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Meet the Press - July 16, 2017

Jay Sekulow, Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. John Cornyn, Danielle Pletka, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Al Cadenas, Tom Brokaw

NBC News - Meet The Press


CHUCK TODD: This Sunday the drip, drip, drip of Team Trump's meeting with the Russians.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting.


CHUCK TODD: All week long, revelations render the administration's previous statement inoperative.

SEN. VAN HOLLEN: These guys just can't come clean. And it tells the country that they have a lot to hide.

CHUCK TODD: And it's not just Democrats speaking out.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: This is a serious situation. One is a long way from over.

CHUCK TODD: What happened at that meeting? Why is the White House so reluctant to come clean and how much did President Trump know about the meeting before? I'll ask President Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow and the leading Democrat in the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner. Also the Republican health care bill.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I am sitting in the oval office with a pen in hand waiting for our senators to give it to me.

CHUCK TODD: But the vote is now delayed because of a health scare for John McCain. Will the delay help or hurt the bill's chances? I'll talk to the man who counts the votes, John Cornyn of Texas. And what do voters in Trump country think of the president right now? The latest from a special new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal survey.

Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, former head of the American Conservative Union Al Cardenas, 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.

CHUCK TODD: Good Sunday morning. To those who remember Watergate the seminal moment may have been when White House counsel John Dean said he'd told President Nixon there was a cancer on the presidency. This appears to be the week that the Russia story has metastasized.

The gap between the original story Donald Trump Jr. told and what we have learned to be the truth grows by the day. And with each new piece of evidence the White House is forced to revise and extend its remarks. In one week we move from the White House and Trump Jr. denying ever having met with Russians, through a series of concessions and evolving explanations offered only after reporters had uncovered new facts, to where we are now. That Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, a Russian lawyer, a lobbyist suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence, an interpreter and maybe others met at Trump Tower during the campaign to discuss dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Is there more? Was it collusion? Aiding and abetting? Treason, as some Democrats charge? Simple opposition research, as President Trump has claimed? Was it even illegal? To be sure, there are many unanswered questions. But here's what we know right now, the Trump team was open to getting information from Russians and willing to cover it up.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man.

CHUCK TODD: Over the course of seven days a head snapping series of statements. Story number one, there were no contacts with Russians and the Putin regime during the campaign.

PAUL MANAFORT: It's absurd. And, you know, there's no basis to it.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does.

CHUCK TODD: But last Saturday the New York Times reports there was a meeting on June 9th, 2016. Story number two, a meeting did occur with a Russian person, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort all attend.

REINCE PRIEBUS: It was a very short meeting. It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption. And after about 20 minutes the meeting ended. And that was the end of it.

CHUCK TODD: Later that Sunday the New York Times reports that Donald Trump Jr. took the meeting after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Story number three.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: The comments they were making about any type of information on Hillary Clinton were vague. They were meaningless. Others exited the meeting very quickly.

CHUCK TODD: Then on Tuesday with the New York Times ready to publish the email exchange Donald Trump Jr. tweets it himself including a June 3rd email offering, quote, "Information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father."

The meeting's broker, publicist Rob Goldstone, adding, "This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information. But is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump." Trump Jr. responds, "If it's what you say, I love it. Especially later in the summer." Tuesday night, story number four.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: For me this is opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I've been hearing about but that were probably under-reported for, you know, years, not just during the campaign. So I think I wanted to hear it out. But really it went nowhere.

CHUCK TODD: And in Paris President Trump tries to justify the idea of campaign meetings with Russians, contact he has denied for months.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research.

CHUCK TODD: Donald Trump Jr. promises the whole story is now out.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: I'm more than happy to be transparent about it. And I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone.

REPORTER: So as far as you know, as far as this incident's concerned, this is all of it.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: This is everything. This is everything.

CHUCK TODD: But it isn't everything. Not even in regard to this single meeting. Over the next three days the number of participants in this meeting multiplies. NBC learns that in addition to the Kremlin-connected lawyer, a former counter-intelligence officer turned lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, was also there. And there was a translator present. And some Republicans in Capitol Hill are losing patience.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: It's serious and this is a serious situation and one that is a long way from over.


CHUCK TODD: Joining me now is President Trump’s attorney -- one of President Trump’s attorneys -- Jay Sekulow. Mr. Sekulow, welcome back to Meet the Press. Good morning.


CHUCK TODD: Let me start with this - let’s try to clear this up - as best as you can - do you know for sure everyone who was at that meeting with Donald Trump Jr.?

JAY SEKULOW: No, I don’t represent Donald Trump Jr. and I do not know everyone for sure that was at that meeting. And the president was not at that meeting. I can tell you he was not there. The president wasn’t aware of the meeting and did not attend it. That I can tell you.

CHUCK TODD: When did the president become aware of this meeting?

JAY SEKULOW: Well, the president said he became aware of it very recently, right before this came out, and that’s when he was notified. His lawyers talked to him about it right before. And, again, the president’s been very clear on that.

