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Meet the Press

Meet The Press 12/18/2016

Meet the Press

12-18-2016

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Putin connection. How big a role did Russia's hacking play in the election? A lot says Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON:

And we are also learning more every day about the unprecedented Russian plot to swing this election.

CHUCK TODD:

"Not much," says Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.

CHUCK TODD:

"Hard to know," says President Obama.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll talk to Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta in his first interview since the election. And to the former head of the C.I.A., Robert Gates. Plus, how the Democrats lost touch with white working class voters.

BRETT KUHN:

We get portrayed as racists and rednecks. And that's not the case.

CHUCK TODD:

My trip to once blue West Virginia, now the reddest state in America. And North Carolina power grab. After a Democrat wins the governor's race, Republicans move to strip away much of his power before he takes office. All politics is partisan, but how much is too much?

DALLAS WOODHOUSE

Next thing you know, you say there's gambling in Casablanca. I mean, come on.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me for insight and analysis are BBC World News America anchor, Katty Kay, Jeff Greenfield, contributor for Politico Magazine, Yamiche Alcindor, of The New York Times, and CNBC's Rick Santelli. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. We have our first look at how the public is responding to Donald Trump as President-elect. Our brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 50 percent of those surveyed approve of the way Mr. Trump is handling his transition, 41 percent disapproving. This compares to President-elect Barack Obama's 71 percent, 14 approve/disapprove of his transition. Those numbers were based on surveys in January of 2009.

On the other hand, most Americans believe Mr. Trump will change the way things are done in government. And by two to one margin, 41 to 20, they believe he will bring the right kind of change, 28 percent expect business as usual.

On the subject of Russia, 31 percent say President-elect Trump has been too friendly with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. 24 percent say, "No, he's not, and he hasn't been too friendly with Putin." But at the same time, by a huge margin, 57, 37, Americans do not believe that Russia's interference handed Donald Trump the presidency.

On Friday, President Obama's news conference was dominated by questions about Russia. Mr. Obama avoided weighing in on what impact Russia's hacking had on the election. And he tried to explain why his public response to Russia's interference has been restrained.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

I wanted to make sure that everybody understood we were playing this thing straight. That we weren't trying to advantage one side or another.

CHUCK TODD:

In what may have been his final news conference, President Obama defended his administration's muted response to Russia's interference in the election.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Part of the goal here was to make sure that we did not do the work of the leakers for them by raising more and more questions about the integrity of the election, like before the election was taking place, at a time, by the way, when the President-elect himself was raising questions.

CHUCK TODD:

Hillary Clinton blamed F.B.I. Director James Comey for her loss at a party for donors on Thursday night.

HILLARY CLINTON:

I happen going to believe this, that that letter most likely made a difference in the outcome.

CHUCK TODD:

And Clinton's campaign chair John Podesta called the F.B.I. response to the D.N.C. hacking "baffling," writing, "No one at the F.B.I. could be bothered to drive ten minutes to raise the alarm." But the president and his attorney general are defending the F.B.I.

LORETTA LYNCH:

The investigation isn't even over. So I think it's impossible to characterize it in any one way or the other. I don't know where Mr. Podesta is obtaining information.

CHUCK TODD:

At that Thursday night event, Clinton also blamed Vladimir Putin for her defeat.

HILLARY CLINTON:

And we are also learning more every day about the unprecedented Russian plot to swing this election.

CHUCK TODD:

But the president refused to say he's the reason she lost, though he did all but confirm an NBC News story that the Russian president personally approved the cyber attacks.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin.

CHUCK TODD:

While President Obama only had veiled criticism for Trump, he was less reluctant to blame the press.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

And I'm finding it real curious that everybody's suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton, because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single week.

CHUCK TODD:

Some Democrats are frustrated the president did not act more aggressively in the fall.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

There was really nothing preventing the administration on its own from being even more declaratory in terms of what the intelligence showed. I do think it was a mistake.

CHUCK TODD:

Meanwhile, Trump is ignoring the fact that the F.B.I. and the director of National Intelligence now agree with a C.I.A. assessment that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win. Last week, he totally rejected that intelligence.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.

CHUCK TODD:

And on Friday, Team Trump brought up an issue that has nothing to do with Putin and the Russians.

SEAN SPICER:

This wouldn't have happened if Hillary Clinton didn't have a secret server.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

It's worth noting, by the way, that the Russians did not hack Hillary Clinton's home server. One other thing, President Obama made it clear on Friday that he's considering a number of actions in response to the Russian hacking, that in his words, could increase the cost for them. But do the Russians care about that threat?

Remember, the president also confirmed something else on Friday, that in September at the G-20 summit in China, he personally told Putin to cut it out. It was a month later, on October 7th, that WikiLeaks began publishing the first of some 50,000 emails from Clinton campaign co-chairman John Podesta. And since President Obama concedes that not much happens in Russia without Putin, it doesn't sound as though Putin cut it out.

