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Meet the Press Transcript - March 15, 2015

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MEET THE PRESS -- SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2015

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

This Sunday, letter to the Ayatollah. Why did 47 Republicans write to Iran's supreme leader? And why some of them now regret it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

I'm embarrassed for them.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Plus, is Hillary Clinton too big to fail?

SEC. HILLARY CLINTON:

I opted for convenience to use my personal email account.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

What the controversy over her emails could mean for her presidential bid and why some Democrats worry there's no plan B. Also, the class divide. We asked Americans where they think they belong. Are you really middle class? And in the End Game, Lindsey Graham started it here on Meet the Press.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I don't email. You can have every email I’ve ever sent. I've never sent one.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Now the other Washington politicians to admit never taking that bridge to the 21st century.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm Chuck Todd and joining me to provide insight and analysis this morning are Matt Bai of Yahoo News, former Hillary Clinton press secretary Karen Finney, my colleague Andrea Mitchell here at NBC, and former senior advisor to Mitt Romney, Kevin Madden. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. The White House is hitting back hard on the issue of Iran. Late last night they sent their own letter to Senate Republicans, the message: "Don't meddle and blow our chances of getting any deal." This of course comes after 47 Republican Senators warned Iran's supreme leader, or was it President Obama they were warning, that Congress could undo any deal the president makes.

The GOP presidential contenders were quick to endorse the letter's message. But Democrats and even some pro-Republican newspapers blasted the move. By week's end, some signers of Tom Cotton's letter were expressing regret. And keep this in mind. It's not just the United States negotiating with Iran. Five other countries are also involved and they too denounced the tactic.

A not-so-subtle reminder that if there's no deal, the only country that will be left sanctioning Iran will be the United States. In the end, this letter controversy may be nothing more than a sideshow to the main event. Will any deal actually curb Iran's growing influence in both Iraq and the wider Middle East?

NBC's chief global correspondent Bill Neely actually joins me now from Northern Iraq where Iranian militias have joined the fight against ISIS. And Bill, that very point, Iraq is making some real progress against ISIS over the last couple of weeks. But could they have been doing it without the help of these Iranian militias?

BILL NEELY:

I think the answer is no, Chuck. Iran's role in Iraq has never been so visible. Those Iranian-backed militias are everywhere, their colors are everywhere, 20,000 men. And Captain Soleimani, who's head of Iran's most elite forces in Tikrit, he's directing dozens of Iranian officers operating drones, artillery, and rocket systems.

Now Saudi Arabia's foreign minister says, "All of that shows Iran is taking over Iraq." And it's true that Iran's militias are answerable not to Baghdad, but to Tehran. And it's ironic, Chuck, that in the 1980s, Iran and Iraq fought a terrible war, to a stalemate with a million dead. I mean, you could argue Iran is now winning the fight, if you like, winning the war for a broken Iraq.

CHUCK TODD:

The old war of 30 years ago, you brought up Saudi Arabia and their concerns about Iran, and I think the reason they're concerned, it seems to be this widening sphere of influence that Iran has not just in Iraq, but in a lot of countries that touched Saudi Arabia.

BILL NEELY:

Yeah, there's a big battle here. It's a battle for regional dominance. A battle really with the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And that goes back thousands of years. It's Persians against Arabs. Iran is consolidating an arc of influence from Lebanon, where its allies Hezbollah dominate, to Syria, where President Hassan Rouhani's on its support, to Iraq and it's a Shiite-dominated government, to Yemen, where a Shiite-Houthi rebellion has just succeeded, to Bahrain, which is also Shiite majority.

So you could say that the worry is that this arc of influence will deepen. And that is the worry about the nuclear negotiations, that its sanctions are lifted. Sunnis fear Iran's influence will simply consolidate. Now if Iran helps defeat ISIS in Iraq, what kind of a victory really in the end is that for the United States?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, the complexities of this Iranian relationship, Bill Neely, thanks for setting it up well for us. I'm joined now by retired Admiral Mike Mullen, of course, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Admiral Mullen, welcome back to Meet the Press.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Good morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with this basic question here. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Iran is such an important ally to Iraq right now in defeating ISIS?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Well, I think it's a part of what's going on in Iraq that we have to accept. The number-one priority there I think is to defeat ISIS. But I don't think we should ever lose sight of that, that this Iranian regime, as well as the IRGC and specifically the leadership of the IRGC has committed a lot of terrorist activities in the region that actually led against us in the Iraq war and killed many Americans.

And so working together right now in a constructive way to eliminate the number-one threat in Iraq, I don't think that opens the door for accepting who they are and what they've done in the past. And once we're beyond ISIS, I think that certainly the relationship that we have with Iran from the standpoint of what they've done for so long will be based on the elimination of those kinds of terrorist activities that are evident throughout the region.