CHUCK TODD: When did you find out about it?

JAY SEKULOW: About the same time. In fact, almost exactly the same time. And this was really, as the president said, right before the whole issue started developing. I think the president used the term “recently” or “relatively recently.” It was in days before leading up to this matter.


JAY SEKULOW: By the way --

CHUCK TODD: Why did you only find out then? I mean that’s a -- is that a concern to you that you’re not getting all the information you need?

JAY SEKULOW: We don’t represent Donald Trump Jr. We don’t represent the campaign. We represent the president. So, in that sense, we didn’t have access to the information. We don’t have control of data like that. The president doesn’t have control of data like that. That was information that either Donald Trump Jr. had or the campaign had or wherever the information was stored. That would not have been information that the president of the United States would have had.

CHUCK TODD: Can you tell me about the reports that the president was involved in the initial response that Donald Trump Jr. gave the New York Times.

JAY SEKULOW: So I read those reports as well and the president was not -- did not -- draft the response. The response came from Donald Trump Jr. and -- I’m sure -- in consultation with his lawyer. So that is where that statement -- again, I think it’s important to understand what this was. When the information -- as the information was to be released, a few days later, but as the information became public, our understanding is -- my understanding is -- that Donald Trump Jr. and his lawyer worked on a statement to make regarding the scope of the meeting. And the scope of the meeting -- what was discussed at the meeting -- actually ended up being more about the Magnitsky Act than anything else. Which, by the way, is not unusual because days after, literally the next day or two, the same lawyer that has the Russia affiliation was down in Washington pitching the Magnitsky Act repeal. So that’s really what this was about.

CHUCK TODD: You were very careful to say the president didn’t draft the statement. That isn’t what I asked. Did the president get a heads up on the statement? Did he sign off on the statement? Was he asked to read the statement before it was given to the New York Times on Air Force One?

JAY SEKULOW: No, I mean, I can’t say whether the president was told the statement was going to be coming from his son on that. I didn’t have that conversation and let me say this -- but I do want to be clear -- that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr. So that’s what I can tell you because that’s what we know. And Donald Trump Jr. has said the same thing. That it was, in fact, from him and I believe it was his lawyer was in consultation -- I’m sure his lawyer was in consultation.

CHUCK TODD: You keep saying you don’t represent Donald Trump Jr. But can you explain why it took -- why it’s taken six days to continue to find out more people who were in this meeting, more discussions about those emails, why was all this trickled out like this? Why -- it looks like a pattern of trying to at least - if not total cover it up, at least mislead or deceive...

JAY SEKULOW: Well, look, you start with -- you use the phrase, Chuck, cover up. Let’s be realistic here. You’ve had lawyers on your broadcast and NBC’s had lawyers on their network and everybody’s coming to the same conclusion regarding the legality; there’s nothing illegal about that meeting. So that’s number one. It’s not covering up. That’s a big word to use. But there was nothing illegal to cover up. With regard to how the information came out, as I said, that was information that was controlled, not by my client, not by the president, it was controlled by Donald Trump Jr. and they made a decision on how to release that out. That is a decision they made. The president was not involved in that decision. I was not involved in that decision. Our lawyers were not involved in that decision.

CHUCK TODD: The president once again has referred to this Russia story as a hoax. How do you refer to something as a hoax, when you have an email like this, with Donald Trump Jr. saying “I love it” when he finds out there’s information coming from the Russians? At this point, can’t reasonable people conclude that this meeting is enough to begin an investigation?

JAY SEKULOW: Well, here’s the problem with this. And I’ve said this before and I’d appreciate the opportunity to be very clear on this with you. How did this all start? And that’s important here. James Comey had a meeting with the president of the United States, where he took information about this private meeting with the president, put it on his government computer, went to his government office and decides, after he gets fired, to leak a conversation he had with the president of the United States to a friend of his to then leak it to a reporter. For what purpose? For the sole purpose of obtaining a special counsel which was appointed a few days later.

So the basis upon which this entire special counsel investigation is taking place is based on what? Illegally leaked information that was a conversation of the president of the United States with the, then-F.B.I. director. And that to me is problematic from the outset. And I think that raises very serious legal issues as to the scope and nature of what really can take place. And I go back to the other statement, Chuck, and that is, again, the meeting, in and of itself, of course, not an illegal act.

CHUCK TODD: Mr. Sekulow, I didn't ask you about James Comey. I asked you about the specific email.

JAY SEKULOW: Yeah, but--

CHUCK TODD: No I asked you about the specific email. Can't reasonable conclude that because of what was said in that email between Donald Trump Jr. and Mr. Goldstone, the British publicist and what he claimed this was coming from the Russian, can't reasonable people say, "That's enough to trigger an investigation." I take you at your word that there's no illegal act there yet. But is that not--

JAY SEKULOW: Well, if there's not an--

CHUCK TODD: --a trigger for an investigation?

