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Meet the Press - April 1, 2018

NBC News - Meet the Press“04.01.18”

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, growing tensions with Russia. The U.S. and Russia trade expulsions of diplomats. The Russians test a new missile. And many worry about renewed Moscow-Washington tensions.

ANATOLY ANTONOV:

There is a great mistrust between-- the United States-- and Russia.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning, my interview with Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin of the Foreign Relations Committee. Plus, the president and the special counsel, what are the limits to what Bob Mueller can investigate? Should President Trump testify under oath? I'll talk to former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, and former White House Counsel for President Obama, Bob Bauer. Also, presidential reset. Mr. Trump feeling freer to follow his own instincts abroad.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.

CHUCK TODD:

And at home, firing his Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin. This morning, I ask Shulkin what he thinks is the real reason he was fired. And Roseanne's ratings.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Even look at Roseanne, look at her ratings! Look at her ratings!

CHUCK TODD:

What does the successful reboot of Roseanne tell us about the disconnect between Hollywood, the coasts and the rest of America? Joining me for insight and analysis are: syndicated columnist George Will, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, Joshua Johnson, host of 1A on NPR, and MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning, and happy Easter. It's not exactly a new Cold War, but there's no denying that relations between the U.S. and Russia are clearly at a low ebb. In just the past few weeks, the U.S. and Britain accused Russia of being behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter, and responded with mass expulsions of Russian diplomats.

Russia then expelled American and British diplomats, as well as those from some two dozen other countries that also participated in expulsions. Now Russia launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile without notifying the U.S. in advance. And President Trump named Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, and John Bolton and National Security Advisor, both of whom are seen as more hawkish on Russia than their predecessors.

But despite the tough steps he's taken, President Trump has remained remarkably muted, rhetorically, in his public statements about Vladimir Putin. Will his new team, led by John Bolton, change his tune?

So Mr. Trump seems increasingly confident in the job, unhinged or unleashed, depending on your point of view. And this week it was The Department of Veterans Affairs that found itself in the President's sights.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

That's why I've made some changes, because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump firing his VA Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday, after what was months of uncertainty.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

That'd be David. (APPLAUSE) We'll never have to use those words.

CHUCK TODD:

But this week on Twitter, President Trump did, naming the personal White House Physician Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, who, in January, trumpeted the President's health--

REAR ADMIRAL RONNY JACKSON:

Has incredibly good genes, and it's just the way God made him.

CHUCK TODD:

--to lead the federal government's second largest department. Jackson is already facing scrutiny for his lack of managerial experience.

REP. MIKE COFFMAN:

It's going to be tough. I mean I'll be frank with you, the odds are not with him.

CHUCK TODD:

It's the third firing of a top aid by tweet this month, as Mr. Trump reshapes his cabinet, bringing on more combative advisors who he believes will be loyal to him above all. Mr. Trump is freeing himself from constraints, making it clear he intends to write his own rules.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Nobody knows the system better than me. Which is why I alone can fix it.

CHUCK TODD:

He announced at a political style rally in Ohio that the United States may leave the battlefield against ISIS.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.

CHUCK TODD:

That is already raising concerns from allies nervous that the U.S. will cede Syria to Russia and Iran. And it contradicts Mr. Trump's criticism during the campaign of other presidents who signal battlefield intentions in public.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Exactly what are you going to do to beat ISIS and tell me exactly what is your plan? I said, "You know, I have a real chance of winning. I don't like telling you my plan."

CHUCK TODD:

Still unclear to what degree Mr. Trump will shift to a more aggressive rhetorical stance on Russia, after a friendly call with Putin last week against the advice of advisors--

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory.

CHUCK TODD:

--this week the U.S. expelled 60 top Russian diplomats, punishment for the Kremlin's alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. Some senior Trump administration officials are pressing for even more action, including additional sanctions, as the Special Counsel's probe into contact between Russia and Mr. Trump and his aids continue to hang over the White House.

REPORTER:

Did you ever discuss pardons?

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. He's chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. And he's fresh off a visit to Asia. Senator Johnson, welcome back to Meet the Press.

RON JOHNSON:

Happy Easter.

CHUCK TODD:

Happy Easter to you, as well. Let me start with a Eurasia country first,and that is the state of U.S-Russia relations. On one hand, you can look at it and say, "Oh, my God. This looks worse than the Cold War." On the other hand, if you just look on rhetoric with President Trump, he gets criticized, because it seems like he has nothing negative to say about President Putin. Where do you characterize this? What’s the real--

RON JOHNSON:

Well, I wish Russia were no more than a friendly rival. But unfortunately, they're an unfriendly adversary. And it's been their aggression, their, their provocations, that have really, you know, resulted in, in a relationship that is not healthy for, you know, the world, for world peace, whether you start looking at the invasion of Georgia, Crimea, eastern Ukraine. What they're doing with Iran in Syria is not helpful. We need them to be working with us in terms of enforcing sanctions on North Korea. So we-- we need to work with Russia. They have 7,000 nuclear weapons. So I understand the President's desire to try and improve relations with Russia. But you have to look at the reality of the situation and react accordingly, as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Most Putin analysts, particularly Russian ex-pats, who have gone after him, whether you talk to Garry Kasparov, they'll sit there and say, "He doesn't respect diplomacy. He, he respects strength,"-- And that, and that President Trump has not punched him in the nose, I mean, to be blunt that way, and that that's the only thing Putin respects. Do you, do you buy---

RON JOHNSON:

No he -- Putin is very opp -- opportunistic. Where he sees vacuums and voids, he's going to fill those. And you know, of course, Russia can do nothing in terms of improving the economic situation of, for example, eastern Europe. All they can do is destabilize. And that's what they're doing. It makes no sense to me. I think a tragedy, historic tragedy, is really the, the transferred power from Yeltsin to Putin and then having Russia going down the path to to- trying to, you know, reconstitute the Soviet Union as opposed to, for example, if it would've been Boris Nemtsov taking power, that we'd be in a totally different situation with Russia. It’s, it's a tragedy.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the west have the resolve to stand up to Putin right now?