CHUCK TODD:

Did the United States make a strategic mistake when on one hand, we were rhetorically saying, "We're going to get rid of ISIS, do everything it takes," but not follow that up with forces on the ground? So instead Iraq and frankly, some in Syria, have had to turn to Iran?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

I think that the question of boots on the ground is one that is obviously widely debated. I'm hard-pressed to believe that Iran wouldn't be doing what they're doing no matter what forces we may or may not have on the ground. And quite frankly, as someone who is not in the know on a regular basis, I'd be hard-pressed to give you a recommendation one way or another. Suffice it to say that ISIS is the one we need to eliminate there and then actually figure out how we're going to progress against them in Syria as well.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to tell you something that Senator Graham said to me last week and get your opinion on what he said. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

They're the root cause of this problem in the Mideast as much as ISIL. I fear them more than I fear ISIL. I fear Iran--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You fear Iran more than ISIS?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Absolutely. Not even close.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Admiral Mullen, do you fear Iran long term more than ISIS?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

I do. Actually, I think Iran is a much more difficult challenge and incredibly complex country that we don't understand very well. We've had no relations with them for 35 years. There's a complexity inside that country that is represented by enormous tension on the part of President Rouhani who's considered to be a reformer, was somewhat of a surprise selectee as president.

And the ideological faction led by the supreme leader and it is the supreme leader and his ideological group, if you will, that lead in the judiciary, in lead with respect to the military, and this whole focus on the nuclear deal is part of where I think President Rouhani wants to get so that possibly he's got a chance with elections next year, with respect to those who will select the next supreme leader, with parliamentary elections in the spring, to possibly turn it in a more constructive reform direction for the country of Iran, and a future that is much more integral to the international community.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, very quickly, last question. You are one of the co-chairs of the investigation into the State Department and their workings on the Benghazi attack and what happened and what went wrong. Seeing all this controversy about Hillary Clinton's emails, do you believe you had all the information at the time to make the assessment that you made at that time, at that ARB report?

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

I'm very comfortable, Chuck, and I stated this several times with the ARB and what we reviewed and the conclusions that we reached in that regard. And I'll certainly let those who continue to investigate get to the details of what has recently occurred. But again, I'm comfortable with Tom Pickering and myself and the other members of the ARB and what we did and what we recommended to the Secretary of State.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Admiral Mullen, thank you for your time. And of course, thank you for your service over the years.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, in an interview with Vice News that runs tomorrow, President Obama couldn't contain his anger at the 47 Republican senators who wrote the letter to the ayatollah. Take a listen.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:

I'm embarrassed for them. For them to address a letter to the Ayatollah, the supreme leader of Iran, who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is: don't deal with our president, because you can't trust him to follow through on an agreement. That's close to unprecedented.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, that distracting background noise is courtesy of Vice. That's how they decided to release the clip. We tried our best to try to tone it down, there wasn't much we could do. Anyway, for more on Iran, I'm joined by Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, he's chair of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, member of the leadership. He signed that letter.

And Democrat Tim Kaine, a Virginia member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, who have actually been critical of a lot of the signers, but very skeptical of any deal that could get cut with Iran on the nuclear front. Senators Kaine and Wicker, welcome back to Meet the Press for both of you. Senator Wicker, let me just start with you. This morning, I know some senators have regretted some parts of the letter. Do you have any regrets on signing the letter, on who it was addressed to, and how this controversy bubbled up this week?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

No, I don't have any regrets at all. I stand by the letter. And I think it's interesting that we've had so much talk about process just like we had talk about process with Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech, rather than dealing with the substance.

And I was struck by what I think I heard Admiral Mullen say. He said he fears Iran more than he fears the Islamic State. And he has reason to say that. This is the country that we're negotiating with on this agreement, they are the chief exporter of terrorism around in that region.

The president's own Northern Command admiral just last week said they are not abiding by the international inspection regime and they're developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles. So I think the substance should be that this is a country that we're negotiating with that frankly our president and our secretary of State feel pretty comfortable with. And I don't have much confidence that any agreement that they make they will abide by.

CHUCK TODD:

Well let me ask you this. If there is no agreement, the sanctions are going to go away from all the other countries except the United States. Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, it's likely they all walk away from these sanctions. So it seems as if this is a box.

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Well, I don't know that they've said that. If that's their announced position, then indeed, they are negotiating with one hand tied behind their back. To me, everything should be on the table. That's always been our position as the United States when you're dealing with an adversary.

And if in fact our negotiating partners and members of the other negotiating team, some of whom are closer to us than others. If they're in fact saying, "Regardless of how this comes out, we're out of the sanction regime," then to me, that's not the way to get a strong deal for the West.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Kaine, let me go to you here, because there's a letter this morning from the White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on behalf of the White House, it's addressed to Senator Corker, and it has to do with potential legislation that you are also a cosponsor to, that has to do with Congress's role in approving a nuclear deal.

Here's what Denis McDonough writes: "We believe that the legislation would likely have a profoundly negative impact on the ongoing negotiations, emboldening Iranian hardliners, moreover, if Congressional action is perceived as preventing us from reaching a deal, it will create divisions within the international community, putting at risk the very international cooperation that has been essential to our ability to pressure Iran." What do you say to the president who clearly doesn't like this legislation that you too are a cosponsor of?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Chuck, I'm a proud cosponsor to the legislation. And look, the White House is frustrated with Congress because Congress has taken action in the last few weeks, showing an unacceptable level of contempt for the office of the president. However, let's be realistic here. The deal that is being negotiated with Iran is about what will Iran do to get out from other congressional sanctions.

