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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the passing of President George H. W. Bush: war hero, congressman, C.I.A. director, vice-president, and the last president of the Greatest Generation.

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH :

I want a kinder and gentler nation.

CHUCK TODD:

He faced a slumping economy and faced down Saddam Hussein, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.

CHUCK TODD:

Then forged a bipartisan relationship with the man who denied him a second term.

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

We were friends before he beat me, before we ran against each other. And we've been friends afterward. And that's the way politics should be.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning, we remember the 41st president. I'll talk to his Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, and his Secretary of State, James Baker. Plus, the Russia connection. How deeply involved was Donald Trump with Russia during the 2016 campaign?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I have nothing to do with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia, folks.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, the president's longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, says he was deeply involved with a Trump Tower project in Moscow, even during the campaign. The president goes on the attack.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Michael Cohen is lying. And he's trying to get a reduced sentence.

CHUCK TODD:

And plays down the tower deal.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

That was a project that we didn't do.

CHUCK TODD:

But Cohen's guilty plea puts President Trump at the center of the Mueller investigation. I'll talk to Democratic congressman Jerrold Nadler, the incoming head of the House Judiciary Committee, and a top Senate Republican, John Barrasso, of Wyoming. Also joining me this morning, Andrea Mitchell, Dan Balz, Heather McGhee, and Pat McCrory. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News, the longest-running show in television history, this is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. The geography of George H. W. Bush's political life reflects the geography of the modern Republican Party. After graduating from Yale, the wealthy Connecticut patrician left New England and planted a Republican seed in the great state of Texas.

He was elected to the House twice and defeated for the Senate twice, just as the GOP was establishing its new southern roots. The 41st president often found himself straddling the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party, taking conservative positions that he sometimes would later regret, while also shifting right when politically necessary.

He was the ideal moderate running mate for the conservative Ronald Reagan in 1980. But 12 years later, he became a casualty of the Republican Party rightward shift, losing his party's conservative support after breaking his most famous no-new-taxes pledge. Mr. Bush is now seen as that rarest of things, a successful one-term president, a cautious, thoughtful, and informed leader who navigated the country through the end of the Cold War and confronted Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait. Mr. Bush could play rough in a campaign, as Michael Dukakis discovered in 1988. But he was better known for his good manners, graciousness, and old-school values.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

The old ideas are new again, because they're not old. They are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part in pitching in.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

It's impossible to remember President Bush without thinking of his terrific family. He was the patriarch of, perhaps, the most-enduring political family in American history. And joining me now to remember this president is one of President Bush's longtime friends, who was at his bedside when he passed away Friday night. It's the former secretary of state, James Baker. Mr. Secretary, welcome back, sir.

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

First of all, my condolences to you. As I -- you've shared, I know this was, this was your best friend. How are you holding up? How's the family holding up?

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

Well, we're doing okay. I had a sort of tough time yesterday. But we're, we’re doing fine. And I'm, I’m comforted, Chuck, by the way in which 41 was called to Heaven. He had a very gentle passing. He had, of course, a wonderful life, 94 years, oldest former president ever, and -- who was such a beautiful human being. And, and his, the last day was something really sort of special. He ended up talking to his children in those last hours. You know, they say, when someone's passing away, they -- the sense that they never lose is the sense of hearing. So they got all of his children on the phone. One of his sons was there with us, Neil, his son, Neil. But they got the others on the phone. And the last words the 41st president of the United States ever said were to, were to the 43rd president, when he said, "I love you." Because 43 had called in to tell his father goodbye and tell him how much he loved him. So it was a very, very sweet scene.

CHUCK TODD:

You spent a lot of time with him, especially in the last few months. What were those conversations like between Bake and Jefe, as the two of you, I guess, loved to call each other?

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

Yeah, well, I started calling him Jefe after we were involuntarily retired from public service in 1993. Because I wasn't going to call him George that much. I'd been calling him Mr. President. Jefe, of course, is for chief. I went over there the day he died, early in the morning. He had, three days, he hadn't gotten out of bed. And he'd had a very bad Thursday. And then this last Friday, I went over there at 7:15 in the morning, I live right, right near, to see how he was doing. And one of his aides said, "Mr. President, Secretary Baker's here." And he looked up. He opened both eyes. He looked at me. He said, "Where are we going?" And I said, "We're going to Heaven, Jefe." And he said, "That's where I want to go." And during the course of the day, my wife, Susan, was there. And she went over and kissed him on the forehead. And she said, "We really love you, Jefe. We love you very much." He looked at her. He said, "You'd better hurry up." So he kept his sense of humor and his spirit until the very end. And what a beautiful, wonderful human being he was, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

He seemed to -- unlike others, who lose, lose in political life, he didn't have a bitterness about it. Explain that.

