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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, lashing out at Mueller. President Trump says he's finished answering the special counsel's written questions.

DONALD TRUMP:

I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers.

CHUCK TODD:

And goes back on the attack against Robert Mueller.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

It's a hoax. The whole thing is a hoax. There was no collusion.

CHUCK TODD:

With more indictments expected soon, Democrats want a bill to protect Mueller. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says, "No." Lindsey Graham insists the investigation is safe.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I'm confident it is not in jeopardy. I talked to the president last week.

CHUCK TODD:

Could a showdown over Mueller lead to a shutdown of the government? This morning, I'll talk to South Carolina Republican senator, Lindsey Graham. Plus, the C.I.A. determines that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But will President Trump accept that conclusion?

DONALD TRUMP

We also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia.

CHUCK TODD:

Also, the Democrats' Ohio hope.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Let them hear what we say. Let them see what we do.

CHUCK TODD:

Is Sherrod Brown the Democrat who can win back Ohio and working-class voters in the Midwest?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

That is the blueprint for America for 2020.

CHUCK TODD:

He sounds like he's running for president. Is he? My interview this morning with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. And mapquest, why both parties can find encouraging signs and danger signals for 2020 in the midterm results.

Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson; Rich Lowry, editor of National Review; Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour; and CNBC Editor at Large John Harwood. 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:

Well, a good Sunday morning, everybody. For nearly two months, we've heard little from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, nor have we heard much about Mueller from President Trump. They both went quiet. It's possible the silence has worked in Mr. Trump's favor.

The midterm exit poll found that 46% of those polled disapproved of Mueller's handling of the Russia investigation. That's of course, almost exactly equal to the president's job rating and the Republican House vote share. Just 41% approved of the Mueller probe.

But with the midterm elections over, the president unloaded this week on Mueller and his investigation, both in tweets and in an interview with TheDaily Caller. So what led to the outburst? Is it because new indictments are expected soon, possibly including the president's son, Donald Trump, Jr.?

Is it the prospect of a new Democratic majority in the House launching a ton of investigations? Is it the bipartisan criticism of his choice of Mueller critic Matt Whitaker to be the acting attorney general? Or is it simply the fact that the president had to answer any written questions at all from Mueller, which he acknowledged doing this week? Whatever the reason, Mr. Trump is turning up the temperature again on the special counsel, just as the prospect of a government shutdown gets linked to over whether we want to protect Mueller from the president.

REPORTER:

Your answers to the special counsel?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No, we do that next week. They're all done.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump revealing that, after nearly a year of negotiations, he has answered written questions from Robert Mueller.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump accused prosecutors of setting a perjury trap.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I'm sure they're tricked up. Because you know, they like to catch people. You know, was the weather sunny, or was it rainy? He said it may have been a good day. It was rainy. Therefore, he told a lie. He perjured himself.

CHUCK TODD:

On Thursday, the president tweeted, without evidence, that, "Mueller's team is screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want.

REPORTER:

You, on Twitter yesterday, seemed a bit agitated about what you might be perceiving in the Mueller investigation.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No, I'm not agitated. It's a hoax.

CHUCK TODD:

And in an interview with The Daily Caller, when asked about who he's considering as a permanent replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the president immediately brought up the Mueller probe, saying, "It's something that should've never been brought. It's an illegal investigation."

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

In theory, it's not an investigation of me. But as far as I'm concerned, I like to take everything personally. Because you do better that way.

CHUCK TODD:

This week, lawyers challenging the legality of Acting-Attorney General Matt Whitaker's appointment, to their case to the Supreme Court.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:

I think a lot of the questions involving Mr. Whitaker and the acting AG could be eliminated, if we had a nominee.

CHUCK TODD:

As a commentator on CNN, Whitaker floated ways to weaken the Mueller probe by defunding it. And last week, Vox reported that he privately provided advice to the president last year on how he might be able to pressure the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Trump's political adversaries, including Hillary Clinton and even pressured the Justice Department to name a second special counsel to investigate her.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

Why in the world we would be so sanguine about this and allow it to happen just is beyond me.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake is making it clear he won't vote for any more of the president's judicial nominees, until the Senate votes on a bill to protect Mueller's job.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

Whitaker has expressed hostility toward this probe. He's suggested ways to diminish it, to starve it of funding, for example.

CHUCK TODD:

And there's this threat from Democrats.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

If Whitaker does not recuse himself, we Democrats are going to attempt to add legislation to the must-pass spending bill in the lame duck session that will prevent Acting-Attorney General Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation in any way.

CHUCK TODD:

But so far, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to bring any Mueller bill to the floor.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

We know how the president feels about the Mueller investigation. But he's never said he wants to shut it down.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is likely to be the next head of the Judiciary Committee next year. Senator Graham, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

And I don't mean to get ahead of things on Judiciary. I know that that is not a done deal yet. But it is likely.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Not yet.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with something that Senator McConnell said there at the end of our piece, that -- the president, you know despite all of the noise, the president hasn't threatened to shut it down. He has, quite a bit on Twitter, wanted it shut down, has sort of said, in the ether, he would like it to have -- be shut down. Are you confident the president or the acting attorney general is not going to shut down this probe?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah, I'm very confident. It would be a disaster for the Republican Party for the Mueller investigation to be terminated or shut down or played with this close to the end. Let's see what he finds. I can understand why the president doesn't like the investigation. He feels wronged by it. I remember the Clinton-Ken Starr episode pretty well. This is sort of standard practice. But I think most Republicans on Capitol Hill, and Democrats, believe that Mr. Mueller should be allowed to do his job. And I have no indication he's going to be interfered with at all.

