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Chuck Todd On The Release Of The Senate Report: Is It A Personal Issue Between Brennan And Feinstein?

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Chuck Todd made his regular Friday appearance with me to talk about Sunday’s Meet The Press, which will feature former Vice President Dick Cheney:




HH: Meanwhile, at Harvard Yard tonight, hundreds, maybe thousands of people are gathering in the aftermath of last night’s collision between the naked runners and the protesters in that silly story I covered. I’m joined by Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet The Press. Chuck, I don’t know if you’ll be covering the primal scream at Harvard. I don’t think you can actually show the footage of that event on NBC.

CT: No, I don’t think so. I think I’m going to have enough fireworks and enough primal screams from folks when I interview Dick Cheney.

HH: Oh, so that’s who it is? It’s Vice President Cheney’s your guest this…

CT: Vice President Cheney, and also, I have Ron Wyden, who will represent sort of the Democrats when it comes to the report that the Intelligence Committee put out. But yeah, no, I’m going to have, I think, a pretty, hopefully, a pretty robust conversation with the former Vice President.

HH: Well, I began the show today with Mike Pompeo, who was out at Langley today talking about this, and he blasted Dianne Feinstein. I am curious, Chuck Todd, if you think the motivation of Senator Feinstein has been sufficiently explored as a political issue in a journalistic issue here. She’s being, I mean, the timing of this is awfully suspicious.

CT: Well, I think it’s, you know, I think there’s, I think there’s complicated tension between different parts of the government here. John Brennan upset at Dianne Feinstein, John Brennan upset at the White House, doesn’t feel like the White House has done enough there, White House not happy with Dianne Feinstein, John Brennan not happy with Leon Panetta and how Leon Panetta basically allowed the access that he allowed. So this is a more complicated political story than I think, you know, it doesn’t just break in the normal red v. blue, or this is just a, this is, I think it got personal, frankly, between Brennan and Feinstein in a way that I don’t think we’ve ever seen a relationship between and Intelligence Committee chair and a CIA director get before.

HH: Well, I agree with that, and I think it’s because Brennan, who has of course been a loyal Obama soldier as counterterrorism chief at the White House and now at the Agency, I think he thinks she was grandstanding, and that there’s no other explanation for this. You know, it does put a lot of people in peril of prosecution before the International Criminal Court if they are, we’re not a signatory to that treaty, but our allies are in some instances.

CT: Right.

HH: You get an aggressive prosecutor such as the Spanish guy who went after Pinochet a few years ago, and our friends are going to end up getting dragged before the ICC.

CT: Well, I mean, this was, look, I know for a fact these were some of the arguments that Brennan was making about having this public in the first place. I think that there were frankly some in the White House, and I don’t know if everybody, but some in the White House that were kind of hoping that the clock would run out on it, meaning that the end of the year comes, Senate Republicans take over. Put it this way, this was one issue that the White House, I think, not everybody at the White House, but some at the White House, and definitely everybody at the CIA, would have been happy had, with the Republicans in power when it comes to this report, and I think they were hoping the clock would run out and the report wouldn’t see the light of day.

HH: Now Chuck, you’ve been around D.C. for a long time, so you know that as legislators get old, and their stars begin to set, they get more and more anxious for headlines to be about them. Is there some aspect of this that Dianne Feinstein at 81 just wants one last turn at center stage?

CT: You know, I don’t know that, because here’s the thing. Up until these, this last year of contentiousness between Feinstein and Brennan, she was never, you know, was more of the Mark Udalls and the Ron Wydens that were very, very skeptical of some of the things that the intelligence community does. She was always somebody that was seen as a bipartisan member, sort of a long-standing, bipartisan member of the national security apparatus. You know, there’s sort of this unofficial part of Washington where Stephen Hadley and a Tom Donilon, right, the national security advisors to Bush and Obama, regularly get together.

HH: Yup.

CT: You know, that sort of thing. There is sort of this above politics apparatus, and she was always considered a member of that sort of unofficial tribe, if you want to call it that, if we tried to create a family tree of tribes here. But again, I go back to, look, I don’t know about the motivation of sort of, you know, the end of the career stuff, but I do think there certainly is, when you look at the legacy of Congress, and the fact that Congress, you know, there’s a lot of Democrats who think they abdicated their responsibility, and frankly some Republicans who feel they didn’t provide the oversight they should have provided in the moment.

HH: So much of this sort of vitriol, you’re getting into something here that a lot of people don’t understand. So much of the vitriol, like there’s a guy over at State who says the worst things about Cheney, not realizing he’s Dick Armitage’s buddy and Dick Armitage is still embarrassed for getting Scooter Libby sent to jail, I mean, indicted, because it was Dick Armitage who’s responsible for that. So much of this is personal, but no one ever understands it outside of the Beltway.

CT: It’s funny you say that. I always say that some of this stuff, that the nastiest views in politics never have to do with the D and the R. It’s always personal. There’s always a personal element to it. And I think in particular, there definitely is a personal element to this between Brennan and Feinstein, to be perfectly honest.

HH: Well now, if you have time, I hope you ask the Vice President what I asked Pompeo. I think Congress ought to pass some kind of law that will pick up the defense costs of anyone thrown in front of the ICC because of this, because we do have allies who helped us in Poland and other places, and they are, I believe, signatories of the ICC, and they can end up, and it’s impoverishing if you get thrown into that process. And Congress used to pick up the costs of people who were prosecuted by special counsels and independent prosecutors. I would think we would do the same for our allies. Chuck, I wanted to ask you as well, this is an inside the Beltway story, but the New Republic has collapsed. And you’ve been following politics for so long at the National Journal and at NBC, I’m sure you know at least half of the people who have quit the New Republic in the last week, right?

CT: Yeah, I have to say, I’ve been watching this with sort of, I feel like a lot of people, and you know, look, there’s clearly not a lot of love lost for the owner. And it does, you know, he came in with a big splash. But this sort of lamenting of what the New Republic, the New Republic hadn’t been what the New Republic was in a while. I think the New Republic had an identity crisis for quite some time. You know, I had argued its heydays were sort of the 80s and 90s, and then it struggled to reinvent itself in the digital era. You know, some of the owners, some of Chris Hughes’ criticism about the digital aspects was true. I mean, look at how National Review and the Nation, let’s take two other ideological magazines left and right here, they both figured out a way to reinvent themselves in the digital era with some success, the Nation, you know, doing, having some success with creating personalities that get on TV, National Review, I mean, in many ways, the Corner was at the time, when they created the Corner, that was a big deal, and it truly sort of reinvigorated National Review at a time when they fell under siege. So you know, both, there were ways to reinvent yourself in the digital era, and I think his chief criticism on that was a fair criticism. How he’s gone about it, of course, is where I think everybody’s been upset.

HH: Well, this goes also to does he have a plan, because the Weekly Standard has evolved very well in the digital age, Townhall has evolved, the Washington Examiner, Politico, they’re all out there. NBC is trying to do the same thing. You’ve mentioned some of the other success stories. But Chris Hughes arrives in town, and you end up, what you want to do is get your talent to go online. You don’t want your talent to go across the street.

CT: Well, that’s right. And I think that this stuff has to be organic, and so, well look, I think, look, I think New Republic’s struggle, first of all, I think their biggest struggle is they didn’t know what they were ideologically. Remember, they were the third way magazine for a long time. And what I mean by third way is sort of they were sort of the anti-union Democratic magazine, you know what I mean, sort of pushing the DLC. And I say they’re anti-union. They weren’t anti-union, but they were not a, they were not a progressive magazine. They were sort of the antithesis to the Nation, more of the Bill Clinton wing, Al Gore wing of the party back in the day. And then I just think they, I think they had sort of a, they were struggling to figure out where they fit on the political spectrum. And as the Democratic Party went more progressive and went left, I think they just, they didn’t know where to go.

HH: Well now, I think they’re going to fit under the invisible category. Last question, Chuck Todd, as Washington descends, do you expect to actually have the Senate still around by Sunday? Or will the Supreme Court be safe?

CT: (laughing) My gut is actually yes.

HH: Oh, no.

CT: And it’s only because, no, and I don’t think it means that anything’s going to…I just think that look, there’s enough progressive senators and conservative senators who don’t like this, which by the way, talk about, like we now see the populist splits in both parties are there for everybody to see. I just think that they’re going to, I think Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are going to see their lives a bit uncomfortable this weekend. I just don’t think it’s going to go smoothly. I assume they’ll get it done.

HH: And it’s too bad, because I want them gone in the event that any vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court. I want Mitch McConnell to be the one to block any presidential nominee there for the rest of time. Chuck Todd, we’ll be watching Vice President Cheney, Senator Wyden on Meet The Press this Sunday, always a pleasure to talk with you.

End of interview.


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