The only other explanation is that somehow the Russians weren't involved with that, which would contradict 17 other intelligence agencies. Joining me now is the man himself, John Podesta for his first interview since the presidential election. Mr. Podesta, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

JOHN PODESTA:

Good morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with this question. Do you believe this was a free and fair election?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well, look, I think the Russians clearly intervened in the election. And I think that the, now we know that both the C.I.A., the director of National Intelligence, the F.B.I. all agree that the Russians intervened to help Trump and that as they have noted this week, NBC first revealed that Vladimir Putin was personally involved with that. So I think that people went to the polls, they cast their votes, Hillary Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Donald Trump, but you know Donald Trump is claiming the electoral college victory. And you know tomorrow, the electors will get to vote.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't answer the question. Do you believe this was a free and fair election?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well, I think it was, I think it was distorted by the Russian intervention. Let's put it that way.

CHUCK TODD:

And what does "distorted" mean? How should-- Let me ask you this then, so you-- Go ahead.

JOHN PODESTA:

They-- A foreign, a foreign adversary directly intervened into our Democratic institution and tried to tilt the election to Donald Trump. I think that if you look back and see what happened over the course of the last few weeks, you see the way the votes broke, you know, I was highly critical of the way the F.B.I., particularly the F.B.I. director managed the situation with respect to the Russian engagement versus Hillary Clinton's emails. I think that all had an effect on the election.

CHUCK TODD:

You, in the op-ed, put a lot more weight on what Mr. Comey did in the last 11 days than anything else. So--

JOHN PODESTA:

I think independent analyst Nate Silver and others have argued--

CHUCK TODD:

--which do you believe had more actual impact? Russia's hacking or the F.B.I.?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well what I said was baffling, Chuck, was on October 7th, as the Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, Jeh Johnson, the director of Homeland Security, went out and said, "The Russians are trying to interfere in our election," Director Comey counseled against that. He said, "I don't want my, the F.B.I.'s name on that." Then three weeks later, he went out and dropped the infamous letter just 11 days before the election, saying that he was going to take yet another look at Hillary Clinton's emails because of the laptop that he had gotten from Huma Abedin's husband Anthony Weiner.

So how can you have that both ways? I think that even in their defense, no one disputed those facts. And October 7th, he's saying to say the Russians are involved, which the American people I think had a right to know, was too political. Eleven days out, he drops this bombshell into the election.

And then just a week later, says, "Well, we looked at them, there's nothing to it." So he had the opportunity to do that in private, he didn't do it. I think that Democrats and Republicans who have served in the Justice Department criticized him at the time. So yes, I think he had a big effect on this election.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it was interesting in your op-ed, you asked for a few things, it was pretty direct. You were hoping for a Russian hacking investigation, one where you want to see intelligence declassified, "should quickly be declassified." President Obama said, "A lot of it is classified." He's not going to provide it. You believe the F.B.I. fai-- did not adequately respond to the D.N.C. hack.

Attorney General Lynch said, "The investigation isn't even over." And then when it comes to the electoral college, you said you would like to see the administration brief members of the electoral college on the intelligence. President Obama said yesterday, "It's not in my hands now. It's up to them." Do you feel as if the Obama administration is sort of abandoning your efforts right now?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well look, I think the Obama administration is doing what it thinks is the right thing to do. So that's their judgments and that's their call.

CHUCK TODD:

Are they making the right call?

JOHN PODESTA:

When I said that 70 members, bipartisan members of the electoral college have asked to be briefed, Nick Kristof wrote this morning in The New York Times that it's not that Putin and Trump were colluding to affect the election, it's that the Russians were trying to elect a lap dog. But I would argue that there's very, it's very much unknown whether there was collusion. I think Russian diplomats have said post-election that they were talking to the Trump campaign. Roger Stone in August foreshadowed the fact that they had hacked my emails, and those would be forthcoming, when he said that he was in touch with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Carter Page, one of Trump's foreign policy advisors went to Russia before the Republican convention and met with the person in the Russian hierarchy who was responsible for collecting intelligence.

So I think really not what Mr. Trump knew, but what did Trump Inc. know and when did they know it, were they in touch with the Russians? I think those are still open questions. And the electors have a right to know what the answers are if the U.S. government has those answers before the election. That's also why I said there needs to be an independent investigation into this.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. We are basically, in 24 hours, the presidential election officially occurs. People don't fully realize that, but I think they're learning now, tomorrow at noon in many state capitals, this is going to take place. What would you like to see the electors do?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well look, I think that's a judgment for them. I think we haven't tried to influence what electors would do. I assume that our electors are going to vote for Hillary Clinton. But the question is whether there are 37 Republican electors who think that either there are open questions or that Donald Trump, based on everything we know about him, is really unfit to be president of the United States. And if they do, then they'll throw it to the House of Representatives.

CHUCK TODD:

There are certain supporters of yours that say the best route is for you to call on all of Hillary Clinton's electors to support somebody like John Kasich or Mitt Romney or even Mike Pence--

JOHN PODESTA:

I know--

CHUCK TODD:

--in order to lure 37 others over.

JOHN PODESTA:

I know that, Chuck. But really the question is are there 37 Republicans. It's not what really what the Democrats are going to do. And I guess we'll know that at noon tomorrow. I guess a rolling noon tomorrow, because I think they vote at noon across--

CHUCK TODD:

Right, it's noon in each of the time zones.