JAY SEKULOW: Well, here's the thing. Donald Trump Jr. said he cooperate with anybody. He made that very clear when he was on air talking about it. And again, as the lawyer, Chuck, and you have to understand this, as the lawyer, I look at what would-- you say doesn't this trigger an investigation.

If there's an investigation you're looking at what law may have been violated here. And again, the meeting and what took place at the meeting based on all the information that you just said is not a violation of any law, statute or code. So again, I raise that question, by the way, with former Director Comey because that's the basis upon which all that started. And I think it's important to have the full context. You asked a full question, I gave a full answer.

CHUCK TODD: I understand that. Let's take you at your word and the leak that James Comey, you know, leaking the conversation. Why does that make the president's actions any more honorable?

JAY SEKULOW: Well, what was the president's action that's not honorable? What did the president do in the context of this that was not honorable?

CHUCK TODD: Well, he fired-- he said he fired -- the F.B.I. director and one of the motivations was the Russia investigation.

JAY SEKULOW: He said he fired the F.B.I. director, which he has appropriate-- and James Comey testified, Chuck, under oath, that he had the authority to fire him.

CHUCK TODD: Nobody said he didn't have the authority.

JAY SEKULOW: And that he is--

CHUCK TODD: But what I understand--

JAY SEKULOW: Well, it's an article two power of the constitution. It's not an insignificant matter. He has the authority to fire James Comey and he did. Look, this whole thing about if you're going towards conflating the Russia investigation with these allegations on obstruction, the position on that, and I've been on your broadcast a couple of times talking about this, the idea that the president of the United States fired James Comey cannot raise to the level of obstruction of justice. And you've had a lot of people on this network saying exactly the same thing.

CHUCK TODD: When you were here in June you said that you were adamant that the president himself is not under investigation.


CHUCK TODD: Is that still operative today?

JAY SEKULOW: Yes. Nothing has changed since not only when I was here but nothing has changed since when James Comey told the president he was not under investigation on three different occasions. And we have no notification of any investigation going on with the president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD: And what's your understanding of what Special Counsel Bob Mueller is investigating if he's not investigating the president?

JAY SEKULOW: I think, you know, I'm not going to speculate as to what he's investigating. I haven't talked with Bob Mueller. I haven't discussed this issue with him. So he has a mandate, as you saw, where everybody knows the mandate that came from the Department of Justice to look at Russia engagement in the electoral campaigns.

He'll look at that. Was there hacking? Those kind of information. So he has that mandate. He's looking at it. What I laid out for you is, as your question was, as to the president, there's been no indication from special counsel or anyone else that the president is under investigation for anything here.

CHUCK TODD: All right, Jay Sekulow, I'm going to leave it there. Mr. Sekulow, thanks for coming on to Meet the Press.

JAY SEKULOW: Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: Sharing your views. Appreciate it.

JAY SEKULOW: Call me Jay anytime, Chuck. You don't have to call me Mr. Sekulow.

CHUCK TODD: Fair enough. Thank you, Jay.

JAY SEKULOW: All right.

CHUCK TODD: Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

CHUCK TODD: Earlier this morning, I spoke with Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Of course, he’s the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I began by asking him when he first learned about the Trump Jr. meeting.


SEN. MARK WARNER: I'm not going to get into when we knew about this meeting. But I would say this meeting is very significant in terms of all that's happened. A year ago senior members of the Trump campaign knew that there was a Russian government effort to try to intervene to help Mr. Trump hurt Hillary Clinton.

And so all of these denials from the president himself, to Donald Trump Jr., to Paul Manafort, all these denials were clearly false because they knew about this effort and they just failed to reveal it. And that's very, very significant.

This is the first time the public is now seeing in black and white, there's no effort to disguise, that there was a Russian government effort. And not only were the Trump senior campaign officials, you know, having this meeting. But they were anxious to have it and anxious to get this information.

CHUCK TODD: Now I understand you said you didn't want to get into it. But there's two members of the Intel Committee that have given conflicting statements about whether you guys knew of the existence of this meeting. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Republican, said you knew the existence of the meeting. Not necessarily emails. Roy Blunt told me that he did not know about this meeting. And he's also on the Intel Committee. Republican Missouri. Can you clear this up?

SEN. MARK WARNER: Chuck, all I can tell you is we don't share what we know and when we knew it. The fact is this information has now come to light and all of these efforts to say there was only smoke and there's no fire, well, that's all been put to rest. This is clearly brings the investigation to a new level and makes our effort all the more important.

CHUCK TODD: How many other meetings because of updated forms, say, by Jared Kushner and others do you want to know the details of? Sometimes you see on these forms they met with so and so but you don't know the details of the meeting. How many of those meetings are there? Five, six, ten, a couple? Can you at least shed some light on that?

SEN. MARK WARNER: Well, Chuck, we don't really know because so far all of the Trump officials have conveniently forgotten about any meetings with Russians until they see evidence of it. And we've seen the results of that, the national security advisor, General Flynn was fired. The attorney general had to recuse himself.

