Feedback
Meet the Press

Meet the Press - June 18, 2017

NBC NEWS - MEET THE PRESS

"06.18.17"

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Russia probe grows. Is President Trump now under investigation for possible obstruction of justice? The president says he's the victim of a witch hunt.

KASIE HUNT:

Mr. President, do you believe that you are under investigation now?

CHUCK TODD:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and President Trump are building their legal teams. How serious is the threat to Mr. Trump's presidency? We'll get points of view from all sides this morning, Jay Sekulow, from President Trump's legal team, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Plus that shooting at a Republican baseball practice reminds us that toxic rhetoric can turn to real violence. Both parties say it's time to tone things down.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Let us always remember that our job is to serve and represent the whole American people.

CHUCK TODD:

But how long will that sentiment last? And Georgia on our minds, why Tuesday's special congressional election is the biggest political test yet for the Trump presidency. Joining me for insight and analysis are David Brooks of The New York Times, the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history, celebrating its 70th year, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning and happy Father's Day to all of the dads out there. Before we get to our main story for this show, we want to update you on the progress of one father in particular, Congressman Steve Scalise, who was shot at the Republican baseball practice Wednesday. His condition has improved from critical to serious.

After undergoing another surgery yesterday, the hospital says he is more responsive and is now actually speaking with his loved ones. All of us here at NBC News offer our best wishes for a speedy recovery for the Louisiana congressman, and of course all those who were injured in that tragedy.

Now back to our main focus this morning. President Trump has been in office for less than five months. And it's fair to say his presidency is now in some peril. News organizations led by The Washington Post reported this week that Mr. Trump is under investigation for possible obstruction of justice.

The president struck back on Twitter, seeming to acknowledge that that fact was true. But then a source close to his outside counsel insisted that when President Trump said, "I am being investigated for firing the F.B.I. director," that was not an acknowledgement that he was being investigated for firing the F.B.I. director.

It was another bizarre Twitter turn as both the White House and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team have been lawyering up, preparing for what appears to be a long battle with potentially historic implications. Throw in word that Mueller is also looking into the president's son-in-law's business dealings and potential interactions with Russians, and you have a presidency increasingly enveloped in crisis. And all this on a week punctuated by that frightening attack on Republican lawmakers, that exposed how thin the line can be between talk and violence.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Let us always remember that our job is to serve and represent the whole American people.

CHUCK TODD:

On a week when political rancor turned to tragedy. The horrific shooting of members of Congress was a vivid reminder that our angry, toxic politics, can lead to violence.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

We do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation's capital is here because above all, they love our country.

CHUCK TODD:

But Mr. Trump undercut his calls for unity, lashing out at his own Justice Department and at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is now investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice. On Thursday, Mr. Trump called the investigation the "single greatest witch hunt in American political history," led by some "very bad and conflicted people."

KASIE HUNT:

Do you believe that you are under investigation now?

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, he doubled down. "I am being investigated for firing the F.B.I. director by the man who told me to fire the F.B.I. director. Witch hunt." It's an apparent reference to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is not leading the investigation, and it contradicts what Mr. Trump himself told NBC's Lester Holt about why he fired James Comey.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story."

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, the president added a new powerhouse lawyer, John Dowd, to his legal defense team, after The Washington Post reported that Mueller is also investigating Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his business dealings. An attorney for Kushner tells NBC News, "We do not know what this report refers to. It would be standard practice for the special counsel to examine financial records to look for anything related to Russia." Ironically, as a candidate, Trump warned that electing his opponent would produce endless investigations, the biggest scandal since Watergate, cover-ups, and an inability to govern.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Hillary's likely to be under investigation for many years, probably concluding in a criminal trial.

CHUCK TODD:

But now it's Mr. Trump facing a protracted federal investigation, led by a special counsel, who most members of the president's own party support.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL:

I have a lot of confidence in Bob Mueller, I think it was a good choice.

KASIE HUNT:

Is Mueller's probe a witch hunt?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO

I don't view it that way.

SEN. JOHN THUNE

It's not a witch hunt.

CHUCK TODD: And joining me now is a member of President Trump’s legal team, Jay Sekulow, by the way he’s also the chief counsel for the American Center of Law and Justice. Mr. Sekulow, welcome to Meet the Press and happy father’s day.

JAY SEKULOW: Happy Father’s Day, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: Let me begin with getting some clarification here. The president tweeted earlier this week, “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” So let me start with this. When did the president become aware that he was officially under investigation by the special counsel?

JAY SEKULOW: The president is not under investigation by the special counsel. The tweet from the president was in response to the five anonymous sources that were purportedly leaking information to the Washington Post about a potential investigation of the president. But the president, as James Comey said in his testimony and we know as of today, the president has not been and is not under investigation.

CHUCK TODD: Well, I go back to the tweet. Then, why did he say he was? Was this just mistweeted? Are we not to take him at his word?

JAY SEKULOW: No, the president’s tweet was in response to The Washington Post story. So the Washington Post issued a story that had five anonymous sources, which they never identified which agencies those sources originated out of. The response from the president, using social media, was about that story. But let me be very clear here, as it has been since the beginning, the president is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction.