JOHN PODESTA:

--across the time zones. So I guess when the Hawaiian electors are done voting, we'll know the final outcome.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it was interesting to hear the president say he directly asked Putin to cut it out, a month later is when your emails start getting released to the public. The president also said if he had gotten too aggressive about this during the election, he'd have been accused of tipping the scales. And he mentioned the fact at the time, Donald Trump was questioning parts of the election. Do you think the president, President Obama was cowed by Trump?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well I think he, no, I think he was using his judgment. He briefed the bipartisan, and he had his people brief the bipartisan leadership. Mitch McConnell evidently argued against a public statement, a bipartisan public statement. They did release the statement on October 7th from Director Clapper and Secretary Johnson saying the Russians were trying to interfere. You know, do I in retrospect wish they had done more? Sure, of course I do.

But I think that they were trying to render their best judgment about what was appropriate. And I think that there's a lot-- you know I'm not saying that it's everybody else's fault. We bear responsibility for the outcome as well. I know that. But the media didn't cover itself with glory on the way they handled I think the matter. The New York Times reported this week in their own reporting said that they became an instrument for Russian intelligence.

And so, you know, I think we'll all ought to take a lesson from this, look at it. Most importantly, investigate what actually happened and put that out to the American public. Declassify as much as possible, do it through an independent investigation, and then everybody will feel like we've learned whatever lessons there are from 2016. We'll move forward so it doesn't happen again.

CHUCK TODD:

This is your personal account that was hacked. I've got to think you're getting updates on the investigation that others would not. What can you share?

JOHN PODESTA:

I will share this with you, Chuck. The first time I was contacted by the F.B.I. was two days after WikiLeaks started dropping my emails.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me pause here.

JOHN PODESTA:

The first, the first--

CHUCK TODD:

Two days after?

JOHN PODESTA:

Two days after. So October 7th, Wiki-- October 7th, let's go through the chronology. On October 7th, the Access Hollywood tape comes out. One hour later, WikiLeaks starts dropping my emails into the public. One could say that there might, those things might not have been a coincidence. Two days later, the F.B.I. contacted me, and the first thing the agent said to me was, "I don't know if you're aware, but your email account might have been hacked."

CHUCK TODD:

When did you know?

JOHN PODESTA:

I said "yes"-- Yeah, I said, "yes, I was aware of that."

CHUCK TODD:

But when were you aware that you had been hacked? Before October 7th?

JOHN PODESTA:

I think it was confirmed on October 7th in some of the D.N.C. dumps that had occurred earlier.

CHUCK TODD:

Earlier, yeah.

JOHN PODESTA:

And other campaign officials also had their emails divulge earlier than October 7th. But in one of those D.N.C. dumps, there was a document that appeared to me was-- that appeared came-- might have come from my account. So I wasn't sure, I didn't know, I didn't know what they had, what they didn't have. It wasn't until October 7th when Assange both really in his first statements said things that were incorrect, but started dumping them out and said they were going to all dump out. That's when I knew that they had the contents of my email account.

CHUCK TODD:

When history's written about this election--

JOHN PODESTA:

By the way--

CHUCK TODD:Yes.

JOHN PODESTA:

--that was the last time I talked to the F.B.I. You asked me--

CHUCK TODD:

You have still not heard from the F.B.I. since?

JOHN PODESTA:

--you asked me when, when did, how, am I getting additional briefings. That was the first and last time I talked to the F.B.I.

CHUCK TODD:

So October 9th is the last time you have heard from the F.B.I. at all?

JOHN PODESTA:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

You have not gotten an update on the investigation into your personal email?

JOHN PODESTA:

My-- That is correct.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you expect to get a phone call before the end of the year?

JOHN PODESTA:

Maybe before the end of the show.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, when the history of this election is written, is it-- how much is Russia, how much is Comey, and how much is, say, the fact that you didn't make one visit to the state of Wisconsin after the convention?

JOHN PODESTA:

Look, I think that y-- I actually think that you know, we ought to-- people are asking for a full accounting of what happened, where did we spend our money, what did we do, and I think that's fair. And should be forthcoming.

CHUCK TODD:

You want to do an autopsy in your decision making?

JOHN PODESTA:

Yeah, I think so. Yeah. I think that if you remember, in 2012, the Republicans took till March because the data doesn't come in, you can't see it until then. So it will take a while. But I think we owe it to our supporters to say what we think we did right, what we think we did wrong. I think Wisconsin, we could have done better. There's no question about it.

I think in the, we had twice as many staff in Wisconsin and Michigan than Obama did, but I think we, and we sent, you know Tim Kaine was there, others were there. Hillary did not go back to Wisconsin. But I think that, I think in the end of the day, we also lost Pennsylvania. And there was nothing we left un-- you know, undone there. And we still lost by 44,000 votes.

In total, those three states, we lost by less than 80,000 votes. And as I said, we won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. So I think we did a lot of things right. We were up against a very difficult media environment. And-- but there's no question that we didn't make every right decision.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, very quickly, you just, you had an interesting lunch on Friday.

