Show: MTP DAILY Date: February 1, 2018 Guest: Leon Panetta, Yamiche Alcindor
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Thank you to Ken, John, Nick, and Bill. MTP DAILY starts right now.
Hi, Chuck. I'm sorry we're late.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: It's OK, Nicolle. I'll dock your pay. I appreciate that.
TODD: All right. If it's Thursday, things are getting curiouser and curiouser.
Good evening. I'm Chuck Todd in Washington. Sometimes where you wonder if we're Alice in Wonderland. Anyway, welcome to MTP DAILY.
If there something more absurd than the shenanigans around the memo, it's the stuff you seemingly have to believe in order to take its contents seriously.
The White House says the President is likely going to green light the release of this memo tomorrow. What that means in what form, we don't know.
And we also don't know what exactly the memo says, but we now have a pretty good idea of why the President and his allies want it released so badly.
For them, this memo will only help support the evidence that they believe points to a vast conspiracy against the President. So let's go through that evidence based on what we do know about this memo and those trumpeting its release.
Ready to go down this rabbit hole? Because if you want to take this memo seriously, there are plenty of conspiracies you seemingly need to also take seriously to make this memo actually factual.
For instance, you got to believe that Russia colluded with the Democrats to undermine Trump's candidacy. And then you got to believe that they planted bogus information in Fusion GPS' so-called Steele dossier. And then you got to believe that gave the FBI an excuse to continue spying on the Trump campaign.
And you got to believe that got Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein involved which, of course, his involvement meant to approve an application to continue to spy on a former member of the Trump campaign, all of which approved by a FISA court judge.
All of that was part of an effort to take down the President. Now, if that is not a big enough conspiracy, there are a bunch of other conspiracies that you have to believe in order to prop the one I just told you about.
Maybe you believe the DNC and John Podesta both hacked themselves. Maybe you believe all of the Trump Russia intelligence, CIA, FBI, all of it, was somehow falsified. Maybe you believe the FBI was always in the tank for Hillary Clinton.
Maybe you believe James Comey's hand handed handling of her e-mail investigation was all an elaborate ruse to avoid having his cover blown about how he was secretly somehow helping Clinton as he was hurting her candidacy. Maybe you believe Trump's own employees are also in on this whole thing.
So let's review the case. Russia, the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. investigators, the courts, and the President's own appointees at the Justice Department, all of them part of this conspiracy to take down the President.
Folks, you may not take that literally, but a lot of people are taking everything I just said about -- in this rabbit hole very seriously.
Let me bring in a couple of my colleagues. NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams and Kelly O'Donnell at the White House.
Kelly, I want to start with you. I know the President just got back from West Virginia from this retreat. And they alerted the pool that the President has cleared the memo but they're not quite sure what that means. Who is releasing the memo, Congress or the White House?
KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest indication we have from White House officials, multiple sources here, is that the intention is for the White House to effectively green light -- that's saying the President has no objection to it being released -- but sending it back to the House, and some emphasis from officials that this is a House of Representatives process, not a White House process.
Is that some early distancing perhaps, Chuck, if this doesn't go as planned? We've had days of noise surrounding this.
You just laid out how whatever might be in that, whatever is ultimately learned, they have been able to get this sort of nagging undercurrent of questioning law enforcement and the conduct of those who were involved in the original FISA court when it was time for the campaign.
O'DONNELL: That has really been hanging in the air. Is that enough politically? So we don't yet.
The other question that is curious is we've had senior White House officials who have told us redactions to the memo, changes being made at the request of the FBI, are likely. And then we've been told that there won't be any from senior officials who should be in a position to know.
So the big question is, is the President listening to his own FBI Director?
O'DONNELL: Is he listening to his Intelligence Committee Chairman? But at least at this point, it appears the President is a go on this but it goes back to the House.
TODD: Well, Kelly, it sounds like he may be getting -- is he getting mixed advice in the West Wing? It wouldn't be the first time.
O'DONNELL: It feels that way today simply because we have been trying to make certain we didn't misunderstand someone, making certain people were in a position to know the answer, really double checking things.
And we had a situation where we were given information that redactions had been done. Then we were told no, that it's still in the revision process, the review process.
O'DONNELL: That's been very muddy today. And that, in and of itself, over a period of hours is notable to me --
TODD: Right. Are they nervous --
O'DONNELL: -- that --
TODD: And quickly, are they nervous that they've overhyped this thing?
O'DONNELL: Well, they've let it get oxygen for days, and I think that there is a risk of that. Perhaps it will be a weekend release when people are thinking about a certain football game. Maybe that would tamp things down.
