Meet the Press -January 7, 2018

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NBC News - Meet the Press

“01.07.2018.”

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, Fire and Fury, a new book portrays the Trump White House as dysfunctional. With a president described by his own staff as “an idiot surrounded by clowns,” “a (BLEEP) fool” with a staff that questioned his “fitness for office” and his mental stability. President Trump reacts.

DONALD TRUMP:

I consider it a work of fiction.

CHUCK TODD:

Calling himself “a very stable genius."

DONALD TRUMP:

I went to the best colleges, or college.

CHUCK TODD:

And the White House pushes back hard.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:Complete fantasy, disgraceful and laughable.SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:It's mistake after mistake after mistake.SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:A book full of lies. I mean, that's one of the most ridiculous things.

CHUCK TODD:

Author Michael Wolff defends his reporting.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

The one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common, they all say he is like a child.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus, the break with Bannon. In the book, President Trump's former chief political advisor Steve Bannon lashes out at the president, his staff and his family. The president's response? "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind." This morning, my exclusive interview with the controversial author of Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff. Also, the Russia investigation. Two Republican senators take aim not at Russia, but at the former British spy who tried to expose Russian election meddling. I'll talk to one of those senators, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina. Joining me for insight and analysis are David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times; Joy Reid, host of AM Joy on MSNBC; Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine; and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. 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 on our first broadcast of the new year. The winter bomb cyclone that hit Washington this week had nothing to do with the frigid weather and everything to do with the book Fire and Fury by journalist Michael Wolff. The tell-all book portrays a dysfunctional White House led by a president of declining intellectual capacity and a staff that didn't believe Mr. Trump would win the election or necessarily should have. In addition to the president, the other protagonist in the book is his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who has now been excommunicated by Mr. Trump for his disloyalty, for now. Here's how the always colorful New York Post played the break between Bannon and the president. "One takeaway is that the president's allies are engaged in a policy of appeasement and containment. Appeasement by his Republican supporters in Congress who want Mr. Trump to sign their bills. And containment by a staff eager to protect the president from himself and their own reputations from him." But Mr. Trump is leaving no doubt that he sees Michael Wolff's instant bestseller as a problem for his presidency.

DONALD TRUMP:

I consider it a work of fiction. And I think it's a disgrace.

CHUCK TODD:

A White House torn apart by infighting and a president isolated, losing allies, with staffers desperately trying to contain what he might do or say. So far, 2018 looks a lot like 2017.

DONALD TRUMP:

Collusion now is dead. There's been no collusion between us and the Russians.

CHUCK TODD:

On the president's first full day back in Washington, he attacked his own Justice Department as the deep state, one of 17 tweets on Tuesday alone.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

Encouraging the Justice Department to go after political opponents. That's, that’s very concerning.

CHUCK TODD:

The president also threatened a war with nuclear North Korea, tweeting, "I too have a nuclear button. But it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his. And my button works." By day two, Michael Wolff's bombshell book had Mr. Trump lashing out again. "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

Furious, disgusted would probably certainly fit when you make such outrageous claims and completely false claims against the president.

CHUCK TODD:

By day three, the president's legal team was threatening to sue Bannon, Wolff and the publisher. In Fire and Fury, Bannon describes the June 2016 meeting with the Russians, hosted by the president's son, Don Jr., as "unpatriotic” and “treasonous." Predicting Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are going to "crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV." And speculating that the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, in a long-running feud with Bannon, is involved in financial crimes. Trump allies attacked the insider account.

HOGAN GIDLEY:

This is obviously a hit job on the president.

DAVID BOSSIE:

It's outrageous.

SEBASTIAN GORKA:

He's a sleazebag.

CHRIS RUDDY:

An absurd allegation by someone who's talked to a lot of disgruntled people at the White House.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

Complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip.

CHUCK TODD:

But by day five, the president clearly not satisfied with defending his own fitness for office, calling himself a "genius" and a "very stable genius" at that.

REPORTER:

Why did you feel the need to tweet about that this morning?

DONALD TRUMP:

Well, only because I went to the best colleges, or college.

CHUCK TODD:

While Bannon attempted to play down the split.

STEVE BANNON:

Nothing will ever come between us and President Trump and his agenda.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Mr. Trump is calling his former ally "Sloppy Steve." Blaming him for the book.

DONALD TRUMP:

That's why "Sloppy Steve" is now looking for a job.

CHUCK TODD:

An abrupt divorce for now.

DONALD TRUMP:

I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. Steve's been a friend of mine for a long time.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And the author of that bombshell new book joins me now, Michael Wolff, welcome to “Meet the Press.”

