CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to Wednesday. It is MEET THE PRESS DAILY, I`m Chuck Todd in a very busy afternoon. Both inside and outside the beltway, the president just wrapped up a press conference at the White House after meeting with Poland`s president. The House has just wrapped up a hearing with two Justice Department whistleblowers alleging serious episodes of misconduct and political interference under Attorney General Bill Barr. A grand jury has indicted all three defendants on murder charges in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.
And Senate Democrats this afternoon had blocked consideration of the Republican Party`s police reform bill. But we are going to begin tonight with verdict of public opinion involving the president`s failure of leadership particularly on the virus.
According to a new poll in The New York Times and Sienna College, Donald Trump would lose by 14 points if the election were held today. And that results is not an outliner anymore. Recent polls from Fox news, Quinnipiac and CNN have all had Trump trailing Biden by 12, 8 and 14 points respectively. In fact the average now is in double digits on the various sites that do polling averages.
Two new polls in battleground states show that double-digit lead nationally is trickling down. He is up eight, Biden is up eight in Wisconsin and Biden is up a point in Ohio, results you might expect if the president were trailing nationally by those large margins. Now the presidents has been pushing to reopen the country and restart the economy, and reboot his campaign which he sees basically a central to his re-election chances.
And there is growing alarm among some public health officials about what you see on your screen. There is a lot of curves going up. States like Texas, Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Mississippi, all are reporting record spikes in cases. Hospitalizations there also spiking. Texas is at 12 straight days of record hospital hospitalizations. Houston`s` ICU bed are in 97 percent capacity right now.
Arizona has seen nine days in a row of record hospitalizations. North Carolina has seen a spike, so is Arkansas among others. In confirmed cases overall in the U.S. are at their highest levels on a daily basis since the U.S. has experienced its first peak, and its peak rate of death. Public health officials like Dr. Fauci are simply alarmed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALERGY AND INFECTOUS DISEASE: As you continue to get these cases, what you are going to start seeing, we don`t want to see it, but it`s going to happen is increase in hospitalizations and then you are going to get into trouble with getting back to the same kind of thing that we had when we were in trouble. So, we really need to push hard to try and contain these infections by doing identification, isolation and contact tracing. Hopefully doing it in an effective way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But let me ask you, Dr. Fauci. It was my understanding that in order for states to reopen, that they had to implement widespread testing. They had to have a plan for contact tracing. You`re saying -- that hasn`t happened?
FAUCI: Well, it`s not working. I mean, I`m sure they are trying to do that, but what is happening, it`s not -- it`s not working. They`re opening up and people are very likely, I mean, not very likely, we`re seeing it on TV and looking at it in the pictures in the newspapers, are doing things that you should not be doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Ever the diplomat he wanted to say, well, it`s not working. Which is another way of saying, it hasn`t been implemented the way it was supposed to. Now, Dr. Fauci in his own way made his frustrations clear with aspects of the president`s leadership in this pandemic. And folks if you look at those poll numbers we just showed you. The public might be thinking the same thing.
As the president flouts virus safety recommendations, as he is suggesting the U.S. should scale back testing, as 120,000 Americans have died, as 10s of millions White House are out of work, not to mention the president is also struggling to address nationwide movements of racial injustice, all as alarm bells are being sounded by his closest advisors about his fitness for high office.
Joe Fryer on the ground in Scottsdale, Arizona for us. A state that has set a record for hospitalizations for nine consecutive days. Priscilla Thompson is in Houston, a hot spot within one of the nation`s major coronavirus hot spots. And Kerry Sanders, is in Clearwater, Florida. State that blew away its single day high in new cases today and also with us is Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and a MSNBC analyst.
Joe Fryer, I want to start, we are going to move west to east here, so I`ll start with you out west. Give me the situation in Arizona and is today`s situation, we know that every day the governor has sort of increased his concern, we saw him allowing municipalities to make their own rules. Is he any closer to making his own decision on a lockdown?
JOE FRYER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We haven`t heard anything about that yet. You know, one of the biggest changes we saw a week ago when the governor said local cities, local counties, if you want to put in mask mandates you can. And many of them dead including where I am right now.
But you know, I`m in a busy stretch of Scottsdale`s street wine with small businesses. It is busy people around, but you do see most people wearing mask. But a lot of them worry here is that when Arizona reopened last month, some experts say, yeah, it was fine to start reopening in mid-May, but there are needed to be more restrictions in place to sort of ease into it.