TODD: Yes, good luck with that.
O'DONNELL: All right. Kelly O'Donnell, oh, boy, thanks very much. Let me move over to Pete.
All right, Pete. I know there is another media organization claiming Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI -- that there is some sort of fear, maybe, in the White House that Wray could resign over this. I know you've pushed back on that fact, but obviously, the FBI is upset. Do they have any recourse left to stop this memo?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Two points. I can't say what the fear is at the White House, but I can say that the -- I'm told that there is no plan for Christopher Wray to step down over this.
Basically, the FBI has made its point. And I don't think they're going to say anything when the memo comes out which seems likely it's going to come out. I think they feel that they've already said their thing.
They put that statement out yesterday saying that the memo was incomplete and therefore misleading. They have grave concerns about revealing, potentially, sources and restricting future information flows from foreign governments, from intelligence sources.
I think their feeling is they've said their thing. And when the memo comes out, for them to then rebut it or say something in return just, you know, lobs the tennis ball back over the net, and they're not interested in any further battles.
And I think they also feel that they'll be lots of picking apart of the memo by news organizations and that they really don't need to be in the fight.
TODD: Right. Let me ask you this other question. I feel like that one of the reasons why the FBI may be having a hard time getting traction for redactions and things like these is the government cries wolf a lot on classification. OK?
We heard it during the Snowden releases, the Manning releases, all of this, oh, my God, you have no idea what this is going to cause. And the public and even the elected officials going, OK, you warned of doom and gloom and we didn't see it.
Why does this feel like the same type of wolf crime?
WILLIAMS: Well, there may be, but you have to remember there is also a FISA court process here and that -- that insists on keeping these things confidential and classified. So the government doesn't have much of a choice here. FISA court, by its nature, is classified.
But in the nature of the FISA applications, foreign intelligence. You're dealing with intelligence from foreign governments.
WILLIAMS: You're dealing with sources that you don't want to see dry up, and that's the other sensitivity here.
I will say this, Chuck. In terms of redactions, the rules that the House is following, for the first time ever here, say if the House wants to release it, it asks the President, do you have any objections, yes or no? There is no provision in the House rule for the White House to fiddle around with what the House has sent them.
Now, this is the first time this has ever happened.
WILLIAMS: Everybody is kind of ad-libbing here. I guess you can't blame the government for trying to try this here.
But the other thing we hear is that if it's going to be released, the House members will try to release it through the congressional record, read it into the record.
WILLIAMS: So that they get protection of the constitution speech or debate clause just in case they're a little worried about what they're doing here.
TODD: Right. That is how Mike Gravel got the Pentagon papers, I believe, on the record.
TODD: Anyway, Pete Williams, Kelly O'Donnell, good to see you. Thank you very much.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure.
TODD: Joining me now is Chuck Rosenberg. He's a former Chief of Staff to FBI Director James Comey. He's a former federal prosecutor and a former counselor to Bob Mueller, and he is now an NBC News contributor.
So you are a card-carrying member of the deep state?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION: Seems that way if by deep state, you mean people who care deeply about our institutions.
TODD: I try to have a sense of humor these days because it's very hard not to. So, first of all, walk me through -- what is it that the FBI is most concerned about here? I mean, they are sounding an alarm louder and louder. Whether Wray is threatening resignation or not, I get that, but the fact that that fear is out there, it's clear these alarm bells are loud.
ROSENBERG: Right. So there are a lot of sensitive sources and methods, Chuck, that go into every FISA application, and we rely on lots and lots of people, including foreign governments, to help us in our cases.
And if people don't believe that they can trust their information to our institutions, to the FBI, to the CIA, then we undermine their work.
TODD: So the fear is that in this FISA application that is -- that they are writing this memo which, obviously, they believe this was unlawfully targeted person in some form or there wasn't enough evidence or that the evidence was an outside evidence, what sources and methods would be revealed here? How they're tapping his phone, for instance?
ROSENBERG: Or how they think about these cases or how they assembled it.
TODD: Or how they -- or who is connected to this person?
ROSENBERG: Right. But there's two problems. There is the immediate problem. It's this particular case.
ROSENBERG: And there is the larger problem. It's the entire process. It's the intelligence collection platforms.
ROSENBERG: And so, really, what you're doing, conceivably, Chuck -- I haven't seen the memo -- is putting all of these things at risk. And for what? It seems to be for a political imperative.
TODD: One of the contentions by those that want to believe -- and when I went through the rabbit hole thing, one of the contentions is that somehow the Steele dossier and the Steele dossier alone got the FISA warrant.
