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Meet the Press - August 14, 2022

Dilanian, Klobuchar, Rounds, Rosenberg, Weissmann, Beschloss, Continetti, Robinson, Woodruff Swan, Walter

ANDREA MITCHELL:

This Sunday: The FBI's Mar-A-Lago search.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND:

Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

FBI agents remove 11 sets of classified documents from Donald Trump's Florida home, including top secret files. After attacking the FBI for the search --

REP. ELISE STEFANIK:

The FBI raid of President Trump is a complete abuse and overreach of its authority.

REP. JOSH HAWLEY:

It is Joe Biden's DOJ, and they have weaponized this FBI at every turn.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

-- some Republicans tone down their rhetoric.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

You would think there would be an adult in the Republican room that would say, “Just calm down, see what the facts are.”

ANDREA MITCHELL:

What's in those documents? Why did Mr. Trump keep them? And was national security compromised? My guests this morning: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Mike Rounds. Plus, what kind of legal jeopardy could the former president face? I'll talk to NBC News legal analysts, Chuck Rosenberg and Andrew Weissmann. Also, violent reaction.

CENTRAL AND EASTERN GREENE COUNTY PUBLIC SAFETY:

Subject's supposed to be armed with body armor, he fired several shots at officers.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

A man apparently reacting to the FBI’s search is killed by authorities after trying to attack the bureau's Cincinnati office. Will others be moved to violence? And the midterms outlook. From the Kansas abortion vote --

DAWN RATTAN

I hope we inspire other states, when they get the opportunity to vote, to really think about a woman's choice.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

-- to a string of successes for President Biden, signs that the expected Republican red wave may be weakening. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Eugene Robinson, Amy Walter, Matthew Continetti, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Michael Beschloss. 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:

Good Sunday morning. Chuck Todd is off today. Even by Donald Trump's standards, it's been an extraordinary week. First came word of the FBI’s search at Mar-a-Lago for classified documents. While that prompted an "It's about time" reaction by some on the left, the noisiest voices on the right were calling for everything from the abolishment of the FBI to civil war. Then on Wednesday, the former president -- who once said pleading the Fifth Amendment was for mobsters and the guilty -- did so himself more than 400 times in a New York civil suit. The list of items removed by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago and revealed on Friday included 11 sets of classified documents. Five sets were top secret. Three sets were secret. And three were confidential. And there are still so many unanswered questions: What kind of legal jeopardy does the former president face? Could he be in violation of the Espionage Act? What do we make of claims by Mr. Trump that he had already declassified the documents? Will the calls for violence from the far right inspire more people like the man who attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati and was eventually killed by authorities? And how will an already divided country survive this latest stress test between Mr. Trump and the law?

ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND:

Faithful adherence to the rule of law is the bedrock principle of the Justice Department and of our democracy. Upholding the rule of law means applying the law evenly without fear or favor. Under my watch, that is precisely what the Justice Department is doing.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And joining me now is NBC News Justice and Intelligence Correspondent, Ken Dilanian. So Ken, what do we know about the documents seized at Mar-A-Lago?

KEN DILANIAN:

Good morning, Andrea. Well, the warrant tells us the FBI seized five sets of documents marked "Top Secret." And that means information that, if disclosed, would pose exceptionally grave danger to U.S. national security. But among that was one set marked "Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information." And as you know, Andrea -- from covering the intelligence community for a long time -- that means information that's so secret, only a small group of people inside the U.S. government can see it, those who have a need to know. We're talking about things like CIA -- names of CIA sources in Moscow or images from the most advanced spy satellites. This information was so sensitive that the FBI agents who took it out of Mar-A-Lago would have had to take it to a special facility. We're talking about the most protected secrets in the U.S. government.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

You have to even read them in a vault. So what about the urgency? The former president said he cooperated. They had to go with a search warrant. That's what has outraged so many people on the right.

KEN DILANIAN:

Right. And people are asking, "Well, if it was so urgent, why did it take a year?" And it's becoming clear, as we learn more about this investigation, that the FBI only gradually came to learn that there was this extent of classified information sitting there at Mar-A-Lago. And there was a progression here. The National Archives turned over 15 boxes of records. There was classified information in it. They referred it to the Justice Department which began investigating. We know that the top counterintelligence official of the DOJ was down in Mar-A-Lago meeting with Trump lawyers in June. But they were assured -- and they handed over some documents, and then they were assured there were no classified documents left. And then the Justice Department came to learn that may not be true, which seems to have led them to seek a search warrant.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

We understand and we confirm that they had an informant. So does it even matter if these documents were classified? Because the three potential crimes that were listed in the search warrant don't require the documents to be classified.