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Chuck, glad to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just start with this. You talk about “fly on the wall” access. Explain to me what that was like. Walk me through how you were a fly on the wall in the West Wing.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

You know, I literally kind of knocked on the door and said, “Can I come in?” and they said “Okay.” And I came in. I sat on the couch and that’s the point of view that I’ve written this book from. I mean, in the real intention of this book, is to have readers sit with me on the couch and watch what’s going on in the West Wing. I went into this with absolutely no agenda whatsoever. I have no particular politics when it comes to Donald Trump. This is really all about human nature.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you feel as if you were a blessed guest? Meaning that the assumption was “Yeah, you can talk to Michael Wolff.” We’ve - meaning the president - was it the assumption was you were blessed, it was okay to talk to you?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

I think it was. There was no official - I was certainly not brought in to be the -

CHUCK TODD:

You weren’t invited to write this book?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

- the court chronicler. I was sort of invited. I mean, Donald Trump is sort of “Oh, yeah, yeah.” And I said to him, I said, “Listen, I would like to do a book.” And I remember because I remember he seemed deflated, a book, who cares about a book? I said, “No, no, I’d really like to do this.” And then he named a couple of other authors, who he knew, who he said, “Oh, yeah, they’d like to do this too.” And I said, but, you know, is it, is it okay? “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” So then I went around and so it was basically me saying, “The president says this is, this is - he likes this idea.” Um, and then everyone would say, “Oh, okay, great, sit down. Talk.”

CHUCK TODD:

You said something to Savannah Guthrie on the “Today Show.” You said you said whatever it took to get this story. Would people feel as if you misled them about your intentions with this book?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Let me put it in a different way. I tried to be inobtrusive. So I tried not to have anyone quite notice me or not notice me above the level that they notice the furniture. So my goal was to keep going until somebody said, “Go away.”

CHUCK TODD:

But in the initial premise of the book, were you overly flattering or were you promising that this book would be more flattering than than maybe it turned out to be?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Well, I certainly was not more flattering than Donald Trump. Have you ever seen Donald Trump’s flattery?

CHUCK TODD:

No.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

It’s unbelievable. I mean the first time that I came in it was it was it was like “Oh my god, Michael Wolff. Unbelievable. Do you know this guy? He’s the best.” Um, so um, I’m sure I returned a tip of the hat to the um- to Donald Trump. But, um, you know, yeah, yes, I was I was I said- I didn’t say anything to get me thrown out.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, fair enough.

You were pretty tough on the coverage of Donald Trump early in 2017. Here’s something you wrote in 2017, in January, so: "To the media, it is a given that Trump is largely out of control and that the people around him are struggling at all times to save him from himself--and largely failing. This view persists … despite Trump's victory flattening almost every media assumption about his supposed haplessness and lack of strategy."

And you were just- you thought that the media was too one-sided or that was the impression you were giving. I have to say, when you read this book, you seem to reinforce the entire media narrative you were criticizing.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

You know, I think that in the beginning, the media took this point of view without having had this experience. You know, I went into this, a decent part of the country went into this, his entire staff went into this thinking maybe this can work. It’s different, even peculiar, but who knows what can happen here. And that was exactly my, my frame of reference. I would have been delighted to have written a contrarian account here. Donald Trump, this unexpected president, is actually going to succeed. OK, that’s not the story. He is not going to succeed. This is worse than everybody thought.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you, I’m just curious because it’s a very tough book. You basically, you’re sending a message here to anybody reading this book. Did you leave out good stuff because it got in the way of the narrative? Like if people said positive things about him, um, I’m not saying- that you left it out because it took away from the thesis of the book that you wanted to get out there?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

If I left out anything, it’s probably stuff that was even more damning.

CHUCK TODD:

It’s that bad?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

It’s that bad. I mean, it's an extraordinary moment in time. And the last several days focused on my book I think are proof of this. This is what happened here, what's going on here. This is, you know, I think not an exaggeration and not unreasonable. It's not unreasonable to say this is 25th Amendment kind of stuff.

CHUCK TODD:

Did anybody say that in the West Wing to you?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

All the time.

CHUCK TODD:

25th Amendment? They would bring up the 25th Amendment?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Yes, actually, they would say, sort of in the mid-period, “We’re not at a 25th Amendment level yet.” Or they would-

CHUCK TODD:

That’s alarming.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

This is alarming in every way. And then this went on, “Okay, this is a little 25th Amendment.” So 25th Amendment is a concept that is alive every day in the White House. There was an interesting thing that, in all of this weird stuff that has gone on for the last, last number of days. An interesting thing that I especially noticed was, was yesterday, was it yesterday or this morning? Everything--

CHUCK TODD:

Understand it’s a whirlwind.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

John Kelly said, was, was questioned about these, these wackadoo tweets, and he said, “Oh, I didn’t see them.” I’m going to just say, “Like hell he didn’t see them.” And that’s what goes on in the White House all the time. It’s how to look away. It’s how not to confront.

CHUCK TODD:

They’re putting their head in the sand purposely?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Yes. Absolutely. It’s how to rationalize this and how, and you can’t confront it. You can’t say, you know, what, this is, this is, this is a moment a time. This is a breakdown.

CHUCK TODD:You imply that even his children sort of treat him like a child at times. Donald Trump Junior last night on Twitter totally disputed that account. Said he would never speak about his father that way, nor does he even think of his father that way. That he only has admiration. What do you say to that?