In the history of the FBI, how often would the FBI rely on somebody else's investigative work without any sort of reinvestigation and simply take that to a FISA court?
ROSENBERG: It seems unlikely, and here is why I can say that. When I worked for Bob Mueller at the FBI as his counselor while he was director, I reviewed every FISA warrant before he certified them.
TODD: How many?
ROSENBERG: So --
TODD: Would you -- can you put a number on that?
ROSENBERG: Eight to 10 to 12 a day.
ROSENBERG: I don't know, sometimes far less, sometimes a few more, I mean.
TODD: Multiple in a day, more likely.
ROSENBERG: Multiple in a day, and they're thick and they're this --
TODD: This is all in the post 9/11 world which meant we had a lot, right?
ROSENBERG: We had a lot.
ROSENBERG: And I can't compare it to what we have today.
ROSENBERG: But we had multiple a day, and I can tell you that there is an exacting process. Lots and lots of lawyers and agents look at these things before it came to me.
Director Mueller would certify. It would go to the Attorney General of the United States. He would sign it and then -- and this is really important, Chuck -- it goes to a federal judge. So the notion that we're trying to slip something past the federal judge is crazy.
TODD: Is the renewal process easier than the initial process?
ROSENBERG: Well, it's only easier in the sense that a lot of your facts have already been established, but you still have to make a probable cause showing. The standard doesn't change, but a lot of the underlying work has been done.
TODD: What's your cause? What is the level? That you're going to get useful information, you're going to get -- like, what is the threshold that you have to prove that you need this tap?
ROSENBERG: Well, you have to show that the person is probably -- probable cause -- an agent of a foreign power.
TODD: That's number one.
ROSENBERG: Acting on behalf of that and that this tap, this information, will yield foreign intelligence information of value to the government.
So where does the probable cause standard come from? It comes from the constitution. The Fourth Amendment says it right there.
ROSENBERG: And it's the exact same standard in the FISA court as it is in federal district court for a criminal case.
TODD: So take a hypothetical, say a guy like Carter Page who was investigated for potential ties to Russia in, I think, 2013. They got -- they cleared him of this. All of a sudden, his name pops up again and he's popping up.
Would this -- him popping up in the Steele dossier, combined with the 2013, would that be enough to say maybe we do need to be keeping an eye on this guy?
ROSENBERG: It could be. But your question is really important because it assumes -- and I think properly -- that there is a lot of stuff, not just the dossier, but a whole trail of stuff that goes into these affidavits.
And in fact, if I were doing a criminal search warrant, I wouldn't just rely on you, as reliable as you may be. I would corroborate you in any way that I could and I would ask other people too.
TODD: I guess, is there any scenario you could think of where the Steele dossier or some piece of evidence that some private entity put together would be the sole way you would justify a FISA warrant?
ROSENBERG: Ideally, no. Ideally, you would have other stuff. But let's say it is only the Steele dossier. So my next question is, perhaps, so what? Right? So if the Steele dossier is reliable, if you disclose to the judge, to the court, how you got it and why you believe it to be accurate.
Remember, it's still just probable cause. We save standards like proof beyond a reasonable doubt for conviction at trial.
ROSENBERG: Probable cause means probably. And so while I don't believe that it's predicated solely on the Steele dossier, even if it was, which is unlikely, I'm not sure that would be improper.
TODD: OK. You certainly have worked with Christopher Wray in the past.
TODD: And I know -- I think you're like Pete Williams here. He's like there is only so many times you threaten resignation and when you do it, and FBI Directors could come up on this often. What do you think Chris Wray's line is?
ROSENBERG: His line with respect to?
TODD: To staying or going. Like, at what point do you do need to use the resignation threat?
ROSENBERG: You can't threaten resignation every time someone does something dumb. You'd threatening resignation 11 times a day. Chris is a good man. I know him, I like him, I trust him.
And I think it's in the long-term interest of the FBI and the country for Chris to stay where he is. I hope he thinks that too. So the notion that he would resign over this seems farfetched.
TODD: Do you think -- then do you not buy the reporting that said that he threatened resignation over being forced to fire Andrew McCabe?
ROSENBERG: No, I don't buy that either.
ROSENBERG: Again, you can't threaten to resign every time something doesn't go your way or someone pushes back on one of your policies.
TODD: And if you threaten once and you lose and they go through, then --
TODD: -- you can't do it again.
ROSENBERG: I think you can --
TODD: You can't use that all the time because, you know, there's only one time you could successfully use that threat.
ROSENBERG: Chuck, you can argue, you can push, you can plead, but don't threaten to resign unless you mean it. So I don't see it as likely that he would have threatened to resign. He has bigger battles to fight.