RON JOHNSON:

We have to have the resolve.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that.

RON JOHNSON:

I mean, we have to.

CHUCK TODD:

But right now, it doesn't look like we do.

RON JOHNSON:

No, I know. Because there are economic interests. I mean, you take a look at the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that Germany's trying to promote. That will just give Russia even more geopolitical power. It's ridiculous.

CHUCK TODD:

What, what, we- It is clear that the president, when – when -- when we did retaliate on the Russians for what they did in the U.K., he chose what was the medium response, leaving one tougher response later. Do you think he should have left that on the table? Or should we get tougher with Russia now?

RON JOHNSON:

Long term, we have got to have better relationships with Russia, we just do. And so you have to, you have to respond. I think the better way to respond is build up troop strength in some eastern European- European countries, in the Baltics, to make sure that Russia goes no further. Now, that's my concern is that they make some kind of move in one of the Baltic states.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the president's actions have anything to do with the Russia probe, that the way he talks or doesn't talk about Russia, that he's somehow influenced by what's happening with Mueller?

RON JOHNSON:

I, I, I, I have no idea.

CHUCK TODD:

Now does that--

RON JOHNSON:

I have no idea.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think he'd be in a better place, if he would get tougher on Putin?

RON JOHNSON:

We, as a world, you know, as, as the – you know -- western democracies have got to show greater strength and resolve. And of course, what President Trump did is prod our European partners. And more of them are reaching their 2% spending in terms of NATO. So we do need Europe to step up to the plate and help us work with, with Russia.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. As a senator, you have to provide advice and consent on cabinet nominees. We have another opening, this time, at VA, Veterans Affairs. Number one, Secretary Shulkin, should he have been fired? Did the president do the right thing?

RON JOHNSON:

Well, I -- I think the IG report's pretty troubling. And you also, you know, presidents do deserve and have advisors that actually agree with them on policies. And apparently, there were some policy disputes.

CHUCK TODD:

So you think the firing was justified.

RON JOHNSON:

But, but it's a completely thankless job. I mean, we've had some, some, you know, high-quality individuals in, in that position. And they haven't made a whole lot of progress, in terms of reform--reforming the VA.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that a reflection on what? Is that a reflection on--

RON JOHNSON:

It's a reflection--

CHUCK TODD:

--on, on the agency, the bureaucracy, our politics? What is it?

RON JOHNSON:

--yeah, it’s, it's a reflection of the fact that the VA healthcare system is a government-run, single-payer, bureaucratic healthcare system. And it doesn't work. You know, Senator Coburn, one of his last reports talked about how the VA system, in-- on average, doctors have about 1,200 cases. In the private sector, it's about 2,300. You know, we've, we’ve, we’ve spent so much money on the VA. And we've increased funding, overall, about 2.3 times in the last ten years, on healthcare spending, 1.5. And it's still a mess.

CHUCK TODD:

What about the way it was done? This is the third person the president has fired by Twitter just in the last month.

RON JOHNSON:

It’s not, not – It’s not the way I'd do it. It’s not the way I'd do it.

CHUCK TODD:

This isn't the way to recruit good people to replace them, is it?

RON JOHNSON:

It's not the way I'd do it.

CHUCK TODD:

You would understand if people were like, "I don't know if I want to take this job."

RON JOHNSON:

I – I – I think the president does need to understand the effect it has on attracting other people.

CHUCK TODD:

And you think that this could lead to a brain drain? Are you concerned about that?

RON JOHNSON:

I'm, I’m concerned about all kinds of things, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You seem to be hesitant. You seem to be hesitant with your criticism. You seem to be annoyed. You seem to be unhappy with how things are going and how he's handling some of these things. But you do hold back. Why?

RON JOHNSON:

I don't envy any president. They're tasked. We have enormous challenges facing this nation. I tried to work with President Obama in terms of making this country more prosperous, greater opportunity, reduce the debt and deficit. I want to see any president succeed in their prime mission of keeping this nation safe and secure. So it doesn't help to be overly critical of any president, if you're actually trying to help them accomplish their goals.

CHUCK TODD:

Last October, you thought Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be fired.

RON JOHNSON:

No, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

You thought he should be replaced.

RON JOHNSON:

What, what I've always said about it was -- the special counsel was named far too soon. I would've much rather had the Senate and House Intelligence Committees complete their report. Because I, I know what happens. When you have a criminal investigation, it's that much more difficult for Congress to get the information, to allow the American public to understand what's happening. There, there are completely different goals of a special counsel versus congressional oversight. I think, in this case, the most important thing is public disclosure. And that is harmed when you start having special counsels, and all the information is, is gathered and is held close and sometimes never disclosed.

CHUCK TODD:

So what you're saying is you feel as if the Senate, the congressional investigations, have been hampered by a special counsel.

RON JOHNSON:

Yes--

CHUCK TODD:

The fact is, neither one can be--

RON JOHNSON:

I think, I think absolutely. And, and my, my concern with, with Special Counsel Mueller is he's so close to the F.B.I. You know, I've been conducting a three-year investigation on the F.B.I.'s investigation of Hillary Clinton. I think we're starting to see some real problems there. And I just didn't think somebody so close, like Director Mueller, Former Director Mueller, would be the, the right type of person to investigate that. Now, I'm actually pleased with the appointment of John Huber. He is a disinterested U.S. attorney to work with the Office of Inspector General.

