Meet the Press - December 9, 2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, sex, lies, and the Russia connection. Federal prosecutors say Michael Cohen paid off women to remain silent about their affairs with and in coordination and at the direction of Individual One, Donald Trump. The president denies it.

REPORTER::

Sir, did you direct Michael Cohen to commit any violations of law?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

Prosecutors also say Mr. Trump's Russia connections began sooner than we knew, with a Russian offering his campaign political synergy and synergy on a government level.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

And he insists things are going his way in Robert Mueller's investigation.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're very happy with what we are reading. Because there was no collusion whatsoever.

CHUCK TODD:

How much political and legal peril is President Trump actually facing? Will Republicans stick by him? And will Democrats feel obligated to take up impeachment? Joining me this morning, independent senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats; and Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Plus, power grab. Republican legislatures in Michigan and Wisconsin try to roll back the impact of November's election results by stripping power from newly elected Democrats.

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

We will not just lie down and accept this.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning, the incoming Democratic Governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers. Joining me for insight and analysis are Wall Street Journalist columnist Peggy Noonan; Eddie Glaude, Jr., of Princeton University; Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington correspondent for the Boston Herald; and Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at National Review. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. Shortly after the filings by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York were released on Friday evening, President Trump tweeted in the third person. "Totally clears the president. Thank you." Well, not really, not even close. In fact, this is how the usually supportive New York Post put it. "Donald and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." While the court filings, technically are about the president's former attorney, Michael Cohen, and his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, the most-consequential player in this drama is really the person identified as Individual One, Donald Trump. Federal prosecutors say Individual One directed Cohen to make illegal payments to women with whom the president had affairs. That would be a felony. And they describe how Cohen corrected the timeline of contacts with Russia about the Moscow tower project, admitting they started earlier and lasted longer than previously known. Taken together, the filings suggest that, contrary to Mr. Trump's repeated claims of innocence, he faces potentially serious legal and political jeopardy. And they raise the specter that Mr. Trump could eventually be considered an unindicted co-conspirator, an ominous phrase linked to President Nixon, as Watergate consumed his presidency.

REPORTER:

Sir, did you direct Michael Cohen to commit any violations of law?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

The filings released on Friday reveal growing peril for the president in two areas. Number one, illegal campaign contributions. Federal prosecutors in New York say that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit two felonies: illegal hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal, to keep alleged affairs quiet. Prosecutors say, quote, "With respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual One." Mr. Trump initially denied knowing about the payments.

REPORTER:

Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Once he admitted knowing about them, he denied directing them.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

He made the deal. He made the deals. And by the way, he pled to two counts that aren't a crime.

CHUCK TODD:

Then there are the alleged contacts with Russia, which may hold even greater peril for the president. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied any contacts.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

CHUCK TODD:

But in a separate filing, Mueller's team says that, in September 2015, Cohen conferred with Individual One, Mr. Trump, about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia's interest in a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Mr. Trump actually talked about a potential meeting that September in a phone interview on Meet the Press.

Your outside counsel intimated that you may have a meeting with the Russian president. Do you plan on trying to do that?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I had heard that he wanted to meet with me. And certainly, I am open to it. I would love to do that, if he wants to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

In the end, prosecutors say the meeting did not take place. But as discussions about Trump Tower Moscow were gaining momentum in November 2015, prosecutors say Cohen spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a trusted person in the Russian Federation, who promised the campaign political synergy and synergy on a government level. The individual again pushed for a meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Putin. It did not occur, prosecutors say. Because Mr. Trump was pursuing a similar deal with business associate Felix Sater. Also from Mueller's team, Cohen admitted circulating false congressional testimony to White House staff and Mr. Trump's legal counsel before submitting it. And Mueller's team also says Mr. Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, lied about five separate issues, even after he pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate. Mr. Trump has spent the last week attacking the special counsel investigation. Asked why the president is so upset, Trump ally Roger Stone tells the New York Times, “He has finally figured out that this is about him.”

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Senator Angus King of Maine, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also part of the Intelligence Committee there. Senator King, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. ANGUS KING:

Great to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, obviously, a pretty eventful week. At the end of it, you have the Justice Department, if you will, in the Southern District of New York, pretty explicitly implicating the president in a crime. And Michael Cohen then adding to it, saying that his testimony, false testimony to Congress, was something that was known in advance by some folks in and around the president. What are your takeaways from this week's developments? And what should Congress now do?