We know that Jared Kushner who said he had no meetings with Russians has now had three meetings. We want to know the contents of all those meetings. We want to talk to Donald Trump Jr. We obviously want to talk to Mr. Manafort who had a history of dealing with pro-Russian forces. So the thing about this investigation is it feels like almost every week we find another thread that we have to pull on. Matter of fact, we still don't know for sure how many people were in this meeting that we've been talking about, there's at least six but there could be more.

CHUCK TODD: Now you said you need to talk to all these individuals. Is the committee ready to talk to them now? Or do you need to do more evidence gathering before you bring Jared Kushner before the committee, Donald Trump Jr. or Paul Manafort?

SEN. MARK WARNER: I know, Chuck, there are other committees that want to rush and bring these individuals in. We've been trying to go about this in a methodical way. Listen, I wish we were further along. I could have never though predicted that the president would have fired Jim Comey and we would've had all the time we spent on that.

I think it's very important that we get the documents first. We get the background. We've made those requests. We want to review those documents so that we can drill down and ask these individuals the relevant questions that are needed to be asked.

CHUCK TODD: Look, this investigation feels as if it grows by the day. It feels like it metastasized a bit this week. Has it come to the point where the scope of what your initial investigation was-- obviously it needs to broaden. But are there parts of this investigation that the Intel Committee just doesn't have the resources to do that they need to farm out to others?

SEN. MARK WARNER: No. I think we can cover it all. We have a counterintelligence investigation. Our job is to find the facts. Our job is not to find criminal behavior. That's the responsibility of Special Prosecutor Mueller. We are working in tandem. But we believe we have the resources and the charge to get all this information and then to try to get it out.

We're not trying to re-litigate the 2016 election. We want to know what happened in 2016. But we also want to make sure that we're prepared for when the Russians will be back in 2018. And one thing that's a real problem, Chuck, the fact that the president of the United States still refuses to unambiguously acknowledge that the Russians attacked us means that we have no whole of government approach on how we're going to deal with this problem. For example, DHS has indicated 21 states were hacked. It's my understanding that most of the secretaries of state have not even been briefed on whether their states were hacked or not.

CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you this final question, is there a difference, in your mind, between collusion and coordination? And if so, what is it?

SEN. MARK WARNER: Listen, I'm going to leave the legal questions to Bob Mueller and his team. What we want to show collusion, coordination. We want to show if clearly the Russians dealt with a number of individuals, senior officials, in the Trump campaign. Clearly the people from the Trump campaign welcomed that kind of involvement. We want to see how extensive it is. And then we will leave it up to the American people to draw their own conclusions.

CHUCK TODD: I understand. But do you believe there's a difference between collusion and simply coordination?

SEN. MARK WARNER: I've learned that there's a wide breadth between what is called in the espionage business ‘a useful idiot’ and full-fledged collusion. Where all these conversations fall, that will be something we'll try to reach some conclusions on. But we're still early on. We're just starting to talk to all these individuals who were involved with the Trump campaign who have had contacts with Russians. We need to have those conversations. And then I think we'll have a lot more to say. Sorry about the voice this morning as well.

CHUCK TODD: No worries. We'll let you go. Go get some more honey in that tea that you've got to drink. Thank you for coming on, I appreciate it, sir.

SEN. MARK WARNER: Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: You got it.


CHUCK TODD: When we come back much more on the Russia story including the critical timeline of the Trump Junior meeting right through the release of those DNC emails as part of the Democratic Convention in 2016. And then there's the battle over health care. Will the latest vote delay help or hurt the Republican bill's chances?


CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. Panelists here. Former head of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute and NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw. I want to sort of seed this conversation with this following little comp that we put together that now seems totally inoperative when it comes to the Russians and President Trump. Here it is.


FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: During the election.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of. Nobody--

FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: So you're not aware of any contact during the course of the election.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Russia is a rouse.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think the whole concept of it. There is no collusion. And everybody has said, and I think you will admit that, there is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: There is no collusion between circling myself and my campaign. But I can only speak for myself and the Russians. Zero.


CHUCK TODD: Tom Brokaw, we don't have the answer yet on collusion. But now we have a piece of evidence that is the there is there potentially.

TOM BROKAW: And if he continued to say that in public I wonder what his son was thinking at the time or Paul Manafort was thinking at the time watching all of that. Well, wait a minute, Mr. President, or dad, there's a meeting that we probably ought to make you aware of. What was stunning to me is why the president has not called in all of the principals in all this and said I want this out of the way right now. I want you to fess up to what happened we need to close this down. It's stopping everything we are trying to get done in this country. I came in saying I was going to be a very strong president. Why he felt so engaged by Putin in the first place always befuddled me a little bit. We've got health care hanging out there, we've got North Korea hanging out there. And this one keeps dribbling out in a way that is really destructive to him. And I think it's time for presidential leadership to say, "I want to get this out of the way."

CHUCK TODD: And Danielle, his lawyer said, "I'm not Donald Trump Jr.’s lawyer. I'm only going to speak for the president at this point." That's a legal argument. But they're losing the politics here.