FMR. SEC. OF STATE JAMES BAKER: Well the loss was really hard for him in '92 but, but, you know, he, he I guess, realized that you win some, you lose some. He didn't get bitter. He was not that kind of person. He was a very warm, caring, compassionate, generous person who was always so thoughtful and kind to others. And that's the way he was in victory. And that's the way he was in defeat. He never took credit for anything. He could have taken credit for a lot of things during his life. But he didn't do that. That’s -- those were some the values he was brought up with.

CHUCK TODD:

We know he didn't like to talk about the "L word," legacy. So I leave it to you. What's the legacy you want him most remembered for?FMR. SEC. OF STATE JAMES BAKER:

Well I think that no doubt that what he will be remembered as our most successful one-term president. And perhaps the most successful, one of the most successful presidents of all time. His presidency, while it was only four years was extraordinarily consequential, Chuck. If you look at what happened in the world and the way he managed that, the way he managed the end of the Cold War so that it ended with a whimper and not with a bang, was really incredible. And look at – look at the other things along the way. The unification of Germany and peace as a member of NATO. The coalition he put together to reverse Iraq's aggression in Kuwait. Ending the wars in Central America which had been the holy grail of both the left and the right. And there's so many others. So he'll be well remembered by history.

CHUCK TODD:

You know it’s --

FMR. SEC. OF STATE JAMES BAKER:

And well, well treated by history.

CHUCK TODD:

It's interesting to know that there was a G20 that was held. And there wasn't a G20 when you guys were in power, back then. It was just the G7. But the ideas these -- the building and reinforcement of multi -- of these multi-international organizations to keep the peace, Truman and Eisenhower built them. And it seems as if you guys reinforced them after the Cold War. He would've loved the G20, wouldn't he have?

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

Well, I don't know about that. We certainly used them. And my own personal view has always been that a group of 20 nations is a little bit unwieldy.

CHUCK TODD:

That's true.

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

In fact, I was fortunate enough, Chuck, to work with the G5, when I was treasury secretary for Ronald Reagan. The fewer countries you have, the more likely you're going to get something done that's productive. So I'm not so sure I would've been for the G20. In fact, I know I wouldn't have been.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I will leave it there. By the way, I've got a familiar face sitting at my table here that I'm about to say -- about to speak to about the president here. So Secretary Baker, would you like to say something to Vice President Cheney?

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

No, I want you to ask him how his duck hunt was in the second week in November. Ask him if he had a good duck hunting partner when he went -- last went duck hunting. That's all.

CHUCK TODD:

You've got it.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

I had a great partner, but he shot all the birds.

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

No, no, no, no, no, no! No, no. That's not true. We had, we had a great hunt. We had a wonderful hunt.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Well, I'll let you guys resolve that down the road. Secretary Baker, I will let you go. Thanks for sharing a few moments with us this morning. I appreciate it.

FMR. SEC. JAMES A. BAKER:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, as I said, the man joining me now was President Bush's secretary of defense. And of course, he was his son's vice president. Mr. Vice President, welcome back to Meet The Press, sir.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Good morning, Chuck. Good to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to play for you a clip from my colleague, Jenna Bush, of an interview she did with her grandfather. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JENNA BUSH HAGER:

What do you want your legacy to be?

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

Well, I want somebody else to define the legacy. I've kind of banned the use of the L-word, legacy word. I mean, that was past. Now, this is present. And I think, I think history will get, get right and point out the things that I did wrong and, perhaps, some of the things we did right.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Vice President, it's the last thing he said there. Things are -- "People will point out things I did wrong. But they'll point out some of the things we did right.” He’s -- put the blame on me. Share the credit with everybody else.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Right. No, he was a remarkable man. I, of course, was his second choice for secretary of defense. But I was asked to take the job, after his original nominee had failed. And it was a tremendous privilege to be asked to join the team. Partly -- it was a great team with the president as commander in chief; Brent Scowcroft, as national security advisor; Jim, as secretary of state; and then myself. We'd all worked together in the Ford administration. So we we were putting the old team back together, to some extent.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

And it really was, as Jim said, just a remarkable time, in terms of what was going on in the world. There'd been a lot of times that being secretary of defense is a real bummer. It happened to be, in my opinion -- and I'm always asked which job I liked best out of the ones I had. And I always cite that period as secretary of defense for George Bush.

CHUCK TODD:

You've talked about him as just being a great boss. What, what made him a great boss to work for?

