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Meet the Press - May 1, 2016

Meet the Press - May 1, 2016

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, is Donald Trump about to wrap up the Republican nomination?

DONALD TRUMP:

I consider myself the presumptive nominee absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

Ted Cruz is making a last stand in Indiana. He belittles Trump.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

The only thing he knows how to do in any given circumstance, he yells, he screams, he curses, or he insults.

CHUCK TODD:

But will Cruz endorse Trump if he loses on Tuesday?

CHUCK TODD

Why won't you--

CHUCK TODD

--answer that question, straightforward, black and white.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, let me finish this point I'm making.

CHUCK TODD:

My very lively interview with Senator Ted Cruz. Plus, it's been exactly five years since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning, my exclusive sit-down with C.I.A. chief John Brennan on the biggest threat today, the war with ISIS. And whether we're safer now than we were five years ago. Finally, President Obama says goodbye for the last time to Washington on the night that Washington loves to love itself, the White House correspondents' dinner.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And with that, I just have two more words to say: Obama out.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me for insight and analysis this Sunday more are Thomas Friedman of The New York Times; NBC's Kristen Welker; Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; and Ron Fournier of The National Journal. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. If you want to appreciate how dominant Donald Trump's candidacy has become, consider this. Trump didn't just win all five states at play on Tuesday, he won all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. He won all 23 counties in Maryland. He won all eight counties in Connecticut, all five in Rhode Island, and all three in Delaware. In other words, each and every one of the 106 counties that voted last Tuesday. And he won all but two of those counties by double digits.

You want a little bit more? Trump now needs just 47 percent of the remaining delegates to go to Cleveland with the magic number of 1,237. Ted Cruz and John Kasich are mathematically eliminated. They each need to win more than 100 percent of the remaining delegates, an impossible task.

So where does that leave Ted Cruz? Journalists have gone to the cliché handbooks. He's throwing a hail Mary, pulling out all the stops, throwing spaghetti against the wall. And guess what? None of it seems to be sticking. This week's mutual nonaggression pact with John Kasich collapsed. Cruz's choice of Carly Fiorina as his running mate produced very little buzz. And now there's this.

With Cruz counting on Tuesday's primary in Indiana to stop Trump, our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal Marist Poll has Trump leading Ted Cruz by a whooping 15 points, close to 50 percent, 49/34. John Kasich, way behind in third, at 13 percent. In fact, Bernie Sanders is in better shape in Indiana against Hillary Clinton than Ted Cruz is. In fact, Sanders only trails Clinton by four points in Indiana, 50 to 46.

So it was with all that in mind that I began my conversation with Senator Ted Cruz on Friday. And I began by asking him why even John Kasich has actually received more Republican votes than Ted Cruz has since Cruz won Wisconsin three weeks ago.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, Chuck, what we have been seeing happening for-- for several months now, is Republicans uniting behind our campaign. Now, you're right. You're focusing on the last week. The last week, Donald Trump won his home state of New York and he won the adjoining states in Northeast. And the media reacted with heart palpitations that what a wonderful, wonderful, decisive moment it was for Donald.

But as you know well, in the three weeks that preceded New York, five states voted: Utah, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Wyoming. A total of 1.3 million people voted in those five states and we won landslide, five states in a row. In fact, I won more-- more Republican votes in Wisconsin than Donald Trump did in New York. Although that somehow d-- hasn't been reported an awful lot.

CHUCK TODD:

If you don't win Indiana, do you get outta the race?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Indiana is an important state. We are competing hard. We're barnstorming the state. We're on a bus tour, Heidi and I and the girls and Carly. And we're seeing great support in Indiana. And-- and-- and I will say this: Indiana has a chance to choose. Do we want to support a campaign that is based on-- on yelling and screaming and cursing and insults? Or do we wanna unify behind a positive, optimistic, forward-looking, conservative campaign, based on real policy solutions to the problems facing this country--

CHUCK TODD:

So if Indiana rejects you, they're-- if-- they're rejecting that argument, are they not?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, I-- I don't believe so. I think the support we're seeing is surging. There's a reason Governor Mike Pence offered his support. He's hearing from Hoosiers across the state that-- that don't want-- a campaign that is based on yelling and bullying.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I wanna go to your struggles in uniting the party around you. In fact, this is what your now running mate--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Tell me-- tell me what you really think, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, no. I mean, it's not about me. I'm just askin' about your struggles here, gettin' the party to rally around you. Here's your running mate-- here's what your running mate said about you when she was running for president. Take a listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CARLY FIORINA:

There's no honor in charging a hill that you know you can't take, only casualties. Although Ted Cruz maybe got name recognition and money along the way. I find it odd that Senator Ted Cruz did not renounce his dual Canadian citizenship until 2014 when it became clear he was running for president. Ted Cruz is just like any other politician. He says one thing in Manhattan. He says another thing in Iowa. He says whatever he needs to say to get elected, and then he's gonna do as he pleases.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Which Carly Fiorina should we believe?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, I'll tell you, Chuck. Listen, when you have a competitive primary, people play hard. They play vigorous. And so she was competing and trying to win. And that-- that's what people do in the course of a primary. You know, I'll-- I'll tell you how the choice of Carly came about.

It was a little over seven weeks ago that-- that she publicly endorsed me. And-- and-- and-- and she did that after coming to the conclusion-- she voted for me in Virginia first, long after she had dropped out, she came to the conclusion I was the strongest candidate. And after she endorsed, Carly went on the road with me.