And that`s not what happened. The result, some are worried too many places especially restaurants and bars for filled too much. Maybe people weren`t wearing masks at first, they weren`t social distancing. That`s one of the biggest problems, because Arizona is like many places across the country. Young people, the number of young people getting infected way higher than what we are seeing with some older people. That`s because they`re the ones who are out and about here.
I spoke with one young man last night here in Scottsdale, he said he had not been wearing a mask until the mandate came into play and now he does wear a mask. One of the biggest worries here is going to be hospitalizations. Today it was announced ICUs in the state are now 88 percent full. Yesterday it was 84 percent full.
I spoke with a former head of the State Department of health here. He`s fears that they are going to reach capacity perhaps by the Fourth of July. That`s going to be a big problem. That impacts care. And you sort of start to wonder, well, maybe can people go next door to another state if the hospitals get full? We have to keep no mind, Governor Newsom in California just said today in the last two weeks hospitalizations in California are now up 29 percent, Chuck.
TODD: Let me play that bite for that interview, because honestly, it was alarming what that former Arizona health official said. So let me play, let`s play that bite.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILL HUMBLE, FMR DIRECTOR ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES: The thing that I`m most concerned about right now is getting the hospitals prepared for what`s coming. Probably by about the Fourth of July. You know, the time -- and here`s the thing. Somebody asked me earlier today. What is it that we can, what would you be doing if you were in your old job? And they were asking me for prevention measures, and what I had to tell them was, the time for prevention measures was a month ago. Now, I mean, the wheels are coming off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That`s pretty dire, Joe.
FRYER: Yeah. I mean, he`s basically saying we can`t turn back time right now. So, one of the major focuses would have to be just staffing up hospitals, making sure that hospitals are as prepared as possible to deal with not just the surge now, but the inevitable surge in the future. I asked him. What do you do about policy as far as outside of hospitals what can you do to try and get things under control?
Obviously, mask policies help. But also just maybe sharpening the punishments for people who weren`t quite following the rules. Businesses, things like that, that aren`t doing their best to make sure that they`re social distancing. Maybe trying to sharpen some of those policies that people really feel like they might be punished if they aren`t doing what`s best.
TODD: Joe Fryer, getting a start in Arizona. Joe, thank you. Let`s move to Houston, Priscilla Thompson is on the ground there. And Priscilla, you`re in a hot spot within a state that is a hot spot. We know the governor is alarmed enough that he`s asking for a voluntary stay-at-home with another day of 5,000 new cases, 4,000 new hospitalizations. Is he going to get ready to make that a mandatory order?
PRISCILLA THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has signaled that a mandatory order would be a last resort, but with Houston at 97 percent hospital capacity, it is very possible that they will hit that very soon, and so you see the hospitals here sort of preparing those surge plans.
Here at Houston Methodist they tell us they`re adding ICU beds, adding isolation areas and rooms. And as one official put it, we are preparing every minute of every day for the worst-case scenario as these cases and hospitalizations continue to tick up. And you know, the governor, not too long ago, was saying that there was an abundant amount of hospital beds left.
And we certainly see him presenting a more urgent tone this week as we watch those numbers climb. And he actually just yesterday issued a new executive order that would put more restrictions on some of those large gathering of 100 people or more and he has also signaled that he could stop elective surgeries to free up some of those hospital beds. So, it`s likely that we`ll see things like that happening before he were to consider another state-wide shutdown, Chuck.
TODD: Right. And Priscilla, there were some alarming news this morning. Local officials were worried that the federal government was going to pull its support for some testing sites in Texas. And I saw within minutes of when we went to air that Senator John Cornyn obviously a Republican Senator in Texas running for re-election, he expressed concern about this as well and is asking the Trump administration to reverse this. What else are you hearing on the ground about this?
THOMPSON: Well, he`s not alone in that. A lot of officials here are very concerned. I know the Houston health department has also sent a letter urging that those resources remain here beyond the month of June. And in Dallas, they`re looking at possibly bringing in third-party vendors to help with some of that testing. The one thing that officials here are saying is that even if the FEMA resources, the federal resources do go, the testing will stay. But that really will remain to be seen how they plan to work that out and accommodate for that, Chuck.