KEN DILANIAN:

Exactly. That's getting lost here amid this debate about Trump's defense, that he can declassify anything. None of these three statutes require that the information be classified. The DOJ's position is these are U.S. government documents, property of the government, not Donald Trump's. It's illegal to steal them. And it's illegal to mutilate or conceal them to obstruct an investigation. And then you have the Espionage Act which requires an intent to harm the United States, which suggests that the FBI at least has suspicions about the motives in storing these documents.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So when might we hear something? And how would they decide whether to even take the extraordinary step of indicting a former president?

KEN DILANIAN:

There's so much we don't know because we haven't seen that affidavit of probable cause where the FBI lays out the justification. There's a couple of possibilities here. One is that this was just about getting the documents back. The FBI has their documents. That's the end of it. Another is that there were crimes committed here about the mishandling of information, and we'll see a case go forward. And then the third, most ominous possibility is it's something even worse than that. It's about: What was Donald Trump doing with those documents? Why did he have them there? Some of these documents would be worth billions of dollars to our adversaries, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Oh, alarming, obviously, to national security officials. Ken Dilanian, thanks so much for bringing us up to speed. And joining me now is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who serves on the Judiciary Committee. Senator Klobuchar, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

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

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, it's good to see you. So let me ask you: What is your reaction to what was found in Mar-a-Lago, the search warrant, and of course, the boxes of material, including classified material?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

This is very serious, Andrea, and my first reaction is to stand with the men and women of the FBI who are simply doing their jobs. What was found in that – in Mar-a-Lago – we don't know exactly what's in those documents. But what we do know is it rose to the level of a search warrant that a federal judge approved. And we do know that they were searching for classified material, things that fell under one of the statutes they used in that search warrant was the Espionage Act. Another one was that you can't destroy federal documents or you can't take federal documents out of secure locations. As a senator, I know when I look at the classified documents, I've got to go in a special room, Andrea. I can't even wear my Fitbit. You can't bring staff with you. And that's because these documents not only contain our nation's top secrets but because our countries that will do us harm, do harm to our own citizens, we don't want them to get a hold of them in any way, take photos of them, anything, because they can actually reverse engineer them and figure out who the sources are, what the confidential information is. That's why it is so important that these documents remain in safe locations. And Mar-a-Lago, where you can check out croquet sets and tennis rackets and golf clubs, that's not one of them.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, do you think that they could've done this cooperatively? That they could've just used a subpoena? Why take the unprecedented step of going in with FBI agents on a surprise search?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

As Attorney General Garland has explained, someone of just utmost credibility and integrity, the Justice Department tried to negotiate this. We now know this from multiple sources. It's been reported for months. They tried to negotiate with Trump's lawyers about what was going on. And in fact, now we're learning from reporting from The New York Times that they actually had been told there were no classified documents in his home. And now we learn another story. And there must be people that are giving the Justice Department information that they knew that those documents were still there. That is why it rose to the level of a search. Now remember, this isn't a criminal prosecution, no charges have been filed. But what really happened here was a judge looked at this and said, "Yeah, there's evidence, enough evidence to warrant a search warrant to go in there and retrieve those documents that are of high national security classification." These are the nation's secrets.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And this has all been unprecedented. Do you believe that if the attorney general decides that crimes have been committed, that he should take the incredible step of indicting a former president of the United States?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Andrea, it's not my place to-- I don't have all the evidence. This is going to be up to the Justice Department to make a decision about what happened here, why it happened, and if it rises to the level of a crime. I will say in America, we know as a great man once said, the law is king. The president isn't king. And I would add to that the former president isn't king. Everyone has to follow the laws.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Let me ask you about some of the outrage from elected Republicans. Some have called for civil war. Some have said, "Attack the FBI." Some of your own colleagues have had very strong rhetoric. What do you think?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