Heidi and I have spent a lotta time with Carly, campaigning, getting to know each other firsthand. And-- and I'll tell you, one of the reasons, we did a long and extensive search to narrow down the right VP nominee, it's perhaps the most serious and solemn decision a presidential candidate makes, but-- but it ended up being a very easy choice.

Because I wanted someone who had the knowledge to do the job, to be president, who had the judgment to do the job, and who had the character to do the job. And-- and, you know, Carly's story is extraordinary. She stands up to Donald Trump. She stands up to Hillary Clinton. Bullying is not a sign of strength, it's a sign of weakness and insecurity. And Carly has-- has shattered glass ceilings her entire life.

CHUCK TODD:

What did--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

And I'm incredibly proud to be running on a ticket with her--

CHUCK TODD:

Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing a gender card and-- and saying that she wouldn't be anywhere, she'd only be at 5% if she were a man instead of a woman. What-- what do you-- what do you make of that comment?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Oh, it-- it's typical Donald Trump. The only thing he knows how to do in any given circumstance is he yells, he screams, he curses, or he insults. So there he's insulting Hillary. Listen, Hillary is a very smart, committed liberal. Her policies are profoundly wrong.

But, you know, Donald can't criticize her policies. You know why? Because he supports them. Donald and Hillary, they're flipsides of the same coin. They've both gotten rich exploiting Washington, exploiting government power. So Donald can't criticize Hillary Clinton on Planned Parenthood, because he agrees with her. They both say it's terrific and-- and that it should keep taxpayer funding.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, I gotta ask you about-- I know you've heard him before, but I gotta play 'em for the-- for the viewer, the John Boehner comments that he made earlier this week. Here they are, and I'll get you to react on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

JOHN BOEHNER:

Lucifer in the flesh. I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a b&^%* in my life."

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

The fact is, you cannot get the party to truly rally around you. If anything, the party is now seeming to be accepting the premise that Trump is gonna be the nominee. Isn't it because you have these bad relationships with the John Boehners of the world, the Mitch McConnells of the world? How do you-- you're not gonna win this nomination without their help, are you not?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, Chuck, you know, I actually think those remarks illustrate exactly what this race is all about. Number one, I don't know John Boehner. The two of us haven't said 50 words to each other in our entire lives--

CHUCK TODD:

Why? Why? You tried to-- you wanted a government shutdown that he helped lead. How have you not had any interaction with the speaker of the House--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, it's-- it's actually--

CHUCK TODD:

--a leading Republican senator?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--Chuck, it's actually a good illustration. During the government shutdown I reached out and-- and offered for Mike Lee and me to come over and sit down with-- with the speaker and majority leader. And Boehner said, "No interest. No value. I'm not willing to talk to you."

So I don't know him at all. But what was interesting about Boehner's comments is he praised Hillary Clinton. He thinks she's terrific. And he praised Donald Trump, he said Donald is his friend, he's his texting and golfing buddy. Listen, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and John Boehner are all-- they are the Washington cartel. It is the corruption of Washington.

And-- and this is where, with all respect, a lotta the folks in the media don't understand. That's what people are ticked off at. The greatest fraud in this entire election is Donald pretending he's some sort of outsider. Donald and Hillary are the ultimate Washington insiders. They have been enmeshed in the corruption. If you like John Boehner, if you want a presidential candidate like John Boehner, then Donald Trump is your candidate.

In fact, I saw those comments and kinda thought Boehner was auditioning to be Trump's VP candidate.

CHUCK TODD:

You've spent this entire interview trying to eviscerate Donald Trump. If he's the nominee, I take it you can't support him anymore, can you?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

I believe if the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump we will lose to Hillary, because when we offer Democrat-lite, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the ballot, they support the same social policy, they support the same economic policy. In fact, both Donald and Hillary support allowing illegal immigrants to become U.S. citizens--

CHUCK TODD:

All right, all right, all right--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--now, Donald says he'll fly 'em back to their country first--

CHUCK TODD:

But are you going to support him--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

We will lose.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand what you believe in the Republican Party. Are you-- can you support him? Can you tell your delegates--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, what I'm gonna-- what I'm going to do is beat him--

CHUCK TODD:

--"Lay down your arms." Well, you may not. You realize that--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, I recognize-- I-- I recognize that-- that many in the media would love for me to surrender to Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

It's not about the media--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Because it means number one that Hillary wins number two--

CHUCK TODD:

--Senator, it's about the numbers--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--but the-- but the--

CHUCK TODD:

It's about the numbers. He may win. Republican voters are the ones rejecting you, this is not a media conspiracy, Senator.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Well, actually with-- with all due respect, the media has given $2 billion of free advertising to Donald. Well, let me ask you a question, for example. How much money did the networks make on every one of the Republican debates?

CHUCK TODD:

I-- I have no idea because--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Millions right lots and lots--

CHUCK TODD:

--we didn't have-- we didn't have a Republican debate.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

But-- but you know what's interesting, Chuck? It's been now 49 days since we've had a Republican debate. The Democrats have had a debate, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, they've been willing to debate. Donald can't answer questions about his foreign policy. He can't answer questions about how you bring jobs back to this country and won't debate.

CHUCK TODD:

But why can't you answer the question of whether you can support Donald Trump or not--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

But-- but Chuck-- Chuck-- Chuck--

CHUCK TODD:

--you can't answer that question.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--Chuck, let me finish this point I'm making.