JOHN PODESTA:Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

The chiefs of st-- former White House chiefs of staff all got together to meet with the incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus. What advice did you give him?

JOHN PODESTA:

Well, I told him that, a couple of things. It was a private meeting, so I really don't want to go too in depth into it. But there were Republican and Democratic former chiefs. I think we all respect the office of the presidency. We all want Mr. Priebus to succeed in the jobs that we held. I think we all gave him advice about-- and it was interesting, I think one of the things he got from the Republicans about was his unique role in protecting that office of the presidency as he comes in, as we all had to share that responsibility.

In my case, I told him that I think that one of the things that makes a White House work or not work is whether the chief of staff and the national security advisor are really in harness. When they're not, the wagon goes off the cliff. When they are, I think you know things can work rather smoothly. So it's up to him to make that relationship work.

CHUCK TODD:

John Podesta, campaign chair for Hillary Clinton's campaign, appreciate you spending a little Sunday morning here. Happy holidays.

JOHN PODESTA:

Happy holidays, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Enjoy the new year.

JOHN PODESTA:

Yeah, thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up, more on Russia's hacking from the former head of the C.I.A., and a former Pentagon head, Robert Gates. And later, partisan politics in overdrive. A Democrat just won the race for governor in North Carolina, so the Republican legislature voted to strip him of much of his power before he takes office. And the Republican governor that he defeated has signed it into law. That's coming up.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Rick Santelli of CNBC, Yamiche Alcindor, national political reporter for The New York Times, BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay, and Jeff Greenfield, a contributor for Politico Magazine. Welcome all. Yamiche, what struck you the most about the Podesta interview?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

What struck me most was the fact that he sounded really flustered when you asked him about Wisconsin, and you asked him about their decision making within the campaign. While of course Russia's important and of course the fact that Hillary Clinton, the focus on her private emails was also something that hurt them, how Democrats move forward is really going to be, they're going to have to look at what they did in this election and who they lost and how they lost and why the turnout among their base also was so low. So I think that's what struck me most. He had all those other answers, but when it came to his own campaign and how it was run, he wasn't as strong.

CHUCK TODD:

Katty? What did you get out of it?

KATTY KAY:

Yeah, he did say that there's going to have to be an investigation, basically because the donors are saying, "Hey, where do we send all our money on? We want to know where the mistakes were made." One other thing that I thought was different was that from my reporting with senior members of the White House, actually what they are saying is that after Putin was spoken to by Obama, the White House says that the leaking -- hacking stopped.

But of course, they already had the emails out there. And so that's some discrepancy. We're going to have to sort through that in terms of reporting. But they are pushing that very hard on the idea that the conversation with Putin did not have results. They say it had results, as far as we could see, all the hacking stopped. But of course, Podesta's emails had already been taken and they were released later on.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, good luck with that defense. It feels like the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign are not on the same page, Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

Yeah, and I think what you also heard was what I think many of us would experience if an election came down to one-thirtieth of 1 percent of the vote in three states, you look at everything. You bang your head against the wall several times a day. Maybe Bill Clinton should not have walked across that tarmac and said hi to Loretta Lynch on her plane, which gave Comey the power. And I think the other thing--

CHUCK TODD:

Or that maybe she should not have set up the email server in the first place?

JEFF GREENFIELD:

And, and, and.

CHUCK TODD:

And, and, and. Right.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

And it's much better when you lose an election by ten points -- it wasn't our turn. The other thing that I would say very quickly is that going forward, it's going to be interesting to see whether or not people in positions of power can separate the issue of Russian hacking from how their side did. You know, if it helped your side, are you going to minimize it? Are you going to say, "Whatever happened in this campaign, we can't let a foreign government do that"?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's interesting, and Rick Santelli, I'm curious of your thoughts on this. We show that there is a partisan divide on this issue of Russian hacking. Are you bothered by it a great deal or quite a bit? 86 percent of Democrats are, only 29 percent of Republicans. If Russia hacked into our democracy, how do we get the country unified on this issue?

RICK SANTELLI:

I just think we we're taking a bad tangent on the entire topic of hacking. I think hacking's important. Most Americans should worry about it no matter what side of the aisle you're on. But the notion of trying to use this and various other issues to explain the results of the election is where I think everything's off the rails.

And I agree with Yamiche, the way Mr. Podesta seemed to pause when you asked about Wisconsin says it all. Take the electoral college, for example. I don't know, anybody here play chess? When I win in chess, if I have one player left, but his king's gone, I win, no matter how many players he still has on the board. That's it. And Wisconsin is the poster child for the party losing track.

All the way back to 2010, the takeover of Congress, there is an unnerved part of the public that understands the history of Hillary Clinton. We've seen her for decades. They understand Donald Trump. There's no disclosure needed there. The sour grapes that we are experiencing isn't going to make a better tasting wine for the Democrats in the future.