SEN. ANGUS KING:

Well, I think you outlined, in your tape there, many of the questions that are raised by that -- by those filings. And they're really a separate series of filings. But the Cohen ones are, are pretty disturbing because the key phrase to me is, "directed by Individual One," which everyone knows is, is President Trump. Direct by implicates the president in a felony. Now, the president can have some defenses left. I think we should make it clear, he could claim it wasn't knowingly or willful. He didn't understand. It was his own money. He didn't think it was a violation of campaign finance laws. But it's still a pretty serious matter. But I gotta say, Chuck, I think the filing last week that should be most troubling to the White House weren't the ones made on Friday but the ones made with regard to General Flynn earlier in the week. Because number one, Robert Mueller felt that his cooperation has been of such an extent that he recommended no jail time, a kind of prosecutorial, prosecutorial pardon, if you will. Nineteen meetings with the special counsel and a lot of redacted pieces in the filing that was made last week. That's the one I think that really raises some, some very difficult questions that go to the heart of the question of whether there were relationships between the Trump campaign, President Trump, and the Russian government during the campaign in 2016. Because Flynn was, as they say in “Hamilton,” in the room where it happens.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you know something we don't, given your access to intelligence, your access to Michael, Michael Flynn and, obviously, the -- own investigation that you're a part of in the Senate Intelligence Committee?

SEN. ANGUS KING:

I suspect I do know things that you don't. But I’m not -- everything I'm saying, and I'm glad you asked that question, is based on public reporting, not on any inside information that I have. For example, I don't know what was redacted from those Flynn documents. So yes, we’ve had a -- as you know, our committee is working quietly and diligently on many of these same issues. But everything that I'm sharing with you is based on public information and the filings that we've seen from these individuals.

CHUCK TODD:

Given that the government has -- is now saying, “the weight of the government is behind the charges that the president helped direct Michael Cohen to commit that crime” and, as you said, there are still -- a defense there for the president, he can claim he didn't know it was a crime or at least a breaking of a campaign-finance crime, do you believe there's already enough to start an impeachment inquiry? That doesn't mean he would be impeached, but an impeachment inquiry? In fact, is Congress almost obligated to open an inquiry at this point?

SEN. ANGUS KING:

I don't think so. I think, I think impeachment is entirely different from criminal prosecution. And, and as you know, the Justice Department made a decision, years ago in an opinion, that a sitting president could not and should not be indicted. And so whether the president will ever face criminal charges with regard to this matter is an open question. But impeachment, essentially, Chuck, is a, is a political issue. And I don’t think that the, the -- well, let me, let me put it this way, I don't think that there's evidence yet available to the public where there would be, more or less, a consensus that this was an appropriate path. My concern is that, if impeachment is moved forward on the evidence that we have now, at least a third of the country would think it was just political revenge and, and a coup against the president. That wouldn't serve us well at all. The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections.

CHUCK TODD:

But let me ask you this. The whole point of the impeachment process was if -- because of this idea that you can't necessarily hold a president to the same rule of law that you can hold other individuals, and that the one means to dealing when a president commits crimes, is through the impeachment process. If you don't go through it, isn't this Congress' way of saying, well, yes, he committed some crimes. But politically, it's uncomfortable. So you know, if you're popular enough, or if you have a big enough base, you can get away with committing crimes?

SEN. ANGUS KING:

Well, interestingly, I have to point out, parenthetically, that what you just articulated is exactly Brett Kavanaugh's position on this issue, when he was going through his confirmation hearing, that a president shouldn't be indicted or even investigated. Impeachment is the, is the remedy. There's a certain irony there, I think. But, you know, the standard in the Constitution is “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It's a very high standard. And the Andrew Johnson impeachment --

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me you stop you there. Is it? The words, "misdemeanor," I, I always feel as if, when people say it's a high standard, high crimes and misdemeanors.

SEN. ANGUS KING:

And misdemeanors.

CHUCK TODD:

That actually could -- that encompasses -- you could argue, that encompasses the entirety --

SEN. ANGUS KING:

Jaywalking.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, exactly.

SEN. ANGUS KING:

I don't read it that way. And here's why: If you go back to Andrew Johnson's impeachment, the very first one, back in 1867. The danger, Chuck, is that we don't want to create a precedent where the unseats -- the Congress of one party unseats the president of another party for essentially political reasons. If that starts to happen, if that happens, then we've changed our system. We've become a kind of parliamentary system. Because you're overturning the will of the voters. So I'm a conservative when it comes to impeachment. I think it's a last resort and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you a couple of other things --

SEN. ANGUS KING:

We may get there, but we're not there now.

CHUCK TODD:

The president's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, who has served in that post before, in the Bush 41 administration, there is a report this morning from Yahoo News that the president initially reached out to Mr. Barr as a potential defense attorney in the Mueller probe. Is that enough, in your mind, to demand recusal of oversight of the Mueller probe, if he is attorney general?

SEN. ANGUS KING:

I want to hear more about, number one, that allegation. What were the details, but also, from Mr. Barr himself. I think his hearings will be very important. And I'd be surprised if the Senate confirms an individual who doesn't commit to protecting the integrity of Special Counsel Mueller. I, I think that's going to be a kind of litmus test for any nominee for attorney general. And we'll see how Mr. Barr handles those questions.

CHUCK TODD:

All right are you -- right now, are you in a wait-and-see mode? Or could you see yourself supporting Mr. Barr?

