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Meet the Press - September 16, 2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, historic flooding from Hurricane Florence.

RESIDENT:

Yeah, I've lived here 20 years, and the worst I've ever seen.

CHUCK TODD:

Lives lost, hundreds of thousands without power.

RESIDENT:

It was just loud branches, lost pretty much everything on the back of the house.

CHUCK TODD:

So many being rescued.

NATIONAL GUARD MEMBER:

I think a lot of people thought that they could ride it out. Didn't realize how high the rivers would come.

CHUCK TODD:

And the worst may be yet to come. This morning, I'll talk to FEMA administrator Brock Long and the mayor of hard-hit New Bern, North Carolina. Plus, Manafort flips. President Trump's one-time campaign chief pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with Robert Mueller.

KEVIN DOWNING:

Tough day for Mr. Manafort, but he's accepted responsibility.

CHUCK TODD:

Candidate Trump brought Manafort in to rescue his nomination.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Paul Manafort has done an amazing job.

CHUCK TODD:

And had praised him for not making a plea deal.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

This whole thing about flipping, they call it, it almost ought to be outlawed.

CHUCK TODD:

Would could Manafort tell prosecutors about the Trump Tower meeting? What does he know about the campaign's Russia connections? And could President Trump still pardon him? My guests this morning, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Law School, Alan Dershowitz. Joining me for insight and analysis are presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. 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. We have two huge stories this morning. The flooding from Hurricane Florence, what FEMA calls a "Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast," and Paul Manafort's decision to plead guilty and more importantly to cooperate with the special counsel. We'll get to Manafort in a moment. But first, Hurricane Florence has weakened to a tropical depression. It's creeping inland. But as the winds die down, record-setting rains continue to fall, up to 30 inches already in parts of North Carolina. And the big threat is now catastrophic flooding, which could be days long. The storm is already responsible for more than a dozen deaths, more than 700,000 people in the two Carolinas remain without power, and tens of thousands of people are staying in shelters, schools, churches, even Wake Forest's basketball arena is serving as a shelter. More than 13,000 Defense Department personnel are supporting FEMA and 1,200 federal urban search and rescue personnel have been deployed. Multiple stretches of I-95 are closed and across North Carolina, rescues are still underway by air and by boat. And in New Bern, more than 450 residents have been rescued after more than 10 feet of storm surge.

MALE RESCUER:

I'm going right back for her. I need help with this guy. Hey guys, can I have a little help?

RESIDENT:

It was horrifying, just wondering what's going on and where the water's gonna go.

RESIDENT:

Yeah, I've lived here 20 years, and it’s the worst I've ever seen.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the mayor of New Bern, North Carolina, Dana Outlaw. Mr. Mayor, welcome to Meet the Press, sir.

DANA OUTLAW:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Well look, let's start with the good news. Yesterday, you announced on the city website that all water rescues had been completed. How out of the woods is New Bern? How concerned are you about return flooding, if you will?

DANA OUTLAW

We're very concerned. A lot of the creeks around New Bern are increasing by the hour. We have some folks that their yards are starting to get water because of the tremendous amount of rainfall from the other eastern parts of North Carolina that is coming into New Bern now by Trent River, Brices Creek, Neuse River.

CHUCK TODD:

What is it that residents need to prepare for? You know, on one hand, they think, "Oh, all the water rescues are done. The water is starting to recede." Is it next week that you're concerned that all of a sudden this sort of comes back?

DANA OUTLAW

We're very concerned right now about trees that are continuing to fall down because of the saturated ground conditions. And so at this time, we're urging residents to stay inside and to not travel. We have a curfew in New Bern at this time, we have 30 roads in New Bern right now that are still not passable. We have 4,200 homes in New Bern that have been damaged, some extensively. We have over 300 commercial buildings in New Bern that are damaged. And right now, we have 6,000 customers in New Bern alone without power. So again, we're trying hard to get this power restored. So we've actually had to kind of go to the downtown area and close it off because of the number of folks that are just wanting to get out and ride around. And we're trying to get these power lines up. So please, don't get in the way of our electrical linemen as they do their job.

CHUCK TODD:

You have an opportunity here to speak to Washington. So I'm going to give you that opportunity. What do you need? How do you want the federal response to help New Bern?

DANA OUTLAW

President Trump called yesterday and I thanked him for having immediately declared a declaration emergency. And in turn, Governor Cooper has given us those resources to get underway the recovery process. So right now, we are setting up a coordinator to assist us with FEMA and getting all the resources, the water, the food, and the temporary housing. We have 1,200 residents in shelters right now. And so at this time, again, the major concern is the power line restoration, getting the power back to our customers, and keeping folks off of the streets so that we can restore the power. When you're riding around, you're keeping somebody from getting their power back on. Please don't do that. And anybody that wants to help, a lot of groups are coming in, the fireman's association, and different groups, Keller Williams, and all these groups are coming into New Bern. So we're staging that as we speak. We have a big stage area for 18-wheelers, we're working on a center in New Bern, the Omega Center, to drop off individual food and water and other things.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it sounds like you've got a pretty well-coordinated response on the ground there, Mr. Mayor. Mr. Mayor, I appreciate you taking a few minutes to talk with us. I know you have to get back and run your response, so good luck to everybody in New Bern.