TODD: Priscilla Thompson in Houston for us. Priscilla, thank you. Now, let me go to the state of Florida, where we find Kerry Sanders. Cases up 5 percent in a day. How concerned are officials that we`re starting to see exponential growth in -- exponential spread -- excuse me -- in Florida.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the exponential spread appears to be in a lower age group and its expanding. So, today was a record 5,000 -- let me see if I got the numbers here, 5,511 new cases of coronavirus. But the age is decreasing from what was 37 to 34. Now they are talking about in the 18 to 26 age group where`s they`re most concerned about the spread of the virus.
Now, what you see is, while the numbers are going up, the death rate is going down. And the government is talking as if that is a good thing, but the concern, of course, is that young people then go see their parents, see their grandparents and it spreads and it keeps the coronavirus moving throughout the community.
I am in Clearwater Beach, which is part of Pinellas County. And where I am right now, you must wear a mask, like I have on right now. If you go into a business. What is confusing to so many people is, wearing a mask, going into a business here in Clearwater has been required now for just 12 minutes. It just went into effect.
You have 67 counties, multiple cities in the state and depending on where you are, it`s a patchwork of regulations of what people need to do. On top of the fact that you know coronavirus doesn`t really respect geographic boundaries of cities and counties. You have a lot of tourists who are coming down here and are like, ah, I have to wear a mask, that`s great. I just came from someplace where they made to wear a mask in Massachusetts. I`m done here in vacation.
So, it`s actually causing more confusion and problem. One that the governor says he philosophically believes should be local resolved by local governments.
TODD: I want to play a little what the governor said today. Somebody that wanted positive press a couple months ago thinking they had been in the clear. Let me play his remarks today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Ultimately, we`ve got to trust people to make good decisions. I mean, there`s a 10-person limit in Miami-Dade County for gathers right now. It`s been that way the whole time. They are in phase one. Have you seen any gathering in the last three weeks that had been more than 10 people? Let just be real.
I mean, you know, you have what you can put out, but then you also have a divergence between what the requirements are and what the compliance is. And I think what we`ve seen is you know, if you follow the guidelines, you follow those phase one guidelines here, if you follow the phase two guidelines in other parts of the state, everything works out fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That sounded like a governor who believes they`re still making all the right decisions. It`s the public`s fault.
SANDERS: And, you know -- I`m in south Florida, I`m over here on the West Coast and what I`m observing is not necessarily what the governor says is happening. I`m seeing people out -- you know, right here. We`ve set up in this pretty background, but a block from here I`m at the beach and its right along the sidewalk. It`s packed with people who are not wearing masks. Probably don`t even know that the rule just went into effect now 14 minutes ago, Chuck.
TODD: Kerry Sanders in Clearwater, Florida, for us. Kerry, I appreciate it. Stay safe, my friend, and --
SANDERS: Thank you.
TODD: Let`s hope we can get through this in Florida. I`ll be bringing in Peter Baker. Peter, I want to play for you what John Thun said today, because it is easily the most direct critique of the president`s leadership by a Republican Senator not named Mitt Romney that I`ve heard in months. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN THUNE(R-SD): trump has a problem with the middle of the electorate, with independents, and they`re the people who are going to decide a national election. So, you know, I think he can win those back, but it will probably require not only a message that deals with substance and policy, but I think a message that conveys, perhaps, a different tone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Peter Baker, John Thune is not a guy that likes to stir the pot inside the party. He is not somebody that normally brings criticism that he`d like to level into the public sphere. It feels as if a lot more Republicans are looking, realizing, these double-digit polls are not outliers?
PETER BAKER, MSNBC POLICY ANALYST, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think that`s right, Chuck. You and I have seen this before. And plenty of presidents who get in trouble. This is actually normal. And what is abnormal is three years of not seeing members of the Republican Party break with the president when his numbers were down. The numbers now have gotten so far down that they`re really, really worried.
They`re worried not just about the White House, not just about whether President Trump will get a second term but whether they`ll hold on to the Senate. Win or lose seats in the House. The Senate is so close as you know, of course, may be 347 if they were to -- you know, a lot of the battleground states are in a Republican territory right now. A number of Democrats seem to be surging in some of those races.
And I think, you know, John Thune and other Republicans are looking beyond President Trump and saying, OK. What about us? What`s going to happen if he goes down and brings a lot of us with him?