This concerns me so much, Andrea. We already saw from the insurrection the effect that Donald Trump's language – that he has so many people out there that will just follow him, and he feeds on that, and he sends out messages to them. Look at what just happened in Cincinnati. One of his followers who had taken part in the insurrection tried to kill people, FBI agents. And then there was a major security problem. He ends up getting killed. The whole thing goes down. This is the kind of things that result when you've got a president that attacks law enforcement and attacks the law. I thought in the old days the Republican Party used to stand with law enforcement. And I hope some of them do today because this kind of rhetoric is very dangerous to our country. These are career men and women that are simply doing their job. Their boss was actually Christopher Wray, was appointed by Donald Trump. And that's why we have the FBI director, oftentimes their terms go between Republican and Democratic administrations. Because it is a career appointment. And that piece of it is so important for people to understand. That this is beyond politics. They're simply doing their jobs. And we have to let them do their jobs.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

What about the political impact, though? Donald Trump is fundraising on this, as are other Republicans. Do you think this would rally the Republican base and hurt Democrats in the midterms?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

All I'm focused on right now from a political standpoint is what we've gotten done. And that's an incredible amount of work. Everything from the Inflation Reduction Act -- I think when you look at what Democrats are talking about at home, we're talking about bringing down costs for people by taking on the pharmaceutical companies. Yes, this is going on simultaneously. And that's because Justice doesn't stop. Justice Department has to do their jobs. But at the same time, I know in Minnesota what people are talking about at the cafes. They're looking at the gas prices, which, by the way, have gone down every single day for nearly two months. They're looking at the fact that finally we've been willing to take on the pharmaceutical companies. That we're going to start making semiconductor chips in America today that we need for everything from our cellphones to our cars. They're still talking about Ukraine and the fact that we got 99-1, the president was able to push through the treaty that allows Finland and Sweden, matters in Minnesota, to be part of NATO. They're talking about standing with our veterans when we've got this horrible issue of so many of them getting sickened by being located next to burn pits, and how the Republicans messed around with that. So we have a lot of things to talk about politically as we go into midterms where we are delivering for people and have people's backs. And so that is what I believe is the focus: Delivering for people, bringing down costs for families. And we believe this is a separate matter. This is for the Justice Department. And why does it get political? When the Republicans make it political. When you've got the president out there on Truth Social, the same guy that, by the way, was taped in Georgia saying to the secretary of state, "Hey, get me 11,000 more votes." Americans don't like when people are messing around with their elections. And so if it gets political at all, it's because he is making it so.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Thank you very much, Senator Klobuchar, thanks for being on Meet the Press.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Great to be on, Andrea, thank you.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And joining me now is Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. He serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. Senator Rounds, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS:

Thanks. I appreciate the opportunity to visit this morning.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, we're really happy to have you here. So earlier this week, you said that the FBI search must be justified and that you had serious questions about the integrity of the Justice Department. Having seen what they retrieved, including all these classified documents, has that answered your questions about the need for them to go in?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS:

I think it brings more questions. And I think it's important that we recognize that there are more – that there's more information to be released yet. I think releasing the affidavit would help. At least that would confirm that there was justification for this raid. But remember, this is also a case of where we're going to have more questions as they continue to develop, as they look through the information, the material that they've garnered at Mar-a-Lago. Perhaps they will share some of what their concern was. They'll share a little bit about the reason for actually going in and doing it this way. There's going to be a question about whether or not they did exhaust, as Attorney General Garland said, all other means to to do this rather than making this unprecedented move on the home of a former president. This is a – you know, this is a very historic attempt and a challenge really in, with regard to looking at a former president, and whether or not they want to bring any kind of charges against him. This is a change, and this is something that will go down in history, and it will be studied for years to come. But in the meantime, I think most Republicans would prefer to look – right now with the 2022 midterms coming up, we'd much prefer to focus on what the policies are right now that are hurting our economy. And as my friend Amy Klobuchar said, they want to talk about what they think is the right direction to go. And clearly here in South Dakota where I'm from, I went to a street dance last night, and I'll tell you what: the folks in Fort Pierre, South Dakota are talking about why gas prices are still high. They're talking about what the cost of hamburger is. They're talking about why in the world we want to have 87,000 new bureaucrats in the IRS out chasing down and trying to audit them. And those are the types of things that they're learning about. Those are the things that they're scratching their head on and, and that's the focus that I think Democrats would prefer not to have right now. And if they can get the former president, with all of the popularity that he's gaining and all of the support he's getting from his supporters right now, if they could get him to announce right now in the race, they'd love to have that because that would take all the air out of the – out of the atmosphere right now and the challenges that they face with regard to the economy at this time.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, let me play some of the rhetoric, some of the comments, by some of your colleagues about the search and ask you about it on the other side.

