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Meet the Press - March 18, 2018

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NBC News - Meet the Press

“03.18.18”

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday President Trump steps up his attack on the Russia investigation. Former deputy F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe is fired. The president tweeting, "A great day for the hardworking men and women of the F.B.I." McCabe responds that, "The president seeks not just to slander me personally but to taint the F.B.I., law enforcement and intelligence professionals."

REP. CHARLIE DENT:

Candidly, it looks like retribution and a bit vindictive.

CHUCK TODD:

Was McCabe fired because he may have lied under oath or because the president wants to undermine the Russia investigation? Plus the president's lawyer, John Dowd, says it's time to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Are we seeing a change in White House tactics from cooperation to confrontation? My guest this morning, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Florida, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representative Mike Conaway of the House Intelligence Committee. Also the Democrats big win in Pennsylvania.

REP. ELECT CONOR LAMB:

It took a little longer than we thought. But we did it.

CHUCK TODD:

Conor Lamb wins a district President Trump swept in 2016.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

Now that’s, that's a wakeup call.

CHUCK TODD:

Was this a rare red district win for the Democrats or a sign of a coming blue wave? We have the latest numbers from our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Joining me for insight and analysis are Amy Walter, national editor for the Cook Political Report, Jonah Goldberg, senior editor for National Review, Eliana Johnson, national political reporter for Politico and the anchor of NBC Nightly News on Saturdays and on Telemundo, Jose Diaz-Balart. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

NARRATOR:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history. This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning to quote the great character Penny Lane in the movie Almost Famous, though without the jazz hands, “It's all happening.” Item: Attorney General Jeff Sessions fires former F.B.I. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe who has been a target of President Trump for months. McCabe along with former F.B.I. Director James Comey, who Mr. Trump also fired, are the two people best positioned to know whether the president obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

Item: President Trump's attorney John Dowd says he wants to see Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe shut down.

Item: President Trump formally joins his legal team's response to the porn actress Stormy Daniels claiming in court papers that she has violated a confidentiality agreement. But by doing so, the president effectively admits he was a party to paying off Miss Daniels to keep her quiet.

Against this flurry of activity over the last two days, and that doesn't even include Tuesday's firing of the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Twitter, we have a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll with mixed news for President Trump and the Republican Party.

On the one hand the president's numbers are up a notch. 43% approve of his performance, 53% disapprove. Four point increase since he, we tested in January. It's the best Mr. Trump has done in our poll since September. At the same time though the Republican Party's numbers have slipped since January by a margin of ten points, 50/40, voters say they would prefer to see Democrats control Congress. Back in January the Democratic Party's lead was just six points, 49/43.

But we begin with the White House's escalating assault on the Russia probe with President Trump tweeting last night, "The Mueller probe should never have been started," adding, "It was based on fraudulent activities," he claims, and again he called it a “witch hunt.”

The president is making his most aggressive moves yet to shut down the Russia probe. A dramatic shift in his legal strategy. On Saturday Mr. Trump's attorney, John Dowd, called on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to, quote, "Bring it in to the alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey." The statements from the president and Dowd are the clearest sign yet that the special council's job may be in danger after months of dropping hints.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I'd like to see it end. Look, the whole Russian thing was an excuse. There is absolutely no collusion. That has been proven.

CHUCK TODD:

The campaign against Mueller and the Justice Department has been cheered on by Mr. Trump's defenders in the conservative media.

SEAN HANNITY:

If Rod Rosenstein had his way we wouldn't know about any of these scandals. People now need to be held accountable.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats are hitting back. On Saturday the Democratic leader of the Senate's Russia investigation, Mark Warner, tweeted, "Every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, needs to speak up in defense of the special council now."

SEN. BEN CARDIN:

I just think this is outrageous. The Department of Justice, the F.B.I. should be independent.

CHUCK TODD:

Another sign the administration is trying to delegitimize the Russia investigation: the eleventh hour firing of former Deputy F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe on Friday night. Just 26 hours before his formal retirement following a recommendation from the F.B.I. McCabe has been a target of the president for months.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

He got from five to $700,000, whatever the number was. Got that money for the wife. And you know in Virginia--

(OVERTALK)

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

--in Virginia--

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS:

He has had some very troubling behavior. And by most accounts a bad actor.

CHUCK TODD:

He's also a key witness in the Russia probe.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

Has there been any curtailment of the F.B.I.'s activities in this important investigation since Director Comey was fired?

