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Meet the Press - February 4, 2018

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NBC News - Meet the Press

“02.04.18”

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday the Republican memo is out and the reaction is in.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. And much worse than that.

CHUCK TODD:

The president's allies say the memo proves the entire Russia investigation is illegitimate and that this is just phase one.

REP. DEVIN NUNES:

We are in the middle of what I call phase two of our investigation which involves other departments. Specifically the State Department.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats say the memo is nothing more than a smoke screen.

REP ADAM SCHIFF:

This is just the latest chapter in an effort to distract attention from the Russia probe and try to put the government on trial.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus will President Trump use the memo to fire the man in charge of the special counsel's investigation, Rod Rosenstein?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

You figure that one out.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning my two exclusive guests, President Trump's first White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus who knows how the president thinks and makes decisions and former C.I.A. Director John Brennan on his concerns about the dangers of the politicizing intelligence.

And Super Bowl Sunday, the NFL's big day and its big problems with concussions, politics and declining interest. Joining me for insight and analysis are Washington Post columnist and NBC News political analyst Eugene Robinson, Amy Walter, national editor for the Cook Political Report. Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour. 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. To a lot of people the headline of the Republican memo was that it didn't live up to the hype. But that misses the point. The hype was the point. The pre-release campaign by President Trump's allies was aimed at discrediting the Russia investigation no matter what the memo did or did not reveal.

Yesterday President Trump tweeted, quote, "This memo totally vindicates Trump in probe." But does it? The memo does not make the case that the now famous dossier compiled by British spy, Christopher Steele, was the reason the F.B.I. opened its investigation.

Nor does this memo undermine much of what we now know about the Russia probe from contacts between Trump family members and campaign officials with Russians, to President Trump's admission to Lester Holt of NBC News that he fired F.B.I. Director James Comey because of, quote, "this Russia thing." In fact, White House counsel Don McGahn wrote in his cover letter clearing the release of this memo for public reading. To be clear the memorandum reflects the judgements of its Congressional authors.

In other words, the White House counsel is saying this is essentially a political opinion piece. Still, many see President Trump using the memo either as justification or an excuse depending on your point of view to dismiss the man who oversees Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

REPORTER:

Are you likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

You figure that one out.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump is not ruling out firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after the release of a Republican memo which accuses senior law enforcement officials including Rosenstein of abusing their surveillance powers to spy on former campaign aid Carter Page who they suspected was a Russian agent.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. And much worse than that.

CHUCK TODD:

The Washington Post reports that Mr. Trump has told aids that releasing the memo might give him justification to fire Rosenstein who oversees Mueller and is the only person who could legally fire him. The White House is pushing back.

RAJ SHAH:

We fully expect Rod Rosenstein to continue on as the deputy attorney general.

CHUCK TODD:

The memo which has been hyped by Trump allies for weeks alleges the October 2016 application for the initial surveillance warrant relied on a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence operative.

REP. JIM JORDAN:

Four times they took this dossier and dressed it all up like it was some legitimate intelligence. Not telling the court that it was paid for by the Clinton campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

But Democrats on the committee dispute that saying the F.B.I. did tell the court that Steele's information was politically motivated. Also Page had been on the F.B.I.'s radar since 2013 when Russian spies tried to recruit him. And the memo undercuts its own case acknowledging that it was not the Steele dossier but Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos who triggered an F.B.I. counter-intelligence investigation into Russian influence in July, 2016. Now the campaign by Trump allies to push for the memo's release--

SEAN HANNITY:

Hashtag release the memo. Call the number on your screen, 202-224-3121. Tell Congress--

CHUCK TODD:

--has turned to Robert Mueller.

SEAN HANNITY :

The special counsel must be disbanded immediately. And by the way, nobody else will say this, all charges against Paul Manafort and General Michael Flynn need to be dropped. It's that simple.

CHUCK TODD:

And House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes says there's more to come.

REP. DEVIN NUNES:

We are in the middle of what I call phase two of our investigation which involves other departments. Specifically the State Department and some of the involvement that they had in this.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now for his first interview since leaving the White House last summer is President Trump's first chief of staff Reince Priebus. Mr. Priebus, welcome back to Meet the Press.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Good morning, Chuck. It's a pleasure to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me start right on an issue that happened near the end of your tenure as White House chief of staff. Washington Post reported late last month the following, "Trump's ire at Mueller rose to such a level that then White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon and then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus grew, quote, 'Incredibly concerned,' that he was going to fire Mueller and sought to enlist others to intervene with the president, according to a Trump advisor who requested anonymity to describe private conversations." This was all in that report that said White House Counsel Don McGahn said he'd resign if ordered to do this. What you can tell us about this event?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Well, I mean, first of all, there's an ongoing investigation so there's some things that I can't get into, Chuck. But I will tell you this, which I think is something that I've talked to a couple people about, I never felt, of all the things that we went through in the West Wing, I never felt that the president was going to fire the special counsel. So I never felt the level of--

CHUCK TODD:

The feeling and--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--the level ten that--

CHUCK TODD:

--what people heard, it's possible the president uttered the words, "I want Mueller fired. I want Mueller gone."

