Meet the Press Host Chuck Todd joined me this morning:
HH: Joined now by my friend, Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press, and if it’s Sunday in the first quarter of 2017, they’ve been dominating. Congratulations. I saw your numbers on your quarter. It’s like being the Browns in the 60s.
CT: (laughing) Well, it’s, you know, it’s a team effort, and you’re a member of that team, Hugh, so thank you.
HH: Well, you’re doing great work. Now I’ve got to go, I just finished interviewing Reince Priebus, and we made some news, I think. I want to play for you the clip…
CT: Let’s do it.
HH: …in which I talked to him about Evelyn Farkas and her appearance with Mika. Here it is.
HH: A news story came up last night, Mr. Priebus. Evelyn Farkas, former assistant deputy secretary of Defense a few days ago was on with Morning Joe, and talking to Mika about the end game during the Obama years. She said this, the 30 second clip.
EF: …that the Trump folks, if they found out how we knew what we knew about their, the staff, the Trump staff’s dealing with Russians, that they would try to compromise those sources and methods, meaning we would no longer have access to that intelligence. So I became very worried, because not enough was coming out into the open, and I knew that there was more. We have very good intelligence on Russia. So then I had talked to some of my former colleagues, and I knew that they were trying to also help get information to the Hill.
HH: So Mr. Priebus, I put two clips together.
RP: That’s incredible.
HH: React to that for me, would you?
RP: Well, I mean, I heard it late last night, so I mean I honestly, I talked to Sean a little bit about it late last night, Spicer, and then we’re going to be meeting on it this morning. It’s just an incredible statement, you know, and how, what it means and what she meant by that, and whether that has anything to do with the issues in regard to surveillance of Trump transition team members is something that we need to figure out this morning and throughout the day. But it certainly is an incredible comment, although I don’t want to add too much into it right now until I have an opportunity to sort of dig into it and figure out the scope of such a statement.
HH: Now I want to ask you about a personal reaction to it, though. It suggests that incidental collection of American conversation in intelligence, perhaps even in Russian to Russian conversation, was pushed out by Team Obama for the purposes of cornering you guys? I don’t know what, but…
RP: Yeah, I mean, a personal reaction is it’s, it’s almost, it’s so cavalier and unbelievable that I just wonder whether this person knows what the heck she’s talking about. I mean, you know what I’m saying?
RP: It’s sort of like one of these things it’s so much in your face that it makes you wonder what she means.
HH: So Chuck Todd, it goes on, and we’ll post all the audio and transcript. What do you make of the tape? And what do you make of his reaction? He seemed to give her a way out there at the end.
CT: Well, he did, and Hugh, I think here’s the problem with folks that are outraged by the tactics versus the substance, right, is, and this is, to me, been a tricky part of this White House when President Trump in particular, and Devin Nunes has been trying to help, of trying to get at the surveillance aspect and whether it was done incidentally and all that stuff. But don’t let that distract from the core part of the substance, which is there’s a lot here to what Russia did and meddled. And so I really think that this, and I understand the cautious tone Reince is taking here, because there is the substance to the allegation, and then there is the questionable tactics of the process of getting that substance into the public.
CT: What I’m saying is I’m not going to sit here and say two wrongs don’t make a right, but when you’re, let’s not get, this is the competing issue here, and if you’re the White House, it’s a competing issue on one hand. You get to be, feel outrage, and you want a sense of outrage about hey, this seems to be beyond the pale of how intelligence was shared, and some norms were violated. Perhaps the law was violated. But does that take away from the substance of the allegations within that intelligence…
HH: Not in the least. There are three investigations – what Russia did generally, which is horrible, I’m going to come to that, number two…
HH: Did any Trump transition people have any inappropriate, indeed criminal contacts with Russians. That’s number two.
CT: It’s not just Trump transition. It would be Trump campaign pre-election, too.
HH: Yeah, and Trump campaign. And, number three, did Team Obama inappropriately use incidentally collected investigations. But now let’s go the most important one. Of those three, the most important one, we had Mark Warner, who was your central guest on Sunday…
HH: …with Richard Burr in perhaps the only bipartisan moment in the last 18 months. I was actually inspired by it. But what Mark Warner said is just freaking scary. Listen to this, cut number 13:
MW: I’d like to, I mean, let me start off on that. I think we know about the hacking and the selective leaking of information. But as a former tech guy, what really concerns me is at least some reports, and we’ve got to get to the bottom of this, that there were upwards of a thousand paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, in effect taking over a series of computers which are then called a botnet. They can generate news down to specific areas. It’s been reported to me. We’ve got to find this out whether they were able to affect specific areas in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania where you would not have been receiving off of your, whoever your vendor might have been, Trump V. Clinton during the waning days of the election, but instead Clinton is sick, or Clinton is taking money from some source.