MICHAEL WOLFF:You know, somebody said to me about the children, somebody who knows them well, and the phrase was, "They are tolerant, but they have no illusions." And I think that that's probably how it goes. He is their father, of course. Not only is he their father, he's their boss. I mean, their whole lives are attached to him.But these are the people who have to deal with him every day. And these are the people who, on top of everything else, he was not a very good father. He was absent, remote, having god knows who he was involved with at any particular moment in time. So this does not come as a shock to them.

CHUCK TODD:They've come at you hard, pushing back against your book and your credibility. This is what the R.N.C. put out. They even used your book jacket sort of. They're calling you a "liar and a phony." Here is Sarah Sanders from the podium on Thursday. I want to get you to react after.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:The fact that there was a claim that the president didn't know who John Boehner was is pretty ridiculous.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

Ages of employees, which would be super easy to fact check, are wrong.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

Again, it is absolutely laughable to think that somebody like this president would run for office with the purpose of losing.

CHUCK TODD:There are a lot of little errors. There’s a lot of them. One page had three in one. Some of them may be copy edits, small, factual errors. But it adds up. Why shouldn't a reader be concerned about some of these mistakes?

MICHAEL WOLFF:I think a reader should read the book. The book speaks for itself.

CHUCK TODD:Do you regret some of these errors in there? It feels as if you didn't get a copy edit.

MICHAEL WOLFF:I think I mixed up a Mike Berman and a Mark Berman. For that I apologize. But the book speaks for itself. Read the book. See if you don't feel like you are with me on that couch in the White House. And see if you don't feel alarmed, as you say.

CHUCK TODD:I want to ask you about your access to the president. How many times did you interview the president for this book and when was the last time you talked to the president for this book?

MICHAEL WOLFF:You know, I have spoken to the president, as I've said, I've spoken to the president for about three hours through the length of the campaign up until I finished the book. And that's what I'm going to say. I think the president has said, "No, you didn't do this. That's wrong." And I truly do not want to say the president is a liar.

CHUCK TODD:Okay, but the White House - tell us - has said the last time that they have a record of you speaking to him was in February of 2017, which is not even through the first hundred days.

MICHAEL WOLFF:There was that moment, there were several other moments after that.

CHUCK TODD:After that? Did he not know that they were interviews?

MICHAEL WOLFF:Yes, he probably did not think of them as interviews.

CHUCK TODD:Were they face to face?

MICHAEL WOLFF:Yes, yes.

CHUCK TODD:Was it times you saw him in the hallway?

MICHAEL WOLFF:Yes. Absolutely. The point that they have made, which they, the literal point that I didn't speak to him in the Oval Office and that is true. And one of the issues here was that they kept saying, I kept setting up this thing, and then they kept saying, "Can we have the questions?"

CHUCK TODD:Okay.

MICHAEL WOLFF:And I thought, "Let's avoid that." The other point, and it's an elemental one, this book is not about my view of Donald Trump. It is about the view of all of the people closest to him.

CHUCK TODD:Do you, from a journalist standpoint, did you violate off-the-record agreements?

MICHAEL WOLFF:I did not.

CHUCK TODD:You don't believe you did?

MICHAEL WOLFF:I absolutely did not.

CHUCK TODD:Let me ask you a final question about Steve Bannon. Why do you think he's disloyal to Trump? Why do you think he was so willing to dish the way he dished? What's his motivation?

MICHAEL WOLFF:I think he was deeply concerned. I think he is deeply concerned. I think that he found himself in this White House with this opportunity. And I think Steve is a man of very clear beliefs and principles. And I think he looked at this as his moment. He made Donald Trump president.

CHUCK TODD:He believes this?

MICHAEL WOLFF:Not only does he believe this, it's absolutely true. Steve went into this campaign in the middle of August. It had imploded. It was over. Steve was the guy who said, you know, "There is a case here. It's the economy's stupid. If we go through Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, we can pull this off."

CHUCK TODD:Did you at all think he was using you to settle scores with the kids?

MICHAEL WOLFF:I think I'm sure he probably was. I think that he saw this White House as dysfunctional in part, in large part, because it was being run by the president's family. People who have A) no experience, but also on any organizational level, I mean, that meant that they were the family, they could overrule everything. I mean, calamity.

CHUCK TODD:

One final question. You said something in a BBC interview: that you thought this presidency was going to hit a wall. What did that mean? Hit a wall by 2020 or before then?

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Um, I think - I don’t know when the train is going to finally hit the wall. I think the entire narrative of this presidency and this candidacy and then presidency has been it’s going to hit a wall. And the thing that keeps everybody’s attention absolutely riveted - this global attention - is that the train keeps going, but the wall is still there. I mean one of the things, I think, about this book and why it’s hit such a chord and become this cultural moment is it’s given everybody this focused opportunity to say, “Holy crap.”

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Wolff, I will leave it there. I imagine now you’ve got every author in America hoping they, too, will have a president threaten a lawsuit for them in order to help with book sales.