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I never heard that.

CHUCK TODD:

But you never took it--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No, I never heard that.

CHUCK TODD:

--you never heard the specific--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I never heard that. No.

CHUCK TODD:

--the sentiment was expressed?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I think it was very clear by the president's own words that he was concerned about the conflicts of interest that he felt that the special counsel had. And he made that very clear. Perhaps someone interpreted that to mean something else. But I know the difference between fire that person, why isn't that person gone, to what I read in that New York Times' piece. So when I read that I'm just telling you I didn't feel that when I was there. And I--

CHUCK TODD:

Did Don McGahn express that concern?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Not--

CHUCK TODD:

That--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--in particular. But, again--

CHUCK TODD:

Is this story wrong?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I didn't think it was right. Put it that way. I didn't believe that it was accurate.

CHUCK TODD:

But you're not disputing in total. Why?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I'm disputing it from my point of view.

CHUCK TODD:

From your point of view. But--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Right because I never heard that.

CHUCK TODD:

You never heard it. But you're not--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

It's possible he did express this?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I think he expressed his concerns with the conflicts. But I never heard the idea or the concept that this person needed to be fired. I never felt that it was relayed to me that way either. And I would know the difference between a level ten situation, as reported in that story, and what was reality. And it just, to me, it wasn't reality.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you see a president preparing to fire Robert Mueller right now?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Not at all.

CHUCK TODD:

This is all people--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I think it's news. I think it's a 24/7 obsession with this issue. Listen, it's a legitimate issue that the president and all of his supporters, at least the ones that go on television, reiterate in saying they want to cooperate with the special counsel. They're not going to get in the way. And I've not heard anything to the contrary of that mantra.

CHUCK TODD:

You've spoken with Mr. Mueller. That's been widely reported. And I'm not going to ask you about what you've told Mr. Mueller.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I cannot do.

CHUCK TODD:

Totally understand that. But if the president asked you, "Should I go before Robert Mueller?" what would you tell him.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I'm going tell let his lawyers deal--

CHUCK TODD:

Because his--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--with that.

CHUCK TODD:

--allies say it's a perjury trap for him.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

His lawyers will deal with that. There are certain things that I just don't know. Even though I was chief of staff, it doesn't mean that I know every single thing that his lawyers are dealing with. I only know what I dealt with. And I can just tell you I've never felt that there was some sort of collusion or some kind of obstruction situation going on in the West Wing. I never felt that. And if there was ever anything at all that caused me any concern I would go to the White House Counsel's office, we would talk about it and it would get resolved.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you another event in and around that time also which was the report about the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Junior, members of the campaign team at the time and the response to it. What the meeting was. Here's what you said the meeting was the day after the report on Fox News Sunday. Just hang on.

(BEGIN TAPE)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

It was a very short meeting. It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption. And after about 20 minutes the meeting ended. And that was the end of it. I don't know much about it other than it seems to be, on the end of the Trump individuals, a big nothing-burger.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

All right. You were not on the Air Force One when that statement was dictated. We now learn the next day that it was not about Russian adoptions at the initial meeting. We had the emails from Donald Trump Junior. Who told you, who told you the adoption story?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

That's what I've always heard. I mean, I heard that from members of the family. I heard that it was an open meeting.

CHUCK TODD:

So when you were preparing to go on that show and you asked, "Okay what should I know about this meeting--"

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Members of the family told you Russian adoption?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

That's all I ever heard that it was about. And in fact, I still believe what I said in that clip. In that, in fact, it was a meeting about Russian adoption and this thing called the Magnitsky Act that I'd never heard of. I've never heard it was anything but that. But, again, Chuck, I don't know. I wasn't there. I was chairman of--

CHUCK TODD:

Did you feel misled reading the next day--

(OVERTALK)

--to find out that the email that Donald Trump Junior thought the meeting was going to be about Hillary Clinton--

(OVERTALK)

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Well, no not really. Because I think in the end the people involved, at least this is my assertion, that the people involved truly believed that it was a nothing meeting, totally about these issues of Russian adoption. Now I don't know what the motivations were. Okay? So I only know what I know. I wasn't on the plane. I was not involved in that meeting.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you know if the president--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--was involved with the drafting of the statement or not?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I do not. I do not.

CHUCK TODD:

So it was just other people informing you of this is what you should know about this meeting.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

That's right. And when you were on that Sunday show that morning I think it was the only Sunday show that morning that actually talked about that New York Times article.