And so it is unrealistic to think that Congress is not going to be involved in looking at a final deal. I am a pro-diplomacy senator. And I supported the negotiations to this point. But any deal that touches upon the congressional statutory sanctions is going to get a review of Congress. And the only question is, are you going to have a constructive, deliberate, bipartisan process, or are you going to be rushed and partisan? We've seen the wrong way to go back it last week. I hope we will approach it in the careful and deliberative bipartisan way.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it's clear the White House is afraid you guys may start voting on this legislation as early as March 24th, later this month, before the end of the month. It sounds like the White House is hoping you wait until if there's a framework announced in the next ten days, then the final deal that you guys don't touch, start talking about this until June. Are you willing to wait that long before you and Senator Corker decide to enact this bill?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

You know, Chuck, there's no reason to wait till June on our bill. All our bill does is sets up the process under which Congress reviews a deal. And here's what it does. If the White House gives sanctions relief under executive sanctions, they have complete authority to do that without Congress.

If they want to give international sanctions relief and can convince partners to do that, they can do that without Congress. Only when they touch the congressional sanctions must Congress get involved. And we have a 60-day period either to approve the congressional sanctions relief, to disapprove it, or take no action and no action is defined as approval.

This is a very bipartisan and deliberative approach to looking at something that is fundamentally about our nation's security interest. And if they're going to unwind congressional sanctions, Congress has got to be involved.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, will you have a problem if they go to the UN first, Senator Kaine, and get this deal ratified there before coming to Congress?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Chuck, if they go to the UN about international sanction, they have the complete ability to do that. Sanctions that the White House has entered into without Congress, they have the ability to take action about without Congress. But when they touch upon congressional sanctions, Congress is going to be involved. And the only answer is what is a process that is bipartisan and deliberative and constructive.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Wicker, if they go to the UN first, is that a mistake?

SEN. ROGER WICKER:

Well, the UN has the right to deal with UN sanctions. But here's the thing to understand about this letter, and I would think Tim would be frustrated by that letter. What they said this morning in the new letter is not only if we get a preliminary deal must Congress not pass legislation, but they're telling Tim Kaine and Bob Corker, the people that have negotiated with six Republicans and six Democrats, "You can't pass legislation until I, the president, get a final deal negotiated in June. And only then will a coequal branch of the United States government be allowed to weigh in." I would think that Senator Kaine would be frustrated by that.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm going to leave it there. Senator Kaine, Senator Wicker, thank you both for coming on this morning. Big important topic, I want to bring in my panel now, backed by Karen Finney, Andrea Mitchell, Kevin Madden. Andrea, that to me is the news this morning. The White House was tolerating this idea of Congress not getting involved until March. Now they realize, "Oh no, wait, let me look at the calendar. It's March. No, no, no, can it wait till June?" Senator Kaine, that's an important moment that he said, "No, we're going to go in March."

ANDREA MITCHELL:

That's an important moment. And the problem that the White House has since they're caught between the 47 Republican senators who many believe went too far in trying to interfere with the negotiating process, and this bipartisan group, including Corker and Kaine, they're big supporters on the Foreign Relations Committee, who want in.

They want in on the unilateral sanctions. There’s no reason they can't go to the UN and talk about those international sanctions. But the ones that they can deal with, and the Congress has the right to deal with, is immediate. Look, it's still not clear we're going to get the deal. I'd say it's now more than 50/50. But there are some really tough negotiating issues still in play, including not only when the sanctions would be lifted and how, but the inspections process.

That's how Iran was cheated before. And what no one is talking about is that they have not even begun to get clear answers from Iran about their missile technology, their warhead technology, delivery systems. You can have a bomb, and if you can't deliver it, it's not as threatening. And that hasn't been clearly on the table.

CHUCK TODD:

Kevin, let's go to the politics of this, with Republican Michael Gerson, this is former President Bush's speechwriter wrote this about the letter of the 47 Republicans. "This was a foreign policy maneuver in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation with all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting. In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority's capacity to govern." Again, that's Michael Gerson writing this. That wasn't some liberal columnist writing this.

KEVIN MADDEN:

Yeah, well, I mean, if you look at the substance of the letter, it was really “Civics 101.” It was Congress and 47 senators stating what they believe was their proper role in this process. I think if there is a legitimate criticism, or if there are legitimate concerns about the diplomatic wisdom of it, that's fine.

But if you listen to Senator Kaine, and you listen to Senator Wicker today, they were actually in unison on their criticism of the president and the White House's not bringing them into this process more and not including them more.

CHUCK TODD:

Karen, I think that--

KEVIN MADDEN:

The White House should be building support with this Congress--

CHUCK TODD:

--Kevin brings up a point. It does seem like despite what the 47 Republican senators did, it didn't chase away Tim Kaine yet.

KAREN FINNEY:

No, it didn't. But you know, think about what Admiral Mullen just said in terms of you have a president around who is trying to, looking towards elections, trying to get this nuclear deal to try to move in a more moderate direction. Those 47 senators essentially bolstered the extremists, bolstered the military position, right?