MICHAEL WOLFF:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Wolff, thanks for coming on. Before we take a break, a programming note. Michael Wolff will be back tomorrow for his first cable interview on Morning Joe and then he'll join Lawrence O'Donnell on The Last Word at 10:00 p.m. Eastern both on MSNBC. When we come back, much more on the book and the reaction to it. And later, why has the Justice Department decided to allow prosecutors to go after people who grow and sell marijuana in states where pot is now legal?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel. David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, Joy Reid, host of the AM Joy on MSNBC, and Mark Leibovich, the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. All right, I want to start with this. President Trump is threatening Michael Wolff and his publisher Henry Holt for defamation, among other things. Threatening lawsuits is something this president is very familiar with. We did some research and found that throughout his career, Donald Trump has threatened 30 media-related lawsuits, but has only actually filed suit four times. And of those four cases, three were dismissed, and one was settled. You can see those there. David Brooks, reaction to Mr. Wolff and the book?

DAVID BROOKS:

A) He's got a lot of information that we didn't know, a lot of quotes from Steve Bannon that I think are totally credible. B) He doesn't normally meet the standards that most of us would meet at The New York Times or NBC or The Washington Post. There are just too many errors. So I think it's a valuable book, but one to be read with skepticism. I am as anti-Trump as it's possible to be. And I think there are a lot of people I've spoken to who know Trump and who work with Trump who do exactly, who think exactly the way he says everybody thinks. But not everybody in this White House thinks that way. Some think he's deranged and a child. Some think—some like him. Some think he's a problem they can work around. Some think he's strange, but in sort of a good way. So there's a lot more nuance here in the way the White House thinks about him than I think is reflected in this.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me put up what Jonah Goldberg said, Danielle, on this book. He writes this: "The truth may not be as horrifying as Wolff and others describe. Nor as terrifying as the resistance fears. All it takes is a willingness to see the obvious. The president is a man out of his depth, propped up by his staff, in a party that needs to believe more than what the facts will support."

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah, Jonah, as always, my colleague at A.E.I., is always on point. I think that the truth about this book is that it is the realization of this town's gossip. And that's one of the reasons why it's been welcomed so warmly. Notwithstanding the errors.

CHUCK TODD:

You think it fits a narrative?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It fits a narrative.

CHUCK TODD:

But he's an outsider.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Really?

CHUCK TODD:

Of this town? He is.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, maybe he's an outsider of this town. First of all, the stories about the White House are not terribly credible. Nobody sits on a couch at the White House for hours on end, just listening to what everybody says, because no one's talking near the couches on the White House. You’re going to talk to a—Reporters will say the same thing. That doesn't happen. So the narrative, of the book itself, isn't that credible. The stories in it, yes, of course, they...they fit a narrative that I think we all know and understand. But does this tell us anything new about Donald Trump? No. It tells us a lot about Steve Bannon, though.

JOY-ANN REID:

Well, you know, I think except that in a normal White House, there's a process. There's a chief of staff that is credible and that knows what they're doing and that you couldn't just walk in and be a fly on the wall. This is a White House that from everything that I understand about it is completely disorganized and especially in the period when Michael Wolff says that he was there. There was nobody obviously to filter information to Donald Trump. Or to filter who could hang around and talk to his staff. I mean, Steve Bannon, and I was told by Sam Nunberg who's known Donald Trump a long time, that part of the reason that they didn't mind Michael Wolff being there is that he seemed to be in the axis of Bannon and Roger Ailes, and so they trusted that he was going to do something positive about them. And so they were happy to have that narrative written about them. And by the way, what's written in this book comports with every single thing that I've heard from every biographer that I've talked to about Donald Trump. From people who've been acquaintances of his, who don't go on the record and talk about it, but are happy to talk about him. The idea that the president of the United States is seen as a child who can either be used or manipulated by those who have agendas or who is completely incompetent and incapable of doing his job is actually frightening because it's exactly what we heard during the campaign and if this book is to be believed, and I think it is credible, then it is actually quite frightening for the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

Where are you on this?

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Where I am is first of all, is it possible to go any higher than number one on Amazon if you're going to write a book? I mean, this is just, it's incredible. I do think, look, I think both of these things can be true. I think there are very significant journalistic critiques that you can throw at this book. But I also think the "it rings true" truth about this is absolutely valid. And part of it is what Michael Wolff has said and will say again I'm sure is that this is exactly how people around him, or many people around him at the White House, certainly Republicans on the Hill speak privately. Now, if you were to ask, probably I would say 80% of elected Republicans on the Hill, "What do you think of the president's fitness for office?" The first thing you will hear, I guarantee you, is, "Can we go off the record?" I mean, that's just the two-step that we're dealing with here. And I think that this, in a way, gives truth to the other part of the two-step.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's though the president's reaction to the book is reinforcing some of these narratives. Here’s what Steve...Steve Hayes wrote this in The Weekly Standard. "So the president wants a book banned, he wants a political opponent in jail," referring to Huma Abedin, "and for good measure, maybe the former F.B.I. director too. He thinks his former top advisor is insane. This isn't normal. And it's not just 'Trump being Trump,’ the preferred dodge of elected Republicans. It's a reflection of the president's troubled mind and of his erratic, irrational judgment." I mean, is this a fair critique that his reaction to this book only reinforces the point Michael Wolff is making?

