Meet the Press - April 28, 2019

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ANDREA MITCHELL:

This Sunday, the president versus Congress. President Trump says he's done cooperating with Russia investigations.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Vowing to defy congressional Democrats.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Oh, we're fighting all the subpoenas.

RUDY GIULIANI:

I wouldn't give them a damn thing.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

As Democrats plan to use the Mueller report as a roadmap on obstruction.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

Congress has the responsibility and I would say the obligation to hold individuals in contempt who do not comply with a lawful subpoena.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

My guests this morning: Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Plus, some Democrats say now is the time for impeachment, but polls show it is not popular with the public. And Speaker Pelosi is not budging.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

There are some people who are more eager for impeachment. Many more eager to just follow the investigation.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Also, making his case.

JOE BIDEN:

If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Joe Biden gets in the race finally and argues President Trump needs to go and that he can beat him. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Robert Costa, national political reporter for the Washington Post; Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan; former Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo; and Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times. 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.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And good Sunday morning. I'm Andrea Mitchell, filling in for Chuck Todd. The word "stonewall" has long been associated with the Watergate scandal. In one of the tapes recorded as the scandal deepened, Nixon tells his campaign director and former attorney general John Mitchell, "I want you all to stonewall it. Let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up, or anything else if it'll save the plan. That's the whole point." Fighting congressional Democrats, stonewalling seems to be President Trump's whole point right now. While the Mueller report has certainly not generated a Watergate-level crisis, President Trump this week made clear he is not about to cooperate any further with Russia-related investigations. Despite the damning evidence of possible obstruction detailed in the Mueller Report, Mr. Trump is sticking to his no-collusion, no-obstruction spin and is vowing to fight congressional subpoenas. The president knows this playbook well. Throughout his business career, he's employed a jab-and-move strategy, hoping to run out the clock until the current crisis ebbs or the next one emerges. All of which has left Democrats debating their next move: Start impeachment proceedings, as some on the left are urging, or keep investing, fight the president, and leave Mr. Trump's fate to the voters?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The radical liberal Democrats put all their hopes behind their collusion delusion.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

At a campaign rally in Wisconsin Saturday night, President Trump on the attack.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The scum that's leading the very top of government. These were dirty cops.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

With House Democrats demanding that his current and former top aides testify, the president is preparing to argue executive privilege and run out the clock.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren't, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS:

He's trampling on the Constitution. No doubt about it. They are doing a blockade.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Democrats have subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify next month. McGahn is named more than 150 times in the Mueller report, emerging as a central witness to potential obstruction. After the president ordered him to fire Mueller, McGahn refused, telling then-chief of staff Reince Priebus that the president had asked him to do crazy expletive.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The president attacking the investigators.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

An attempted coup. This was a coup. They tried for a coup. Didn't work out so well. And I didn't need a gun for that one, did I?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And Mr. Trump and his advisors, including his son-in-law, are downplaying Russian interference.

JARED KUSHNER:

It's a terrible thing, but I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple Facebook ads.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

On Friday, the FBI director made it clear Russia is working 365 days a year to undermine U.S. democracy.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY:

We're very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show for 2020.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The New York Times reported this week that former Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was told, "Don't bring Russian interference in front of the president." Now, Democrats are divided over their next move. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 56% of Americans oppose impeachment. Just 37% favor starting the process, although 58% believe Mr. Trump lied to the public about matters under investigation by Mueller and 47%, a plurality, say he obstructed justice. Still, on the campaign trail Democratic candidates are beginning to push House Speaker Pelosi to act.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN:

The House should initiate impeachment proceedings.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But Pelosi is trying to hold them off.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

I don't think there's big division in our caucus about this. There are some people who are more eager for impeachment. Many more eager to just follow the investigation.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And joining me now is Democratic presidential candidate and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Senator Klobuchar, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Thanks, Andrea. It's great to be on.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Good to have you with us. You’re a member of the Judiciary Committee The Democrats say that the president is stonewalling. He clearly is saying, "No cooperation, no witnesses, either current or former aides." Does this amount to obstruction?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

When you read that report in detail, and you start out with what happened with Russia, to me, it looks like obstruction. And especially the part, if we want to protect our nation, maybe Russia didn't use tanks, maybe they didn't use missiles, but they invaded our democracy all the same. They did it by meddling, and not just meddling, but actually invading our democracy. They actually got into voter rolls. We're finding out now that they got into some county in Florida, and they won't tell us. And every time that I have tried to do something about this, with our Secure Elections Act, the White House has squelched the efforts. They won't even pass the bipartisan bill for backup paper ballots. That would be a big help, Andrea, to ensure that, if one state goes bad, or one county is invaded, that we're able to have a successful 2020 election, where we actually have the American people voting, and not the Russians determining what happened.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But the president says he's been exonerated. The Russia investigation is closed, case closed. It's over. So how does Congress get him to provide witnesses, documents, if he says that current and former aides will not be permitted to testify?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Well, that's what subpoenas are all about. And when I look at this, these witnesses, like Don McGahn, who we now know the president attempted to tell him to, you know, end this investigation and fire Mueller, Don McGahn spoke to the special counsel. That is now public.