TODD: Chuck Rosenberg, there's a lot more to talk about, but I'm hoping we've created at least some clarity on what is a very opaque process. Anyway, thank you, sir.
So what will their -- what will the political fallout be for all this and if and when the Nunes memo is made public? The panel is next. We'll be back in a minute.
TODD: Welcome back. Bipartisanship compromised, the White House insisted. That's what the President was pushing at the State of the Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So let's come together, set politics aside, and finally get the job done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: But he also tied immigration to crime and violence and his rhetoric seemed to make it more difficult for Democrats to get on board with any kind of immigration deal.
Well, today, speaking at the Republican lawmaker retreat, the President was all for bipartisan compromise. Unless he doesn't have to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have to get help from the other side, or we have to elect many more Republicans. That's another way of doing it. Really, that's another way of doing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Yes. See? Forget about wanting to set aside politics aside to find a solution. Forget the bipartisanship. Just get a whole bunch more of Trump Republicans elected this November, and then it won't matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We win more, we don't have to compromise so much. OK? With the tax bill, we got what we wanted because we had essentially a unanimous vote.
But we have to go and we have to get it done and get it done properly. And we're going to have to compromise unless we elect more Republicans, in which case we can have it just the way everybody in this room wants it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So if you're wondering why many of us didn't put more weight behind the President's words at the State of the Union, well, there you go.
More MTP DAILY after this.
TODD: Welcome back. Let's bring in tonight's panel. George Will is an NBC News contributor and, of course, a syndicated columnist. Yamiche Alcindor is "PBS NewsHour's" White House correspondent and MSNBC contributor. And Howard Fineman is an nbcnews.com contributor.
Yamiche, let me start with what the White House -- what do you think is happening inside this White House because it does seem as if there's some mixed messages coming out today alone on this memo? We know what the President wants, but it does sound like he's getting some pushback.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I've been talking to White House aides. They've been telling me that they -- they know that the President is going to release this memo, that they feel like this is going to be happening pretty shortly.
Most people in Washington feel like it's going to happen tomorrow, but people are worried about whether or not the President's going to be able to justify why he is doing this and not just be because he thinks that this is going to help himself.
They understand that the narrative is going to be that, but they're -- they're, right now, readying up why this is important and why the Democratic memo isn't out yet. And also how they're going couch the fact that they are going against what the FBI said was something that is inaccurate and that they are gravely concerned about.
So they are prepping for this narrative that they have to come up with in order to counter it.
TODD: George, if it-- let's set aside the facts. The hype -- they've already blown it with the hype in this because now it is seen as a Donald Trump life vest.
GEORGE WILL, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there are very few facts to put aside at this point.
WILL: Which is why there is so much speculation about motives why they're doing this.
WILL: It seems to me odd that the default position should be to support classification. My estimate is probably 80 percent of the classified documents in this town should not be.
TODD: I agree.
WILL: But they are classified to protect the power or the reputation or the convenience of those who classify them.
We also hear that there is something faintly disreputable and ominous and a threat to the rule of law if Congress exercises oversight over the FBI, which is an item in the executive branch. Should be doing that.
So I think everyone ought to calm down. We're going to see what's in this now.
WILL: And it might turn out to be not very much.
TODD: Well, that's what it does -- I was just going to say it seems as if, suddenly, everybody is -- you have Paul Ryan today saying this has nothing to do with Mueller probe.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBCNEWS.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
TODD: And, you know, he has quietly been saying, oh, this is just a handful of House members who are just, you know, overhyping.
FINEMAN: Right. Well, Chuck, I've got a lot of good sources around the President who talk to him and who've talked to him about this. Here is my sense of it, the big picture.
They've decided inside the White House -- I think Donald Trump himself as decided -- that he can't get away with firing Bob Mueller.
First of all, it's technically difficult the way the rule was set up to put Mueller in. He had to go too far down in the structure of the Department of Justice to do it. And secondly, as one of my sources said, it would give Bob Mueller the high ground, even higher than he's got now.
So what they're doing -- and the memo, they believe, is part of it -- is to try to attack the credibility of the entire -- to pick at Bob Mueller and the people around him and the support ecology around Bob Mueller, to try to besmirch it in whatever way they can because they can't fire Mueller himself.
And that's what they're doing here. How this memo is related to the conduct and the behavior of Bob Mueller in his investigation is obviously the question. And I think this memo isn't going to show much about that.
ALCINDOR: But I think, in the White House, that's why I said they're crafting a narrative because they're going to have to make the argument that this somehow -- even if it's subtly, make the argument that this somehow undermines the legitimacy of Bob Mueller.