So that actually undermines the person in Iran who may be trying to move in a more moderate direction. That doesn't help us either and our concerns about what's going on in Iraq and the region, nor does it help us with our negotiating position.

CHUCK TODD:

Matt, I have to say, it doesn't seem like there is a good political outcome here for either party if we're going to look at that. And frankly, it doesn't look like there's a good strategic outcome no matter what happens with Iran.

MATT BAI:

Well, no because nonproliferation is something, we've been actually quite fortunate, remarkably successful over the last 30 years or so, with nonproliferation. Long term, this continues to be a more--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Are we negotiating nonproliferation? Or are we negotiating slowing?

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

As Henry Kissinger put it, “Are we just simply managing proliferation?”

MATT BAI:

That was a great quote. And somewhere on the line, some president is going to have to turn that corner because never in history have we put the technological genie back in the bottle and--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Ask North Korea and then here comes Saudi Arabia and all that. Very fast.

KAREN FINNEY:

It's crazy, you just can't imagine. The real problem, it's not the letter, it's whom it was addressed to. You don't send a letter to the Ayatollah--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm going to hit the pause button there, because we're going to have more fireworks, I have a feeling.

KAREN FINNEY:

Oh God.

CHUCK TODD:

Coming up after the break, because it's the Hillary emails and the question Democrats are asking, "Is she too big to fail? And if so, is there even a plan B?" We'll be right back.

* * *COMMERCIALS NOT TRANSCRIBED* * *

CHUCK TODD:

And welcome back. Republicans have made it clear, they're not going to let up on Hillary Clinton in their furor over her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State. They used this weekend’s GOP radio address, believe it or not, to say that they will try to gain access to her emails to answer key questions that they still have over Benghazi, a controversy many people thought had gone away. So if Clinton hoped her first public comments on the controversy this week would quell the feeding frenzy, she had to be disappointing with the reaction that followed.

(END TAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER:

Her answers, I imagine, satisfied some, not others.

SEAN HANNITY

Hardly anyone is satisfied.

RACHEL MADDOW:

The story is not going away.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Hillary Clinton was supposed to spend the month of march gearing up for an April presidential announcement, with speeches to friendly audiences and staying above the fray.

JIMMY KIMMEL:

Do you have Hillary Clinton's new email address?

BARACK OBAMA:

I can't share it with you.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Instead, she is yet again in the middle of a political and media circus.

LESTER HOLT:

Hillary Clinton.

SCOTT PELLEY:

Hillary Clinton.

DAVID MUIR:

Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Hillary Clinton, leading even some of her Democratic supporters to worry that her new campaign, like her handling of the controversy over her private email system, will be insular and lawyerly, slow to respond, and quick to go off message.

SEC. HILLARY CLINTON:

I believe I have met all of my responsibilities and the server will remain private.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

And so Democrats are publicly and privately wringing their hands about the familiar drama. An often contentious relationship with the press forged in the 1992 campaign.

BILL CLINTON:

This will test your character of the press, it is not only my character that has been tested.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Lines of attack, powered by a familiar cast of characters.

JAMES CARVILLE::

It's ludicrous and it's a silly story. I have to say, it has been driven by a lot of tabloid journalism.

JAMES CARVILLE:

A lot of cockamamie, goofy stuff.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

A habit of providing the bare minimum, even to defenders, and a pension for secrecy.

JON STEWART:

You just told us you didn't follow the rules because having two separate email addressed would be way too big a pain in the ass. But you know what is a far bigger pain and the ass? Trying to delete 30,000 emails.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

Clinton remains the Democrat with the most fundraising potential, the best chance of holding Obama's coalition together, and of being a barrier-breaking candidate. And her allies argue that drama will subside once she is a full-fledged political operation.

KIKI MCLEAN:

There's not a big presidential campaign with 20 people in and office who can return all the calls and Xerox all the statements. So that's bumpy.

CHUCK TODD (V/O):

And yet some Democrats are openly wondering if a contested primary is actually a good thing for her. But not all agree with that, including '92 Clinton rival, Governor Jerry Brown.

GOV. JERRY BROWN:

Certainly not. I can't think of anything I would rather have less if I were running for president than to have a competitor in the primary.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

I'm joined now by Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. He is chairing the special House committee that is investigating the Benghazi attack. Congressman Gowdy joins me now from South Carolina. Congressman, welcome back to Meet the Press.

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Yes, sir. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with a basic question on the emails from Hillary Clinton. She says she has turned over all relevant emails from her server. You don't necessarily, it sounds like you have a "trust but verified" issue with her. But do you actually think she's lying? Do you think she's not turned over certain documents? Do you have a reason to believe she's not turned over certain documents?

REP. TREY GOWDY:

No sir, I would never accuse anyone of lying, unless I had overwhelming proof to that effect. I just know this, we don't get to grade our own papers in life. And she had a very unique arrangement with herself as it relates to public records. And it's not just my interest in them. I have a very small subset of her documents, which would be Libya.