So the American people should at least be able to know what Don McGahn says. We should be able to ask questions. And so that's what this is about, getting the full report, getting Mueller. We're going to see Attorney General Barr this next week, in front of the Judiciary Committee, on which I serve. And I'm going to be asking him not only, why did his administration decide to go to court to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and deny millions of Americans coverage, but also, why did he not allow this report to come out in full? And what is he doing about Russia? Because to me, that's the key thing. We have an election coming up in 2020. It doesn't matter if you're a Democrat or a Republican. You want to have a fair election.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The House Democrats are in an argument, apparently, according to NBC News exclusively today. The Justice Department is threatening not to let the attorney general testify to the House committee the day after you see him in the Senate. Apparently, Justice is objecting to some of the conditions that they are demanding. They're demanding an opportunity to go into executive or private sessions, to go over some of the redacted material. What should they do, if he simply refuses?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Well, they're going to have to work that out. But he has to come before the House. He is the attorney general of the United States. We haven't seen him, in the Senate, since his confirmation hearing and since he did his four-page summary, which turned out to not reflect what was exactly in the report. I didn't support Attorney General Barr, just because I was very concerned about this kind of messing around with the facts, his views of an expansive role of executive power, which basically disses the power of the Congress to be a check and balance on the attorney general. And remember, this isn’t, having gone all around the country, just coming back from Nevada, this isn't just about the Mueller report and what's happening with Russia, Andrea. This is about what's going on with immigration. This is about what's happening with the Affordable Care Act, where millions and millions of Americans, over 50% of them, are afraid they're going to lose their health insurance, because of preexisting conditions. He has to come before Congress and explain what in the world this administration is doing, when it comes to people's everyday lives.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Now, I know that impeachment is not popular with the American people. Your -- one of your opponents, Elizabeth Warren, has said there's a moral issue here, having read the Mueller report, that you have to begin, in the House side, starting with impeachment. I know you've said that you, as a senator, would be a juror and you're not going to commit. But don't you have to say whether or not you should at least start the process?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

The House is going to make that decision. And for me, the most-important thing is to hold this president accountable. And as Director Mueller, himself, pointed out in the report, there are many ways to do that. One is with the process through Congress, which includes these investigations, which the president is already stonewalling. The second is other investigations that are going on right now, including in the state of New York. And the third is pretty straightforward, Andrea. That is defeating him in 2020. And that's what I intend to do and will do.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Don't you have an obligation to tell Democrats, in the primaries, whether or not you're in favor of at least opening up an impeachment investigation?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I believe that the president should be held accountable. And I think that's what people want to know. And I have been incredibly aggressive about pushing in hearings, pushing Attorney General Barr. I'm actually the ones that -- the one that asked the obstruction-of-justice questions. And now, I'm going to have another opportunity to have him go before me next week, where I say, "You know, when I asked you if it was obstruction to try to impede the integrity of a witness testimony, you said that it was." And now, we've got all kinds of evidence of pardons being dangled out. We've got evidence of the President's counsel being told to change his story, evidence of him being told to fire the special counsel. To me, this looks like obstruction of justice, which is exactly what Barr had told me in those questions. So I view this as an opportunity to really push him on what obstruction of justice is, why he answered the questions the way he did before, and expect answers this week.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I want to ask you about Joe Biden, who entered the race. He had difficulty, on The View yesterday, explaining why he hadn't apologized earlier, why he hadn't called Anita Hill earlier, and what he really feels about what happened during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Let me play that for you.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JOY BEHAR:

You know, I think what she wants you to say is, "I'm sorry for the way I treated you," not for the way you were treated. I think that might be closer.

JOE BIDEN:

Well, but I'm sorry, the way she got treated. In terms of -- I never heard -- if you go back and look at what I said and didn't say, I don't think I treated her badly.

