Meet The Press host Chuck Todd joined me in hour two today for his regular Friday chat about the week that was and the Sunday show that will be:
HH: I begin this hour as I do those Fridays when we are lucky with Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press. Chuck, welcome, you have got, you have loaded up the show. You’ve got Admiral Mullen, one of the great Americans, and you’ve got Trey Gowdy this weekend. So you’ve got both the Iran story and the Hillary server story covered.
CT: Exactly. I mean, it’s one of those, both stories are equal. It’s funny, we were debating all week what to lead with, what to lead with, but I feel like Iran’s much bigger, because what I want to do with Mullen is almost more than about the Iran deal. It’s talking about the complication that is Iran when it comes to who is Iraq’s most important military ally against ISIS right now. Is it the U.S. or Iran?
HH: It’s clearly, and he knows of which he…he was the chairman of the joint chiefs during the four years of the surge and the former commander of Naval operations. And the Defense budget is coming out next week from the Senate. And I was just talking to John Thune. They’re not going to break the caps. I don’t know if you’ll get into that. But let me play for you what John Thune said about the Iran deal, Chuck Todd, just last hour.
JT: There’s no confidence in the administration or their team to negotiate a good deal, and there’s no trust in Iran to keep a good deal. We know they’re going to cheat.
HH: We know they’re going to cheat. Isn’t that the problem?
CT: Well, that seems to be the worry. I mean, look, there’s another part of this, though, that I feel like all of us don’t cover enough, and that is the U.S. is not unilaterally negotiating with Iran. There are five other countries involved in the negotiation. And the reason I bring this up is if there is no deal, we may keep sanctions, but none of those other five countries are going to keep the sanctions regime. And that’s what, I think, why the administration is pushing back so hard against the criticism, not because they may not quietly agree that yes, this is not turning out to be the deal that they would want, but it’s the best deal they could get the Russians and the Chinese and the British and the Germans and the French to sign off on.
HH: You know, I asked Thune about the President going straight to the U.N. with whatever deal he can cobble together, and here’s what John Thune said about that.
JT: I wouldn’t put it past him, but that’s insane. You know, you think about what that means, and how is this thing enforceable, and if you want to, the President can suspend the sanctions. But Congress imposed them. Only Congress can lift them. So I just don’t, I have no idea what their rationale or the logic or the thinking would be behind that.
HH: So I guess, Chuck Todd, even though the P5 might walk away and leave us with the only sanction regime in town, I don’t know that Britain or France will do that to us, or Germany, but Russia certainly well.
CT: Well, I think the Brits might. I thought the same thing. In fact, I said that this morning based on my reporting, and then I got a couple of sources popping in. You know, there are plenty of British businesses that would like to see these sanctions lifted, too, unfortunately.
HH: Well, it’s going to be very interesting to find out from the Admiral whether or not he thinks it can be verified, because isn’t that the real question? Even if they had concessions, the 1994 deal with Korea tells us, you know, they cheat.
CT: Well, that’s right, and the fact is you bring up an important model, which is the North Koreans. They, you know, how many, both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, frankly, bought into diplomacy, and did it work? No. The North Koreans have the bomb. So I think that there is, I understand all the skepticism. Now the question is, is nothing, or is at least forcing a situation where the world sees that they cheat, is that better than not doing a deal and making it look like we’re skipping out on diplomacy, right? That seems to be the debate I think that the administration wants to have with the folks that are very skeptical of this deal.
HH: Now what do you make of the blowback at the Cotton letter? I think it validates that it was sent at the right time and at the right place. But there are a lot of Democrats are very angry with Tom Cotton and his 46 colleagues.
CT: Well, I’ll tell you, and now you’re seeing some Republican Senators that signed it getting a little squeamish. I think politically, they may have set themselves back in this respect. I think you would have had 20-25 Democrats that would have joined Senate Republicans after this framework or the deal to essentially express this disagreement about the deal, and potentially, essentially, ignore the deal or try to pass more sanctions. Now, it politicized it to a point where I don’t know that you’re going to get those same 20-25 Democrats to join in because of how frankly red and blue this thing got turned.
HH: Well, I’ll tell you, though, if a Democrat says they’re not signing onto an Iranian sanctions regime or counterstroke because of politics, that’s not going to play well, either. That’s complicated. Let’s turn to the audio I know I’m going to be playing on Monday. It’s the audio that you’ll get from Trey Gowdy about Hillary Clinton’s server. And so the big question, of course, is will he subpoena it? What do you think?