ANDREW McCABE:

Ma'am, we don't curtail our activities.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday Mr. Trump called McCabe's firing a “great day” tweeting, "Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choir boy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the F.B.I." Mr. McCabe is accused in an inspector general's report, which is not yet public, of not being forthcoming under oath about his decision to let F.B.I. insiders talk to a reporter during the presidential campaign about the investigation of the Clinton Foundation. In a statement McCabe dismissed the charges, quote, "I'm being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.” Joining me now from Miami is Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Senator Rubio, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

I know it's been a extraordinarily busy time for you both locally and nationally. So -- and I want to try to get to a number of things with you. But let me start with Andrew McCabe's firing. Was he treated fairly?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

I don't like the way it happened. He should've been allowed to finish through the weekend. That said, look, there's an inspector general report that's due and work that's being done and after he had retired, if that report would've indicated wrongdoing or something that was actionable, there are things that could've been done after the fact. But, you know, 48 hours to go before retirement, I would've certainly done it differently given the fact there's still this report out there that hasn't come in.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you concerned about damage this does to the F.B.I., to the office of professional responsibility who apparently made this recommendation and the Justice Department itself?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Yeah, I just don't like this whole, you know, back and forth between the people outside the F.B.I. and in it. These agencies, the F.B.I., the C.I.A. I mean, all of these agencies are made up of thousands of people who are out there working every day. You know, the field offices around the countries, many of whom are far removed from any of the drama in Washington. They're just out there doing their work every single day. I would hate to demoralize the workforce. And more importantly, I would hate to discourage new people from coming into that. So I just don't like the whole tone. I don't like the fact they're in the news every day. I think both sides of this debate have done this from time to time. There was certainly a lot of criticism of Comey from Democrats when they didn't like how he handled the Hillary probe. So they're not above reproach. There are ways to hold them accountable. But I think we need to be very careful about taking these very important entities and smearing everybody in them with a broad stroke.

CHUCK TODD:

Now you're on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Andrew McCabe says he believes he was fired because of the role he played and the actions he took and the events he witnessed in the aftermath of James Comey's firing. This apparently is based on testimony he gave to the House Intelligence Committee. Do you believe the Senate Intel Committee should call McCabe back to testify?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Potentially. But ultimately, people have to understand our probe is different from the Special Counsel. Our probe is about election security, about the methods, about breakdowns in our intelligence system if they happen in terms of identifying Russian interference. We're not a criminal justice probe. We're not prosecutors. We are looking at what happened, how Russia did it and what we can do in the future to prevent that sort of interference in our election. And so that's what we're focused on. And to the extent that he has something to contribute towards that, we should talk to him again. The other stuff about collusion and the like, in the process of looking at everything, you may or may not run into something about that. But that's the Special Counsel’s focus.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, the president tweeted about the Special Counsel late last night. He said this, "The Mueller probe should never have been started and that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a fake dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC. And improperly used in FISA Court for surveillance of my campaign. Witch hunt." Is there anything about that tweet that you think is factually correct?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Well, I would just say this about the Special Counsel. The Special Counsel is not simply looking at collusion. They're, they’re, they’re looking at the entire thing and what happened with regards to Russian interference and whether there was any U.S. laws broken in the process of Russian interference in our elections. That is what they're looking at. It is not a collusion probe. It is much broader than that. Now obviously, once you open that up and you start looking you can go in one direction or another. You go where the evidence takes you and that's what I support. I support going wherever the evidence and wherever the facts take us. And again, that's why leaks are bad. That's why all this other speculation out there is bad. I remain confident that the Special Counsel is gonna, is going to conduct a probe that is fair and thorough and is gonna arrive at the truth and is, and is not going to go down rabbit holes that are not places that we need to be going.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about this news about Cambridge Analytica and, frankly, the news that Facebook may have known in the summer of '16 that 50 million -- that sort of the profiles of 50 million Facebook users were somehow in the hands of a, of a political consulting firm really without their knowledge. And they have testified before your committee. Have they been forthcoming to you? Do you think Facebook has told you the extent of everything that was done with their users?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

No I don't. And, and I think we've learned that the hard way. Every time that we've spoken to them it's kind of rolled out as more coming out. Look, these companies have grown very fast. Within the span of less than ten years, they've gone from being a novel idea to a major corporation. And, and I'm not sure if the sort of institutional knowledge about the responsibilities both legal and ethical that come with that have kept pace with their growth. Their growth has been a lot faster than perhaps their ability to mature institutionally from within on some of these challenges that they're facing. I think another part about it is sometimes these companies grow so fast and get so much good press they get up high on themselves that they start to think that perhaps they're above sort of the rules that apply to everybody else. So we'll learn more about this in the days to come. But yeah I'm disturbed by that. I'm disturbed by the fact that Facebook has created filters to help the Chinese government censor. And they're begging to get back into China. There's a lot I'm disturbed about in these things.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, we're going to see the reelection, we should probably put that in quotes, of Vladimir Putin today --