[END TAPE]

ANDREA MITCHELL:

He had the gavel. He was the chairman. He cut off the hearings before her witnesses could get on. What should he now say to Anita Hill?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

That's going to be Joe Biden's decision. And I'm sure he's going to have to continue to address this issue, as we go through the campaign. Let me just tell you my perspective. I was a young lawyer, when this happened. and I remember being captivated by her, watching every moment of that hearing, never thinking I'd end up on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And it was actually the first letter I ever wrote to my senator. And I wrote a letter saying, "I want you to vote against Clarence Thomas. I believe Anita Hill." I sent that letter. And my senator ended up voting for Clarence Thomas. But it motivated me to get involved in politics, as it did so many other women. And now, we go from zero women on that Judiciary Committee to six.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Let me quickly ask you about what you were presenting with Senator Coons in Nevada yesterday, which is a retirement plan. How are you going to pay for this retirement plan?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Well, that's simple. And the Republican tax bill did so much to help the wealthy build up a trillion dollars in debt. And all you have to do is make some changes to that that won't hurt everyday Americans. And you have the money to literally ensure that 49 million Americans, who have no retirement right now, Andrea, except for Social Security, can start saving. We call it UP savings accounts. And it is a great idea. 50 cents for every hour someone works in an account that they can take with them, no matter where they work, if they don't have a 401(k), where they can take out the first $2,500 for emergency expenses, when we've got four out of ten Americans that don't even have $400 for an emergency room bill. These are the things that I'm hearing out there, when I am in Nevada, or when I am in New Hampshire, Iowa. It is the same focus. People need help in their everyday lives. And as we look ahead to this next week, with the topics we just discussed, about the sanctity of our elections and about the Mueller report, we have to remember that we can do two things at once. We can present an optimistic economic agenda for the people of this country and still make sure we protect the law and protect the Constitution. That's what it is about, when you're representing America. And when I hear the president dissing the Constitution, when I hear him going after things the way he is, and when I find out that he doesn't even stand up for our country, because his Homeland Security secretary is afraid to go talk to him about Russia, that is not standing up for the security of America. And I will do that.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Thank you very much, Senator Klobuchar. Thanks for being with us today.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Thank you, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And joining me now is the chair of Homeland Security in the Senate, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who was with President Trump last night. Welcome back to Meet the Press, Senator.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, good to be with you. I wanted to ask you, first, about the speech last night. The president referred to F.B.I. officials as scum. Is that the right way for the president of the United States to speak about law enforcement officers of the U.S. government?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Well, first of all, I completely understand the president's frustration. He knew, from day one, that he was innocent. And he was subjected to this two-year investigation, a very thorough investigation. And in that process, certainly, Andrew McCabe was fired, because he lied to his own investigators. Now, this is the former deputy director and acting F.B.I. director lying to his own investigators. So no, I understand the president's frustration. From my standpoint, there has been a concerted effort, since the day after the election, to sabotage this administration. So I completely understand his frustration.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And do you agree that he should use words like scum to describe law enforcement officers?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Probably, I would use different words. But I would certainly question the possibility, now, I think, the proven fact, there was definitely corruption at the highest levels of the F.B.I. And that's one thing Senator Graham, Senator Grassley, and myself are going to try and uncover, now that the Mueller investigation is over.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, the Mueller investigation reported hundreds of contacts with Russian officials, no evidence that could be prosecuted, but partly because they were emails that were, that were erased. There were people that were not available. There were people they couldn't interview or refused to be interviewed. They couldn't get to interview the president, himself. Are you comfortable with all of the contacts between this campaign and the Russian officials?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Yes, I am,because I read the report. It's painstakingly detailed. And you know, time and time again, Special Counsel Mueller said there was no evidence of collusion. And there was none. And again, we have enormous challenges facing this nation, the crisis at the border. And this has been a huge distraction for the American public, as well as this administration, as it tries to try to tackle these tough problems.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, he didn’t say -- he didn't say, sir that there was no evidence of collusion because that's not a legal term. He said that he could not prove conspiracy. But the president's own lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said that he thinks it's okay for Republican campaign members, for Republican candidates, to welcome support from a foreign adversary, from Russia. Do you feel the same way? Would you welcome support from Russia in your campaign?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