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Well, for example, when it was time to put the budget together, defense came first. We'd decide what the top line was going to be for defense, and I was free to go spend that. Then everybody else got what was left. That's a great way to operate, if you're secretary of defense.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, I'm sure you loved it. Right.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Well, we needed it and, of course, wartime, too. But the other thing that was, was noticeable, at one point, you know, defense is a huge place. In those days, I had 4 million people working for me and 2 million active duty, a million reservists, a million civilians. And -- but at one point, I had to relieve one of the members of the Joint Chiefs. They had done some things that weren't ethically bad but just totally off course from the direction I wanted to go in.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

I called the president and asked if I was okay, have any problems, got him off the tennis courts up at Camp David on a Sunday. And he said, "Dick, you do whatever you need to do. I'll back you to the hilt." Didn't even ask why or anything else, just gave me his wholehearted support and endorsement and left me to run the show. And that, there's no better way to operate for a boss in tough circumstances.

CHUCK TODD:

One of the things that I've read that you've talked about, that you think one of his proudest accomplishments is, is the idea of peace through strength, that it was -- that administration, your administration, is the epitome of that. It does seem as if the word, restraint, is a positive, when describing President Bush and foreign policy. How would you describe it?

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Well, I think it, it clearly was. But partly, we benefited from the Reagan buildup and a lot of good things that happened during the Reagan years. But we inherited that situation. And the things that had been done during the Reagan years, I think, contributed directly to the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, them getting ready to go out of business. The relationships that established then with Gorbachev, for example, and the way that we operated, we had the military capacity. We generated significant success in the desert, when we went to the Gulf War. And at the same time, that sort of backed up everything anybody ever thought about us, including our adversaries.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

There wasn't anybody that wanted to mess with the United States. And over time, that ultimately, obviously, led to the decision by the Soviets to shut down their operation.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it was interesting. And I saw one of these, I think it was Secretary Baker who said, you know, "President Bush was insistent that, as the Soviet Union was falling, as Eastern Europe was falling, don't poke Gorbachev."

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Exactly. I can remember, I'd get into a little bit of a tug and pull, back and forth, with Brent Scowcroft. I was interested in getting military attaches into all those embassies of all those newly independent and sovereign states.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Brent wanted to go slow. He, obviously, was speaking to the president. And I did it the way they wanted it done. But there’s -- on the one hand, there was a great temptation to move aggressively, to make sure we, we controlled and maintained the enormous success of the collapse of the old Soviet empire. On the other hand -- and the president led the charge, obviously, it was his call, but he did it in such a way and insisted that we do it in such a way that we were not unsympathetic to the political problems, if you will, of Mr. Gorbachev, and that we could operate in a way that would, in fact, make it easier for him to do what we wanted him to do, not by brute force, not by threats, not by taking advantage, you know, dancing on the Berlin Wall, as it came down. It was masterfully handled.

CHUCK TODD:

You worked for the father. You worked for the son. I'm sure having -- everybody ask you to compare them as bosses, this or that, what, what parts -- what were the best attributes that you feel as if the father passed on to the son that you, that you -- that most impressed you?

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Well, he hired me, for one thing.

CHUCK TODD:

There's for one thing. Okay.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

That's lighthearted.

CHUCK TODD:

I hear you. I hear you.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

The -- no, they were very different. You know, it was different times, different issues. I had a job in one as secretary of defense and the other as vice president. We'd learned a lot from those earlier years. And what I'd done for his father, I think, had a lot to do with his desire to put me on the ticket as his running mate.

CHUCK TODD:

Who was easier to disagree with, or who was --

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Probably --

CHUCK TODD:

-- harder to debate?

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Well, as vice president, they couldn't fire me. So I could be a little bit more forthright in speaking. But they both -- they were great guys to work for. The -- very proud with what I was able to do with both of them, the fact that I was asked to serve. Those were remarkable years. And there were difficult times, no question about it, in both administrations. But it was a, well, the highlight of my career.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Mr. Vice President, it's always good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Good to be back, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You look healthy. You feel good?

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

Feel great. New heart's ticking. Everything's good.

CHUCK TODD:

Great. Well, good to see you. And we'll look forward to more remembrances this week.

FMR. VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:

All right.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, we're going to turn to the news that put President Trump at the heart of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, Michael Cohen's admission that the president was deeply involved in a Moscow real estate project well into the 2016 campaign. But as we go to break, a look at President Bush's address to the nation days after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

No one, friend or foe, should doubt our desire for peace. And no one should underestimate our determination to confront aggression.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Turning now to the Russia investigation and the big bombshell of the week, Michael Cohen's admission that President Trump's involvement in his Moscow Tower project was deeper and lasted much longer than Cohen had testified to Congress about. The guilty plea by President Trump's former lawyer could help us understand some of what we saw in 2016. It could explain why Mr. Trump, early on, had incentive to embrace Vladimir Putin during the campaign. It could explain why Mr. Trump called for giving Putin relief from sanctions over his annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. And it could explain why the Republican platform was stripped of a proposal to give lethal aid to Ukraine. What it certainly does is place President Trump closer to the center of the investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia. Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who will lead the Judiciary Committee in the next Congress. Congressman Nadler, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

Good to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I get to some of the news of the week, I would like you to reflect a moment. What do you believe the enduring legacy will be of President Bush?