SEN. ANGUS KING:

I'm in a wait-and-see mode. I want to, I want to see the hearings. And I think it's very important to determine how he, how he answers the question about the integrity, as I say, of the Mueller investigation. Because -- and again, Chuck, the president himself should want the Mueller investigation to go to completion. It's the way to clear his name. If it's terminated prematurely through his attorney general or his actions, it'll leave a cloud over him for the rest of his time in office and, I think, could be very damaging to him politically. If he's as innocent as he says he is, he ought to want this thing to go to completion.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator King, the Independent, who caucuses with the Democrats, from Maine. Senator, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciated.

SEN. ANGUS KING:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now, from across the aisle, is Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator Paul, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Good morning, Chuck. Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me start where I left off with Senator King. Based on these federal documents that you've seen from Michael Cohen at this point, if he wasn't president, do you think Individual-1 would have also been indicted along with Michael Cohen?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

You know, I think what's interesting about this is people forget history. The Federal Elections Commission actually ruled on this with John Edwards. They actually came up with a ruling and said that, "You know what? The paying of his mistress was not a -- was not a campaign finance violation." But I think it's bigger than this. And I think we have to decide in our society if -- there are thousands and thousands of rules. It's incredibly complicated, campaign finance. We have to decide whether or not really criminal penalties are the way we should approach criminal finance. I personally think that if someone makes an error in filing paperwork or in not categorizing a campaign contribution correctly, it shouldn't be jail time. It ought to be a fine. And so it's just like a lot of other things that we've done in Washington. We've over criminalized campaign finance.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, though, about the allegation that Michael Cohen had circulated his false testimony to Congress in advance, so people in and around the president, perhaps his lawyers, perhaps him, knew in advance that Michael Cohen was going to lie to Congress. That's something--

SEN. RAND PAUL:

About what issue?

CHUCK TODD:

About the issue--

SEN. RAND PAUL:

About what issue?

CHUCK TODD:

--of the Trump Tower Moscow -- the Trump Tower Moscow --

RAND PAUL: --yeah--

CHUCK TODD: --project.

RAND PAUL: --I don’t -- I guess I don't--

CHUCK TODD: Is that troubling enough--

SEN. RAND PAUL: Yeah --

CHUCK TODD:

--to you? How does that sit with you?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I guess I don't -- I guess I don’t quite understand it because I don't know what's illegal about trying to build a hotel in Russia. So this is pretty common. And I see no problem with someone running for president trying to build a hotel somewhere. Now, if you were asking and saying, "I will give you something in exchange for letting us build a hotel," that would be wrong. But I haven't heard any of evidence of that. Just trying to build a hotel somewhere, I can't imagine how that would be criminal--

CHUCK TODD:

But if--

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Or why you'd lie about it if it's not criminal.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's what I'm curious about. Why do you think that the story keeps changing in and around the president? If all of these things are as innocent --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I think because --

CHUCK TODD:

-- as you've said, why does he keep changing the story?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Well, I think it goes back to this whole idea of prosecutorial abuse. So Cohen is facing -- you know they're saying, "Oh, he's getting this long sentence of four years. Oh my goodness." He's getting a really, really short sentence. They're threatening him with 20 years or life in prison for all these different tax evasions. They're shortening it to four years, but they keep getting the story to change. But maybe that's because the prosecutor's pressuring him, saying, "Well, if you don't give us something on Trump, guess what? You get 20 years. If you give us something on Trump, you get four years." And so this is prosecutorial abuse I think. And that's why his story keeps shifting. And the thing is it makes no sense. The president was talking to the media openly about the deal in Russia in 2015. Why would it make a difference whether he still was talking to people in Russia in 2016 versus 2015? So really I think we're trying to make and find a crime. This has been my overall complaint about the -- about having the special prosecutors, is that really they find a person, and they look for a crime. Traditional justice in our country is someone steals something from the grocery store, and you have a crime, you try to find out who did it. With a special prosecutor, you decide, "We're going after someone, the president. And we're gonna squeeze as many people as we can until we can try to get a person." And that's why I'm against these special prosecutors. I think they're a huge mistake. And I think they're a huge abuse of government power.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, the reason he was appointed was to investigate Russian interference. It wasn't to investigate the president. It was to investigate Russian interference.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Well, then --

CHUCK TODD:

Which is what he’s --

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SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- why is he investigating --

CHUCK TODD:

-- investigating.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Right. But why is he investigating tax evasion and whether or not you filed as a federal lobbyist? All the stuff that's been done to either Manafort, or Flynn, or any of the others really seems to be about other subjects. And really what they did to Flynn I think was unconscionable. And I'm hoping that means Mueller has a conscience is why. Maybe it's not that Flynn gave so much information. Maybe Mueller has a conscience and knows how unfair it was, they did to Flynn, to illegally eavesdrop on his phone conversation. He never was discussing anything that was illegal. But then he gets tied up in talking to the FBI whether he was explicit even though the original FBI agents said they did not think he was being duplicitous. They did not think he was lying. So it's very troubling what these special prosecutors can do. And I tell people this. If a special prosecutor went after your life for the last 40 years, not you in particular --

CHUCK TODD:

I understand.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- but anybody, I think they could dredge up -- they could dredge up accusations. So I'm absolutely against it, and I think it's a miscarriage of justice. And we should not have special prosecutors going after one person. And if we get this way and if we're gonna prosecute people and put them in jail for campaign finance violations, we're gonna become a banana republic--

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

-- like where every president gets prosecuted and everybody gets thrown in jail when they're done with office.