No, and I don't believe the Trump campaign did. So again, from my standpoint, this issue is over, in terms of collusion.Now, I was one of the people briefed, by the Obama administration, when we were told about Russian interference. That was back in September 2016. And the whole point of that briefing, in, in a secure situation, was, “We have this covered. We want you to go out, as members of Congress, and say that the election results will be legitimate." That's what they wanted us to say. But then, the wrong person got elected. And all of a sudden, we have this whole Russian collusion story. And it has been a big hoax. It's been a witch hunt. And I understand the President's frustration.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, Mitt Romney, one of your fellow Republican senators, said, "I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president. I am also appalled that fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia, including information that had been illegally obtained, that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement." That was after his read of the Mueller report. Why haven't you and other Republican senators reacted as he reacted to the Mueller report, especially on obstruction?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Maybe it's because I understand the president's frustration at being subjected to a witch hunt for two years. Now, I was in that rally yesterday. It was a venue filled, a record crowd, full of energized people, who love this country and who, quite honestly, their support for President Trump is actually growing. So that's what I'm seeing. I'm seeing the economy grow by 3.2%. I'm seeing business investment averaging, over the last six -- nine quarters, at over 6%, when the last two years of President Obama was 0.6%. Ten times greater business investment, that's going to drive our economy for years to come. So again, I'm looking at the results of this administration. And I also think about what we could've accomplished, had this witch hunt not been occurring for the --

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

Well --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- last two years. I understand the president's frustration. And I also understand the president's supporters' frustration of the media just continuing, continuing this witch hunt. It's ridiculous.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, you're calling it a witch hunt. Let me play something that Chris Wray said just the other day, the F.B.I. director, about Russian attempts to interfere with the elections.

[BEGIN TAPE]

CHRISTOPHER WRAY :

I do think that Russia poses a very significant counterintelligence threat, certainly, in the cyber arena. That is not just an election-cycle threat. It's pretty much a 365-days-a-year threat. And that has absolutely continued.

[END TAPE]

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Why haven't we heard that from the president? Why does the president stand next to Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, and say he believes Putin over his own intelligence officials about the Russian attacks on our democracy?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Listen, Andrea, I am every bit as concerned about Russian interference as any Democratic senator. I'm chairman of the European Subcommittee. I've seen the attempted coup in Montenegro. So it didn't surprise me at all that they were interfering in our election through social media, as the primary cause. That's hard, that’s hard to really police. But in terms of changing vote totals, almost impossible, because we have local control of elections. What is certainly at risk is voter files. But DHS has done a pretty good job of consulting with state and local jurisdictions to try and prevent that from happening, as well. So let's not blow this thing out of proportion. Let's be vigilant. Let's be concerned about it. But let's not blow it out of proportion, either.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

According to the New York Times, Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, made it clear to Kirstjen Nielsen that, he -- "Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of maligned Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year's elections."If the president considers this a top priority, why hasn't he ordered a top -- a government-wide, cabinet-level investigation and attack to defend America from Russian interference?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Because DHS has been on the case. They were on the case under the Obama administration. And it's just continued on into the Trump administration. Again, they've had incredibly high levels of contact with state and local jurisdictions, certifying individuals to get classified information. They've been consulting with local jurisdictions, in terms of protecting their voter files. So DHS has bound the case. They've done a pretty successful job. We didn't see that kind of interference in 2018. And I think we can rest pretty assured that the 2020 will be successful, as well.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Doesn't that have to go beyond DHS? Doesn't it have to be all of the cabinet departments working on this?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Well, DHS has the primary responsibility, and they've done a pretty good job, under Chris Krebs.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Thank you very much. Senator Johnson, thanks again for being with us today.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Have a good day.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And when we come back, stonewalling Congress, Democrats divided on impeachment, and what we learned about what Rod Rosenstein told President Trump. And later, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who first alerted the Trump administration that Michael Flynn had lied about his contacts with Russia. The panel is next.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And welcome back. The panel is here. Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times. Robert Costa, national political reporter for the Washington Post and moderator of Washington Week on PBS. And former Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. Welcome all. Well, first of all, let's talk about this whole argument about the Mueller report and the approach of the president. Peggy, you've lived through this before. The president's saying that he will -- absolutely it's case closed. He will not cooperate. He will not send witnesses. Can he get away with it?

PEGGY NOONAN:

It's possible. I mean, we have roughly a yearlong window for this to be worked out in terms of legalisms. I have to tell you I think the polling you showed at the top of the show with a majority of Americans not wanting to go towards impeachment, which I think implies the hearings and investigations --

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And let's show that. Let's put it up one more time so people see it. 56%, Peggy, saying that they do not want impeachment. 37% saying that they do --

PEGGY NOONAN:

Saying they do.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And the Democrats clearly divided.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes. But even more interesting, I think a majority or almost a majority said they didn't -- they didn’t not want impeachment because they thought the president was telling the truth. They didn't think the president had told the truth --

ANDREA MITCHELL:

58%.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

58% said that they think--

PEGGY NOONAN:

To me, they've got it --

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--he's lied.