DAVID BROOKS:

That part of Wolff's book is absolutely true. He is like a child. I think we've probably all written this 500 times. But the weird thing about this White House, there's the child insane level, but then this same week, they did an offshore drilling policy change, they did a Pakistan policy change, they're doing marijuana, they're doing DACA, they're doing Iran. There's, like, a policy level going on, which Trump must have some involvement in. And so the insanity is there, but we shouldn't reduce it to a fairytale, the madness of King George, because there is a policy process that's going on in this White House.

JOY-ANN REID:

But must he have some involvement? Because I think that if Donald Trump is also impaired, because I think some of the most frightening revelations were about the potential that Donald Trump is not in full possession of his cognitive faculties. Because if there's a policy agenda going on, it's not clear that it's Donald Trump’s. It's very clear, Mitch McConnell saying, "He'll sign anything we put in front of him." The idea that people who have agendas, people like Steve Bannon, by the way, who just saw Trump as a pure vehicle, that it doesn't matter what Donald Trump does, they could lock him in his room with a cheeseburger and his bed all day, and they can do whatever they want. And then that means that agendas that were not voted for by, you know, the majority of the American people, that were not...these are not people who are accountable to the American people, can literally do what they want.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But two things. The first is...the first is that of course, policy does actually require the president. And I don't think we want to be unfair in suggesting that everything normal that happens in the White House has absolutely nothing to do with him. So there has to be that element of admission that, you know, we see all these problems. And there was a period when they weren't getting things done. So something's changed. Maybe that's John Kelly. Maybe it isn't. But one way or another, it's happening. But I think that what you said, Chuck, about the president's reaction to the book, is what has elevated it from being basically tabloid fodder. Something we would read in The Daily Mail or elsewhere. "'Not that I read The Daily Mail,' she said innocently."

MALE VOICE:

That’s a British paper.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah, I know, I know. But it is fun. But that has elevated it to be something real because his reaction to it has been absolutely staggering.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Well, I also think what's elevated it is Steve Bannon's on-the-record stuff. And Steve Bannon, basically, he has as much patron saint currency in that world as anyone except for maybe Donald Trump himself. I mean, the break between the two of them is very, very significant, even from a pure political perspective. It's base splitting, potentially. I mean, maybe not splitting down the middle, but certainly it knocks.

CHUCK TODD:

And then of course in six months, we're all going to be talking about, "Hi, Steve Bannon's back in the fold."

MARK LEIBOVICH:

With a new book.

CHUCK TODD:

With a new book, right. All right. We'll pause it here. Up next, Senator Lindsey Graham wants the former British spy who came up with the infamous dossier to be investigated. Why investigate Christopher Steel? I'll ask him that. That comes up next with Senator Graham when we come back.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Even before President Trump was inaugurated, Republicans promised to get to the bottom of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. On Friday, Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina issued what's called a "criminal referral" of Christopher Steele to the Justice Department. Steele, as some of you know, is the former British spy who produced the infamous dossier on candidate Donald Trump. In other words, the two Republican Senators are asking for an investigation of a man, who many believe was simply trying to expose Russian meddling. So joining me now to discuss this and some other issues is Senator Lindsey Graham. Senator Graham, welcome back.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you. Thank you

CHUCK TODD: It is -- I want to play something that you said to me one year ago tomorrow.

SEN. GRAHAM: Ok.

CHUCK TODD: Here is it.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: If after having been briefed by our intelligence leaders, Donald Trump is still unsure as to what the Russians did, that would be incredibly unnerving to me because the evidence is overwhelming. If after the briefing, he is still unsure, that will shake me to my core about his judgement

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: Senator Graham, just yesterday the president, again, referred to the Russia investigation as a hoax.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.

CHUCK TODD: I take it you must still be unnerved.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, the president does now finally believe that the Russians stole the emails from the DNC and hacked -- and Clinton --

CHUCK TODD: He does?

SEN. GRAHAM: --and the Russians. Yea. Yea. But he believes that collusion is a hoax. All I can say is that it's not a hoax. The Russians stole the emails. They did interfere in our elections. We now know that Trump Junior met with the Russians in Trump Tower and that Bob Mueller is doing a great job. He's the right guy at the right time. He needs to be allowed to do his job. And whether or not there's collusion -- Bob Mueller will tell us. I've seen no evidence of collusion but the idea of Jeff Sessions being able to investigate the campaign he was on is unacceptable. Jeff Sessions did the right thing. It would be impossible for him to look into the Trump campaign activities with the Russians. Wh--Mr. Mueller had to be appointed as special counsel. But we need a second special counsel to look at the way the Department of Justice conducted themselves.