CHUCK TODD:

So you're okay with Jeff Sessions not appointing a special counsel.

RON JOHNSON:

Yeah. I think, I think that's actually the best case for the time being. Because the Office of Inspector General is somewhat-- is independent of the agency. I think Horowitz has done a good job. Hopefully, we will get his report in the next month. We've asked him to testify before our committee. I hope he does so as soon as that report is issued.

CHUCK TODD:

And where are you on Mueller right now? You think he should--

RON JOHNSON:

Yeah, he should, he should--

CHUCK TODD:

--be kept into place, finish his investigation?

RON JOHNSON:

Yeah. Again, I just thought he was appointed too soon. I would've rather had the process play out. Because I think public disclosure, the public's right to know, is-- trumps everything else.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Johnson, I'm going to leave it there. It's Easter weekend. I hope you enjoy the holiday.

RON JOHNSON:

I will. Same to you.

CHUCK TODD:

As we just mentioned, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation continues to loom over the Trump White House. And it raises many important questions, among them, what are the limits to what Mueller can investigate? Should President Trump testify under oath? Joining me now, Alan Dershowitz, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Law School, and author of Trumped Up:How the Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy, and Bob Bauer, he's a former White House Counsel to, to President Obama. Gentlemen, welcome to both of you on this spring holiday season. Mr. Dershowitz, let me start with you. And I want to pick up on something we learned this week from a New York Times report, the now former lawyer to the president, lead lawyer to the president, John Dowd, who ended up resigning last week. There were reports that he talked of pardons, potential pardons with the attorneys of Michael Flynn and of Paul Manafort. If that pardon was dangled out there, in your opinion, could that be used in an obstruction of justice case?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Look, I think there are three categories of cases that are being investigated. The first and most important are constitutionally authorized acts by the president, which include pardoning, offering pardons, firing, directing the prosecution. If he were ever to be charged or impeached for any of those acts, that would be a real constitutional conflict. And we'd have arguments on both sides constitutionally. The second category are purely private acts that preceded his presidency, the allegations by women that may require him to testify under oath.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

His business relations. He'd have no defense for that except factual, or he could argue that it was beyond the scope of the investigation. And then there's the third category, a hybrid category, including emoluments, whether there was collusion. Those are the three categories. I do think that anything relating to pardon, he would have a strong constitutional defense. I think he's most vulnerable when it comes to women, if he testifies under oath, and gets into a "she said, he said," which puts him in Clinton-land, and the basis on which Clinton was impeached.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Bauer, what do you say on the pardon issue?

BOB BAUER:

I don't think there's any question, and I have to respectfully disagree with Professor Dershowitz. If the president uses the pardon power for corrupt purpose, then he is exposed to criminal liability for that. If his lawyer, with his authority, on his behalf, offered a pardon as a means of tainting or corrupting testimony in a criminal proceeding, then I don't see any basis for saying the president does not have to answer for that in the criminal justice system.

CHUCK TODD:

But if the president believes that this investigation is trumped up, that Mr. Mueller's investigation's out of control, then why wouldn't he offer pardons?

BOB BAUER:

Well, he may believe that, but he may also believe it's out of control because he fears for himself, because he's concerned about his own exposure. And it's precisely that element of self-protectiveness that I think threatens the legality of that offer of the pardons. It brings that into question.

CHUCK TODD:

Professor-- go, go ahead.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

There's a problem with that. And that is President Bush, the first, did exactly that. He pardoned Caspar Weinberger and five people on the eve of the trial, in order to end the investigation. His Special Counsel, at that time, Lawrence Walsh, accused him of doing that and said he had succeeded in the investigation. And yet, nobody, nobody, suggested obstruction of justice at that point. Thomas Jefferson gave pardons to people in order to help the prosecution of his political enemy, Aaron Burr. All throughout history we see presidents offering and granting pardons. Once you start getting into the area of inquiring, inquiring as to what the motive of a pardon was, you're really getting into constitutionally difficult areas. Of course if the president were to take a bribe and give a pardon, the taking of the bribe itself would be the crime. The granting of the pardon would not be a crime. I do not believe that engaging in a constitutionally authorized act can ever be the basis of a criminal charge.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me, I want to move the conversation here a little bit. And, and, and Bob, let me start with you. The fact that Flynn decided to cooperate and plead guilty and not accept the dangling of a pardon or-- does that tell you something? And does Paul Manafort's decision not to cooperate tell you something with this pardon? Is there-- what do you read into it?

BOB BAUER:

I don't know that I read a whole lot into it. I mean it may be that Mr. Flynn just wasn't confident that the offer of the pardon was something he could count on. Who knows-- who's to say why he would have done that? But if I could, again, disagree with Professor Dershowitz. The Iran Contra matter did involve, potentially, questions of high policy. But I don't see that here at all. What's at issue here is whether or not a presidential campaign, coordinated with a foreign power, to affect the outcome of an election. And that is a core criminal concern. It's been part of our statutory framework since 1966, repeatedly strengthened by the Congress. And I don't see that that bears any analogy at all to Iran Contra.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Well, except that the pardon was offered to stop a criminal investigation by a special prosecutor. Under your theory, that would be obstruction of justice. And it never occurred to anybody. Doesn't matter what the subject matter was. If you obstruct justice for any subject matter, you're guilty. The issue is whether granting a pardon in order to stop an investigation can be the basis for a criminal or-- prosecution. And I think the answer to that, precedentially, is no. And it's no justification to say that matter--

CHUCK TODD:

Right. But--

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

--that involved matters of high policy.