CHUCK TODD: Ok, then why is the president confused? Is this just that he thinks the media is correct here? I’m confused by this. Why is he not taking your legal advice or other legal advice saying “Mr. President, you’re not under investigation, so why tweet this?” This is why there is confusion.

JAY SEKULOW: Chuck, I think you’re reading more to the tweet then what’s there. The president sent out that tweet directly in response to the Washington Post story with the five anonymous un-named sources from un-named agencies. So that’s why he put that in the tweet. Look, the president has been, as you know, very effective in utilizing social media. But I want to be very clear here and very direct. The president has not been and is not under investigation. The tweet was in response to the Washington Post story with no named sources whatsoever. In fact, as you know Chuck, no named agencies whatsoever.

CHUCK TODD: Let me go to something else to that tweet. He said “by the man who told me to fire the FBI director.” I assume that is a reference to the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. He, the president himself, said he was going to fire the FBI director regardless of whatever the deputy attorney general or the attorney general said, so I’m confused there. Who made the recommendation to fire James Comey? Was it the president’s decision or was it the recommendation of the deputy attorney general?

JAY SEKULOW: Well, first of all the president ultimately makes the decision. That’s what he is is president of the United States. There’s a collaborative and discussion - very thorough process. In fact, I'm holding in my hand the letter that was sent from the attorney general of the United States with the memorandum from the deputy attorney general of the United States regarding the situation involving former F.B.I. Director Comey. And in that recommendation is a recommendation for removal. Now as you know, presidents have the ability to think about these situations not in a vacuum. There's a process. When he met with his Attorney General, when he met with his Deputy Attorney General and reviewed their recommendations on what they thought the appropriate course of action should be. Both were convinced with, as I said, with a long and very persuasive document that James Comey should be removed. But here is the irony, and Chuck, I think this is really important: if the leaks were correct about this investigation, again those are leaks, they’re not substantiated, and we have no knowledge of an investigation, but if those leaks were correct, here is what the legal theory of this case would have to be, and this would lead a serious constitutional issue right out of the beginning. You would have had the president of the United States reviewing a letter and recommendations from his department head, that would be the Attorney General of the United States, as well as others, sure he had consultation with other people and that’s the nature of these issues. And, he made a determination based on that consultation and based on that deliberative process to terminate the FBI director, as they recommended--

CHUCK TODD: But, Mr. Sekulow that is not what the president said to Lester Holt. The president said to Lester Holt that he had already made the decision to fire James Comey.

JAY SEKULOW: Well, the president…

CHUCK TODD: So, I am confused here. You just said, you just said he asked for this consultation, which, by the way let me also just say, Mr. Rosenstein, in his prepared statement in his testimony to Congress last month said “my memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination.” So, I am confused by your rationale here.

JAY SEKULOW: Well, let me just take two things. Number one, the letter to the president to the United States from the Attorney General of the United States is “...therefore, I must recommended that you remove Director James Comey and identify and experienced and qualified individual to lead the great men and women of the FBI.” That’s pretty unqualified. And, attached to that is a memorandum from the Deputy Attorney General’s office where he lays out the reason of his concern and recommendation of removal was because of the handling of the Hillary Clinton matter. But let’s take a look at what you just said, here’s what you just said, the president made the decision before. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument there was all kinds of decisions being discussed, but this crystalized that decision. The fact of the matter is the president under the constitution has the authority to make that decision. Now, he has these two memorandums from his Attorney General and his Deputy Attorney General, so here is the theory of this purported case from the Washington Post. I mean, just think about this for a minute. So the president of the United States takes action to remove the FBI director and he has a recommendation from his Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General to take that action. He is now, according to the Washington Post,being investigated by the same department who told him to take that action. That’s not constitutional. That’s not the way the constitution works.

CHUCK TODD: The question is going to be though, what was the reason behind the firing. So, let me ask you this, was the reason having to do with his handling of the Russia investigation or was it having to do with his handling of the Clinton email investigation? The reason I ask you this, is the memo that was written, the rationale by the Deputy Attorney General did not discuss Russia. The president in his interview with my colleague, Lester Holt said it was about Russia. Which is it?

JAY SEKULOW: Well, the memorandum from the Attorney General, you’re right, it’s about the Hillary

Clinton matter which was basis enough, upon which he could be terminated, and was, in fact, terminated. And that’s what the document says.

JAY SEKULOW: But you’ve raised an interesting point on the Lester Holt interview. Did you know when the president gave that full interview to Lester Holt, he said to Lester Holt from NBC News, your colleague. He said that if, in light of all of this, the removal of James Comey was going to lengthen the amount of time that this investigation would take but he thought it was in the best interest of the American people. So he was fully aware that if in fact he took this action, he would see a lengthening or could see a lengthening of the process, so you cannot view this in my mind Chuck or in any reasonable person’s mind, especially someone who is representing the president of the United States, these things in a vacuum. There’s multiple factors that come into exist but let me tell you the factor that came into exist here: The president made the determination to remove the director of the FBI after consultation with others, and that determination is protected by the Constitution. Period.

CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you this. Why does the president seem, act as if he is so concerned about this investigation if he did nothing wrong? If this investigation is going to find, and he knows he did nothing wrong, then he shouldn't be afraid of this investigation. It's being led by professionals, a guy like Robert Mueller who is not a political guy, you know he's not a partisan guy. I'm just curious, why doesn't the president embrace this investigation if he's innocent?

JAY SEKULOW: Because every day, The Washington Post and The New York Times are utilizing supposed leaked information about supposed investigations of the president of the United States. So his legal team and the president responds. But when you see a tweet, okay, or a utilization of social media, and the president has, I mean, his social media reach is over a hundred million. A little bit more than probably are watching us today. I know you have good ratings, but it reaches a lot of people. So that tweet takes, let's say, 15 seconds. This is not taking up the president of the United States day. So he's responding to what he's seeing in the media in a way in which he thinks is appropriate to talk to those people that put him in office.

CHUCK TODD: But again, you didn't answer the question. If the president is innocent, why is he afraid of this investigation?

JAY SEKULOW: He's not afraid of the investigation. There is no investigation. I want to be clear here. The tweet about the investigation--

CHUCK TODD: Well, there is an investigation into what Russia did in the 2016 election.

JAY SEKULOW: And he told James Comey, when James Comey was still the F.B.I. director, and James Comey testified to this, to continue that probe, find out what happened there. He's not worried about this. But there is not an investigation of the president of the United States, period.

CHUCK TODD: Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team, I will leave it there. Thanks for coming on this morning, on this Father’s day.

JAY SEKULOW: Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: Joining me now, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who of course is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and many focus on questioning at all these hearings over the last couple of weeks. Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MARCO RUBIO: Thanks Chuck, thank you.

CHUCK TODD: Let me begin with the latest on the Russia probe. The president tweeted the following earlier this week: "I'm being investigated for firing the F.B.I. director by the man who told me to fire the F.B.I. director. Witch hunt." Senator Dianne Feinstein, your colleague on the Intel Committee, put out this press release on Friday. "The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him, and that anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired. That's undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president's oath of office." Pretty rough words from her. She doesn't normally use language like that. Do you concur with her sentiment?

MARCO RUBIO: I think everybody just needs to keep watching this, but take a deep breath too, because the F.B.I.'s going to do its job. The F.B.I. doesn't sit around all day and read tweets. The F.B.I.'s going to do their job, Mueller's going to do his job. And she's on the committee with me, the Senate Intelligence Committee is doing its job. And the best thing that can happen for everybody, the president, the country, our institutions of government, is for a full and thorough and credible investigation that reveals everything. That's the best thing that can happen. I really believe that, including for the president. And that's what's going to happen, I believe.

CHUCK TODD: He refers to it, this week alone, I think he's referred to the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” I want to say six or seven times. That's not embracing the investigation and that's not adding to the credibility of the investigation. That seems to be an attempt to undermine the credibility of the investigation. Does that concern you?

MARCO RUBIO: Yeah, look, one thing we've learned I think from the testimony of multiple people now is the president's pretty fired up about this, okay? He, from every pronouncement we have seen, feels very strongly that he did nothing wrong, and he wants people to say that, because he feels very strongly about it. I don't think that's a mystery. And he's expressing himself in that way. That said, that in no way is going to impede any of this work from continuing. It's going to happen. Now, you've never seen a single member of law enforcement or the administration come forward and say anything different. And this is going to move forward. We're going to get the full truth out there. And I repeat, I believe that is the best thing that can happen for the president and for this administration, is for everything to come out. And I believe that it will.

CHUCK TODD: So you don’t believe these tweets are intended to send a warning to either Special Counsel Mueller or to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein?

MARCO RUBIO: I have no basis on which to make a determination what his intent is. I can tell you what its impact is. I can also tell you, I don’t think it’s any mystery, he feels pretty strongly about the fact that he did nothing wrong and he has tried to get multiple people to say that publicly, because they have told him that apparently, in private, and so he wants them to say it publically. But that in no way is going to impede the work. The work is moving forward and I think it’s important for us and everyone to understand that. And, if that changes, then we will have a different conversation on the air. But, that’s not what is happening right now.

CHUCK TODD: Do you think the president’s legal team is disputing the notion that he is currently under investigation for obstruction of justice. Do you think it would be appropriate for the special counsel at this point, considering the confusion behind the firing of the FBI director, do you think it would be appropriate if he were investigating the president on this? An investigation doesn’t mean guilt, an investigation simply means investigating. Do you think it’s an appropriate investigation?

MARCO RUBIO: Well first, you said it doesn’t mean guilt. Just to understand, a lot of times, that is how it is portrayed. No one ever wants to be under investigation, even if you did nothing wrong, because it has negative connotations. That said, I think they should look at everything--look at it all. As I said, I think it will be good for the president, good for the country to have a full and credible investigation so no one can ever say, you didn’t look at this or you didn’t look at that. That’s what needs to happen, I believe that’s what will happen. And the result of that will be good for America, so that we can move on to take on some of the other important issues that are confronting us.