DANA OUTLAW

Thanks very much.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it.

DANA OUTLAW

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Mr. Long, welcome back to Meet The Press.

BROCK LONG:

How are you doing, Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just start with what you can tell us this morning. We know that this is a water event. There's a lot of flooding issues you're dealing with. I know you anticipated catastrophic flooding. Is it as anticipated? Are there areas that it's worse than you expected? Are there areas that it's better than expected?

BROCK LONG:

Well, unfortunately, the event is going to still -- is still unfolding for the next 48 hours. The National Hurricane Center did a phenomenal job of letting people know nearly a week in advance of what was coming. And everything that they've been predicting, the storm surge, the ocean rising, the coastal flood inundation, was realized. You saw the ocean rise anywhere from nine to 11 feet, causing a lot of damage in the, along the coast and in the back bay and inlet areas of the Pamlico Sound. And now what you're seeing is, we’re seeing actual rainfall in 30 inches or more in some areas. I think Swansboro, North Carolina, has got 30 inches. So, we're seeing damage very, you know, as predicted, unfortunately.

CHUCK TODD:

What is your biggest need right now? What is the -- what are the biggest needs down there right now?

BROCK LONG:

Well, right now we're focused on life safety, search and rescue. Our urban search and rescue teams, we prepositioned, I think, over 27 different teams, you know, like 1,300 people in the field doing search and rescue, supporting our state, you know, and local capabilities, from the National Guard to local swift water rescues. They've performed several hundred evacuations and rescues in isolated areas. And I think what we're about to see, because of the inland flooding and roadways going underwater, you know, we're going to be able to have to service people in isolated areas that are surrounded by flood waters. And then it's always a difficult life-sustainment mission. You know, people are displaced, they're in a shelter. We just need to make sure that we're meeting the demands of taking care of people in those shelters. But right now, you know, you've got a strong governor in Roy Cooper in North Carolina, a strong Division of Emergency Management Director in Mike Sprayberry. And we're meeting their demands as they're coming up to us, and we'll get through this. It'll be ugly, but we'll get through it. I mean, recovery is always a very frustrating process for people when they've lost their livelihood, but we're going to be okay.

CHUCK TODD:

Obviously, it takes a little bit longer to start recovery efforts when you have a flooding situation. That was what happened in Houston with Harvey. How long do you expect this flooding event to basically hamper your ability to do some of the biggest part of the disaster recovery?

BROCK LONG:

Well, we have to wait for the hazardous elements associated with the storm to exit the area before we can actually send our people in. We never want to put our own people in harm's way. The frustrating thing about an inland flood like this in North Carolina, or South Carolina as well, is that you've got to wait for the water to recede in some cases to get people back in or to fix the infrastructure. And as you see, we've got major roadway corridors, like I-40 and I-95 being compromised in some areas or underwater. And you know, we have to do things like figure out other logistical routes to get supplies in to those that were impacted on the coast now that they’re, you know, the threat is diminishing and moving inland.

CHUCK TODD:

As this, as your preparation began, a reporter asked a simple question about what lessons were learned from Puerto Rico.

BROCK LONG:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

And the president went off and sort of didn't accept the premise that there were lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico. Were there lessons to be learned from Puerto Rico for you, sir?

BROCK LONG:

Yeah, I don’t believe the -- I think the president is being taken out of context there. I mean, I talked to the president every day this week, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, and we discuss what we're trying to do as a result of last year. He's well aware of that. And, and the thing about Puerto Rico is, is that disaster response and recovery is, it’s a whole community team effort. You have to have anybody from neighbor helping neighbor, like the Cajun Navy, all the way up to the federal government response. And I always say that emergency management is like a chair with four legs. One leg represents the federal government, the other leg represents the state and local government. The third leg represents the private sector and NGOs. And the private sector owns 85% of the infrastructure in this country. And then the fourth leg is you, the citizen. So, any time that there is one leg missing going into a response--

CHUCK TODD:

So, which leg was missing in Puerto Rico?

BROCK LONG:

Well, you know, let's face it, you know, FEMA, you know, I'll be honest, I mean FEMA was the first responder and the only responder for many weeks going into Puerto Rico. So, here's what we're doing to change that. We're working with Governor Rosselló. He, like me, just came into his job, you know, and gets hit with one of the most complex disasters. I work with Governor Rosselló and his staff every day to say, "Hey, how do we build a stronger emergency management capability in the commonwealth and at the 78 municipality level?" And not only, you know, have we hired 1,800, FEMA's now one of the largest employers in Puerto Rico. I got the best of what Puerto Rico's got to offer. I've got teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers that are now part of FEMA, helping the commonwealth to design a more viable and economic future going forward.