TODD: And it does seem as if the president is just not listening to any -- I mean, he`s not reacting the way a normal politician in this situation would react. He`s not -- you know -- you talk to people close to him. I do. They supposedly convey his problems to him. Whether he just doesn`t believe or he just doesn`t know any other way. I do think a lot of Republicans are wondering, are you not seeing what the rest of us are seeing?
BAKER: Yes, I think that`s right. Even his own advisers are frustrated at this point trying to get through to him, make sure he see what`s they are seeing, and yet understanding that they are risking, you know, the wrath of a volcanic kind of temper if they are too blunt with him, right. People who have been too honest with him about his own political troubles on the polls find themselves on a receiving end of a pretty sharp tongue.
And that seems, you know there was a lot of talk right now whether there will be some sort of a shake-up at the top. The rally obviously in Tulsa continues to sting. These numbers are just devastating for an incumbent president at this point. The only June we`ve seen candidates come back from further behind by November but it`s a pretty tough road for an incumbent who is usually in a stronger position by this point.
TODD: And here`s the other thing, Peter. The virus is obviously, the single most important story and everybody is dealing with as a country. You know, everything has been shut down or altered due to this, and he`s tweeting about Mike Flynn, flag burning. Basically he`s, he wants to deal with any other issue other than what`s on his plate.
BAKER: Yes. He would like us to think that this is over. In fact, in his tweet the other day, maybe yesterday I think it was said, we did a great job on the coronavirus. We did, past tense. It`s not over, as Dr. Fauci told Congress yesterday, as the Admiral (inaudible) told Congress yesterday. We`re a long way from being over but the president would just assume not focus attention on that hoping that the country got tired of that and not really focused on it.
But, you know, those report you just aired from Arizona, Texas, Florida, these are all states where they`re seeing big spikes, they`re seeing big impact. It`s going to hurt the economy as well as the public health, because he`s going to reopen businesses if the public health seems to be in dire straits? And these are states that the president needs to win.
All three states that you just showed are states he won four years ago. He`s counting on winning this time around. If those are states that are suffering badly at this point, two or three months from now, he`s got a very, very tough road to hoe.
TODD: And there were some arrogance in the state leadership of those states, they all thought, we`re going to be great. Come on pro sports. Come on NBA. Now the NBA may be regretting ever doing business with Florida under these conditions now. It may be that these states also shut down whatever hope we had for a shortened sports season as well. Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times. Always a pleasure to have you on, sir. Thank you.
Up ahead, more on the trouble in Texas. A top virus expert in hard hit Houston joins me.
And later, an appeals court orders and end to the case against Michael Flynn on the same day that career officials testified that politics drove decisions inside Bill Barr`s Justice Department. Neal Katyal will join us in what all of this means.
TODD: Welcome back. Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he is considering new restrictions now that his state is reporting more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases two days in a row. As we told you yesterday, Abbott is urging Texans to stay home, but not requiring it. It`s a shift from last week when the governor insisted the virus outbreak was under control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): We are now in a situation where we are co-existing with covid-19, where we do not have to choose between either returning to jobs or protecting health care. We do have the tools and the strategies in place where we can achieve both of those ends.
There is a massive outbreak of covid-19 across the state of Texas. Today we will have more than 5,000 people test positive once again.
We are looking at greater restrictions and some could be localized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Dr. Peter Hotez is warning that Houston could become the new epicenter of this virus. He is the dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, nice to have you on again. Sadly under circumstances that I feel like you saw coming. You and pretty much so many members of your field saw it coming. What could have prevented this resurgence in Texas? What were the mistakes?
DR. PETER HOTEZ, VACCINE RESEARCHER, DEAN OF THE NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, you`re right. You`re very much right. This unfortunately, this surge was both predicted and predictable. And it`s really worrisome. We`re looking now at almost a vertical slope in terms of the number of cases. This very rapid acceleration, if you`ve ever seen one, what`s called an exponential curve. What that looks like, it stays flat for a while then goes up almost, almost vertically, and that`s what`s happening here in Houston.
We`re seeing similar numbers in San Antonio. In Austin, in Dallas, and it`s not just the numbers, because there are some are asserting, oh this is just due to increased testing. We`re actually seeing this big surge in the hospitals and the ICUs. And so I don`t see what brings us back.
Today we got some new modeling estimates from the University of Pennsylvania and their policy lab. And they`re looking pretty dire. Pretty apocalyptic. So, I think we are going to have to take some aggressive action. What happened was we did a good job initially. We had an initial peak and the governor made a good decision to shut things down. Didn`t want to reproduce what we saw in New York.
And we never had a big surge back in March and April, but then the modelers told us we had to keep it shut down throughout the month of May and nobody was prepared to do that. And we didn`t put in all of the belts and suspenders for public health that we needed to and now we have got this situation that we`re facing currently.
TODD: Do you have enough contact tracers, enough tests in the state or not? Because this is one of the confusing issues at times where the, you know, the federal government has decided they`ve washed their hands. Right? They say it`s all up to the states. They made the decision they`re not going to take the lead on this. What is the situation in Texas with testing and tracing?
HOTEZ: Well, it even goes beyond testing and tracing. I mean, all -- most of the pieces are there. It`s just the scale and scope is not adequate. We do have testing. It needs to be expanded. We do have contact tracers. They`re not enough. One piece that we are missing is, is an app-based system where we can look for clusters of cases of fever and cough.
Some people call that syndromic surveillance. There are several ones out there. So to build in, to reinforce that. We don`t even have epidemiologic models for all of our cities and we don`t have that regular system of public health communication. So, it`s better than it was but it`s still not commensurate with all the effort that went into the economic recovery.
There was never really that recognition. They need to do both in order to sustain that economic recovery. And I`m particularly worried about some of the people in the low-income neighborhoods. Because I think they`re the ones that are disproportionately going into the hospital right now.
TODD: Well, that`s what we saw in New York City. A lot. This summer was always expected to be a bit of a reprieve. The moment where we all could exhale a little bit, and -- in that sense all of you guys were saying it`s possible, it will be a little bit better then we`re prepare for a fall hit. That doesn`t look like that`s going to be the case. This looks like we`re about to surpass our peak, I think in the next couple of days, our national peak. What does this mean for -- what`s facing us in the fall now?
HOTEZ: Yeah. The all-American southwest. Isn`t it? It`s Texas, it`s Oklahoma, it`s Arizona and Nevada, and as we know there`s plenty of sunlight. There`s plenty of warmth, at least here in Houston, plenty of humidity. So, those are not working in our favor. There`s some just speculation that maybe with all of the hot weather that in fact it`s the opposite. People are indoors, and in air conditioning and getting exposed more because of that. That may be a factor.
But it is pretty speculative at this point. This is a new virus. We still don`t know all of the factors responsible for transmission, but the impact is clear. We are facing a dire public health situation in Texas. And in a couple of other southwestern states right now.
TODD: And we haven`t even hit the fall. Dr. Peter Hotez, I appreciate you coming on sharing your expertise with us and fingers crossed that somehow these models will get better, but it doesn`t look good. Thank you, sir.
Up ahead, it`s looking like last night may end up being a Super Tuesday for progressive Democrats after all. We are going to break down what we know, what we don`t know yet as the votes continue to be counted.
Plus the Senate dead locks over policing reform as Democrats block the Republicans attempt to bring a bill to the floor, because they believe it does not go far enough. Is there any chance to get something passed in this calendar year?
TODD: Welcome back. On Capitol Hill today, a former prosecutor in the Roger Stone case testified that there was pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break on his sentencing simply because of his relationship with President Trump. Assisting U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky, who worked on and then withdrew from the Stone case over the Justice Department`s actions, said Stone`s treatment was simply unheard of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AARON ZELINSKY, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: What I saw, Roger Stone was being treated differently from every other defendant. He receives breaks that are in my experience unheard of.
What I heard repeatedly was that this leniency was happening because of Stone`s relationship to the president, that the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia was receiving heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice and that his instructions to us were based on political considerations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Let`s bring in Kasie Hunt now. Kasie, it was part of a hearing that is about the politicizing of the Justice Department. What else did we hear? And I imagine -- I understand there was a little bit of weird drama with some of the House Republicans?
KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: There was some drama, Chuck. You`re right. But to start with your question about the substance here, you know, I think you captured well what this prosecutor, Aaron Zelinsky, is alleging happened in this case.
He is saying that the pressure that he came under, that his office came under to reduce the sentence and he, of course, left the case after the Department of Justice reduced its recommendation for the sentence length for Roger Stone, was motivated simply because Stone had a personal relationship with the president and that that was wrong.