CHUCK TODD:

Why won't you answer that question--black-- straightforward, black and white.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, let me finish this point I'm making. Even though the media stands to make millions of dollars off of the debate, you hear radio silence from the media about no debates. They're giving up millions of dollars. And the reason is your network's executives are partisan Democrats. Why doesn't every-- every TV station--

CHUCK TODD:

You don't get to just say that-- you don't get to just say that--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--have a debate countdown clock.

CHUCK TODD:

--it's just not true, but go ahead. You-- you just-- you're broad brushing here, and it's-- this is exactly what people hate about the media and politics, broad brushes, right?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Listen, the-- the simple reality is the media, almost entirely, are liberal, partisan, Democrats. That is the reality of it. The media created this Trump phenomenon, and then-- and then they don't hold him accountable. Now, I'm sure the media plan to do so if he's the nominee in the general election.

Suddenly you're gonna hear every day about Donald Trump's tax returns. When was the last time you talked about his tax returns? You-- you know, we ought to have a debate. There are real differences. Donald won't debate and the media won't hold him accountable. I think the people of Indiana deserve a debate--

CHUCK TODD:

All right, can you answer the question about whether you are going to support--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--I think we deserve a debate here in Indiana.

CHUCK TODD:

--are you going to support Donald Trump if he's the nominee?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

I am going to beat Donald Trump. We are headed to a contested convention, and we're gonna win, and I'm not willing to concede this country. Listen, this is my kids' future, Chuck. It's not-- it's not simply a game. If we lose--

CHUCK TODD:

Nobody's saying it's a game, Senator--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--this, if we lose this, we lose our country. We lose the Supreme Court for a generation, religious liberty is taken away, the Second Amendment is taken away, our kids are bankrupted. We are at the edge of a cliff. And I'll tell you, the people of Indiana, they really are in a position.

The country is depending on them to pull us back from this cliff.

CHUCK TODD:

Don't you think it's important to take a stand? You just said, it's a time for choosing. If it's a time for choosing, say it. For him or against him as the nominee? It's a time for choosing, is it not?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, Chuck, you're welcome-- you're welcome to lobby for support for Trump as much as possible. We are going to beat Trump because Trump's winning the nomination loses the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Don't you think Republican voters--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

And I am not willing to give up on America--

CHUCK TODD:

Don't you think if you--

SEN. TED CRUZ:

--I'm not willing to give up on America.

CHUCK TODD:

--but if you care this much about it, don't you think you saying, "I can't support him if he's the nominee," doesn't light a fire and send a sense of urgency to the Republican Party?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Chuck, what I'm saying is very, very simple. If you believe in free market principles, if you wanna reduce the taxes and regulations on small businesses, if you wanna bring jobs back to America, you know, the amazing thing-- about the-- the-- the three card Monty game being played by Donald Trump, is he is laughing at his supporters.

He's mocking his supporters. Because he's lying to them. You know, he-- he tries to pretend he is a supporter of the working man and woman. He's the only person in this race who's had a million-dollar court judgment against him for hiring illegal aliens. He's the only person in this race who-- who right now is hiring hundreds of foreign workers instead of Americans. And on trade, he pretends to-- to-- to support American fair trade. Donald Trump, the ties he sells, the shirts he sells, the suits he sells, are manufactured in Mexico and China--

CHUCK TODD:

Senator.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

He doesn't intend-- intend to change it. We need instead a positive, optimistic campaign that stands with the working men and women of this country. That's what our campaign is--

CHUCK TODD:

All right, so let the record show, you have not taken a position on whether Trump-- whether you can support Trump if he's the nominee. Fair enough?

SEN. TED CRUZ:

And let the record show you tried very, very hard to get me to commit to supporting Trump. The record will show that--

CHUCK TODD:

Well fair enough. Senator Ted Cruz, I gotta let you go. You got a lot to do in the state of Indiana. We'll be watching. Stay safe on the trail, sir.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Thank you Chuck, God bless.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That interview was conducted on Friday. The panel is here. Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times; our White House correspondent, Kristen Welker, who's been covering the Hillary Clinton campaign; Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin; and Ron Fournier, senior political columnist for The National Journal and author of the new book Love that Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and my Son Taught Me about a Parent's Expectations. Welcome to all of you. By the way, Mr. Fournier's on the bestseller list this morning.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Hey! Congratulations.

CHUCK TODD:

You've been there. There you go.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Hooray!

CHUCK TODD:

And so bestsellers, well, you're the most recent bestseller of our group.

RON FOURNIER:

How many Pulitzers? (LAUGHTER)

CHUCK TODD:

There's a lot here. There's a lot there, just not on this side of the table.

CHUCK TODD:

Uh, Ted Cruz.

RON FOURNIER:

Well, Boehner might have said that he's Lucifer, but you gave him hell. That was a great job because what you did-- you know, we can't, in journalism, we can't make politicians give an answer, give an honest answer, but we can expose the fact when they don't. And it's a very fair question. If you really care about America, and you really think Donald Trump is bad for America, then would you support him as a nominee? And nine times, I counted nine times, he refused to answer that very simple question, which tells you something about him as a leader, or a lack of leader.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Tom, I understand the dilemma Republicans have. And you're seeing it actually with the ones that are deciding do they endorse, do they not? There is a constituency for Trump that they don't want to alienate; and at the same time, he's alienating a swing voter. I mean, it is a prisoner's dilemma.

TOM FRIEDMAN:

Yeah. You know, there's one thing that really struck me that Cruz said that I think is right, Chuck, and you're closer to this than I am; I think when it's a two-person race, Trump is going to get a lot more attention for a lot of things he's been able to skip over every day. His tax returns: "Oh, I didn't release them because I'm being audited." And it's complete nonsense. And some of these things, I think he's going to get called on.