CHUCK TODD:

But let's go to this issue of what to do now about the Russian question here. Donald Trump's not ready to accept. Dan Balz put a theory out this morning. "For a president-elect who touts America first, Russian hacking poses a problem." But then he throws out this speculation, "Or perhaps, all of his tweets and statements and are a prelude to Monday's electoral college vote, after which he will feel freer to reverse course and join others in calling for a congressional investigation to go along with the review and report order by Obama."

KATTY KAY:

Donald Trump's relationship with Russia has been mystifying all along. We know that for decades he has been critical of China. The affinity with President Putin is relatively recent. And you have to ask yourself how does somebody who's going to be president of the United States square that relationship away with the fact that Russia is meddling in Ukraine, is upsetting our allies, is building up troops along the border of Europe, and even in Syria, where Mr. Trump seems happy to have Putin take the lead, Russia is working with Iran. At some point, Trump is going to have to deal with that close relationship between Russia and Iran, and he's not doing that.

CHUCK TODD:

You know what just struck me about what you said? President of the United States did not say that on Friday, when he talked about the threat of Russia. He did not put it in that global -- was that a mistake?

JEFF GREENFIELD:

I think it's a very accurate reflection of the notion that we are about to have a president totally unlike anything we've had before, whether you like it or not, who will, let me be blunt, uninformed in the way the traditional candidates have been informed, and tends to see every issue through "how does it affect me." "Putin likes me, he said I'm a genius," if he did or not, therefore, those broader issues, I think, so far, have taken second place. And it's going to be a really interesting question, if Mr. Balz is right, whether now that he's safely ensconced he says, "Okay, I better start thinking in a different way now." Am I confident of that? No.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm going to pause it here. I promise you, we're picking this back up, but I have to pay a bill. When we come back, we're going to hear from the former head of the C.I.A. and a former secretary of Defense, and they're the same guy. It's Robert Gates on Russia, Rex Tillerson, and President Obama's legacy. That's next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Robert Gates has had a ringside seat for both Democratic and Republican administrations. He was secretary of Defense under President Obama, and before that, President George W. Bush. And he was the head of the C.I.A. under the first President Bush. Well, I talked to him yesterday about what he thinks of Donald Trump's choice of secretary of State, Rex Tillerson and about what he considers to be President Obama's biggest foreign policy successes and failures. But I began by asking him about the story that's dominated the news, the Russian hacking of the election.

(BEGIN TAPE)

ROBERT GATES:

As far as I know, Chuck, it's unprecedented. I can't remember -- the first president I worked for was Lyndon Johnson. There were eight altogether. I can't remember anything like this happening before.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think there's been enough of a sense of urgency about this from the Obama administration, from congressional leaders, Democratic and Republican, from Donald Trump?

ROBERT GATES:

No. I think that given the unprecedented nature of it and the magnitude of the effort, I think people seem to have been somewhat laid back about it. And maybe part of the problem was that it took the intelligence community a while to assemble really firm evidence of Russian involvement and Russian government involvement that delayed a response. Attribution is a challenge but it seems pretty clear to me that they've developed really reliable information that the Russian government was involved.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, for about four years as you know and you actually defended President Obama from some of his critics when it came to that he was too soft on Russia or he was too, maybe, "soft's," not the right word but he wasn't tough enough against Putin. Do you think all of this, that Putin over time read this as weakness?

ROBERT GATES:

I think that Putin saw the United States withdrawing from around the world. I think actually the problem has been that President Obama's action often have not matched his rhetoric. His rhetoric has often been pretty tough.

But then there's been no follow up and no action. And if you combine that with red lines that have been crossed, demands that Assad step down with no plan to actually figure out how to make that happen, the withdrawal from the Middle East, from Iraq and Afghanistan and essentially the way it was done, I think it sent a signal that the US was in retreat.

It was always going to be complicated to withdraw from those wars without victory without sending the signal we were withdrawing more broadly from a global leadership role. I think some of the things that have been done have accentuated that impression around the world. And I think Putin felt that he could take advantage of that.

CHUCK TODD:

As you know, President Obama said this week that he directly spoke with Putin back in September, warned him to cut it out. A month later, the WikiLeaks, Podesta's emails become public. So obvious that lecture didn't do anything. But the question now is how do you retaliate? How do you characterize it?

ROBERT GATES:

Well, I would characterize it as a thinly disguised, covert operation intended to discredit the American election and to basically allow the Russians to communicate to the rest of the world that our elections are corrupt, incompetent, rigged, whatever and therefore no more honest than anybody else's in the world including theirs.

And, you know, the US oughta get off its high horse in telling other nations how to conduct their elections and criticizing those elections and so on. Whether it or not it was intended to help one another candidate, I don't know. But I think it clearly was aimed at discrediting our elections and I think it was aimed certainly at weakening Mrs. Clinton.

But the question of retaliation is a difficult one because do you retaliate economically? Do you retaliate in kind with cyber? Do you retaliate in some way militarily? So I think this is going to be a tough problem for the new president to deal with in terms of how do you put the Russians on notice that this kind of behavior is unacceptable? My view is that cyber may not be the best way to go because once you get into that kind of an escalation, we're in truth more vulnerable than they are.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's move to Rex Tillerson here. You've been very supportive of his nomination and people have pointed out you've also done some work for him in the private sector and with him. But explain, why are you so comfortable pushing Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State for a new administration in Donald Trump that you weren't so comfortable with during the campaign?

ROBERT GATES:

Well, that's a kind way to put it. He is familiar with countries from Indonesia to Latin America to the Middle East and Russia. And it seems to me having somebody who is Secretary of State who has dealt with a lot of these leaders, who knows them, knows how they negotiate, knows how they think, is a huge asset for the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

What's the--

ROBERT GATES:

And as I've said, I think the second he raises his hand to take that oath, his only goal will be to do what's in the best interests of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

What kind of explanation --well, I guess, explain the relationship for him with Russia and with Putin. It just comes across, you know, very friendly. Is that totally business?

ROBERT GATES:

Well, clearly the CEO of any US company that does business around the world is going to want to be on friendly relationships with the leaders and governments of those countries where they do business. But being friendly doesn't make you friends.

After all, if you wanted to show pictures, I hoisted a glass of vodka more than one time with the head of the KGB and it looked like it was friendly if you'd taken a photograph of it. But I can guarantee you, we weren't friends. We were adversaries.

But in the course of doing business, you at least maintain the pleasantries. You can't be at each other's throats 24/7. So I think mistaking a picture of somebody lifting a champagne glass or shaking hands with somebody, confusing that with being friends or being closely associated other than in a business sense, I think is a mistake. I think it's a false narrative.

CHUCK TODD:

You said something interesting in another interview. You said you thought President Obama's foreign policy is a lot better than he communicates it. What did you mean by that?

ROBERT GATES:

I think that there has been some very real achievements in the military with President Obama. I think that he has managed a difficult situation where the American people were tired of war, 14, 15 years of war, and how do we conduct ourselves so that we don't send troops to deal with every single problem around the world?

I certainly was opposed to the intervention in Libya. I said, "Can I just finish the two wars I'm already in before you go looking for a third one?" And I think his restraint frankly from further engagements of US forces in a major way has been the right thing to do. Do I agree with the way he approached ISIL and how long it took him to get to where he is today? I think that was a mistake.

Where we are today, we should have been two years ago in terms of helping the anti-ISIS people. And I frankly think that he's made several big mistakes on Syria, beginning with the crossing of the red line -- first of all, putting down a red line and then allowing, you know, allowing it to be crossed. But I think that in terms of not engaging, not sending US forces to deal with every single problem around the world, was a needed antidote to 15 years of war.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

You can see my entire interview with Robert Gates online at Meet-The-Press-NBC-dot-com. Up next, our continued look at how the Democrats lost the trust of working-class Americans, who used to be the backbone of the party. My visit to West Virginia.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Donald Trump made a lot of promises. What's one promise you absolutely expect him to keep?.

COAL MINER:

That he will put miners back to work.

(END TAPE)

* * * COMMERCIAL BREAK* * *

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Since the election, we've been taking a closer look at how the Democratic party lost touch with the white working-class vote. Voters who used to define its base, and no place symbolizes the blue-to-red switch more dramatically than West Virginia. The Mountain State used to be the most reliable of Democratic states, from 1932 through 1996, West Virginia voted Democratic 14 of 17 times.

Jimmy Carter beat Ronald Reagan there. Michael Dukakis beat George H. W. Bush there. But that was then. This year, West Virginia was officially the reddest state in the country, going 69-27 for Trump. No other state has swung in either direction as dramatically or as fast. So this week, I traveled to the Mountain State to find out, did West Virginians abandon the Democrats or was it the other way around?

(BEGIN TAPE)

West Virginia has become quintessential Trump country. But it wasn't always that way. White working class and religious West Virginians spent most of the 20th century as a model New Deal state. But those days are long gone. And today, the Mountain State has flipped from blue to red. In 2014, West Virginia elected Shelley Moore Capito, its first Republican Senator since the Eisenhower administration.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO:

We're one of the states that is considered to be in a recession. We have six counties that are in a depression.

CHUCK TODD:

The source of the state's economic troubles is no secret. The coal industry in West Virginia has collapsed. And nowhere is that felt more acutely than here in Boone County, where production has fallen 73 percent since 2005.

TRESA HOWELL:

West Virginia is left behind. We are overlooked. As far as the economy goes, there has been a huge impact made on our jobs for our coal miners.

CHUCK TODD:

West Virginia is the only state that saw negative population growth since 2010. Things are so bad that people are leaving the state for other opportunities. What concerns you about 20 years from now?

STEVE KENNEDY:

That this is going to be a ghost town. I have an 18-year-old son that's graduated high school and he's working part time at U.P.S. now. But if that doesn't pan out, then he'll have to leave here to find work because there's nothing here.

CHUCK TODD:

For the few remaining coal miners, once the backbone of the state's Democratic party, there's a sense of betrayal by Washington.

STEVE KENNEDY:

Well, when Obama first got in, he said he was going to bankrupt the coal industry, and he did.

BRETT KUHN:

The word I always use is we feel like we're abandoned. Completely abandoned.