CHUCK TODD:

But by the way--

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

And this involved matters of the Soviet Union, relationship with the Soviet Union. That's not a good argument.

CHUCK TODD:

You guys are two very bright legal minds. But there is no legal standard for impeachment.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Well, there is.

CHUCK TODD:

And so-- I mean--

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

There is a legal standard.

CHUCK TODD:

--per se, is there?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

So, it doesn't matter-- what you interpret as obstruction of justice, what Bob interprets as obstruction of justice. The end of the day, it's about what the members-- what, what 100 members of the United States Senate think.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

I don't agree with that. The constitution provides specifically you can only be impeached for bribery, treason, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. They also put the Chief Justice in charge of the trial. And if I were ever, or any of the lawyers for Trump, if he got impeached for something that was not specified in the constitution, the first motion that should be made is to the Chief Justice to dismiss it on legal grounds. This is not purely a political decision. Otherwise, the Chief Justice, who's not political, would not be put in charge of the trial of a person who's been impeached. So I think it overstates it to say--

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

--it's completely political, unbound by the words of the constitution itself.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Bauer?

BOB BAUER:

Can I just bring this back to the criminal justice system? But you're absolutely correct. I mean Congress certainly could act on a obstruction that didn't quite fit the criminal elements in the law.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

BOB BAUER:

But still was enough for impeachment. But let's be clear again what we're talking about. We're talking about the potential that a presidential campaign in the United States aided a foreign government in influencing the outcome of the federal election. That is a crime. It is a crime. It is not correct, as Professor Dershowitz has said from time to time, that collaboration with a foreign government to help in an American presidential candidate's election is not criminal. It is.

CHUCK TODD:

Professor?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

What's the statute? What's the statute--

BOB BAUER:

The federal election camp--

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

I searched the statute books over and over again. The word "collusion" appears once in the federal criminal code. It only applies--

BOB BAUER:

If--

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

--to when businesses collude with each other in violation of the antitrust laws. Collusion between a candidate and a foreign government is a political sin. It would be a terrible thing to do. But in and of itself, it wouldn't be a crime. Of course it could involve criminal activities, if you accepted campaign contributions and did things of that kind.

CHUCK TODD:

Let-- I want--

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

But the collusion itself would not be a crime. If it occurred, and I've seen no evidence that it has occurred in this case.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Professor Dershowitz, the president wants to talk to Mueller, at least he said so. What parameters would you advise him to accept?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Any he can get. I mean--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You-- would you advise him to do it?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

First of all, Mueller has the ultimate authority to call him in front of a grand jury without his lawyer, and no limitations on time. So he has to come to a compromise. I would surely suggest that he never testify in any of the cases involving women, that he not make the mistake that Bill Clinton made, advised by Bob Bennett, that he testify about his sex life. But as far as the special counsel is concerned, he doesn't control that. The special counsel controls that. So any compromise that could be made, sitting with his lawyer, it doesn't matter whether it's under oath or not, because either is a crime.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

But constraints on time, constraints on subject matter, anything he can get would be a plus, because the special prosecutor has the power to call him in front of the grand jury.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly any-- ?

BOB BAUER:

Very quickly, I would simply say-- since Donald Trump may have known that the Kremlin sent emissaries to his campaign in June of 2016 to talk about support for his campaign, he might take the advice that he gave Bill Clinton in 1999, "Take the Fifth."

CHUCK TODD:

Very interesting.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Bad advice. Bad advice.

CHUCK TODD:

Professor Dershowitz, very quickly, any chance you'll lead the President's legal team or join it in any capacity whatsoever if he asks?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

No. I want to remain independent. I want to say what I say. I want to say what I said about Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

Has he asked you? Has he asked you to join the team?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

I-- you know that no lawyer could ever comment about whether--

CHUCK TODD:

Ah.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

--he's ever been asked.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

But let me say, I would have said the same thing if Hillary Clinton had been elected president and they were saying, "Lock her up."

CHUCK TODD:

Gotcha.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

I'm making exactly the same position now--

CHUCK TODD:

I know.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

--that I've made for 50 years as a civil libertarian.

CHUCK TODD:

Professor Dershowitz, Professor Dershowitz, I appreciate your coming on during this holiday week.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Much appreciate it. Same to you, Mr. Bauer. Hope you enjoy the, the spring holidays. When we come back, we're going to break down the escalating tensions between the United States and Russia with the panel. And then later--

(BEGIN TAPE)

ROSEANNE BARR:

But most of all lord, thank you for making America great again!

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

What did Roseanne's successful reboot tell us about a big segment of the viewing public that Hollywood often ignores?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panelists here: syndicated columnist George Will, MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan, Danielle Pletka of The American Enterprise Institute, and Joshua Johnson, host of 1A on NPR. All right, Danielle, you are an international affairs expert. So since we are actually talking about policy with Russia, I'll give you the first shot at this. It was interesting to hear Ron Johnson call him an "unfriendly adversary." You have made the case that the administration is tough. What about the president? Does that matter?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

So one of the things that troubles me about the whole discussion on Russia is that when someone in the administration does something bad, we all say, "Hey, the president owns that. His administration. This is the Trump administration." When the administration does something good on Russia, all of a sudden, it's, "Trump probably disagrees with this."

No. That doesn't happen in an administration. You do not expel 60 diplomats, you do not impose sanctions. You do not do the things the Trump administration has done if the president isn't okay with it. What he thinks in his heart of hearts I have honestly no idea. But I think the administration has represented a stronger line on Russia policy than the Obama administration did.

CHUCK TODD:

Joshua, the argument that some will make, though, is the president, without the rhetorical backbone, that Putin sees it as a wink.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Might see it as a wink. I mean and part of what I'm concerned about is not just the rhetoric of it, but how this will resolve itself. I mean there's kind of only two ways that this can go. It can get better or it can get worse.

And so, if the president and Mr. Putin are not the ones to relieve some of the tension, who will it be? Maybe somebody that both of them have dealings with, maybe business dealings with. So you look at the countries that, say, Russia does the most business with: Belarus, not a big international player, Germany, a big international player, but not someone that the president gets along with, and China, number one import origin, number two export destination.

So it opens the door for someone else to save the day, for another rising power to possibly come in and say, "Guys, guys, guys, guys, guys, calm down. I will handle this." Nature hates a vacuum. And part of this opens the door for, I think, different kinds of destabilization that, just as an American, leave me wondering, "What does this mean for me? Where does this go from here?"

CHUCK TODD:

We're not in charge. That's essentially his argument.

GEORGE WILL:

My guess is that Putin is really profoundly uninterested in tweets. (LAUGHTER) He strikes me as someone interested in tanks and little green soldiers and all that stuff. The fact is Putin is dismembering a European nation, geographically the largest European nation, Ukraine. And this is a serious business.

The late Scoop Jackson, 30 years ago, said of the Soviet Union, "It's like a burglar walking down a hotel corridor looking, trying the doorknobs. And when he finds one that's unlocked, he goes in." If he decides that the Baltic states are unlocked doors, and he reads the polls in Europe that show diminishing support for Article Five of the N.A.T.O. Agreement, that is that an attack on one is attack on all, that's when it will get seriously dangerous.

CHUCK TODD:

Elise, I had a producer friend of me saying, "Sounds like the president is leading from behind on Russia." (LAUGHTER) I'm sure that phrase is not one he would like to hear.

ELISE JORDAN:

Well, and also, in Syria, you know, you look at the sudden announcement this week that he wants to withdraw all of our troops from Syria, was something that just left his own national security apparatus just flabbergasted. Because, although he might think that way, and they know that he thinks that way, the timing wasn't there for necessarily how the strategy is going to be implemented.

What I find so amazing that looking at Donald Trump and Russia, the great unsolved mystery of his administration is how, why he might get tougher, but his rhetoric is still going to be very friendly towards Vladimir Putin. And that's something that his own administration, people who work for him, don't even understand.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it fair to say, "Let's see what John Bolton does in two months, and then see where the President's rhetoric is," Danielle?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, it's--

CHUCK TODD:

Or not?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It's certainly interesting to see that he has chosen two new National Security people without regard to their very tough views on Russia. That suggests to us that perhaps he's comfortable with that. We want the president to change his rhetoric. But at a certain point, you do have to choose what matters more, the rhetoric or the action. And I'm for action all the way.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we've been going back to literally, seriously, rhetoric, action, right? (LAUGHTER) With Trump. I want to move to his cabinet. You have two cabinet secretaries I'm going to point out. You have Shulkin, the Veterans Affairs Secretary, and we're going to talk to him in a few minutes. Policy disagreements and an ethical violation. Scott Pruitt, lots of ethical issues, but no policy disagreements. Joshua Johnson, one's in office and one isn't.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

What does that tell you?

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Well, I think I know I sound like a broken record. Every time we talked about this, I kind of say the same thing. But the president tends to run the Trump administration the way he ran the Trump Organization. He likes to have an inner circle of people who agree with him very solidly, who further his policy line, who don't get out of that line, and who make him look good.

I think, in that regard, especially if David Shulkin's arguments about why he was removed, about the concerns over the VA, are to be believed, to me, that kind of makes sense. And it's starting to get to the point where the policy moves in the administration touch people in real ways. I mean the VA is keeping my father alive.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

So this is one of those parts of the government where I think, at least for me, I kind of sit up a little straighter and so, "Wait a minute."

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

"Why are you going-- is this about a $31,000 dinner set or is this about decisions that actually keep people who served the country alive?"

CHUCK TODD:

You've conflated your dinner set with Carson, that's the wrong-- with Wimbledon tickets, sorry.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Oh.

CHUCK TODD:

Ben Carson is the $31,000 dining room set.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

It's so hard to keep straight.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

I'm sorry.

CHUCK TODD:

So George Will--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--there's something about Scott Pruitt, though. While I think he's been cheerleading well for the deregulation front, is he becoming Icarus? I want to throw up a few headlines. There's the negative that he's gotten, first class travel, distinguishes Scott Pruitt's E.P.A. tenure. Then there's, "The E.P.A. Chief Pruitt is said to be eying attorney general jobs, floating himself for new jobs." And then of course now we learn about him renting a residence from the wife of an energy lobbyist. And they've made a clarification to say, "Well, she's not lobbied in the last two years."

GEORGE WILL:

Well, Mr. Pruitt offends the sensibilities of lots of people in Washington, and he doesn't care. He was an attorney general. He was the leader of the 20-some, 27, I think, Republican attorneys general who made lots of progress suing the previous administration. So he is, for reason, a hero to the conservative movement. And he is doing what the president wants to be done, which is what he's there to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I talked to somebody in the White House that there is an exhaustion, though, at how many Pruitt ethics articles they're going to get. This one's a harder one for them to defend.

ELISE JORDAN:

Well, it's just another line of coverage that happens with so many of these cabinet secretaries. And everyone is exhausted by all of these ethical violations. And Scott Pruitt certainly, really seems to have risen to the forefront of being out there with his private travel, with his security details, because someone was mean to him once on a flight, with, you know, staying at this incredible rate, that if anyone ever wanted to extend to me in DC, wow, that would be great, friends like that. So I think that this--

(OVERTALK)

ELISE JORDAN:

--has to-- the tolerance level is pretty low.

CHUCK TODD:

I do think the president believes what George said about him, which is that he is getting picked on a little bit. And that, for now, it probably gives him some job security. When we come back, my conversation with David Shulkin. Why does he think he was fired as Secretary of Veterans Affairs?

But as we go to break, we want to make note that, on Wednesday, it will be 50 years since the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated in Memphis. Dr. King was on Meet the Press five times. And in an appearance in 1965, Dr. King explained his advocacy of non-violent disobedience. He said that while we all have a moral obligation to obey just laws, we also have a moral obligation to disobey unjust laws.

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR:

I think the distinction here is that, when one breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, he must do it openly, he must do it cheerfully, he must do it lovingly, he must do it civilly, not uncivilly, and he must do it with a willingness to accept the penalty.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Few were surprised this week when President Trump fired Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin nor when he notified Shulkin in a tweet. The president said Shulkin did a poor job running the V.A. after an inspector general report which accused him of ethics violations for misusing taxpayer funds. But Shulkin claims he was let go because he opposed the privatization of the V.A. and that this was a political push. And David Shulkin joins me now. Mr. Secretary, welcome to Meet the Press.

DAVID SHULKIN:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with just a simple question. Were you fired or resigned? Because the White House now claims you resigned.

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, you know, I came to the V.A. because our men and women in the country fight for us and don't give up. And I came to fight for our veterans. And I had no intention of giving up. There would be no reason for me to resign. I made a commitment. I took an oath. And I was here to fight for our veterans.

CHUCK TODD:

So why would the White House say technically you resigned? Did you submit a letter of resignation? Were you asked--

DAVID SHULKIN:

No, I did not.

CHUCK TODD:

--to submit a letter of resignation?

DAVID SHULKIN:

No, I was not.

CHUCK TODD:

So you were just terminated?

DAVID SHULKIN:

I received the information the way that you talked about it. And General Kelly gave me a call very shortly before the tweet came out.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, you said you had a call with the president a week before after I guess -- did you brief him on the context of the Inspector General's report?

DAVID SHULKIN:

No, we actually spoke the day that he sent the tweet out just a few hours before. And we talked a lot about issues at V.A. that were important and how we could continue to make progress on policy issues.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, did you know after the conversation you were going to be fired? Or you expected it? Or did you still think you had a shot of keeping your job?

DAVID SHULKIN:

No, I did not. In fact, we had set up a meeting for the very next day where I was going to meet with him at 11:00 in the morning.

CHUCK TODD:

So you had a meeting on the calendar Thursday morning and you're fired by tweet on Wednesday?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you think changed in your relationship with him?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, I've always had a very good relationship. Our discussions have been very focused on how we can do better, how we can do things in a better way to serve our veterans. So this was somewhat of a surprise.

CHUCK TODD:

You keep saying though that you, you, you were -- you were the one standing between privatization of the V.A. and, and, and the White House a little bit there. Except during your confirmation hearing, you knew that you had a different philosophy about the future of the V.A. than the president had campaigned on when it came to the issue of privatization. Are you, are you shocked that there's policy disagreements between you and the White House?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, the president and I agreed very strongly that we needed to do better for our veterans. That's the only reason why I took the job. And he campaigned strongly on that issue. But I had been at the V.A. under the Obama administration. And I knew ways that we needed to be able to move forward and transform the V.A. And it wasn't to simply privatize. It was to begin to start modernizing the V.A., give veterans greater choice, which we've done. And this was a path forward that I thought and I believe that we were making great success in.

CHUCK TODD:

But how do we get to a point where you say-- where basically you stopped speaking with some political appointees at the V.A.? That there was a report you had an armed guard outside, outside of your office. How did you get to that point inside this agency?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, first of all, simply not true.

CHUCK TODD:

You never had an armed guard outside the White House?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Every--

CHUCK TODD:

I mean outside of your office?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Every cabinet secretary has security detail that are armed. We're in presidential succession. There was never any change to my security detail. It's been that way for years. But there was no--

CHUCK TODD:

Did you have somebody standing outside your office preventing certain political aides from having access to you?

DAVID SHULKIN:

I always have my security detail on my floor outside my office. There was no change in protocol there.

CHUCK TODD:

But was there a change in who was allowed in to see you?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, well when the political appointees decided that they were no longer going to participate as an effective member of my team, when they had memos showing that they wanted to have me removed, my deputy secretary removed, my chief of staff removed, of course I limited access to those people. They no longer were willing to be working effectively with us in, in a way to improve care for veterans.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you ever go to the chief of staff about these issues?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

And what did John Kelly say to you about this?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, he said, look, he understands. That, you know, he's been in the military. And you can't have people on your team that are going in a different direction. And everyone needs to get back on track. And we talked about the ways--

CHUCK TODD:

But who was going in the--

DAVID SHULKIN:

--to get us back on track.

CHUCK TODD:

--wrong direction? Your staff from you or you from the president?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Oh, I think it was my staff from where I was leading this agency. That the secretary--

CHUCK TODD:

But you believe you had the president's confidence?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Yes. Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

But those appointees thought they had the president's confidence, too.

DAVID SHULKIN:

I - -I suspect you're right.

CHUCK TODD:

So who’s, who’s off -- this is where I'm confused. Who's off message here? Both of you?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Well, look, I think, you know, ultimately it's up to the president to decide. The president probably had different points of view. And the president made a decision last Wednesday. But, look, every day that I came to work, I was focused on making this system work better for veterans. And we were making good progress.

CHUCK TODD:

Your misuse of taxpayer funds. You are claiming that some of these charges are trumped up. This was an Obama-appointed Inspector General. Do you really think there's some sort of conspiracy here to tarnish your reputation in order to get you -- make it easier to fire you?

DAVID SHULKIN:

I don't think that there's a conspiracy going on. But I will tell you I do not believe that there was any misuse of government funds. And unfortunately after the inspector general report came out I was prohibited from giving my point of view on this. I had prepared a statement. It was removed from the V.A. website. I was told that I was not allowed to go out and talk to the press about this. Look, I went to a conference in Europe that the U.S. has attended for 43 years all about veterans' issues.

CHUCK TODD:

You mix , you mix personal and professional though. Fair? You took half the time for personal?

DAVID SHULKIN:

No, absolutely not.

CHUCK TODD:

So it was a prof-- it was a --

DAVID SHULKIN:

4 -- 4 -- 40 hours of meetings and lectures with our allies.

CHUCK TODD:

You went to Wimbledon.

DAVID SHULKIN:

100% of the meetings were attended to. I went to Wimbledon on a Saturday. I went to see some sites in the evenings. After. We didn't miss a single minute of conference. Everybody, every American has their weekends.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that.

DAVID SHULKIN:

So, there was no misuse. There was no mixing. This was simply that I didn't sit in my hotel room. After hours on my private time, we went out. We walked outside the hotel and saw sites.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe if you were carrying out the president's agenda fully at the V.A. that this would not have been a fireable offense? The president, would he have kept you on?

DAVID SHULKIN:

I do believe--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe you would have survived this inspector general report had you been on the same page with him on privatization?

DAVID SHULKIN:

I do believe that there were no ethical violations here, that this was being used in a political context to exploit the situation. And I do believe that the issue at hand is the future of V.A. and whether it's going to be privatized or not.

CHUCK TODD:

Any advice for your potential successor Ronny Jackson?

DAVID SHULKIN:

Yeah. Look, I think Dr. Jackson is a good man. And I think that he should continue to have the veterans' interests at heart. This is a very tough job.

CHUCK TODD:

Is he qualified to run the --

DAVID SHULKIN:

This is a very tough job. I'm not sure that anybody realizes how complex this is. A $200 billion budget. 370,000 people. Working with Congress and representing veterans. I wish him the best. I will do everything I can to make sure that he is successful.

CHUCK TODD:

Doesn't sound like you think he has the skill set.

DAVID SHULKIN:

I think that he is going to need to have a good team around him, like everybody will, to be successful.

CHUCK TODD:

Secretary Shulkin, I will leave it there. I appreciate you coming in--

DAVID SHULKIN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

--on this holiday week.

DAVID SHULKIN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you. Up next, how did this supposedly apolitical process of counting Americans for the census suddenly become so politicized?

(COMMERCIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. The census itself was in the news this week, and not just for data it releases. The Trump administration proposed adding a question on citizenship to the census questionnaire that's taken every ten years. Democrats are up in arms, worried the question will depress response rates to the census itself, particularly among non-citizens, as well as Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic.

But the fact is we already have this data. The government already asks this question. In fact, the Census Bureau asks it in a survey of 3.5 million Americans every single year. And here's what we know. There are 22.5 million non-citizens living in the United States. And they're heavily concentrated in just a few areas.

More than half of them, 12 million, live in just four states: California, Texas, New York and Florida. And more than 1.7 million live in just one county: Los Angeles, followed by Houston, Miami, Chicago, and Queens, New York.

Now, the Trump administration says adding the question will help better protect Americans under the Voting Rights Act. But Democrats make the argument that if fewer people respond to the Census, the next Congressional reapportionment won't be accurate. Non-citizens tend to live in Democratic-leaning areas. And if fewer of them respond to the census, Congressional lines could be redrawn in a way that hurts Democrats.

Now, there are currently 107 Congressional districts where more than 10% of the population are not U.S. citizens. 86 of those districts are held by Democrats, just 21 held by Republicans. All of those Democratic districts are considered safe by our friends, The Cook Political Report. But if non-citizens aren't counted when lines are redrawn, there could be fewer of these, quote, "safe" Democratic districts, while 13 of the 21 held by Republicans are rated as battlegrounds. And if you don't count the non-citizens, the lines in these districts could get redrawn to include more reliable Republican voters in the exurbs and rural areas.

Look, it's unclear how big of an actual political impact this could have, or if President Trump is interested in simply a rhetorical debate over a policy debate. Now, changes in the census may not have a huge impact on the actual partisan makeup of Congress. But here's where it may change the ethnic makeup of Congress, and of who gets a chance to serve. When we come back, what did Roseanne teach Hollywood this week about who's watching T.V. and what they'd like to say?

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. There were more protests last night in Sacramento after the release of a family autopsy on Friday showing that unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark was shot eight times, six times in the back two weeks ago in his grandmother's backyard.

Now, police video of the shooting showed that police thought, incorrectly, that Clark was holding a gun, and it is sparking the debate about law enforcement and law enforcement tactics. I'm going to read, though, something, there's sort of a political reaction here in the relative silence of the president.

Jamelle Bouie, on Slate, writes this: "Trump is so vocal about what he likes and dislikes, so present in the national conversation, that his omissions are often more revealing than his comments. On the rare occasions when this president is silent, it is consistently when confronted with violence against non-whites." That's a pretty strong statement, Joshua, from Jamelle.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Strong statement, I think, made even more worrisome by the fact that this part of California should know how to deal with these protests because these kinds of shootings have happened a lot. Mario Woods in San Francisco, Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, Oscar Grant in 2009 in Oakland, that the movie Fruitvale Station was based on.

And for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office to have no idea how to A) not know how to deal with these protests and B) not know how to get a vehicle out of a crowd without hitting a woman on the way out, seems kind of crazy to me. This is one of those moments where you need the Justice Department. You need the nat-- the federal government to say, "Listen, this is a trend. This is a larger problem. We need to be able to step in and help local jurisdictions deal with this." I'm waiting to see if Jeff Sessions would step up and do something about this. But now is the time when it's needed.

CHUCK TODD:

George?

GEORGE WILL:

We also need more, you mentioned video, we need more body cameras, because that changes the entire conversation. And we need--

CHUCK TODD:

They shut off their audio.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

That was a-- should they have been allowed? We probably shouldn't-- should you let them shut off audio?

GEORGE WILL:

Don't know, but doubt it. I'm for more information at all times.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

GEORGE WILL:

Re: the census, et cetera. But also, there should be a national discussion about, and it's going to be one led by the Cato Institute about qualified immunity for public officials, when including policemen.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, David French writes something that also I want to introduce in this conversation. He writes about the training of cops. And he writes this: "They're shown,” when cops are trained, “they're shown video after video and told story after story about routine calls that immediately escalate into fatal encounters. This truth, however, sometimes leads to a deception, to a mindset that enhances the sense of risk, way out of proportion to the actual threat."

Elise, he's basically making the argument is, we've heard this forever, that cops will tell you there's no such thing as a routine traffic stop. What David French is arguing is the problem is we train cops too much to assume that they have to assume the worst, that they're almost trained like members of the military, when actually, they should let the percentages dictate policing.

ELISE JORDAN:

Well, and I found that very interesting, coming from David French, who is an Iraq War vet. And I think that it's a trend that we've seen escalate over the last, you know, ten, I guess 18 years since basically the war on terror started, the militarization of our police force.

And you look at how Republicans have tried to, you know, I worked for Senator Rand Paul. And he's been outspoken about the need for criminal justice reform. I really think that this push has to come from Republicans to try to change this.

CHUCK TODD:

The training of a-- it's just part of the conversation. I thought that was an interesting way, use the analytics.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

So part of the problem here is that we've become afraid of the police. We watch their every move. We assume they're going to do the wrong thing. The biggest victims of that, of course, are people who need the police most. It's the poor. It's people who live in underprivileged neighborhoods.

So on the one side, you worry about this. On the other side, you worry about this excessive use of force, this assumption that everybody's going to make that you're probably going to get out of your car with a gun, when you're probably just going to sit there with your driver's license.

CHUCK TODD:

Actually, most people get out of their car with cell phones.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

With their phones.

(OVERTALK)

DANIELLE PLETKA:

You're not supposed to get out of your car, Chuck. I just want to tell you that. Don't get out of your car. That's where things always go wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Although I would say that I don't think people are becoming afraid of the police. A lot of people who look like me have been afraid of the police our whole lives. So I think this conversation has evolved in a way that makes the rest of the nation aware of some of the concerns that people of color have had for quite some time. And the larger injustice of it is the inability, after time after time after time, with body cameras, with the need for audio, for us, as a society, not to have any traction in making things better.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, the missing piece here is leadership. I mean I think that's what's common about what everybody said. The kissing piece here is whatever this national conversation is, whatever the terms ought to be, there's no leadership here. Instead, we just have incident after incident and reaction after reaction. That's not way to run a government.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I go, we teased it, so I wanted to get to it before we ended the show. Roseanne has set a cultural firestorm a little bit. Elise, I want to put up the markets here. This was one the coastal elites missed, the Roseanne reboot may not be as popular with critics in L.A. and New York, but boy, look at the middle of the country, and how well. These are the best markets that Roseanne rated. Total audience may be bigger than the Oscars.

ELISE JORDAN:

Well, you could say that the era of Obama culture is over. You know, we've gone from Girls on HBO to Roseanne, you know, bursting out of the seams, the most watched network sitcom in the last four years. So are we going to start to see more coverage reflecting the Trump era? I think that this is perhaps an indication. And also, a really successful revival, too. People liked Roseanne in the '90s. They like it now, too.

CHUCK TODD:

You seem like-- you have that look, George, of like, "Am I really having to comment on Roseanne Barr?"

ELISE JORDAN:

He's the target Roseanne audience.

CHUCK TODD:

There's no doubt you were a big Roseanne fan back in the day.

GEORGE WILL:

Look, if the program isn't on the Major League Baseball Network, I don't get it. But, like, Margaret Mead among the Samoans, the anthropologists of Hollywood every once in a while venture among the lost tribes of America, and they discover these people. They discovered Archie Bunker in Queens, for Pete's sake.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GEORGE WILL:

He was the Reagan Democrat at the time. If this makes money, it will change their behavior.

CHUCK TODD:

That's the most import-- if it makes make. Jamelle, last comment.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

I would say, though, I did watch the Roseanne season premier. It was very good. It was funny. John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf stole every scene they were in. The family's very diverse. There's an interracial relationship. There's a little boy who's experimenting with gender in this series. And they deal with it in a very compassionate way. I think people should give the show a shot.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. That's all we have for today. There you go. We even give you an entertainment listings. Thanks for watching. Happy Easter. Hope you enjoy all the spring holidays. Happy Passover, those celebrating that, as well. We're back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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