But the thing that still really strikes me about Trump is going to be the tension between that, us doing our jobs, focusing, and the fact that so many of his supporters seem to be listening through their stomach not their ears. That he's made a gut connection. That map you put up about the-- it's so striking. He won Greenwich, Connecticut. Okay, is that about income gap? So he's made some gut connection with his followers that I don't think we've fully plumbed.

CHUCK TODD:

Doris?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Well, what strikes me about Mr. Cruz is I don't think there's been, in history, somebody who's a politician, who has colleagues saying the things that they say about him. Not just "Lucifer in the flesh," but Representative King said, "I've got to take cyanide then vote for him." And, "The love child between Dracula and Joe McCarthy," that Al Franken said.

In the 19th century, if you said things like that, anything like that on the floor of the House or the Senate, you would be formally censured. One guy simply said another guy in the 19th century had made a false assertion; he didn't even say lying. Formally censured. Seven guys formally censured. They also had canes that they're hitting each other on the head with, so we haven't reached that.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, we had more physical violence, less rhetorical violence. Is that what you're saying?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

But I've never seen a politician who doesn't want love. Usually that's the hole in their heart, they need it. He somehow misses that gene.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And when you talk with his colleagues, former colleagues, in the Senate, they say that they just never trusted him. In part, that had to do with the government shutdown. One of the things that really struck me though, Chuck, about your interview is that he had some of his sharpest, potentially most effective attacks yet against Donald Trump, he linked him to Hillary Clinton, but where were those attacks six months ago?

It's like all of this is coming very late. And in some ways, this is his last stand. He had the Carly Fiorina pick, the alliance with John Kasich. But the sense is that it's just too little, too late.

CHUCK TODD:

What's Wednesday morning look like if our poll's right, Ron?

RON FOURNIER:

When the race is over, we have two presumptive nominees, and most of America says, "Oh my God. Maybe I don't vote in November."

CHUCK TODD:

Wow.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And, Chuck, even if it's not over, even if he ekes out a win somehow, in talking to Republicans, they say, "We just don't have the appetite for a contested convention." It seems like that desire that they had several weeks ago, several months ago, is slowly ceding away as Donald Trump is gaining ground in the delegates.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I want to talk about that larger issue that you just brought up. We're going to save that for a little bit later in the show. But coming up, I will be speaking with the C.I.A. chief, John Brennan, on the biggest threats facing the U.S. today, and whether the campaign rhetoric is spooking some of America's spies. And later, President Obama's last laugh. Some fun highlights from the White House correspondents' dinner last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

If this material works well, I'm going use it at Goldman Sachs next year.

(END VIDEO)

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's Data Download time and we're going to start looking at what a Clinton/Trump general election map could look like. This is under the best of circumstances for Trump. Are there states Trump could put in play that have been voting Democratic in recent years?

Well, first, let's look at how many electoral votes each side can expect to start out with. The blue states here on our map are states that Democrats have won in each of the last four elections, going back to 2000. They account for 242 electoral votes. All the red states Republicans have won in that same time period, good for 180 electoral votes.

So now let's add the states that the parties have won in three of the last four elections. Blue and white for the Democrats, red and white for the Republicans here on our map. So that would give New Hampshire, Iowa, and New Medical examiner to the Democrats; North Carolina and Indiana would be ones that we would go ahead and put to the Republicans for now.

So that brings our electoral vote total to 257 to 206. Meaning Clinton would need to just find 13 more electoral votes to reach 270 while Trump would need 64. So let's see if Trump could do it. Right now, our purple states are the ones here that have gone two/two in the last four elections. They are Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada. If Trump is going to get to 270, look at this issue he's got.

Even if he wins the big three of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, he gets 60, four short of the 64 he needs. Can he get it in Nevada? Can he get it in Colorado? Well, those are high Hispanic population states, it's unlikely. Here's where Trump says he's going to go. Maybe it's Michigan, maybe it's Pennsylvania; he thinks New York, even in New Jersey.

The point is, he's going to try to win some states that haven't gone red in a generation. That is the uphill map that we're showing you right now that Donald Trump faces.

We'll have much more on 2016 later in the broadcast. But when we come back, my exclusive sit-down with the head of the C.I.A., John Brennan, five years to the day since Osama bin Laden was killed.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

It's five years to the day since the world was stunned by the news that the most wanted man in the world, Osama bin Laden, had been killed in a special forces raid in Pakistan. And though his death was regarded by many as a watershed moment in the fight against terror, the last five years have brought new threats that very few would have predicted at the time; in particular, the rise of ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

And horrific attacks in Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino, California, bring the threat home. My next guest, John Brennan, was in the situation room for the bin Laden raid in his capacity as the president's chief homeland security advisor. He's now the director of the C.I.A. Director Brennan, welcome back to Meet the Press.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Good morning, Chuck. Good to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, five years ago, I remember going to the White House and hearing cheers, hearing people gather in the streets of Washington, and it was happening in other cities. And there was a sense of relief. It was like this moment of, "Wow. Is this the end? Have we won whatever this was we were fighting, this war with Al Qaeda? Have we won?" Boy, it doesn't feel that way five years later.