[START TAPE]

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I know doing this 90 days before an election reeks of politics.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I think it's an attack on the rule of law. This is the FBI being used as a political weapon against your opponents.

SEN. TIM SCOTT:

We should be alarmed at the way that the Department of Justice and the FBI have gone after someone.

[END TAPE]

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Doesn’t the fact that so much was found -- including classified documents when the president and his lawyer had affirmed, according to The New York Times, that they had turned everything over -- doesn't that justify a search, an unannounced search? For months and months, they tried to get cooperation. Didn't they take every step that they could have taken?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS:

I think the last part of your question is probably very important. I think it would be good for the Justice Department to release some of the information about the extraordinary steps or the steps they did take to try to cooperate with the former president. I also think this will bring into question one constitutional issue that has not been talked about. And that is whether or not a president can declassify or classify certain items. And I think constitutionally back, I believe it was in 1988, there was a Supreme Court decision, U.S. Navy v. Egan, in which they actually talked about whether or not a president could classify and declassify. And it's never really been litigated. But it appears that a president can classify or perhaps declassify information. And if that's the case, then the question would be, and I think it will be litigated as this moves forward, whether or not that was completed while the president was in the White House at that time. And I think that'll be part of the discussion, moving forward. In the meantime, yeah, there's concern out there. And believe me, Republicans out there are questioning, "Why in the world are you going after a former president right now, but you didn't go after other individuals who clearly had classified documents or information that was sensitive and you did not do that in the previous administrations?"

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, in this case some of the information was compartmentalized. And you know that's the most secret. That includes sources and methods, and you have to be in a vault to see it. So in any case, those documents should not have been at Mar-a-Lago in the basement. But the classification issue is going to be litigated most likely, as you point out. But in this case, the potential crimes listed on the warrants, those three crimes, don't require there to have been classified documents. It just requires these papers that could damage national security to be inappropriately held.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS:

And, and as I said earlier, we do have more questions. And, look, I'm not one of the individuals out there that says that, you know, “Immediately attack the FBI or the Justice Department.” I think this is very important that you provide them with the opportunity to lay out their case. But I think it's very important long-term for the Justice Department, now that they've done this, that they show that this was not just a fishing expedition -- that they had, that they had due cause to go in and to do this, that they did exhaust all other means. And if they can't do that then we've got a serious problem on our hands. If they are able to do that and to come forward they should do that as quickly as they can, and they should share that with the American people because this is a time in which -- with regard to the institutions in this country -- we want the American people to have faith in their institutions. We want them to see that they're not, that they're not political, and that they're not being politicized, particularly during an election year. But, you know, at this point, I think it's very important that, and I'm hoping, that if they actually did this and that they recognize how serious this was, that they did have their act together before they went in and did this and that it was not a fishing expedition. It is up to them to be able to share with the American public the logic behind what they did, the facts they had, what caused it. And I think releasing that affidavit would be important. But I think, I think Attorney General Garland really does have a responsibility, not just to take accountability for it, but to share with the American people why they did this. We still have more questions than we have answers.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Let me just ask you quickly, given that they did take all this material, boxes of material and classified documents as well, and given how casual he was about securing documents – that's been well-established when he was president – do you think that should disqualify him from being president again? And would you vote for him if he runs?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS:

I'll keep my powder dry with regards to your last question. I think right now we're going to focus on the 2022 election. We want to retake the House. We definitely want to retake the United States Senate. And I think in doing that, and our goal is to focus on what's going on right now with the American people. We're going to focus on the fact that inflation is still over 8.5%. We're still talking about GDP, which has been going down, and as you know, sharing breakfast with the chair – the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, anytime you got two quarters in a row, you are in a recession. We want to see us get out of that recession, and we'll certainly we want to see gas prices come down. They're still a buck and a half higher than when Joe Biden took office. Those are not good policies to run on for Democrats. We need to focus on that. And as we get past that and get into the 2024 I think the Republican will be well-positioned, but let's get past the 2022 election first.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And we're not in a recession, yet. But we'll wait and see what does happen. And we really want to thank you. It's very good that you came on today, Senator Rounds.

SENATOR MIKE ROUNDS:

Two quarters tell you differently than that.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

That's out of date--

SENATOR MIKE ROUNDS:

All right. Thanks.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--even according to Republican economists, in any case. When we come back, how much legal jeopardy does former President Trump face? I'll talk to two of our top legal experts to break it all down when we return. Stay with us.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Welcome back. On Friday we learned that former President Trump may be in violation of the Espionage Act, among other laws, for hanging onto top secret, secret and other classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home. Joining me now to break down how serious the breach of security was and Mr. Trump's possible legal exposure are former U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg and the former lead prosecutor in the Mueller investigation, Andrew Weissmann. Both are NBC News legal analysts. Welcome to both of you, thanks so much for being with us. So, Andrew, first to you, let's talk about those three laws, the three laws that are potentially violations written in the search warrant. Talk to me about them because this whole issue of whether he declassified or didn't declassify really is immaterial to those three laws that they cited.

ANDREW WEISSMANN:

Yeah, that's absolutely right. I do think it's worth noting that, with respect to the Espionage Act, although it is technically immaterial, it does require it to be national defense information. And there is an argument that the classification system is what fills in the – and provides gloss to what that means. So that's probably, from Donald Trump's perspective, one where, if the documents were in fact declassified – that's a large "if" – where he would have the best argument to argue that that statute shouldn't be charged. But the other two statutes don't require in any way that the documents be classified. And the most surprising statute that we saw listed is the 1519 obstruction statute. That potentially could be quite significant because that's the kind of crime that really exacerbates the underlying crime of having these documents. And, you know, at the Department, when they're going to consider whether they should charge the former president, the fact that there may be obstruction of justice, and that is lying in addition to having these documents improperly at Mar-a-Lago, I think will weigh quite heavily, as it has with other cases that they've brought in the past, for instance, against General Petraeus.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And, Chuck Rosenberg, the New York Times has reported, and we have not independently confirmed this, that a lawyer for Donald Trump actually affirmed in writing to the Justice Department after the search that everything had been turned over. Or, rather, after the June 3rd meeting, rather, with a top Justice Department official and FBI agents at Mar-a-Lago. That everything had been turned over and that it was an informant telling them that that was not the case, subsequently, that led them to believe that they had to go in with a search warrant. Can they establish some level of obstruction there, if they – do they have to establish that Donald Trump knew that there in fact was material that still had not been obtained?

CHUCK ROSENBERG:

Yeah, it's a great question, Andrea. So to prove intent with respect to any defendant, you'd have to show that that person, the lawyer or Mr. Trump, an aide, somebody else, intended willfully to do a particular act. And so let's talk about the lawyer. If she knew that she was making a false representation to the Department of Justice, if she knew that and did it anyway, that could be part of the basis of a crime, of a charge. If she did due diligence but didn't do it well, if she thought she was telling the Department of Justice the truth but was wrong, being wrong, making a mistake is not the basis of a crime. Did someone mislead her? Did she fail in some way to do what she was supposed to do to find out what was actually remaining at Mar-a-Lago? So this is why I think the affidavit is so important. All we have so far is the warrant, the order itself, and then the inventory, the return of items, the itemization of what was taken from the home. But the affidavit itself, Andrea, would lay out the basis for the search, the probable cause. And it would be in that document that some of these questions that we all have would begin to be answered.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And do you believe the affidavit should be released, redacting sources, methods?

CHUCK ROSENBERG:

So normally, affidavits for search warrants are released. In the normal course of business we put them under seal, and I was a federal prosecutor for a long time, we put them under seal before we execute the search warrant. And if you think about that, that makes perfect sense. You don't want to tip anyone off that you're on the way. When you tip people off that you're on the way, documents disappear, right? They can be destroyed. People reach out to witnesses, others flee. But after the search warrant, once there is no longer a legitimate law enforcement basis to keep the affidavit sealed, typically you go to the judge with a motion and you ask him to unseal it, and he signs an order unsealing it. So I expect that's going to happen at some point. It may be redacted in part, to your point. But we're going to see, I imagine, most of it. And I hope relatively soon, and that's going to help us answer all the questions that we have.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So, Andrew, if you were back sitting at the Justice Department and advising the attorney general on a decision that would be up to him, and you had the evidence that he was witting on all of this, was knowledgeable, would you indict a former president?