CHUCK TODD:

I know you have said you would support this bill, this Mueller, essentially, the Muller protection bill.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

YEAH.

CHUCK TODD:

I think you voted for it in committee --

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

-- in the Judiciary. Democrats have talked about connecting it to the spending bill and using their votes in the House that will be needed as leverage. Do you support that move?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I don’t -- not really but I’ll -- I think Mitch should bring it to the floor, and let's vote on it. Jeff Flake says he's not going to support judges, until we get a vote on the Mueller protection bill, which I wrote, by the way. Some people think it's unconstitutional. I feel good about it. So I think the best thing the Senate could do is just bring it to the floor and vote on it.

CHUCK TODD:

Why won't the senator do that? Why won't Senator McConnell do that? He seems pretty adamant. We've read -- we’ve had our own reporting about this, it’s pretty, that Senator Flake and Senator McConnell got into it a little bit. You were probably in the room.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

What can you tell us about why Senator McConnell is, is the roadblock here?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, he thinks it's unconstitutional. He thinks it's not necessary. Again, I helped draft the bill with Senator Booker. I think it's constitutional, and I'd like to vote on it. But having said all that, I don't see any indication at all that the Mueller probe's going to be interfered with by Mr. Whitaker or President Trump. But he's the majority leader, not me. But if it were up to me, we'd be voting on the bill and see where the votes are at.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the gambit by Democrats to connect it to the, to the spending bill, threatening a shutdown, will change Senator McConnell's mind?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Oh, I don't know. Once you give in to that kind of stuff, it never ends. It might actually be counterproductive. Because as majority leader, they've got 1,000 demands. And if they link all of them to shutting down the government, it's probably counterproductive to threaten that, I would think.

CHUCK TODD:

You met, this week, with the new acting attorney general.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

A couple things, you said that it would be a mistake, a disaster for Republicans, earlier in our interview here, that if they even messed with it at all. Are you confident that the new acting attorney general is letting the probe go? He's not, he’s not going to touch funding, not going to interfere at all?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah, I am. He said that he's going to support the regular order process. Under the law, special counsels report to the deputy attorney general and any recommendations are sent up to the attorney general, in this case, the acting attorney general. He said he's going to let regular order prevail here. In other words, he's not going to reach out and try to stop the investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

So he’s letting --

(OVER TALK)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

He's not going to try to cut off funding.

CHUCK TODD:

Does this mean Rod Rosenstein still oversees Mueller?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

He's in the chain of command. The initial report comes to the deputy attorney general, whatever the request is by the special counsel. And that goes up to the acting attorney general for final approval. He's in the chain of command. But the final decision making would be by Mr. Whitaker.

CHUCK TODD:

After meeting with him, if the president nominated him as a permanent replacement, could you imagine supporting him?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Too early to tell. You know, he was U.S. attorney for five and a half years. He was Sessions' deputy for a year and a half. He said some things that would be probably problematic to be confirmed. But having said that, I was very impressed with his attitude, his professionalism. And he's got a very solid resume. So I would encourage the president to pick somebody fairly soon, so we can have a permanent attorney general going into the first part of next year.

CHUCK TODD:

Does that mean not Mr. Whitaker, when you say you'd like him to nominate someone very soon?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No, I mean, that's up to the president. You asked me about Mr. Whitaker. I have nothing against him. I don't know if he's the best choice. You hear about Mr. Barr, former attorney general. That's a good choice. There are a lot of good names out there. I would just encourage the president to start 2019 as soon as we can, with a new attorney general that he has confidence in, and we can get confirmed.

CHUCK TODD:

The fact that you name dropped the former attorney general, Mr. Barr, does that mean that's your preference, that's your first choice?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No. It means I read the paper, and his name's been in it a lot. (laughter) It won't be me. Let's end with that. It's not going to be me. He's got a lot of good choices. I'm not one of them.

CHUCK TODD:

I take your point on that one. Let me ask you about, you have, you have indicated an openness to a second special counsel. You're now likely going to be head of the Judiciary Committee. Why jump to a second special counsel, when it comes to the F.B.I.'s handling of all of these investigations? Why can't you do it first? Why can't it be done in Congress, before you decide you need a special counsel?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, the one thing I'm not suggesting is that we go back and try to re-prosecute Secretary Clinton. That's not what I'm suggesting. I am suggesting that the people in the Department of Justice and F.B.I., in the early stages of the Russia investigation, the dossier was used to get a FISA warrant that I think was very inappropriate. There seems to be some political bias about how the Clinton email investigation was handled. We need to get to the bottom of all that. But I'm not suggesting we prosecute her. And let me take a shot at this. And maybe you're right. Maybe the committee can do it. But I'll let you know more early next year. But we're going to definitely look at this stuff.

