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Meet the Press- April 22,2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday Russia and the growing pressure on President Trump. Republicans win the release of former F.B.I. Chief James Comey's memos.

SEAN HANNITY:

This is a big, big beginning to the end of what has been a witch hunt.

CHUCK TODD:

But the memos reinforce Comey's version of events.

JAMES COMEY:

It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.

CHUCK TODD:

And they reveal President Trump's obsession with disproving the Steele dossier's reference to prostitutes.

JAMES COMEY:

He would bring it up with me repeatedly.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus could President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, be pressured into helping the Mueller investigation?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

And we still have to be concerned about Cohen flipping on him.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning, White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Also the Democrats lawsuit, the DNC sues the Trump campaign, Russia and WikiLeaks for allegedly conspiring to sabotage Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. I'll talk to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee Tom Perez. And saying goodbye, friends, family and a nation on our former first lady Barbara Bush.

JEB BUSH:

Barbara Pierce Bush was real and that's why people admired her and loved her so.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. 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. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that it feels as if sometimes we're living in a tabloid presidency given the president was raised in a New York tabloid culture. So we imagine our own tabloid headlines to tell the story this week.

Former F.B.I. Chief James Comey's memos are released and the president charges that Comey broke the law. Comey claims the president told him Vladimir Putin said, quote, "We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world." Rudy Giuliani's back, this time joining the president's legal team.

A porn actress causes a spectacle at a court hearing involving the president's lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen. It's revealed in that open courtroom that one of Cohen's three clients is Fox News host Sean Hannity. There's open debate over whether Cohen will flip and testify against the president to avoid a possible jail sentence. And now the Democratic National Committee sues the Trump campaign, Russia and WikiLeaks alleging they conspired to help Mr. Trump get elected. While it all seems at times like tabloid fun it's deadly serious business. The country remains deeply divided. And this president appears increasingly in peril.

DONALD TRUMP:

There was no collusion with Russia.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump is lashing out tweeting, "James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a special counsel. Therefore the special counsel was established based on illegal act." It's a new line of attack on the Mueller probe from a president under siege increasingly agitated as the squeeze is put on his long-term personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose office, home and hotel room were raided by the F.B.I. last week.

REPORTER:

Mr. President, could Michael Cohen flip?

CHUCK TODD:

Cohen told Vanity Fair in September, "I'm the guy who would take a bullet for the president."

MICHAEL COHEN:

I will do anything to protect Mr. Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

But now Mr. Trump's legal advisors are warning the president that Cohen may cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

He still has to be concerned about two possibilities. Number one, Cohen flipping on him and not only singing but composing and making up stories. And second, files that are seized--

CHUCK TODD:

Adding to Mr. Trump's concerns, the Justice Department pressed by House Republicans released 15 pages of memos from the former F.B.I. Director, an intimate look at the relationship between Mr. Trump and Comey in the months leading up to his firing. The memos document the president's efforts to get the F.B.I. to drop the criminal case against fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

JAMES COMEY:

It's certainly some evidence of obstruction of justice.

CHUCK TODD:

And they detail the president's obsession with disproving the Steele dossier, particularly an unsubstantiated claim that the Russians had tapes of Mr.Trump with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.

JAMES COMEY:

My sense is that he was focused most on the personal piece because he would bring it up with me repeatedly.

CHUCK TODD:

According to the memos it was Mr. Trump who brought up the incident in meetings on January 6th, January 27th and February 8th telling Comey, "The hookers thing is nonsense." But that Putin had told him, "We have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. Many of Mr. Trump's allies claim that the Comey memos vindicate him.

SEAN HANNITY:

This is a big, big beginning to the end of what has been a witch hunt from pretty much day one.

CHUCK TODD:

But after a week-long media blitz that at times veered into the petty and sensational--

SARA HAINES:

You reference Trump's possible self-tanning, the size of his hands.

CHUCK TODD:

--the detail memos ended up adding credibility to Mr. Comey's account as one Republican critic worries about the president's stepped up campaign on law enforcement.

SEN. BOB CORKER:

Tearing down the Justice Department or the F.B.I. is not a good thing for our nation.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is the president's chief congressional negotiator Marc Short. Mr. Short, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MARC SHORT:

Chuck, thanks for having me back again.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright we got a ton of stuff to get to. I’ll go ahead and start with the Russia probe. Simply because over the last 48 hours, half of his tweets have simply been on Russia and Comey and then sporadic ones on a whole number of issues that we are going to get, get into though. But his focus this weekend in particular on the Russia probe, it seems to be almost as if it’s consuming him. Why is that?

MARC SHORT:

Chuck, I think he is responding to a lot of the coverage that mainstream media’s played on this. But I think the administration remains focused on doing the things we promised. I think you see that the economy has -- unemployment at 4.1 percent, the lowest in 17 years. You see 5 million Americans have received either a bonus or a wage increase since the tax plan passed. Deregulation continues. We’re continuing to make progress in putting conservative judges on the court. So the administration stays focused on the business.

CHUCK TODD:

Does it hurt your ability to tell those stories when the president spends his time focused on Russia?

MARC SHORT:

I just did. I mean no, I don’t think it does hurt our ability to do that. We’re -- we’re constantly out there making the case as to how the tax plan is helping Americans, how deregulation is helping the economy. How we have a booming economy with 3 percent GDP which is the first time. The Obama years averaged 1.8 percent GDP. So no, I think the American people are feeling it and seeing it, and they appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you a couple questions about a couple tweets referring to the Mueller probe. Here’s one he did on Friday night. “James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a Special Counsel?” Question. “Therefore, the Special Counsel was established based on an illegal act? Does everybody know what that means?” Let me ask you. What does that mean?