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

-- in Russia. And we, we found out what he did in Britain. The Brits, the Germans and we're standing behind them. But the president himself hasn't stood -- hasn’t been as confrontational with Putin as many, I know like you, would like to see him. There's proportionate responses to Putin. But he doesn't even respond well to that. What should be done to get Putin to stop doing what he's been doing?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Well, ultimately when it comes to the U.K. incident, I mean, that is an attack on an ally in a NATO nation. So I'm not saying that the response should be a military response. But I most certainly think it should be a comprehensive and coordinated response. And our allies, if we truly have an alliance with the U.K. that involves other countries like Germany and France, all the members of NATO, all of these nations should be coming together with a collective response, whether it's more -- whether it’s additional sanctions or additional diplomatic actions, combined with some other perhaps NATO buildups and protective status increments. All of these things should be done in conjunction and together. There's got to be a collective response to this. Vladimir Putin is a cost-benefit analyzer. He is -- he is now going to weigh the costs and the benefits of the action he took. And if the benefits outweigh the cost he will do it again. He could do it again here inside the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I finally want to ask you about the tragedy down at FIU, a school that's very important to you, frankly my home town. It's very -- it’s been a tremendous source of pride for South Florida. But I want to ask you a question that an anguished uncle of a victim, Alexa Duran, has, is asking this morning in the paper. "Why they had to build this monstrosity in the first place to get children across the street. Then they decided to stress-test this bridge while traffic was running underneath it." Obviously there's a lot of investigating to do. But that , frankly, that's the first question I think a lot of people have. Why were they testing this the way they did it?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Well, I don't think it's clear that there was testing going on. I think what we do know is that there was work ongoing. There were these rods that go inside, like cables. And they were being tightened. And they call it, you know, post-tension application. And it is during that work that the bridge collapsed beginning on the north end. Now obviously whether the work was the cause of it or not remains to be seen. I think clearly just from a laymen's perspective the fact that they were working on it actively at the time of its collapse leads you to believe it could have. The NTSB is on site. They've already taken samples. They're going to take entire chunks of that bridge for testing. We are going to know how -- why this failed. And primarily for the purposes of making sure it never happens again. And so, I don’t -- but it's going to take a while. These are not quick investigations. But we will know the truth and we will know it in its entirety.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Rubio, I know it's been a tough week for you down in South Florida. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the Republican who has been in charge of the House version of the Russia investigation for the Intel Committee, Congressman Mike Conaway of Texas. Congressman, welcome to Meet the Press.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well, good morning. My, my first Sunday morning show ever.

CHUCK TODD:

Well.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

So I should be in church and Sunday school but I'm here with you instead.

CHUCK TODD:

I, I, I appreciate that and my apologies to your pastor--

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

That's--

CHUCK TODD:

--on that front. Let me start with something Andrew McCabe said following his firing because it involves the committee that you're a part of. He said, "The release of this report," referring to the inspector general report on his conduct, "Was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey's accounts of his discussions with the president." Can you tell us if that sentence, if it's true that that's what McCabe did in front of your committee?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

I don't know how the inspector general got access to that testimony in front of our committee. If he did, I'm unaware of it so I'll have to, to run that to ground. But I don't know how the inspector general would have gotten that unless he got it from McCabe during his conversation with McCabe. So in terms of his testimony in front of us, I don't know how the IG would have gotten--

CHUCK TODD:

So there is no way transcripts of Andrew McCabe's testimony are going to end up in the hands of, say, the White House or anybody else?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

No they're not supposed to.

CHUCK TODD:

They're not supposed to under any circumstances?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well, I mean, yes, we could vote to have that happen. But no there’s-- that’s -- that was committee sensitive information that should have stayed within the committee. And so how-- if the inspector general got, got permission to do it then that was -- he didn't ask me to do it and had to go a different route.

CHUCK TODD:

How would you characterize McCabe's testimony to you?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

You know, I had previous little-- some experience with, with Andrew McCabe. But at the time he was giving it, you're listening to it, you're trying to analyze for veracity and those kinds of things. But, you know, he's a guy that's not used to being questioned like that. He's the guy who's usually questioning someone else. So he's uncomfortable. But I thought he was-- you know, tried to, to tell us what--

CHUCK TODD:

You thought he was forthcoming? You felt like he was trying to tell you the truth?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

To the extent that we knew it. But if that proves to be incorrect then that was a bad judgment on my part. But I didn’t-- nothing that he said we said, "Well, you know, Mr. McCabe that's just clearly wrong. X, Y, Z." We didn't have any kind of confrontation like that.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand why many people think he's not been treated fairly in the public square?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

You know, I don't have access to the personnel records that the F.B.I. did to, to see that. You know, I--

CHUCK TODD:

The president of the United States targeted him for -- targeted -- President of the United States targeted him for over a year that created this cloud over him which we don’t whether is fair or unfair.

(OVERTALK)

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

I don't know what he did to-- you know, the F.B.I., all the facts will come out. It's, it’s pretty unfair of us to speculate at this point--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

But is it an appropriate use of the bully pulpit? I mean, was that fair for the president to single him out like that? It made it so that he was in an untenable position, did it not?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

If he did his job, if he told the truth, then he wouldn't have been in, you know-- we'll see. Again, we don't have access to actually what he did or didn't do. We've got both competing narratives going on out there. And the facts will, will support one or the other.

CHUCK TODD:

Did he back up Comey's contention that he was fired because of the Russia probe?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

When?

CHUCK TODD:

During his testimony to you, Mr. McCabe?