CHUCK TODD:

Speaking of the committee, let's be frank. It feels as if Senators Grassley and Feinstein, the relationship broke apart, okay? And we can come up with a lot of theories as to why. What are you going to do to repair the damage that was done during the Kavanaugh hearings of the Judiciary Committee?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, the Kavanaugh hearings were, I think, did a lot of damage to the committee and to the judiciary. And we've got to start all over. The good thing about elections, Chuck, it's a restart. It's a reset of democracy. We've got a new group of people coming in. It's a fresh start. I like Dianne. I don't think she did anything inappropriate, individually, in the Kavanaugh hearing. I will work with her the best I can. Prison and sentencing reform. I know you're going to ask me about that.

CHUCK TODD:

I am. We'll get to that, I promise.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, I think there's something, I know, I think there’s something we can do in the lame duck here. But I promised Dianne and all the Democrats on the committee to try to find a way to do something on immigration. There are a lot of things we could do on that committee in a bipartisan fashion.

CHUCK TODD:

What it really means is you're in the middle of a lot of stuff. And in fact, I do have a lot to get to here. I want to go to Saudi Arabia here for a minute. We, here at NBC News, have confirmed that the C.I.A. has concluded that the crown prince himself, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the assassination of the Washington Post journalist and columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Do you accept that assessment?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I haven't been briefed. But I believed, from day one, that 15 people, 18, whatever the number was, they don't get on two airplanes, go to Turkey, and chop a guy up in the consulate, who's a critic of the crown prince, without the crown prince having known about it and sanctioned it. If you know anything about Saudi Arabia and anything about MBS, the fact that he didn't know about it is impossible for me to believe. If he is going to be the face and the voice of Saudi Arabia, going forward, I think the kingdom will have a hard time on the world stage. They're an important ally. But when it comes to the crown prince, he's irrational. He's unhinged. And I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. And I have no intention of working with him ever again.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, well, the president seems hesitant to name MBS, which is what he's affectionately known, using Mohammed bin Salman, there for viewers. But I noticed he was not on the sanctions list. Is that a mistake?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, I want to see what the C.I.A. says. But I'm working with Senator Menendez to, to invoke the Magnitsky Act to all concerned. And we're not going to make these 15 Saudi security agents the, the fall guy here. I'm going to do whatever I can to place blame where I believe it lies. I'm going to put it at the feet of the crown prince, who has been a destructive force in the Mideast. He embargoed Qatar without telling anybody. This war in Yemen's gotten completely out of control. He put the prime minister of Lebanon under house arrest. Clearly, this guy's a wrecking ball, when it comes to the Mideast and a relationship with the United States. And I hate to say that, because I had a lot of hope for him for being the reformer that Saudi Arabia needs. But that ship has sailed, as far as Lindsey Graham's concerned.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think the president and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, who I know became quite close to MBS, why are they so insistent on trying to, trying to salvage MBS here?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, I think it's an important relationship. And I'm not telling Saudi Arabia who to make crown prince or who to put in charge of their country. It's up to them. I am trying to tell them and the world that, when it comes to the crown prince that exists today, I think he has been a -- he has showed a lack of appreciation for the relationship.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

He's stepped all over our values. He's put us in a box. And I'll leave it up to the president to find out how to handle Saudi Arabia from the executive-branch side. From the legislative-branch side, we're going to do as much as we can, as hard as we can, to send a signal to the world, "This is not the way we expect an ally to act." What happened in Turkey --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

-- violates every norm of civilized society. And it will not stand. And if John McCain were alive today, he'd be the first one saying that.

CHUCK TODD:

The crown prince's brother is, of course, the ambassador to the United States. His phone call to Khashoggi is one of the pieces of evidence used to conclude that, yes, this was an order from, from MBS. Should be be welcomed back to the United States ever again, as an ambassador?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, fair enough. Let me move to criminal justice reform. I had a feeling that was -- that would be your answer to that question. Let me--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

There's a theme in my answers here, I think.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, oh, yes. No, no, no. I think it's pretty crystal clear where you stand on this. Let me ask you about the criminal justice reform bill. Because--

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Politico wrote this about Tom Cotton's opposition to it, noting this: "On Thursday, he stepped up his public potshots at what he's called a, quote, 'jailbreak proposal.' It's a counter-campaign that one fellow senator believes came at the request of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell." Do you believe the majority leader is trying to quietly kill this bill in the lame-duck?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No, not really. Because Tom Cotton's had this view from day one. What we're talking about is, basically, creating a new sentencing system that will give African American male and Hispanic male detainees a chance to get out of jail, earning their way out of jail. They've been in jail 30 and 40 years for three nonviolent, drug-related offenses, and change our sentencing system to make it more humane and more productive. Tom has been on the other side of this. There's 80 votes for this. It's the most-important bipartisan piece of legislation in the Congress today. It would make prisons a better place to get people the skills they need to not go back to prison. And it will also change the way we put people in jail. The average sentence in America is eight times higher than anywhere else in the world. For nonviolent offenders, we've got people in jail for 30 and 40 years. Some of them need to get out of jail and go back to work. And I'm urging Mitch McConnell, put this bill on the floor. If you put it on the floor, we'll get 80 votes. We'll get most Republicans and almost all Democrats. And let's do it before the end of the year. And the president's behind it. So Mr. President, pick up the phone and call the Republican leadership of the House and the Senate and say, "We still run this place." Bring this bill to the floor. Senator Cotton can have his say. And we'll vote him down.