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

Well, President Bush was a patriot and a, a good pres -- a good person. I believe his, his enduring legacy is that he managed, from the American end, the dissolution of the Soviet empire. You know, when major empires fall, the most heavily armed empire in the world at that point, usually, there's wars and cataclysms associated with it. But I believe the lion's share of the credit for, for that not happening, for our avoiding cataclysm, is Mikhail Gorbachev. But a major share of that credit also goes to George Bush.

CHUCK TODD:

Very well said there. Congressman, I want to start with Michael Cohen. He pled guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization's effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow back in 2015, 2016. This was happening at the same time that Donald Trump was running for president.

Here's what a former federal prosecutor, Ken White, observed in The Atlantic. And I'm curious if you agree. "This conclusion, at least, is inescapable. The president, who has followed this drama obsessively, knew that his personal lawyer was lying to Congress about his business activities and stood by while it happened." Do you agree with that assessment? And does that look like obstruction of justice to you?

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

Well, I do agree with that assessment. And you know, we have a president who lies incessantly to the American people about big matters and small matters, who surrounds himself with people who lie incessantly to the American people. And the key fact now is that the time when he can get away with lying to the American people all the time and evading accountability is, is coming to an end. And I do think that this is a very serious matter. And among other things, the fact that he, that he was lying to the American people about doing business in Russia and that the Kremlin knew he was lying gave the Kremlin a hold over him. And one question we have now is, does the Kremlin still have hold over him, because of other lies that they know about?

CHUCK TODD:

So the fact that the Kremlin, which overnight, has confirmed that there were some emails and a phone call between the Trump Organization and the Kremlin, and we only find out about it now, you believe that that is proof that there might be leverage?

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

There certainly was leverage during that, during the campaign period and until recently. Because they knew that he was lying. They knew that he had major business dealings, or that Cohen, on his behalf, had major business dealings in Moscow during the campaign, and that he was lying about that. There may be other things that they know that give, that give them leverage. One question has always been, why was the president so obsequious to Putin from the beginning of the campaign up to the present day? And it may be that it's because the Kremlin has leverage over the president, which is a terrible thing, if true.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Cohen has pled guilty to lying. Why should he be believed now? If he was lying then, why do we know he's credible now? I know it's always tough, when you get witnesses that flip. But if, if he's assisting you in your work and the House Democrats down the road, I assume you hope that he does, how will you know if you can trust him?

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

Well, I think that we'll know a lot more when we see pres-- when we see Mr. Mueller's report. He knows a lot more than we do at this point. And the fact that he's been able to show that all these people, whether it's Manafort or Gates or Flynn or Cohen, all the people around the president were lying, I assume means he's got real documentary and other proof of that. And we'll see that in due course.

CHUCK TODD:

You have openly talked about holding up the government funding vote until the Mueller protection bill has either -- a vote is held on it or not. Is that still your current stance? And is that the stance you want Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to take?

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

Well, my current stance, and I think our stance, generally, is that we must do whatever we can to protect the Mueller investigation from interference with -- by the president. We are dependent on that investigation to get to the bottom of the corruption in the campaign, of the Russian role in the campaign, of the Trump campaign, of the president's role in colluding with the Russians, if he did. We know his campaign did. The question is, did he, personally? So we have to do whatever we can to protect that investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, former F.B.I. director James Comey's been subpoenaed to appear before your committee. Right now, you're ranking member there. He's fighting the subpoena. He wants to do it. He was -- voluntarily do it in public, on the record. Chairman Goodlatte has said he would provide a transcript within 24 hours, videotape it, but not have it live. Is that enough for you?

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

No. The Republicans, in this particular investigation, have a history of having these, these in-camera interviews and then selectively leaking portions to -- of the interview to, to give distorted view to the public of what happened. Let Comey testify in public. There's nothing, there’s no military secrets here. He wants to testify. He ought to be able to. We ought to have accountability and openness to the American public. And there's no reason for the secrecy that Mr. Goodlatte wants.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Congressman Nadler, the ranking Democrat now on Judiciary, soon to be chairman of Judiciary, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir. Much appreciated.

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Senator John Barrasso, who, by the way, was recently elected the chair of the Republican Conference, which makes him the number three in the leadership there. Senator Barrasso, by the way, congratulations on that.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

Thanks. Thanks for having me back, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Before we start, your thoughts on what is the enduring legacy, for you, for President Bush?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

You know, my memories of President Bush are his times in Wyoming, in my hometown, in Casper, in Jackson Hole, and how kind he was to children, bending down, looking in, listening to them. You know, he treated everyone with -- everyone got a smile, everyone got a handshake, everyone got respect. And you know, he never rested in his work and dedication to the American people. And now, may he rest in peace.