MICHAEL CONAWAY:

He wasn't fired when he testified to us.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I'm talking about did he back up Mr. Comey's contention that Mr. Comey said he thought one of the reasons the F.B.I., that James Comey was fired, himself, reason he was fired, he had testified that he thought it had to do with the Russia probe. Did Andrew McCabe back up James Comey’s testimony.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Yeah, it's been a while since I sat through that, that testimony. I haven't had read it recently. We were focused not so much on that as the-- because that feeds into the collusion issue. And, and our, our committee doesn’t -- was not charged with answering the collusion idea. So we really weren't focused on that direction. But I'd, I’d have to go back and check that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to ask you, I know you're now saying that your committee was not focused on the collusion idea. You said on Monday in a conference call, "At the end of the day we believe that the broader evidence available to us was that they," referring to the Russians, "Favored her," Hillary Clinton, "Over him," Donald Trump. "And the main issue was to sow discord." The next day, you reversed that statement saying, "No, no, no, no they were targeting-- they were trying to help Donald Trump." Definitively, what is your conclusion on this?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well, everybody gets to make their own mind. What we did with the ICA, which was what drove those com -- those comments, and I got us off on the wrong track, quite frankly, is that we wanted to look at the analytical integrity of that process throughout the ICA. And we agree with most of it. We'll have a second report on this-- that effort. But the idea that, that Putin wanted to help Trump that came out of the ICA, we don't believe that was supported by the standard tradecraft of analytics. Each of us gets to make up our own mind of what, what we said happened. Only Putin knows for sure what he was doing during that time frame. And he might have changed his ideas across that, that, you know, six year--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

But you just said, you just said your job wasn't to figure out if there was collusion in the committee.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Then why is Devin Nunes claiming, "Well, there's no evidence of collusion” if you didn't even investigate this aspect of it?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well, I don’t, you know, well, that's (UNINTEL) – there’s a chance Todd that I don't understand. Say that again.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Devin Nunes has gone out there saying all the evidence he's seen, there is no, there has been no collusion.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

No evidence of collusion.

CHUCK TODD:

No evidence of collusion.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

But if you're not investigating collusion then you haven't--

(OVERTALK)

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

That's all we--

CHUCK TODD:

--the evidence.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

That's all we investigated. We didn't investigate conspir-- or his obstruction of justice issue. We-- that's what we investigated, was there collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or was there collusion between the Clinton campaign and the Russians?

CHUCK TODD:

Did you interview George Papadopoulos?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

No, we did not.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. If you didn't interview George Papadopoulos, somebody who apparently is the person that triggered the investigation because he was bragging about potential access to damaging information on Hillary Clinton, if you didn't interview him, just that one, and there's other people you didn't interview, how can you draw this conclusion--

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

--definitively?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

--he got outside the opportunity for us to interview him when he was charged and is caught up in the Mueller investigation. We're trying to stay away from the Mueller investigation and not confuse that or hurt it one way or the other. So that part of the timing – front. The other issue is we couldn't feel a real good link between the Papadopoulos himself and his braggadociosness and the Trump campaign. He was kind of at the edge of the circumstances. And after he--

CHUCK TODD:

How do you know that if you didn't interview him?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well we, all the other information we got and all the information we got about him, talked about him, he was not somebody that seemed to be a player in the, in the long-term.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you regret trying to draw a conclusion, a conclusion on collusion? My apologies, that is a tough phrase to say. Do you now regret trying to draw a conclusion about collusion?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

No. Well, we haven't drawn that. What we said, Todd, excuse me, Chuck, is that we found no evidence of it. There may or-- you know, we-- that's a, that’s a, that’s a different statement. We found no evidence of collusion.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom Rooney, who's a member of the Intel Committee said, "The committee has gone off the rails." And he says, "We've lost all credibility and we're going to have to issue probably two different reports unfortunately and no one's going to really--" he's implying that no one's going to know what to believe. Is he right?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

I -- you'll need to talk to Tom about that. What I believe is that by Thursday I hope that the Democrats will fold in whatever it is they want to put in the report. It's the report that we've got -- we're drafting at this point in time. And that we'll have that one report. I think the issues with respect to what the Russians did cyber-wise, social-media wise they'll agree with. What our system needs to do to protect itself for the -- in the '18 election, certainly the 2020 election, that the Democrats will agree with that. They're gonna -- they’ll disagree with us on whether or not we found evidence of collusion. And they can have that section written in there differently. So, we'll have one report that will answer much of the questions that we want it to. The collusion issue, we found no evidence of it. The Democrats think they have. They've not shared that with us, if they have. I've shared all of my evidence we've got with them. But if they've got evidence of collusion, they haven't shared it with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the blockbuster story about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook make you want to reopen the investigation?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

No, it's a different issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Why is it a different issue?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well, the--

CHUCK TODD:

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign, had potential contacts with-- contracts with the Russians, manipulated Facebook data. Is this not part of your investigation? Why--

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Well, we--

CHUCK TODD:

--wouldn't you want to reopen--

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

We know--

CHUCK TODD:

--the investigation to focus on it?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

So, if there's criminal activity there then that's the Justice Department's responsibility. I don't have criminal -- criminal prosecutorial tools to make that happen. We're already confident that the Russians meddled in the campaign. We also know going forward that they-- that they likely--

CHUCK TODD:

So, you're done? No reopening of this investigation under any circumstance?

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

Now hang on. Now oversight responsibility Intel Committee is ongoing. We will always watch what Putin does or doesn't do. We will always watch what these other actors around the world will do. So our oversight responsibilities are ongoing. If something came up that, that caused us to, to need to look at something, absolutely we'll look at that.

CHUCK TODD:

Mike Conaway, I have to leave it there. Republican from Texas. Thanks for coming on.

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

My pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

Missing church this morning. I hope your, I hope your pastor forgives you. I appreciate you coming on--

REP. MICHAEL CONAWAY:

I don't need my pastor's forgiveness. I need Jesus Christ's forgiveness.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. When we come back, is President Trump finally trying to shut down the Russia investigation? We're going to break it down with the panel. Stick around.

CHUCK TODD:Welcome back, panel is here. The NBC Nightly News Saturday anchor and an evening anchor all week long on Telemundo, Jose Diaz-Balart, Amy Walter, national editor for the Cook Political Report, Eliana Johnson national political reporter for Politico and Jonah Goldberg, senior editor of National Review.Wow, I've got to start with a couple of new tweets from the president. He seems to be unloading again on Mr. McCabe, on the Mueller probe. He said this this morning, "Spent very little time with Andrew McCabe but he never took notes when he was with me. I don't believe he made memos except to help his own agenda. Probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them fake memos?"And then he adds, "Why did the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats and some big, crooked Hillary supporters and zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added. Does anyone think this is fair? And yet there is no collusion." Eliana, the president has declared war on the Mueller probe again.

ELIANA JOHNSON:Setting that aside for one second I actually think that the president is doing great damage to his cause because the McCabe firing, from what we know, was recommended by career officials. The president stepping into this is doing great damage because it is making it look like a political action. Yes, it was ultimately decided by Jeff Sessions. But I do think had the president stayed out of this he would've had the facts on his side.

CHUCK TODD:Marco Rubio--

ELIANA JOHNSON:Jeff Sessions would have had the facts on his side.

CHUCK TODD:Marco Rubio not liking how this was done.

JONAH GOLDBERG:Yeah, it was done badly. They peeled out the investigation of McCabe from the larger IG report. And there was a theory amongst some that this was done in some ways to save the Mueller probe.

CHUCK TODD:That's the irony. Yeah, right. Sessions, to save Sessions, which, in turn, saves Mueller.

JONAH GOLDBERG:Right. Because if-- if Sessions had not fired McCabe, Trump could have used that as a pretext to fire Sessions, put in somebody who then fire Rosenstein. And then it becomes like a nursery's rhyme going all the way down. And so the irony here is that there are a lot of ironies here. There are also a lot of Democrats who don't like Andrew McCabe because they think he helped cost Hillary the election.

CHUCK TODD:Which is I think what he lied about here supposedly. What he's being fired about is for helping Donald Trump get the Clinton email story into the New York Times. The irony of that is--

AMY WALTER:You know--

JONAH GOLDBERG:One last thing on Eliana's point. The poll that you have out today has Trump about ten in the generic. And a lot of that split has to do with the fact that a lot of suburban Republicans just don't like all of this drama. It turns them off. And this is going to overshadow the Republican efforts to get ahead.

CHUCK TODD:It just feels like we're about to see Mueller and Trump--

AMY WALTER:Go head to head.

CHUCK TODD:--clash and it's an explosion. And it feels like this whole thing is--

(OVERTALK)

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:What an explosion it will be. If he goes through and takes out Mueller the reaction is going to be huge on--

CHUCK TODD:Is it?

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:--all sides.

ELIANA JOHNSON:Yes.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:You know what I think, I think we're living in a different time space continuum in the United States and maybe anywhere else. We're living in what Catalan writer Andre Giuliana (PH) called the emotional spasms of Twitter. And every emotional spasm that comes out is something that the world reacts to and yet it's like are we living in a different time and space right now because of Twitter?

AMY WALTER:And yet--

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:And because of--

AMY WALTER:--and he's used Twitter often to make these threats that never get followed up on. Right? He could be doing all of this and there is no actual clash. It's just a clash on Twitter. And that this debate about the merits of anything now has become impossible to have because it's not empirical, it's emotional. So half of the country's going to believe, or 40% of the country believes that McCabe was railroaded. And another 40% believe he had it coming to him--

JONAH GOLDBERG:With that IG report.

AMY WALTER:--and it really doesn't matter.

CHUCK TODD:The facts don't matter.

AMY WALTER:The actual facts are because we have now pushed our sides. And when you have John Brennan and James Comey coming out on Twitter and it was like a blowtorch.

CHUCK TODD:Look, let's put the Brennan quote up because it was unbelievable. This is Brennan talking to the president. "When the full extent of your finality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known you will take your rightful place as a disgrace demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you." I guess he does--

(OVERTALK)

ELIANA JOHNSON:The empirical facts of the--

(OVERTALK)

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:I think we know what he feels.

ELIANA JOHNSON:I think Brennan needs to stay off Twitter. Comey needs to stay off Twitter. These guys would all behoove themselves to just stay off Twitter. I don't think--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:starting with the president.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Samantha Power responded to that tweet by saying, "You don't want to make enemies with John Brennan," which is a really dumb thing to say because--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

That is also dumb. Yeah.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

-- it fuels the argument that the deep state is out to get them.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

And Comey is threatening the president about what he's going to say in his book.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

On Twitter.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Exactly. But to Amy's point I think, I'm sorry--

AMY WALTER:

What did I say?

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Yeah.

AMY WALTER:

Well, just empirical evidence--

ELIANA JOHNSON:

No but to Amy's point, you were saying a lot of this stuff doesn't come to fruition with the president. But I think what people around the president fear is that with the firing of Rex Tillerson and all these rumors of who else is going to be fired that the president is feeling more comfortable in his skin, feeling more comfortable in the job.

And that more things are going to come to fruition that he will step up and fire H.R. McMaster, he'll get rid of more of his cabinet secretaries. That he's simply beginning to trust his instincts more. And a year into the job feeling more self-confident than he was a year ago.

(OVERTALK)

JONAH GOLDBERG:

I think what we're going to have is we're going to have an 800 number where people get to call in and pick which cabinet secretary they want fired.

CHUCK TODD:

You laugh. I don't know at this point.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You talk to one set of people and they think the wheels are coming off this administration. And you talk to another set and it's exactly the presidency that they wanted. But the fact of the matter is I don't know if our institutions can handle what Trump is doing.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

You know what, you step back and you look at the world. Strong men are getting stronger. You talk about the election happening today in Russia, we already know the results of the election.

CHUCK TODD:

Election. Make sure it's in quotes.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

A country that likes our Facebook likes more than we do. And Venezuela has a sham election 20th of May. Cuba just had a sham election. China's strong man is going to stay stronger. And yet that's the big view. And yet we can't seem to see if our institutions are going to survive the emotional spasms of Twitter.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a great line at this point. Amy?

AMY WALTER:

Yeah. And remember though that the F.B.I. still is more popular than the president. But the president is more popular than his party. And this has been the challenge all along that what the president's doing is very hard for his party to come out against. So this idea that you're going to see Republicans coming forward and trying to be sort of a moderating influence until the president does anything it's going to be very hard to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Jonah, you heard it in Marco Rubio's voice. He's clearly disturbed but he's trying not to get emotional.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah, look, you talk to people, one of the greatest disconnects in life, and you talk about earth too, right, different dimension is talking to congressman and senators off the record versus on the record. I'm not talking about Marco Rubio. I'm just talking about generic. The way that they talk about the Trump White House, the sense of chaos, sort of like--

CHUCK TODD:

Sense of concern--

JONAH GOLDBERG:

--a kid from--

CHUCK TODD:

--frankly.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

--a dysfunctional family worried that dad's in the ripple again when the Twitter starts going is palpable. And then you get them all on camera and the problem is most of Trump's policies, most of Trump's personality divides the GOP rather than attracts independents and moderates.

AMY WALTER:

Well, the other thing that I think is really difficult is that Republicans have no agenda this coming year. And so it's very difficult for them to say, "Focus on this, our agenda," as opposed to the distractions coming out of the White House.

CHUCK TODD:

We're going to try to get to that in the next round of the panel. Red Fox called he wants the ripple comment back. When we come back, one of ten Democrat senators trying to hang onto seats this year in states President Trump won in 2016. It's Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Good to be back, Chuck. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

I saw on Twitter that your wife said you got a haircut yesterday for this. So I appreciate--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I did.

CHUCK TODD:

--that.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Carlos in Garfield Heights. Good man. We sat there waiting for an hour and a half. He knows everybody in Garfield Heights, Maple Heights in the city of Cleveland.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, you--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Okay, go ahead.

CHUCK TODD:

--fair enough. Senator, let me start--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

You brought it up.

CHUCK TODD:

--before I get to the political landscape, what should Congress do as an institution in looking into the Andy McCabe firing?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, you said something earlier about-- I was listening to the show from the studio on Cleveland-- about how what members of Congress say publicly and what they say privately and what Democrats say privately and publicly about this president and the dysfunction and the immortality isn't the same thing.

But I hear so many Republican senators grumble about his ethics, about his name-calling. I was with a CEO the other day who said he has never seen a business leader or a political leader who calls his employees or her employees names. And I think at some point Republican enablers in the House and Senate are going to say publicly what they've been saying privately. And that's when things change and we see a president back off this kind of name-calling, not telling the truth, sending out these tweets, all that.

CHUCK TODD:

Do voters in Ohio care about the Russia investigation right now?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I think that a lot of people do. I think people, what they care about is they say a president who is engaging in that name-calling and they know people know he doesn't tell the truth about a whole lot of things. And I think people overwhelmingly wonder about President Trump when he calls everybody else names, including people in his own party, but he never, ever criticizes Putin. So I would guess 70%, 80% of the people in Ohio, including Trump voters, really do wonder what exactly it is between Putin and Trump that we don't know details about yet.

CHUCK TODD:

It's interesting to watch Conor Lamb's campaign. He didn't run against Trump per se. In fact, would embrace some things, policy-wise, that the president was pursuing. What's your pitch to the Trump voter in Ohio that says, "You know what, I may not be happy with his style but I think he's delivering?"

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, Conor Lamb's district is right on the southwest edge of Pennsylvania. From the state line to Ohio is only a few miles because it's the northern part of Wheeling in that area and West Virginia and towns like Steubenville and Bellaire and Saint Clairsville and Cadiz and Woodsfield, across that part of Ohio.

So I know that district in that sense. I know what kinds of people live there. And his race didn't particularly surprise me because Conor Lamb, what did he talk about? He talked about pensions, he talked about health care. My state alone 200,000 are getting opioid treatment right now because they have the Affordable Care Act. Conor Lamb knows that. And he fought for the Affordable Care Act and said, "No I'm going to stand in the way of repealing it." He fought for a trade policy. He wasn't around to vote against NAFTA like I was.

But he knows what the steel-enforcement, enforcing steel-trade laws mean to his district. And all of my state. He knows what pensions mean. I was in Cleveland yesterday with 200 pensioners that will see 40%, 50% cuts in their pension in large part because of what Wall Street did. And it was my idea to set up this joint House/Senate bipartisan pension committee.

Had our first meeting last week. 60,000 Ohioans could lose 40, 50. And what this town doesn't understand, Chuck, is that workers 30, 40 years ago sat down at the bargaining table, gave up dollars today, money they'd like for their families. But gave those dollars up so that in the future they would have economic security. That's been taken away from. That's the kinds of things Conor Lamb talked about. That's kinds of things I'll be talking about and working on. And that makes all the difference in the world regardless if you're a Clinton or a Trump--

CHUCK TODD:

Well--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

--voter.

CHUCK TODD:

--it's interesting and I wonder how concerned you are about your own credibility being able to fight for these voters. Because here was Hillary Clinton and what she said earlier this week while giving a talk in India. Take a listen.

HILLARY CLINTON:

I won the places that represent 2/3 of America's gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign make America great again was looking backwards.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, I heard you describe in those border communities there between Ohio and Pennsylvania, sounded like Hillary Clinton was talking about those people. What do you say to that?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I say that I'm not going to look back. I don't think voters or citizens in my state particularly care about the 2016 election, whether it was Hillary or Donald Trump--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

Well then answer me this, what does she not get? Why do you think she views those--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, I don't really--

CHUCK TODD:

--voters that way?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

--listen, I'm not going to come on your show and analyze what Hillary gets today or not and what she got in 2016. Or I'm not going to come and analyze how Donald Trump keeps talking about Hillary Clinton. I think that's all pretty bizarre that he just keeps reliving. Chuck, when I won my first election many years ago for state representative, and I remember for three or four days I kept talking about the election, how great I was for winning the election.

And then I realized nobody cared. So I stopped doing it. Maybe the press ought to stop covering it. And maybe Hillary and Trump ought to quit talking about it. The election is over. And it's time that we move on. We ought to be working on infrastructure and pensions. And all the issues that matter in places. In Conor Lamb's district and in my state. That's why people voted for him. And that's why people in the end will vote for me and will vote for Democrats that stick to those issues of fighting for consumers and fighting for health care.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Brown, I'm going to leave it there. But I think you're wrong. I think we all are stuck in this time warp where we're going to relive the 2016 election--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, help us--

CHUCK TODD:

--over and over again.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

--get out of us, Chuck. You have a pretty loud microphone there.

CHUCK TODD:

I am half teasing there. I think we all want to get out of the 2016 election. Anyway, thank you very much.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Thanks so much.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back will what happened in Pennsylvania this week stay there?

ANNOUNCER:

Meet the Press Data Download brought to you by Pfizer.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Data Download time. But it may also be time for Republicans to start hitting the panic button. Our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll combined with the results from last week's special election in Pennsylvania show the GOP could be in for a very rocky midterm season this fall. As we mentioned, the president's approval rating is actually up four points from January while those who want to see Republicans in charge of Congress is down giving Democrats a double-digit ten-point advantage. And Republicans are losing support among groups they typically rely on to push them over the top. Since January, Republicans are down three points among all white voters, down six with voters who live in GOP districts, down seven with suburbanites and down nine with white-collar workers. By the way, the GOP is also down double-digits with young voters. All of this played out last week when Democrats pulled off the upset in that special election in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional district, a place Donald Trump won by nearly 20 points less than two years ago. And come November Republicans will have a lot more districts just like it to defend. Districts home to a lot of the groups that our poll shows Republicans are now struggling to hold onto. There are 97 Republican districts where President Trump's margin of victory in 2016 was less than 20 points. Forty-four of those are even more suburban or urban. Ninety of those are younger on average than PA '18. And 96 of those 97 are more racially diverse than this Congressional district. Republicans were already worried about suburban districts around the big metro areas in this country from Orange County, California, to Northern Virginia, to Houston. That's where Hillary Clinton actually won districts. Now they have to start worrying about suburban districts in a lot more smaller to mid-size cities, places like Virginia Beach, Lexington, Kentucky, Little Rock, Arkansas and Omaha, Nebraska. In short, our NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Pennsylvania 18 may be less of an outlier and more a sign of things to come. We'll be back in a moment with end-game and something in our poll that we've never seen before that could be hugely significant in November.

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, End Game and PostGame brought to you by Boeing. Continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game and something that showed up in our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that we hadn't seen before. In districts currently held by the Democrats voters prefer Democrats by 24 points, 56/32. That's not surprising.

What is surprising is that in the Congressional districts that we polled in that are all held by Republicans right now the generic ballot is dead even, 46/46. We've been looking at the Congressional ballot result through this lens since 2010. And both parties have always led in their own districts that they've held. And they've always led by double digits, just as the Democrats still do now.