It's the public record in general that I think she bears the burden of proving that all public records are in the public domain and that any discrepancies between person and public that she reconciled or resolved those discrepancies in a fair way.

CHUCK TODD:

When it comes to, you've said you want to have her testify twice now. Once off camera, not in a public way, to try to discuss exactly her electronic communications and things like that, and then a second time in a very public way when it comes to all things having to do with Benghazi and Libya itself. Is she the main focus of your investigation here? Is that why you want her twice?

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Oh, heavens no. I think it was a Wall StreetJournal reporter that went and looked at our three previous hearings. And I mentioned her name a whopping zero times. So she is a very important part of understanding what happened in Libya and Benghazi, but Chuck, we're scheduled to interview 50 witnesses between now and the conclusion. So she would be one-fiftieth of that. Her documents, out of 45,000 that we're reviewing, would be a small subset. She's very important. But she is by no means, she's not even a central focus. She's certainly not the central focus.

CHUCK TODD:

I would assume that means you also, the C.I.A. director at the time, David Petraeus, C.I.A. a big role in that, in everything that was going on in Libya and Benghazi at the time too. I assume, are you in the middle of negotiating with him as well, trying to get documents and emails from him and schedule his testimony?

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Well, we would very much like to talk to General Petraeus. As you know, he has been otherwise engaged for the past several months. And I'll be curious to see the details of the agreement that he reached with the government, if it includes a cooperation paragraph, then certainly, we would consider our committee to be worthy of that cooperation. But we have not scheduled his appearance yet. But clearly, he's someone else we need to talk to if we want to understand fully what happened before, during, and after Benghazi.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you to respond to something the National Review wrote this week. "Just as Mrs. Clinton did not turn over any of her private emails until the State Department finally asked for them, Gowdy, by his own account, did not issue a subpoena to address a scandal he has long known about until the scandal became public. That, in itself, is a scandal.” Essentially, the question is, if you knew about this private email issue back in August of last year, why did you take so long to subpoena and get more information now?

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Well, Chuck, the power of subpoena is only as good as the power to compel compliance. And in my previous job as a prosecutor, and I think the author of that article is a former prosecutor also, you had great tools to compel compliance. In the legislative branch, you do not. So we have been working since August to secure access to all of her relevant documents and emails.

Subpoena is kind of a final thing that you do when all else fails. The State Department told us they wanted a different kind of relationship with us and we took them at their word. Well, what we later found is it was kind of a one-sided relationship. The State Department was not very cooperative. And when we realized that, and I give credit to the New York Times reporter. It wasn't our committee that uncovered that, it was a reporter. Then we issued a subpoena.

CHUCK TODD:

Larger question here, what are you hoping to find that five other investigations haven't found? House Intelligence Committee investigated Benghazi and seemed to clear any of the conspiracy theories away from it. Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report, similar findings. House Armed Services, Senate Homeland Security, and of course, the original State Department Accountability Review Board. What has been missed in these investigations that you're now trying to find?

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Well, I can't tell you what's been missed, I can just tell you this. We interviewed nine witnesses so far this year that no other committee of jurisdiction has interviewed. We are looking at documents that no other committee of jurisdiction reviewed. No other committee interviewed Susan Rice.

No other committee interviewed Secretary Clinton. No other committee interviewed all of the witnesses that were on the ground in Benghazi. So we've been asked to write the final, definitive accounting. It may or may not corroborate what other committees have done. But frankly, corroborating other people's work is not too much to ask when you have four murdered Americans. So I'm not on a hunt to necessarily debunk or correct what other people have done. Even if you corroborate it, it's worth your time.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to be done with this by the end of this calendar year rather than get into '16 and become a player in the presidential race?

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Lord, I hope so. I would like to be through as quickly as possible. But keep in mind, when you are never told that the Secretary of State kept her records, when you're never told that she didn't have a State.gov email account, it does tend to draw things out.

So as soon as the witnesses are available to us and the documents, we're going to go ahead and conclude our report. I have no interest, zero interest, in you and I having this conversation in 2016. But I don't get to fully decide how quickly it's done. I need some cooperation from the people who have access to the witnesses and the information.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Trey Gowdy, who is heading up this investigation, I appreciate your time this morning. And we'll be checking back in.

REP. TREY GOWDY:

Yes, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let's bring in the panel. Matt Bai, I'm going to start with you. You wrote something interesting this week.

MATT BAI:

For once

CHUCK TODD:

It was literally the only reason I brought you on. I'll set you up a little bit. You wrote, "It wasn't that she couldn't answer the questions coming at her, it was that she didn't think she should have to. If I'm a Clinton advisor, that's a problem for me because this isn't 1992, when politics could be staged for the evening news. Transparency and authenticity are paramount in the social media culture and a lack of them is fatal, ask Mitt Romney."

MATT BAI:

Yeah. I mean, look, there are a lot of great, I don't know why Edward Snowden can't just give us all her emails and get this over with. Why are we still talking about it? I was just going to--

CHUCK TODD:

Let’s go to Clapper let’s go to somebody else. They must have them.