CHUCK TODD: There has been some concern, I think, by some of your colleagues that the administration doesn’t take this very seriously--what Russia did. I want to play for you a response from the Attorney General earlier this week that was quite stunning. Here is is:

(CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS: I know nothing but what I have read in the paper. I have never received any detailed briefing on how hacking occurred or how information was alleged to have influenced the campaign.

(END OF CLIP)

CHUCK TODD: Did you find it startling that a member of the National Security Council hasn’t had a briefing on what Russia did to, in the election, what the intelligence community said. It seemed to be, stunning to me, that a member of the president’s National Security Council, because that would imply that the president’s National Security Council is not even discussing this issue.

MARCO RUBIO: Well, let me say to you this, yes. The initial reaction people would have to this is “Wow, somebody, even the Attorney General has not been briefed on Russia’s interference.” But then you realize the reverse, and that is, if he had been briefed, then what we would be talking about today was whether that was appropriate because he is recused from having anything having to do with the 2016 election and Russia. So, it’s kind of a Catch-22, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, in regards to that. As far as the general theme of Russia’s interference, the president has said he doesn’t believe it, I believe it, and not only do I believe it, I know it. Almost everybody else does.

CHUCK TODD: Think about what you just said.

MARCO RUBIO: And ultimately whether he believes or not, the work is going to move forward.

CHUCK TODD: Think about what you just said. Senator, think about what you just said. The president said he doesn’t believe it. You believe it, you have seen the evidence. How stunning is that to you, that the president of the United States disputes the evidence of 17 intelligence agencies in this country?

MARCO RUBIO: Well, again, ultimately at the end of the day, he has a right to his opinion on these issues. Bottom line is, we are going to continue to do our work. You saw this week, that the Senate voted on sanctions and the president will have to make a decision about whether he will sign that or not, I hope he does. I believe there are sufficient votes in place to encourage him to do so. But, in the end we’re going to do what we believe is right--that’s what we are always going to do. We will have disagreements with the president from time to time, and hopefully, by the way, his conclusion on that will change when we issue that report.

CHUCK TODD: Yeah the more he softens -- the more the administration tries to soften the sanctions in the House, at any point do you understand if some people see that as circumstantial evidence in this probe?

MARCO RUBIO: I could understand how some people would make that argument. I could also tell you though that I personally believe that at the core of the resistance is not the president, I don’t think that the president himself has a problem with additional sanctions on Russia. I think that the concern comes from the State Department and for the following reason. They argue that that they are trying to get the Russians to be more cooperative on a number of fronts and that this could set us back. It’s a legitimate argument, I’ve thought about it, I don’t agree with it. And you saw a majority of my colleagues didn’t agree with it this week.

CHUCK TODD: Senator Marco Rubio. As always sir, thanks for coming on, sharing your views. And by the way, happy father's day.

MARCO RUBIO: Thank you, likewise. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD: You got it.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, we're going to hear from the other side, or the third side, if you will. Senator Angus King of Maine who of course caucuses with the Democrats. And as we go to break, a reminder of some of the bipartisan calls to tone down the rhetoric after the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and three others this week.

(CLIP)

PAUL RYAN: We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

NANCY PELOSI: You'll hear me say something you've never heard me say before. I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.

(END CLIP)

**** COMMERCIAL BREAK ****

(BEGIN TAPE)

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

I'm not talking about the campaign, I'm talking about what the Russians did. You received no briefing on the Russian active measures in connection with the 2016 election?

ATT. GEN. JEFF SESSIONS:

No. I don't believe I ever did.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. That was Senator Angus King there questioning Attorney General Jess Sessions this week about what, if anything, Sessions has learned about Russian interference in the presidential election. And Senator King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats joins me now from his home state of Maine. Senator King, welcome back to the show, sir.

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Chuck, great to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, your colleague, Senator Rubio, you may have heard him, I actually asked him to react to that answer that the attorney general gave to you. And while he acknowledged that that might be stunning or surprising to some that the attorney general didn't get briefed, that it was a catch-22, that if he were, then hey, he's recused himself, and that would be getting him too involved. Is that a fair defense of the attorney general in this?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

I don't think so, because the attorney general didn't recuse himself I think until sometime in March. And we're talking about a period where he was a senior foreign policy advisor to the president from through the election, through the transition, through January into February. So I can't imagine coming into office with this fact of this Russian engagement in our election and not digging into it.

I believe it's one of the most serious attacks we've had on our country in recent years. And the president doesn't seem interested in it either. Mr. Comey testified he had nine interactions with him before he was fired. In none of those did the president say, "What did the Russians do? How did they do it? How do you know they did it? And what can we do about it?" This is serious stuff. And all of this Trump, Comey, and obstruction of justice is sort of obscuring the underlying, what I think is really the big story.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe that lack of curiosity is circumstantial evidence in and of itself?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, I'm not going to be talking about circumstantial evidence one way or the other. But I think the president's got it in his mind that this isn't real. And I just wish he'd sit down, quietly, with some of the professionals, Mike Rogers at N.S.A. or the people at the F.B.I. who did the investigation or talk to Jim Clapper, one of the most credible people ever to serve in the United States government, get the facts and quit denying it.