CHUCK TODD:

The president has been disputing the death toll, multiple tweets. He said, "Over many months, it went to 64 people, then like magic, 3,000 people killed." Believe it or not, Mr. Long, the White House put out a five-page backgrounder citing other death toll numbers that were less than the one that the governor of Puerto Rico has accepted. 2,975 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria or impacts from Hurricane Maria, according to the Puerto Rican government. Does FEMA accept that number?

BROCK LONG:

So, the numbers are all over the place. FEMA doesn't count deaths. And like, if you take what's going on with Florence. The deaths that are verified by the local county coroners are the ones that we take. Now, what we do offer are funeral benefits after a disaster for those that are eligible. And so, those are some of the numbers that you can put forward that can be cross-referenced with any of the numbers that are out there. But here's the thing, you know, these guys are so dedicated. They work around the clock. One death is a death too many. You know, and we --

CHUCK TODD:

But then why does it matter --

BROCK LONG:

-- and we push forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Why is the White House so concerned about the difference between 3,000 deaths and, say, another report that might have had it at 1,800 deaths? I mean, you've said yourself, it doesn't matter, but the White House believes it matters. Why?

BROCK LONG:

Well, I'll tell you this, you know, one thing about President Trump is, is that he is probably the one president that has had more support for what goes on back here. And I think he's defensive because he knows how hard these guys behind me work day in and day out for a very complex situation. And it's frustrating. Those studies, the Harvard study was done differently than the George Washington study, or this study or that study, and the numbers are all over the place. And where the 65--

CHUCK TODD:

Were any of them--

BROCK LONG:

Hold on. Hold on.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, is it fair -- I mean, he said Democrats did it to make him look bad. Do you believe any of these studies were done to make the president look bad?

BROCK LONG:

Well, I mean there’s, I don't think the studies, I don’t know why the studies were done. I mean, I think what we're trying to do, in my opinion, what we've got to do is figure out why people die, from direct deaths, which is the wind, the water, and the waves, you know, buildings collapsing, which is probably where the 65 number came from. And then there's indirect deaths. So, the George Washington study looked at what happened six months after the fact. And you know, what happens is -- and even in this event, you might see more deaths indirectly occur as time goes on because people have heart attacks due to stress. They fall off their house trying to fix their roof. They die in car crashes because they, they went through an intersection where the stoplights weren't working. You know the other thing that goes on, there's all kinds of studies on this that we take a look at. Spousal abuse goes through the roof. You can't blame spousal abuse, you know, after a disaster on anybody. And the President's very passionate about the work we've done. He's been incredibly supportive of me and this staff. He’s actually -- I bet he's probably the only president that's held two cabinet level meetings, brought his entire cabinet to this agency to show support. They come through this agency every day. And he's, he’s, he’s very supportive, which is exactly what FEMA needs. There's just too much blame going around and we need to be focused, Chuck, on what is Puerto Rico going to look like tomorrow.

CHUCK TODD:

Final question, Wall Street Journal headline, a bit disconcerting, I'm sure, for you as you're preparing, saying your job -- that the White House considered replacing you before Hurricane Florence hit, having to do with your use of travel back home to North Carolina. Were you aware of this investigation? Are you cooperating?

BROCK LONG:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And look, let me go ahead and clear up all the news. Secretary Nielsen has never asked me to resign. We have a very functional and professional relationship. We talk every day. We are both solely focused on Florence. And let's put some context around this. So, these vehicles, I mean, the FEMA administration position, the position that I hold, is incredibly complex, Chuck. You do not want to trade jobs with me. The bottom line is, is that these vehicles were designed to support Presidential Preparedness Direction 40. I have a very critical and important role to make sure that this government works on the nation's worst day, through continuity of government. These vehicles are designed to provide secure communications. And the program was actually developed back in 2008. It ran for me the same way it's run for anybody else. And you know, it's my understanding that maybe some policies were not developed around these vehicles that we will get cleared up and pushed forward. So, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You have no plans to resign?

BROCK LONG:

No. No, no, no, I'm here to serve my country every day. That's all I do.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

BROCK LONG:

And when it's over, you know, whenever it ends, you know, I'm ready to go back home, love my family.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Brock Long, I know you've got to get back to work. Director of FEMA, thanks for coming on and answering our questions. I appreciate it.

BROCK LONG:

Thank you. All right.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, if you want to help the folks who've been hit by Hurricane Florence, you can. Here are four organizations that we are recommending, the Red Cross, Direct Relief, Second Harvest Food Bank, and the North Carolina Disaster Fund. All of them are aiding people in the path of Florence. Coming up, the big political story of the week, Paul Manafort agreeing to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller. I'll talk to Democrat Adam Schiff and Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz when we come back.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Paul Manafort's guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with Robert Mueller gives the special counsel a witness of potentially enormous value. Manafort has countless connections that Mueller can probe. For instance, he can ask about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who said she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Why? Manafort was in the room where it happened. Then there's Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who's very close to Vladimir Putin and to whom Manafort apparently offered private briefings once he joined the Trump campaign. There's Manafort's long-time Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, who's an alleged long-time Russian intelligence agent.