MATT BAI:

Right, I mean, they're there. They have all our emails. Look, there are great advantages to being in the public arena as long as the Clintons have been. Organization, allies, experience, all of it. The disadvantage I think is that when you're there that long, you can miss changes in the political culture. You can fight the same battle you fought 20 or 30 years ago. But by the way, this happens to reporters too. I mean, we are not immune to missing changes--

CHUCK TODD:

You get what I call "been there, done that" disease sometimes.

MATT BAI:

Yeah and you don't see what's in front of your face, somebody younger comes along and gets it. So I think she needs to change as a candidate and change her perspective in order to be successful, especially if you're running against a Jeb Bush, who makes openness obviously such a theme, a Rand Paul, who talks about civil liberties and secrecy in government. That's a sharp contrast with her approach.

CHUCK TODD:

Karen Finney, you're obviously a big defender of Secretary Clinton--

CHUCK TODD:

And, you know, you may end up working for her campaign, probably full disclose we don't know. I mean, a lot of Democrats may end up working for her campaign.

KAREN FINNEY:

Trying to get me in trouble here.

CHUCK TODD:

Go over to Matt’s point here a little bit. You know, did Secretary Clinton have "been there, done that" disease, where she assumed it was the '90s all over again and maybe was overly defensive?

KAREN FINNEY:

You know, I don't think so. I thought she was trying to be sarcastic with her first answer. And I think also the fact that she went out there and did it, and also said, "Look, if I had it in hindsight, I would've done it differently." For all of those who criticized how slow she was, I think she also deserves credit that she went out there and did it.

Because that's been the other criticism, right, that you wanted to see her come out. I don't think she in any way, shape, or form thought, and I think given your interview with Trey Gowdy it's quite obvious, this is not going away. This was not intended to end the conversation. But I also thought, you know, Matt made an interesting point in his piece, also more broadly, about Hillary and this sort of thematic about Hillary in terms of the time at which she became first lady.

And when that narrative about her and the Clintons were set, the country was not ready for someone like her. And so I think she's being held to a different standard. I would argue Jeb Bush has a lot of problems with his emails. If transparency is paramount to becoming commander in chief, then let's have the same standard for everybody. And she's already turned over 55,000 pages.

CHUCK TODD:

The problem is, Jeb got ahead of this. She had an opportunity to get more ahead of it.

KAREN FINNEY:

But he still hasn't released it.

CHUCK TODD:

There's no doubt that do two wrongs make a right? That's been another pet peeve of mine this week.

KAREN FINNEY:

But no, but that's not the point. The point is, everybody should be playing by the same rules.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me throw something up here

KAREN FINNEY:

--the same standard.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea and Kevin, let me throw something up here. And it's from our history of our NBC Wall Street Journal poll. There's no woman politician in America that we've polled on more in our 25 years than Hillary Clinton. And check out this chart. It looks like an EKG. And you can see at four points in time that we have here that show you the highs and the lows.

Her lows have been when she's the central focus. Whitewater investigation, presidential campaign. Her highs on when she sort of gets to be above politics, either as secretary of State or during the Monica case, frankly, she was--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

A victim.

CHUCK TODD:

A victim, a bystander here. The question is, how does she, she could be victimized by the way House Republicans aggressively go after her, but at the same time, look like the Hillary Clinton of the Whitewater days.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

In fact, one of the big high points was Beijing when she went up against everybody and gave the big grinning speech 20 years ago and she was trying to reframe her approach to the campaign on that level. And it got interrupted by this. I think what are the arguments against what she said, she said that everything that she sent to someone at the State Department was captured because the State Department--

CHUCK TODD:

And it turned out that's not true.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And one day later, it turns out, according to an inspector general's report, and I've dug very deeply into this, Karen.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, you did.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Because you'll hate pushing back on me, nothing was captured, nothing was automatically captured, or very little was.

KAREN FINNEY:

The SMART system. The SMART system is not the only system that archives emails

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I know, I'm well aware. I'm well aware of that. But they cannot guarantee what was captured and what was not.

CHUCK TODD:

There's no doubt. Kevin, larger picture here, here are the congressional Republicans. Jason Chaffetz apparently wants to open up a larger investigation on the email system. You heard what Trey Gowdy's going to do. Do you feel as somebody who would like to see the Republicans win the White House, do you fear that congressional Republicans could get in the way and actually make her look--

KEVIN MADDEN:

Yeah, there's always the risk of overreach. So far I think that hasn't happened. I think one of the things I was very struck by Trey Gowdy's interview this morning was just how measured and focused he was. He was focused on doing what he thinks is his role as the constitutional oversight.

As long as that focus remains there, I think the Congressional folks will be all right. I think in the 2016 context, the big problem for Hillary Clinton here is that this become a character crisis. At a time where trust is so low, the American people have such a low opinion of people in Washington, the fact that Hillary Clinton looks like she's hiding something and that she can't be trusted, that's a huge problem.