I think he thinks it undermines his election. And we've got to put that aside. The real problem here Chuck is the Russians aren't going away. This isn't a one-off deal. They're going to come after us in 2018, 2020. And as Marco Rubio keeps saying in the committee, this could very easily work in the opposite way. Putin is not a Republican.

CHUCK TODD:

Given the various tweets this week that the president, and I've put them up a few times, I won't repeat them again here, but the idea that he's upset apparently with the deputy attorney general, and his managing, I guess, of the special counsel, do you, number one, think the deputy attorney general now needs to recuse himself because he was at least consulted on the Comey firing?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, I don't know about recuse himself, that's going to be his decision. But I think definitely he's going to be interviewed by the special counsel because of his involvement with the president. And you put your finger on it in the prior discussion.

CHUCK TODD:

Can you oversee an investigation that you're going to be a witness on?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, I don't know quite what oversee means in that context. Bob Mueller has special, more or less, independence. And he's going to pursue this. Your long discussion with the president's lawyer is just going to be a matter of time. I mean, we don't need to decide or argue about it today, whether or not the president's under investigation. Mueller will investigate what he thinks is important and we'll find out in a matter of time whether he's following up on the question of obstruction of justice.

CHUCK TODD:

There was one of the tweets this week, the president sort of indicated that the collusion aspect of the investigation is over. Now they're coming after him on obstruction of justice. But let me ask you this. Where is the Senate Intel Committee on this investigation timetable wise? Are you in the beginning of this investigation, the middle of it, I know you don't know the exact end date of when you think you'll be able to draw a conclusion, but at least give me some sense of where you are.

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, first I can say categorically that the collusion, the cooperation aspect of the investigation is not over. And as far as that goes, I'd say we're 20% into it, just to throw a number at it. A lot of people have said, "When do you think you'll be done?" Maybe the end of the year. This is a very complex matter, involving thousands of pages of intelligence documents, lots of witnesses. There's a lot of information yet to go.

CHUCK TODD:

What's the difference in your mind between collusion and coordination?

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Well, I think that's the crucial question. Well, both of those are disturbing if either exist. Let's take coordination, which I think is a lighter word than collusion. But the real question is, were there people in the Trump campaign, not necessarily the president or the candidate, who were in contact with the Russians and sort of sharing information and cooperating in terms of how the Russians were acting in the later stages of the campaign.

And that's the question that we're looking at. But don't forget, Chuck, the underlying question is that the Russians tried to screw around with our elections and also with the state election system, which I find really scary. We're going to have a hearing on that this week. And that may ultimately be the most dangerous part of this.

CHUCK TODD:

And we keep hearing more and more on that as well. Unfortunately, I'm running a little bit late on time. Senator King, as always sir, thank you for coming on and sharing your views. I appreciate it. And happy Father's Day, sir.

SENATOR ANGUS KING:

Same to you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. Later in the broadcast, much more on the Russia investigation. And on Tuesday a special congressional election in suburban Atlanta. How the results there could spread far beyond Georgia. And as we go to break, here's Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, the day of the gun attack on Republican lawmakers.

(CLIP)

REP. JIM HIMES:

A weird tone was used a lot this morning. You have town hall meetings and people shouting. This morning was a real reminder that we're actually, as leaders, we are responsible for trying to set as civil and as constructive a tone as we can.

(END CLIP)

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and Eugene Robinson, columnist for The Washington Post. Welcome all. You've heard all the interviews. David Brooks, do you have any better sense of where the president is this morning on this investigation?

DAVID BROOKS:

I'm actually getting more uncomfortable with this whole deal, thinking that maybe we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. And I'm bothered by the lack of emerging evidence about the underlying crime, that there was actually collusion or coordination between the Trump White House.

And so what's happened is we've surrounded the president with this legal minefield, and Donald Trump being Donald Trump, steps all over the legal minefield and blows them up six ways from Sunday. But it's become an investigation about itself. And you know, I've lived through Whitewater, I've lived through a lot of these. And there's a lot of shady behavior that don't rise to the Watergate level. And I'm just afraid we're being swallowed up by the politics of scandal, when there's less and less evidence that they actually colluded. And maybe that'll come out, but so far it hasn't, and it bothers me.

AMY WALTER:

Yeah, I'm absolutely with you on that. I thought the most striking part though was when Jay Sekulow said that the president's very effective in his use of social media. And yet, what's pretty clear is that his use of social media has gotten him into the predicament that he's in. That you live by Twitter and you die by Twitter.

And the whole reason that we're having this discussion in the first place is the fact that he tweeted out the possibility that there are tapes of Jim Comey, right? The fact that he went on television and said what he said to Lester Holt. The fact that he tweeted the tweet that you talked about today on this show. So that at the end of the day, what evidence is there is not quite going to be as relevant as what he's doing during the investigation, not what the investigation's actually about.