ANDREW WEISSMANN:

So if the crimes are sufficiently serious and there's precedent for bringing those charges against anyone else, then the answer is yes, because a president and a former president are not above the law. I do think here we may be waiting, though, to see what happens with the January 6th investigation because one of the questions for the Justice Department is they may be able to make the case with respect to the documents at Mar-a-Lago, but they may decide that they wait and bring one larger case. And I should add in addition to the former president having issues with the Department of Justice, there are also issues that he's facing in the states. And so I can also see the Justice Department wanting to see what is going to happen in Georgia, what is going to happen in New York, where there's a pending investigation as well.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Chuck, you've said in the past that you should not indict. That there's a rule in the Justice Department, "Don't indict if you don't think you can convict." Do you think you could convict someone in this polarized atmosphere, former President Donald Trump?

CHUCK ROSENBERG:

Well, a couple of things here, Andrea,. First, the standard to get a search warrant is probable cause, a much, much lower standard than you would need to convict at trial, where you would need to convince a jury unanimously by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. So there's a big difference between those two standards. And I don't know that they're there yet. But second, you know, a jury would be impaneled having answered numerous questions, and, under oath, promising that they can judge a case fairly and by the facts adduced in the courtroom and not based on media reporting, or our commentary, or anything else like that. So can a president or a former president be fairly tried in the United States court? Absolutely.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, we have to leave it there. Chuck Rosenberg, Andrew Weissmann, thank you both so very much. And when we come back, we'll break down this extraordinary week of the FBI search and the former president taking the Fifth more than 400 times. The panel is next.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And welcome back, the panel is here: Matthew Continetti of the American Enterprise Institute; presidential historian Michael Beschloss; national correspondent for Politico Betsy Woodruff Swan; Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of The Cook Political Report. And as we're coming on the air, we're hearing reports that a man did fire shots in the air somewhere between the Capitol and the Supreme Court, and ended up, according to the Capitol police, killing himself. So there was a lot of tension this morning just a block from here. And it's just an indication of the overall tension in our society right now. I don't need to tell all of you. So let's talk about the biggest takeaways from this week. Matthew Continetti, Republicans outraged. We saw a more moderate tone, certainly, from Senator Rounds, but a lot of questions still unanswered. What do you think?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

Well, Andrea, I think Trump entered this week as the front runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, and he leaves it as the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination. What we've seen with the Republican reaction to the raid on Mar-a-Lago is a strengthening of his base support, fundraising off of this. And Trump benefits when he is able to play the victim to his supporters. And this latest investigation allows him to do that.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And, Eugene, Democrats couldn't get their message out. They had the best week of –

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

– Joe Biden's presidency.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right. The idea that this is politically timed to favor the Democrats is ridiculous. Joe Biden on Monday was in the middle of his best news cycle in many months, maybe since the inauguration. And it gets completely swallowed up by the search at Mar-a-Lago. So they couldn't get their message out. On the other hand, I think, you know, look, Democrats basically are willing to credit Attorney General Garland that he signed off on the search warrant because he had no choice. And one of my questions is whether this was aimed at potential prosecution or just getting the stuff back. If there was such sensitive information out there, that the primary thing was they wanted to get it back where it was secure.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And this overall atmosphere, of course, Betsy, you've talked – we’ve talked about the warnings from Homeland Security and DOJ, the attack in Cincinnati connected to this, and now the threat level at the highest level online as it's been since before January 6th.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

Yeah, it's a really volatile moment. And I think the next – the coming months are going to be a time of acute tension among federal law enforcement officials because of incendiary rhetoric online, and what we're increasingly seeing is violence that actually happens in the real world. A joint intelligence bulletin that the FBI and DHS sent to their law enforcement partners specifically warned that if people associated with what they refer to as the Palm Beach search warrant, in these bulletins they don't use proper nouns, obviously referring to the Mar-a-Lago search warrant being executed, if people associated with that face further law enforcement action, either indictments or just having search warrants executed, that that could result in even increasing the level of threat, potentially increasing risks of violence. This is – this is a sobering and frightening moment for people working in law enforcement, in part because the environment is so chaotic and in part because the threat actors behave in ways that are really random and hard to predict.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And, Michael Beschloss, we shouldn't lose sight of how unprecedented this is, depending on what they end up doing. But already you've had the first-ever search of a former president's home.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