The last thing I'd say too, is it was so apparent how much political rust Hillary Clinton has during that press conference. Reading sort of half answers that were scripted right in front of her. When she's exposed to the elements in politics right now, she really hasn't risen to the occasion. I think a lot of folks that are looking at 2016 see that as an opportunity

KAREN FINNEY:

And yet she's the only former secretary of State who has turned over 55,000 pages. Colin Powell hasn't turned over anything, Madeleine Albright hasn't turned over anything--

KEVIN MADDEN:

Unsearchable pages

MATT BAI:

I get 55,000 in a day--

CHUCK TODD:

I will pause, I will pause.

KAREN FINNEY:

Also there's the assumption that she used email for classified information. That is not the only form of communication in the State Department. You know that Andrea. There are two very different systems.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

The classification system is separate.

CHUCK TODD:

Totally separate. All right, we will pause it there and you will get another bite at the 2016 apple, I promise. Up next, the class divide. What economic class do you think you belong to?

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CHUCK TODD:

Coming up, what class do you think you belong to here in America? Where do you fit in? That's all coming up.

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CHUCK TODD:

NerdScreen time. And today, it's all about class identity in America. Every potential candidate for president right now is talking about how they're the one who plans to represent America's middle class. But what is the middle class these days? Although there's no clear definition, and there's a lot of opinions, here's what we found out.

41% of Americans describe themselves as being in the middle class, according to our new poll. And here's what else they tell us. Mostly a middle-income household makes between $40,000 and $75,000 a year. So who are these folks? three-quarters of themselves are white, roughly half live in the suburbs, and are college graduates.

By the way, follow along on this issue of education. It's very important as we look at all of these income groups. Those who describe themselves as poor or working class, they make up 38% of Americans in our new poll. They're more likely to be people of color. They tend to be young, and three-quarters of them never graduated college. Again, that education point.

And then there's the 3% who call themselves "well to do." By the way, a three years ago, it was just 1% that called themselves that. Then there's another 17% who call themselves "upper middle class." Together, that's 20% of America. 80% of these folks are white and they're most likely to have a post-graduate degree, 37% of them. Far more than any of the other income groups.

Again, education, education, education. So when politicians talk about the middle class, and think about this, they all do, they need to be careful not to fall under the trap of talking about keeping people in the middle class and instead talking about how to keep people out of the middle class. Because we're interesting folks here.

We all believe we either came from or are in the middle class. But none of us want to be stuck in it. So what class do you think you're in? It’s part of our reporting project “In Plain Sight.” All week long, NBCNews.com will be reporting on class in America. So go to our website and take our quiz exactly who you think you are on the class scale by telling us how you would rank your social class and find out how other Americans rank themselves and learn why class is about a lot more than just how much money you make.

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CHUCK TODD:

Former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank retired from the House of Representatives two years ago, but his shrewd, argumentative and brash style haven't been forgotten. In his new autobiography, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage, he chronicles his life, service in Congress, the passage of his Dodd-Frank legislation, and defends the role of government in people's lives.

He also writes about the growing lack of trust in government. Something that was on display in our new NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll this week which showed, ready for this, the one unifying number, 89% of the country believe that the president and Congress want to stick to their partisan positions instead of working together. Barney Frank joins me now. Congressman, congratulations on the book.

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

There's a simple statement on the book that a few reviewers have made and noted that you're chronicling and you're trying to answer this conundrum: gay rights were once revived publicly and Congress was revered. Now those attitudes have flipped. How did that happen?

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

Well, I tell you, our reality as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people beat the prejudice. I mean, the central mechanism is that we stopped hiding. And it turns out we weren't what the stereotype was. But clearly, there was a point when the notion that I could get married to Jim while I was still in Congress would've been the most bizarre possibility.

I remember the time I got married, someone said, "Well, would it be controversial if you got married while you were still in Congress?" And the answer was, yes it was. A lot of my colleagues were mad that they didn't get invited. So our reality is that. On the other side, I think the fundamental issue, and it does go back to a Clinton campaign statement, "It's the economy, stupid."

I think what happened is, if you look at the world, in the post World War II era, if you were a working-class guy, and you were willing to work, if you were white and you were male, you made a good living in steel and coal. And then what happened was the world economic situation shifted to the disadvantage of white Americans, well, working Americans, without a lot of skill.

And paradoxically, I think some of the worst anti-government feeling comes from people who deeply believe in government theoretically. And the fact they are angry that this government, that they believe could help them if it wanted to, is doing nothing, and therefore stands by what economic positions he voted.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, it's interesting, you go through this, and your book sort of goes after both parties but in different ways. You feel like the Republicans, you go after their ideology. But with your fellow Democrats, you go after tactics. You believe particularly, for instance, the environmental movement and believe that they just made a lot of mistake tactically. What's your advice to Democrats going forward dealing in this new paradigm?

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

Take the National Rifle Association as your model on the practical level. Because I was struck when Senator Wicker, my former colleague, friend, denigrated this concern about process. Well, in a democracy, process, it's not as important a substance, but it's very important. And if you get the process wrong, then your substance is going to suffer.

We have, on some parts of the left, a preference for expressive, emotive activity. Let's get in this demonstration, everybody who agrees with us, and it'll feel good. But it won't accomplish anything. I think we ought to accept the fact, the American political system can work very well if people will take advantage of it.