CHUCK TODD:

Fog of war?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, look.

CHUCK TODD:

Because in some way, is there a fog?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

There's a lot of fog. But I don't see why we should be that concerned that we don't have the smoking gun yet. We're still clearing away the smoke. It seems to me the investigation will go on. And either they will find evidence of collusion or they will not. But obstruction of justice is not a small matter.

And there are ways to go through an investigation without obstructing justice. The president's tweets are statements by the president of the United States. They can't be ignored or dismissed as, "Well, that's just social media." In fact, I can argue they're more important than the chopped and processed statements that come out of the White House press office or out of his attorneys. These come from the mind and the thumbs of the president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Dani?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I have to say something first. Happy birthday Sophie.

CHUCK TODD:

You're getting that out there no matter what.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I know. I'm getting that out there no matter what. That's my middle daughter, she's turning 18 today. Now let's talk about what we're here to talk about. Look, I think David is exactly right. All along, what you hear behind the scenes in Washington is, "Eh, there isn't any 'there' there about the Russia collusion, about the Russia investigation."

All we're talking about all the time is Donald Trump stepping on those mines, Donald Trump tweeting, Donald Trump's lawyers and his staff trying to keep up with all of the different things that he's saying. We're not actually talking about what the Russians are up to or even whether the president has the right to fire the F.B.I. director.

CHUCK TODD:

But neither does the president.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

eah, but that's the president--

CHUCK TODD:

Isn't that concerning at all?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But that's the president's problem, isn't it? It is that we should be talking about Iran or the USS Fitzgerald, or Scalise, or something like that today. Instead, we're talking about the president's tweets this morning.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But one element of the investigation that Bob Mueller is conducting is financial dealings with Russian oligarchs or Russian state-sponsored businesses, or whatever, by principles in the Trump campaign, presumably including the president, including Jared Kushner. There's a lot being investigated here. And I just think it's premature to say, "Well, there's no 'there' there."

AMY WALTER:

I don't think any of us want to suggest that there was no misbehavior by either Hillary Clinton or by Donald Trump or by people around them. The point is that we know in Washington D.C. that once you have a special prosecutor, it will become about the investigation. No one ever gets put in prison or charged for the crime. They get charged for lying to the prosecutors or for obstruction.

CHUCK TODD:

It's interesting. On the witch hunt thing, he has said it a bunch of times. And somebody sent this morning a reminder, I think the president has used "witch hunt" nine times. Here is a headline of The Washington Post from July 22nd, 1973, that says this, "Nixon sees witch hunt, insiders say." Byline by a couple of guys named Woodward and Bernstein. It sounds as if that you believe, David, the president is... It does seem the more focus there is on the obstruction of justice, is it or isn't it, does it actually benefit him because there's not a focus on what the Russians did?

DAVID BROOKS:

Well, no, because there is an underlying problem here. I do think it's semi-witch hunt, unless the evidence there's actually evidence of collusion. The problem for Trump is that he is a person who values personal loyalty. He has basically a tribal mentality. And he's surrounded by a modern government, which is a government of laws.

And so he walks over every single legal structure, and we surround him with a legal structure he's walking all over. That's a genuine problem. And I have 967 problems with Trump as president. But the Russia collusion happens to be number 547. And we've surrounded him with this when I think there are a lot of others.

AMY WALTER:

And it's not just Watergate. If you go back and you look during the Monica Lewinski and the grand jury.

CHUCK TODD:

Witch hunt is a favorite.

AMY WALTER:

Witch hunt was very good.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a favorite spin phrase.

AMY WALTER:

You just sort of flip the script, right? You heard Democrats talking number one upset about the leaks that came from Ken Starr's office, going after Ken Starr personally. So none of that is new. What's new is the fact that the president's making it that much harder for his defenders. And Marco Rubio comes on there and makes a very good point which is, "Let's just let this investigation play out." But he is preventing it. The president himself is preventing.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and that gets to the problem is that this president can't compartmentalize.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, I don't think he understands what being president is all about. Presidenting is difficult. And what you really need to do is focus--

CHUCK TODD:

I think you just inventing a word there, presidenting.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It felt good. Look, what this is about is actually governance. And he doesn't want to govern. He wants to campaign. If what you want to do is campaign, then you've got to fight all the time. The other stuff is boring.

CHUCK TODD:

Interesting. All right. We're going to pause it here. When we come back, why Tuesday's vote in Georgia will be the most important special election ever. Or maybe not. We'll be right back.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time. The hotly anticipated special election in the Georgia Sixth Congressional District is finally here. This Tuesday, all eyes turn to Democrat John Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel. Depending on how you look at it, this race could be a key bellwether for the next year's midterms, or it could be a way overhyped outlier with little meaning for 2018.

A few reasons why this election matters though. First, this is a test for the kind of district Democrats must win if they are going to take back the House in 2018. Places where Republicans won the House seat, Tom Price won this district by 23 points, and Donald Trump struggled. In fact, there are 23 districts where a Republican won the House seat, but Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote.