CT: Well, I think he will, but I think the question is, and this is something we’re trying to figure out. Is the server already government property? And the reason I say this is that if she did use President’s Clinton’s, former President Clinton’s server, well, President Clinton, former presidents get government money to set up an office. Does that make it government property? And I think that there is frankly, I know we’re looking into it and our own investigators, you should tune in on that front. I know that that’s what Congress is looking at, because that will determine, frankly, whether I think how easy it is to do the subpoena, how easy it would be for them or not easy to get her to comply if they decide to go that route.
HH: But you’re definitely going to pursue that with Trey Gowdy on Sunday?
CT: Well, I mean, that’s definitely on that front.
CT: And where else they’re going to go. And you know, how many more committee investigations, does he open up a new front, or does he let Government Reform take over part of this, and does he go back and focus on Benghazi? I think there is a question about that.
HH: Now there’s a serious question in my mind that is the hostile foreign intelligence agencies knew of and targeted that server, and they successfully hacked it, we don’t know if that happened, she says it didn’t, she can’t know that, pretty much that’s been dismissed. But if that happened, we’ll never know what they got, Chuck Todd, because she deleted things. And so the question I think that hasn’t been asked of her, yet, perhaps you’ve heard someone ask it, why did she delete these things? Is there any answer out there?
CT: Well, Hugh, she was asked about the deletions at the press conference, and her answer seemed to be you know, these are the ones that I deemed worthy of deleting, meaning it was personal email. Look, as a legal strategy, deleting was probably pretty smart, because you can’t turn over something you don’t have if it gets subpoenaed. Now that doesn’t make it politically smart, but it certainly puts her in a perhaps a better legal place if you are going to be getting into a fight with the House Republicans over who gets access to these emails.
HH: James Hohmann’s coming up, and I know he’s already characterized this as Hillary’s 18 ½ minute gap. Is that going to stick, Chuck Todd? Do you think that’s the way it gets played?
CT: I think, well, I think it could be a punchline for Republicans. I think it really depends on what else is found. I mean, the fact of the matter is the Benghazi Committee found this email server, right? We didn’t really know the details of this until we got the Benghazi Committee. I think if there is something else, what else comes about? What else comes through those emails? Does it stick further? I do think that we learned a lot about her, and that is in some ways, you know, she is not going to cave in on these issues. And she is, whether the press pushes her, whether we know she was going to fight Republicans, but she’s also fighting a lot of op-ed pages on this, and they don’t seem to care.
HH: Has the aura of inevitability about her nomination been dented?
CT: Boy, maybe just a little bit, but more like a parking garage dent. I mean, look at Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb this week. Neither one of them had the guts to sort of take a shot at her. Now meanwhile, remember Barack Obama in ’07? Their campaign had no problem going after her as secretive, as the Clintons playing old politics. That was the basis of Obama’s campaign. If you’re not willing to take the fight to her, then why are you running? You’re running obviously for a cabinet post or something. So you know, I guess if it’s been dented, it’s barely a dent, like in a parking garage.
HH: Nice circumstance for you. You’ve got Barney Frank coming on to talk about his memoir. The only two people who actually have stature and standing to challenge Hillary are both in his home state of Massachusetts – Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Governor Deval Patrick. Are you going to ask Barney Frank about his colleagues from the Bay State?
CT: It’s funny you say that. Look at you planting questions in me. I love it when you do that, Hugh.
CT: It’s funny you bring that up. I agree that I have always thought Deval Patrick was somebody that would, could give Hillary Clinton more of a run than actually Elizabeth Warren, but you know, look, I still think the backup candidate for Democrats is and always will remain the sitting vice president of the United States.
HH: Yeah, Joe Biden. You know, I missed the obvious question when David Axelrod was here. I should have asked him if Deval Patrick asked you to run his campaign, would you do it, since he ran the former Governor’s first campaign and second campaign. But I didn’t ask him, and I don’t think he’s coming back on anytime soon. So if you see him, you might ask him that. But is there any whisper in the Green Room of maybe Joe Biden’s our horse?
CT: Well, here’s what’s going on there. It’s more of notice what he said. He’s making his decision in the summer. He’s the only candidate that could wait that long and actually still put together a semi-viable campaign. What he’s watching for is, is the email stumble this week, is it times three? Are there three more stumbles between say now and the 4th of July by Hillary Clinton, where suddenly the small Democratic handwringing we saw this week becomes a little big bigger?
HH: Three more stumbles or three more subpoenas. Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, we’ll be watching Sunday, and we’ll be playing the Trey Gowdy audio for sure, and the Mullen audio come Monday. Thanks for being there, Chuck.
End of interview.