CHUCK TODD: Alright, before I get to that, I want to ask you. Does the president's behavior towards Russia and Vladimir Putin throughout his first year in office at all raise any suspicions with you?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I've always -- I always said he had a blindspot to Russia but things are changing for the better. He finally allowed the Ukraine to be given defensive weapons. But when it comes to Russia, I've said on your show a million times, he has an attitude toward Putin that I think is counterproductive. The president does believe his intel agencies. He is firmly telling the world he didn't collude with the Russians and we're not gonna let him be the final authority on that. We're gonna let Mr. Mueller tell us whether or not this campaign colluded with the Russians and I will do everything I can to make sure that Mr. Mueller does his job. But there's other things about the Department of Justice and this investigation that bother me greatly and I think we need a special counsel to look at those things.

CHUCK TODD: How does a second special counsel, right now, somehow not become disruptive to Mr. Mueller's ability to do his job?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I don't think Mr. Mueller can look at Mr. Stroke, Strzok -- I can't remember the gentleman's name. But the guy who was in charge of the Clinton email investigation was fired by Mr. Mueller because we discovered emails between Mr. Strzok and Miss Lace, who was ---

CHUCK TODD: By the way, doesn't that make you feel better about Mr. Mueller, that he fired him before anybody brought it up --

SEN. GRAHAM: Oh it does, it does. Absolutely

CHUCK TODD: -- before it became some right wing conspiracy

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Absolutely. It makes me feel good about Mr. Mueller but it doesn't make me feel good about Mr. Strzok. Here's what one of the emails said, to Miss Lace he was writing. "I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy's office, that there's no way he gets election, but I'm afraid we can't take that risk. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely you die before you're 40". This is the guy in charge of investigating Clinton, who called Trump an idiot. When you look at those emails, he had a political bias against Trump. But I want to know who was in, in was in Andy's office. And I want to know did this FBI agent feel like he had to take the law in his own hands and create an insurance policy against an outcome of an election that he may not have liked.

CHUCK TODD: Do you think it was a political bias? How do you know it wasn't something that he had found in his investigation?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I want to know what the insurance policy was. He was fired by Mr. Mueller, correctly. But I don't think the Department of Justice can investigate themselves. Mr. -- or the number 4 guy at the Department of Justice wife worked for Fusion GPS, the group that produced the dossier. Did Mr. Ohr interact with Mr. Steele? If he did, that's a conflict of interest. During the time that Mr. Steele was being an informant for the FBI, we now know he was shopping the dossier to out--journalist outlets all over the world, which is inconsistent, in my view, with being a reliable informant. There's a bunch of stuff about the Department of Justice, how they conducted themselves, that need to be looked at just as much as Trump needs to be looked at. Now I'm gonna insist that a special counsel look at these things.

CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you though. To tie Mr. Steele with the word criminal unnerved folks that are friends and allies of yours. Here's Mark Salter, longtime aide to Senator McCain. He writes to you on twitter, he writes this. "From all credible accounts, Steele is a solid guys, who was so worried that America's enemy, Putin, had compromising info on Trump that he exposed himself to risk to bring it to the attention of US law enforcement. That's the act of an ally not a criminal." And then he directs that comment to you. What would you say to Mr. Salter about Mr. Steele's integrity?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yea, I don't know Mr. Steele. All I can tell you is what I've seen in the classified file. Mr. Steele was on the payroll of Fusion GPS, who was being paid by the Democratic Party to do opposition research on Donald Trump. That while he was working with the FBI, he was shopping this dossier all over the world. That's not what an informant should do. I don't want Lindsey Graham to make these decisions. I want a special counsel to look at not only how Mr. Steele conducted himself, what the FBI did with the dossier, whether Mr. Ohr, who's wife worked for Fusion GPS alongside Mr. Steele, what involvement did he have in the dossier. And I want to find out if the lead investigator of the Clinton email investigation had a political bias against Trump for Clinton to the point that it was a sham investigation. I don't know all these things but I can tell you somebody needs to look. If you believe Robert Mueller should be looking at the Trump campaign, count me in. But if you ignore all this stuff, you're blind.

CHUCK TODD: Mr. Steele's not an American citizen.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.

CHUCK TODD: Do you want him, do you want him extradited?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, he was asked to appear before our committee. Come in and tell us what you did. In a public filing in England, he was sued for libel based on the dossier. He said in response to the lawsuit that he didn't give the document to Buzzfeed but he did give it to journalists throughout the world, talked about the contents of the dossier. Mr. Comey told President Trump, "Here's this dossier. It's unverified." I don't think an informant for the F.B.I. should be taking the product and shopping it around to journalists throughout the world. The system doesn't work that way. Let somebody other than Senator Graham look at this. I think Mr. Ohr had a conflict of interest if he worked with Mr. Steele, because his wife worked with Mr. Steele. And this F.B.I. agent that Mr. Mueller fired, the way he conducted the Clinton email investigation should scare us all. It could be Trump today, you tomorrow. So the F.B.I. needs to play by the rules too. I support Mr. Mueller, but somebody needs to look at the Department of Justice.