JOHN BRENNAN:

I remember that same evening. When I left that White House about midnight, it was as bright as day outside, and the chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A," and, "C.I.A., C.I.A." It was the culmination of a lot of very hard work by some very good people at C.I.A. and other agencies. And we have destroyed a large part of Al Qaeda. It is not completely eliminated, so we have to stay focused on what it can do. But now, with this new phenomenon of ISIL, this is going to continue to challenge us in the counterterrorism community for years to come.

CHUCK TODD:

ISIL's leader is a gentleman by the name of al-Baghdadi. If we announced tonight, if you and the president announced tonight that he was dead, would there be that same sense of, "This is the destruction of ISIS"? There was a feeling with bin Laden, Al Qaeda, yeah. That's a symbolic move Al Qaeda's going to go in the dustbin of history. Same thing with al-Baghdadi? Is he that important?

JOHN BRENNAN:

He's important, and we will destroy ISIL, I have no doubt in my mind. And we have to remove the leadership that directs that organization to carry out these horrific attacks. Bin Laden had a very important symbolic as well as strategic significance for Al Qaeda, and it was important after 9/11 that we remove the person responsible for that.

If we got Baghdadi, I think it would have great impact on the organization and it will be felt by them. But this is a large, not just organization, it's a phenomenon. We see it not just in Syria and Iraq, we see it in Libya, Nigeria, and other countries. So we're going to have to remain very focused on destroying all the elements of that organization.

CHUCK TODD:

Is ISIS more appealing to jihadis, in some ways, than Al Qaeda was?

JOHN BRENNAN:

It has set up a so-called caliphate. It has put its roots down in territory. It has been able to attract a number of individuals from outside of that Syria and Iraq area, over tens of thousands of individuals who have traveled to join this so-called caliphate. So I think it has had a resonance, unfortunately. It does appeal to the hearts and minds and souls of individuals who have been misled by their narrative of it being a religious banner.

CHUCK TODD:

The failure to see ISIS, the rise of ISIS, as quickly, was it an intelligence failure? And I ask it this way. Remember, the president one time referred to them as the JV team. And obviously they're not the JV team anymore, and that's since been a remark I think that he regrets, and he says it was taken a little bit out of context. But was that because the intelligence he was getting seemed to downplay the importance of ISIS at the time?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, ISIS comes from Al Qaeda in Iraq, which has been around for the last ten, 15 years. And what we need to do is to understand that ISIL took advantage of a lot of opportunities inside of both Iraq and Syria. The fact that--

CHUCK TODD:

Are they opportunities that we gave them?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, I think they're opportunities that presented themselves inside of both of those countries. When we see that President Bashar Assad was carrying out these horrific attacks against his citizens as part of this Arab Spring, and was using chemical weapons, this is something that extremists and terrorists seized upon.

So I think ISIS was able to use those instances, whether it be in Syria, or Iraq, and abuses and corruption on the part of these governments to appeal to a broad swath of people. And so it gained strength very quickly, quicker than we thought.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it-- I guess when we look at this, I wonder this. Let's say we get al-Baghdadi, and let's say we destroy ISIS the same way we got bin Laden and we destroy Al Qaeda. Does something else just rise in its place? I think that's what the public thinks now at this point, that there's no getting rid of these terrorists. That when you get rid of one organization, another one's going to sprout up.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, I think a lot of these organizations have sprouted up for a variety of reasons. One is that there is evil that is manifest in the leadership of these groups, and so they want to just destroy and kill and maim just for the sake of doing it.

But also, there is a lot of problems in many parts of the world that the terrorists have taken advantage of. Endemic corruption, the lack of good governance, the lack of economic opportunity, the lack of government over different parts of the country where terrorists have been able to go and burrow in and have training camps and be able to launch attacks outside.

So although the counterterrorism community has a very important obligation to try to prevent these attacks, we need to give the diplomats and government officials, both here in this country and other countries, the time and space they need to address some of these underlying factors and conditions that facilitate and contribute to the growth of these organizations.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand. So what should be the U.S. role in this? Because we're having a big debate in this country. It's like, "More involved, less involved?" And I think the president's tried both, you could argue. He made a decision not to militarily get involved in Syria at a time when he decided not to follow through on the red line, but then he made a decision to get involved in Libya. He regrets Libya, doesn't regret Syria. What does this say about what the U.S. role has to be in creating stability in the Middle East?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I think what it says is that the Middle East is going through a very difficult and complex period of its history. There are a number of trends that are underway that are economic, political, cultural, sectarian. And a lot of these very repressed sentiments and tensions are now manifesting themselves.

Authoritarian regimes had been in place in a number of these countries, you mentioned Libya and Syria and Iraq. And so now a lot of the problems that were never addressed during these authoritarian regimes are coming to the fore. And the terrorist groups and extremist groups are, again, seizing upon it. And we need to take a look at what are those issues that we need to address and help them? But the United States has only limited influence to shape events in the Middle East. And a lot of individuals think that the United States can wave a magic wand, and we can't.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. But let me ask you just about Libya. If we had not gotten involved in Libya, if Qaddafi were still there, would Europe have this migration crisis?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Yeah--

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, I know you don't like to do hypotheticals. But it does feel that way, that Libya's instability, Syria's instability, has now creating European instability.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Before the coalition went in and took action against the Libyan regime, there was already underway instability and a growing insurrection against the Qaddafi regime. That was going to play itself out. And we don't know what would have been the case, if Qaddafi was able to suppress and repress them. I find it hard to believe that Qaddafi would have been able to stay in power.