CHUCK TODD:

And had asked you about it.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Right. If you go back and look at every single Sunday show, that was the only one that actually discussed it. But, look, like all of this, Chuck, and I can't get too much into it. And I've allowed some of this to go on just to be fair with you. But I never felt that I was involved in something nefarious. The whole way through from the beginning to the end. So you can understand the frustration of the president when he's told he's not under investigation. I think you know the story of Andrew McCabe that walked into my office, shut my door and basically told me that the New York Times' story that was in the paper that first came out in February that said there are constant contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians with the door closed-- looked at me and said, "I want you to know that this story right here is total BS. It's overstated and it's not true." This is the deputy director of the F.B.I. I didn't know who he was. It's the middle of February. And so everyone's in this world where we're being told one thing and sort of operating in this other world of constant obsession by the media.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand. Let me -- one more question about one more event --

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Ok, one more

CHUCK TODD:

-- one more event that we're -- that has been unclear which is the Michael Flynn situation --

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

-- and the issue with sanctions. We now know a little bit more. You had said at the time, you know, you had asked Mike Flynn. He did not -- that he basically misled you and didn't tell you that his conversations with the Russian ambassador were that. You were the recipient of emails from K. T. McFarland and forwarded emails I think from Tom Bossert during the transition that did hint at a conversation that Flynn had. Now it's very -- no, it's very possible you didn't read these emails. Nobody knows. Did you know -- when did you know that Michael Flynn did speak to the Russians about the sanctions issues? When did you find that out?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I can't really get into all of that because some of that is, is classified. What I can tell you is that there was never a time from the moment that this issue came up until the moment that we discovered it wasn't necessarily true, there was never a time that Michael Flynn denied it. In other words, every time Michael Flynn was confronted with the question of did you or did you not talk about sanctions, he denied it. And he denied it over and over and over again.

CHUCK TODD:

In fact I want to --

REINCE PRIEBUS:

The point is is that --

CHUCK TODD:

-- there was one, in fact the president's lawyer said the following, and this is a New York Times that "Mr. Cobb said that Mr. Trump did not know that Mr. Flynn had discussed sanctions with Mr. Kislyak in the call. After the inauguration," he said "'Flynn specifically denied it to him, in the presence of witnesses,' he said." Were you one of those witnesses, where Flynn denied talking to the Russians on sanction to the President?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

What do you mean I was -- I don't know about -- I don't remember about in front of the president but I can tell you to me certainly it was something that he always denied up until the end. And here's the thing Chuck. If, if, if General Flynn would have simply said, wait a second, you know what, I actually did. Or hey hold on maybe we did talk about this. Or hey, don't you remember we had an email that may have hinted. None of that happened because if it did happen, then it would have simply been ok, is what you did right or wrong. Ok if it's wrong what are we gonna do about it. Is it something that we can correct, we can –

CHUCK TODD:

What you're saying is you might have been willing to defend it had he been forthcoming?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

-- or, or saying, or say there was nothing wrong with it. I mean we never got to that matrix because it was always a denial. So it necessarily didn't have to get to the point of 12 denials.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

And I’ve talked about this before which is why I’m comfortable talking about it with you right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. I want to ask you about you -- the relationship you have with the president.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

You bet.

CHUCK TODD:

Because Steve Bannon shared this anecdote about, about you and candidate Trump after the "Access Hollywood" tape. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

STEVE BANNON:

And Trump went around the room and asked people the percentages he thought -- of still winning and what the recommendation. And Reince started off and Reince said you have -- you have two choices. You either drop out right now or you lose by the biggest landslide in American political history.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

An anonymous friend of the president said this about you, he said "Trump had long questioned the depth of Priebus' loyalty. The senior official described Priebus' counsel that day as a quote 'stain he was never going to remove. The scarlet A.H'" How often did he -- I've heard this about the president, not just with you, that he finds a moment that you -- that he didn't like advice, and this is with any advisor, and he brings it up all the time. Is this something he'd bring up to you a lot?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Oh he brought it up occasionally but he also follows it up with the fact that, you know, that day and the next day I was the guy on the plane playing both the moderator and Hillary Clinton, preparing the President for that second debate. The other thing I'd say is that no one in the room disagreed with what I was saying either. I mean so -- it's one of those things where people--

CHUCK TODD:

They're hanging it on you

REINCE PRIEBUS:

-- people, people behind the scenes bring this issue up but none of them spoke up and said oh that's wrong. I mean the truth of the matter is I was making a point to the President. This was a--

CHUCK TODD:

You thought it was that grave?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--serious issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Yea

REINCE PRIEBUS:

And that we had to do everything that we could do to turn this campaign around, get ready for the second debate, apologize for what happened and more forward. And in fact, that's exactly what he did. I mean he turned that second debate around and then went on a three week, five speech a day disciplined campaign and won the operation. And look, if I didn't believe in the president, I wouldn't have transferred the millions of more dollars that were put into his campaign and the field and data operation to boot.