MARC SHORT:

Chuck, I remember there was a time when Republicans opposed special counsels in principle because they felt like they had uncharted terrain and that there was no checks and balance on them. We’ve seen special counsels that have abused their, their roles with both Republicans and Democrats. Republicans fell in love with special counsels in the 1990s when a Whitewater investigation turned into an investigation about a 21-year intern having sexual relations with the president in the Oval Office. Special counsels have challenges in that they continue to go wide-ranging. This presidency, this administration has cooperated, provided thousands of documents. Taxpayers spent millions of dollars on this investigation. And to date we continue to cooperate without evidence of collusion. So yes. I think the president expresses a lot of frustration with where the special counsel investigation is.

CHUCK TODD:

But he- does he believe it -- it’s scope has been fair so far?

MARC SHORT:

I think that we all have frustrations that we believe that the scope has gone well beyond what was intended to be investigations into meddling in the election. And I think that the House and Senate have had their own investigations. The House has completed those. We’re anxious for the Senate to complete its.

CHUCK TODD:

There’s a report in the Washington Post that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions hinted that if Rod Rosenstein was fired, he would resign. Can you enlighten us on that?

MARC SHORT:

I was not part of that conversation Chuck, and there’s-- I don’t have any information on that.

CHUCK TODD:

No information either way.

MARC SHORT:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe that Republicans on Capitol Hill would be supportive if the president fired Mr. Rosenstein -- Rosenstein or Mr. Sessions?

MARC SHORT:

You know Chuck I think that -- I’ve been on your show. You’ve had me several times. I’m grateful. And we always have the same conversation about when’s the president gonna fire one of these guys.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I’m not saying-- he himself brings it up.

MARC SHORT:

It’s always, it’s like—it’s like…

CHUCK TODD:

It’s like, we don’t--we don’t imagine it.

MARC SHORT:

It’s like there’s an hourglass waiting there to see okay, when’s he gonna fire Rosenstein. When’s he gonna fire Mueller. We have the same conversations. As far as I know, the president has no intention of firing these individuals.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. But it's always as far as I know, and the president- he never says definitively. Why not?

MARC SHORT:

It the -- he has no intention--

CHUCK TODD:

Why doesn’t he say definitively it’s not going to happen. This investigation--

MARC SHORT:

We can't--

CHUCK TODD:

--is gonna run its course. Period. End of story. I’ll never fire—

MARC SHORT:

Because you don’t know how far off this investigation is going to veer. Right now, he has no intention of firing him. But we keep having the same conversation again and again and again. The president says I have no intention of firing him, but the media keeps at it every single day, every single week, “When’s the president gonna fire them?” The investigation is ongoing. We’ve complied in every possible way. We’ve provided thousands of documents. And again millions of dollars in taxpayer expense, with no evidence of collusion.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about the release of the Comey memos. Why was it so important for the president to have them released?

MARC SHORT:

I don’t know to the extent that it was important for the president. I think this was pushed by House Republicans who are anxious to-- I think the ones they were most anxious to get out and to show was the -- Comey himself saying the president said to him if there is evidence of Russian interference, I want you to get to the bottom of it. I think that that is counter to the narrative in the media that continues to say that the president is trying to obstruct justice or to obstruct the investigation. That memo shows the president specifically was advising Comey to get to the bottom of it.

CHUCK TODD:

No-- In fact I concur. It seems like the president was specifically saying investigate the dossier.

MARC SHORT:

I think the president—

CHUCK TODD:

Would you go as far as agreeing that that’s what those memos seemed to indicate?

MARC SHORT:

Perhaps. I mean I, I can’t put in exactly what Comey was thinking in his own words. But but—perhaps that’s fair.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to North Korea. And -- he’s been tweeting about it this morning, about — about it. But I want to put up something that Ari Fleischer, a veteran of the Bush administration who’s—who sort of has some scar tissue on North Korea. And he writes this “Call me a cynic, but based on history, one they’ll suspend today and begin again tomorrow. Two, they have alternative ways, sites to carry out their mission, and three, they’re lying now or will lie tomorrow. This is how NK behaves. Remember the Agreed Framework.” What has the United States gotten from North Korea? He’s done temporary everything. But he’s not made a pledge on denuclearization, this last time. He hasn’t released these hostages yet. Have -- we’ve given him the meeting. That in itself is a huge gift. What have we gotten in return?

MARC SHORT:

I would tell you that what one, is, is an agreement to stop testing which is something North Korea’s not done before. We also though have cautious optimism, Chuck. We are cautious. You heard the president say many times, we’re going to keep up maximum pressure. We’re not going to stop that until they denuclearize. So as far as having the meeting, he’s also said I can walk away from the table. But Chuck, it’s all the more important reason as to why we need to get a Secretary of State confirmed sooner rather than later. Because these are important issues pressing before the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

But if—I guess. Denuclearization. What does that mean to the president, and what do you think that means to the North Koreans. Do you think you guys agree on what that word even means?

MARC SHORT:

I think there has to have a sit-down conversation to get to that point. But I think from our perspective, it means full denuclearization. No longer having nuclear weapons that can be used in warfare against any of our allies.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright, another topic here. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about this idea that I know that you guys are working with House Republicans on. A rescission bill, which in non-Washington speak means essentially – pulling back some of the spending that you guys agreed to in that bill that, that I know the president wasn’t happy with. Here’s what Mitch McConnell said about it.

BEGIN TAPE

MITCH MCCONNELL: You can’t make an agreement one month, and then say okay we really didn’t mean it, and come back the next month and say oh we didn’t really mean our agreement.

END TAPE

CHUCK TODD:

You were in the room. You agreed to these negotiations. What does this say. I mean are you guys-- why, why should Democrats ever negotiate with you again?

MARC SHORT:

Sure. I think there’s several things. One, we would ask the Senate to have patience and look at the package that gets sent up. Did you know that between President Ford and President Clinton there were over 1,200 rescissions submitted to Congress. The last two presidents have chosen not to utilize that.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay but why do this. Mitch McConnell says that you don’t want to do it. You’re just going to divide your party.

MARC SHORT:

Because he hasn’t seen the package. In many cases, what I think you’ll see us putting forward are dollars that have been leftover in programs for years that are not being utilized. But second, we did have negotiations, and we did have a top line agreement about what we should spend on military, and how we should get the first funding to build the wall in over ten years. The first actual appropriations. But nobody saw the text, Chuck. The president said that. Nobody saw the text of the bill within 24 hours because the process in Congress is broken. The last time Congress approp—finished an appropriations process on time was 22 years ago. In 1996. So then they dump an appropriations bill that says okay you can either keep government open or shut it down. Here’s your chance to fund the military and do what you want on the border. Or you can shut down government. So it’s a Hobbesian choicefor the president he has to face. If Congress would do its job and actually get an appropriations bill on time, then there probably wouldn’t be a rescissions package.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly. Scott Pruitt still have the confidence of the president? I ask, because now there’s news that indeed the person he was renting a room from—a lobbyist he was renting a room from did have something before the EPA. Did have an official meeting with him. That’s not very drain the swampy.

MARC SHORT:

That’s fair. But Scott Pruitt’s doing a phenomenal job. The president is happy with him and—

CHUCK TODD:

Full confidence?

MARC SHORT:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

There’s- What would it take for him to lose confidence?

MARC SHORT:

Chuck, That’s a hypothetical. I don’t know. Right now, Scott Pruitt is doing a great job at EPA and we are excited to have him there.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright Marc Short. The president’s chief congressional liaison, good to see you sir.

MARC SHORT:

Thank you having me on.

CHUCK TODD:

Much appreciated. Well, the bipartisan bill that would protect the special counsel from being fired is expected to get a committee vote this week. But there's an important person still standing between it and the Senate floor. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Still there seems to be some Republican disagreement over the outcome.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

This is a piece of legislation that's not necessary in my judgment. I'm the one who decides what we take to the floor. That's my responsibility as the majority leader. And we'll not be having this on the floor of the Senate.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY:

Obviously the views of the majority leader are important to consider. But they do not govern what happens here in the Judiciary Committee. If consideration on the floor was a standard for approving a bill in committee or not we wouldn't be probably moving any bills out of this committee.

CHUCK TODD:

Republican Susan Collins of Maine joins me now. Senator Collins, welcome back to the show.

SUSAN COLLINS:

Thank you Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

I’m gonna ask about that very question you heard Mitch McConnell say, ‘I decide what goes on the floor, it’s not happening.’ Where are you on this bill?

SUSAN COLLINS:

I believe that it is important to have a debate on this bill in order to send a clear message to the President that Congress does not support his taking any action with regard to Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Now I don’t think that there’s any chance in the world that the President’s going to sign the bill and there are some legitimate constitutional issues that’ve been raised. But I think that message is an important one.

CHUCK TODD:

Well you and I both know you can always attach stuff to must-sign pieces of legislation. President Obama got forced to pass laws that he didn’t want necessarily passed because the other parts of the bill were important. You guys could do something like that.

SUSAN COLLINS:

We could but I think the President might well veto the entire bill that it’s attached to. And uh also there’s the possibility that it would be struck down. But the message is an important one.

CHUCK TODD:

That’s why you want this debate –

SUSAN COLLINS:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

You think having this public debate – What about Mitch McConnell’s pledge not to bring it to the floor?

SUSAN COLLINS:

Well it’s his call but I would hope that he might reconsider after the Judiciary Committee reports the bill.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about a larger question here. When I saw that I think that the House decided to adjourn a day early it it feels as if Washington is almost paralyzed right now by the Mueller probe and and and I know that or at least it it sort of it’s a pall that sort of makes everything hit – everybody is hitting the pause button. You can’t seem to focus on a lot of other issues. Is it

consuming Washington? The Mueller probe a little?

SUSAN COLLINS:

Well there’s certainly a lot of interest in it and in some ways I think people are following the daily developments. But we are getting work done in other areas and I’m optimistic that this year we may finally return to a regular appropriations process. We just passed a sex trafficking bill –

CHUCK TODD:

We – by the way you just brought up a point. What do you make of this decision to potentially repeal some spending? A rescissions bill that you heard, just talked about. You guys just cut a deal um with the Democrats and with everybody. And what kind of dealmakers would you be if you pulled the rug?

SUSAN COLLINS:

I would advise the President to focus on the coming year’s appropriations and not try to re-litigate and –

CHUCK TODD:

So you won’t support something like this?

SUSAN COLLINS:

No I will not.

CHUCK TODD:

Well that means, frankly, there’s with this razor-thin margin here. Doesn’t that send the message that this isn’t going anywhere?

SUSAN COLLINS:

Well this was an agreement that all the parties were in the room. Both chambers and the administration agreed to. And I just don’t think that anyone should renege on it. We should focus going forward on the appropriations bills before us.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. I want to ask you about your role in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Michael Cohen. He has made one appearance before the Intel Committee in closed session. What’s your sense of Michael Cohen’s connection to this Russia probe?

SUSAN COLLINS:

That’s a very difficult question to answer. There’s been one interview of Michael Cohen. It has not been released to the public. I’m not at liberty to say what he said.

CHUCK TODD:

Mhm.

SUSAN COLLINS:

But let me just say that I don’t see him as being a central figure in this. The fact that the Special Counsel referred the allegations against Mr. Cohen back to the Justice Department and was referred to a U.S. Attorney suggests to me that it is not intimately connected to the Russia probe.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you feel as if Special Counsel Robert Mueller has expanded his probe beyond the scope of what of what he was assigned or is -- do you feel as if he is staying within the parameters?

SUSAN COLLINS:

I believe he’s staying within the parameters. And the proof of that is when he came across the allegations against Mr. Cohen he did refer them back to the Justice Department and they’re now being handled by a U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. He didn’t keep those.

CHUCK TODD:

James Comey’s book tour. What do you make of James Comey and what do you make of the…what’s the lesson that you’re taking away from from perhaps what advice you would give a future FBI Director by watching James Comey, and this book tour, and how he’s handled all this.

SUSAN COLLINS:

Well if I were advising a future FBI Director I would say two things. One: always follow the Department of Justice’s protocols and guidelines which unfortunately James Comey did not do in the Hillary Clinton investigation. And he did not do when he leaked documents that were FBI work documents to a friend of his knowing that they would go to the press. And to it, so that would be my first advice. The second would be don’t write a book in the middle of an investigation that’s ongoing –

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think this is potentially disruptive to the Mueller probe?

SUSAN COLLINS:

That’s what worries me. I cannot imagine why an FBI Director would seek to essentially cash in on a book when the investigation is very much alive. He should have waited to do his memoir.

CHUCK TODD:

The Senate confirmation process on everything seems to be more and more difficult all the time. Let me ask you about two. Mike Pompeo. You voted to confirm him as CIA Director. Any reason you wouldn’t vote to confirm him as Secretary of State?

SUSAN COLLINS:

I am going to vote to confirm him.

CHUCK TODD:

Any concerns at all or no?

SUSAN COLLINS:

I worked closely with him as a member of the Intelligence Committee. He is a very bright individual. I don’t agree with every position he’s taken or every word he has spoken. But I believe he has an extensive knowledge of world affairs that has been enhanced by his time at the CIA.

CHUCK TODD:

Gina Haspel, the Director the the nominee to replace Mike Pompeo. Dianne Feinstein came out against. Where are you on her? Have you made a decision?

SUSAN COLLINS:

I have not. I want to wait ‘til we have the hearings. I had a lengthy meeting with her last week. I would note that the Mike Morell memo to look at her role in the destruction of the video tapes which had been major concern of mine –

CHUCK TODD:

Of potential torture.

SUSAN COLLINS:

Exactly. Of detainees.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SUSAN COLLINS: Exonerated her as far as the destruction of the tapes. But we still have a lot of questions to ask of her.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I let you go. Can you just share with us – I know you attended the memorial service for Barbara Bush who was not tech—a a a long time part-time resident of your home state of Maine. Tell me about the service.

SUSAN COLLINS:

It was a heart-warming tribute to Barbara Bush. It included beautiful liturgy, wonderful tributes to her. Lots of grandchildren and representatives from the First Families going back to Lyndon Baines Johnson’s family. And that was -- and to and to President Kennedy’s family as well. And that was heartwarming as well. To see people putting away partisanship and coming together to honor a truly wonderful woman who had a huge influence on this country and my state. And I -- I’m very grateful that I was able to be there.

CHUCK TODD:

It felt like America said goodbye to its grandmother.

SUSAN COLLINS:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

God bless. Anyone. Susan Collins. Senator from, Republican Senator Maine. Thanks for coming on the show.

SUSAN COLLINS:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Much appreciate it. When we come back: If the President and his businesses have done nothing wrong, why is there so much talk about Michael Coing -- Cohen flipping? The panel is here to talk about that. And about the return of a Trump ally to the President’s legal team: Rudy Giuliani. Who says he wants to negotiate an end to the Mueller probe in a week or two.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here. David Brody, host of Face the Nation on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. All right. I've got to start with the president, Russia and just sort of the larger atmosphere we're in right now. Amy, it feels as if all of Washington, he's consumed by it for obvious reasons. But is Washington almost paralyzed now?

AMY WALTER:

It does feel that way. Although let's be really clear I think the moment that we saw the Speaker of the House say that he was retiring it was, to me, an admission that nothing's going to get done--

CHUCK TODD:

It was over. Right.

AMY WALTER:

--between now. We're done. We're done legislating. We're done doing anything except for focusing on the mid-term elections. And I think that McConnell's basically saying the same thing. So some of it is about Russia. But a lot it is environment is so bad. We're not going to get anything done in here. Let's go out and at least try to make our case on the campaign trail.

CHUCK TODD:

Except the president keeps bringing attention--

AMY WALTER:

No he's not helping.

CHUCK TODD:

--back to Russia. It was a point I made with Marc Short.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.

DAVID BRODY:

Well, and I would just say James Comey has really been Donald Trump's best friend this week. I don't think there's any question about it. Look, he says he doesn't leak and then he leaks. And he calls the president morally unfit and, oh by the way, he's under investigation himself.

He wants justice and he's going out on a book tour during an active investigation. This has really become, to a degree, Comey's comedy of errors. And it goes to all of those tweets that everybody laughs about, witch hunt, witch hunt, that Donald Trump talks about. Here it is. In the red world out there of Trump's base it is deep state, gone off the rails. And we haven't even gotten to Andrew McCabe yet who had a bit of lack of candor.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I think that Susan Collins is the best tell on this in that when she said that he should not have written the book in the middle of the investigation and should not have, her words, cashed in--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah that was rough language.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--a book tour as--

CHUCK TODD:

Susan Collins is a throat )--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--a former F.B.I. official. She--

CHUCK TODD:

--barbs that tough. Yeah.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--is so down the middle on this. And that is a real indicator to me. I disagree on the quote leaks because I think he had every right to write memos to self and those memos were not classified at the time. They are not leaks. He could share them. They were his to even declassify if he wanted to given the fact that he had not yet been fired. So that I disagree with. But that is a narrative that certainly is out there. And I think that by getting personal, by not writing a legalistic book, by speaking about hands and hair and other affects, it's too novelistic.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Here is I think the problem with the Comey thing for the president as larger, in the Quinnipiac poll you have 63% disagreeing or disapproving of the president's handling of the Russia problem. And the Comey thing sort of doubles down on that. Because what I found striking about the Comey's memos was how focused the president was on the personal,

At a time when we were being attacked, both Republicans and Democrats were saying, "Russia is aggressive and they're attacking us." The president wasn't focused on that at all. He was focused on his own self-interest. And I think for middle America that's a problem.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

I do want to bring up Michael Cohen because the president, he was really animated about that Michael Cohen story. He got really upset with Sam Nunberg's quotes but he didn't get upset with Roger Stone who was also quoted in the New York Times as saying this about Michael Cohen, "Donald goes out of his way to treat him like garbage."

The president pushed back really hard on a series of tweets Amy, "Going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hopes that he will flip. A business man for his own account," hint, hint, "I don't know of all his business dealings."

AMY WALTER:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

And sorry, I don't see Michael doing that referring to flipping.

AMY WALTER:

To flipping.

CHUCK TODD:

Boy, is he nervous about Cohen.

AMY WALTER:

Yeah. Well, and to make the case, this may be about his own business, it's not about my business. If he sings it's about things that he's done wrong that aren't affiliated with me. And to get out of those problems he's going to make stuff up. You've heard a number of other folks say that too.

"Well, you know, he may -- Cohen may feel really pressured to say stuff so he can get out of this." But it's pretty clear that we've moved pretty far away now from Russia. And that's the question that I really want to understand is what are voters going to think when what was ostensibly started as Russian interference turns into learning more about the president's personal business behavior?" Are voters going to say, "Well, we kind of think that's out of bounds." Or are they going to say--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And that's precisely when the Mueller, as Cohen -- as Senator Collins said, that's why it was referred to Manhattan, to the state prosecutor, to the New York case. That's why he has said that it has not gone beyond. We don't know exactly where it's gone. But it has not gone beyond the original brief. I'm so struck--

OVERTALK)

AMY WALTER:

I don't think people would know that though.

CHUCK TODD:

Amy brings up a good point. And I would love for you guys quickly to touch on this which is Mueller needs to produce what the connection is probably. And if he doesn't it may lead people to believe, "Wait a minute, this looks like they're just trying to get him."

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well, right now I think we say that. But right now when you look at public opinion on this they think there's some there there, right? We may never get to where it holds up to collusion in court. But I think for a lot of people common sense, something's going on there and it's not right.

DAVID BRODY:

It doesn't seem like they're getting there. That's the problem. And I just real quick on Michael Cohen, I've known him for seven years. And pretty well actually. And let me be clear, I don't see him flipping at all. And this whole Roger Stone comment, look, Donald Trump has had up and down relationships with everybody, so.

CHUCK TODD:

That is a fact. I can attest to it myself actually.

(OVERTALK)

DAVID BRODY:

You're garbage one day and you're in the pent house the next day, so.

CHUCK TODD:

Go ahead.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I just feel the bigger issue here is that the president, if Washington isn't completely gridlocked, which I think it is, the president is completely consumed by this. During times when we've had the chemical attacks in Syria and this, in fact, the nuclear--

CHUCK TODD:

The nuclear--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--opportunities--

CHUCK TODD:

--with North Korea--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

He keeps getting back to this. He keep focusing on it. And this is precisely what Comey memorialized in his memo, that he was not in those very moments asking about the Russian attack on our electoral system, he was asking about him, about Michael Flynn and about the hookers. The hookers in Moscow.

(BREAK IN TAPE)

AMY WALTER:

Well, a year from now what do you think we'll be talking about? Cohen? Or North Korea? What was more substantive and what had a bigger impact--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Two years from now because it's going to take--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID BRODY:

I think in the mid-term elections people are going to be talking about they got a little bit more money in their paychecks. Really if you look at the--

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

They're not feeling that yet.

DAVID BRODY:

Well, some--

CHUCK TODD:

No they're not.

DAVID BRODY:

--I would just say this, you look at the polling, the polling shows it's the economy, it's immigration, it's other issues. It's not this.

CHUCK TODD:

This is a conversation we're going to touch on a little bit later, sort of the Democrats' focus, is it going to be on Russia or is it going to be on the economy. Very quickly, North Korea, there seems to be a split even in the Trump administration. The president is gung-ho. His advisors are grabbing the reins, aren't they?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Most experts are saying Kim Jong-un has played this so smartly. He's got a meeting coming up on Friday with the South Koreans. He's already pitching himself as the great negotiator, the great conciliator, the base in the north was not liked by China. It was already broken down. They're going to get rid of that, they're popping up elsewhere underground, wherever. We have very bad intelligence on it. We don't know how many weapons they already have. He's not giving up anything that's real. He hasn't tested in months and months. This so-called freeze on testing is what was already taking place.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, we shall see. President, as somebody said, never has a bad personal meeting when he gets into the same room. What does that mean for Kim Jong-un? Anyway, when we come back Democrats accuse Republicans and the Russians of, quote, "An act of previously unimaginable treachery." Well, the DNC Chair Tom Perez is here to talk about that. But as we go to break I want to bring you a moment from Jeb Bush's tribute to his mother, First Lady Barbara Bush at yesterday's memorial service in Houston.

JEB BUSH:

Mom got us through our difficult times with consistent, take it to the bank, unconditional but tough love. She called her style a benevolent dictatorship. But honestly it wasn't always benevolent. Mom, we look forward to being with you and Robin and all of God's children. We love you.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the 2016 presidential campaign never ends, does it? It won't. Well, in 2050 we'll be arguing about it. But on Friday, the Democratic National Committees filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government and WikiLeaks alleging that they engaged in a conspiracy to sabotage Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump become president. Joining me now to discuss this development is the Chair of the DNC, Tom Perez. Mr. Chairman, welcome back to the show.

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Always a pleasure to be back with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me start with uh-- this. Why this lawsuit right now? And I ask this because the president toys with interfering with the Mueller probe and Democrats are quick to say, "Let it run its course." This to me is a lawsuit. You're making a claim that Mueller hasn't made yet. Why not wait for the Mueller probe to end before you file your lawsuit?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Sure. Well, there are three basic reasons. Number one, you have to file claims in a timely manner under statute of limitations. I don't know when Director Mueller's investigation is going to end, nor would I ever ask him because I want him to do a good, thorough job. And so we need to protect our rights under the appropriate statute of limitations.

CHUCK TODD:

When was this going to expire? How close to this deadline are we?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Well if we-- well, again, I don't know when Director Mueller is going to file his complaint. Or whatever action he takes.

CHUCK TODD:

But you believe you couldn't have filed a lawsuit if--

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Well, again--

CHUCK TODD:

--you waited a couple weeks?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

--well, again, but we don't know when Director Mueller is going to act. And so, this notion-- And, again, I don't want to ask him when he's going to act. And so we have to protect our rights. But secondly, we've done our homework, Chuck. A year ago people were saying, "File a lawsuit then." And I didn't do that because I believe in doing your homework. And over the course of the last year we have seen, I think, a mountain of evidence of collusion between the campaign and the Russians to basically affect our democracy. And so we did our homework and we brought our civil case. And then finally I'm worried about these mid-term elections because they did this with impunity. You know, General McMaster said that we- we haven’t-- we failed to impose sufficient costs on Russia. Well, we know why I think they failed to impose sufficient costs on Russia for this dramatic and reckless and- and unprecedented attack, because this administration is compromised. I want to make sure we send a very clear signal.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to-- I'm curious of- of who you chose to include in the lawsuit and who you didn't. You have Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone. You don't have Michael Flynn. He's somebody that- that's been charged. I'm curious why has Michael Flynn not included? No Steve Bannon, no Corey Lewandowski, no Kellyanne Conway, three other people who served as sort of campaign chairs or managers. But you do have Manafort. What was the decision making to go with who got in and who didn't?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Well, we brought a case against the people that we feel there's sufficient evidence to move forward in a civil case. That doesn't preclude us from moving to amend the case as we discover more evidence.

CHUCK TODD:

But you don't think there's enough evidence on Michael Flynn, huh?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Well, again, we want to make sure-- I'm a big believer in making sure that I have confidence in every aspect of my case. And in the Watergate case that was brought by Larry O'Brien, former chair of the DNC, that complaint was amended over time. I am confident that we will file an amended complaint over time.

CHUCK TODD:

Did Hillary Clinton push you to do this? Was this— was this something, is she supportive?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

You'll have to ask Secretary Clinton--

CHUCK TODD:

You don't know if she's supportive of this move or not?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

I have- I have not consulted Hillary Clinton to ask her permission to file a complaint. The buck stops with Tom Perez. And we filed this complaint because-- our democracy is at risk. This was an assault on our democracy and we have to protect that.

CHUCK TODD:

I spoke with a legal expert on my show on Friday who said he believes under federal law that your claims, if it does come to trial, will have to be decided by a judge, not a jury. That you won't get a jury trial because of the statute that you're using. Are you concerned if you don't get a jury trial?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

I'm confident we'll get a jury trial. And we've had plenty of legal experts looking at—

CHUCK TODD:

So you don't believe that this is--

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

I don't, I don’t agree with that at all.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't agree with that. All right. Let me ask you a few different reactions to this. First, let me put up what Donald Trump's campaign manager for 2020, Brad Parscale said, "This is a sham lawsuit about a bogus Russian collusion claim filed by a desperate, dysfunctional and nearly insolvent Democratic Party. They've sunk to a new low to raise money," referring to this criticism that you guys are just doing this to raise money. Let me ask you this, are you using the lawsuit to raise money?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

No. And I'm laughing, Chuck, because those are almost the precise quotes we heard from the Nixon campaign in 1972 when this was filed. We're bringing this lawsuit to seek justice, to expose the truth and to deter future behavior. We have elections coming up. They tried to interfere. They interfered in 2016. They did it with impunity. And they're trying to do it again. And we've got to deter it. This is an attack on our democracy. And we need to – we can fight for good health care, we can fight for good jobs and we can fight to preserve our democracy. In fact, we must do that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm going to ask you a question that apparently came up on a conference call that you had with some state party leaders. And this was from Slate. It said, "I just mentioned this to a county," this is referring to somebody, we don't know who it was on the call, but a state party official. "I just mentioned this to a county chair and her response was, 'How can we spend all that money?' So can you address that, the financial burden that's going to be on us?" I will ask you, how much money is this going to cost the DNC? How much money are you taking away from 2018 to focus on 2016 and Russia?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Chuck, we can't afford not to do this because when you look ahead and you see what, what was done before and what they're trying to do again, our democracy is at stake. It's hard to win elections when you have interference in elections. We've been winning elections. We know how to walk and chew gum. We've got boots on the ground right now in Arizona. We have a – we have a great candidate. She's an undeniable underdog but we're fighting there. We just won in, in Wisconsin.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't answer, how much money is this lawsuit gonna take this year? Millions?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

I don't know. I don't know the amount of money that it will take. But I’ll tell you, it's hard to put a price tag on preserving democracy. And you know what, that's why I concluded that it would be irresponsible of me not to do this.

CHUCK TODD:

Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, Claire McCaskill office. Claire McCaskill's office called it a silly distraction, the lawsuit. Jackie Speier, a Democrat who's on House Intel Committee has seen all of this stuff says it's ill-conceived and not in the interest of the American people. What would you tell them?

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

I love those two Democrats. They're good -- great people. We're working to help re-elect them and I disagree with them for the simple reason that preserving our democracy is priceless. And when you have elections that have been attempted, you've seen attempted interference in the past. They're going to do it again. And by the way, I would love to introduce them to some of my colleagues on the DNC. At the end of this, they were trying to bring about chaos, Chuck. And they did. We had people on my team at the DNC who got death threats. And do you know what, when you try to do that to our team, yeah, I'm going to punch back. I'm punching back not only for my colleagues. I'm punching back for democracy. That's what we believe in as Democrats. Elections should be fair. I understand people may agree and disagree. But you know what, we're fighting for them.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, Tom Perez, Chair of the DNC, thanks for coming on, sharing your views. Nice to see you, sir.

DNC CHAIR TOM PEREZ:

Always a pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, data download time. We've reached a big milestone in the last couple of months. We're less than a thousand days from the 2020 presidential election. You're excited too, aren't you? It's never too soon to start having a little fun with our electoral college maps.

And with the country's demographics undergoing some significant shifts how might 2020 look different than 2016? Well, there's a reason we're doing this this week, thanks to a new bipartisan report on America's electoral future we actually have some answers based on a few scenarios. Now the country is growing more diverse.

So by the time the 2020 election rolls around white voters are projected to make up a smaller share of eligible voters than they did in 2016. It's a trend that we've seen for decades. And while African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians will make up a larger share. So how will those changes play out in a few different electoral college scenarios? Well, as a reminder here's what the 2016 map looked like. Donald Trump flipped six states Obama won including three in that supposed big Midwestern blue wall: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. So what happens if Democrats are able to recreate the African-American turnout that they saw in the 2012 election?

Well, with more black voters in the electorate in 2020 they would actually rebuild that blue wall. They would take back Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And guess what? With a 2012 turnout they'd also get Georgia, a state they haven't won since 1992, along with a few other states Trump carried in '16.

And Democrats would win the electoral college in that scenario by about that Obama margin from 2012, 339 to 199. But what if the African-American vote stays the same and Republicans continue to growth their advantage among whites without a college degree while Democrats growth theirs among whites with a college degree? Well, Republicans would see a scenario much like 2016. They'd hang onto all those blue wall states plus they'd even flip New Hampshire. Democrats would win the popular vote but the Republicans would likely take the electoral election by a pretty wide margin, 309 to 229.

Finally what if everything stays the same except voters who went with a third-party candidate in 2016 come home to the party they typically vote with? Well, guess what, Dems would take back Pennsylvania, Michigan and that one electoral vote Maine. Oh yeah, we'd have a 269/269 tie. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. You think this is what us political prognosticators dream of. We do.

Bottom line, the country is getting more diverse which means that our swing states are going to change. Democrats are starting to get a foothold in the sunbelt, Georgia and Arizona are coming into the battle ground. But Republicans are going to hold a slight advantage now in the Midwest probably for years to come. Back in a moment with endgame and an emotional farewell to a beloved first lady.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with end game. And one of the reasons we call it that because we want to get to a bunch of issues fairly quickly. I want to start with the DNC lawsuit, Cornell Belcher, is this good politics for 2018? That seems to be -- I'm a cynic here, this looks like a stunt.