Right, this is – I tell children that this is not something that we have seen before. Don't think this is normal procedure. And, you know, you begin to ask why. Most presidents, as you know, Eisenhower was writing his memoirs, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His documents were on a military base. They were brought to him by someone handcuffed to a briefcase. Other presidents have their stuff in a presidential library and they go there to consult their documents. Why did he have these super-classified documents in the basement? If they were nuclear secrets, what were they doing there? Was he sloppy, which is bad enough, or the larger question we don't know yet, but did he share some of these secrets with foreign powers, other people who should not have had them?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, Michael, let me follow up because Donald Trump tweeted that, "President Barack Hussein Obama," this is his tweet not my words, "Kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots." Now, you know the facts here. The National Archives put out a statement. You've dealt with presidential libraries. How does this work? What is in Chicago right now?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

Well, President Trump is absolutely right. Barack Obama has tens of millions of documents, and they are in a National Archives installation, Hoffman Estates, Illinois, under armed guard with heavy surveillance, using the procedures that are supposed to be used for a former president. We have never in history seen a former president take ultra-classified documents, stick them in his basement, loosely watched by government standards, and with the shadow of we still don't know what his motive was.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So let's talk about the politics of all of this, and whether anything changes as a result of it. Donald Trump fundraising on this, other Republicans. Amy?

AMY WALTER:

I want to go back, what these folks were talking about, or maybe just Eugene, about what was supposed to be a great week for President Biden. And Democrats get stepped on here. At the same time, if you talked to Democratic strategists at the very beginning of this cycle, what did they want this election to be about? They would have liked it to be about a referendum on MAGA, a referendum on Donald Trump, which is really hard to do. When you're the party in power it's hard to make the election a choice. This is helping to make that choice very clear. And the fact that Republicans in Congress, running for either – and candidates – are embracing this, continuing to embrace the president, makes it easier for Democrats to make this an election about a choice. And for independent voters especially. You don't win elections, even in midterms, just by turning out your base. So this idea that, "Well, this will be great for Republicans because now the base is energized," the base was already energized. They didn't need to be energized any more than they were. Joe Biden was energizing Republicans. What this is doing is saying to independent voters who are already so frustrated and worried by this stuff that they're seeing out there, that more time with Trump means we got to step back.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

And that's a reminder of just the chaos of the Trump years –

AMY WALTER:

Yes.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

– it really is.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

We're going to leave it there for now, but you guys are all going to be back. And when we come back, why Democrats and even some Republicans are looking rather differently at the midterms, at November's outlook, and whether or not that red wave may be just less of a wave. Stay with us.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Although Democrats still face an uphill battle in November, the last few weeks have brought them some wins. Along with some structural changes in the parties and the fact that Trump is not on the ballot in the midterms, expectations of a Republican wave could be premature. One of the biggest changes in the parties over the last few decades is in education. In 1996, 27% of Republicans had at least a bachelor's degree, higher than the Democrats' 22%. But the growth in the Democrats' numbers since then has been more consistent and larger, while the GOP's share of highly educated voters rose slightly and then dropped back to 29% in 2019, 12 points lower than the Democrats that year. And these numbers matter because not everyone votes at the same rate. In the 2016 presidential election, the more educated the voter, the more likely they were to vote, with 47.4% of high school-educated people casting a ballot versus 71% of those with a bachelor's degree or higher. So when a party's percentage of college grads falls, that may make it harder to get the desired voter turnout. But also important here is the drop-off in the midterms. Although it's expected, the margins matter. And after starting with the lowest number to begin with, turnout among voters with a high school education also dropped the most, a decrease of 8.6% from the presidential vote to the 2018 midterms. In other words, as the parties change, the GOP is trading people who vote more frequently for people who vote less frequently, while the Democrats are doing the opposite. And that trade-off may be magnified in midterms. It's true the Republican Party continues to tie itself to former President Trump—a strong vote motivator—but the question remains of what the GOP electorate will look like when he is not on the ballot. We've had one example of this in 2018, and those turnout numbers show a steep drop. While the Democrats lost about 5 million votes from 2016, the Republicans saw a much larger drop of 12 million. When we come back, another reason Democrats are feeling better as the very good week President Biden just had. Stay with us.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Welcome back. The panel is here. So the midterms look a little bit better, marginally better for Democrats. In the generic ballot question on a Fox question, they were tied 41-41, which was a change from what you saw in May. So Democrats closing this gap. Still --