CHUCK TODD:

But this, you believe, the president is going to have to start lobbying Mitch McConnell.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Because you guys have done everything you could. And you haven't been able to get him to budge.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah. You know what? The country needs to heal here. And one way to bring this country together, after the midterms, is to focus on something that matters. I never dreamed that this many Republicans and Democrats would embrace sentencing reform and prison reform. Three strikes, and you're out has not worked. Now is the time to get it right. Let's start 2019 on a positive note. I'm urging Senator McConnell to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate. It would get 80 votes. Mr. President, pick up the phone and push the republican leadership. The Republicans are the problem here, not the Democrats. Cory Booker's been very helpful in getting us to yes. There's been some compromises to keep it from being a jailbreak. So I'm ready to vote.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Lindsey Graham, you had your caffeine this morning, sir. Much appreciated. Always fun to have you on to have you share your views. Thank you, sir. Have a good Thanksgiving.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Thank you, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the future of the Mueller probe, the fallout from the midterms, and the prospect of a government shutdown. Washington is back, and the panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here: CNBC Editor at Large John Harwood, Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour; NBC News Chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson; and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. All right, I want to react here a little bit to Lindsey Graham. John Harwood, it, there was a bit of a theme in the various questions, whether it's the Mueller protection bill, up to Mitch McConnell, criminal justice reform bill, up to Mitch McConnell. But you saw the passion of Lindsey Graham. He's ready to fight on one and not fight as much on the other.

JOHN HARWOOD:

I was fascinated by his vehemence on that criminal justice reform bill and I do think that Mitch McConnell reflects some residual resistance within the Republican base. But I think if we look at the results of the midterm elections, we can see the country moving toward the spirit of criminal justice reform. In Florida, when Ron DeSantis was elected governor, and it appears that Rick Scott was elected senator, more than 60% of Floridians voted to restore voting rights for felons, 1.5 million people. That's to the detriment of the Republican Party. Yet, Republican and Democratic voters came together to do it. I think, whether or not this criminal justice reform bill happens in this lame duck or at some point down the road, we are headed in that direction.

CHUCK TODD:

Hallie, he wants the president to pick up the phone, call Mitch McConnell, and tell him to do this. Sounds like he thinks the White House isn't pushing hard enough.

HALLIE JACKSON:

Well, there are people inside the White House who are trying to push this, notably, Jared Kushner, of course, who's been the big driver when it comes to this bill that we're talking about here. Mitch McConnell, remember, told Kushner, according to a White House official, in September-ish, "Don't do this before the midterms. If you hold off, you know, making the commitment, I'll give you a floor vote. I'll give you a whip count, not a floor vote, but at least a whip count. And if you can get there, we'll do it after the midterms." Will Mitch McConnell keep his word to Jared Kushner? It's an interesting one.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich?

RICH LOWRY:

Notably, on the other side of the ledger, he was markedly cool about his own proposal to effect Mueller, which I think reflects it has zero chance of getting Republican support in the Senate. Two, it is probably unconstitutional. I don't know how you can really constrain the president from firing an executive official of this nature. And if you want an investigation that the president, in theory, can't influence or shutter, you have to do it out of Congress, which is obviously, that's going to happen in the House.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

If I could bring it back to criminal justice quickly, I was at the Capitol all week talking to lawmakers about this criminal justice bill. And make it very clear, this is a criminal justice bill that could be the most-significant criminal justice reform of a generation. People at the National Action Network, who was, is, who is the party, who is the organization of Al Sharpton, there were a lot of lawmakers there that were very, very weary of this. They wanted a lot more sentencing reforms than the House bill passed. Come back to Friday, I had a very long conversation with Cory Booker and he said, "I am going to be behind this bill. I don't care about the politics." He doesn't care about the fact that this might be look like a win for President Trump. And it's because people think that families who were sentenced and who had these issues in the '90s and '80s deserve to be able to have some of these sentences on crack cocaine and cocaine, powder cocaine redone.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. It sounds like that Lindsey graham is saying the same thing, saying, "Hey, Democrats aren't standing in the way here. It's Republicans." I want to go to the idea of the Democrats using the budget, John, to force a Mueller vote here. Is that worth the capital that they would be spending?

JOHN HARWOOD:

Doubt it. I don't think that Democrats, right after an election in which they've won control of the House of Representatives, want to make a shutdown their first priority. By the same token, I don't think we're going to have a shutdown, because they don't fund the wall. I think these threats are made kind of casually these days. I, I think both parties have learned that it's a losing game and I would not expect to have a government shutdown.

CHUCK TODD:

You are way too optimistic. I, I, I, but I think it's funny. I mean, December 7th, for the spending bill deadline, why do I have a feeling we're at least going to stretch this to, close to the Christmas Eve witching hour?