DANIELLE PLETKA: Yeah. And I noticed that he's made it on every single network. So he's clearly thought about this. "I'm not Don Junior's lawyer. Don't ask me about that." I think you used a key word though, Tom, you said, "I wonder what the president is thinking." And increasingly what we in Washington now see is that the president doesn't spend a lot of time thinking.

And the president doesn't spend a lot of time planning. What the president and his team do is that they handle every little bit as it comes out. Now I'm not persuaded that there's a lot of collusion here. I'm not even persuaded there's a lot of coordination here. The one thing we can all be persuaded of is they are liars. They won't stop lying about things.

CHUCK TODD: That's a strong thing. Al, it seems like a lot of conservative writers this week, this news turned them. Ross Douthat, "As for the president himself, anyone presuming his innocence at this point should have all the confidence of Chris Christie awaiting his cabinet appointment." Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, "The obvious question," picking really up on what Danny just said, "If the meeting was a waste of time and a ‘nothing burger’ why lie after lie after lie?" Rich Lowry, "The way this story has unfolded with Don Junior's highly misleading accounts raises the prospect that it's something worse." Peggy Noonan, "Was it collusion? It was worse. It was classless." The point is it seems as if even conservative writers that were trying to give the president the benefit of the doubt, this is the week that they feel like they can't give it to him.

AL CARDENAS: Yeah, it's a common denominator here eliminates from the fact of how we, as conservatives, feel about Russia. And there seems to be a disconnect about our feelings towards Russia and their motives and what the White House is portraying. And that creates a tension.

Look, we have offices in Moscow. We represent global companies. One thing we know about the Russians, there's no freelancing. That meeting with this lady who was accompanied by someone else, that meeting was known to be there. There was an approval process, a structure.

Everything that happens regarding Russia and the United States has a structure and an approval process. There's no freelancing. And so we know Russia's motivation. What we don't yet understand as conservatives is why the White House so reluctant to react as aggressively as they can to the cyber-attacks, to the bait and switch, you know, they bit, hook, line and sinker all these meetings. And whole bunch of people. And yet we've got a nine-month narrative. You know, Russia has succeeded way beyond their dreams with respect to the disruption they've caused. And if I'm the White House and I'm going go with executive branch to the legislature and say, "Hey, there's got to be consequences. And I want the consequences now. And I want them spelled out." That void is what's getting the conservative movement up in arms.

CHUCK TODD: Doris, what do you make of all this?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think what happens to this story as it unfolds there's no question but that the bungled handling of it, the lack of leadership, the tweets that have come out is taking away the precious gift that a president is given. A new leader comes in, their responsibility is to set a tone for the country, to bring us to common action, to have an agenda, to mobilize the Congress, the public and the press behind their goals.

Time has been lost. Time you can never get back. Time, energy and focus. Think about the time that we lost between the time of Monica Lewinsky's first allegations and Clinton's final acquittal by the Senate - 11, 12, 13 months. We've already lost six months and this doesn't show anything of ending. Where is that special compact between a president and the leader that is going to lead them forward? It's gone.

CHUCK TODD: Tom, you were our chief White House correspondent during Watergate. Is the comparison fair? What is it? Where are we? What do you see today that looks like the same and looks different?

TOM BROKAW: I really am reluctant to do that.

CHUCK TODD: I understand.

TOM BROKAW: I really am.

CHUCK TODD: I get it.

TOM BROKAW: I thought Watergate was unique. And the part of that uniqueness was, we have to keep this in mind, it was a very detailed process, from a reportorial point of view and from a legal point of view about how the case was built brick by brick by brick.

And I think that's what the country deserves in this case is to go about it and not to entangle the two yet. But certainly there are atmospherics here that call to mind Watergate, the kind of denial of the obvious and the petty lying that is going on.

But at the same time, Watergate, I like to think, was there by itself. And this president is entangling himself in that kind of discussion that we're having here today when it's not in the interest of anyone, most of all this country. When we have so many issues before us it's got to get cleaned up.

CHUCK TODD: Does Jared Kushner-- should he leave the White House right now? His lawyers are probably giving him advice to leave. That it's not a good time to be there. But he probably doesn't want to leave.

DANIELLE PLETKA: Well, look, what do the American people dislike when they look at this, Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., and there are more. Nepotism is not really a great American thing. And it's hurting the president more than I think he realizes. But what people fail to appreciate enough I think about Donald Trump is that there's really one thing he cares about most. It's not even the Trump name. That man loves his family and he protects them even when they don't need protecting and complicates their lives, not to speak of his own leadership.

CHUCK TODD: All right, I'm going to take a pause here. You've got Russia coming up and some health care coming up. We'll have more on this story later. But Senate health care 3.0. Does it have the votes? Will it get a vote? I'm going to Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas.


CHUCK TODD: Welcome back, the path to passing the Republican health care bill may run through State houses. The nation's governors met this weekend in Rhode Island. And many of the Democratic governors and a few Republican governors expressed strong opposition to the bill.