ALCINDOR: Even if they don't say his name.
ALCINDOR: Because they want to have Russia and all these sound as if it's something that is completely inconsequential. That's irrelevant when most people understand that there is something that Russia did and that the intelligence agencies have said that this is -- that Russia did something inappropriate in our elections and continue to do so in the midterms.
TODD: Here is what I'm struggling with, George, is that I hear you on the oversight. And you've been fighting about Article One for, I feel like, quite some time these days.
WILL: Yes, that's right.
TODD: Please, will Congress actually read their constitution? But Nunes didn't go about this in a watchdog kind of way. He went through this in a backdoor way that seemed to undermine the potential nobility of what they're doing.
WILL: It was, to say no more, ungainly.
WILL: But there has been a lot of ungainliness going around. Until yesterday afternoon, I thought the FBI's problem was that there might be facts injurious to the national security that would be revealed by releasing the memo.
Yesterday afternoon, they said they were worried about the omission of some facts, which is to say they were worried about the argument and the conclusions and the opinions supported by the memo which, frankly, is none of the FBI's business. That's an argument you can have in public.
TODD: That's what a committee hearing is for.
TODD: That's what --
WILL: Correct, yes.
TODD: -- way to back and forth. So now where does this go, though?
FINEMAN: Well, the next thing is to see what's in the memo, obviously. And I think the partisans on Trump's side, the people talking to Donald Trump, the people playing to his desire to undercut Mueller, have convinced themselves that, somehow, this memo and what's in is going to raise a whole larger question about the provenance and legitimacy of the entire Mueller investigation.
That's what they hope. There's a certain amount of circular thinking and - -
FINEMAN: -- inside of the Oval, wishful thinking going on here.
TODD: By the way, it seems to me, at least short-term, isn't Trump's strategy working?
ALCINDOR: It depends on who you ask.
TODD: If you just look at it as a political strategy of muddying the waters on Mueller, is it working for him?
ALCINDOR: I think it's working in some ways because the "release the memo" is such a vague thing, but it has also caught fire. Everyone is talking about it.
If you look on Twitter, if you look on conversations, every day, people are wondering what's in this memo? Why is it so important? And then they're trying to connect it to Mueller, but it's not really connected to Mueller. But everyone kind of thinks it is, so I think, in some ways, it is working.
But me, as a reporter, the thing that I'm interested in, going forward, is how our intelligence agencies going to want to work with this White House, what the FBI's response is going to be. Are we going to see leaks of what was left out of the memo? Because as a reporter, it seems like that's going to happen.
And then how are these -- how are all these committees that are still looking to get information from these agencies? Why would these agencies ever share anything else with them?
TODD: This is my great fear, George, is that with -- people are going to fight this now. They're going to be complaining that they didn't go through the proper channels, and then they're going to go through improper channels to fight about the improper channel.
TODD: And then, of course, we do then have -- I don't know -- would you throw up your hands or going, OK, are you guys going by the book or you're not going by the book?
WILL: Well, don't we all want to know what the FBI was doing during the climactic moments of the 2016 campaign? That's kind of interesting.
I'm not against the FBI. One of my three sons is an FBI agent. I have a big picture at home of him getting his credentials from one Robert Mueller as the Director of the FBI, but something went wrong there.
We had a -- you had -- on "MORNING JOE" this morning, you had Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who said about those tweets, those anti-Trump tweets going back and forth between two FBI agents.
Senator Paul made a good point. He said suppose those are two judges tweeting like that back and forth and it became public. Wouldn't that be kind of interesting?
WILL: I think so.
FINEMAN: But they weren't.
WILL: No, they were FBI agents who are presumably politically neutral arms of --
FINEMAN: Well, I would like to think --
FINEMAN: I would like to think that the White House and the Trump supporters were interested in the historical record and just making sure we understand the 2016 campaign. I don't think that's what they're about here.
TODD: And, look, I'm going to get into this FBI in a minute, but it does seem to me that the original sin is when a single public servant believes they alone can sort of fix a perception problem.
FBI was worried about politics. James Comey thought he could fix it himself. And everything has been a problem ever since that July decision.
WILL: And when people say, in Washington, they have a perception problem, they don't have a perception problem. They've got a real problem.
TODD: Get rid of the wrong perception and stay fantastic.
TODD: All right, guys, stick around, but I need to sneak in a quick break.
I want to remind you, this memo drama is not politics as normal, but just how far away from normal have we gone? Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta is going to put it in his perspective, next.
CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY SHOW HOST, NBC: Welcome back. We got a big show coming up this Sunday on "Meet the Press." First, we have an exclusive interview with President Trump's first White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
And then we're happy to share the news that former CIA Director John Brennan is now a senior national security and intelligence analyst for NBC News. He will be my second guest this Sunday on "Meet the Press." A packed show. We'll be back in a moment.
TODD: Welcome back. We've said it before and we'll say it again. What is happening right now surrounding the impending release of this Nunes memo is not normal politics in Washington, not normal governance as we wrote in our first read politics news this morning.
We've never seen this. A public fight between the House Republicans and the FBI. An FBI led by a Republican who was appointed by a Republican president. And it is a fight that the Republican White House seems to be encouraging.
Joining us now is someone who knows what is normal in these circumstances, former CIA director and defense secretary, White House chief of staff, congressman, Nixon aide, Leon Panetta. I throw that in there because we're talking about flouting norms and rule of law. You've seen it all, sir.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Yes, I have, Chuck. But I haven't seen this one. This is new. TODD: OK, so, look, fights between Congress and the head of -- head of intelligence agencies, being domestic or with the CIA, not new, they can be ugly, they can be messy, and they should be, right? It's sort of -- it's sort of part of it.
But what -- what -- put this one in perspective in your mind and play devil's advocate a little bit. What should the role be of the House Intelligence Committee on this?
PANETTA: Well, the role of the Intelligence Committee coming out of Watergate was to establish a committee of Republicans and Democrats that would responsibly oversee a highly classified information produced by the intelligence agency, so that the people had their representatives being a check on the kind of classified information that was being provided.
That is the way it was designed to work. Frankly that is the way it worked when I was director of the CIA. I had both Republicans and Democrats cooperating to work with me with regards to classified information.
What is happening now is a total breakdown in the procedure because when they move ahead, as they apparently are going to do here, to release some classified information, it truly does jeopardize the sources and methods that are used to gather intelligence and that is a dangerous step. TODD: Well, let me ask you this. There was a lot of warnings, you were among those, that were really concerned about whether it was the Snowden leaks , the Manning leaks, those two most recent because I think they were -- you were sort of in and around government in those times. And we heard these warnings.
Dire -- people might die. The public and even elected officials are now looking back on those warnings and think, boy, they seemed to be have been oversold. Why shouldn't be believe that the warnings from the FBI on this aren't being oversold as well?
PANETTA: Well, look, I think, you know, when it comes to the impact of releasing this kind of classified information, that, you know, it is important to listen to people who are right in the middle of it. The FBI, CIA, who work with sources every day to gather intelligence.
And it doesn't mean that questions shouldn't be raised. It doesn't mean that the committee or the Intelligence Committee ought not to oversee that operation, they should. But they're the representatives of the American people.
But you cannot provide intelligence to the president of the United States unless you have sources for that intelligence. And that means protecting them and protecting the information that they provide. And if you don't do that, you're not going to have sources for very long. TODD: You know, it sort of strikes me, your service in government, as you rose through the ranks, you got to see more and more classified information. You know, from a Congress to chief of staff to defense to CIA, or guess CIA to defense, so actually probably stepped back on some of the classified info you got to see.
In your experience, do we overclassify?
PANETTA: Oh, I don't think there is any question that there is a lot of overclassification that goes on. Pat Moynihan made that point and I agreed with him. I think that ther is a tendency to overclassify information.
But at the same time, when it does involve sources that are in very sensitive positions, and you need that if you are going to find out what is going on in Russia, what is going on in North Korea, what is going on in China, and you got to be able to protect those people in the jobs that they're in.
And if you release information that gives those sources away, then that can create some really important problems for our intelligence gathering process. TODD: Well, but if you are a member of Congress and you believe that the classification is -- argument is an excuse for a little CYA, what should you do?
PANETTA: Well, I think if -- you know, if you're concerned about whether or not something should have been classified, there are ways to challenge that. You can challenge it in the committee, you can challenge it through the executive branch. The fact is there are ways to try to raise questions about whether something should be classified or not.
But the wrong way to do is to simply throw it out there without checking with those that are involved to show just how sensitive that information can be. TODD: One of the concerns we were talking about earlier, with the panel, is this idea that the intel community is mad at how Congress is behaving, and it will be tempting to essentially -- if you are not going to follow protocol, well then neither are we.
And look, we and the press may be the beneficiaries of a lot of leaks, but is that what we are about to see? Is that this is becoming sort of the wild west of leaking?
PANETTA: Well, there is no question, Chuck, that it is breaking down the process as it was designed to work so that all sides would have some say in the process. We are a democracy. We believe in checks and balances. But you have to establish ways for those checks and balances to work.