CHUCK TODD:

And as we now know, everybody got a Christmas card. Everybody got a Christmas card. I want to ask you, quickly, on the revelation from the Kremlin over the weekend confirming Michael Cohen's account, essentially, that yes, there were some interactions between Donald Trump's organization and the Kremlin. We don't find out about it until now. Is that proof -- do you have any concerns at all that, if the Russians knew -- basically, we now know they might have had leverage over this president. They knew information that we, in the public, did not know. They confirm it over the weekend. Does that -- is that not cause for concern?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

The president is an international businessman. I'm not surprised he was doing international business. Cohen is in trouble for lying to Congress, not anything related to the campaign or Russian influence. But we have a Mueller investigation going on. We need to come to completion on that. And it should be done quickly. I know there are members --

CHUCK TODD:

Is it fair -- Is it fair to the Republican voters of 2016, that they did not know that the president was at least negotiating a business deal with Putin?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

There were so many things involved in the 2016 campaign, it's hard to point to what one thing influenced voters. I think people were thinking, "It is time for a change." They didn't want Hillary Clinton. They wanted a new opportunity. And they've gotten it, in terms of a strong and healthy and growing economy. Jobs are up. Wages are up. Consumer confidence is at an all-time high. I think people look back where they were two years ago and where we are today, we're in a much better place, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, but should a good economy trump, trump the concern that we didn't know about this stuff?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

Well, I want the know -- I want the Mueller probe to end. And I want the American people to see what is in it. There are people that are trying to do legislation on it. They've been crying wolf for two years that Mueller's going to be fired. It didn't happen, not going to happen. This is wasted energy to try to do this. And for the previous guest to say, "Maybe we should not fund the government over protecting Special Counsel Mueller,” I think, is the, is the wrong way to go.

CHUCK TODD:

The president chose not to meet with Vladimir Putin. The White House said it was in response to, to the aggression in Ukraine. Was that the right call? Or would you have liked to see the president confront Putin?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

I think it was the right call not to meet. Putin is somebody that respects strength and territory. Words don't mean much to him. Action does. So I think we need to do more. I've called for sending ships to the Black Sea, also, in terms of lethal defense.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that how you would've responded? Send those ships to the Black Sea right now.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

And have NATO do it, as well, to tell the people in Ukraine we are with them, to show Russia that international law must be followed. But in terms of lethal weapons for Ukraine, we've given them anti-tank. We need to give them anti-aircraft. We need to give them weapons, also, in terms of anti-ship. Putin respects strength and action. He will not stop until he is stopped. He can smell fear --

CHUCK TODD:

So what should be next?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

-- and that's the way he acts.

CHUCK TODD:

What should be next?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

Any kind of action has to be a deterrence. And a deterrence has to be a forceful response, not just saying something to Putin. Look, he's cunning. He's opportunistic. He's aggressive. He probes for weaknesses. And then he takes it further. That's what his position has been in Ukraine. He treats Ukraine as a guinea pig. He tries something there and then says, "I can try this other places." Putin's powers are three: cyber, as well as energy, as well as his military. So we need to do everything we can to become more energy independent and dominant to use that energy. And I think we need NATO's involvement, as well. Angela Merkel ought to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Because she's addicted to Russian energy.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. The president said he was going to send notice that he wants to cancel NAFTA. He's negotiated a new agreement. Obviously, that's an attempt to pressure you guys in the House and the Senate to get NAFTA approved. Are you okay with that tactic? Or do you think that's a risky tactic?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

Well, I'm a free trader. I'm a fair trader. I want to be a smart trader. I think the president has proven to be a successful trader. We saw it with his arrangement and visit just down in -- at the G20 with the president of Mexico and the president of Canada and then, just last night, what's happened with China in putting the pause button there on the trade war with that, with more products heading to China, agriculture, energy products. Everything the president has promised, he's delivered on. And these are going to be helpful to the economy and people at home.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, you didn't answer the question about NAFTA, though. Are you okay with him canceling NAFTA now? Or do you think that you should wait to see if you guys can get this passed first?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

I think we should see if we can get it passed first. And I’m going to see how many Democrat votes come onboard for this. I support what the president has been doing.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator John Barrasso, Republican from Wyoming, the new number-three in the leadership. Thanks for coming on, sir.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Much appreciated. When we come back, a lot to talk about. And it's starting with this: where does the Russia investigation go from here? Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory; NBC News contributor, senior fellow at Demos, and new mother, Heather McGhee; NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell; and Dan Balz, the chief correspondent for the Washington Post. Now, we're going to spend some time remembering President Bush later in this hour. But first, I want to go with the big news of the week. Dan Balz, there's a new timeline now from the campaign that you start to wonder if it's going to be of concern, now that this becomes a concern to the American public. October 28, 2015, Trump signs a letter of intent to negotiate a real estate deal with the Russians. Three days later, he starts flattering, as a candidate, "I get along great with Putin." Throughout that month of November and December, more, "stable mates," as he referred to him at once. January 20th, we now know Michael Cohen speaks with the Kremlin about the Moscow project. And then on February 17, 2016, Candidate Donald Trump claims, "I have no relationship with him, other than he called me a genius." Dan Balz, how significant?