The White House is still lobbying Republican governors hard, sending the vice president there, hoping their approval will help win over their own state's skeptical Republican senators. We learned last night, by the way, that Senator John McCain had surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye. And that as a result of not being able to travel to Washington this coming week the Senate will delay its vote. It is so precarious that Republicans needed McCain's yes vote to simply begin debate. Senator John Cornyn of Texas is the Republican whip. He is the man whose job it is to find 50 Republicans to vote yes, and send this bill to the president’s desk. Senator Cornyn, welcome back to the show, sir.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Thanks, thanks Chuck. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the delay. One of the things that raised a yellow flag in my eye was the fact that Senator McConnell didn’t seem to commit that we’re going to begin debate as soon as Senator McCain is back. Can you say, with 100 percent conviction, that you’re going to begin the debate and get this bill on the floor when Senator McCain returns to Washington?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, first of all Chuck, we all wish John McCain a speedy recovery and we need him in more ways than one. But yes, I believe that as soon as we have a full contingent of Senators that we’ll have that vote and it’s important that we do so.

CHUCK TODD: You know, what does it say that you needed that one vote just simply to bring the bill to the floor? Obviously this bill is a tough bill for -- I would say -- at least a dozen senators to vote for on your side of aisle. What does it say that one missing Republican could actually upset the entire apple cart?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, health care is hard and we know what but we have no choice to try to come to the rescue of the millions of people who are being failed as a result of the problems of Obamacare. And, yes, unfortunately, it has become a partisan issue and our democratic friends are refusing to lift a finger to help their very constituents who are being hurt. But I think Republicans have made repeated promises in elections leading up to now, that we would and we could do better and I believe that we will do better. I think this bill has actually gotten much better as a result of the discussions we’ve had amongst ourselves and I think it’s something that once we agree to that we can sell to the American people as a better choice than the failures of Obamacare.

CHUCK TODD: You got a lot of work to do with the American people. There’s a new Washington Post/ABC poll out this morning, essentially asking respondents “what do you prefer - keep Obamacare or the new Republican healthcare bill?” Two-to-one, keep Obamacare. Does the public’s opinion of the Republican healthcare bill--

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: There isn’t a Republican bill yet that’s been approved.

CHUCK TODD: So you just--

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Chuck, there’s isn’t a Republican bill that’s been agreed to by all 50 senators.

CHUCK TODD: Well, they don’t like what they’ve heard so far. What do you say to that?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, that’s mainly because all they hear is the critics, but the fact is we know millions of people are seeing sky-high premiums, unaffordable deductibles and fleeing insurance markets because insurance companies keep losing money. I’m afraid if we don’t come to the rescue of those people that we will be left with our Democratic colleagues wanting to bail out through billions of dollars to insurance companies without any reform. So what we are doing is offering a better alternative. In my state alone, 600,000 low-income Texans will get access to private insurance which they don’t currently have. That represents progress. This is hard, but we need to continue to work to make sure more people have access to medical care that they can afford, rather than this exercise of central planning and command-and-control, which has been a failure.

CHUCK TODD: One of the issues you have to get this to the floor to start debate is trust with Republican rank-and-file. Senator John Thune of South Dakota said the following: “The Republican conference chairman, third-ranking party leader, he conceded that suspicion about what can be accomplished during the vote-a-rama is challenging leadership’s ability to whip enough votes to begin debate.” Basically to translate that out of Washington speak, rank-and-file Republican senators don’t believe their amendments will be taken seriously, because leadership somehow already has a deal to kill specific amendments in order not to disrupt the contours of this bill. Do you accept the idea that there’s a lot of suspicion among Republican senators about this?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, I would call it uncertainty. This is going to be an open process where anybody, on the Democratic side or Republican side, can offer an amendment and it will get a vote. There’s no way that anybody can block it or prevent them from doing so. So I think there’s uncertainty about what the final outcome will be, I understand that. But it’s inherent in the legislative process.

CHUCK TODD: One of the things you were criticizing the Democrats back in 2010 during health care, you said the following, "Americans have already seen and rejected the way Democrats bought their way to 60 votes in the Senate, including political payoffs such as the ‘Louisiana Purchase,’ the ‘Cornhusker Kickback’ and billions of dollars in ‘Gator Aid.’"

Senator, as you know this revised bill had a special carve-out for Alaska, had money that senators from West Virginia and Ohio wanted for the opioid fund. The point is somebody from the other side of the aisle could easily say, “you guys are doing the same thing.” You have redesigned the bill specifically to get wavering votes. You accept that criticism?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: There's no state specific relief here. But what there is an attempt to try to accommodate the concerns of those states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare and those that did not. And that's the hard task ahead of us. But I believe we're making great progress as a result of the good work of the administration, particularly CMS administrator Seema Verma and Dr. Price. People are now understanding the benefits of this better care plan in terms of bringing down the price of health care and making it more available to more people as they can choose what they want at a price they can afford.