If Ossoff wins here, it suggests Republicans in those districts have a lot to worry about. Second, education. Republicans are losing educate voters. Of the ten top districts for college-educated voters, Democrats won nine of them in 2016.

Georgia's Sixth was the only one they lost. So if they can't win swing districts like this, their chances of taking back the House are extraordinarily slim.

Now, a few reasons why this race may be an outlier, and you should hold off on some of the hype. First, money. So far, nearly $40 million has been spent on TV ads alone in one House race. That's $10 million more than the total spent on the most expensive House race in American history. It's unique. Next, there's no popular incumbent running.

That does matter. Tom Price won 62% of the vote in this district in November. But 118 Republicans in Congress did even better in their districts. So the Georgia Sixth is more the exception than the rule. And don't forget, with all of the national attention on this House race, turnout is likely to be much higher than an average midterm race. So folks, look, we're living in an unpredictable political time and there's no telling what the fall of 2018 will look like.

So no matter who wins Tuesday, there's going to be a lot of spin from both sides. But the way conventional political wisdom keeps getting upended, don't be surprised if the big news Tuesday night comes out of the South Carolina Fifth Congressional District. Don't forget there's a special election there too. When we come back, what are the chances that that awful shooting at the Republican baseball practice this week will actually lead to a change in tone in Washington and across the country?

*** COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

We're back now with the panel. Just saw that Georgia Sixth. Amy, you do House races more than anybody at this table. That's how you started your career here. Georgia's Sixth, the importance of it. Why does it matter and what's overhyped?

AMY WALTER:

I think you laid it out perfectly. This is the kind of district that Democrats need to win. And there are other suburban, well-educated districts that Democrats are competing in in 2018, already have candidates there. But if they don't win in this special election, it's going to be a big sort of depressing moment for them.

CHUCK TODD:

Wah wah.

AMY WALTER:

Wah wah, right. But, you're right. I think we overhype a lot of this. A lot of it really truly is going to be about the psychological impact that this race has. Is it going to make Democrats more excited, turn out more candidates running, raise more money for the party committees? Or if they lose, is it a way to tamp down that enthusiasm?

CHUCK TODD:

David Brooks, a lot of people are probably looking at it in Washington through the prism of his Russian problems, and all this stuff with the president. Number-one issue being debated there is healthcare. And it feels like healthcare's future for the Republicans might be what's on the ballot Tuesday.

DAVID BROOKS:

Right, and that's my theme of the morning, that we are focused and we get excited about the Russia story, the big bombs have dropped. But the voters there, from every reporting I've seen, is that they want, "Why aren't you guys getting anything done for us? The economy's still slender, the healthcare, all this other stuff, you're not helping us." And for Democrats winning over moderate, college-educated Republicans is the key. And what issue do they actually have for those people? That's something I think they haven't yet answered.

CHUCK TODD:

The healthcare issue, it's interesting. Will they pay a price, Senate Republicans, for doing this under a way that they criticized Democrats for? Here's a little montage from that criticism.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN.CHUCK GRASSLEY:

Democratic leadership worked behind closed doors, out of public view.

SEN.MITCH McCONNELL:

It's being written behind closed doors, without input from anyone in an effort to jam it past not only the Senate, but the American people.

SEN.JOHN McCain:

There's no conversation. And no one knows what's in this bill but one senator.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That was all in 2009. Now, Democrats are doing it. And I know you're shocked that hypocrisy is taking place in Washington among the two major parties. Will voters punish Republicans for that or not?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

I don't know. I don't know if they will punish Republicans for that, I don't know if they will punish Republicans for the House bill, which is wildly unpopular throughout the country. And I don't know if some Republicans will be punished for not getting anything done, if in fact this doesn't go through. So in other words, I think Republicans are much more vulnerable on the healthcare issue than Democrats are right now. And it's hard to see how anything they do really helps them a lot politically.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I think the bigger problem for the Republicans is not simply the healthcare vote, but effectiveness. At the end of the day, they haven't done anything that we need to see them do. And that's going to be what they need to bring to the people is, "Here's what we accomplished." I think even if it's controversial, if they accomplished something, they will have a good argument.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah, this healthcare bill is not just unpopular, it's epically unpopular. It's, like 17% among independents. That's horrific.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yes, but we said the same thing about Obamacare.

AMY WALTER:

Right, and they lost the House in 2010--

DANIELLE PLETKA: --Obamacare.

AMY WALTER: But as a political issue, I think it is going to be very difficult to defend. And we know what happens when we take major legislation and shove it through on a purely partisan vote.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah, that's bad.

AMY WALTER:

You lose politically.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It's bad.

DAVID BROOKS:

And the healthcare, the hospital providers, they need the coverage. Right now, Obamacare's built into their business models. And if suddenly that gets ripped away, I'm not talking about lefty Democrats, suddenly they're in a panic, and you take away a benefit, we know healthcare is how people vote. I just think this is a ruinous bill.

It's like they're keeping it secret because I'm about to hit you, but I'm not going to tell you, but then I'm going to hit you, and you will realize you just got hit. And so you're going to vote on it anyway. So you might as well just have it out in the open from the beginning.