HALLIE JACKSON:

Because you've been around the block before, Chuck, right? This ain't your first rodeo. I will say this. I think there's going to be some movement this coming week. I spoke with a source familiar with the matter, actually, overnight, who tells me that the president's legal team expects to submit the answers to Robert Mueller's written questions before Thanksgiving. So we're looking at probably Tuesday or Wednesday that we will all learn that the president has submitted that. I'm curious to see what the sort of framing of that will be, if the president's team will say, "And now, we're done." Because there's a couple of critical pieces of context. Those questions did not relate to obstruction of justice because the president's legal team refused to engage on that with Robert Mueller, despite that being, obviously, a key piece of the investigation. Additionally, they're written questions, which means the president's team can figure out what they want to do. The president told reporters on the South Lawn, as far as what happens next, "We haven't even talked about whether or not to sit down with Robert Mueller." That's just not true. We know, for months, based on our reporting, that the president has had these conversations. His legal team doesn't want, want him to. And now, the president is saying, this morning, "This is probably it." There will probably be no more questions, written or in person, at all, no questions at all on obstruction, and nothing else as far as his view on the special counsel. Huge caveat, this is a president who can change his mind and might.

JOHN HARWOOD:

Hallie, I'm flattered that you think it's my first rodeo.

HALLIE JACKSON:

No, no. That's not what I meant. Oh, man. Now I'm in real trouble.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, but Rich, you know, we only know the president's version of all of this. We don't know why he did the written answers. Did he do it under threat of subpoena? Did he do it because he knows a subpoena's coming, it's not coming? You know, Mueller hasn't spoken. That's a big reminder here.

RICH LOWRY:

Well, there's clearly been some back and forth over the questions, which you would expect of any special counsel and any president. But I think the most under-discussed story is, up to this point, despite Trump pounding on Mueller constantly, the White House has cooperated with this probe. And I think it's really impossible to shutter the probe at this point because if you fire Mueller, he will show up in January as Jerry Nadler's first witness before the Judiciary Committee and tell everything he knows, so it's too late.

CHUCK TODD:

Then what, then why do this Whitaker dance, at the end of the day? Why do that? Because it now seems more head-scratching all the time.

RICH LOWRY:

It was, I think, primarily an act of vengeance against Jeff Sessions, whom he never forgave for the recusal.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

And I also don't get the sense that Matt Whitaker is going to end up being the person who is named permanently, based on what we know from our reporting.

CHUCK TODD:

Lindsey Graham seemed to.

HALLIE JACKSON:

Lindsey Graham seemed pretty psyched about it. But Pam Bondi is somebody whose name comes up again and again in these conversations, as well as John Ratcliffe, by the way, who is emerging as another potential pick.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think it comes back to the fact that the president could not stand one more day with Jeff Sessions. I mean, the Jeff Sessions, the reporting is that Jeff Sessions offered to resign multiple times. The reporting is that the president has berated him in front of other cabinet members. And of course, we've all seen him on Twitter say, "This guy is getting on my nerves. I need him to go."

RICH LOWRY:

It's like he was watching his watch.

JOHN HARWOOD:

But the president, over time, has increasingly yielded to his visceral impulses and I think Matt Whitaker reflects that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I've got to ask quickly, MBS, do you think the United States government, under President Trump, will sanction MBS?

JOHN HARWOOD:

No.

RICH LOWRY:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Echo. So how does this get resolved? That is, Lindsey Graham, not going to carry water for Saudi Arabia. That was crystal clear as he, you know. I love the abrupt answer he gave me about MBS' brother.

HALLIE JACKSON:

“No.” Right.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

He said, "I will never work with him again."

CHUCK TODD:

So then what? Where does this go?

HALLIE JACKSON:

Well, the question is, that's exactly the question, Chuck. Because the thing is, our reporting is that a source familiar with the matter tells us that the C.I.A. has made the determination, right, that MBS is behind it, of course. And so the president is doing this dance. He's got his son-in-law, who is, obviously, close with MBS.

CHUCK TODD:

Mike Pompeo put out that statement yesterday that basically contradicted his former deputy.

HALLIE JACKSON:

But knocking down, kind of a strawman by saying, "The conclusion is not final." Well, of course, right? But but so this administration has had a history, in the past, of when controversial things come up, they sort of back-burner it, back-burner it, back-burner it. And I wonder if that is something that may end up happening here.

CHUCK TODD:

That's what it feels like. All right, guys. We're going to pause here. When we come back, Ohio looks more and more Republican. Can the Democrats even win the state in a presidential election? Well, Sherrod Brown thinks he can win the state because he just won it. But is he running for president? The Democratic senator from Ohio joins me next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The midterm elections marked the beginning of the 2020 presidential race. And there's no shortage of Democrats who have suggested they're interested in running against President Trump. It's such a long list I, as you can see, I have to use a scroll. But one hurdle any Democrat faces is Ohio. President Trump won the state by eight points. And Ohio Republicans held onto all of their congressional seats and won every statewide race last week, except one, partisan statewide race.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

That is the blueprint for America for 2020.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Ah, a hint, perhaps, that Sherrod Brown wants to run and knows how to win as a Democrat in an increasingly red state? Brown has been the subject of growing speculation about a possible presidential campaign. And guess what, he joins me now this morning from Cleveland. Senator Brown, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Good to be back. Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with you were out this week, talking about another race in 2018. And it was in Georgia and Stacey Abrams. It was before she had acknowledged her defeat. She has now admitted defeat, didn't call it a concession. But I want to ask you about something you said this week about Georgia. Let me play it.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

If Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it. It's clear. It's clear. And I would say, I say that publicly. It's clear.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Strong language to throw that out there. You believe, today, that this is a stolen race, that basically, Brian Kemp is, is somebody who's illegally governor right-- or governor-elect of Georgia.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, I think you look at the lead-up to this election as secretary of state -- and I was the secretary of state in Ohio 30 years ago. I know what you do, as secretary of state. You encourage people to vote. You don't purge millions of voters. You don't close down polling places in rural areas where voters have difficulty getting to the polls, which were mostly low-income areas. You don't do what Republicans are doing all over the country. And you've seen it, Chuck. You've seen the kind of voter suppression that, all over this country. And you end with the secretary of state of Georgia should have recused himself from running that election, as Jimmy -- as former -- Georgia resident, former-President Jimmy Carter said he should. And clearly, he did everything he could to put his thumb on the scale and won that election, quote unquote, "won" that election by only about a point.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess I would ask this. Couldn't you bring up all of those, all of those issues, lay all of that out, without using the word, stolen? And I throw that out there, because we have enough distrust in our institutions as it is. --

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well -- don’t, wait, don’t --

CHUCK TODD:

--Does that add to it?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Okay, Chuck. Don't do the false equivalency of, of, of, the, you know, the lack of respect in institutions. I mean, we have a president that attacks your profession day after day after day. You, if you saw the earlier part of my election-night speech, you would've heard me thank the media. And you would've seen hundreds of people in Ohio, on the Democratic -- at this election-night gathering, turn around and clap for the media. We see a president that goes after the courts, that goes after the judicial system, a president that says, as the votes were counted, that something's been wrong with the elections. He criticizes the elections that way. So don't play this false equivalency. Because a former secretary of state, like me, said that about this election, which clearly is an effort to suppress the vote, not of people that look like you and me, Chuck--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

--but people of color especially. And it's happened. Now spend your air time-- I don't mean to lecture--

CHUCK TODD:

No, no, no, I, look --

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

-- but spend your airtime critical of those people who are trying to suppress the vote.

CHUCK TODD:

And we spend a lot of time criticizing that, too. I'm just asking you about choice of words and language.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

But I take your point. Let's talk about the presidency. You seem to be very comfortable, now, saying, "Yeah, okay. People are calling me. It is something I'm thinking about." What are the, what are the reasons, what are the reasons you're going to tick through to decide whether you're going to do this or not?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, we've known each other long enough, I think you know that I've not had this lifelong desire to be president. My dream was to play centerfield for the Cleveland Indians. I, I think that door is probably shut by now. But --

CHUCK TODD:

Analytics aside, though, you never know. We--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

We know.

CHUCK TODD:

-- They use a lot more players these days.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I'm going to go talk to Bill James and see if it's still possible. I, on election night and after the election, Connie and I heard from so many people around the country, including some, a lot of labor activists, a lot of Democratic Party activists, a lot of citizens that think that a message, not just a message, but a career fighting for workers, where, where the dignity -- I won, I won my election, because I talk about the dignity of work. Whether you, whether you swipe a badge or punch a clock, whether you work for tips, or whether you're working a salary, whether you're taking care of parents and aging parents or raising children, we don't pay enough attention to the dignity of work. Too many people in this country work hard every day, pay their dues, never get ahead, don't have the kind of retirement security they should. That's why I won Ohio. You know, whether I run or not, I'm hopeful that narrative, that message, begins to be part of that narra-- be part of the narrative among, among my colleagues who want to be president and who've dreamed of it, frankly, for longer than I have.

CHUCK TODD:

You know a lot of them, do you think an Elizabeth Warren could carry Ohio, Joe Biden could carry Ohio with your message?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I think that, if people carry this message of the dignity of work, of honoring people and respecting work, under-- make the contrast between the phony populism of Donald Trump, where the White House looks like a retreat for Wall Street executives, and the real populism, where populism is not racist. It's not anti-Semitic. It doesn't push some people down to lift others up. I think any one of them can win my state, if they make that contrast between the phony populism of Donald Trump and the dignity of work and all that we stand for, and have the ba-- the Democratic Party has always been the party of, "We have your back," of working families. That's what I fight for every day in the Senate.

CHUCK TODD:

You, you won your reelection. And a person that you first defeated to get into the United States Senate, someone you defeated handily, Mike DeWine, also won the governorship. And it's clear that there were some people who voted for both of you. Who do you think was the DeWine-Brown voter? And why do you think Richard Cordray struggled?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I think Ohio's becoming a lot -- is just becoming a more and more conservative state. Trump won the state by almost double digits. Obviously, I won enough of those voters, because I don't look at people as Trump voters or Clinton voters. I look at voters as workers and citizens. And I think that a lo -- I mean, it's been, it’s been my career of fighting for workers that really helped me win that race. And maybe some of those people, apparently, voted for Mike DeWine, too. I don't really know that. But I do know that a career where I’ve spoken out on -- one of my first votes in Congress was against the North American Free Trade Agreement. And I supported, 20 years ago, I supported marriage equality and opposed the Iraq War, a long -- a long career of, as a progressive, outspoken, getting things done, always through the prism of workers.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, if you run and win the presidency, a Republican governor would appoint your replacement. And believe it or not, you know, Slate, somebody at Slate is already writing that that's actually a reason you shouldn't run, writing this, "Ultimately, the question hanging over Brown isn't whether he's a good candidate or even a great one. It's whether he's so much better than the other 2020 contenders that it would be worth waving his Senate seat goodbye." Is that a reason for you to decide yes or no? Is that even a fair reason to throw at you?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, I think a lot of people have a lot of times on their hands, to project that out.