CHUCK TODD: If this health care bill does not pass, what's next? Some say it was a threat, but Senator McConnell has said it means you're going to have to work with the Democrats. Is that what happens?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, if we're not successful now I assume we'll keep trying. But at some point if Democrats won't participate in the process then we're going to have to come up with a different plan. But what I don't want to happen is for us to just do a multi-billion dollar bailout of insurance companies without any reforms.

We're willing to do what we can to shore up the system now to stabilize it to make health care available to people now. But we want reforms to go along with it. And I don't think Democrats want to change anything about Obamacare. They just want to throw more money at it.

CHUCK TODD: And one last question here, the president, once again this morning, is tweeting that the Russia investigation is a hoax. You're an ex-officio of the Intel Committee. You're very involved in this investigation. Is it a hoax?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Well, I think it's a mistake to personalize this to President Trump or Hillary Clinton or anyone else. This is Russia taking very aggressive and sophisticated ways to both through espionage and cyberattacks and propaganda to undermine public confidence in our elections and our institutions. It's a very serious matter that needs thorough investigation. I'm part of the Intelligence Committee along with Mark Warner. And we are going to get to the bottom of this.

CHUCK TODD: Does calling it--

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: But I understand the--

CHUCK TODD: --but does call it a hoax undermine trust?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: --I understand the president's frustration when James Comey told him three times he's not the target of an investigation and he wants that made public. But this is not about President Trump. This is about Russia versus the United States, in my view.

CHUCK TODD: All right, Senator Cornyn. I'm going to leave it there. Appreciate you coming on and hopefully we'll talk to you soon.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN: Thank you.

CHUCK TODD: Thank you. Quick programming note, tonight on Sunday Nightwith Megyn Kelly, Megyn talks to six female entrepreneurs about sexual harassment by venture capitalists in the tech industry. Lots of reports about how hard it is for women to work in Silicon Valley. That's tonight on Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly at 7:00 p.m. eastern. After the break back to the Russia story. The best way to figure out how significant that Trump Jr. meeting was or was not may be to follow the timeline. And that's exactly what we're going to do next.


CHUCK TODD: And we are back. A little twist on Data Download this week. We've talking a lot this morning about the timeline of this past week. But we'd like to look at the timeline of both June and July of 2016 now that we know about this meeting that took place at Trump Tower.

So let's break it all down by date. Let's start with June 3rd. That's the first email that is sent to Donald Trump Junior by publicist Rob Goldstone. In that email, Goldstone promises the younger Mr. Trump dirt on Hillary Clinton. And he explains that the information is, quote, "Part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump," unquote. June 7th, the general election officially begins when both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump officially clinch their party's nominations on that primary...last primary day. Also on June 7th, remember the meeting with the Russian lawyer is already on the books for two days later. The president said this in his victory speech.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week. And we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.


CHUCK TODD: June 9th, the meeting happens at Trump Tower. June 14th, five days later, no speech from the president, by the way. But we do get the first reports that Russian hackers penetrated the Democratic National Committee. First time it's in public that we know about this.

June 15th, very next day, it's Russia-linked hacker Guccifer 2.0 who claims credit for the DNC hack. Now, let's fast-forward a few weeks to the start of the conventions, Republican and Democratic National Conventions. July 18th, that's the first day of the Republican Convention. And that's when we get the first report that the Trump campaign essentially wants to water down or even gut a Republican Party platform statement that was anti-Russia when it comes to the issue of Ukraine.

July 22nd, the day after the Republican Convention ends, WikiLeaks publishes its first dump of stolen DNC emails. July 27th, five days later, in what became his final press conference as a presidential candidate, then nominee Donald Trump says this about Hillary Clinton's emails.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

CHUCK TODD: That's 56 days between that press conference and that first email that we now know about from Goldstone. And then from there of course Russian interference seemed to continue through election day, the Podesta emails and there you go. The timeline now, so important, not just to organize yourself, but the timeline now may be evidence. When we come back, how do people in Trump country feel about the president these days? One of the latest from an intriguing new survey that we've conducted. That’s next.


CHUCK TODD: Back now with the panel. One of my goals with that last segment was simply to try to put some of this in context. Because I think we all get, we’re so event driven even on this Russian investigation, where does it all fit in the big picture.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: There is no question that timelines are the foundation of what we do in history. So I think it’s really important to understand that. Then we can figure out were these events just facts or did they have a causal connection. Is it coincidence or is it causal. And then you’ll get a story. And the journalists are the first rough draft of history for all of us and the story they are telling now, it’s really important. And without the timelines, people always argue ‘We have so many facts in history, you need the facts,’ you have to know ‘if this, then that.’ But now it's up to us to interpret and figure out what's the connection between these facts.

AL CARDENAS: In other words, Chuck, the most significant aspect of outcome is member schedules. If your schedule is filled up 60 percent of the time with interview requests and meetings regarding Russia and other matters how much time do you personally have to dedicate to trying to consort and meet and resolve challenging issues like health care, tax reform and infrastructure. We have been limited so much in terms of the time capabilities to really have serious conversations about the issues of the day. And that's why I said earlier that Russia has won. They have disrupted America's legislative process.