CHUCK TODD:

Then let me ask you this. You're a, I would argue, a strict constitutionalist. I think you would probably take that as a compliment when it comes to your --

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

-- purified reading. Does that mean then this belongs in Congress's hands, that it's up to Congress to investigate these crimes and not a special prosecutor?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Yes. And the other thing is crimes can be investigated as well if there are crimes that are being committed. But without a special prosecutor what happens is you investigate crimes. You don't go to this whole idea of sort of conspiracy. And here's the danger of conspiracy. And we're discussing this right now with reforming our drug laws. What they do is an unfortunate young woman is, you know, transferring money from her boyfriend who's a drug dealer, gets caught up. They add conspiracy to it, and they add 10, or 15, or 20 years. And now this woman's in jail for life for, you know, exchanging some money with a drug dealer. So we have to be wary of what we do with conspiracy because it adds a lot of years to sentences. And we compound these sentences. And we have nonviolent people in prison now. There was a guy who sold marijuana and got caught for his third time, and he got 55 years in prison. That's not right.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to move to Saudi Arabia. You've been one of the leading advocates of getting out of the war with Yemen, getting American -- America out of that. I'm curious. I want to play for you the president's friendliness to Saudi Arabia. And I'm curious if this bothers you. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

DONALD TRUMP:

I like the Saudis. They're very nice. They buy my apartments. You wouldn't believe it. I make a lot of money with them. They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They'll pay me anything. They have nothing but money.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Are you at all concerned that the President's positions on Saudi Arabia have a -- are impacted by his own financial dealings with them?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

I think that when we're dealing with arms, that no personal financial dealings should have anything to do with the decision. And really not even the finances of the country. I think selling arms should have to deal solely with our national security. Not jobs. Not money. Nothing. And I really think that the war in Yemen that we have no vital national security interest. And not only that, I think our involvement in this terrible war is one of the things that engenders more terrorism. As more people die from starvation, as people pick up bomb fragments when a school bus is killed and on the bomb fragment it says, "Made in America," it creates more terrorism. So I think it's actually a risk to our national security to be involved with the Saudis, and we should not be aiding and abetting their bombing of civilian areas. Yemen's one of the poorest countries on the planet. 80 percent of their food comes through a port. Pompeo told them three weeks ago, almost a month ago now, "Quit bombing civilian ports." And what have the Saudis done? They've dropped 300 more bombs on civilian areas since then. So the Saudis are not good actors and they will not respond unless we quit selling them arms. But I would also expel the Saudi ambassador. The Saudi ambassador should go home. And that we can do overnight. That would send a strong message that we're displeased with what they're doing.

CHUCK TODD:

And finally, on the President's nomination of William Barr, it's been noted that he has an expansive view of executive power. And when I heard that, I thought, "Uh-oh. He may have trouble getting Rand Paul's vote for confirmation." Am I correct?

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Uh-oh is right. I'm concerned that he's been a big supporter of the Patriot Act, which lowered the standard for spying on Americans. And he even went so far as to say, you know, "The Patriot Act was pretty good, but we should go much further." I'm disturbed that he's been a big fan of taking people's property, civil asset forfeiture, without a conviction. Many poor people in our country have cash taken from them and then the government says, "Prove to us where you got the cash," and then you can get it back. But the burden is on the individual. It's a terrible thing called civil asset forfeiture. He's a big fan of that. I haven't made a decision yet on him. But I can tell you the first things that I've learned about him being for more surveillance of Americans is very, very troubling.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Rand Paul, Republican from Kentucky, as always, sir, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciated.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, how much legal and political peril is President Trump facing? And will the new Democratic House be able to resist calls for impeachment? Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Eddie Glaude, Jr., Princeton University; Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan; Kimberly Atkins, chief Washington correspondent for the Boston Herald; and Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at National Review. We went back into the way-back machine from the campaign. Here's a great Paul Manafort quote during the convention that now, you just have to see, two years later.

[BEGIN TAPE]

NORAH O’DONNELL:

So to be clear, Mr. Trump has no financial relationship with any Russian oligarchs.