PEGGY NOONAN:

To me, they've got it exactly right. I would throw open the question, what, I understand the partisan politics of it. I understand the investigative furor, fervor going on in the House. What is curious to me is what exactly, if you devote the next six, nine months to more investigations and hearings are you looking to learn?

You'll get Don McGahn in. You'll ask him what he said to the president, the president said to him. He'll say what he said in the Mueller report. My,my thought is actually the Mueller report did the work it had to do over two years, 500 people questioned and interviewed, 40 investigators and FBI officials. Oh my goodness. Let everyone in America read it. They'll get the unredacted version soon.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But will they?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Leave it alone. Oh, well, I hope they do. And I think they pretty much will. But, you know, Congress has a job to do now. You know, there's Social Security, immigration, et cetera. My goodness, work for the --

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, let me --

PEGGY NOONAN:

-- American people. Sorry to give a speech there, but I'm--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

No, but let me show you what Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York Magazine. "If a president wantonly obstructs justice and the opposition party immediately worries about the political cost of impeachment, we're in deep trouble." Robert Costa?

ROBERT COSTA:

Peggy brings up some sharp points. And I've asked House Democrats about those questions. "Why do you need to proceed forward and bring Don McGahn up, bring Corey Lewandowski, other people mentioned in the Mueller report?" They say they have to tell a story to the American people, have people put their hand in the air and narrate what they said in the Mueller report because Democrats don't believe the obstruction case has been fully made against President Trump. But you're right. They do recognize, mostly privately, that there's a big political risk here. What's the appetite out there in the country? And that's why when I spoke to President Trump this week, he believes he can make a political case against the Democrats. They're spending far too much time on this, but it's a little bit nuanced. He said he hasn't made a, quote, "final, final decision," on asserting executive privilege. And we saw this week with the security clearance process, the Democrats are actually going to be able to bring someone up to talk to House Democrats about the security clearance process at the White House.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

That's the one exception.

ROBERT COSTA:

The one exception--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

They are now saying that he--

ROBERT COSTA:

But you know what that reveals? It reveals there is a negotiation going on. It's not totally black and white at this point in terms of the standoff between the White House and Congress.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Will the president pay any price for stonewalling if he continues though to object to most of the unredacted, the redacted portion not being available to Congress?

CARLOS CURBELO:

So, Andrea, here's the problem with the Mueller report. For the president and his supporters, it's obvious that it was not a witch hunt. It was professional. It was thorough, and it was fair. And it does cast the administration in a negative light. However, for the president's opponent, the problem is similar: that the Mueller reporter was fair, it was sober, and it does not obviously provoke impeachment.

So, the way the administration handles these inquiries, these subpoenas, that's where the public could either support impeachment more or reject it more than we're seeing even today in these poll numbers. And that's kind of the squeeze, right? I saw this. John Boehner went through this. Paul Ryan went through this. Now, Nancy Pelosi is going through it.

The squeeze between centrists in her caucus and the progressives, that 37%, the liberal Democratic base that does want impeachment to begin today. It's going to be interesting to watch the speaker navigate these waters. It already has been here in the early weeks.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But when we look at the Republican senators, Mitt Romney's the only one who’s really spoken up about the Mueller report and all the evidence that was accumulated in the Mueller report. And you've got Lindsey Graham as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, saying that he’s not even sure -- not even saying that he's going to let Mueller testify. Let me show you another Lindsey Graham. A different president, a different impeachment issue.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

You don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office.

[END TAPE]

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Helene Cooper?

HELENE COOPER:

That's the sort of video which has been going around all week that make people so skeptical and so disgusted with politics. I mean, and that's why at the end of the day this entire debate is all political theater. It is all about who is maneuvering to make sure that they look good. Because, let's face it, it's already 2020.

You know, we're in an election year. You know, this is the election cycle. The presidential election cycle has begun. And what you're seeing now is all about how, how do we maneuver ourselves? Nancy Pelosi is trying to balance her progressives versus her more centrist Democrats. And you see on the Republican side, they want this Mueller report to go away.

ROBERT COSTA:

And you've got to see the Republican Party today. That interview you did with Senator Johnson, he's using the word "sabotage." President Trump's using the words "scum," "coup." If the House Democrats choose to impeach, every Senate Republican source I have say that impeachment dies in the Senate. A trial will never go forward and convict the president.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Absolutely.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But, Peggy, hasn't the president, with the help of the attorney general, branded this before the Mueller report came out? For three weeks, they went around saying, "Exonerated. No collusion. No conspiracy."