But what we're seeing now, again, is the lack of opportunities within these countries for individuals to be able to participate in a modern-day economy, be able to participate in government. So there's a lot of work that these governments have to do. The United States is helping, and we're trying to help, but a lot of it's going to fall on these governments themselves, the people, as well as just the region as a whole.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about Saudi Arabia. This was part of your portfolio many times and various times that you've been in government, and you were actually just there with the president as director of the C.I.A. Before, you were there a lot as chief advisor to president for homeland security. What is the state of our relationship? How fractured is it?

JOHN BRENNAN:

We have a very strong relationship with Saudi Arabia, and it's on the economic front, the political front, military security, and intelligence; across the board. I have very close relations with my Saudi counterparts.

CHUCK TODD:

You do. Does the president anymore?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Oh, the president had very good meetings when he was out there. He had a more than two hours' meeting with King Salman and with the senior-most officials of the Saudi government. There are some differences of view about how some of these regional issues should be addressed, and that's very healthy. And in fact, both the president and King Salman said it was a very candid discussion that is necessary among friends.

CHUCK TODD:

Last week I had former Senator Bob Graham on the show. He has been somebody, you probably know this, that has been trying to publicly get more attention to the idea of releasing these 28 pages of a congressional inquiry about 9/11 that have to do with Saudi Arabia and potential roles Saudi Arabia does. Why not release those? What's the case against releasing those 28 pages?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Those so-called 28 pages, one chapter in this joint inquiry that was put out in December of 2002, was addressing some of the preliminary findings and information that was gathered by this joint commission within the Congress. And this chapter was kept out because of concerns about sensitive source of methods, investigative actions. The investigation of 9/11 was still underway in late 2002.

I'm quite puzzled by Senator Graham and others because what that joint inquiry did was to tee up issues that were followed up on by the 9/11 Commission, as well as the 9/11 Review Commission. So these were thoroughly investigated and reviewed. It was a preliminary review that put information in there that was not corroborated, not vetted and not deemed to be accurate.

CHUCK TODD:

The information in those 28 pages, you think, are inaccurate information? Everything that's in there is false?

JOHN BRENNAN:

No, I think there's a combination of things that is accurate and inaccurate. And I think the 9/11 Commission took that joint inquiry, and those 28 pages or so, and followed through on the investigation. And they came out with a very clear judgment that there was no evidence that indicated that the Saudi government as an institution, or Saudi officials individually, had provided financial support to Al Qaeda.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you concerned that the release of those pages will unfairly put the relationship in a damaged position?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I think some people may seize upon that uncorroborated, un-vetted information that was in there, that was basically just a collation of this information that came out of F.B.I. files, and to point to Saudi involvement, which I think would be very, very inaccurate.

CHUCK TODD:

Two more quick questions, one has to do with Europe. Lot of people will travel to Europe this year, just like they do. College students. How safe will Americans be in places like Germany this summer?

JOHN BRENNAN:

We know that ISIS is trying to carry out attacks in Europe and in other parts of the globe. Also, we are working very, very closely with our European partners. And our European partners' security intelligence officials are working around the clock to uncover these terrorist plans. And they've been successful in stopping a number of attacks inside of Europe.

CHUCK TODD:

But there are a lot of plans.

JOHN BRENNAN:

There are things that are underway that we are working with them very closely, sharing information, to stop these--

CHUCK TODD:

What keeps you up?

JOHN BRENNAN:

This is what keeps me going. This is what makes me so happy that I'm at C.I.A. It's the best job in the world, working with dedicated American men and women who are trying to protect their fellow Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you consider staying on, no matter who the next president is?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Every day, it's up to the president, my wife, and myself to decide whether or not I'm going to stay. And as I said, this is the best job in the world, literally.

CHUCK TODD:

Donald Trump. Has any of the things he has said, about Muslims in particular, has that made your job harder?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I focus on the mission at hand. And I have a lot of things--

CHUCK TODD:

American politicians does not influence the mission at hand sometimes? Maybe with sources and methods and things like that?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I'm not distracted by it. I'm focused on the mission. I'm focused on working with my international partners, working with my colleagues here in the States. The campaign is going to go on, but one of the great things about the C.I.A. is that we stay focused like a laser on what we need to do to keep this country safe and secure.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. John Brennan, director of the C.I.A., thanks for coming on.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. After the break, we're going to untangle a little bit of Donald Trump's big foreign policy speech this week. What exactly does he mean when he says U.S. foreign policy should be unpredictable. And oh, by the way, dependable all at the same time.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK**

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Donald Trump laid out what he called an "America First" foreign policy this week. And he read his speech from a teleprompter, something he rarely does, something that was designed to make Washington approve. But, though, Trump promised a new era of consistency and reliability in foreign policy, the speech seemed to offer anything but that. In fact, there were a lot more contradictions. Take a look.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

A new foreign policy direction for our country-- one that replaces randomness with purpose.

We must, as a nation, be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable.

It all began with the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.

I will work with our allies to reinvigorate Western values and institutions.

The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense. And if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves.

Your friends need to know that you will stick by the agreements that you have with them.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

After the break, how come two of the most unpopular candidates in American history are on the verge of becoming the Democratic and Republican nominees? And later, Washington celebrates the one thing it loves more than anything else: itself. The best moments from the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

(BEGIN TAPE)

JOHN BOEHNER:

Look here. You want one?

(END TAPE)

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Panel is here, and I want to start with what we just heard from John Brennan a little bit. Then I want to get to Donald Trump foreign policy. Tom Friedman, this is your beat, not mine--

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Thank God.