DAN BALZ:

Well, I think it's very, very significant. I mean, what has happened over the last week, as you suggested earlier, has brought him to the center of this investigation. And it's coming from various directions. But this Russia piece is exceedingly important. Because there has been suspicion about this from the very start. There has been questions about why he treated Putin the way he did throughout the campaign. And now, we are beginning to get the pieces that explain that. We still don't know a lot. There's still much to be known. But Mueller is clearly focusing in on that. And you have to understand why that would make the president so uncomfortable right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea, the Kremlin confirmed Michael Cohen's account. What is that about?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Well, that's putting more pressure on President Trump and also, you know, weakening Trump. I mean, Putin is using every lever that he has. And Trump had put pressure on him over Ukraine. So he is, through Peskov, his right-hand person, saying, "Yeah, we've got those emails," and showing the emails of Michael Cohen. Look, this changes the timeline. It puts this front and center in the campaign at the very time when the Russians were hacking, beginning to hack the Democratic accounts and, you know, the accounts of the campaign manager of Hillary Clinton.

We don't have the final connection. And the president's correct. It's not illegal for an international businessman to be doing the business. The conflicts of interest are profound. It's not illegal yet. But we do know that the CFO of the Trump Organization is also a cooperating witness. And the fact that they put, in that criminal information, that Cohen had been talking to the family members. That's a small universe. That's Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, Jared. So it now brings the family into it. And of course, the family, they can be indicted, if the president, arguably, cannot.

CHUCK TODD:

Pat McCrory, I want to read you something David French, in the National Review, wrote. And he says, "Yes, I'm mainly pleased with American policy towards Russia since Trump has been president. But Trump's actions represented an extraordinary conflict of interest. Americans were listening to Trump's praise of Putin without realizing his profit motive. That's intolerable." Do you agree?

PAT MCCRORY:

No. I disagree with his grassy knoll theories. Listen, when i was mayor --

CHUCK TODD:

How is this a grassy-knoll theory?

PAT MCCRORY:

Well, I think we have a lot of may, may issues. The congressman, several times, said, "This may mean this. This may mean that." We don't know that. Those are theories. I met with the Trump family when I was mayor, over a decade ago, about building a tower in Charlotte, North Carolina, including Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump and Donald, Jr. This is a typical thing, where you have a major developer trying to meet with the leaders of whoever the government is. In Moscow, it's not against the law for McDonald's, for Pepsi Cola, for Ford Motor Company, even for Kentucky Fried Chicken to invest in Russia. And we're making it sound like it was against the law to invest in Russia. And it was not. You're right. It was not against the law for a presidential candidate who was a major businessperson --

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But shouldn't he have disclosed what was a clear conflict of interest, giving them leverage over him?

PAT MCCRORY:

Well, first of all, you're assuming there was leverage. That's a theory. And I don’t -- first of all, he never built the building in Russia. By the way, he never built the building in Charlotte, either. But I think this is something that won't mean as much, especially to Trump supporters. Because it was well known that Trump was doing business in Russia. There were pictures of him with the beauty pageant long before that.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Except for the fact that he himself -- governor, except for the fact that he himself said, "I have no business dealings with Russia." So he actually lied to the American people. His personal fixer and attorney lied to Congress three times. He said there was no dealings, while he was in talks to build a $50 million penthouse for Vladimir Putin at the top of this tower.

PAT MCCRORY:

Well, that's a theory, also.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

No, it's not a theory. That's actually what was in the deal that they were discussing. So the other problem here is that we know that this is just another piece of what Russia was dangling in front of the candidate, if the promise of stolen emails, which eventually would get to those conversations, wasn't enough, to get him in his corner. And the sad thing that this reveals about the man who's currently in the White House is that it worked, is that he was willing to vouch for President Putin. And that's -- it’s embarrassing to the country that it worked so well.

PAT MCCRORY:

Well, first of all, there are a lot of business people -- there are a lot of top Fortune 500, CEOs who want good relations with Russia.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

But they're not in the White House, supposed to be --

PAT MCCRORY:

He wasn't in the White House at the time, either.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

He was trying to become the president, who's supposed to put his country ahead of his own profit motive. And that's the big difference. If we don’t see that, that’s really strange.

PAT MCCRORY:

There is economy motives for the country. And there are safety --

HEATHER MCGHEE:

But Trump Tower is not in the economic interest of the country.