CHUCK TODD:

I do too, actually.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Twenty-fou-- well, actually, more than 24 months, 26 months, whatever. I don't know. I mean, Connie and I are still thinking about this. It's an intensely personal decision with my wife and my children. My grandchildren don't know enough to know what it means. But it would, it would change their lives. And I need to be aware of all of that, as I make this decision.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you a couple things about the upcoming lame duck session.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think Democrats should leverage their votes, particularly in the House, for this spending bill with the Muller protection bill in the Senate?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I don't know. I listened to your interview with Lindsey. I do say the priorities in the lame duck, one of the major priorities is sentence reform and prison reform --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you all in on that?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I love what Lindsey said about --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you all in on that?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

What’s that?

CHUCK TODD:

You all in on that?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Oh, of course I'm all in. I've been all in on that for years. Of course, that, that’s as important a thing as we can do right now, when you have the president and -- the president and virtually all Democrats, I think, in both houses, and enough Republicans and Republican leaders, like the future chairman of the Judiciary Committee, engaged. Senator McConnell ought to do the people's business here and do it right.

CHUCK TODD:

And that should be priority one, over the Mueller protection bill, in your mind?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

That's priority one, to me, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator Sherrod Brown, when should we expect an answer?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I don’t know --

CHUCK TODD:

When do you feel like you have to make a decision?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I have no, I have no real timetable. It’s really, as I said, it's personal. It's sitting down with Connie and my family and really figuring things through. But thank you for asking.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Well, Bob Feller is somebody from Iowa who was a Cleveland Indian. And it was always an interesting connection over the years, between Ohio and Iowa.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Van -- Van Meter, Iowa, right.

CHUCK TODD:

There it is. Anyway, Sherrod Brown, Democrat from Ohio, we'll be watching. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up, Ohio may be getting redder. But other states are looking bluer. The midterms are changing electoral map and what it could mean for 2020 when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Let's talk about how the map of presidential swing states has changed following this year's midterm election. Some states may be surrendering their position on the battleground map. And other states may be stepping in. Look at the 2018 exit polls. Republicans won white voters by ten points, while Democrats won Hispanic voters by 40. Democrats also had a 20-point advantage among college-educated voters. And Democrats and Republicans were even among those without a four-year degree. So what does this mean for 2020? Let's start with Ohio, which has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1964, a true swing state and bellwether. But now, it looks safer for Republicans. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state by a surprising eight points. In 2018, both Republicans in competitive House races in the state held on. Republican Mike DeWine won the open race for governor by four points. And yes, incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown held his seat. But is he an outlier? In terms of demographics, this actually all makes a lot of sense. Ohio's a lot wider than the nation as a whole, with a much smaller Hispanic population. It's also lower than the national average for bachelor's degrees. On the flip side, there's Colorado, a state that's moved squarely to the blue column. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the state by a relatively narrow five-point margin. But in 2018, the one competitive GOP-held seat flipped blue pretty easily. And Democrat Jared Polis from Boulder won the governorship by ten points. And in many ways, Colorado is the inverse of Ohio. It's more diverse, with a much higher Hispanic population. And it's above the national average for college education. So which states could be taking the place of Ohio and Colorado on the 2020 battleground map? Here are three candidates that could replace them. Two are red: Arizona and Georgia. And one is blue, Minnesota. It's all more evidence that the 2018 midterms were less about a wave and more about a realignment that's remaking the way we understand American politics, at least in the era of Donald Trump. When we come back, the battle for speaker of the House. You know the old saying, you can't beat somebody with nobody.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. All right, Ohio. John Harwood, I had a Democratic strategist say they wouldn't spend another dime there ever again. Sherrod Brown obviously thinks his victory means that's actually the reason why you need a guy like Sherrod Brown. What do you say?

JOHN HARWOOD:

Well, you might want to spend a few dimes, if Sherrod Brown's the nominee. But look, the states that are drifting away from the Democratic Party are states that are older, whiter, more blue collar. Iowa is – Ohio is exhibit A.

CHUCK TODD:

Iowa is exhibit B. I was just going to say. That's a good misspeak there.

JOHN HARWOOD:

Exactly. So I think Democrats, as you suggested in the Data Download, they're going to be looking at other targets, especially in the Sun Belt, to try to make up for some of the prospects they don't have anymore.

CHUCK TODD:

Yamiche, is there room for Sherrod Brown in this race?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

There might be. I mean, he's someone who isn't going to cancel himself out in other ways, when you look at someone who is comparing Kamala Harris and Cory Booker or Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I don't know if he's going to be able to get the traction of those other people. I know that there are a lot of people who are looking at the Democratic Party and thinking, "What you learned from the midterms is that you should be doing diversity, not just talking about it." So I don’t know if that – what that means. But he's also someone who's very personable. He's also someone who's kind of telling it like it is. He got in a back-and-forth with you, saying, "It's not false equivalency." He's getting by the idea that he said that Brian Kemp stole this election. That's, I think, the fiery speak that the Democratic base wants to hear.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Rich, in your column this week, you talked about the president. And you said he's both too populist and not populist enough. You heard Sherrod Brown, basically, he wants to run to take the word back. And he believes he can redefine it in a different way. Explain what you mean by that, that too populist and not populist enough. And does it leave an opening for Sherrod Brown?