CHUCK TODD:

And that was before Hillary Clinton made a pitch to retrain coal miners, that to many ears, sounded like an attack on the coal industry.

HILLARY CLINTON:

We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

Everyone in my state felt like a returning Vietnam veteran, we've done everything you asked us to do, and you kicked us in the teeth when you came home.

CHUCK TODD:

But it's not just coal. There's a sense in West Virginia that culturally, their Democratic party might be a thing of the past.

BRETT KUHN:

There's been a split between the state Democratic party and the national Democratic party.

STEVEN BAZZILLA:

I think there's more liberals in the Democratic party now.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Joe Manchin is one of the few remaining statewide Democrats and he something of a model of how rural Democrats differ from their urban counterparts.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN:

So I'm more of a moderate centrist, some people say I'm conservative. And I tell people, "I'm fiscally responsibility and I'm socially compassionate. Call me what you want."

CHUCK TODD:

There's a strong feeling here that even if President-Elect Trump can't turn back the clock on coal's demise, he can't make the situation much worse.

BRETT KUHN:

And I don't think anyone feels like President Trump is going to wave a magic wand and it's going to get better. I just feel like most people looking at the election knew that we could not continue down the same path we've been on the last eight years.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

No one in West Virginia believes coal is the long-term future. But the answer to the state's economic revival isn't easy, and it's an answer they're still trying to figure out. Some of the ideas include, perhaps, if you build it, the jobs will come. But which jobs? When we come back, a head-snapping example of pure partisan politics. North Carolina Republican strip away power from the Democrat who just won the governor's race, before he gets sworn in. Have we seen anything like this before?

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK* * *

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel, I want to get into the North Carolina situation, even a little bit of a response to West Virginia, but I feel like we didn't finish our Russia discussion. I want to get at the punishment aspect. Rick Santelli, you heard Robert Gates there. There's no easy answer in how do you punish Russia here. There's this fear of "okay, what's the retaliation, do you do it on cyber, do you do it on this?" And now it just looks like a paralysis. That's the problem. The more we hand-wring, it's paralysis.

RICK SANTELLI:

Yeah, the best retaliation would be make it so no foreign power can hack into the U.S. And I think the U.S. should be a model for creating various technologies, whether it protects Yahoo, protects the D.N.C., or protects candidates, or Mr. Podesta. I think we've lost sight of the real issue here. The issue here isn't who gets tainted by information that's shown to come out through hacking. The issue is hacking itself. This is America. And we've basically invented the computer and we should invent ways to protect all those that use it.

CHUCK TODD:

Yamiche, without proper deterrents, North Korea's listening, China's watching, Iran. All three are powers that have played around in this arena.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Well, there are two things I think of when I think about this discussion. One, Sean Spicer said, and Obama said this at his press conference, this idea that if we retaliate or we do something, Russia needs to know about, and maybe we don't need to publicize it. And I thought to myself, the fact that Sean is saying that and the fact that President Obama is saying that, we might be retaliating against Russia and we won't know publicly what that means.

So I think that there's that aspect, but I also think when I think about Donald Trump kind of after the electoral college, he's going to be a different person. And he's going to be someone who then maybe looks at this issue in a different way than he did the last couple weeks. We were always waiting for Donald Trump to be someone different. And I don't think that's going to happen. I think this is a very partisan issue. And I don't know if I expect Donald Trump to say, "I'm going to do-- I'm going to spend the first hundred days of my administration looking into how a foreign government helped me get into office."

CHUCK TODD:

This seems to be, it's why they have to do more declassification. This mistrust that we have of institutions, and us in the press, we need to realize it. There is skepticism out there. The only way, I feel like this needs an Adlai Stevenson moment. My apologies for using a reference that's 60 years old. Show your work.

KATTY KAY:

It needs more declassification, and your poll is showing that, right? But I think it also, we've had two events this week, thousands of miles apart, which you referred the word "hand-wringing," which has shown this president's ability to think about unintended consequences up until the moment where it stops him from taking action.

We had the fall of Aleppo, and we had the hacking of the American election system. And on both instances, the president said, "We were so worried about something going wrong if we intervene." And I think what the American public in this election said is we want intervention. Less hand-wringing, more action.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

In 1984, George Orwell's book, the hero says, "Freedom means the ability to say two plus two equals four." What I'm getting at is, the more we permit hacking, particularly hacking that, of disinformation, the less we have reliance on a common set of facts. And once you begin to lose that, norms begin to fall in a terribly quick and decisive way.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I want to pivot here to North Carolina, we've been talking about it. It is perfectly legal what is happening in North Carolina, but it doesn't feel in the spirit of ending an election here. The North Carolina legislature has a, Republicans have a veto-proof majority. So they can essentially pass laws, and the governor can veto it no matter what.

But they decided to strip the Democratic, the governor, the executive branch of powers that they had given to a Republican governor and took it away from a Democratic governor. Is there any part of this that's defensible, Rick, from the outside?