And under Manafort's leadership, there's the Trump campaign's mysterious gutting of a Republican platform amendment to send lethal weapons to Ukrainians fighting Russian forces. And of course, there's Manafort's first business partner in politics, Roger Stone, who appears to have talked to WikiLeaks about hacked emails.

So a lot of dots and maybe Mueller -- Manafort connects a bunch of them. Joining me now is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California. Congressman Schiff, welcome back to Meet the Press.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

So let's start with Mueller --Manafort's cooperating. If you have a chance to ask him questions, what are the first series of questions you want to know and you assume Mr. Mueller wants to know?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Well, Manafort is at the confluence of a number of pernicious interests. You've got the president's son trying to getting dirt from the Russians in Trump Tower, you've got the president himself asking the Russians for dirt on Hillary Clinton in a public statement. You've got Manafort trying to get money from this Russian oligarch, trying to get made whole.

You have the Russians who want to have a relationship with the Trump campaign, they want to help Trump get elected. All those interests converge with Paul Manafort. So basically, we want to know what can Manafort tell us about whether any of that was consummated. He's trying to get money, they're trying to get dirt, the Russians are trying to help Trump, was there a meeting of the minds? So that goes to the heart of the collusion or conspiracy issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it possible that with all this circumstantial evidence, it really is just a bunch of coincidences that Paul Manafort, in a desperate move, Donald Trump was afraid of Ted Cruz at the convention, stealing the nomination, he's told to hire this Manafort guy, doesn't do the background check, and those Russian connections just happen to be coincidence? What's the likelihood of that based on your investigation?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Well, you know Manafort is a key person to help us unwind whether this is the most improbable string of unlikely coincidences, or whether this was an active conspiracy. And you know the bottom line is, Manafort knows, will Manafort cooperate? Will he tell Mueller all he knows or will he tell Mueller only what he thinks Mueller already knows? And the reality is, I think only he can tell us.

CHUCK TODD:

You're a former prosecutor. Would you have cut this deal that Mueller cut?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Well, I wasn't in the room for the proffer. So I don't know what Manafort has to say. But I do know this, and this is I think a couple of the profound implications of this, this sends a message to anyone who is in Bob Mueller's crosshairs right now. You better get to the special counsel and make your deal now. Because anyone who gets indicted by Bob Mueller goes down. And the longer you wait to come clean, the worse deal you're going to get, the more time you're going to face. So I think that it obviated the need for these trials, which gives Mueller time to focus on other things. It gives him a key cooperating witness who has already seen what happens when you mess with Bob Mueller. I mean, he tried to essentially tamper with witnesses, he got caught, he went to jail. He better come clean.

CHUCK TODD:

He's been convicted already in one court of law. He has witness tampered, as you just brought up. Why should Mueller believe anything that Paul Man-- Paul Manafort seems to be a guy that will say whatever it takes to get out of a jam. That's including one of the allegations with Oleg Deripaska, "Oh jeez, I'm on a jam with him, maybe I can--" how do we not know that Manafort is just somebody that will tell whatever anybody is listening in that moment to get him out of a jam?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

You know, all of these cooperating witnesses are corrupt. Manafort certainly is. Manafort basically is the swamp. But also Flynn and also Gates. I mean, all of these people. And Cohen, if Cohen cooperates, all of these folks have pled guilty to lying and fraud. They're all tainted witnesses. And so as a prosecutor, you only rely on them to the extent you can corroborate them. But often, you can. If Paul Manafort says, "I spoke to Donald Trump about the Trump Tower meeting, I did it at this particular time and this particular phone call," and you go to the phone records and you find those phone records, that corroborates those statements. So you're not going to rely on the word alone. But you're going to rely on it when you can corroborate it.

CHUCK TODD:

Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, has said that Manafort is not disqualified, that's the word he used, from a pardon. Rudy Giuliani also confirmed that Manafort's legal team and the president's legal team had a sharing agreement of sorts. What do you make of the pardon, of Rudy Giuliani still dangling the idea of a pardon out there?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Well, clearly the Trump team is terrified about what Manafort may have to say.

CHUCK TODD:

That's how you view it? That this is about fear of Manafort?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Now they may think they know what Manafort has to say because he was part of that joint defense agreement. But they have to know that he may not have told them the full truth. And so they're terrified of what he has to say. Now I'm surprised, I think like you are, that we are where we are, that Manafort is cooperating.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't expect him to flip?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

I thought he would hold out for pardon. But two things I think changed his mind. The first is you've got the state prosecutions hanging out there. And one of the brilliant things of the Mueller team is getting Manafort to admit to all of these crimes, both state and federal crimes, so even if he got pardoned by the federal government, by Donald Trump, he gets prosecuted by numerous states, potentially. He goes away for a long time anyway. But also Paul Manafort had to conclude watching the whole Michael Cohen saga, that trust and loyalty with Trump run in one direction only. You're loyal to him, he's not loyal to you. And so I think that sealed the deal.

CHUCK TODD:

Final question for you. As a member of Congress, one thing Mueller has done is surfaced a lot of I think dirty and weird stuff that happens on K Street with the lobbying community. What is Congress actually going to do to try to actually clean up the swamp? Because they haven't done anything. You guys have threatened this for decades, to be honest.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Well, you know this I think is going to be a core part of the Democratic agenda if we're able to take over the House, as looks increasingly likely.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't do it the last time, though. In '06 you didn't clean up anything. And that was culture of corruption. What did we get? I mean, it didn't do anything.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

If we don't Chuck, if we don't, we won't stay in the majority. And I want us to stay in the majority. And so we need to go after this. We need to--

CHUCK TODD:

Because you failed the last time.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

We need to do the oversight. We need to do the oversight that this Congress has completely abdicated responsibility. We took steps when we had the majority before to clean up, to crack down. It's not like you can say it's "job accomplished." Because people find new and inventive ways to skirt the rules, to refill the swamp. But the concern I have right now is Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp. The only one draining the swamp right now is Bob Mueller. And the president is talking about pardoning the swamp. And we've got to make sure there's no further act of obstruction of justice.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Adam Schiff, I'm going to leave it there. I think money and alligators always find a way in a swamp.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Yes, they do.

CHUCK TODD:

Anyway, Democrat from California, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir. Much appreciated. Joining me now for another perspective is Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus. He's author of a new book, The Case Against Impeaching Trump. Mr. – Professor Dershowitz, always good to have you on.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks for being here. Let me start with you had said that the deal that Mueller got for Manafort was, was a pretty good one as far as Mueller is concerned. Explain.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Well, I think both Manafort and President Trump acted too late. Manafort, if he was gonna make a deal, should've made it before he was convicted. He would've gotten a better deal. And President Trump, if he was gonna pardon, he should've pardoned before Manafort agreed to cooperate. So there's not going to be any pardon now. And Manafort has a deal. His sentence will reflect how much cooperation he gives. There is always the risk. You know a man like Manafort has to walk a tightrope. If he's caught lying, the deal is off. On the other hand, he knows he gets a better deal if he can help support the narrative of the prosecutor. So we may see, and there's always the risk of that, and Judge Ellis said that in the first Manafort case, that some people like this not only sing, but they compose. That is, they elaborate a little bit, they remember things a little better than they occurred, and that's the risk to justice that could occur here.

CHUCK TODD:

Rudy Giuliani seems to think a couple things. Number one, he says, let me play a bite for you from him on Friday night because he seems to think that this deal isn't as bad for them as others believe. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

RUDY GIULIANI:

I mean, the reality is there was a quote put out by a source close to Manafort that the plea agreement has, and the cooperation agreement, has nothing to do with the Trump campaign. "There's no evidence of collusion." Now, I know that because I've been privy to a lot of the facts I can't repeat. But the reality is, no evidence of collusion.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Now Professor Dershowitz, even yesterday Rudy Giuliani continued to say, according to sources close to Manafort's defense, that this cooperation agreement does not involve the Trump campaign. First of all, what is, what is Rudy Giuliani referring to? Is this something he may have learned during the joint-- the fact because they have a joint defense agreement of some sort?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

No. The joint defense agreement, by the way, has to be over at this point if he's cooperating. Second of all, as Congressman Schiff correctly pointed out, you can't count on what was told to you while you had a joint defense agreement. And Manafort is on your side, he says one thing. He's on the other side, he says something else. What I don't understand is how you can say that the deal is limited. The deal, as I understand it, says that Manafort will cooperate about anything that the special counsel asks him about. There are no limits. This wasn't a deal that says, "We're going to talk only about so-and-so, but we're not going to talk about the Trump or the Trump Tower meeting." Obviously one of the first questions they're going to ask him is did Donald Trump's son know about the subject of the meeting before it occurred in order to pressure on Trump Jr., in order to put pressure on President Trump. So look, I understand why Rudy Giuliani, who's a good lawyer, wants to put this in the most positive light. But this was a very bad day for the Trump administration. It's bad because he doesn't know what Manafort is saying. And he can't count on Manafort saying only things that the special counsel already knows. And when you don't know what a cooperator is saying, then it's a bad day for you because you're vulnerable and exposed.

CHUCK TODD:

So you wouldn't put any stock, any assurances that maybe Paul Manafort himself gave to John Dowd or Rudy Giuliani or Manafort's defense team weeks ago or months ago? You wouldn't put any stock into any of the assurances they might have felt from the Manafort team before he cut this deal?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Well, I would use that information if he ever testified to cross-examine, because he would've waived the privilege at that point, the joint privilege. But no, I wouldn't believe anything he said. I would use the material that he told the Trump team while he was in a joint defense agreement to undercut his credibility if he then says something different. Is he lying now? Was he lying then? You can't believe him, that kind of argument.

CHUCK TODD:

Should the president be concerned that Paul Manafort may be able to say that a pardon was promised, or a pardon was hinted at, or the pardon was dangled during the joint defense agreement?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

I doubt that. I think the president was pretty careful in what he said and how he said it and what he said was said in public. So I don't think that's a real concern. I think the concern is putting together information that the prosecutor knows about but can't connect. We have to remember again that collusion is not a crime. Conspiracy is a crime, but conspiracy requires knowledge. And it's also possible that Manafort was always acting on his own to make more money. He was using the Trump campaign saying, "I'll make introductions. I'll help you," but that the Trump campaign didn't really know about this. That's a likely explanation beyond the series of quote "coincidences."

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe the president has the legal team he needs to take on Robert Mueller? It seems like Robert Mueller has yet to lose.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Well, prosecutors have a tremendous advantage, as Congress Schiff correctly points out, you don't mess with prosecutors. They'll come after you. They'll make you plead guilty. They'll threaten your family. President Trump had a point when he said, civil libertarians like me, have been concerned about flip witnesses for many, many, many years. Prosecutors have too much power to flip witnesses and to use their testimony. So of course, there has to be concern. Prosecutors have all that much power, and all defense attorneys realize that.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, but do you believe the president has the best defense team he needs right now?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

You know I never want to comment on other people's defense teams. Everybody would do it differently. Rudy Giuliani, I've known him for 30 years. I've been against him. I've been on the same side. He's an extraordinarily talented and able guy. Jay Sekulow is a brilliant, brilliant lawyer. I'm sure before this case is over, other lawyers will be added to the team. I will not be among them. But there will be other lawyers and teams tend to grow and shrink when you have a complicated case like this.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

But they're up against a very, very difficult problem when you have a prosecutor who can give immunity. He can give deals. He can make deals. It's very, very difficult.

CHUCK TODD:

Professor Dershowitz, as always sir, thank you for coming on and sharing your views.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Up next, so much to get to. Manafort, President Trump, what it all means for this Mueller investigation. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is here. Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, Wall Street Journal columnist and NBC News political analyst Peggy Noonan, president historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who is author of a brand new book, Leadership in Turbulent Times and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. All right. We're going to focus on Manafort and that development. Rudy Giuliani put out a statement from the president. They actually put out two statements. Here's the first one that I want to show, Yamiche. "Once again, investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth." Within minutes, they put out an updated press release and the "and Paul Manafort will tell the truth line" was not included. Yamiche, that was not an accident?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I don't think it was an accident. And remember that Rudy Giuliani is someone who was hired really to work with the press and to be this person who is the spokesperson for the legal team. So you have this idea that they're very worried about what Paul Manafort could say. And you add to him that if Paul Manafort has this deal that says that he can – that he will talk about anything and anything that the government says. So if he tells the truth, I think that’s just – it can not just go to the obstruction of justice or the Russia collusion, but it could go to the financials. The fact that the president and Paul Manafort might have somehow had some sort of financial dealings that gets them in trouble to me is almost a bigger story sometimes than the Russian collusion portion because that's what I've sensed in talking to Rudy Giuliani, they're a lot worried about.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich, where are you on this?

RICH LOWRY:

I think it's hard to tell just how momentous this is, because it made sense for both sides. Obviously, Paul Manafort's not gonna improve his situation at all in a second trial, and Mueller's not going to get any advantage for making the rubble bounce when you already had Manafort looking at decades in prison. So the question again, as always, is what Manafort knows. Does he truly know any dirt on the Trump campaign or not? What he can certainly help Mueller with is a more detailed understanding of how these various nefarious Russian players operate.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Peggy, what was interesting about the president is that eight months ago, this is what the president wanted the public to know about his relationship with Paul Manafort. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Paul Manafort was replaced long before the election took place... He was with the campaign, as you know, for a very short period of time… Literally for, like, what, a couple of months? Little period of time… Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

But for some reason, a month ago, this is what he was saying about Paul Manafort.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad... He happens to be a very good person... I have great respect for what he's done in terms of what he's gone through.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

You would have expected the reverse.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah, you would. I suppose there is a greater fear now of what Paul Manafort, who was there, who was present at the creation of the Trump phenomenon. You know, he was – he ran the campaign, he was a significant player for a while. What he knows is perhaps not fully known by the White House. The president would be nervous. I have wondered, as I think we've all suggested, if collusion is not the most interesting question here, if maybe the nexus of K Street, lobbying, law firms, P.R. strategy firms, and what they will do for money with Russian nationals or foreign nationals and foreign governments. I'll tell you, if Manafort is talking about that, since he helped that invent that tool –

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, he did.

PEGGY NOONAN:

– he was present at the creation there too. That could actually be not only interesting but kind of a public service and maybe give something of a platform from which Congress could finally move, as you mentioned.

CHUCK TODD:

What he seems – the president seems to be – they seem to be nervous enough about Manafort that they don't want to throw him under the bus yet. That's clear.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

I think what you see when you see these disparate things that he said, two different things, loyalty is a one-way street for him. So none of these people who are in trouble now can depend on him. And when you think about what it matters is you're a leader of a team, you have to create a team that is loyal to the job and not loyal to themselves. And that's what this splintered team seems to have been. And when Teddy Roosevelt came in after McKinley was assassinated, his friend said to him, "You can't keep those people on. They're not going to be loyal to you." He said, "I don't care if they're loyal to me. They have to be loyal to their job and the country." You look at this team he's built and what's happening to all of them. A great responsibility of a leader is to build a team. And this team is people who are just pleading for themselves. Everybody's out for themselves. Nobody's out for the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Looks like the president, Rich, is starting to think about his own survival though. I mean he does – it seems that that's always how he's thinking.

RICH LOWRY:

Well, it's hard to know because you look at those disparate statements and I think the assumption of a lot of people is that Trump is acting out of cognizance of guilt, right? He's really worried what Manafort might say. But there's also the potential he's acting the way Donald Trump does when there's a cognizance of innocence. And he thinks this investigation's so unfair. He hates it so much that he's going to say things in favor of the guy who's being nailed to the wall by the investigation whether he's guilty as heck or not.

CHUCK TODD:

He gets at the point: Trump has a history of being both of those guys.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

He does, but he also has this history of, from my reporting, of feeling isolated and feeling very wronged by all of this. He really feels like his presidency has been hampered and this investigation has really hurt kind of his credibility with the American people. And then you think about the people who have flipped. There's his personal lawyer. There's David Pecker. There's Rick Gates.

CHUCK TODD:

We put them up. There's nine of these guys. This can't be helpful here. You have Flynn and, look at them all, Manafort, Cohen, Gates, Flynn, Papadopoulos, Weisselberg, Pecker.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

All of those people are people, not just that he dealt with personally and dealt with in a business manner, but those are also people that he thought had his back. There's reporting that David Pecker had his secret in a safe, at The National Inquirer. The president has to be sitting back and thinking, "If all of these people are talking, and Paul Manafort is just another name on the long list of people, what's the story that they can tell?"

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

What a commentary it is on the nature of our politics today that we constantly are talking about prosecutors, we're constantly talking about people flipping, people going to jail. We should be talking about the state of the country and they're obsessing us, and understandably so.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think part of the story perhaps with the president and all of these people who've been indicted or come under questioning is that he may not have any deep insight into their nature because he didn't really know them. So he almost can't judge where they're going next. The people around Trump during the campaign were an island of broken toys. They were individual operatives. They were driven by their own drama. Trump couldn't get anybody else. He couldn't get the grown ups to join. He got who he got.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

And that shows the lack of experience, coming in from the outside and not bringing in the people who knew what they were doing.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh, sure.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

For what it's worth, Trump's always built his worlds that way. It's not just in politics. He's always sort of ends up with, you know, everybody with their own agendas. And that sort of – and it ends up clashing. All right. We're gonna pause here. When we come back, quick look at the midterm elections and how quickly one of the outlooks has changed.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Data Download time. So why has all the talk about the midterms suddenly turned to the Senate actually being in play? You know, there was an assumption that the biggest challenge for Democrats in 2018 would be the 10 states President Trump won where Democratic senators are up for reelection, including some states that went from blue to red, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.In fact, it wasn't that long ago, we were talking about how many seats were Republicans going to pick up in the Senate. They still could end up picking up, don't get me wrong. But right now, Republicans have failed to put all of those red-state Democratic incumbents in the danger that Republicans wanted them to be in. Some races don't even appear to be that close right now. For instance, look at the Real Clear Politics polling averages. Democrats have strong leads in all four of these blue-to-red states. Plus, they're neck and neck in others many thought Republicans would have put away by now. Think Indiana and North Dakota. On the other side, Republicans were confident because they didn't have to defend as many seats in the Senate. And they assumed the states that they did have to defend, well, were going to be pretty safe. But look at how things have changed. The races are within the margin of error in Arizona and Tennessee. And even in deep red Texas, Ted Cruz is only ahead by about three points. Look, none of this means that the wave is going to somehow wash over both the House and the Senate in the same way in the same strength. But here's what's clear. Something has shifted in these last 60 days. And so momentum is not just on the House side of things, but also on the Senate. All right, when we come back, leadership in a moment of crisis.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with end game. All right, we have Doris Kearns Goodwin, we have a new book by you, Leadership in Turbulent Times. And we had a sitting president want to relitigate Puerto Rico. And it seemed as if this was a good way to kick off this conversation. Two things I want to pull out and see if you'll apply them to today. One is this here, stories versus facts. You write, "Lyndon Johnson like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt knew that people were more easily influenced by stories than any other way. That stories were remembered far longer than facts and figures." It's a familiar caricature.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Well, I think what happened here in the whole hurricane situation is that what you want as a president it to gain control of the narrative. And by losing his temper, because he got angry at new signs of Maria that were on the television again, and the criticisms of how well he did, he lashes out at the figures of how many people have died. And as a result, that becomes the story rather than Florence, and how he's preparing for Florence. And at the same time, what you need in a leader is somebody who acknowledges errors. Suppose he had gone on and said, "Look, we made mistakes in Maria and I'm going to make sure we don't make those same mistakes again." When John Kennedy admitted error in the Bay of Pigs, his polls go up because people love that. He sometimes thinks that making mistakes and acknowledging them is a sign of weakness.