PAT MCCRORY:

There are safety issues -- there are safety issues for America, having a good relationship with Russia.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me go back to the Mueller probe a minute. And Dan Balz, are we -- I don't get the impression we're close to seeing this wrapped up, despite what so many others are speculating on the president's legal team.

DAN BALZ:

I would agree with that. And I think that has been the reality throughout this. I mean, there’s always --- there are moments when things happen. And we all kind of instinctively say, "Well, this is accelerating. And, you know he's really getting near the end.” And the truth is, this has been an amazingly methodical process and, I think, continues to be. And he is building a case. We don't know, ultimately, what that report will say. But the threads are more evident as a result of what we saw last week.

CHUCK TODD:

The reason I ask for the timeline, at what point do we get to the point, Andrea, where, when Mueller puts out his report, there's going to be a lot of political folks that say, "You know what? Let the voters decide this, not Congress."

ANDREA MITCHELL:

You know, I think that is one of the issues. Because first of all, there's no, there’s no absolute report that gets put out. It will either be leaked out or depending on whose in charge --

CHUCK TODD:

It could be a filing via grand jury. Excuse me, it could be a filing -- a court filing.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

It could be a report to Congress. Now that the Democrats have the House side, then it will probably come out. But if it were a unified Republican Senate and House, it might not come out. And the fact is that, depending on who's in charge, is it Matt Whitaker, is it Rod Rosenstein, who's really in charge of that? But that said, I think it's going to end up, potentially, being we either believe it or don't believe it. And the branding that he has successfully done is it's a witch hunt.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we'll see. I have this feeling, if that report doesn't hit Congress before the 4th of July of next year, it's hard to imagine the 2020 timeline doesn't take over.

PAT MCCRORY:

I think the most important information is the Manafort-Giuliani communications. It'd be real interesting to find out more details about that. Because that's really a unique strategy.

CHUCK TODD:

Strategy is one thing.

PAT MCCRORY:

Usually, the Justice Department knows everything. But them talking among themselves is very interesting.

CHUCK TODD:

Strategy or something more? Anyway, all right, when we come back, Republicans netted two Senate seats in the midterms. But will that be enough to hold the Senate, when they face a much more challenging map in 2020? A look at that new map coming up.

ANNOUNCER:

Meet the Press Data Download brought to you by Pfizer.

CHUCK TODD:

We are back. Data Download time. Now that the last 2018 Senate race has been decided, it is finally time to turn to the 2020 Senate map. Get to know it, starting with the races where terrain is changing for the GOP. There are Republican senators defending seats in Georgia, Iowa, and Arizona, where a replacement for Jon Kyl will likely be named soon. In Arizona, a Democrat just flipped the other Senate seat. And in Georgia and Iowa, Democrats just picked up some House seats and came close in governor's races. We're also keeping an eye on Republican seats in North Carolina and Maine. North Carolina didn't have a big, statewide race in 2018. But it's a recent battleground state, where Thom Tillis could face a tough fight for a second term. And Hillary Clinton won Maine. And Democrats did well in 2018 in that state. So Susan Collins could also be vulnerable. But there's also shifting terrain that could favor the GOP. Take a look at Minnesota. Hillary Clinton only won that state narrowly in 2016. But this year, Democrats marched to some big victories. The Democratic incumbent now is Tina Smith. She'll be running for a full term. And we expect President Trump will be there, campaigning for his own reelection there, as well. And finally, we have what we're calling the outliers, states where the incumbent feels like a bit of a bad fit for the state. There's Alabama's Democratic senator, Doug Jones, who won that off-year special election against a very flawed candidate, in a state where Republicans usually win big. Jones is the most-vulnerable incumbent on the Democratic side. And then there's Republican Cory Gardner. He's up in Colorado. While Clinton won it by five points, a Democrat just won the governor's mansion there by ten. Colorado could be on its way to becoming more like an Alabama-esque outlier but on the blue side of things. If you're keeping score at home, remember this. Democrats would need to net three seats to take back the Chamber, if they also win the White House, since the vice president would break the tie, and four seats, if they lose the White House in 2020. We'll be back in a moment with some memories of President George H. W. Bush.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game and discussing the legacy of President Bush. You can't talk about Bush 41 politically without talking about the most-famous broken campaign promise, perhaps, in modern American history. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

Congress will push me to raise taxes. And I'll say, "No." And they'll push. And I'll say, "No." And they'll push again. And I'll say to them, "Read my lips. No new taxes."

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

He broke the pledge in 1990. Four years later, Newt Gingrich is speaker of the house. The Republican Party -- it is the seminal moment, you could argue, in the shift of the Republican Party from where it was then to where it is today.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But economically, breaking that pledge showed the character and resolve of the man to do what he was persuaded was the right thing to do, economically, even though he knew, at the time, that it might guarantee that he would be a one-term president. And having covered those budget negotiations at Andrews Air Force Base, you know, we had Bob Dole and George Mitchell and everyone arguing that you needed to do it. And in fact, the budget restrictions, the so-called PAYGO rules, that required that, if you were going to spend money, you've got to raise it in the budget, that created the momentum, economically, that Bill Clinton inherited and built upon with his '93 brave votes without a Republican vote. And even into the George W. Bush presidency, we had economic growth.