CHUCK TODD: Senator, you are painting, you are painting a picture of a lawless Department of Justice and a lawless F.B.I., totally filled with political partisanship. Do you really believe this?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: I believe that Mr. Strzok was a political hack. I believe that Mr. Ohr had a conflict of interest. His wife worked for the organization that produced the dossier. And if he interacted with Mr. Steele, that is wrong. I believe Mr. Mueller fired Mr. Strzok for a reason. But that's not the end of the inquiry. I believe there's plenty of evidence that the Russians interacted with the Trump campaign and Mr. Mueller's going to get to the bottom of it. The F.B.I. is a great organization. But no organization is subject, can't be looked at. If you're not worried about Mr. Strzok being in charge of the Clinton email investigation, given his attitude toward the Clintons and Trump and what he said, then I think you're blind to the fact that this whole, this whole investigation needs to be looked at independently.

CHUCK TODD: I've got to ask you something. The president sort of joked with you the other day and he said, "Boy, Lindsey used to be a great enemy of mine, and now he's a great friend of mine." What's changed? A lot of, a lot of your friends have been asking me that, going, "Hey, ask the senator why he's suddenly cozying up to President Trump." What would you say to them?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Because he's president of the United States, he's going to make a decision about immigration, I've been working on for a decade. He's president of the United States, going to make a decision about North Korea, which is one of the biggest threats to the world at large. He's going to decide whether or not to stay in the Iranian agreement. I've enjoyed his company. He beat me like a dog. I've said everything I know to say about him. I, I used every adjective on the planet. I lost, he won. And I feel an obligation to help him where I can. I've enjoyed working with him. I don't think he's crazy. I think he's had a very successful 2017. And I want to help him where I can. And we should all want him to be successful. He's got a lot on his plate.

CHUCK TODD: If he asks you to serve at his cabinet, would you say yes?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: No.

CHUCK TODD: Okay. That's definitive. No ifs, ands, or buts. We will not be hearing the name Secretary Graham on any cabinet agency?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: You got it.

CHUCK TODD: Okay. Senator Graham, that got a laugh from the in studio audience from here. Anyway sir--

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: That’s a hard crowd too.

CHUCK TODD: Thank you for coming on and sharing your views as always sir. Happy New Year.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you, thank you.

CHUCK TODD: All right.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD: When we come back, the economy is strong and President Trump often brags about job growth under his leadership. But how is he really doing on bringing jobs back? That's next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, it's Data Download time. After a rocky first year in office, President Trump consistently points to one highlight: a strong economy. That includes a booming stock market, with the Dow climbing 25% and the unemployment rate sitting at a paltry 4.1%.

But what about when it comes to jobs? Well, it was a good year, but maybe not as good as President Trump wants you to think. There were actually more jobs created in 2016, President Obama's last year in office, over 2.2 million, than in 2017, President Trump's first year, about 2 million. 2017 was actually the weakest year for job growth since 2010. Maybe a sign that a relatively good economy doesn't have much more room for growth.

But what about the jobs President Trump promised voters he'd bring back during his campaign, specifically manufacturing and coal mining? Well, both industries have seen slight upticks of 1.6% each. But they have a long way to go. But that's not nothing.

But even with all of this good news, there are still some economic challenges, including labor force participation and wages. In 2017, the percentage of the population that was actively seeking a job was actually down marginally and that was even with all of the good news about the economy, which should have lured more of these workers back. So, while wages were marginally up, about 60 cents an hour, there was not really a marked improvement there.

Altogether, the numbers from 2017, while good, they’re not yet great. They were better than some years, worse than others. President Trump will take credit for at least some of the good job numbers, as all presidents do. But in truth, the jobs numbers from 2017 look more like a continuation of the recovery trends set in recent years than a new or better direction.

When we come back, End Game, and why is it that Attorney General Jeff Sessions suddenly is so interested in threatening the legal marijuana business?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:Back now with endgame and we're wondering this morning what ever happened to the "don't tread on me" Republican party. This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did away with the hands-off approach in enforcing federal marijuana laws in states where it's been legalized. Federal prosecutors now can use their own discretion in deciding whether, and how, to enforce anti-pot laws in states where it's legal to grow, buy, and sell. Now, in addition to the move on the marijuana industry, the Trump administration also opened up offshore drilling, including in states that don't want it, even like Florida, where his buddy Rick Scott pushed back. And it has threatened to punish states with so-called sanctuary cities. It's a far cry from "don't tread on me." Then again, Democrats are always for states' rights when the Republicans run the federal government, and the Republicans love states' rights when the Democrats run the federal government. But still, Joy Reid, I thought the most fascinating thing about the pot decision with Jeff Sessions is I have yet to see a single Republican elected official praise the decision.

JOY-ANN REID:Well, right, because it doesn't sort of go with their states' rights mantra. But I think, you know, what you're seeing out of the Justice Department is the answer to the question of why Jeff Sessions puts up with the ritual humiliation of himself by Donald Trump. Having this job is allowing him to pursue some of his long-time obsessions. And I think besides stopping non-European immigration, his other big obsession has been marijuana. And he has this personal belief that it is the worst drug in the world. And that he personally is on a mission to stop its legalization. And because you have a White House that is what it is, with a president that is who Michael Wolff has described him to be, it frees this attorney general to pursue those obsessions to whatever degree he wants. The Republicans don't care, as long as they're getting what they want, they're allowing him to do it.