AMY WALTER:

The political environment is a lot better for Democrats than it was. Let's say we were back in November, and Republicans picked up the governorship in Virginia and came very close in New Jersey. So if that was like a category five-type environment for Democrats or where the wave was going for Republicans, it's now back. But still, it's in territory that's not great for Democrats. Let's say it's more of a category three-type environment. The real question I think is what's going to happen in the Senate. That is still the most interesting and dynamic reality for us.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And one of the biggest races in Pennsylvania, a state I know and love very well, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where you've got John Fetterman coming out for the first time publicly in a rally -- the first time because he had a stroke three days before the election. And was much more seriously -- you know, his health was much worse than he had previously acknowledged. He came out, but he has just been campaigning, you know, with these ads against Mehmet Oz, his opponent -- his Republican opponent, who lives in New Jersey and rolling out, you know, Steve van Zandt. Take a watch.

[BEGIN TAPE]

STEVE VAN ZANDT:

What are you doing in Pennsylvania? Everybody knows you live in New Jersey, and you're just using your in-law's address over there. Nobody wants to see you get embarrassed. So come on back to Jersey where you belong.

[END TAPE]

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So, Matt, anytime you can combine Bruce with the Sopranos, you know, you're reaching.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

The Fetterman campaign is relying heavily on that intra-Wawa fight, you know, between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Look, but Pennsylvania does illustrate one of the Republican Party's problems, Andrea, which is some of these candidates -- the Trump-endorsed candidates in the Senate races -- are not ready for prime time. And it's showing in the polling. And they need to get their campaigns right if the Republicans have any chance of taking the Senate.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right. There's Pennsylvania. There's Georgia with Herschel Walker. There's Ohio with J.D. Vance. And those are all places where you would expect the Republican to be doing well, and the Republican is not doing well.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

Not now. And, you know, part of the reason is Republicans have based their entire campaign on inflation and the economy. And that can go far. But when Democrats start talking about abortion, Republicans need to have something to say. And so far, they do not.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

One of the big races left though is this coming Tuesday in Wyoming. And this was Liz Cheney's closing message in an ad.

[BEGIN TAPE]

REP. LIZ CHENEY:

If we do not condemn these lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct, and it will become a feature of all elections. America will never be the same.

[END TAPE]

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So, Michael, she is so far behind, but she may well have national aspirations. She could be setting the stage. She's raising a lot of money from Democrats. As much as they disagree with her on social issues, they are so impressed with the way she has co-led this committee, the January 6th committee.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

Well, true. And not impossible that she might run, someday, third party for president of the United States, maybe in '24. We're guessing here. But I think the thing is that you would expect an historian to say this, so I apologize in advance. But 20 years from now, look back on the midterms of 2022. What was at stake was not so much some of the things that we hear about, but whether this turned out to be a democracy or not, with rule of law and elections where the real winner is the one who takes office, not the loser who was declared the winner. Those things are open questions right now. So all I would say is there was once a slogan, "This time, this fall, vote like your life really depended on it." It really does.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

What really--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And Betsy, jump in here.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

Yeah, what really distinguishes Cheney from so many other anti-Trump Republicans, as well is her willingness to face almost-certain, enormous wipeout defeat. We’ve had -- for the course of the entire Trump era, there have been so many Republicans who've taken a principled stand against the current, now former president and then decided to resign or to retire or step down or sort of fade away. Cheney is unusual and very much, very much like, on an island --

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:

Totally.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

-- for being willing to risk getting just beaten very badly.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

To take a principled position.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, and she's taking a principled position. She's doing it without quarter or compromise. I mean, you know, she does not mince words. In part, I think that's just who Liz Cheney is. That's her family. That's, you know, that ad with her father that she put up calling Donald Trump a coward. But I do think she's playing a longer game, a longer game first for democracy. I think she believes in democracy. And, and then also a longer game for her own prospects.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And the one thing that I've been hearing from Wyoming, where she's running against a Trump-backed opponent, is that the congressperson is like a senator because there's only one.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

There's only one, right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And they feel that she would -- with the Republican taking the House -- that she would lose so much status.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

She may lose, but she wants to be in one place, and that's on a debate stage with Donald Trump in 2024.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Okay. Well, we're going to have to leave it there. Thanks you all for a great roundtable. That's all for today. Thanks for watching. Chuck will be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.