PAUL MANAFORT:

That's what he said. That’s what I said. That's, obviously, what -- our position is.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

All right. We're a long way from there, Kimberly.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Really, yes. We really are. You always have, they say, "There's always a Tweet. There's always a quote, when it comes to Paul Manafort." Obviously, what we saw this week, usually, when filings come out, and they paint a picture of what's going on, we call them speaking indictments. This is like a shouting indictment of the broad category that Robert Mueller is looking into, including these ever-denied connections with Russians, business deals with Russians, that President Trump, on the campaign trail, denied having. And if people have been, as it's been shown in these indictments, lying to Congress, lying to investigators about that, that is a big problem for the president.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me put up, sort of, the quick bullet points of Michael Flynn, of the Michael Flynn sentencing memo from earlier this week, plus Michael Cohen's. In the Michael Flynn, we learned that there are three investigations that he's been cooperating on: the Mueller probe, an undisclosed criminal probe thought to be the attempted kidnapping of the Turkish, of the Turkish cleric, and then a third undisclosed ongoing investigation. From the Michael Cohen cooperation agreement, we learned of more contacts with Russian interest during the campaign, more discrete Russian-related matters, more contacts at the White House during 2017 and 2018, and I think, perhaps, the most-damning thing in there, Jonah Goldberg, the idea that his prepared testimony to Congress, which he knew was false, had been circulated among those in and around the president.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah, you did get the sense that like, if you flashed the cameras to the White House Counsel's office this week, you'd see Lloyd Bridges, in Airplane, saying, "I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue," right? Because I mean, it just did seem like the wheels not only came off the bus but kind of flew off the bus. And I've got to say, though, just trying to take a step back from the craziness of the week, you know, I don't like the way we are talking about impeachment right now. It is, impeachment has become, or all of this stuff -- we are basically outsourcing our moral, our political judgement to legalisms. As a conservative, who I think has invested quite a bit of time and energy criticizing the Clintons and Bill Clinton for his behavior, you know, this week has just basically, absolutely confirmed that the President of the United States paid off a porn star and a Playboy model to hide an affair during a run for the presidential campaign. And the response, from many people on my side of the aisle is, "Well, maybe it's technically not legal." Or, you know --

CHUCK TODD:

As you heard there from Rand Paul.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Right, or campaign finance laws shouldn't be treated as criminal things. They should be treated as fines. And they have, but the problem for conservatives and Republicans, is when you make that point, it's true. But you're outsourcing all your moral judgement, all other things, to those considerations. And frankly, you know, Barack Obama was guilty of campaign finance offenses. That doesn't mean he should've been impeached. But that doesn’t -- what we're doing is we're just taking the conversation out of where it belongs.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Campaign finance questions, in this instance, are tied to his election, right? So part of the issue is the legitimacy of the Democratic process. And so caught between the kind of hesitancy of Senator Angus King and the defense of Senator Rand Paul, one wonders, one worries, whether or not folks will take up their responsibility to address this issue at its core, it seems to me.

PEGGY NOONAN:

It seems to me, the news of Friday, the filings of Friday, to me, the big headline is not the payoffs to women with whom Individual-1 was alleged to have had relationships. It's much more that Trump world, we see again, it is demonstrated before us again, Trump world does not do well with sunlight. It's like there are a series of rocks in Trump world.

CHUCK TODD:

They'd be great vampires is what you're saying. They should be vampires.

PEGGY NOONAN:

No, I'm saying there's a bunch of rocks or slates in Trump world. And you pick one up. And you're always seeing bugs and spiders and worms. Do you know what I mean? There's always something. The serious part is Russia. It looked to me, on Friday, that that all needs to be developed. And it's going to go somewhere or not. But that's the serious stuff.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's go to this issue of impeachment. It was interesting to hear Angus King's hesitance. Rand Paul in his own, I think, in his own constitutional way, I think, believes there should be no Mueller. But if you're going to do it, you'd actually have to do it via Congress. But how do Democrats not do this? I'm thinking about -- what is the consequences of deciding, "You know what? Angus King is right. Let the voters decide in 2020"? What are the consequences of that?

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Because that's why this lever is there. There are very few checks on a president. And even the impeachment process, it's incredibly difficult to actually take a president out of office. That's why it's never happened.

CHUCK TODD:

Probably should be.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Exactly. That's done by design. And we're hearing a lot about, "Well, there's no way that he's going to be convicted in the Senate. So why try?" That's like saying, "Oh, we live in a district where people aren't really upset about these certain crimes. We're not going to charge somebody who committed this crime, because he's probably not going to be convicted." No, you charge the crime. You let the process go through. So if House members find impeachable offenses, it is not just the right thing to do, it's their duty to do, to bring that and let the Senate vote as the Senate votes.

CHUCK TODD:

I just don't see how the House Democrats resist it.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah, as a political matter, I think it's just, it’s just too tempting. And the base wants it so much.