CHUCK TODD:

Where did the Condi Rice, Mike Pence antidote come from?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Yea I have no idea. It's not true. And, and, and --

CHUCK TODD:

There's no --

REINCE PRIEBUS:

-- others in that circle, when that story came out, we all talked to each other and said this is the craziest thing I've ever heard of. And so it's one of those fake news items, you could say.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about immigration. The infamous autopsy report of the RNC in 2013 said the following. "We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, out Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only." March 2013. Obviously on one hand, politically, republicans, house, senate, the presidency. But the problem with Hispanics is worse today for the Republican party then it was in 2013. Do you think the president's making a mistake by not following your advice on this.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Well I don't know about that. I think he is following advice. I think that if you look at what's happening in the economy and you look at the tax cuts, you look at unemployment. I think those things matter a lot. I actually think he is doing better. I think he did better with black voters and Hispanic voters in the election. I think we can do more. I don't think anything in the autopsy’s wrong. I think the president's position that he's taking on the, the dreamers and DACA is very bold. I think he's boxed the Democrats in on that issue. I think it's going to be very difficult for them to walk away. He's giving more than I probably would have given in the same, in the same -- as advice to him. But I also think it's clever of him to offer far more on DACA than most what Republicans would have offered because I think there – it, it boxes everyone else in. And so I think it's very smart.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Final question for you. Paul Ryan's a close friend of yours. Speaker of the House. He will not say whether he's running for reelection. Why?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

I think it's something he needs to talk to his wife about in the spring and make a decision. It's what they always do. And I think that's what he's going to do. But I do think that Paul's view of what fundamentally is getting accomplished under President Trump when you look at tax cuts, you look at ISIS, you look at the courts which is a historical record, when you look at regulation and what the president's done. You take away – what the, what the -- when you take away what the media wants to focus in on which is the decision making process and some of the drama, but you actually look at what decisions are being made and the fundamentals, the president's doing a remarkable job.

CHUCK TODD:

So does Ryan think--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

And I think he--

CHUCK TODD:

--he can retire? That he's--

REINCE PRIEBUS:

--no.

CHUCK TODD:

--mission accomplished?

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Because he’s -- my point is he's accomplishing the things that he's worked til -- since he was 21 on. They're happening now under President Trump. And as wild as that ride has been both for Paul Ryan and people like myself you cannot escape the fact that the president is doing a remarkable job on the fundamentals of what being president is all about.

CHUCK TODD:

Reince Priebus, former chief of staff I'm going to leave it there.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

You bet.

CHUCK TODD:

Appreciate you coming on, sharing your views. Hope to see you again soon.

REINCE PRIEBUS:

Thank you, Chuck.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. In recent months former C.I.A. Director John Brennan's becoming an increasingly vocal critic of members of Congress who have attacked the intelligence community. For instance, on Thursday, one day before the release of the Republican memo, Brennan sent out a tweet that said in part, "I never witnessed the type of reckless partisan behavior I am now seeing from Nunes and House Republicans, absence of moral and ethical leadership in White House is fueling this government crisis." Well, joining me now is the former C.I.A. director himself under President Obama, John Brennan, who is making his debut as an NBC News senior national security and intelligence analyst. Mr. Brennan, welcome to NBC and welcome to--

JOHN BRENNAN:

Good morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

--Meet the Press.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Good to see you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with the Nunes memo. We know that the F.B.I. is an agency that made the application to FISA, that the C.I.A. was not involved. But you ran the inner-agency task force out of the C.I.A. beginning in summer '16. Included the F.B.I. as concerns were rising about this Russian interference. What can you say about what you believed the evidence that the F.B.I. had to get that FISA warrant and how much of the Steele dossier was a part of it?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, we, the C.I.A. and the intelligence community had collected a fair amount of information in the summer of 2016 about what the Russians were doing on multiple fronts. And we wanted to make sure that the F.B.I. had full access to that.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the Papadopoulos thing come through the C.I.A. via the Five Eyes thing? That would have been a piece of information that gets to the F.B.I.? Is that how that works?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Now I'm not going to get into details about how it was acquired. But the F.B.I. has very close relationship with its British counterparts. And so the F.B.I. had visibility into a number of things that were going on involving some individuals who may have had some affiliation with the Trump campaign. And so the intelligence that we collected was pulsed against that. And I thought it would have been derelict if the F.B.I. did not pull the threads, investigative threads, on American persons who might have been involved with Russia and working on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly.

CHUCK TODD:

You've said wittingly and unwittingly a lot. How much of this do you believe was unwitting?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I believe that there was a fair amount of naiveté on the part of individuals who were part of the Trump campaign. Individuals who maybe were unaware of what their obligations were or just how diabolical the Russians can be in terms of their cultivation of individuals to work on their behalf.

CHUCK TODD:

So the Trump Tower meeting, for instance, with Donald Trump Junior, gets an email. We now find out he thinks it's Hillary Clinton dirt. "If it's what I think it is, it's great." He takes this meeting with the Russians. You look at something like that. Is that witting or unwitting in your mind?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I find it foolish number one. And also irresponsible. If senior members of a political campaign on a presidential campaign, they need to be aware of what it is that they need to do in order to make sure that they stay on the right side of the law as well as the right side of ethics. And I find it inexplicable in terms of how that meeting took place and interest in part of individuals, very close to Mr. Trump, who wanted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russians.