CHUCK TODD:

What did you hear from him that gave you concern or confidence?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Well, I think he's a serious guy, but I think we're dealing with an extraordinary moment to be conducting foreign policy right now. This is a Waylon Jennings moment, "Mama, don't let your daughters grow up to be secretaries of state." I think this is the worst time ever, most challenging time ever, to conduct foreign policy.

Why? Look at the challenges we face, Chuck. First of all, we have an enemy we've never quite faced before. We have nihilistic terrorists who actually have no plan, don't actually even leave their name. They want nothing more than us to fail, number one. Second, we have the return of great power politics. Traditional Russia/China.

Third, we live in a world where globalization flows now are the most important thing to plug your country into, whether it's the Facebook flow or the economic flow or the technology flow. And lastly, we live in a world where the biggest challenge of a U.S. president is not strong states, it's states falling apart in our hands. And managing weakness is incredibly difficult.

RON FOURNIER:

I thought the most interesting and scary thing was him calling ISIS a phenomenon. Because if you think about it, it's really smart but really scary because if you think of the phenomena you know in pop culture, it's often hard to define the phenomena. It's awfully hard to get to the root causes, and awfully hard to stop one.

In this case, the closer he got to saying what the root cause is of this phenomena are people who feel like they don't have a stake in their politics, they don't have a stake in their economy. Well, how in the world can we help with that in the Middle East?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

But in a way, they're a phenomenon we've seen before, which is that Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq simply cannot live together. And that's why we keep winning the war-- the Iraq invasion, we win the war, we lose the peace.

RON FOURNIER:

But it's much more complicated in this day in age though.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

The surge, we win the war, we lose the peace. Now again, we're going to win the war-- you know when the most difficult moment for us is going to happen? If we defeat them. Because then you are going to see the mother of all civil wars between Sunnis and Sunnis, Shiites and Shiites, for who controls that area.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

But even as I listen to how complicated it is, how is the public going to know how to support us if we need more military action? How is it going to be communicated? This is like three-dimensional chess, and most of us are playing checkers in understanding foreign policy right now. And the leader, if he's going to need to get us into something more--

RON FOURNIER:

Or she.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Or she, will have to communicate it in ways that-- I mean, I can barely understand it. And I listen to you, and you know it. It's just a complicated problem.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I think one of things that's fueling the phenomenon and that makes it such a global threat is that they have such a robust online recruitment operation going. And the Obama administration has put so much time and effort trying to counter that, but they just haven't been successful. And that speaks to your point about potential threats in the West.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's talk about the emerging issue here, right, which is there's certainly fear of some terrorism. He brought up all those European plots that they've broken up, which means there may be one that they don't break up. What happens, the impact of that? I mean, it is something that I know is scaring some intelligence officials.

RON FOURNIER:

And let's not just talk about European, let's pick up on what Doris was saying. We live in a time when the public has lost utter faith with all of their leaders, especially the political leaders, and the presidency itself. Not just Barack Obama, the presidency itself.

What happens when we get hit again, at a time where there's polarization in politics and loss of faith with it. Can we rally behind our president? Can we come together and fight whatever the attack is, like we did in 9/11? I have my doubts. I worry about that.

CHUCK TODD:

What did you make of Trump's foreign policy speech, Tom?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Well, it was everything the critics said. It was kind of a mad libs version of all his ideas put into different sentences and, as you exposed, utterly contradictory. But at the same time, you have to say, Chuck, contradictory in foreign policy, is that like supporting Saudi Arabia even though we know they were behind 9/11? Is that like supporting Pakistan, even though they support the Taliban? So to--

CHUCK TODD:

He's not the first. Yeah.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Is that like telling me Libya was wonderful and then saying it was the president's decision? So I think to try to find consistency in foreign is very difficult right now. I think what's unnerving about Trump's speech, and I think what's the essential thing you need to do successful foreign policy, is you have to have a take on the world.

What do you think are the big forces out there? Tell me that. I don't expect anyone to have a perfect answer. But if you don't know where we're going, any road will get you there. And on foreign policy, like every other issue, Trump has done zero homework.

CHUCK TODD:

But, Doris, it was the America First thing that I'm sure perked your ears up.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Without a question. I mean, obviously whether he knew what it meant in history, and there were some well meaning people in America First when it first created at Yale in 1939. Sargent Shriver was in it, Gerry Ford was in it, Potter Stewart was in it, mainly because they'd seen just this horror of World War I and they didn't want us involved in European affairs again. But then it got an anti-Semitic tinge to it when Lindbergh came along.

But more importantly, they were wrong. America had to be involved in Europe's wars to save Western civilization. And they're wrong now again in thinking that our global economy can allow us to pull away and become America First-ers.

CHUCK TODD:

Ron, here's the problem: Americans, I think, want us to help solve all the problems and stay out of the way.

RON FOURNIER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

That is, right? That's the charge of American foreign.

RON FOURNIER:

There's contradiction in us. And I think about what other format do we have, or what other part of life do we have a consistent format with a built-in inconsistency? Reality T.V. This is what Donald Trump does, a consistent format. At the end of the show, somebody who he's been saying is great, he says, "You're fired." That's basically what his speech was about.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I think there were a lack of details, he's been criticized for that, which is fine for the primary audience and his supporters in the primary. But I think it gets a lot more complicated in a general election when you're reaching out to those independents that you have to win over.