CHUCK TODD:

Sometimes?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Sometimes.

CHUCK TODD:

No, no, no, there's no sometimes.

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

No, there's all times. And as a result, he lost the most important thing for a leader at a time of crisis is to exhibit empathy toward the people who are being hurt. And to talk to those people at this time who are still being hurt in Puerto Rico, about how many people died versus how many people lost people, their families, they've lost their wherewithal, it just doesn't make any sense. That ambition was for self to relitigate the story. He thinks if you say it a number of times, it'll just be true, if you repeat it.

CHUCK TODD:

But he's missing public sentiment is something else you point out. You quote Lincoln in the book, and I know people are going to, "Doris quotes Lincoln?"

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Why would she do that?

CHUCK TODD:

Why? Who's that?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Who is this guy?

CHUCK TODD:

You quote Lincoln and he says, "With public sentiment, nothing can fail it. Without it, nothing can succeed. Such a leader is inseparably linked to the people. Such leadership is a mirror in which the people see their collective reflection."

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

Well, I think that's what we have to think about today, to be honest. When we just argue about President Trump and what's going on, we have to look at ourselves and think, "What was our system like, our voting system?" We the citizens have a responsibility now, instead of just talking about Trump, to figure out what's going to happen after Trump. And that's what Lincoln would say. If we can change public sentiment, we can change anything we want.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich, there is a near-term political problem the president created for Republicans running for office in the state of Florida. Rick Scott very publicly said, "I disagree with the POTUS," and with the way he said thousands of lives were lost. This is the political problem he's now created.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah, and Rick Scott, he's been to Puerto Rico multiple times. He's outperforming what Republicans usually do with Latinos in Florida in part because he's so been empathetic to Puerto Rico and its plight. And this is one of those stories where I think both the president's opponents and especially the president himself would benefit from the insight that not everything is about him. A category four storm devastated an island. It wiped out the grid, it wiped out the roads, it wiped out all telecommunications. I think by any standard, the FEMA response has been massive and enduring and ongoing. It's just in those circumstances, it's hard to have everything snap back immediately, in fact, it's impossible to do that.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think both of you said something, it's the word empathy. And it's this idea that the president is expected to feel bad for people and expected to exhibit that and to be this consoler-in-chief. And it's one of the roles that President Trump has not embraced and not really been able to carry forth. You think about what he's saying, he's saying that dead people aren't dead. And he's trafficking in this kind of conspiracy theory that he's done for throughout his life and starting to spread throughout the government because you have Brock Long now saying that the numbers are all over place. The numbers aren't all over the place. It's more than 3,000 people died and it's this idea that it's hard to say to people that died in Katrina in the Superdome in the days after Katrina that they didn't die because of the hurricane if they were waiting for medical help. Even if you die after the hurricane, if it's because you didn't have oxygen and you didn't have power for your grandmother to breathe and she dies because of that, she died because of the hurricane. And it's really I think heartbreaking when you think about the personal stories that you heard from Katrina and from Maria.

CHUCK TODD:

Peggy?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Unseemly when we are debating body counts. There are people suffering. Don't be politicizing the number who died. Don't be doing that. Don't be arguing and tweeting about it. It is unseemly for a president. Help. Just go try to help Puerto Rico a little bit more. Just go try to help North Carolina a little bit more. I have rarely seen the president try to be above it, you know?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN:

But how can that be? How can a person who's president not have that as a natural reaction? If you're either born with empathy or you develop it through experience, you learn about other people's lives and you care about them.

PEGGY NOONAN:

He has many reactions that are not the normal presidential reaction.

CHUCK TODD:

I think that will be the final word. And one, a riddle we have yet to solve. Before we go, we want to let you know that tickets are now available for our second annual Meet the Press Film Festival with the American Film Institute, A.F.I., we're very proud of it. It takes place on October 8th right here in Washington. Tickets are available right now, NBCNews.com/MTPFilm. That's all we have for today. As always, thank you for watching. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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