RICH LOWRY:

Well, I think Trump relies on kind of stylistic populism, overwhelmingly, that is repulsive to the suburbs, especially to suburban women. And in theory, you could come up with a populist, cost-of-living agenda that deals with the cost of higher education, health care, that would have crossover appeal to the working class and to the suburbs. But just Trump's personality is so overwhelming, it makes it hard to do that.

HALLIE JACKSON:

There's one name that comes up again and again, when you talk about the idea of somebody who can tell it like it is and somebody who can be a populist. And when you talk to Democrats, including some strategists, who are being reached out to by various campaigns, as well as Republicans, when you ask, "Who is the person who you actually think could beat Donald Trump?" there's one name. And you know who it is. It's Joe Biden. And that's a person who I think there's a lot of, I think, on the Republican side – by the way, it's so early, right? I mean think about –

CHUCK TODD:

No, it’s not.

HALLIE JACKSON:

– I don't know. 2014, Donald Trump was not on the radar yet.

CHUCK TODD:

That's Donald Trump.

JOHN HARWOOD:

I think a lot of Democrats, in 2020, are going to be able to beat Donald Trump. Donald Trump is polarizing. He has a base. But he is not a popular president. And I think the Democrats are going to be in a strong position.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I think Donald Trump is in the same position now that Hillary Clinton was at this point in time, which is why you got 17 Republicans running last time and why my list is up to 34 in my scroll there.

RICH LOWRY:

The steady state, there's an electoral path for Donald Trump. But he's going to be heavily reliant on a Democratic candidate he can make unacceptable.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to talk about Nancy Pelosi. She met with her potential opponent, Marcia Fudge, a congresswoman from Ohio. What I found interesting was that I think Nancy Pelosi had a big impact on Marcia Fudge about the job. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

MARCIA FUDGE:

I'm weighing the enormity of what this job entails: the constant traveling, being away from home all the time, with your constituents, the fundraising. I just have to decide if I really want to do this. Because it consumes your life. She's done it well, and she enjoys doing it. I have to decide if I want to do that, too.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

That didn't sound like somebody ready to run.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

That sounded like somebody who Nancy Pelosi opened up her calendar and her Rolodex and said, "Can you do this?" Nancy Pelosi, the reason why she was a target of Republicans, a lot of times, there are some people who say it's because of the fact that she's a woman. There's that argument that I will acknowledge. There's also the idea that some people say that Republicans don't like Nancy Pelosi because she's so effective. She's an effective fundraiser. She's an effective person who can rally the base. She can whip those votes. And Harley Rouda, who is someone who has said that he doesn't want to vote for her, that he's not going to vote for her, when I asked him, during an interview, "Why aren't you supporting Nancy Pelosi?" Because she raised a lot of money for your campaign?" He said, "Well, she does that for everybody."

CHUCK TODD:

Well, but it's interesting you say that. I put together, we put together a comp of all these new members. And it is interesting. They're all figuring out how to get to yes. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

REP.-ELECT AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA):

I'm uncommitted. I have deep respect and admiration for Leader Pelosi.

REP.-ELECT HARLEY ROUDA (D-CA):

Let's see who's running. She's very qualified.

REP.-ELECT MIKIE SHERRILL(D-NJ):

I won't be voting for Nancy Pelosi. But she has been a very effective speaker up to this point.

REP.-ELECT ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA):

When I was talking with my constituents, among the things that I said is that I wouldn't be voting for her. Nancy Pelosi has done tremendous things for this country as speaker, as minority leader. And I have tremendous respect for her.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Where's the groundswell to dump her? I don't see it.

HALLIE JACKSON:

There's also a very big difference between what people will do behind closed doors next Wednesday, which I think is a point folks miss, when they can, maybe, stand up and say, "I don't want to vote for her," and whether you actually do it on the floor in the beginning of January. That's a big difference, and there’s some Democrats –

RICH LOWRY:

Another key difference, one reason that John Boehner was deposed, was the rebels against him had this activist and media ecosystem that was encouraging them to do it, complete opposite on the Democratic side. If these moderates don't buckle, they're going to get hit so hard for being sexist, ungrateful, and all the rest of it.

JOHN HARWOOD:

She's going to be the speaker because the parts of the job that make her vulnerable, her public image, are simply not that important. This is an inside job. The part that she is good at is advancing the Democratic agenda.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I've got one more thing I want to bring up before we go. And that is the Republican Party does not touch the Pacific Ocean, much of the Pacific Ocean anymore. Let me show you this map. It's not just Orange County that has gone all blue. There is now not a single congressional district in California represented by Republicans that touches the Pacific Ocean. In fact, Duncan Hunter's doesn't. It is Jamie Beutler up in Washington's Third District. That is how far north you have to go, John Harwood, to find a Republican that represents the Pacific Ocean.

JOHN HARWOOD:

Look, Republicans are going to have to figure this out. And I think the thing that breaks the logjam in our politics right now is when the Republican Party, in a concerted way, begins to appeal to votes outside the existing base of whites. That hasn't happened. We thought it was going to happen after 2012. That's going to be the next phase of the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

California Republicans lost their lone Latino assembly member in this sweep in California. Anyway, great job, guys. Thank you very much. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. It is our best holiday to bring us together. Use it to do that, everybody. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.