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah. And then people got a look at the report and they saw it was a fairly dreadful portrait. I don't think it told us exactly things that we didn't know that were shocking. I think we had a sense of, of the reigning reality there in the White House. Let me throw in, by the way, if the House moves to impeach and if it has big, serious, prolonged hearings, I think everybody assumes the president will really hate that.

I think he's going to use that fact every day on TV. He's going to use it as a foil. He's going to be tweeting. He's going to be fighting. He's going to be playing the part of the besieged person. I think he'll love it and nothing will get done for the next year.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, we're going to leave it there. We'll be back in a bit. And when we come back next, the woman who raised early alarms about Trump administration contacts with Russia. Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates joining me next. Stay with us.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And welcome back. Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is one of those figures who seems to show up at key moments in the Trump presidency. In January of 2017 only days after the inaugural, Yates told administration officials she believed National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had lied to them about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was fired 2 1/2 weeks later, when TheWashington Post broke the story. Yates, herself, was fired as acting AG that same January for refusing to enforce President Trump's executive order restricting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. And the president now cites Yates as among those in the Justice Department who launched what he insists was the phony F.B.I. investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russia. Sally Yates joins me now. Welcome. Very good to see you.

SALLY YATES:

Thanks for having me.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, first of all, I wanted to ask you about the president in Wisconsin last night, referring to former F.B.I. officials, who began in this investigation, as scum.

SALLY YATES:

Yeah. You know, he's referred to them as scum. He's accused people of spying. And you know, I think those are words that we really shouldn't be throwing around about the men and women in law enforcement and in our intelligence community.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The Mueller report cites 140 contacts, according to a tally in the New York Times, at least 140 contacts, including 13 from the president himself, with Russia, during the campaign and, afterwards, in the transition. Does this mean the president is completely exonerated, even though, because of a lot of other issues, not being able to interview the president, not being able to talk to a lot of the other witnesses, emails that were eliminated, there was no grounds for a prosecution?

SALLY YATES:

Well, you know, if you read the entire Mueller report, I think it paints a really devastating portrait of a president and a campaign who welcomed a foreign adversary's illegal interference in our election, who then continually lied about it and then used the power of the presidency to try to thwart an investigation into his own conduct. That's not exoneration.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, the report makes it clear that there was no exoneration on obstruction. But speaking first to the Russian issue, which you just raised, if not for the Office of Legal Counsel prohibition against indicting a president, should there have been further steps? Do you think that there, in fact, on obstruction, would have been an indictment?

SALLY YATES:

Well, you know, I've been a prosecutor for nearly 30 years. And I can tell you, I've personally prosecuted obstruction cases on far, far less evidence than this. And yes, I believe, if he were not the president of the United States, he would likely be indicted on obstruction.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So if he were the CEO of a company, if he were a private citizen, the at least ten instances that are in the obstruction part of the report would've led to an indictment?

SALLY YATES:

You know, I'm not sure that all ten would. I think that Special Counsel Mueller did a very fair job in going through all ten instances and laying out both the facts that established that he had committed the crime of obstruction, but also pointing out the defenses, both legal and factual. But there are several incidents that he described to which Special Counsel Mueller really couldn't point to any significant factual or legal defenses.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And which, in particular, do you cite as the most significant, the red flags that you see?

SALLY YATES:

Well, the ones that he found that all three elements were satisfied were with respect to trying to fire Special Counsel Mueller, through Don McGahn, then trying to get Don McGahn to lie about it later, not just his own lies, but trying to get someone else to, as well, and then trying to reduce, to cabin, the scope of the investigation to what's really nonsensical, to campaign interference in future elections.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Do you think that, if he is not reelected, and the statute of limitations does not run out until 2022, that he could still be prosecuted after leaving office?

SALLY YATES:

Well, the Mueller report specifically references that, both what could happen in the short term, with respect to Congress' role, but also, the long-term, whether he could be prosecuted. But you know, I think, really, the bigger issue is not just whether or not this establishes a crime that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but is this the kind of conduct that we should expect from the president of the United States? I mean, when the Russians came knocking at their door, you would expect that a man who likes to make a show of hugging the flag would've done the patriotic thing and would've notified law enforcement.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

In fact, his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said, on this program, just last week, that there's no problem with the president, with the candidate, with the Trump campaign, welcoming support from a foreign adversary, such as Russia.

SALLY YATES:

Yeah, that's a shocking statement. And it also just reflects how they have moved the goalpost, when the truth comes out. Recall, at the beginning, they constantly said, "We didn't have anything to do with any Russians." And then when the truth comes out and reveals that that's a lie, now, we have devolved down to, "There's nothing wrong with taking help, illegal help, from a foreign adversary." Surely, that's not where we've come to.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

A lot of people think that Robert Mueller whiffed, that he should've pushed the envelope. He should've subpoenaed the president, when he did not get a voluntary interview, and force the president to take the Fifth, if he wants to.

SALLY YATES:

Well, look. It's easy to sit in our armchairs and say what we would've done in those circumstances. I think what you see is that Robert Mueller did the job he was asked to do. And he called it right down the middle.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Some legal experts, looking at the Mueller report, look at the lines about Donald Trump, Jr., saying that they wanted to interview him, were not able to. And then the next portion is redacted, according to grand jury testimony, with that, that code. Does that indicate to you, as it has to some legal experts, that Don, Jr., may have gone in front of a grand jury and taken the Fifth?

SALLY YATES:

You know, certainly, people have speculated as to that. And there's some indication of that. But I don't know for certain. But you know, beyond that, it is absolutely remarkable to me that the president of the United States refused to sit down and answer questions about his or his campaign's involvement with the Russians in the 2016 election or obstruction.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Going forward, we have the Mueller report and, now, William Barr threatening to not even appear before the House. That still has to be worked out. Did the Attorney General -- and I know you don't want to speak about the successors in the Justice Department, but what about the fact that he misrepresented the Mueller report in his initial four-page summary and, in his news conference, referred to collusion four times, not a legal term, but a signal, apparently, to the president, certainly, taking the president's words, and misrepresented it even minutes before the report itself was released?

SALLY YATES:

Let me answer it this way. The Department of Justice is not just another federal agency. And the attorney general is not the president's lawyer. And I recall, when I was named United States Attorney, we were all called to the White House for what was, essentially, a photo op with President Obama. And he came in and the first words out of his mouth were, "I may have appointed you but you don't represent me. You represent the people of the United States." And that's the way it's supposed to be.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And your implication is it's not the way it is right now.

SALLY YATES:

Well, the people of the United States includes all the people of the United States.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

We'll have to leave it there. Sally Yates, a great pleasure. Thank you for being with us.

SALLY YATES:

Thanks for having me.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And when we come back, new details on how Democrats gained 40 seats in the 2018 midterm elections and what that could tell us about 2020.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And welcome back. Data Download time. Democrats had a lot to celebrate in 2018. They flipped 40 seats in the House, regaining control of that chamber for the first time in eight years. Well, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that the flip was fueled by a huge turnout. In fact, the highest midterm turnout in 40 years. And that turnout was fueled by voters who typically vote Democratic. Voter turnout was up among all age groups but especially younger voters. 36% of voters aged 18 to 29 showed up to vote in 2018 (16 points higher than in the previous midterm) and a whopping 49% of 30 to 44 year-olds, both groups voting heavily for Democrats. Obviously, it was up among all ethnic groups. But the most significant gains were among Asian and Hispanic voters. 40% of Asian and 40% of Hispanic voters turned out compared with less than 30% four years earlier. And finally, there was a double-digit percentage-point jump in what we call educated voters. 55% of people with some college, 66% of people with a bachelor's degree, 74% of people with advanced post-graduate degrees all showing up to vote in November. So does that mean the Democrats already have it in the bag for 2020? Not so fast. Midterm turnout is always lower than it is in a presidential year. And overall 2018 turnout was still eight percentage points lower than it was in 2016. Remember, President Trump wasn't on the ballot in last year's midterms. And you can bet the president's supporters will vote next year. So while the 2018 turnout numbers are a good sign for Democrats, they offer no guarantees. When we come back, with the most diverse roster of candidates competing in an increasingly diverse party, why are white male candidates leading the Democratic pack? We'll talk about that next.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And we're back now with Endgame. Joe Biden in, all in. And with that Charlottesville video showing that he's going to campaign on character, on contrast with Donald Trump. Why is Donald Trump so worried about him? According to Politico, as early as last fall Trump was talking privately with aides about the threat Biden posed. "How are we going to beat Biden?" he would ask. When reassured that the moderate Biden would never defeat several of his more liberal rivals, Trump has pushed back. "But what if he does?" Robert Costa, your own reporting.

ROBERT COSTA:

Talking to the president, he believes Vice President Biden is a very formidable contender for 2020. And that's just not a belief he has. It's not founded in anything. I was on the campaign trail this week in South Carolina, went to a historically black church in Charleston. You talk to voters down there, rank-and-file Democrats, they say Vice President Biden was part of the Obama administration. He was a very important part of that legacy. He has a real history in the Democratic Party. They're talking about Senator Harris. They're talking about Vice President Biden. This is a wide-open race. But Vice President Biden has more political capital on the ground than he may get credit for in places like Twitter.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, let's take a look at a new Washington Post-ABC poll just out today. And Joe Biden is right up there on the top. So this may explain why the president, the White House are focused on him. 17% Bernie Sanders, 11% Pete Buttigieg, 5% Kamala Harris, 4% Elizabeth Warren, 4% Beto O'Rourke, four all in single digits other than the top three. But, Peggy, look at the gender issue. We've got three white men ahead of all the women and Cory Booker, a man of color. You know, the diverse field, and it's the white guys who are out front.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah, it's the most diverse field ever I think. And yet when you look at the early polling, and it is early, it does come down to these figures like Biden and Bernie. It seems to me we're going to find out if Joe Biden's old school style, honed in the '70s and '80s, can translate into 2020, into this moment. And I also think because of past issues of his, there will be a sort of daily, "Do you recant, Mr. Vice President? Do you recant on this issue?" And we're going to see him being pressed to recant on things he actually believes in, which will be uncomfortable.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Or apologize, right--

CARLOS CURBELO:

I think-- I think there are two types of candidates that pose the greatest threat to the president. One is a coalition-type candidate like Biden, someone who can draw some of those centrist voters. And another's a movement-type candidate. Think Buttigieg. The problem with Biden is that he has started his campaign with an apology tour. And there are lessons to be learned from Donald Trump. Bob and I were talking about this earlier. You can apologize for your mistakes. You should. But I don't think you should apologize for who you are. And I've seen a little bit of that from Joe Biden. And I don't think it's believable because I don't think anyone believes Joe Biden at 76 is a different person than he was--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But he hasn't really apologized--

CARLOS CURBELO:

--ten years ago.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--to Anita Hill.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah. But I think that the Anita Hill story will be gone in a week. I think that this is something that people jumped on because the day that he opened his campaign they somehow ended up, found up themselves talking about Anita Hill. But I don't think people are going to re-litigate the Clarence Thomas hearing at this point in the game. That would be suicidal for the Democrats to do that now and to manage to turn that sort of an issue into a negative for a Democrat. And I think what you're seeing with Biden, nobody is going to win the Democratic nomination if they cannot galvanize the African American vote. Joe Biden freakishly can. Kamala Harris probably can. Bernie Sanders cannot. And I think what you're seeing when you see this leap of Biden straight to the top of the polls is that. A lot of black people look at him as an Obama guy. And you know, so I think you're going to see some of that kind of stuff solidify as we move forward. I'm really curious to see what Kamala Harris does moving down the line. But I think this is going to be-- this was a problem for Bernie Sanders in 2016. And I think it's still going to be a problem for him now.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Let's take a look at this. The funny thing about the age factor is that Bernie Sanders has more young people supporting him and he's older than Joe Biden but the president is trying to paint Joe Biden, you know, "Sleepy Joe," with all of these insults and playing on the age. The president's 72. Joe Biden is 76. Take a look at this tape.

[BEGIN TAPE]

DONALD TRUMP:

I just feel like a young man. I'm so young. I am a young, vibrant man.

JOE BIDEN:

If he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home.

[END TAPE]

HELENE COOPER:

This is the president who had--

(OVERTALK)

HELENE COOPER:

--to ride in a golf cart at the G7 in, where were we, in Sicily. I mean--

(OVERTALK)

ROBERT COSTA:

Young or juvenile?

(OVERTALK)

ROBERT COSTA:

Young or juvenile?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Everything old is new again. That's part of the story of 2020.

ROBERT COSTA:

Age, put that on a shelf. He has power inside of the Republican Party. Also interesting this week, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland goes to New Hampshire. William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, already in the race. But when you talk to Republican voters, they say they're almost 100%, like Senator Johnson, with the president. They're at these rallies. Any kind of primary challenge appears to be fizzling, at least at the moment--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Yeah. That base is pretty solid, isn't it?

CARLOS CURBELO:

Very solid. But I will say age isn't what it used to be. My dad's about to turn 80, and he's in great shape. And, hey, Trump and Biden, I think they both make good candidates. So.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, we're going to have to leave it there. That's all for today. Thank you all for watching. Chuck will be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

Congratulations to Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on winning the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in television political journalism for a breakthrough broadcast on the climate crisis. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.