It always has shown our polarization. This one poll could be an outlier. We'll have to wait for our next poll to see. Or it could be very rough sign for Republicans. Amy Walter, what was extraordinary about it, it was-- it was basically identical results that Conor Lamb had.

AMY WALTER:

I was just about to say we have seen it actually. And it was in Pennsylvania 18 where the generic ballot, when you asked that question right before the election, was 42/42 in a district that Trump carried by 20 points. The challenge for Republicans right now isn't just that the president isn't popular and has lost popularity even in districts that he won in 2016. The party's unpopular and the issues are unpopular. What Conor Lamb talked about and Senator Brown raised this about the issue of health care is going to be a big issue in this election. And the irony is Democrats lost the House in 2010 on Obamacare. Republicans could lose the House in 2018 by trying to repeal Obamacare.

CHUCK TODD:

How do you like them apples, Jonah? Health care, I've heard this too that on the trail. It's not Russia, it's not trade.

AMY WALTER:

Health care.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

It's health care.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Well, and also--

AMY WALTER:

Always talking about health care.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

If you talked to Republicans over the last three months they all would say, "Oh once the tax cut thing actually manifests itself, when people see their paycheck," and we saw in Pennsylvania 18, the dog didn't bark. And that's why at the end Saccone moved to, the Republican candidate, moved to his sort of “they're coming for your bibles” stuff because he hoped that would work instead. And that's got to be terrifying to a lot of swing districts. And if, if I were a district that a Republican candidate won narrowly in 2016 the PA18 thing is basically the equivalent of watching the rivers turn to blood. Right? I mean it is like the seven--

CHUCK TODD:

What you're saying is you'd bail.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah. I- I- I- I would think about bailing pretty hard.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

And between now and November what do you have? Taxes, hey, taxes, taxes, taxes?

CHUCK TODD:

That's it.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

That's it?

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

That’s what you talk about Eliana. Where's the agenda?

ELIANA JOHNSON:

I don't think that there is one between now and the November elections which I think makes it very difficult for Republicans. And I think the problem they face is that they didn't pass a reconciliation bill which means that they need 60 votes to get anything through the Senate. And, frankly, the House- anything that passes the Republican House is too conservative to get through the Senate which needs sort of oatmeal mushy type, you know, compromise legislation. And so I think there's nothing happening legislativ-- in terms of legislation between now and the election which leaves the headlines Trump tweets, you know the sort of circus of the executive branch.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

One quick point though, there are a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, I hear them on your cable show all the time saying that Democrats need to put forward an agenda. I think that's nuts.

CHUCK TODD:

They don't need to.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

They're doing great.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Their agenda is unpopular.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

Right. If there's no agenda between now and November here's my suggestion, why don't you deal with the Dreamers? Why don't you deal with the Dreamers? 5th of March was supposedly their end date. The court stepped in. Why don't we deal with the Dreamer issue? It seems like everybody in agreement that they’re-- should be dealt with. And no one's talking about it because they don't have to.

CHUCK TODD:

Uh, I want to change the subject to Facebook here. If Facebook were a Senator and we treated Facebook as an individual here's what Senator Facebook, here's what we would have put up in questioning Senator Facebook. Senator Facebook in November of 2016, your founder says the idea that fake news on Facebook swung the election is pretty crazy. Then Senator Facebook, on April of '17 you admitted malicious actors did spread misinformation in the 2016 election. On October of 2017, Senator Facebook says, Russia bla-- uh backed election content reached 126 million Americans. Then March '18, Senator Facebook, we found out 50 million users had their data from Facebook somehow ended up in the hands of a political consulting firm.

AMY WALTER:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Facebook's got a problem.

AMY WALTER:

They do. And it's beyond this. It's also this idea that they can't control this platform that they created, that these bots are out there now whether it's on Twitter or Facebook. And driving a lot of--

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

They can't or they don't want to.

AMY WALTER:

Well, that's what's really unclear. Is it that the technology has gotten away from them? Or is it that they just don't want to spend the money to do what they need to do--

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

We led-

AMY WALTER:

--to make this.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

NBC Nightly News last night with this story and the New York Times says that they've seen evidence that when they said they were going to put or destroy the data they didn't.

CHUCK TODD:

But they sent him a strongly worded letter. I believe Facebook said, "You must do this. Okay, check a box here if you did it."

JONAH GOLDBERG:

The weird irony is that Facebook is the home of everyone's sentiment-- putting their most sentimental part of their lives on there. They have pictures of their kittens and their grandkids and their vacations and love letters to themselves and to everybody else. Meanwhile, the the actual corporation, it's like they have Asperger's. They're totally tone-deaf to people's passions about these issues, about the invasions of privacy. And they’re basically-- they're trying to turn human beings into commodities.

CHUCK TODD:

They're products.

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah.

AMY WALTER:

Well, even though Facebook is now accused of having played a role in helping the Trump campaign I do think that they're a microcosm of why the president was elected. They have the smartest people in the country working for them. You know, eve-- every Ivy League graduate wants to go work at Facebook. Yet they are an example of sort of the failure of elites to sort of do their jobs.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a great point. And it's a good one to end on. A lively panel, thank you all.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

That's all we have for today. Enjoy those-- that UMBC game today. Sorry, UVA fans. Thanks for watching. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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