And I think to your point, Doris, about America First, if you talk to establishment Republicans, that's what terrifies them about a Trump nomination. Because, on the one hand, he had this moment in which he was very presidential in some ways, but then he seemed to not understand the full meaning of that fairly critical term.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

You know, I think one of the things that Obama has done right and a favor to Hillary Clinton on is saying in response to these acts of terrorism, we have to suck it up. It's got to be like Israel, you know? "You blew up that bus. In three hours, the sidewalk is cleaned up, no one knows it happened."

Because if we set this up the way we're setting it up, if there is an act of terrorism in late October, early November, it's going to redound to Donald Trump's favor in ways that are highly unpredictable. I saw that play in Israel. It elected Bibi Netanyahu over Shimon Peres after the Rabin assassination.

CHUCK TODD:

So you think we're a terrorist attack away from President Trump?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Could be, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. How 'bout we go to break on that. We'll be back in 45 seconds with our endgame segment, and a little lighter touch here. Highlights from what was a very humorous night at the White House correspondents' dinner.

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, Meet the Press endgame. Brought to you by Boeing, building the future one century at a time.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Endgame time. The panel is here. You might have noticed our boy Fournier over here is a little worse for wear. He's been from the dinner, after party, iHOP, to right here at the table. After the big night there, you look great.

RON FOURNIER:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

Well done.

RON FOURNIER:

I got the egg special.

CHUCK TODD:

You did. You did. Look, it was a doozy. It was President Obama's final White House correspondents' dinner. We've got a fun little clip reel here. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

I am hurt, though, Bernie, that you've been distancing yourself a little from me. I mean, that's just not something that you do to your comrade. Just look at the confusion over the invitations to tonight's dinner. Guests were asked to check whether they wanted steak or fish, but instead a whole bunch of you wrote in "Paul Ryan."

JOHN BOEHNER:

Yesterday, I had a beer at 11:30 in the morning. And, you know, McDonald's now serves breakfast all day long.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And there's one area where Donald's experience could be invaluable, and that's closing Guantanamo. Because Trump knows a thing or two about running waterfront properties into the ground.

JOHN BOEHNER:

Look here. Look here, yeah.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

If this material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubmans. Obama out.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And as usual, the poor comedian gets to come on after the president, he's start coming on after the president for Larry Wilmore here. How about that, Doris?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

I thought the funniest thing was the whole theme of it was the wistfulness and the idea that he's going away, and what's he going to do in ordinary life? There was one really funny part where he wished a driver's license because he hasn't driven around, and then he needs a birth certificate.

You know, it's true, they go into public life and then all of a sudden they're not commander-in-chief anymore. Eisenhower evidently hadn't made a phone call in so long he picked up the phone and he hears this buzz and he says, "What's the buzz?"

CHUCK TODD:

Did he go Pennsylvania 6000?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

"It's been a dial tone, Mr. President." So I thought the whole theme of it was really terrific.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Ron and Tom, I thought of both of you this morning when I saw Boehner and Obama laughing it up. And all of a sudden I'm thinking, "That's great." And I'm thinking, "Wait a minute. Where was that when America needed it?"

RON FOURNIER:

Yeah.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

You know, it's really true, Chuck. I think that everyone's trying to figure out the Trump thing. What's behind this? And I wouldn't pretend to know, and it's obviously a mix of things. But I think one of the things that's deeply behind it is the mood in the country for the last eight, ten years has been where the children of permanently divorcing parents. And I think that there's been this sense, these two parties, and it's like we're in a house with two permanently-- and even just a little clip like that, says you, "What if these guys actually had worked together like that?"

CHUCK TODD:

I don't know if I've heard anybody put it any better than that. That's an interesting way of putting it because that is. It was like, "Oh my God, Mom and Dad. You guys had this moment. Where was this five years ago?"

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

When we were teenagers and you were fighting?"

RON FOURNIER:

It's great to acknowledge and say, how does Trump fit into it? Is he the crazy uncle?

CHUCK TODD

Right. A step-dad?

RON FOURNIER:

Cause he's certainly is--

CHUCK TODD:

Go ahead.

KRISTEN WELKER:

He's perfected, I think, his comedic timing, which is what's so enjoyable watching the final speech that he gave. But that moment, with him sitting there with Boehner, as a political reporter, you've envisioned that in your mind. What would that be like, if they could have actually done that?

CHUCK TODD:

We all wondered, what if they golfed together all the time?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

What if they did share a smoke, when the president was smoking? What would their relationship be?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

They started drinking at 10:00 in the morning.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

To be a fly on the wall for that video I would have--

CHUCK TODD:

Just the taping.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

Exactly.

RON FOURNIER:

But that kind of comment gets mocked on the partisans on both sides.

THOMAS FRIEDMAN:

I know it does.

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, we're going to get mocked right now. "Oh, there you go. Fournier, Todd, Friedman, all you guys."

RON FOURNIER:

But the fact of the matter, that's what leaders do is you set an example and you set a tone. The idea of two leaders showing that you can be friendly rivals, that's a good model for the rest of the country.

CHUCK TODD:

And at the beginning of the relationship--

RON FOURNIER:

That's when it should--

CHUCK TODD:

--in December of 2010.

RON FOURNIER:

Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. And again, and again, and again, and again.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I also thought he was sparing in his comments of Trump. I was expecting to hear more. And I think he was trying to make a statement that Trump doesn't deserve as much attention as he gets.

CHUCK TODD:

That's an interesting way to put it.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. Well, you recovered all very well from your all's late--

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

--night partying. I appreciate it. That's all we have for today. We'll be back next week because, if it's Sunday, and it's if Mother's Day, it will be Meet the Press.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *