Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
 / Updated 

NBC News - Meet the Press

“04.15.18”

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday... attack on Syria.

DONALD TRUMP:

I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes.

CHUCK TODD:

The U.S. and its allies strike Syria in retaliation for last week's suspected chemical attack on civilians.

DONALD TRUMP:

These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster.

CHUCK TODD:

The president declares “Mission Accomplished.” But is it? What's the point of doing something if it accomplishes nothing? I'll ask Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. Plus, is Mueller closing in? A new report says the special counsel has evidence confirming part of the infamous dossier that the president's lawyer may have lied about a trip to Prague during the 2016 campaign. I'll ask former C.I.A. Chief John Brennan whether he sees evidence of collusion. Also, Paul Ryan calls it quits.

HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Today I'm announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning my sit-down with the outgoing sit-down with the outgoing speaker of the House.

CHUCK TODD:

When people write the history of this era it will be the triumph of Trumpism over Ryanism. And that's got to be a bitter pill to swallow.

CHUCK TODD:

Finally our brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on President Trump and the enthusiasm gap in the vote for Congress. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for the New York Times magazine, NBC News national political reporter Carol Lee and Republican strategist Al Cardenas. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest running show in television history, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. This is one of those times when we'd really like to look into the future and see how historians judge this week. The fired F.B.I. Director James Comey's new book attacks the president as, quote, "Untethered to truth and institutional values." The Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, decides to retire rather than face a possible future in the minority. The U.S. and its allies lunch limited air strikes on Syria in retaliation for President Assad's use of chemical weapons. The F.B.I. raids the offices of President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen suggesting a new pathway for Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And in what may be a huge break in the Russian investigation McClatchy reports that Mueller has evidence that Michael Cohen made a trip he's denied ever taking to Prague during the 2016 campaign. And if proven, that could be the evidence that leads to collusion. All this comes as our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows President Trump's approval rating slipping a bit. 39% say they approve of the job the president is doing while 57% disapprove. The approval number is actually down four points and the disapproval number up four since last month. But interestingly enough, today's numbers are the exact-- uh set of numbers that our poll showed in January. It's more evidence that the president's approval numbers move up and down within a very narrow trading range. We’re going to have more on our poll later on in the show. But we're going to begin with a week that started with a raid on the offices of the president's lawyer. And it ended with a military att- strike on Syria.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday night the U.S. and European allies launched coordinated air strikes on three of Assad's chemical weapons facilities after a suspected chemical attack last weekend. The president even ratcheted up his rhetoric.

DONALD TRUMP:

We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.

CHUCK TODD:

But the Pentagon quickly made it clear that the strikes were limited.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS::

Right now this is a one-time shot.

CHUCK TODD:

The air strikes come as Mr. Trump is mired in multiple domestic political crises. And he and his surrogates are launching a campaign against law enforcement. Earlier on Friday, the president attacked fired F.B.I. Director James Comey, as an untruthful slimeball. And the name calling kept on coming.

SARAH SANDERS:

Comey will be forever known as a disgraced partisan hack.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

A disgruntled ex-employee who after the fact wants to clear his conscience.

JOSEPH diGENOVA:

James Comey is a dirty cop.

CHUCK TODD:

The Republican National Committee even rolled out a website called Lying Comey attempting to discredit Comey with talking points and digital ads. All this, a reaction to Comey's new book a portrait of a president obsessed with disproving a dossier filled with salacious and unproven claims and unconcerned with the Russian threat.

JAMES COMEY:

No one to my recollection asked, "So what's coming next from the Russians? It was all what can we say about what they did and how it affects the election that we just had?"

CHUCK TODD:

Speaking of the dossier, McClatchy reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, made a secret trip to Prague in the summer of 2016, a claim that was made in said dossier, which included a report that he met there with a Putin-ally.

In the past, Cohen has denied ever visiting on Prague. And on Saturday he denied it again calling the story bad reporting, bad information and bad story. NBC News has not confirmed the report. On Monday, Cohen's office was raided by the F.B.I. A move that unnerved Mr. Trump, who has always considered an investigation into his personal business dealings a red line. Some Trump allies used the raid to argue that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should be fired.

JOSEPH diGENOVA:

Rod Rosenstein is so incompetent, compromised and conflicted that he can no longer serve as the deputy attorney general.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a veteran who served in the Middle East during the Iraq War. Senator Ernst, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Oh good morning, Chuck. Good morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. Let me just start simply with your reaction to the missile strikes from Friday night.

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Yes. I am glad that the president has joined with France and Great Britain and took these strikes. I think it was important that we destroy that infrastructure that Bashar al-Assad had used to deliver chemical weapons against his own people. So I am glad that we've taken this step. Of course we need to now have discussions what should happen in the future.

CHUCK TODD:

You supported the strike last year as well. But I spoke to you right after that strike. And here's what you told me about the next time President Trump did this. Here's what you said to m.

(TAPE: JONI ERNST / “MTP DAILY” / APRIL 7, 2017)

Going forward I do believe that we need that notification coming to Congress. And if he wishes to do anything further he does need to bring that specific plan with his reasoning to Congress before we move forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Now President Trump did not do that. He acted multi-laterally as far as working with Britain and France but unilaterally as comes here inside this country, did not notify Congress. Are you at all uncomfortable with that?

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Well, I am uncomfortable going forward if he wishes to commit ground troops in the area. Currently we do have an effort to fight against ISIS in the region. And that is our main focus. This is secondary to that. But certainly if he wishes to go any further he does need to work with Congress.

So the air strikes, I'm comfortable at this point with that. But as many of my colleagues have also stated we need a new AUMF. We need to address this situation. And the president does need to come to Congress and we need to have those discussions. So for now I am comfortable with the actions that he took with Great Britain and France. But, again, we need to have these discussions because we don't see that Bashar al-Assad will all of a sudden become a real nice guy.

CHUCK TODD:

I know there wasn't an easy needle to thread here about trying to find this balance to send a message to Assad so he doesn't do this again and not get drawn in too far. Your colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina this morning in the New York Times is worried about the result of the strikes. He says this, "I fear that when the dust settles this strike will be seen as a weak military response and Assad will have paid a small price for using chemical weapons yet again,” because we didn't take it all out. He still is going to have those capabilities. What do you say to that?

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Well, I think we do need to find a way to make sure that Syria is rid of all of its chemical weapons. They are not sticking to the chemical weapons convention. We know that for a fact now. So we do need to address the situation. But we need to have a broader discussion.

I am pleased that we have partnership with France and Great Britain. But we do have to, as a United States military, figure out a way forward. Make sure that we have destroyed the capabilities that Bashar al-Assad has to take these chemical weapons against his own people. So he is a war criminal. And we need to have a very strong and resolute action in regards to the situation.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there an effective way, in your mind, to deter Russia's support of Assad? Or is it too late?

SEN. JONI ERNST:

I think at this point they have been supporting for a very, very long time. It's unfortunate that they are so involved in that region. But we do have to find a way forward. If diplomacy would work I would say we need to always start with diplomacy.

But certainly they knew that there would be military action. That was made quite clear that there would be strikes. We did not see a response from Russia. Not yet. We do need to keep our eyes open for any sort of retaliation. But it does make this a very tenuous situation.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you a couple of separate questions about the Russia investigation. First the legislation that's bipartisan legislation, Thom Tillis, Lindsey Graham, Chris Coons, Cory Booker, essentially to protect Robert Mueller's status as a special counsel. Protect him from being fired. Thom Tillis in an op-ed in the Washington Post making the case this is actually good for the president to take away this speculation about whether Mueller stays or go. Would you support that legislation if it came to the floor?

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Well, it is my understanding that my senior senator from Iowa, Chairman Chuck Grassley, will bring this up in judiciary for discussion. I would like to see the final text of that before I state whether I would support it or not. We'll see where this goes. I don't believe that the president will fire Mueller. We'll see. But certainly want to see that text and I'm glad that they will have the discussion.

CHUCK TODD:

And finally, I want to get you to respond to some criticism James Comey laid at all of Congress in his book in the attacks on the law enforcement community. And he writes this, "I know there are men and women of good conscience in the United States Congress on both sides of the aisle who understand this. But not enough of them are speaking out. They must ask themselves to what or to whom they hold a higher loyalty: to partisan interests or to the pillars of democracy. Their silence is complicity. It is a choice. And somewhere deep down they must know that." Do you accept his criticism that you and others have not spoken out enough in support of law enforcement as the president has, at times rhetorically, undermined law enforcement?

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Well, I think that we do stand behind those men and women of our various agencies. Those that are truly non-partisan and those that are working for the good of the American people. I have not read James Comey's book. I'm sure at some point it will come out, we'll be able to view that.

But I would say that as head of an agency there is need for a level of respect going both ways. So I respect the men and women that do their job and do it in a non-partisan manner. And I wish that we had seen that a little bit more from some of the heads of our agencies in the federal government as well.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Joni Ernst, Republican from Iowa. I will leave it there. Senator, thanks for coming on this morning, sharing your views. Appreciate it.

SEN. JONI ERNST:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

Now to what I mentioned could be a huge break in the Russia investigation this week, a report that Robert Mueller has evidence confirming part of that infamous dossier. McClatchy reports that Mueller has evidence that Michael Cohen, despite his initial denials, was in Prague late in the summer of 2016. If this is proven true and if it is true and if Cohen was there to meet with an ally of Putin as the dossier alleges, it could be a direct sign of collusion by one of President Trump's closest advisors. Joining me now is one of the people who investigated the dossier, former C.I.A. Director John Brennan. He is now an NBC News senior national security and intelligence analyst. Director Brennan, welcome back to Meet the Press.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Good morning, Chuck. And I should correct you, I never investigated the dossier.

CHUCK TODD:

Itself. Okay. Let me ask you about Michael Cohen then. Was he ever on your radar?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I'm not going to get into details about who may or may not have been on my radar as far as the U.S. citizens is concerned because that was not C.I.A.'s role. Anytime that the C.I.A. collected information incidentally that involved a U.S. person we would share that immediately with the F.B.I. And then it would be the F.B.I.'s responsibility to pull the threads and do the follow on investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. The raid happened in Michael Cohen's office on Monday. There was a hearing on Friday, essentially Michael Cohen is trying to file, file a temporary restraining order on the government's ability to look at what they got. In their court filing the government made public the-- a couple of facts. The biggest one, to me, they said his main business is not being a lawyer. But the biggest one is that he's been under surveillance for months, electronic surveillance. What does that tell you as an intelligence officer?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, it tells me that they, the F.B.I., Department of Justice, would have had, had compelling evidence of potential criminal activity for them to conduct this type of surveillance against individual who has worked closely with Mr. Trump over the course of many years. And the fact that he was going to be targeted by the F.B.I. as far as surveillance is concerned, again, they would have had to meet a very high threshold for that. And the fact that he was under surveillance for this period of time I think gives the F.B.I. certainly some insight into his activities.

CHUCK TODD:

They did not use a subpoena. So he wasn’t-- they were afraid he wouldn’t-- perhaps they believed that he wouldn't comply with a subpoena for a request for records. Does that mean they would have had to have had evidence that he has destroyed records in the past in order to compel a judge to allow something like this to happen?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I think it would mean that they had evidence of some type of possible criminal activity, whether that was destroying-- destruction of evidence or something else. But there needs to be a basis of premise for the F.B.I. to be able to do something like this for an extended period of time, especially against an individual like this, again, who serves as a lawyer and which addresses the attorney-client privilege issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Now McClatchy is reporting that Mueller does happen evidence that Michael Cohen was in Prague at a time he had denied it very famously, posting a tweet of his, of his passport and things like this. But if there-- here's what supposedly happened in this Prague meeting, according to the dossier, it said “the agenda comprised questions of how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.” And the person there is a gentleman by the name of Kosachev. Somebody who's part of the Putin inner-circle. Not as close to Putin but on, on foreign policy issues. What can you tell us about this Kosachev person?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, what I can say is that there was a lot of concern that the Russians were working through various channels during the election campaign season of 2016 to try to influence the election and to use people and cutouts that they would, would interact with U.S. persons. So, again, I'm not going to get into any details about what might have happened at that time during my tenure as director of C.I.A. But I can tell you if these allegations are true, they are explosive from the standpoint of this provides the basis for conspiracy. Because you have to conspire with a foreign government in order for these charges to, to stick.

CHUCK TODD:

So this infamous dossier, it’s been-- the salacious parts of it have been reported back and forth. It's an interesting part of James Comey's book. But so far with this dossier, nothing yet has been proven untrue. How significant is that to you?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, I think it just shows that the Mueller investigation has going to continue to pace. And as Jim Comey had said I think very famously, that these were salacious and unverified allegations. Just because they were unverified does not mean they were not true. And so what I think Mr. Mueller, as well as others have been doing, is trying to pull all of the threads. Some that may have been involved with the dossier and others that are maybe independent of it.

CHUCK TODD:

During his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who's currently still the director of the C.I.A. said he has been interviewed by the special counsel. Have you been interviewed by the special counsel? Because you've appeared before the Congressional investigations. I'm curious if you've met with Mr. Mueller and his team.

JOHN BRENNAN:

No, I have not.

CHUCK TODD:

Does that surprise you that you haven't been called? Because he seems to have talked to a lot of other heads of the Obama-era intelligence.

JOHN BRENNAN:

No, it's not. I think Mr. Mueller would have had access to C.I.A. files that he needed. And, again, C.I.A.'s role is not to look at the activities of individual Americans by any means. But I think there's a full record there and there are individuals at the agency who can provide the insight to Bob Mueller's team that they need.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to change subjects here very quickly to Syria. You were the head of the C.I.A. during the Obama-era, during this time when the president almost conducted similar military strikes to try to punish Assad for using chemical weapons in 2013. Instead, an agreement was cut with the Russians to get rid of the chemical weapons. In hindsight, were we-- Obama administration extraordinary naïve to think the Russians would do this? Did you guys know then that they were hiding chemical weapons at the time when they claimed that they were destroying them?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, it's not certainly that they were hiding any chemical weapons. The ability to reconstitute a chemical weapons program is I think pretty easy. And just the way there were strikes that were taken last year by the Trump administration continued use of them. And I'm sure this strike which was a tactical and surgical success has been a setback to the program. But that doesn't mean that the Syrians cannot recreate the chemical weapons to use once again.

CHUCK TODD:

And what was the point of-- then what are the point of these strikes if it's sent to try to deter but it actually won't deter?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, it may deter. I don't know if it will or not. It sends a clear signal, a political signal, to both Damascus and to Moscow that you cannot do this with impunity. There will be costs associated with it. And there may have been messages sent to the Russians about this is going to be limited. It's going to be tactical and surgical. The next one may not be.

CHUCK TODD:

Was it a mistake not to follow through on the, on the threat? Did President Obama make a mistake then? Or do you think President Trump's making a mistake now?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, I don't think either one of them was a mistake. I, I, I think this administration's actions against Syria were appropriate. And I tend to be a critic of this administration. But I think the way they handled this was exactly right. It was proportional and it was necessary in order to send that signal. But there's going to be great difficulty in trying to resolve the Syrian situation. It's a very, very complicated one. There needs to be a strategy for it. But it’s-- there's not an easy solution. So I think we have to continue to put the pressure on the Assad regime, try to hit them when they use chemical weapons. But not get involved in another full scale war in the Middle East.

CHUCK TODD:

You have taken to Twitter. And your-- sometimes your language is pretty tough, particularly with this current president. And you got some criticism from a former Moscow C.I.A. chief by the name of Daniel Hoffman. He wrote this, he said, "Brennan's public statements carry weight. And he was doing Putin's bidding by driving divisive dialogue towards partisanship instead of helping to build consensus against Putin. Brennan is also fueling Trump suspicion that the Obama intelligence team was not treating him or his administration fairly." Essentially that your criticism's too harsh, it's too tough. And it, and it, it only feeds into Trump's critiques. What do you say to that?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I disagree with that. I believe that I have a responsibility as an American citizen to speak up when I see some wrongdoings. And I have taken issue with a lot of things that Donald Trump has done. I'll continue to do that. For every comment like that I hear many other comments from my former colleagues saying, "Thank you, John," for voicing some of their concerns that they have. The fact that I'm critical of, of Donald Trump does not mean, in any way, that I'm trying to support Vladimir Putin. The exact opposite. I want to make sure that Donald Trump is going to take a tough line toward Russia and against Vladimir Putin. And I'll continue to put that pressure on him publicly if I feel that he's falling short of his responsibilities as the president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Former C.I.A. Director John Brennan, thanks for coming in, sharing your views. I much appreciate it.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back we're going to go over all of this, the latest on Syria, the Mueller investigation with the panel. And later, my interview with Paul Ryan who's stepping down as speaker of the house.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

When you called President Trump what did he say?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

He was disappointed. But he understood. He understood. You know, I--

CHUCK TODD:

He try to talk you out of it?

(END TAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here, Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent to the New York Times magazine. NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, NBC News national political reporter Carol Lee and Republican strategist Al Cardenas. Welcome all. Kristen, this morning we've already heard from the president doubling down on his “mission accomplished” line with Syria. Jim Mattis has said this is a limited strike. I know they believe the tactical mission was a success. Do we know what the strategy is on Syria going forward?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, the administration would argue that the policy hasn't changed. They still want to defeat ISIS. They still want to stabilize the region. They want to ultimately see Assad removed by political means. But when you ask members of Congress if they have clarity, they don't. And you heard Senator Joni Ernst say that. We want some type of a briefing from the administration what constitutes the necessity of another strike and when will they bring in Congress into the process?

CHUCK TODD:

Everybody says you have to do something. But if something accomplishes nothing what was the point of the something?

MARK LEIBOVICH:

I mean, the problem is you have a situation where, I mean, “mission accomplished” is a short-term declaration. And when you tweet about it, this is not the substitute for either a message or a strategy. And we had, what, a five-part tweet this morning sort of being defensive about “mission accomplished.” The thing is this is a situation on the ground that is developing. And this could be completely different tomorrow, next week and so forth. That's why you need a strategy.

CHUCK TODD:

Al?

AL CARDENAS:

Well, look, what's a gas weapon consist of? Chlorine which is commercially available around the world, sarin, and then you use some explosives. So in a few months or maybe weeks Assad can have these weapons readily available again. We've been declaring victory since John Kerry by getting rid of chemical weapons in Syria.

I supported it on humanitarian grounds. The world leadership can't stand back and allow this genocide to occur. And I was encouraged. That was done with the U.K. and France collectively sending a message. But this has very little, if any, military significance. And for us to think it may have would be wrong.

Every day I grow in sympathy with Syrian people. The courage to fight that regime, the suffering that their immigrants have around the world is sad. And there are other ways to do this and I hope we can do more for the Syrian people. But this had no military significance.

CAROL LEE:

Well, the thing in terms of humanitarian grounds, if the president was concerned about humanitarian issues it wouldn't just be about chemical weapons because Assad still has very lethal capabilities in terms of barrel bombs and those things.

So this is the question, where's the line? He's trying to walk this line of dealing with chemical weapons and yet also not getting sucked into the war. And every time we talk about Syria it reminds of the gun control debate in that it's only a focus when there's an event that's forcing it to be a focus.

Meanwhile everything that they're debating and the concerns that are being aired are there regardless. So the question is is this going to stick? Are members of Congress who have showed no will to vote on anything in terms of military action going to stick with this? Is the president going to outline a strategy? And will it change? Because right now it's just purely ISIS focused.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I think part of the problem, Chuck, the president is divided in his own mind. A few days before the chemical weapons attack he said, "I'm going to get out of Syria," and then his military advisers convinced him that the U.S. can't just pull out right now because it would create a huge vacuum. And so he's been pulled back in but where does it go from here?

CHUCK TODD:

Well the humanitarian issue. It's sort of like it's okay to slaughter people conventionally.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

It's just not okay to slaughter them-- and that is over time a tougher and tougher stance to give in. I want to switch to the Cohen raid and what happened on Monday. The president's reaction to it. The federal court filing. It's a significant event. Adam Davidson in The New Yorker believes it's more significant than even any of us are talking about.

He says, "Michael Cohen in the end stage of the Trump presidency, Cohen knows everything. He recorded much of it. And now prosecutors will know it too. There will be resistance and denial and counter attacks. But it seems likely that when we look back on this week we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump presidency." Carol Lee, Michael Cohen always been a huge -- an important person next to the president. But do you think Mueller investigators see this that way too?

CAROL LEE:

Absolutely. There are few people who know as much as Michael Cohen does. And clearly, even just what we know publicly which I always presume is a lot less than is actually known, it shows how he was the president's fixer. So he was the guy who went and took care of things.

And so the fact that they have all of his information, all this context, potentially recordings of his conversations, you can see how it's become it's sort of an existential threat for the president. And you can see it just in the way he's reacting about it.

CHUCK TODD:

The allegation about him being in Prague, when we look back at his initial denial, he put up a tweet with his passport at the time when that news came out, "I've never been to Prague. Fake news." And then President Trump, as president-elect at the time, actually talked about it too. Take a listen.

(TAPE: PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP / JANUARY 11, 2017)

I said, "I want to see your passport." He brings his passport to my office. I say, "Hey, wait a minute, he didn't leave the country. He wasn't out of the country." They had Michael Cohen of the Trump organization was in Prague. It turned out to be a different Michael Cohen.

CHUCK TODD:

In hindsight it seemed to be now too enthusiastic of a denial.

AL CARDENAS:

Yeah, you know, this whole thing is so strange because this investigation of Michael Cohen was transferred to the southern district of New York. And the folks in charge of that are in charge of the economic crimes division. And now there's such a theory as fruits from a poisonous tree.

So whatever they find that's applicable to the President, it goes to Mueller's investigation and investigators which I think is what they're trying to do. It's easier to get court approvals for evidence for the economic crimes than it is for potential collusion where the evidence is not yet perhaps as complete. So I understand their theory in the investigation process. But they're going down this rabbit hole as well and we'll see where it goes.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

It's more than a rabbit hole. I think, first of all, and the Adam Davidson piece I read. It was terrific. I mean, people should read it. But I also think that it's not just Adam Davidson who's saying this. Even Alan Dershowitz who's been one of the president's biggest defenders has basically said, not in the same words, but he has said that this is a huge threat that people might be underestimating. The president's own staff, the president's own lawyers are also very concerned about this, arguably more so than the collusions.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, Kristen, when the news came out on the court filing that Michael Cohen's been under surveillance for months it is notable the president spoke with Michael Cohen on Friday.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Very notable. And the White House was asked if the president continues to be in constant contact with Michael Cohen. They dodged that question. But the president saw this raid as really crossing a red line. And we know that in the wake of it, the talks, Carol and I reported on this earlier this week, the talks between the president's legal team, the special counsel's team all but collapsed over a potential interview with the president and Mueller. So when you think about the significance of this week I think it can't be overstated.

AL CARDENAS:

And let me say this as an exclamation point, the pardon of Scooter Libby in this particular week was no accident.

CHUCK TODD:

No. Yeah.

AL CARDENAS:

There's a message there.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

But the thing is though we keep talking about the red line. The president doesn't get to decide the red line necessarily here. And if he wanted to enforce the red line he'd fire someone. And I guess that could be the next sort of thing we talk about.

CHUCK TODD:

It may be too late to fire anybody. It may be that Mueller has everything he needs. All right, guys, when we come back, my interview with the outgoing Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It had been rumored for a while that House Speaker Paul Ryan did not want to run for reelection but would decide to do it out of a sense of duty. So it was a jolt to Republicans when Ryan confirmed the speculation this week because it seemed to send a message, intentional or not, that he doesn't believe Republicans will hold onto the House in November. I sat down with the outgoing speaker of the house in his ceremonial office on Friday in the Capitol and I began by noting how-- that he looks as if the weight of the world is suddenly off of his shoulders.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I feel great. You know, just making a decision is important. And when we had our final family dinner last Sunday night as a family to talk about it, it was just a, it was just a great feeling. You and I are similar in that we lost we our dads when we were young. And it just makes you think a little bit more about phase of life, family. And so, I’m -- I feel so good 'cause I now know that my kids will not only know me as a weekend dad. And that's what's most important to me.

CHUCK TODD:

You retired as a politician. I heard you say you probably won't run for office again. Is this what this feels like?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You're done. Politics -- this is--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Well, I'll be done with--

CHUCK TODD:

--a phase of life?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I mean, I'm going to--

CHUCK TODD:

Never say never.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

--obviously there's a lot of causes I care about --

CHUCK TODD:

I understand

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

--and a lot of issues I'm going to be involved in. And then I'll find ways of doing that. You know I certainly wouldn’t--I mean I just-- You never say never, I suppose. But I have no plans to do anything else.

CHUCK TODD:

When you called President Trump, what'd he say?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

He was disappointed. But he understood. He understood. You know, I--

CHUCK TODD:

He try to talk you out of it?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

He was disappointed. We--We have a good relationship. We've gotten a lot done together. And, you know, I basically explained to him my whole family dynamic. And it’s --the thing is, I feel content because I've actually gotten a lot done. And I've gotten much of what I came here to do done. Not everything, but much of what I wanted to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you something though, that you've said you've accomplished as much as you could that you thought you came here do. Charlie Sykes, you know him well, a long-time Wisconsin radio personality, said this: "Look, you can give him credit for the stiff upper lip. But no, he didn't.” Referring to accomplishing what you came here to do. “When people write the history of this era, it will be the triumph of Trumpism over Ryanism. And that's got to be a bitter pill to swallow."

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

No, I just don't see it like that. I’ve been-- One of the first things I fought for when I first got here was tax reform. That hadn't been done since 1986, the year I got my driver's license. That is now done. Since I've been become speaker, I've spent a great deal of time with our intelligence community, our military. And I got, I became greatly concerned about the state of our military. And so I really focused on a rebuild of our military. That is now done and underway. I'm very, very pleased with that. So there are-- enterprise zones. I worked on enterprise zone legislation when I worked for Jack Kemp.

CHUCK TODD:

I remember the enterprise zone--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

And now enterprise zones are now law of the land. So there are so many things that I've gone through. The one thing that obviously I care a great deal about is entitlement reform, in particular health care entitlement reform. I feel gratified that ever since I was budget chair, the House every term has passed a budget, to balance the budget and pay out--pay down the debt. But we have not gotten that through the Senate or the White House. And I'm, and I’m gratified that we passed the health care bill out of the House, the biggest entitlement reform bill ever. But it didn't go into law. It failed by a vote in the Senate. But, you know, one person's not going to solve all of those things. I feel like I've done a lot to advance that debate. And again I'm not going away from the entire scene --

CHUCK TODD:

No, but let's talk about--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

-- I’m gonna be advancing these things.

CHUCK TODD:

--fiscal discipline. I want you to respond to something Bob Corker said. He said this: "This Congress and this administration likely will go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible administrations and Congresses that we ever had." And he's referring to the fact that this tax bill spiked the deficit. It's higher than even what was projected. And as -- we’re gonna get trillion dollar, you walk away with trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

That was going to happen. The baby boomers' retiring was going to do that. These deficit trillion dollar projections have been out there for a long, long time. Why? Because of mandatory spending which we call entitlements. Discretionary spending under the CBO baseline is going up about $300 billion over the next ten years. Tax revenues are still rising. Income tax revenues are still rising. Corporate income tax revenues. Corporate rate got dropped 40%, still rising. Mandatory spending which is entitlements, that goes to $2 trillion over the next decade. Why does it go to $2 trillion? Because the boomer generation is retiring. And we have not prepared these-these programs. So really, that's where the rubber hits the road. I think the most irresponsible Congress is the one that created brand a new entitlement. That to me is, is the big mistake. And we can fix these programs and still meet the mission for them. But the way they've been designed in the 20th century doesn't work.

CHUCK TODD:

But--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

That's the one thing that I really wish we could get done sooner rather than later. And I'm convinced it's going to happen. Why? Because it's got to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about Jack Kemp. You said, "An old Jack Kemp guy that believes strongly in inclusive, aspirational politics, based on bringing people together and not exploiting divisions." That's not the brand of politics that's being practiced today. You know what's interesting?

PAUL RYAN:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You're leaving. I mentioned Bob Corker, Jeff Flake. These are three people. You guys all have the same tone.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Yeah, Jeff's a buddy of mine.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, you guys all have the same tone when it comes to American politics.

SPEAKER RYAN:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe the other side is an enemy of the American people.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Yeah, I don't. And this is the one thing that I-- and I say that when I speak to young groups all the time. Do not fall for identity politics. That's what I always tell young people not to do. And here's the problem. Identity politics I think was a craft of the Left for a while. You know, a lens key. But now it’s--

CHUCK TODD:

But you acknowledge--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Absolutely, it's now a practice on the Right. So my concern going forward, if I have to be one of these people who saying, "Here's my concern of our politics and the state of America today," we should stop playing identity politics. I believe in inclusive aspirational politics that's bring people together.

CHUCK TODD:

James Comey, a man of integrity?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

As far as I know. I don't know him very well. I’ve -- two or three briefings is about what I had with James Comey. But- um, i’ve--

CHUCK TODD:

Would you take him at his word? Would you trust his judgment?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Look. I'm not going to try and help sell some books here.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I understand that. But, but there's going to be a lot of questioning of his integrity--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

--and all this stuff.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I don’t --

CHUCK TODD:

Is he somebody that you think is--

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I don't know the guy.

CHUCK TODD:

--a slime ball?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I don't really. Well --

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, I mean, that's what the president called him.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I don’t speak like that. I don't use words like that. I don’t speak like that.

CHUCK TODD:

I know.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

By the way, I wouldn't do that because you're going to help him sell books. So I've met him two or three times in two or three briefings. I don't really know the guy. I'm not trying to be evasive. But what I don't want to do is- is- join some food fight, some book selling food fight. I don't see any value in that.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you -- do you believe that if the Senate passes this bill to protect the Mueller, protect Mueller, protect him from firing, you’ll bring it up in the House?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

I don't think it's necessary. I don't think he's going to fire Mueller. I think it would be--

CHUCK TODD:

Insurance isn't necess --

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

--huge mistake.

CHUCK TODD:

Insurance might not be necessary. But you buy it. No, I mean, you know, this is an insurance policy.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

First of all I don't think he should be fired. I think he should be left to do his job. And I don't think they're really contemplating this. I’ve spoken-- We've had plenty of conversations about this. It's not in the president's interest to do that. We have a rule of law system. No one is above that rule of law system. I don't think he's going to be fired. I don't think he should be fired. And I think I just leave it at that.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I let you go. There’s some chatter that you shouldn’t finish as Speaker. There’s some allies, I think it’s Tom Graves, a member -- a member of Conference who is a supporter of Kevin McCarthy.

PAUL RYAN :

Sure.

CHUCK TODD

They make the case that hey, there’s uncertainty. It’d be better to know who the team is going forward. What do you say to that?

PAUL RYAN:

Yeah, yeah, We’ve, we’ve all discussed this, and we think the smart thing to do is to actually stay an intact leadership team. There’s so much more I can do to keep continuity. We have a great leadership team. There’s so much more I can do to help keep this majority.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you have a preference? Kevin McCarthy? Steve Scalise?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Yeah I think Kevin -- look, I think we all believe that Kevin is the right person when it’s all ----

CHUCK TODD:

To be the next leader?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

Yea. We all think that Kevin is the right person.

CHUCK TODD:

You say we all. Are you speaking --

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

We all -- our leadership team I’m saying. I’m not saying every single person in Congress.

CHUCK TODD:

So Steve Scalise -- it’s your understanding that he believes that Kevin McCarthy should be the the heir apparent, whether it’s leader or speaker.

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

That’s right. That’s right. Well I- I- fully anticipate handing the gavel over to the next Speaker of the House--

CHUCK TODD:

And you believe that’s going to be?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

--after, after this term. And I think, I think Kevin is the right guy to step up. One of the reasons—let me say it this way. One of the reasons why I was comfortable making this decision, is because we have a very capable leadership team, and I- I- sense a—

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think he’ll do it -- he’ll be able to get the votes this time. Remember you’re Speaker because he couldn’t get the votes last time. What’s changed?

SPEAKER PAUL RYAN:

So, what’s changed, is we have gotten a lot done. What’s changed is, we came together as a team in 2015. We put together an agenda. We ran on that agenda. We won the election. We are executing that agenda. We are getting it done. So what’s changed is this leadership team has come together and gelled, this conference has been unified, and we’ve actually moved the ball and gotten things done.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

You can see my complete interview with Paul Ryan on our website, MeetThePress.com. We'll be back in a moment with how worried Americans are about their personal information and how it's used online and how little trust they have that the government can do anything about it.

[COMMERCIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It's data download time with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress this week. Yes, that happened this week. U.S. voters had good reason to pay attention because we're online a lot. Data from our friends at Simmons' Research shows a full 73% of Americans use social media. 45% went online more than 25 times last week alone. And that doesn't count checking email. 43%, by the way, did some form of online banking in the last month. But Americans hold deep concerns about what happens to our personal information online. 43% of those surveyed said once a piece of personal information becomes available online there's nothing they can do about it. But a majority of these folks, 63% of them, wish there was more control that they had. Americans of different age groups, by the way, have very different concerns about their online privacy. 47% of millennials say the information about them online is relatively harmless, perhaps referencing photos or social media posts while only 30% of baby boomers agree with that. Older adults could be more concerned about things like, say, banking records. And folks with different levels of education also show a split. 35% of those with high school diplomas say they look up a company before giving them information about themselves. That number jumps to 51% for people with college degrees. But when it comes to our politics Americans are largely together on this issue, 66% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans say they want more control over the information companies have about them. And neither party trusts the federal government on this issue either although Republicans are even more skeptical than the Democrats. But in the end no one wants to change their habits. Only 22% say they use the internet less because of privacy concerns. Still, the bipartisan concern over privacy could be the reason we actually see some action on Capitol Hill. You sort of noted it this week against Zuckerberg. Elected officials know the public wants them to do something to protect their privacy. The question now turns to what is that something? When we come back end game and a voter enthusiasm gap that could make all the difference in the world this November.

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, end game brought to you by Boeing, continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with end game a few more details from our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll and what it has to say about the November midterm elections. In our poll 47% say they would like to see the Democrats control Congress while 40% would prefer Republican control. It's slightly better for Republicans actually this month. A month ago we had it 50 to 40 for the Democrats.

But look at this, 66% of Democrats say they're highly interested in the mid-term election while just 49% of Republicans say the same thing about this year's midterms. And to show you that the news gods have a sense of humor, in 2010 those same numbers conducted about this same period of time were exactly reversed. It was 66% of Republicans in 2010 who were showing a high interest in those midterms compared to 49% of Democrats.

And remember this, in 2010 Republicans gained 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. Al Cardenas, this is why the Ryan retirement was seen as sort of another piece of evidence, another shoe to drop. I know that wasn't his intention. Is that the way you read it?

AL CARDENAS:

Yeah. You look at the generic numbers, 7% not all that much. Most of us believe you've got to get into double digits for the generics to make a lot of sense in terms of a landslide. But when you start looking at the specifics which are turnout and independents then it starts the case so far starts getting a little overwhelming. And that was the empirical proof in front of us.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to talk about Trumpism versus Ryanism. Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard, always been a big defender of Paul Ryan writes this, "Republican officials are afraid to take on Trump because their base still likes the guy. And the base still likes the guy in part because so few elected Republicans take him on. This is the harsh reality for movement conservatives." This was sort of in, Mark Leibovich, sort of his obituary for the Ryan years.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Yeah, I thought it was 100% correct. I think when you try to sort of merge the two things together you forget that Trumpism about tone. Trumpism ostensibly is about identity politics which Paul Ryan just explicitly said he hates more than anything. Donald Trump gave a voice to a lot of the rank and file Republicans that felt, frankly, alienated by whatever Ryanism is.

CHUCK TODD:

But Steve is arguing that Ryan never fought back.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

He didn't fight back.

CHUCK TODD:

And that's been the frustration.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

I agree that that will be a huge part of his legacy when people look back, especially at these last two years.

CHUCK TODD:

You're nodding.

CAROL LEE:

Yes because it will be. And you saw him in your interview even doing the same dance that he and other Republicans have been doing for the last year or so. Ryan is just a different kind of brand of Republicanism. And I think that if he could -- It's hard to imagine that if entitlements were in the offering for him to achieve and the dynamics were different that he would be stepping down.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah and I asked him the President Marco Rubio question and he deflected it. But anyway. I want to move to the James Comey book, Kristen. The person you cover full-time, President Trump, has had seven tweets this morning. Five of them are on James Comey. One on Syria and one alluding to the Michael Cohen raid.

One of the tweets he writes about includes basically is about one portion of the Comey book where James Comey writes this about the Hillary Clinton email investigation. "It is entirely possible that because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore a greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in the polls. But I don't know." Obviously Trump's all over that to say, "Aha, proof that he was playing politics."

KRISTEN WELKER:

What's so fascinating about that revelation, and there's so many things, is that when you talk to or hear from the president, White House officials or those who are on the Clinton campaign, they're equally infuriated by that acknowledgement. One former Clinton campaign official said, "So wait a minute, politics really was at the root of this."

I think we'll have to wait and see what the ultimate impact of the Comey book is. Obviously we know there's an effort by the RNC and the president to kind of smear him in this moment. But it's clearly just feeding off of all of his impulses to lash out. And there are a lot of people who are concerned that this may push him over the edge when it comes to lashing out at special counsel.

CHUCK TODD:

Mark, the portrait that's painted of him by a former F.B.I. director basically saying the president is unethical and unfit to lead.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

It's a devastating portrait. I do think that, look, it's not a surprise at all that they're going to lash out, they're going to try to discredit him. The problem is there are only so many people you can discredit. Can you discredit Bob Mueller after saying-- First of all, Donald Trump hired Jim Comey or rehired James Comey to be his F.B.I. director. He hired Rod Rosenstein. He hired Jeff Sessions. There's only so many people you can discredit that were in your chain of command.

AL CARDENAS:

Well, look, the truth of the matter is that there's an ongoing effort where the White House encourages emissaries to go out there and disband and disparage both Mueller and Comey and so forth. And all of this is part of an ultimate decision that if the president's got to go nuclear on this whole investigation that the approval rates and the public's image of these people has declined enough that he will survive the tempest.

And so this is all predictable but is part of a larger picture. I think Comey's going through a lot. I think he by and large his whole life has been as a patriot. I've read only excerpts of the book. Some of it is very interesting. I thought he got petty at times which devalued the message he's trying to bring. But we'll see what happens in the days ahead in his interviews with you all.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, the pettiness has been, yeah, a lot of people pointed that out.

CAROL LEE:

He takes these kind of shots at Trump about his hands or his height or that he's orange. And that kind of overshadows his larger message to some extent. And frankly it is those kinds of comments have not worked for anyone who's tried to take on Trump. They only work for Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. Trump gets away with it. Everybody else gets punished.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Right.

AL CARDENAS:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You've got to remember that. All right, wow. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. We'll be back next week. By the way, happy birthday to my son. Thanks for making April 15th mean something more than just tax day in my house. By the way, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.