RICK SANTELLI:

I believe in state power. And I think much of this is due to a nasty election in that particular state. A lot of the issues that the assembly are working on have to do with voter registration and some of those issues. But I think in the end, they should be able to do as they wish. I think one of the key tenets of the election that we've seen and many elections since 2010 is the federal government gets too much control in various states. If this doesn't go against what the rules of the state are, then I think the federal government ought to let them fight it out.

CHUCK TODD:

Well this is not about the feds--

RICK SANTELLI:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

--these are branches within the state. But it feels like sour grapes.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

It's more than that. I mean it, what it is, is it's, I'll just, at the risk of repeating myself, it's another norm that's fallen. So when your guy wins, you give him as much power as you want. And when your guy loses, you take away the power of the guy who was freely elected. You know, call me madcap. That doesn't sound like the way the process ought to work.

KATTY KAY:

Democracies function partly on law, and partly on tradition and custom. And the peaceful, successful transition of power is part of that custom. If you start eroding those traditions and customs, you start undermining the functioning of democracy.

RICK SANTELLI:

And where have they taken us, traditions and customs. We have less than a 2% economy, we have Europe telling Brussels to hit the road. You know what, this nerve exists. And whether we like it or not, it's going to play out. And I think that the media ought to focus on that nerve more.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

This has nothing to do with what happened in the election. This is--

RICK SANTELLI:

Oh completely.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

No, not down in North Carolina it doesn't. It is a power grab by people who are doing it because they can in violation of a whole lot of what we used to think of as traditional when the other guy wins.

RICK SANTELLI:

Well, what about the phone call from the, Taiwan? Is that a norm that's broken?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think it's incredible though to, when you think about this, when I was thinking about this issue and reading about this, Don-- when we start covering these confirmation hearings for Donald Trump, we're going to also have to talk about the fact that Harry Reid and the Democrats, they also changed the rules so that the appointments are going to be a little bit easier to get through for Donald Trump.

Now that's unintended consequences and Harry Reid says that he stands by that decision. But I think that we've seen at least a little bit of the eroding of the norms and traditions that we've talked about. And now we're seeing this in North Carolina. I think it is, if I was living in North Carolina and I was a Democrat, I would say, "Oh my gosh, what's going on?" But at the end of the day, this is how governments work, and it worked all that way from, all the way to the national level.

CHUCK TODD:

I have to say, I think you all are making valid points. All of this is why so many people are angry with this system in general. Anyway I'll be back in 45 seconds with our endgame segment and some college sports, the electoral college, that is. What will happen tomorrow?

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with endgame. As you heard from John Podesta, there's not an official call to have the electoral college and the electors of Hillary Clinton to do anything. But S.N.L. had a little bit of fun. Their Hillary Clinton had another idea, borrowing from the movie Love Actually. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

Saturday Night Live skit (music only.)

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

A little fun there. Jeff, you are oddly an expert in the electoral college thanks to fiction. You wrote a book that, the geek in me when I was, I think, 22, gobbled up. It was a fictionalized account of what would the electoral college do if the president-elect suddenly died before the electors voted. What could happen tomorrow? What kind of craziness could happen?

JEFF GREENFIELD:

Because Trump is alive and well, the electors are bound in some cases, allegedly, legally, more morally to vote for him. If you concocted a result where Trump only had two electors more than needed, the way Bush did, I would think tomorrow could be a really interesting story. Without getting into the C-SPAN seven lecture of basically it's Chutes and Ladders.

No matter what happens, if there are electors enough to defect, it will go into the House and they'll elect Trump. The Congress has to decide whether those votes are legal then. So it's a fantasy, I'd have a new kitchen somewhere that, you know? It's a fantasy.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it does call into question though, if you don't believe these electors should think for themselves, then should we get it out of the constitution? Still have the version of electoral college, but it's simply points. Should there no longer be individuals as electors if we're never going to allow them to overturn the result?

JEFF GREENFIELD:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Anybody else? Do you get where I'm going here?

RICK SANTELLI:

I totally agree. But I think the premise of the electoral college needs to remain intact. I like your point system. Due to the issue of small states/big states. But yes, I think something could be modified to protect the spirit, but make it a little bit more 21st century.

KATTY KAY:

You mean to take the traditions and the norms.

CHUCK TODD:

Uh-oh.

RICK SANTELLI:

No, traditions and norms aren't rules in the constitution. There's a difference between a tradition and a law.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think about our history with the electoral college, and at least some of it, even though not all of it is deep in this idea of slavery, this idea of the South. And people that looks like me as three-fifths of a person. So I think that if we are going to look at the electoral college, I think we should make sure that we think about why it's in place. I'm not saying that we should at all take it away, but I think that we should probably in 2016 wonder if this is the best way to elect our president.

JEFF GREENFIELD:

Now if you had a direct copy of our election and you had a vote like 1960, one-tenth of 1 percent of the national vote, you would have recounts in all 50 states, it would make 2000 look like a tea party.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I think it would have taken us to 1980 to find out who won the '60 election. And anyway, I've got to leave it there. That's all we have for today. We'll be back next week, yes on Christmas day. We will be back. Because if it's Sunday, no matter, Christmas or not, it's Meet the Press.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***