And he identified that as coming from, or rather that he found out about said pressure from another official in the U.S. attorney`s office. He named that person and there were a couple others, as well.
But Republicans basically accused him of making these allegations based on hearsay. They said that he didn`t have any direct knowledge, it was something that he had heard from these officials, and, therefore, the allegations weren`t relevant.
As for some of the moments during the hearing that were a little tough and perhaps not on this topic, there were questions raised about why Mr. Zelinsky didn`t appear in person. He said it was because he had a newborn baby at home and the child`s pediatrician recommended he not appear in Congress in person.
There were suggestions that he didn`t have the same guts as others who had decided to appear in person. And then Jim Jordan, of course, wasn`t wearing a mask for most of the hearing. At one point, Jerry Nadler had to essentially threaten to anybody that wasn`t wearing one that he would not actually allow them to use their time in the hearing, Chuck.
TODD: And Kasie, the other big story on Capitol Hill today was on the Senate side, police reform. I talked to Cory Booker earlier today. He is hopeful that this rejection of the Senate republican bill will bring Senate Republicans to the table the same way when they rejected the last stimulus bill. What is your sense that that will happen?
HUNT: Chuck, I watched that interview and I thought what Senator Booker had to say about his personal relationship with Tim Scott was noteworthy and it does seem as though Senator Scott has a lot of personal investment and sincere interest in working on this. I think your interview with Senator Booker reflected and acknowledged that.
I don`t know, though, that there is going to be much goodwill left here, and I think the answer to your question lies in just how much pressure Republicans are feeling from a political perspective to do more to show that they care about the issue or that they are trying to get --
HUNT: -- something done. The reality is trust between Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer is possibly at an all-time low, which is really saying something. So it is hard to see exactly how we move forward here. But I will leave open the possibility that that personal relationship could produce some results.
TODD: I was fascinated that Cory Booker was using a specific messaging by saying Mitch McConnell was standing in the way of bipartisanship and that there was an interesting messaging point in an attempt to separate some Republicans from McConnell. Whether they will take that invitation from Cory Booker is a whole another story. But I thought it was noteworthy new messaging that I hadn`t heard as much from other senators before.
Kasie Hunt, busy day on Capitol Hill. Thank you.
HUNT: Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: I am going to talk to Neal Katyal about the politicization of the Department of Justice next. But before we go to break, an important note. NASA just announced it is honoring the agency`s first African-American female engineer, naming its D.C. base of operations the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters.
Jackson broke through racial and gender barriers in the 1950s while helping launch American astronauts into space. In 2016, her amazing story was chronicled in the best-selling book and hit film "Hidden Figures." Last year, Jackson posthumously received the Congressional Gold Medal. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. For months, House Democrats wanted to question Bill Barr under oath. We found out today that they will get their chance in July. The Justice Department announced that the attorney general would testify before the House Judiciary Committee July 28th. Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler had them preparing to subpoena Barr.
That announcement came as Aaron Zelinsky was testifying about political influence at the Justice Department in the sentencing of Trump associate Roger Stone, and hours after an appeals court ordered a judge to dismiss the criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn because the Justice Department wish to drop the case even though Flynn had pleaded guilty not once but twice to lying to the FBI.
With me now is Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general, professor of law at Georgetown University, NBC News legal analyst. Neal, it wasn`t just Aaron Zelinsky that testified about one action. There were other people that testified. I want to play an astonishing quote here that was unlike -- Aaron Zelinsky was careful not to name Barr. This next person wasn`t. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD AYER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was privileged to serve in the Department of Justice under two Republican and one Democratic president, and I am here because I believe that William Barr poses the greatest threat in my lifetime to our rule of law and to public trust in it. That is because he does not believe in its core principle, that no person is above the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Neal, we heard both in big ways and in minute ways how at least accusations basically personal, political interference.
NEAL KATYAL, NBC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL, PROFESSOR OF LAW AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Absolutely. I mean, it was an astounding hearing, Chuck. You had basically all levels of the Justice Department today represented in that hearing.
You had career prosecutor, assistant United States attorney, Aaron Zelinsky saying that it was political interference in the Stone investigation that I was pressured to go easy on him because he was the president`s friend, that I would lose my job otherwise, perhaps.
You had the career supervisor of the antitrust division, John Elias, saying similar things about antitrust, actually the reverse, that they wanted to use the antitrust laws to go after the president`s enemies and was pressured to do that.
And then you had that clip you just played by Don Ayer, who is an incredibly conservative lawyer. He was George W. Bush`s number two person at the Justice Department. So he`s not some lefty like me or something like that. And he testified that this was on its way to being worse than Watergate.
So, yes, you`re right to say that Barr has said today that he`s going to testify on July 28th. I`ll believe it when I see it. I mean, this guy has been scared to go to the Hill and testify in the House for months and months and months. He sets testimony and then he backs down.
And, you know, the idea that we have to wait five weeks for his testimony, after hearing what we heard today, after seeing all of the drama about the Southern District of New York over the weekend, you know, and after his episodes at Lafayette Square and tear-gassing people, I just find it unconscionable that, you know, I think if someone accused me of those things when I was at the Justice Department, I`d go the next day and say, hey I want to testify, not wait five weeks to tell my side of the story.
TODD: Let me reverse that question. Should House Democrats be more -- trying to get him there sooner? I mean, I -- you know, is there another way to hold him accountable? They feel as if he`s basically been an unaccountable executive branch employee and that he hasn`t had -- he has basically avoided any tough questioning from the democratic majority in the House.
He is gone before the Senate. But that is, you know, Republican- controlled. He certainly faced some tough questions from Democrats. But should House Democrats be pushing harder here and sooner themselves?
KATYAL: Yes. I mean, look, the primary culprit here are the top leaders of the Justice Department which has politicized the thing and the president in ways that are, you know, beyond all recognition from anyone who served there in a prior republican or democrat administration, including, by the way, folks who served in the Nixon administration.
This is getting to be absurd. But I do think, you know, your question is right. I don`t think that the House has done enough to exercise oversight and to sit and wait five weeks more for Barr`s testimony when we`ve been waiting --
KATYAL: -- like a year already is getting absurd. And so, yes, they should. They should subpoena him. They should threaten to use the funding power against him. There are a lot of tools that they have. They need to exercise them all.
TODD: It has been odd at how unwilling and I don`t know why fully unless they feel like it`s a distraction from other issues. Let me ask you about the action today in the D.C. circuit on the Michael Flynn case. I`ve seen some legal analysis saying this ends it.
But I heard Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney. She said to me earlier today that she thought it was quite possible that the Full Circuit might say, you know what, let`s listen to this one more time. What`s your sense of what`s going to happen here?
KATYAL: Well, the Full Circuit doesn`t like to hear things, hear cases very much as a whole. They do so incredibly rarely. But if there`s a case to be heard, this is it. I mean, this is a really silly, absurd decision, Chuck. It doesn`t -- it`s not going to stand the tests of time.
It`s absurd on the idea that a judge can`t even inquire into illegitimate machinations by political officials. It is particularly absurd on the idea that someone can go run to the federal appeals court before the trial court has even ruled.
I mean, it`s called a court of appeals for a reason. There has to be something to appeal. Here, the trial judge hasn`t even -- all he wanted to do was have a hearing to inquire, hadn`t ruled in any way, shape or form. So, it is a decision really on a step with mainstream legal thinking.
TODD: Could Judge Sullivan go to ask, appeal to the Supreme Court? Does he need to -- would he have to ask for -- what could he do next?
KATYAL: There are two different paths. Judge Sullivan could either go to ask the full court of appeals to hear it or he could go to the Supreme Court directly. I suspect he`d do the former almost as a matter of respect for them because, you know, after all, he`s a lower court judge in that circuit.
KATYAL: I would suspect that`s the thing that is prudent to do. The other thing that could happen, Chuck, is that the judges on the D.C. circuit, our nation`s second highest court, can on their own vote to hear the case. And so that very well may happen, as well.
TODD: Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general, professor at Georgetown, and of course an NBC News legal analyst, always a pleasure to get your perspective, sir. Thanks for coming on.
Up next, it is looking like it was a pretty big primary night for progressives. We are going to break down what it means for November next and update some numbers that we don`t have full results for you right after this.
TODD: Welcome back. If it`s Wednesday, we typically have some election results. But nothing is typical anymore, especially not elections in the midst of a pandemic. Votes are still being counted. In fact, votes are still being shipped in the mail.