That is why we have an Intelligence Committee. That is why we have an FBI. That is why we have a CIA. That is why we have a president of the United States to try to protect those processes and procedures that have been put in place.
When that starts to break down, when the president says, I'm going to release it no matter what the FBI says or what the Justice Department says, then it creates what I consider a constitutional crisis.
TODD: And is it inevitable that people are going to start withholding the CIA directors -- I don't want to put it on any individual CIA director, but CIA directors and FBI directors are going to simply say -- you know, the running joke is careful what you tell Congress because then everybody is going to know. The Intel Committee used to be immune from this. Do you think that is gone?
PANETTA: Look, these are -- these are human beings. If they -- if they see that the committee is being careless in the way they handle classified information, they are going to hesitate to provide that information to the committee. I think you can bet on that. TODD: And that is a vicious cycle which will only raise more suspicion by lawmakers themselves. PANETTA: That is right.
TODD: Leon Panetta, thanks for playing statesman for me today. Much appreciated. If I go through your resume, I'll run out of time. Until me meet again.
PANETTA: No, don't do that.
PANETTA: Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: Up ahead, the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Your own theory. This is a case we all agree on the facts, but your conspiracy is about time. We'll be back in a minute.
TODD: Welcome back. Tonight I'm obsessed with coincidence in the age of conspiracy. So the Wall Street Journal reported today that top FBI officials like Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were aware for about a month that lots of Hillary Clinton e-mails were on Anthony Weiner's computer before they alerted Congress.
It was a month later on October 28 that Director James Comey did tell Congress and the public learned about the new e-mails. So, what does this all mean? Rigged, say some Democrats who argue that anti-Clinton FBI agents sat on the e-mails as long as they could to help throw the election to Donald Trump.
Rigged, say some Republicans who argue that pro-Clinton FBI agents sat on the e-mails as long as they could to protect Clinton before the election. Nonsense, said the FBI's former national security assistant, Michael Steinbach. He says the delay was, well, bureaucratic or good old-fashioned leg work.
That would include things like getting a warrant to search Weiner's laptop, figuring out how to review what they thought were 600,000 e-mails, turns out there were far fewer, and then plans to send them to the CIA or NSA if necessary, all of which would have taken months.
So, did it take a long time? It depends on your definition of four weeks, yes. Did Hillary Clinton get hurt by the revelation? Yes. Are President Trump's supporters suspicious of the FBI motives? You bet.
But according to Steinbach, the delay wasn't a result of conspiracy, it was a result of a lot of due diligence or someone else might say a lot of bureaucracy or whatever. But the bottom line is on these things, usually the simplest explanations turn out to be the best ones. We'll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. Time for "The Lid." let's bring the panel back. George Will, Yamiche Alcindor, and Howard Fineman. I was just joking, I want to do a little just sort of normal politics. HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC ANALYST: What a relief.
TODD: You know, just good old-fashioned Republicans and Democrats having a back and forth. So Mike Pence has had -- went after Joe Manchin in a bunch of tweets. Pence said he voted no to give working families more of your hard-earned money. Joe voted no on tax cuts. Joe voted no time and again on the policies that West Virginia needs. And then hashtag Joe voted no.
And then -- then there's this video that's been making the rounds that Republicans are sharing a lot. By the way, here's Joe Manchin's response. VP's comments are exactly why Washington sucks. I'm disappointed in his comments but will continue to work, make Washington work, so West Virginia our country work.
Then Republicans have been circulating this video of Joe Manchin at the state of the union. Take a quick look.
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TODD: As you see there, Manchin, thinking, I'll clap, and then he thinks I'll stand, and then he realizes none of the other Democrats are standing. Look, George, we all see politicians do this.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: (INAUDIBLE).
TODD: It is funny.
TODD: It's funny. I was reminded of Jim Hightower, the long-term sort of democratic populist of Texas, who said there's only two things you find in the middle of the road, yellow lines and dead armadillos. Is Joe Manchin going to join him, George?
GEORGE WILL, POLITICAL ANALYST, NBC NEWS: I don't know. Trump carried the state by what?
FINEMAN: Forty-two percent.
TODD: Unanimous, as we call it.
TODD: Big leap (ph) actually, because (INAUDIBLE).
WILL: Pence did by attacking him the way he did indicates that Doug Jones won, they're now down to one. The red state, Trump state, Democrats do not seem to be in trouble, Heitkamp and the rest. So they have -- it's a full- court press and they have to find some democratic seat to flip. TODD: And it's interesting, Manchin? You know what's interesting, Howard, I feel like Manchin, you want to say takes the bait, like there is a sure - - remember sure deodorant never let them see you sweat. Manchin letting them see he sweat. FINEMAN: Well, to use a baseball term --
FINEMAN: He has rabbit ears.