Financial reform, ordinarily, you don't do well against the big financial institutions. But because of the collapse, we had public support on our side. And I guess I'll just quickly quote Elizabeth Warren, who I worked with so closely. When we passed the bill and committee to establish an Independent Consumer Bureau, Elizabeth said, "They told me not even to try this because the banks will always win. But they didn't win today. And that's because we got public mobilization."

CHUCK TODD:

We're going to do a lot more on your book in a few minutes and tape more of this. But very quickly, Hillary Clinton. Are you comfortable that she, you've argued before she should have a primary challenger, a robust one.

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Now--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, where do you stand on that?

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

Oh, I'm not for that. When my friends on the left tell me they wanted a vigorous primary challenge, I ask them, do they fondly, do they think that Mitt Romney was helped by what happened? Did they want to replicate on our side? No, and by the way, I was on the banking committee and the judiciary committee. I was for all of the Clinton investigations. And the fact, as you said, was nothing there, except for President Clinton and the oral sex.

CHUCK TODD:

Should they handle it better? Could they handle it better?

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

Yes people can. But I think this is the key politically. This is all inside baseball on what regulation of this. When she has divulged, and she's in the process of doing, if something really bad comes out, which I have no expectation will happen, there'll be a problem. But once it's been out there, and there's nothing bad there, it's going to go away.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. As I promise you, we're going to do more, a lot of people will be able to find more of this on the web. Congressman Frank, it's a fun book to read. Thank you sir.

REP. BARNEY FRANK:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

In a moment, our Meet the Press End Game, and the cardinal rule one presidential candidate just broke.

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CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's right, it is end game time. The panel is here. Kevin Madden, Scott Walker declared himself the front-runner this week. An interview with Breitbart, President Obama, he put out a statement about his passage of right to work legislation in Wisconsin, he was asked for his reaction, he goes, "I guess that means we're the front runner." The campaign hasn't started yet, and he declared himself. I mean, that's a pretty gutsy thing to do, oddly.

KEVIN MADDEN:

I don't know if it's gutsy. I think it's a little bit of irrational exuberance.

CHUCK TODD:

To borrow a phrase

KEVIN MADDEN:

This is the time to be managing those expectations. And I think one thing he's already lost is the element of surprise. I think he needs to get that back a little bit. So I think he does owe a debt of gratitude to the president for setting him out because right now nothing helps in a Republican primary like being seen as enemy number one for the White House.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Karen Finney, there's been this debate I think among some Democrats, who is the tougher Republican to face. A new face, you look at our poll, and it says, "Change, change, change," nearly 60%. People want more change now than they did eight years ago. At the same time, Jeb Bush, electorally, he could carry a Florida, he could do well with Hispanics. But he's not the face of change. If you're Hillary Clinton, who do you want to run against? Walker or Bush?

KAREN FINNEY:

Well, I would remind you that there was a CNN poll that actually said people see Hillary Clinton as change. So I think she actually can be part of that argument. I think for the Republican party, Walker probably will represent more of change because he is more like the base of the party. But I took his comment to be an effort to try to get himself out there in front of the donors that Jeb is very busy locking up, actually.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, well Matt , to declare yourself a frontrunner when you don't have 75% name ID I think is very, very--

MATT BAI:

I think Governor Walker should become acquainted with Michele Bachmann who was also the frontrunner at one point.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I don’t think she declared herself that.

MATT BAI

You know what, it’s ridiculous we don't have a campaign, we haven't announced candidates is Madden could be the frontrunner by next week.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

KEVIN MADDEN:

Well, if elected I would not serve

CHUCK TODD:

There it is. You heard it. Before we go, Senator Lindsey Graham was trending for something he admitted on this show last Sunday. Take a listen.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

You can have every email I’ve ever sent. I've never sent one. I don't know what that makes me.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, it make seem odd to you in that 2015, for someone to have never sent an email, what we didn't realize is that Graham is not alone, not by a long shot.

JOHN McCAIN:

I'm afraid that if I was emailing, given my solid, always-calm temperament, that I might email something that I might be regret.

CHUCK TODD:

And he wasn't alone. In fact, a bunch of senators looked up from their typewriters to say they don't use email either. So our luddite caucus includes Tom Carper from Delaware, Orrin Hatch, Pat Roberts, Chuck Schumer said if he started emailing, he'd never stop, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. Even Bill Clinton's spokesperson insists the former president has only sent two emails in his life.

And they wonder why people think Washington's out of touch with the rest of America. But here's the best comes from outgoing Senator Barbara Mikulski, Maryland Democrat. She tells The New York Times, "Yes, of course, I email, I'm modern. I'm contemporary. I'm hot. I'm hip. If they want to cling to papyrus and stylus, they can." There you go. So everybody here are you guys all emailers?

(OVERTALK)

KAREN FINNEY:

Admittedly.

CHUCK TODD:

Isn’t email is so old?

KAREN FINNEY:

It's so 2000.

CHUCK TODD:

It's so 2000.

KAREN FINNEY:

Right?

CHUCK TODD:

All right. That's all for today because if we’re out of time, we’ll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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