CHUCK TODD:

The base may punish them if they don't.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, Eddie?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Exactly. It seems -- go ahead. I'm sorry.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah, no, but at the same time, you know, consider Jerrold Nadler, who was on the Judiciary Committee in 1998, who said, "Yeah, Clinton may have lied under oath and perjured himself. But these were lies about covering up sex. And those, while technically impeachable, do not rise to the level of gravity required for impeachment." There are going to be all sorts of hypocrisies and double standards that apply. So the best thing for the Democrats is to at least wait for Mueller to find something of real weight that would justify going to impeachment.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

But you have four fronts. You have conspiracy. You have obstruction. You have campaign finance. And you have emoluments. And we're beginning to see that it's not just the shoe that's going to drop, it's going to be an anvil. It's just when it's going to drop, right? And it seems to me that, if the Democrats do not pursue this vigorously, they will be, in some ways, held accountable for abdicating their responsibility. It seems to me that, part of what -- and this goes to -- I understand the politics. It goes to the moral question, the ethical question. Democracy's at stake. And it seems to me, if Democrats don't take their responsibility seriously, they will be held responsible for what's happened.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

That means doing the homework.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Of course. That's why I said those four things.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Connecting the dots.

CHUCK TODD:

Last point here.

PEGGY NOONAN:

But the responsibility is to do investigations or to move quickly to impeach.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

To let the investigations move.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Investigations -- but Mueller's doing the investigation, right?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

But we do know he's directed criminal behavior. That's clear. So the machinery needs to start to, to move.

CHUCK TODD:

We're going to pause here for a few minutes. When we come back, I'm going to turn to another story. It's the attempt, by some state Republicans, to strip power from a few newly elected Democrats from the Midwest. It's happening in Michigan and Wisconsin. And Wisconsin's incoming governor, Tony Evers, joins me next to talk about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. We're going to turn now to a couple of end runs around the November election results. In Wisconsin the Republican legislature has approved a set of bills that essentially would strip some power from the newly elected governor and attorney general. "Why?" you might ask. Well, the newly elected governor, Tony Evers, and the newly elected attorney general, Josh Kaul, are newly elected Democrats.The newly defeated two-term governor Scott Walker has indicated that he does plan to sign the bills that would, among other things, give the Republican legislature control over some major appointments and reduce early voting, which tends to benefit the Democrats in Wisconsin, down to two weeks. Across the lake in Michigan, the Republican legislature is taking similar steps against the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general there as well. Now, this has happened before in many a legislature. Democrats in fact have done this in the past to Republican governors in lame duck sessions in other states. Joining me now from the state capital of Madison is Wisconsin's incoming Democratic governor, Tony Evers. Governor-elect Evers, welcome to Meet the Press, sir.

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Good morning, Chuck. How are you today?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm okay. Let me start with this. You had said you were going to personally lobby Governor Scott Walker, the outgoing governor whom you defeated, to veto this legislation. How have those talks gone? Have you met with him?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

I communicated with Governor Walker over the telephone a few days ago and laid out my position that vetoing the legislation was going to be an important thing not only for, you know, to make sure that are -- what happened last November, the vote of the people of Wisconsin, is actually upheld and we're putting people in front of politics. But also, it's just bad legislation. And I made that, made that pitch, and he was noncommittal. I know publicly he's said in other arenas that he plans to sign most or all of it. So I'm not particularly encouraged at this point in time. But it's around Scott Walker's legacy. He has the opportunity to change this and actually validate the will of the people that, that voted on November 6th.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you negotiate with him? Did you say, "You know what? Look, I know X is really important to you. I get that. But what's with Y and Z here?" Was there a Y and Z? Did you go to him and say, "Look, I really think this part is just crazy. Please veto that. If you want to keep this, I get it"?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

No, I talked about a few areas that are really important that actually Republican business leaders have talked about that, that would take away power and implicate and make, make economic development much more difficult in the state of Wisconsin. But the entire thing is a mess. It's a hot mess. And I believe that he should veto the entire package. In fact, at least three or four of the pieces that are in there now, he has vetoed previously. And so it makes no sense to me. And, you know, he's been a longtime public servant. And, and he, he, he has a legacy here. So we're hopeful that he will veto the whole thing.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. After you were elected and quickly we heard word that the Republican speaker and the Republican majority leader in the legislature there were considering these bills, did you reach out to them personally before the bill started going? And, and if you did, what was that conversation like?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Well, I met with Robin Vos, the speaker, much before those words came -- that rumor came down the pike. No, I haven't had a chance to talk -- I mean, it was last minute. One of these, "Here's a rumor," and then, "Here's the bills that have been worked on for several months." But, you know, Chuck, if Scott Walker --

CHUCK TODD:

So you didn't --

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

-- had won this election, if Scott Walker had won this election, we wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there any part -- you know, one of the things that the speaker said, he goes, "Well, in hindsight maybe we gave the governor too much power." Take the partisan hat off a minute, all right? I know that, that perhaps many people read that comment tongue in cheek. But do you believe he's right?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Well, there are things in that bill that really had nothing to do with giving Scott Walker anything. So, no, I don't agree with that. You know, we have balanced power in the state of Wisconsin. The legislature on both sides are Republican. I'm a Democrat. The attorney general's a Democrat. No, I, I view this as completely different than what Robin Vos believes. And that is that -- we are trying to invalidate the will of the people. The people of Wisconsin didn’t -- voted for me because they knew that I was for good schools, and a good transportation system, and good health care. They didn't elect me to fight over administrative powers in the state of Wisconsin vis-à-vis the Republican majority. No, I think this, this gets us off to a bad start. And I think it's a mistake. But we'll continue working to get the people of Wisconsin to convince Scott Walker to think about his legacy and make sure that he vetoes this language.