CHUCK TODD:

When did you first learn of the so-called Steele dossier and what Christopher Steele was doing?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, it was not a very well-kept secret among press circles for several months before it came out. And it was in late summer of 2016 when there were some individuals from the various U.S. news outlets who asked me about my familiarity with it. And I had heard just snippets about it. I did not know what was in there. I did not see it unit later in that year. I think it was in December. But I was unaware of the providence of it as well as what was in it. And it did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessments that was done that was presented to then President Obama and then President-elect Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

How was the Steele dossier treated?

JOHN BRENNAN:

It was--

CHUCK TODD:

How did you treat it? You said you looked at it in December. It was obviously looked at by the F.B.I. We've now learned they've tried to confirm some of it and have had some success, some not yet. They don’t say it’s, they don’t, they say it's unconfirmed but that's about it.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, there were things in that dossier that made me wonder whether or not they were, in fact, accurate and true. And I do think it was up to the F.B.I. to see whether or not they could verify any of it. I think Jim Comey has said that it contained salacious and unverified information. Just because it was unverified didn't mean it wasn't true. And if the Russians were involved in something like that, directed against individuals who are aspiring to the highest office in this land, there was an obligation on the part of the F.B.I. to seek out the truth on it.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to go the, the central thesis of the Nunes memo is that the FISA Court was misled. Misled about the origins of the Steele dossier, misled about political bias. Should, we dont -- we are learning that the FISA Court was certainly alerted of some political, political opponent being involved in this. How much detail should the FISA judge have known and should they have known more than they did?

JOHN BRENNAN:

Well, it's so hard to say because we, we don't have access to the underlying information of the Nunes memo which really, you know, clearly indicates that he was being exceptionally partisan in this. And as I said in my tweet, I've had fights with the Dems over the years when I was in the Obama administration. To include on the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on interrogation program the C.I.A. ran, ran. But I never, ever saw the Democrats do something like this that was so partisan, so reckless and really just laid waste to the protocols that governed committees. And Devin Nunes, over the past several months, all the way back to the spring of last year I think has been engaged in these tactics purely to defend, make excuses and try to protect Mr. Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

You were pretty rough on the Senate Intel Committee when they released the so-called torture report. Compare the two.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Dianne Feinstein and I had some very, very confront--

CHUCK TODD:

You went on this show had some--

JOHN BRENNAN:

I did, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--said some tough things on it.

JOHN BRENNAN:

And I thought it was a partisan, one-sided report. But yet Senator Feinstein kept the, the Republican members informed and did not decide to put something out that only reflected the, the Democratic side. That Devin Nunes and Republicans denied the ability of the minority, the Democrat members of that committee, to put out its report is just appalling. And I think it, it really underscores just how partisan Mr. Nunes has been. He has abused the office of the chairmanship of HPSCI. And I don't say that lightly. I think over the past year he has demonstrated he's engaged in these tactics purely to defend and try to make excuses--

CHUCK TODD:

Has he brought up--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--any legitimate issue in your mind in that memo?

JOHN BRENNAN:

If there are issues related to whether they be the process involving FISA. And if there are concerns about how forthcoming the bureau is, and I think the bureau from what I have been able to tell, was very forthcoming. This was a renewal of FISA. But if he had concerns about that he could have hearings. He could bring in the members of the F.B.I. and others and to really seek what need to be done differently. But he didn't do that. He just put out publicly one side in a very selective, cherry-picked memo.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to get your reaction to something your successor said about his decision-making pro--process as head of the C.I.A. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

MIKE POMPEO:

Government's worse than the private sector because the incentive systems are misaligned. And so I led by example. 40% of the decisions that were previously made by the director of the C.I.A. no longer are made by me. You might say, "Wow, that's reckless." I would tell you it was reckless to do it the other way.

[END TAPE]

JOHN BRENNAN:

I think there are a number of senior members of this administration who follow Donald Trump's way of trying to denigrate and condemn everything that happened before them as a way to make them appear that they are doing things better than ever have been previously. And so I don't want to, you know, address what my successor says. I don't agree with some of the things that he has said. But I think it reflects a general insecurity that you -- only if you criticize your predecessors, whether it be President Obama or whether it be the former director of the C.I.A., do you -- are you able to make sort of points to try to trump up your credentials.

CHUCK TODD:

Republican opponents of you critic -- claimed you were politicizing the C.I.A. There's some Democrats of Mike Pompeo that believe he's politicizing the C.I.A. What do you hear from rank and file?

JOHN BRENNAN:

I am so confident that the rank and file of the C.I.A. are going to continue to do their mission. And they have been used to this before, this partisan-sniping. Unfortunately the rancor right now in Washington between the Democrats and Republicans is at an unprecedented level. And the ones I'm concerned about are the families of C.I.A. officers and F.B.I. agents. They're the ones who sacrifice on behalf of their loved ones. And to hear people like Mr. Trump and others denigrate the work that they do, and they're trying to make distinctions between the rank and file and the senior members, well, I think, you know, C.I.A. officers and F.B.I. officers know that these are institutions that I believe have been well-led over the years and that really are so important and critical to keep this nation safe and secure. So I just am appalled by the things that are being said.

CHUCK TODD:

John Brennan, you're now adding the title of NBC News national security analyst, senior national security analyst. Welcome, welcome aboard. Thank you for being on Meet the Press.