(COMMERCIAL)

CORNELL BELCHER:

I think there are things bigger than politics at play. Look, the DNC was attacked. People hacked them. We had lives destroyed. You had an attack by a foreign adversary on the DNC. They have a right to want to hold someone accountable. I put politics aside. This is bigger than politics.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess would it have been more effective though had it been the individuals who were impacted? Those are the victims.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

The individuals impacted, the DNC as a whole makes it look more political.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Well, I think the DNC as a whole was impacted by that. By the way, I also think our election was impacted by this hacking, quite frankly. So I think it's bigger than politics.

DAVID BRODY:

This is too wide. It's 66 pages. They've named so many different people. Twelve apostles, seven dwarves. There's everybody in there. And I guess my question then becomes on collusion and Russia, inside this document, in this lawsuit they talk about how the Trump administration has, or they were concerned that the Trump administration has policies that would support the Kremlin. But the last time I checked, didn't we just bomb Syria, one of Russia's allies? Didn't we expel some diplomats? Didn't we continue with sanctions on Russia? The point is is that there doesn't seem to be any there there at this point.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. Let me ask about Rudy Giuliani, Amy.

DAVID BRODY:

Dropped the mic.

CHUCK TODD:

He's back. Yeah, you did drop the mic there.

DAVID BRODY:

Dropped the mic.

CHUCK TODD:

You're like, "Well, is he at this point? Is he at this point?" We all live in the point. Rudy Giuliani, president's legal team. What's interesting about it is that a lot of people are bringing back the fact that Rudy Giuliani seemed to know that, quote, "Comey too," meaning the reopening on the investigation, was coming before the rest of us did. If that is, indeed, confirmed that leaks were going to him, is he going to be able to remain the president's lawyer?

AMY WALTER:

This whole thing, to me, speaks much more about the president wanting a security blanket than wanting a legal voice. Right? He knows Rudy Giuliani, he's comfortable around him. He'll tell him what he likes to hear. He may go on TV and say those things.

So to your point I think it makes it harder for Rudy Giuliani to be a front person because he's going to get asked that same question you just asked me over and over again. So it seems to me he's a behind the scenes person that he can hold onto rather than the real voice.

(OVERTALK)

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But he's a counter puncher. And he can go on another network and not be asked those difficult questions and just keep expounding what the president wants to see.

CHUCK TODD:

Which one is that?

CORNELL BELCHER:

But it's about judgment. Right? I think this shows incredible poor judgment. Rudy Giuliani is someone who continues to lie about Hillary Clinton not showing up at Ground Zero, 9/11. He's someone who we're probably going to find out the leaks went to. Right? This is -- His judgment is poor. This is a ball of corruption and lies at this point. I don't think it's helpful at all.

DAVID BRODY:

I agree with Amy though. I also say that I think it's relational too. He's got the relationship with Mueller. And Trump knows, business 101, be relational, always be--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

But I want to ask you, they want to make Andrew McCabe a big deal. If Rudy Giuliani is seen as a recipient of F.B.I. leaks does that undermine things?

DAVID BRODY:

Well, I think it could be a big PR problem. They've got to watch out for that, sure.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Ball of corruption.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's end on a note that seemed to bring the entire country together even for a brief minute. First of all I want to put up this photo that was just put on Twitter by the office of George H.W. Bush. Look at this, it's the Bush 41 surrounded by members of all of the current living presidential administrations. So you have the Clintons, the Obamas, Melania Trump, Laura Bush, George W. Bush. Andrea, you were there. As I said to Susan Collins, I felt like America was burying its grandma.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

It did. And it was also a tribute to a different political era that nobody is going to question that the George Bush campaign in '88 wasn't a really tough Willie Horton campaign. They played politics hard. But Barbara Bush and the way both Bushs evolved and embraced the Clintons and that authentic relationship after that crushing defeat in '92 to the Bush’s (sic) and what Jeb said in his eulogy.

The eulogies were beautiful. The church service was beautiful. What Jeb said about her kindness, her generosity, lack of meanness, her spirit, it was such an implicit rebuke, frankly, to the Trump era.

CHUCK TODD:

Can I just put up a moment here. I want to show Barbara Bush holding an AIDS baby in March of 1989. And Amy Walter, this was such an important moment. People forget 1989, this is before Magic Johnson was diagnosed. There was this perception that, "Oh my God, if you just touch an AIDS patient you, too, might get AIDS." And Barbara Bush broke the--

(OVER TALK)

AMY WALTER:

And what better image for a mother to be holding a child, right? At its core. But I want to also get back to what Andrea said which is fascinating. I think she represents and that funeral represented the central paradox we have in our political time which is we want a return to that civility and the decency but we don't want to return to political dynasties. And that's what we continue to fight against. So you want some of it without the other piece.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And also about that AIDS, that image, the Reagan White House was so late to come to grips with AIDS and really resisted that. And so Barbara Bush broke through.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a huge moment. Thank you, guys. Before I go, quick programming note, tonight don't want to miss this, special investigative addition of Dateline headed up by my good pal, Savannah Guthrie. It's the Olympics gymnastics scandal. She interviews former U.S.A. Gymnastics national team coordinators, the Karolyis, Bela and Martha, Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney. All about that sexual abuse by Larry Nassar. You don't want to miss that. That's tonight at 7:00, 6:00 eastern. That's all for today. Thanks for watching. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday it's Meet the Press.

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