultimately I think abortion decisions should be made as early as possible. And I don`t think anybody likes abortion, but we`re -- you know, we`re going to work on -- with both sides of the aisle.

TODD: All right. Let`s talk about guns. Is there -- what restrictions would you fight for?

ORMAN: You know, the reality is -- and I talked a lot to members of the NRA in 2014 on the campaign trail. I think most Americans are in the same spot on reasonable gun restrictions. I`m a believer that we need to have background checks.

I`m a gun owner myself and I will tell you, I went through one. It was a relatively simple process and didn`t really affect my second amendment rights. I don`t like -- TODD: Too tough or not tough enough? This background check, or you think it was -- it is a decent background check?

ORMAN: I think it was appropriate.

TODD: OK. Very quickly on the tax bill, good for Kansas or bad for Kansas?

ORMAN: You know, ultimately it wasn`t good for Kansas. And what I think however Brownback`s biggest failing was --

TODD: The federal tax. I know you`re on Brownback`s tax bill, what just passed, from what you know about this new federal tax bill, good for Kansas or bad for Kansas?

ORMAN: Well, you know, I think it is good for some people and bad for others. I mean, the reality is we were at a time in Kansas where we made a lot of the same decisions that the federal government has made. And ultimately that doesn`t work out --

TODD: So you are -- it sounds like you`re skeptical.

ORMAN: We will have to see what happens.

TODD: Greg Orman, I`m going to leave it there. We`ll be watching in the campaign trail. This could be a crazy entire incumbent year.

ORMAN: Thanks for having me.

TODD: Should be interesting. Thank you.

Up ahead, what happens when you lose an election fair and square? Apparently to Alabama Republicans, you try to change the rules.


TODD: Tonight, I`m obsessed with what short memory some people in politics have. We all remember the catastrophic choice Alabama Republicans made in their special Senate election last month. They picked Roy Moore, a credibly charged pedophile with extreme positions who had twice been removed from his job as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Bad move. You know the rest. Moore lost an unlosable election to Doug Jones, first time a Democrat won a seat in Alabama since 1992. So, did Alabama`s Republicans conclude Moore was the problem? No. They apparently concluded the system was the problem.

So, yesterday, Alabama`s House voted 67-31 largely along party lines to end special elections when there are Senate vacancies. Instead the replacement appointed by the governor would then serve until the next general election, which in last year`s case would not have come up for another three years.

So let`s be clear about what Republicans are thinking. We`ll always have a Republican governor who will always pick a Republican replacement who could then serve out the term. No special election to mess things up.

But at one point, there will be a Democratic governor making the choice and then what? I take you back to 2004. Massachusetts Democrats were panicked that if John Kerry won the presidency, Republican Governor Mitt Romney would be there to pick a successor in the Senate.

So what happened? Democrats said let`s change the rules. So, they changed the law to allow for a special election. Kerry lost, Mitt Romney won there. And in 2010, after Ted Kennedy died, Republican Scott Brown won the special. The Democrats had control of the Massachusetts governor mansion then by the way.

Bottom line, when you change the rules to fit your problem, it almost comes back to bite you in the end. Alabama Republicans, you better think about that one. We`ll be right back.


TODD: Time for "The Lid." Panel is back. Howard Fineman, Jennifer Jacobs, Michael Steele. Interesting, we got our first sort of post shutdown poll, Quinnipiac, first one out of box.

Who was responsible for the shutdown? Democrats 32 percent, Trump 31 percent, Republicans 18 percent. Interesting there that it`s Trump not Republicans as sort of the counterweight to the Democrats, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Yes, well, that`s the ballgame now. I mean, all the attention, all the focus on Donald Trump, paradoxically because he didn`t say anything, but people see through that. They know who really is responsible for the logjam. TODD: Do people see through it or do we look at 32-31 as 32 percent are base Republicans who are blaming the Democrats, 31 percent of base Democrats are blaming Trump and the other 18 percent are just sort of angry? I don`t know.


TODD: I don`t know.


TODD: You know, those numbers feel awfully partisan to people.

FINEMAN: To me, actually they mean what was said at the time, which is long range this thing, in and of itself, is not going to have major impact going down the line.

TODD: What is going to be offering here? Are they going to be making a real offer on Monday or did they view it as a extreme position to begin negotiations?

JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I`m not sure on that, what they know. They`re watching these polls. You know how the president loves to watch the polls. And I think one take on from this poll and the White House is going to clearly notice is, that Americans despite the good economy are still grumpy and they`re looking for change in D.C.