It looks like progressive Democrats may have had a good night among the races we`re still watching. In New York, progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman is declaring victory in his bid to oust House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel. Bowman has a commanding lead but there are still plenty of uncounted ballots.
And in Kentucky`s democratic Senate primary, the race to take on Mitch McConnell, the National Party-backed candidate Amy McGrath is up slightly on progressive state representative Charles Booker. But there are a lot of votes still outstanding there.
Here to break it down with me, what happened last night, is David Wasserman, house editor for the Cook Political Report, NBC News contributor. It is so weird to me, Mr. Wasserman, that Kentucky is still counting. They are the fastest counting state than in Virginia. But it is a new world.
So let me star there. What do we know about what`s out and what does that tell you about Booker`s chances of closing the gap?
DAVE WASSERMAN, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR, HOUSE EDITOR AT COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Well, somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the vote is out, Chuck. And we have none of Louisville. We won`t know for another five, six days. We have virtually none of Lexington. And so look, this is almost as if, you know, we had next to no results.
Now, Amy McGrath is up six points right now in the 10 percent we do have. Look, the fact that Louisville is all out means that Booker has more than enough votes left to overcome that.
TODD: That`s for sure. Let`s go to the New York House races. I want to start with what appears to be the predicted big upset. That is Bowman over Engel. Do we have an idea how many votes are left to count and does Bowman -- it looks to me he has got a big enough lead but we just don`t know how many ballots are still left or do we?
WASSERMAN: Well, we would expect based on the figures that Westchester and the New York City boards of elections have provided that total turnout in the district. If everyone sent back their absentee ballots, it might be somewhere in the 60 to 90,000 range. Right now, there have been about 44, 45,000 votes counted.
And look, Jamal Bowman has a massive lead. He`s ahead 27 points right now. Based on the patterns that we`ve seen coming in, it is possible Bowman will have won white voters by the end of the day in this democratic primary. And whenever you see an upset of this magnitude, of the 16th-term incumbent, a House --
WASSERMAN: -- committee chair like Eliot Engel, there are multiple factors at play. It is not just the fact that he is a progressive challenger. It is the fact that Engel didn`t go back to the district during the first months --
WASSERMAN: -- of the pandemic, that he was caught on a hot mic. So this, as you know, Chuck, tend to cascade.
TODD: Let`s talk about a neighbor of Eliot Engel`s, Carolyn Maloney. She got a scare last time. What are we looking at here? It looks -- I mean, I assume now we are just waiting for all the ballots to be counted because this is -- that`s pretty tight. Five hundred votes is the last I saw, I think.
WASSERMAN: That`s right. This is actually a rematch because Maloney beat Patel 59 to 41 percent in the 2018 primary, the same day that Joe Crowley went down to AOC. But this is tighter. And Maloney became chair of the Oversight Committee when Elijah Cummings passed away.
And the outstanding votes, according to the most New York insiders on the ground I have spoken with, are probably going to be friendlier to Maloney than the ones that have been counted so far --
WASSERMAN: -- because the absentees are likely to skew wider, a little bit higher income. That is Maloney`s base. It is more of the Brooklyn and Queens section of the district that is younger, a little more hipster, and agitating for change. That`s where Maloney has run weakest. So at the end of the day, I think the odds are still a little better than 50/50 if she survives.
TODD: I`m out of time. I was going to ask you about Virginia Five. Let me just ask you this way. Have you moved that to lean R or toss up, Virginia Five?
WASSERMAN: We moved that to lean R. And Democrats need a perfect storm to be able to win it, but that storm could be brewing. Ken Webb (ph) is a good candidate.
TODD: Dave Wasserman, Cook Political Report, guru of all things, especially when you`re watching on election nights. That is for sure. Mr. Wasserman, always a pleasure. Thank you, sir. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. Earlier this hour, in Charleston, South Carolina, city crews officially took down a statue of former Vice President John C. Calhoun. The 110-foot monument stood in a public park only a few blocks from the site of the June 2015 church massacre that left nine black parishioners dead.
Calhoun, who served under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, was one of the most ardent defenders of slavery, calling it a positive good for the nation. The Charleston City council voted unanimously on the resolution to take down the statue last night. Crews worked over 17 hours to bring it down, to great applause from gathering crowds.
That is all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MEET THE PRESS DAILY. And if it is Wednesday, we have an all-new "Chuck Toddcast."
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