CHUCK TODD:But to defend the attorney general here, as the spokesperson said, they don't make law. They enforce law. If Congress wants to change the law, they should do it. Congress, they beat their chests, some of them, but I don't see anybody offering up a bill here yet.

MARK LEIBOVICH:Well, yeah. Offering up a bill would require a fight. I mean, it would require actually going on the record about this. I mean, look, as far as what Jeff Sessions is doing, I mean, this is all going to be executed by prosecutors. And what will be interesting is just to watch the prosecutors who want to sort of selectively find the marijuana user in Denver.

CHUCK TODD:See, I don't buy that they will if they ever want to run for office in Colorado.

MARK LEIBOVICH:Well, but maybe they don't. I mean, what if they just decided they have the same pet issue as Jeff Sessions does, and then all of a sudden you have these cause celebs popping up all over the place who are in grave criminal jeopardy? So.

CHUCK TODD:I'll put up a quick poll here. It is the least-polarizing issue in America right now, David Brooks. Literally, over 50% support among Democrats, independents, and Republicans. It is the only social issue where you actually, where the lines are actually moved together.

DAVID BROOKS:Yeah, the argument against it is that for upper-middle class kids, weed is fine. But there are nine million people, men, outside the labor force. And they can't pass a drug test and they can't get a job. And for those guys, the prevalence of weed is a problem. And so I can see there is a little argument for it. The Sessions thing is interesting to me because you've got all these people in Trump world, like Sessions, like Lindsey Graham, who are trying to do something good for the country, or what they believe is good for the country, and they're stuck working with this guy Trump. And they're stuck in an administration which is a snake pit with no sense of camaraderie, no sense of teamwork. And so they're in this miserable position, they're trying to do something good for the country, as they see it, whether you agree or not. And they're stuck dealing with this madhouse. And I sort of have some respect for the way they're trying to struggle through this problem.

JOY-ANN REID:But can I just say that this is, you know, the war on drugs, particularly the war on weed, has disproportionately destroyed the lives of particularly African Americans and Latinos in this country, who ironically are going to be doubly pursued now, thanks to Jeff Sessions, who isn't exactly a friend to these communities. And then those same people are locked out of the industry as it's being legalized for affluent, namely white Americans, who can then go in, cash rich from California, into places like where I grew up, Denver, start businesses with the cash that they've gotten from Silicon Valley, et cetera. And then the very black and brown people who've been thrown into prison for selling the exact same drug come out and can't even get a license to sell it legally. So, I mean, Jeff Sessions is destroying lives. He seems to be in the business of destroying lives. I don't see it as doing a thing that's good for the country.

DANIELLE PLETKA:I don't think that's exactly fair. You know, there's a lot of ambivalence among conservatives about pot and about legalization. And I think what we see is the reflection of that. There is little "don't tread on me" libertarian strain that thinks that people should be allowed to do what they want to do. There's the other strain that thinks that drugs are corrosive influence, and they are, in fact, harming the very communities that you talk about. And I don't think that there is much argument that it is very harmful to certain people that can sit around, not work, and have access to drugs legally that perhaps are going to make their fate even worse. But there's another question here, which is very interesting, a subtext. We're all talking about Jeff Sessions as if he's kind of a pretty good, pretty serious guy in this administration. He may not like these decisions, but no one's saying he's the worst man in this administration.

CHUCK TODD:But wait a minute. But here's what's amazing.

JOY-ANN REID:I am.

DANIELLE PLETKA:Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:Except Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who want him to resign, two key members of the Freedom [Caucus], and I know it's Russia related. He doesn't have a friend. If anybody needs a dog in this town, I think it's Jeff Sessions.

MARK LEIBOVICH:Does he have a dog?

CHUCK TODD:He better get one if he wants a friend. The president wants him out. Freedom Caucus members want him out. Now you have angry governors of Washington, California.

DANIELLE PLETKA:But that’s a mark of success in this town.

(OVERTALK)

DANIELLE PLETKA:A year ago, he would have said that he was possibly the worst appointee in this administration. We're not talking like that anymore.

JOY-ANN REID:Can we remember that Donald Trump said, "Where's my Roy Cohn?" And you have Jeff Sessions who's now willing to be his Roy Cohn, pursuing investigations of his former political opponent, willing to turn the Justice Department into a wholly politicized outfit that is essentially being there to mollify the ego and needs of Donald Trump. I'm sorry, but the only reason anyone wants him to hang around is so that Bob Mueller won't be fired in his absence because you'll have a non-recused A.G.

DANIELLE PLETKA:I think the argument that he is Roy Cohn is just a good for Eric Holder.CHUCK TODD:All right, unfortunately, I am past time, but they'll continue this debate, as soon as we’re done. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. It's great to be back in 2018. And we'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:You can see more end game in post game, sponsored by Boeing on the Meet the Press Facebook page.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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