CHUCK TODD:

Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore said the following. "The legislators who engineered this coup, their actions amount to a smash-and-grab hijacking of the voters' will." Do you "coup’s” the right word here?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Well that’s always --is seems, it seems strong, but the fact of the matter is, as I just said, if Scott Walker had won this election, and he did not, I did, we wouldn't be sitting here talking about this today. We, we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t be talking -- Scott Walker wouldn't be sitting here talking about, "Jeez, they're trying, they’re trying to balance the power here." So, no, I think, as, you know, it's directly related to, to a win by a Democrat. And that'd be me. And we -- we need, we need to have this, we need to have this vetoed.

CHUCK TODD:

One of their rationales has been, "Well, Governor-elect Evers' margins all came from two cities: Madison and Milwaukee. We have to represent the rest of the state." What do you say to that charge? And, more importantly, you won a very narrow election. How do you reach --

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

How do you reach across this divided state at this point?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Well I can -- it would have been a lot easier without this legislation. I'll tell you that. I have reached, in my present job as state superintendent, that's a statewide elected position, and I've reached across the aisle on all, all numbers of issues. So that's part of my DNA. I'm an educator. So I, I always try to find common ground. And I'll continue to do that going forward.

This just makes it more difficult. But I won the election. Any way you slice it, I won the election. And actually I narrowed some of the, the votes outstate. And I've won lots of those counties outstate in the past. So I am the governor, I will be the governor of the state of Wisconsin --

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

-- and I'll represent all the people.

CHUCK TODD:

And if he doesn't veto this legislation, do you plan to sue? Do you really think you have standing?

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Well, all, all, all issues are on the table. I'm not making any promises one way or the other, but we're looking at all issues, all options at the table. I need to stand up for the people of Wisconsin. There's 2.6 million people that voted in this last election. And they expect me to do that. So I’m going, we're going to pursue this.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor-elect Tony Evers, Democrat from Wisconsin, thanks for coming on, sharing your views. Good luck when you take, when you actually take the oath.

GOV.-ELECT TONY EVERS:

Thanks Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. When we come back, the one issue on which Democrats are thinking like Republicans and Republicans are thinking like Democrats.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. President Trump's tough talk on trade has been big news this week, which made us wonder: Where exactly do Americans stand on trade? Guess what? A lot more complicated than you may think. At the most basic level, Americans claim they like trade. According to a Pew survey from earlier this year, a whopping 74 percent say trade is good for the United States. Only 21 percent believe it's bad. And support for trade generally goes up when your party is in the White House. Republican support for trade hovered in the 60s during the Obama presidency. But with President Trump in office, now 81 percent of Republicans say trade is good. In fact, that's only ten points more than Democrats. Majorities of both parties believe trade is good. But we do start to see some sharp partisan divides when we get specific. As with President Trump's leading issue right now, tariffs. Remember, he's a tariff man. For generations it was Democrats who were for using tariffs and for protectionism. Republicans were opposed to that. Now, 74 percent of Republicans say the Trump administration's increased tariffs are a good thing for the country while 81 percent of Democrats say they're a bad thing. So what's driving these trends? Behind support for the tariffs are groups that have made up of President Trump's base. White men, men over 50, and those without a bachelor's degree. These were the same folks, by the way, for protectionism 30 years ago. They just were registered Democrats then. Their views haven't changed. They changed parties. There are also electoral implications here. Looking regionally, the tariff issue is most hotly contested in the Midwest. Not surprising, given that area has long been the manufacturing sector's home and was also crucial to President Trump's upset victory in 2016. Look, the Pew numbers suggest it's Democrats who are now the, quote, "free traders," a label long owned and cherished by the Chamber of Commerce wing of the Republican Party. But now, it's Republicans who are the quote, unquote, "better dealers" with foreign countries, what detractors might call old-style Democratic protectionism, which was a cornerstone of Mr. Trump's campaign for president. When we come back, some potential Democratic 2020 candidates are finding out what it's like to play in the big leagues. The vetting has begun.