DANIELLE PLETKA: It does sort of tries to pull the thread I think on this Russia stuff. And obviously journalists are writing the first draft of history. But the biggest problem with the Trump administration is there isn't any thread. We're talking about leadership before. He can't drown out the Russia story because he's not doing anything else. I don't have a sports analogy here for you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: That's all right, Dany.

DANIELLE PLETKA: I know there is one. But I just don't know what it is. But they keep just hitting at the balls that come at them rather than having a narrative. And they don't have an agenda.

CHUCK TODD: No that was pretty good.

DANIELLE PLETKA: Oh yeah. Was that okay?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Yeah, that's a sports analogy.

CHUCK TODD: That was a pretty good one.



TOM BROKAW: We also have to put this in a context. The president of the United States who's not responsible just for how his family behaves or what his last trip was, because of the health care debate and because of this Russian situation, no one is raising, once again, North Korea.

There's enormous concern in the national security and foreign policy area about how that has just been set aside. It's a very complex issue. I'm told that the Chinese don't know who they should be talking to in this administration. There is no context. There is no construct for dealing with North Korea. It comes up, the president says, "I'm going to deal with that," and then it goes away in a hurry.

CHUCK TODD: Well, you guys talk about that. How about let's just look at health care, Al. You know what, president, no speech about the bill? He's not done that. How about doing a rally in West Virginia that might pull a little pressure on Shelley Moore Capito. He's not done the things that you do to get a bill passed.

AL CARDENAS: President usually gets a list of people in his party whose districts he needs to visit and sell on a particular key matter. That's not happening. I mean, we're talking about polls, we're talking about other issues when we go do a rally. Where's the conversation about pushing the agenda and getting through the home stretch of health care?

That's got to be a concerted effort. It always has been. Those last five or six votes are so hard to get, man. You've got to work it hard. You've got to be resilient. You've got to go to people's districts. You've got to get public opinion in that district to side with you. That's how you pressure a member. How their voters think. Well, what are we doing to convince those voters that that member needs to vote in a certain way? That's a critical part of this.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I mean, on the contrary he just said the other day, "I'll be very angry with them if the Senate doesn't come up with a bill."


DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: He's part of them.



CHUCK TODD: Yeah. All right, back in 45 seconds. End game. And our latest numbers on what voters in Trump country think about the president.


CHUCK TODD: Back now with End Game. We did something a little bit different with our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. We did a separate survey that we're going to use and we're going to track over the next four years. We talked to voters in different areas who helped fuel Donald Trump's victory.

First in what we're calling surge counties. These are places where Donald Trump improved dramatically on Mitt Romney's performance in 2012. President right now, he's doing well in these areas, 56 percent in the surge counties. They approve of the president's performance. Just 40 percent disapprove. If you're wondering where these counties are, in the state of Florida it's any county that basically doesn't touch salt water. That's a good way of thinking about it.

Then there are the counties that flipped from President Obama to Donald Trump. Just 44 percent in these, quote, flip-counties approve of the president. 51 percent disapprove. If you're wondering what kind of counties are those think Macomb in Michigan, for instance.

Combine the two groups, 50 percent approve, 40 percent disapprove. Al, on one end you can look at these numbers and say, "Okay, in the places that helped get Donald Trump elected he's doing better than overall." But I could argue 56 percent is not a good number in those areas.

AL CARDENAS: Well, you can argue that. There are three things you need to do. Look, to push this stuff in a Congress that's so close in terms of votes, you need high public opinion numbers. You need those public opinion numbers high especially in the areas where you've got to get the members to vote with you. And if you look at the electoral map and you look where these senators are, those numbers are not where they need to be. And that's the states where the numbers need to be up.

TOM BROKAW: The fact is, Chuck, there's a burning fuse out there. And it's health care. And we don't know how that's going to turn out. And it could blow up into Donald Trump's face. And it could undermine a lot of the support you're seeing there.

The fact is for seven years Republican Party said, "Obamacare is a disaster. Get us in office, we'll improve it." And then they end up like kids in a bumper car. You know, they're just banging around in this arena of some kind, slamming into each other. And we don't know how it's going to turn out. And at some point from a political point of view however enthusiastic they may be about the man that's going to catch up to them.

CHUCK TODD: Well, and the different between those surge and flip voters, I think the surge voters will defend him. The flip voters, they were voting against Hillary Clinton and the establishment. That--

DANIELLE PLETKA: And they're waiting. They're waiting for the Republicans to do something. That's been the entire theme of our conversation, the lack of leadership.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: And also you think about the fact that he hasn't expanded his base beyond these voters that were already for him. And he hasn't gone to those states where they didn't vote for him. He doesn't reach out to them. He says, "We won. You lost." I mean, you can't lead like that. You have to bring people and heal this nation together.

CHUCK TODD: All right, another double down, tripled down, quadruple down. Anyway, we're out of time, space time continuum got us again. Thanks to all of you for joining us. Thank you for watching. And remember, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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