And they`re going to notice that this is the change that swept in Trump in 2016 and Democrats are poised to capitalize on that again. So, I know they`re aware of these polls and they`re going to have to be --

FINEMAN: That`s in another part of the poll which is really damage to the - -

TODD: No, I do think something here for the president in this whole thing is, one of the other reason -- he got a slice of voters that weren`t fans of him, they held their nose, but they thought, you know what?

These clowns always shut down the government, grit lock, maybe Trump`s crazy style of negotiating may actually shake it up for a positive. If they`re doing the same thing when Obama was president, that`s not going to give them confidence. STEELE: That`s not going to give them confidence. And that`s why the numbers look partisan in their makeup, it`s what`s really going on beneath the surface, which is what you`re touching on. On the back into that, what they`re paying attention to is just how many of those votes could potentially slip away.

And so to your question, what do they put on the table? I think the president is going to want to go for the extreme position. This is my hard ask up front, deal with it. I think other folks around him are going to go, we may need to soft pedal this a little bit because this is really on them at this point, because at the end of the day, you have taken the bargaining chip away with the whole CHIP program.

TODD: I think a shutdown is bigger than Democrats here. I`m curious what you guys make of The New York Times Joe Manchin story. Jennifer, I will start with you. Do we think Chuck Schumer folded because he thought Manchin might not seek re-election and literally he thought, Jesus, we cannot have that happen? Or is Manchin just wanting to make us all think that?

JACOBS: Probably Manchin is wanting us to think that.


JACOBS: That would be my answer.

TODD: Howard?

FINEMAN: No, I don`t think it was just Manchin. I think that the White House managed to get the upper hand in the spin war on this.

STEELE: That`s it.

FINEMAN: They were much more aggressive. Say what you want about whether it`s a bully pulpit or Twitter, the president and his people were more loud, more insistent, more consistent, more ruthless.

They also had ads out there from allies that, you know, stretched the bounds of not only credibility but decency in some respect, accusing people who defended the "dreamers" as in favor of murder. I mean, come on. And I think Chuck just said for now, it`s not worth it.

TODD: You`re bloomberger. I got to ask you this. There is breaking news. Bloomberg wire, Trump says he would talk to special counsel Mueller under oath.

JACOBS: There you go. Under oath is the key part. We have been trying to get him to pin down on that. What we would like to see though, you know, how he has accused Comey of being a liar. Comey went and spoke publicly under oath. Would Trump be willing to do the same thing publicly?

TODD: OK. Did you -- were you able to advance any of the timing on this? This is just saying if they agreed to do this, we don`t know that he will do it under oath.

JACOBS: Correct.

TODD: But lying to the FBI is already a crime.

STEELE: It`s a little bit of a problem.

TODD: I mean, lying to the -- meaning, whether you`re under oath or not, lying to the FBI is still a no-no.

STEELE: Right. You know, the idea that the president is going to get anything less than under oath is ridiculous. They`re not going take written testimony. This is not going to be a homework assignment.

Mueller is going to want to sit down face-to-face with the president and ask him a series of questions, because part of that process is also observing how you answer questions, not just what you say.

TODD: And one thing, Howard, very quickly, remind people what Bill Clinton ended up doing, he appeared in front of the grand jury via video --


TODD: -- with his lawyer which was special treatment. It was under oath.

FINEMAN: It was under oath and it was something that we all saw eventually. I don`t know what`s going to happen with Trump. My cynical take on this is that Donald Trump will do whatever he can politically, and to the institutions going after him, whether he speaks under oath officially or not, in his mind, doesn`t matter because this is a political war for him.

TODD: I will leave it there. Look at that, you come here and you get this breaking news. I saw you checking your phone and finally it came over. Anyway, guys, thank you very much. Up ahead, flagging a discrepancy in South Carolina.


TODD: In case you missed it, pop quiz. Let`s test your South Carolina knowledge. Which one of these is the official South Carolina state flag? Look at them closely. Any idea? Time`s up. The correct answer is, none of them.

South Carolina has no official specifications for what the state flag should look like. You got your crescent right here, you got your palmetto there over there. Other than that, it`s open season. Anybody can put it any way they want.

So now lawmakers are considering a bill to standardize the flag`s design, but a Senate (ph) panel delayed it, saying it still needs more research. Come on, man. Are you kidding me? What are you waiting for?

The other states are starting to talk, South Carolina. Look at the goddesses on the state flag of New Jersey, silently judging. The bear of the California flag, his mouth is agape. He can`t believe it either. So, South Carolina, we look forward to seeing all of your flags sharing a single design. That will be a banner day indeed. That`s all we have for tonight.

THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER starts right now and I think I know what breaking news he`s about talk about. It`s all yours, brother. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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