CHUCK TODD:

That was the last time a Republican could get away with raising -- before then, Republicans regularly would raise taxes when necessary. Ronald Reagan did it. But that moment, your party can't do it without, probably, total political loss, right?

PAT MCCRORY:

I'm not sure either party can do it at this point in time, you know, everyone's now saying, "Why can't they compromise in Washington?" Maybe it goes back to this president, who compromised, did what people said, "Get along. Work out a deal among Republicans and Democrats." And what happened to him? The Republicans turned on him. And the Democrats did everything they could get him out of office. He was a one-term president. But he may have made the right decision, called compromise. But it might have stopped compromise for generations to come.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I think the passing of President Bush is a time for us to reflect on the soul of the Republican Party. And you know, this is a man who started out one of the first supporters of Planned Parenthood. This is a man who very famously resigned from the N.R.A., when they started having that anti-government rhetoric, you know, the jackbooted thugs in Waco and in Oklahoma City. And so -- and this is also a president whose campaign, you know, included the Willie Horton ad, the most famous dog-whistle ad, you know, until this cycle. And this no-new-taxes pledge, we can look at this and say, "What has happened to the Republican Party?" Is this still a party that can allow for moderates who think that population, family planning, as he did in his UN service, he actually moved family planning across the globe and then ended up having to reverse it, having his son make it even more restrictive. Is this still a party that allows for that kind of nuanced view of the world? Or is this the party of the dog whistling, of the fiscal irresponsibility that we see now with the deficit and the debt mushrooming under Republican control? Where is this old Republican Party?

CHUCK TODD:

Let me go back to the man a moment. Let me put up, probably now, one of the most famous letters that he wrote to anybody. And it was to Bill Clinton. This is what President Bush wrote to President -- the letter he left to President Clinton for day one in office. "I'm not a very good one to give advice. But just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course. You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country's success. I'm rooting hard for you." Dan Balz, there's just no one like him on this front.

DAN BALZ:

No, there isn't. You know, as Heather suggested, he could play rough in a campaign. And he could then pivot away from that. But he had, as part of his upbringing, a kind of a fundamental decency and, not just a willingness, but a sense that this was an obligation to treat your opponents in a serious way and to make amends when it was over, which is how he and Bill Clinton were able to forge an incredible relationship, since they were both out of office. It's a remarkable legacy that he has.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And it's an authentic relationship. You know, W. referred to Bill Clinton as, you know, "My brother from another mother." It was forged in 2005, I guess, with the tsunami trip in Thailand. And they really worked together. They worked in service. And there was a moment, in 2011, George Bush was not disclosing yet that he had this Parkinson's syndrome. And the family and friends were very concerned. He was getting onstage at the Kennedy Center for his Points of Light event. And they were worried about, how would he walk out? And Bill Clinton said, "I got this." The other presidents were there. And he put his hand behind President Bush 41 and helped him all the way to the stage. And everyone on the staff saw this happen. And that persuaded family and friends that this was real.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I go, I love his sense of humor. And I want to play the clip with he and Dana Carvey.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Wasn't that great?

CHUCK TODD:

And here it is. It's just too much fun. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

Dana, George Bush here. I'm watching you do your impression of me. And I've got to say, it's nothing like me. There's no resemblance. It's bad. It's bad.

DANA CARVEY:

Well, I'm sorry, Mr. President. I think it's a fair impression.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

Don't see it.

DANA CARVEY:

You don't?

GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

It's totally exaggerated. It's not me, those crazy hand gestures, pointing thing. I don't do them.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And you thought we were not going to do it. See, we had to do it.

PAT MCCRORY:

He's a great role model for future politicians.

CHUCK TODD:

You said something interesting. He taught you how to lose.

PAT MCCRORY:

He taught you how to lose. And I've lost reelection. And he's a great role model to deal with it with dignity and respect and to help your successor. And when you criticize them, do it with respect. But he's a great role model. For all those candidates who lost recently, follow George Bush's lead.

CHUCK TODD:

Well said. Thank you all. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. For those of you who are getting ready to light the first candles of the holiday season, we want to wish you a happy Hanukkah tonight. And to all of you, we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

I used to worry about death. I don't anymore. But I have a feeling there's an afterlife. And I have a feeling it's a good one.

JENNA BUSH HAGER:

Who would you want to see first?

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

Well, it depends if Barbara predeceases me, I'd probably go with her, but I think my mom and my father and maybe Robin, our little girl that died.

[END TAPE]