CHUCK TODD:

You know what, buried this week is when that reporting came out that when the president met with Senate Republicans, he called the House bill “mean.”

AMY WALTER:

Mean.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Mean, right.

CHUCK TODD:

And it was like, "Oh, is that how you win over the Freedom Caucus?"

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It's staggering to watch the president. Now we go back to talking about what the president tweets and says about things behind closed doors and leaks again.

CHUCK TODD:

Leaks again. All right. We're going to pause here. After I want to talk about whether Washington will change or not based on what happened. We'll be back in 45 seconds with endgame.

* * *COMMERCIAL BREAK ***

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with endgame. David, after this shooting, it's eight members of Congress have been shot I think in the history of Congress, two in the last six years. After both Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise, one Democrat, one Republican, the immediate reaction by nonpartisans was, "Has our politics gotten too vitriolic?" I think we all believe that that's a yes. Will it change?

DAVID BROOKS:

I don't think so. The poll result that bugged me the most is in 1970, they asked people, "Would you mind if your son or daughter married somebody in the opposing party?" And it was, like, 5%. Now it's, like, 35%, 40%. It's like politics has become our religion, like, an indicator of your soul, of how you are as a friend, how you are as a person. Politics is an argument about tax rates and how we structure a healthcare bill. It's important, but it's not about your soul--

And so if you turn it into a religion, then you get lunatics like this guy who starts shooting people over some sort of religious war.

AMY WALTER:

Right. We don't disagree anymore on issues. That's not the issue, that over the last 30 years, we've pulled apart ideologically or on the policy.

CHUCK TODD: Where we've pulled apart is our feelings about each other, that we dislike each other more, not that disagree on the issues more. And that the president said that what brings people to Washington is their love of country, and I think that's fair. But we may love our country but we don't love each other. And that's the bigger problem.

CHUCK TODD:

You brought up the president. I want to bring up something here, because I wonder if he's done enough. Here's Ted Nugent pledging to change his tone. Take a listen to this.

(CLIP)

TED NUGENT:

I cannot and I will not and I encourage even my friends-slash-enemy on the left, in the Democrat and liberal world, that we have got to be civil to each other.

(END CLIP)

CHUCK TODD:

The reason I point this out is that Ted Nugent said it. And we can say, "Look, this guy's in the hall of fame of incendiary rhetoric." President Trump never said, "You know what, I'm going to tone things down this week."

EUGENE ROBINSON:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

I just think, it would have helped.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, I guess it would have helped. I mean, I think the underlying forces are more important here, frankly.

CHUCK TODD:

Totally agree.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

We have self-sorted by political views, geographically, we tend to live around people who think the way we do, and we can't imagine living where people don’t think the way do and as that continues, I just think we become more tribal. And that's where we are.

AMY WALTER:

Donald Trump actually gave a good speech.

CHUCK TODD:

He did

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And a good comment this week. And he deserves credit for that. The bigger problem is that there are larger fissures growing in our society. It's not just left and right Republicans and Democrats. It's racial, it's class, it's very much income and education levels. And that, amplified by social media and the feeling that people have, that they're in the game against others, is really what makes this so toxic.

AMY WALTER:

Well, and think about all the ads that are run by the very people who are denouncing all of the incivility in Washington, only 20% of all ads run are positive ads. The grand majority are attack ads.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, Paul Ryan's super PAC is the Kathy Griffin thing. And it's like, look, if you're outraged by it, it was disgusting, don't put it in a paid ad.

AMY WALTER:

Right.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah, I would say though when we're talking about violence, violence doesn't come from bad ads.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, exactly.

DAVID BROOKS:

Violence comes from isolated, angry guys who feel insignificant and invisible, and they're sort of psychopathic, they don't understand other people's emotions, and they just want to shoot somebody so to prove they exist to themselves and they're willing to kill themselves while doing it.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And how many presidents did we lose in the 20th century, throughout the century. So that kind of violence is anomalous. The one thing that I think is worth reminding people is that even though this is the public face, this anger, this disagreement, the truth is, there's still a lot of civility in Washington. Actually Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi talk all the time.

CHUCK TODD:

No, and not only that, I actually think this is real in Congress. I think this hit them in a way that, how could it not.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Oh, I agree, I agree, I agree.

CHUCK TODD:

This hit them in a different way. So regardless of whether we change publicly, I feel like this is going to change Congress a little bit--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

No, when you spoke to members Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, there was a very different tone and a very-- and I don't think that was artificial.

CHUCK TODD:

I get the sense that, as I always had said, if you see something, say something. If you see somebody on your side saying something vitriolic, tell them no. And I actually think these members are going to do it. I don't know. I'm going to be Pollyanna.

AMY WALTER:

You can be Pollyanna.

CHUCK TODD:

I am, you know why?

AMY WALTER:

I just think we're going to go back to our old ways very, very soon.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I want to say just very soon, not very, very. That's all we have for today. They for watching, David, Gene, happy Father's Day to both of you.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And to you.

CHUCK TODD:

And to all the dads out there, we'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***