JOHN BRENNAN:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Appreciate it. When we come back, will the memo convince Americans that the Russia investigation is tainted or that President Trump's allies will do whatever it takes to protect him? The panel is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here. Time for me to be quiet. Washington Post columnist, NBC News analyst Eugene Robinson, Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network. Amy Walter, all right, do you feel like you know more or less about the safety of Robert Mueller's job?

AMY WALTER:

I feel as confused as I think most Americans do right now. I think it feels a little bit like you know, when you're in the supermarket and there's ‘musac’ in the background. It's there. It's a constant noise that you can't quite make out the song exactly. But I just want to go back to something else to sort of do a 30,000-foot view about where we are and how we got here that none of this--what we're talking about right now would have been possible but for two things. 1) the gradual disillusion of faith and trust in institutions that has been happening over the last ten, 15 years. Some of it by their own behavior whether it was the Catholic Church covering up sex abuse scandals, sports covering up doping, obviously 9/11 and the weapons of mass destruction. Some of it is that the people as part of the institutions, even politicians, things are rigged, things are corrupt. Right? People start to believe that. And then so Donald Trump didn't invent this. This has been part of it. And then the tribalism that we only will trust what comes out of the mouths and the opinions of people that we already identify with. So we--This is the culture that we live in. Donald Trump didn't invent it. He's certainly helping to stoke it, and not heal it. But this is--we are here at this point. And it didn’t come as--It's not accidental how we got here.

CHUCK TODD:

Yamiche, what has mattered more with this memo, what was in it for the president or the buildup?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Hashtag, release the memo was way more important than the actual memo. When I was reading that memo I thought, "Okay, what was the big news here? What exactly am I reading?" But then when I read the cover page it was all about public interest. It was all about this idea that they were trying to explain to the public that they needed to know this, that this was in their best interest when in reality it was in the best interest of the president. The president saw this memo as kind of murky-ing the waters. And his tweets say that this vindicates him when we--when anybody who reads that memo realizes that that's not what happening tells me that this memo was all about just getting the base to start talking about it. I've been talking to family members in Miami who never really talk about politics. They're like, "What is this memo? I don't understand what's going on. What did the F.B.I. do?" That, to me, is the power of this memo. It's that you have people now questioning the institutions without really understanding what everything is about.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh?

HUGH HEWITT:

The memo proves--I reviewed hundreds and hundreds of FISA applications for two attorneys general. I did that job for two years. The omission on the material fact is a big deal. And that--

CHUCK TODD:

We don't know there's an omission of that material fact though, Hugh. We actually don't know that is true.

HUGH HEWITT:

I believe it is fairly--I will rely on the fact they did not say DNC, HRC. They said political. And so I'm going on--

CHUCK TODD:

Political opponent.

HUGH HEWITT:

Political opponent. If I'm reviewing that and I tell the attorney general, "By the way, this came from the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign," and that's not in the memo, we go back to the F.B.I., there was no division of national security at that time, and we send it back and put it in. If you were a corporate executive in America and you did a quarterly earnings report that showed income from a source and you did not describe that source as sketchy, shady or in some way compromised you will go to jail. And people ought to think about a FISA warrant as a quarterly report and hold it to the same standard. All that said, you and I talked on the radio, they oversold it. They should've put it out there without saying anything about it. And they have hurt themselves as a result. Rod Rosenstein is not going to get fired. The special counsel is not going to get fired. But this memo does hurt the F.B.I. with the FISA Courts.

CHUCK TODD:

Eugene?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

No. I think it's fascinating that the coauthor of the memo and the man who saw the underlying intelligence, Congressman Trey Gowdy, has been saying this does nothing to undermine his faith in the Mueller investigation. And that, of course, there would be a Mueller investigation, a Russia investigation without the dossier, without--even without Carter Page. I mean, without the whole thing. So we’ve seen the blowing of a lot of smoke this week. The smoke will dissipate. I mean, and then Mueller's going to continue with his investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

Bob Mueller rarely has spoken.

AMY WALTER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay? And when I say the probe has not spoken. But when it has, Amy, it's gotten two lying to the F.B.I., two flips and Michael Flynn and Papadopoulos. Major indictment against Manafort. Looks like Rick Gates may be in the form of--you know, he's just doing his job.

AMY WALTER:

Well, and because he--

CHUCK TODD:

And stuff’s happening?

AMY WALTER:

--and because he has a lower profile the attacks aren't on him personally. So when he goes to deliver the news it's a lot different than when, say, Ken Starr went to deliver the news because Democrats had effectively undercut him and undercut his credibility and made it about Ken Starr personally.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, isn't that where it's coming? Isn't that what this is?

AMY WALTER:

But this now--Right This is undercutting the underlying evidence that's going to Robert Mueller. But he, as a messenger, is more credible than, say, somebody coming out of another institution.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

If you listen to the Trump supporters though and people who are really in his camp, they're going after Mueller. They're saying his name. It's Republicans going after Republicans and Republicans going after institutions that usually were conservative. So you have this weird situation where I thought it was really important that John Brennan was saying that, "Yes, I had issues with Democrats. But they never did what this administration is doing and these people are doing," which is really adding--

HUGH HEWITT:

I have to disagree a bit.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

--a level of partisan.

HUGH HEWITT:

I talked to all the Republicans, McConnell, Ryan, no one is calling for Mueller to be fired. No one is calling for Rosenstein to be fired. Maybe he might have to recuse on an obstruction case because he authored the memo about Comey. I don't know of a single Republican of stature, of stature--

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Of stature.

HUGH HEWITT:

--who wants Mueller fired.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yamiche’s point though ... it is fascinating that you see people on the left of the Democratic Party saying, "How dare anyone attack the F.B.I." And you see people

CHUCK TODD:

I'm old enough to remember--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--and people on the right, of the Republican Party, or virtually the entire Republican Party saying, "The F.B.I. is violating our civil liberties!"

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, let me put up the quick poll number here, Eugene, to support your point here. Among Republicans, Republican favorability of the F.B.I. in negative territory.

AMY WALTER:

And it's gone up Democrats.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

It's astounding to me.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

And Sarah Sanders said from the podium, "Of course he's not going to call for Mueller's firing. We could imagine what all of you in the press would do." So Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell know if they said, "He really should fire Rob Mueller," that would be a crisis. People would go after them. So they're being smarter about it than just saying that.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, I'm going to button up something from Reince Priebus. He kept saying, "I felt."

HUGH HEWITT:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It was an interesting choice of words. Keeps him out of--

HUGH HEWITT:

He cannot be perjured. You can't perjure yourself if you feel something. If you don't remember something you can't perjure yourself. So he's been lawyered up. He's obviously feeling like he's not a target and he's in the clear.

CHUCK TODD:

But you felt like--

CHUCK TODD:

--when you heard the word ‘felt’ that that was legal advice.

HUGH HEWITT:

That's legal advice. Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Very interesting. Anyway, well, now you have--

CHUCK TODD:

--all of you picked up on that and I wanted the audience to hear your guys' reaction on that. Okay. When we come out of this we're going to talk Super Bowl Sunday a little bit and why some people say they're not following the NFL as closely as they once did. How much of that is because of politics?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time. As divided as we are as a country there's still one thing that always brings Americans together, the Super Bowl. But even with our hype surrounding today's game between the Eagles and Patriots, data shows the NFL and football in general may have some real issues to deal with in the public eye for years to come.

People say they're just not following the NFL as closely as they used to in a 2014 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll we had 58% saying they followed football closely versus just 42% who said they didn't. That was a 16 point net positive difference. Well, this year only 49% say they follow closely while a slim majority, 51% now say they don't. That's a minus two overall for football and an 18 point swing in interest in just four years. So what's driving this? Well, one clue could be in who's driving this. Whites have seen a 12 point drop among those who say they follow football closely while blacks and Hispanics have essentially held steady. And when you dig even deeper, it's really white men behind this drop, a 22 point slip among white men while white women are unchanged. In a politically divided country this change in attitude looks strangely bipartisan. The drop has been steeper among Republicans, 15 points, but Democrats and independents have declined as well. Studies have shown there are a lot of reasons behind all of this. But two do stand out. Player protests are clearly turning off some fans as well as the safety concerns of the game, both for the game we watch and how we watch it and the game our kids play. Parents who have a child at home were asked if they'd encourage them to play another sport due to concern about concussions. The percent of those who said yes was up nine points between 2014 and 2018. Among just dads it's up six points. But look at this one, among moms a 13 point increase in those who'd encourage their kid to not play football due to the safety issue. To be sure, the NFL still rules the roost of American sports. Over 100 million people are going to tune in tonight. Some for the game, some for the commercials and some, of course, for Justin Timberlake. But the real question for the NFL will be how many tune in on Sundays next fall. When we come back, end game and tonight's big game. We're going to go deeper into how the political culture wars have impacted the way people feel about the NFL and the role President Trump has played in that.

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, end game and post-game brought to you by Boeing. Continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER:

End game, brought to you by Boeing. Continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

President's reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with end game, that remark during the State of the Union addressed this week about standing for the national anthem was just President Trump's latest swipe at the NFL. Though a little more subtle than when he was in Alabama last year.

The president has been highly critical of players who have refused to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. And Mr. Trump has credited himself for this year's slipping NFL TB ratings. Joining our panel right now from Jupiter, Florida on this Super Bowl Sunday is a man who knows a thing or two about both football and politics, it's Bryant Gumbel, host of Real Sports on HBO. Bryant, good to see you.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Chuck, good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks for coming. Good morning.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

How are you doing, pal?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm all right. Let me ask you this, you had a pretty powerful monologue after the president's initial comments when he made those remarks in Alabama about what owners ought to do to players. How does the president's insertion of politics into football-- how has it impacted the game, in your opinion?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Well, I don't think you can totally ignore it. But I'd like to believe that at this point people of good will recognize the protest is about police brutality and has nothing to do with the military or the flag. So, yeah, has it had some effect on the lessening of interest in the NFL game?

I think that's part of it. But I think it's a very small part of it. I think there's some bigger issues at work. I think number one is I think it was Malcolm Gladwell said that it's going to be in about 25 years socially unacceptable to be a football fan.

I think that the concussion problem is an issue. I think oversaturation is an issue. I think television is down and all shows across the board, morning shows and television news shows. And I think the one that's being overlooked is the NFL product is not a very good entertainment product anymore. It's become a very uptight, corporate league and a dink and dunk league. And people just aren't as drawn to it as they used to be.

HUGH HEWITT:

Hey, Bryant, Hugh Hewitt, how much of the NFL's problems is really the flipside of the college game's ascendancy. I'm a Go Bucks' fan, I'm a Browns' fan, but Go Bucks first. How much is it that the college got their act together?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Hugh, I think you're right. I heard you talking earlier about tribalism. That evidence is itself on the football scene, as you know all too well. Folks in Alabama aren't interested in watching UCLA/USC. But they will watch Alabama. They will watch Auburn.

Same for folks in Louisiana, Texas, et cetera. And so I think that is part of it too that the college game is growing. The college game is not as much of a copycat league. It's not as much of a corporate league. It's not a stop and go league where you have to turn to instant replay every other second. And I think it's a more attractive product. And you also have the delusion of, the diminution of the audience of the NFL in that Sunday afternoon used to be sacrosanct. But now what you get on Sunday afternoon you can get on Thursday night, you can get on Sunday night, you can get on Monday night. So it's not that big a deal anymore.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Bryant, Eugene Robinson. How much does viewers have to do with specific stars and specific teams? The Cowboys, who are supposed to be good this year, who are America's team, in fact, were pretty awful. And no incentive for all those fans to watch. Aaron Rodgers, best quarterback in the game, went down. Sorry, Chuck. Was injured. And again, no incentive for all those Green Bay fans to watch. Do you think that's a factor? Or is that not important?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

You know what, Gene, I don't think it's as big a factor as it is in baseball where you need one of the big teams. You need the Yankees of the Dodgers or the Cubs to be engaged for the nation to be engaged. But I do think if you ask the owners they would say, "Yeah, people tune in to see the duel between Brady and Rodgers. They tune in to see Manning go against someone else." And the idea of tuning in to watch second-string quarterbacks go at it does not move the needle very much. But they've always sold teams more than they've sold individuals. So I'm not sure that's that big a factor.

CHUCK TODD:

Yamiche?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

Talk to me a little bit about how the social impact of President Trump talking has really impacted how athletes feel the pressure to speak up. I think about athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, there was a moment there where he is now very active. You think of Muhammad Ali feeling the need because he was an African-American man to speak up. So the players that are playing now feel pressure to speak up? Do you think that they want to speak up because of what's going on? Or do you think it's more something like they would naturally already be doing this?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

That's a great question. I do think that when the president weighed in it energized African-American athletes and to an extent unified them in a way they had not been before. Just how much pressure they feel I think depends on their position on the team. And the team they play for, the owner's stance.

There is some owners who are more willing to allow the players a great deal of freedom of expression. And there are other players who aren't. And let's face it, if you are a star or if you are an indispensable member of a team, you have more latitude than the guy who's just barely hanging on for the job minimum.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, Bryant, you interviewed Mike Ditka. I'm not going to play the clip because I'm low on time here. A couple years ago. And I'm sorry, we were all stunned when Mike Ditka said he wouldn't have his kid play football. And he was almost in tears telling you this. But he just thinks the reward isn't great enough anymore.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Yeah, a little bit of context. He was coming off of talking about a teammate of his, Mike Pyle, who was the center on the Bears teams that he was a part of. And who was in a bed seriously ill with most of his problems relating to his years in football. And, look, I don't think what he expressed is unusual. Just this past week didn't we hear Justin Timberlake say the same thing? I think--

CHUCK TODD:

I guess I kind of expected--

BRYANT GUMBEL:

--that's what scares people.

CHUCK TODD:

--it more from Justin Timberlake than Mike Ditka. You know?

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Yeah. I understand that. You're right. Iron Mike, you would think he'd love football til the day he died. And I think he still does love it. But he -- but, you know, our eyes have been opened to the dangers of the game. And the reality is it's not a game that's going to leave you healthy and of sound mind.

CHUCK TODD:

Bryant, on that note I wish I could say, we are going to end in an upbeat note. It's still Super Bowl Sunday. And we're going to have a good time. Bryant Gumbel, thank you, sir.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

We hope so.

CHUCK TODD:

I appreciate it.

BRYANT GUMBEL:

Thanks, Chuck, appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

That's all we got for today. Thanks for watching. Get the pizza, the wings. And at our party we're going to po'boys too. Get it all ready for the big game. And of course we'll be back next week because if it's Sunday it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

You can see more end game and post-game sponsored by Boeing on the Meet the Press Facebook page.

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