FINEMAN: Right? He hears what's going in the other dugout all the time. And especially if you are in a situation where as we were saying, Donald Trump won West Virginia by 42 points. I don't care how easy Manchin has had it in the past, you know, this is going to be really tough.
And he is a kind of West Virginia guy who thinks that personal relations and sort of cousinly behavior is going to save him.
TODD: By the way, if he wins, will that be the answer?
FINEMAN: That type of politics, I wish it were still possible in America, things have become so hyperpartisan and ideological. It's going to be hard for him to straddle with personality.
TODD: It's going to be a nationalized environment because all of life is nationalized now. We don't regionalize anything anymore.
ALCINDOR: Not at all. And the fact that -- I thought it was interesting that his initial response was, I'm so surprised that Mike Pence is going after me. And I thought, why would you ever be surprised? This is going to be one of the biggest referendums on the president. Donald Trump is on the ballot in West Virginia and you have a lot to lose.
So I think he's sweating for sure and it's funny to see him on Twitter start to get a little bit more feistier, because that's what he has to do to kind of meet Donald Trump and Mike Pence where they are. TODD: Manchin has one get out of (INAUDIBLE) though. There's one of the primary candidates that are facing that's actually in jail right now and physically is not allowed to be in the state of West Virginia but somehow is advertising a former coal miner. FINEMAN: What Donald Trump said in the state of the union, and I love beautiful, clean coal.
FINEMAN: That's not music to Joe Manchin's ears.
TODD: Right. Look in the Senate math, George, you just brought it up. They don't have a good challenge with Heidi Heitkamp. That doesn't mean they can't win North Dakota. It is a very after West Virginia, comes North Dakota. Indiana is going to be a fight. Missouri is going to be a fight. You know, Manchin on paper should be a dead duck.
WILL: When Trump went to North Dakota before he left, Mitch McConnell said please don't say something that can be put in their ads. So he says come on up, Senator Heitkamp, wonderful -- he makes it up as he goes along. TODD: And that's their issue. But those Senate seats, you can't send Donald Trump to suburban Atlanta right now, you can't send him to suburban Dallas, you may not been able to send him to parts of Des Moines (ph). You can send him to West Virginia or North Dakota, Yamiche.
ALCINDOR: The only thing is if you send him to West Virginia is he going to have another one of those NFL take a fight with a random thing that people forgot to think about and now you are in this case where he already has a gaff and he's back to cultural wars because he loves those crowds.
He gets hyped off with those crowds and then he starts to go completely off script and whatever Stephen Miller and Mike Pence wrote is gone with the wind and he's living like crazy. TODD: Guess what? Mitch McConnell cares about that. I talked to a Senate Republican activist, George, who say, we know what's good for us is bad for House Republicans.
WILL: And you will save yourself. There's only so many seats in the lifeboat. TODD: And so they'll say, forget it. Send the president. We know what he says may get turn into an ad in suburban Denver but it certainly still helps West Virginia. FINEMAN: And also for a second to bring us back what we were talking about earlier, the Senate is the ultimate backstop for Donald Trump should there be impeachment. TODD: You got a point there. All right, guys, thank you. Little normal campaign midterm politics.
TODD: Every once in a while, that will accidentally happen. All right, up ahead, the very best place to get away in the absolute worst-case scenario.
TODD: In case you missed it, Republicans are holding a retreat in the hills of West Virginia this week, specifically White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, home of the historic Greenbrier Resort. The property boasts five golf courses, several tennis courts, spa, a casino, oh, and a secret cold war era underground bunker built the house the U.S. government in the event of a nuclear disaster. And there's horseback riding.
Behind this giant 25-ton glass lies a massive underground chamber designed to House members of Congress in the event of a catastrophe. This place has everything for a discerning lawmaker who enjoys the finer things. Rows of dormitory-style bunk beds. Though probably no turn down service.
And plenty of cans of deluxe ready-to-eat cuisine. Dehydrated orange juice crystals. This place was top secret from the time it was built in the late 50s and early 60s. It was ultimately declassified after it was exposed in a newspaper article in the '90s. How about that?
Now you can go on a tour of the secret Greenbrier nuclear bunker. I haven't been. But, hey, I hear it's a blast. But if you prefer your vacations a little less on the apocalyptic side, did I mention the horseback riding thing?
Anyway, that's all for tonight. "The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
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