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CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. You know, guys, on Earth Two, this would be a very comfortable conversation. Because the end of the midterms, you talk about 2020. It feels odd to talk about 2020. We're in the midst of who knows what's going to happen in this upcoming Congress? And there's a lot to go to there. However, the race does seem to have started. And already, Democrat-on-Democrat crime has begun. A few headlines, Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris all starting to see what happens when you do become a presidential candidate.Every little thing becomes a headline. Kamala Harris had an aide who had a sexual-harassment issue. All of a sudden, Elizabeth Warren is finding out that aides to her are starting to talk to the press, questioning some decisions on this DNA thing. And then of course, there’s Beto, where a whole bunch of Bernie Sanders supporters are going, "Uh-oh. That guy could steal our thunder. Let's start making the case he's not a real progressive." Kimberly, I want to start with the Elizabeth Warren stuff. This is your beat, Boston Herald. Is there a split inside Warren world here? What are we miss -- Is there something we're seeing here, you've seen for a while, that we're only seeing now?

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Look. I think, and sadly enough, we're two years out of the presidential election I think Elizabeth Warren's biggest problem is that people are already getting tired of her. I mean, the buzz -- the presidential buzz around her has been going on for so long. And the pushback that she got after that terrible DNA roll out, I would think the staffers are trying to protect their future jobs and trying to distance themselves.

CHUCK TODD:

Her chief of staff is apparently meeting with Beto O'Rourke.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Correct.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh, my goodness.

CHUCK TODD:

Already.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh, my goodness.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

And I think that that is a problem for her. Look, I think there's been a lot of reliance on how unpopular she is in Massachusetts. Voters in Massachusetts are always going to hate it when their leaders run for president. That's why Mitt Romney couldn't get re-elected governor. That's why people -- Deval Patrick's popularity, ask Michael Dukakis, that happens to everyone. But I think, in this case, Elizabeth Warren, possibly didn't realize how high her political perils were and sort of floated things that really fell early. And in a field this big, people immediately start looking at the next best thing.

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously, it's the Beto phenomenon that seems to be upending all of this. What do you make of Beto?

PEGGY NOONAN:

I asked a bunch of Democrats, on election night, "Tell me, what is Beto's magic?" These were people in New York, who had been volunteering to make phone calls for him. They'd been in the phone banks. They'd been working hard for him. The best answer I got was that, "He reminds me of Bobby Kennedy, with a certain youthfulness and seriousness." His magic, so far, is lost on me. I think he was dinged a little bit.

CHUCK TODD:

He may not be trying to get your vote yet, though.

PEGGY NOONAN:

That is possible. Rahm Emanuel dinged him a little bit, right, either this week or last, when he said, "Beto O'Rourke, he lost, right? We don't need a loser." To me, the headline on 2020 in the Democrats is, are they going to look just like the Republicans in '16? The Republicans had how many, 17 candidates for president, which was an indicate their party was breaking up. How many candidates are the Democrats going to have this year, 20?

CHUCK TODD:

I would also indicate there were so many candidates, because they thought Hillary was beatable. And I do think, this time, a lot of people think Mr. Trump's beatable.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

So I would expect Rahm Emanuel to ding Beto O'Rourke, right? Because in some ways, what we're going to see this election season, in 2020, is the fight within the Democratic Party for the soul of the Democratic Party. So we've talked about the Republicans being overrun by Trumpism. There is an ideological battle being waged, right? And so the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is trying to pull the party to the left. And Rahm Emanuel is the poster child of the folks that they want to resist, especially what he did in Chicago.

PEGGY NOONAN:

That’s true. True.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

So I expect him to say what he said. But Beto O'Rourke is interesting to me, because of how he speaks. He's not running away from certain issues, right? He's not running away from, quote unquote, "identity questions." He's not running away from certain kinds of progressive issues, like Medicare for all, like living wage, and the like. But the questions around fossil fuel are real. The questions around -- I mean, he is a Texas Democrat, after all, right? And so you have to begin to ask certain kinds of questions.

CHUCK TODD:

Everybody's going to have a wart, when this is all done. The question is, how focused are we going to be on that person's wart, right?

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Right. But this goes to Peggy's point, which is that, in 2016, you had a collective-action problem on the Republican side, where all you needed was a sticky plurality to get the nomination. Donald Trump, I don't think, got a majority of Republican primary votes anywhere, right?

CHUCK TODD:

Not until very late.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

So you can see someone, I don't know if it's Kamala Harris, I don't know if it's Beto O'Rourke, I don't know who it is, but could be appealing to the progressive, hungry base of the Democratic Party and win the nomination for the exact same collective action problems or structure issues, and then be so far to the left and get the nomination that it makes it, at least, easier for Donald Trump to run against them. I'm not saying that Donald Trump is a shoe-in win or anything.

CHUCK TODD:

That's the same logic that Donald Trump getting the nomination was going to make it much easier for Hillary Clinton to win the presidency.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

That's right. That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

I think that's a good place to stop the conversation there. There it is. Thank you very much. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. For those of you celebrating Hanukkah, we wish you a happy eighth night tonight or, as we might say, the seventh miracle. And we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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