HH: Okay, so Chuck Todd, on June 16th, 2004, I wrote an article for the Weekly Standard called Black Blog Ops, in which I tried to imagine the future where this sort of stuff happened. Mark Warner yesterday, it is incredible.
TC: It’s scary. Hugh, by the way, do you watch Homeland?
HH: No, I don’t.
TC: Okay, anybody who’s listening right now who watches Homeland will know the last two episodes actually get into this a little bit, not Russia, but the technology behind creating a sophisticated sort of information, you know, disinformation campaign. And it’s fascinating. They actually create a boiler room of how it’s done, and show all these IT engineers and all this stuff. The point is, is that look, I think that when you see what’s going on in Europe in all of these Western democracies where there seems to be a similar situation happening, I do think you know, my concern, and I’d bet you this is yours, took, that if this Russian investigation gets so polarized and partisan, we’re going to take our eye off the larger issue here, which is this Putin operation to destabilize the Western world.
HH: Do you know, Chuck, I agree with you.
TC: …foreign policy, like next? That’s the next, oh, my gosh, I mean, Dick Cheney said you know, Dick Cheney went as far as saying it’s an act, you can call it an act of war. And he’s not the only one that has said that.
HH: Yeah, I was thinking…
CT: It’s a, it’s certainly an act of disinformation war.
HH: Yeah, I was thinking yesterday that maybe, I was arguing with Bob Kerrey on with Steve Kornacki. I want this select committee to go forward and be bipartisan so we can teach America about the threat, because it is not beyond my imagination now that you could see entirely produced Meet the Presses or Hugh Hewitt Shows that have been altered and pushed out so that they appear to be a real Meet the Press show or a real Hugh Hewitt Show when it’s not, that they edit our words and our images to create, because if you’re good enough at this stuff, we’ve all seen that, right? They can…
CT: No, and in fact, I did a little segment, actually, on my daily show a couple of months ago on this technology of essentially being able to, and I remember they used an example, I believe, of President Obama. If you’re able to create a database of every word he’s ever said…
CT: You can CGI, essentially, the lips so that it, and match up the audio. No, it is, it would be essentially doing what you just described with fake Hugh Hewitt Shows or fake Meet the Presses. I mean, look, this is, this is a, and this is my concern about this investigation, is that we are not, we are not going to have, you know, and I worry about this Trump administration on this issue, that because they’re so defensive about the specifics, that they’re not going to have a policy to try to say we’ve got to be able to defend ourselves against these new weapons.
HH: Well, what’s interesting is Reince, I call him Mr. Priebus. We’ve had this conversation. When a friend becomes a chief of staff, you have to start calling him Mr. Priebus. Mr. Priebus is alarmed…
CT: And it’s, I’ve had friends get elected to Congress, and you’re like, oh, no first names, now Congressman or Congresswoman, okay.
HH: Oh, you know, my wife walked up to the Chief Justice one day at a party and said John, how are you? I said no, Betsy, you can’t, you can’t call him John anymore. Anyway, I want to go to the hearings. I think if we focus on these hearings, I have great confidence in Warner and Burr, and that committee has got a lot of smart people. It’s got Cotton on it.
CT: No, I’m with you. I think it’s a good committee. This is not going to be, I was, look, this is a case where the Senate is the cooling saucer and the House wasn’t, okay? The House was a bit raucous. I think the House Intelligence Committee has too many people that are, you know, diehard in their defense of their party line too much, all right? There’s just too many. I’m not going to single out individuals, but there’s just too many of them over there. The Senate guys, when you look at that list, I’m with you. That’s as good of a combination of the Senate as you can come up with. That’s right.
HH: So who’s on this Sunday? We’ve got 45 seconds.
CT: It’s really good, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it, yet, so I’ve got to be careful. Here’s what I’m telling you. It is going to be the epic battle that’s coming next week over the future of the United States Senate, and a gentleman by the name of Neil Gorsuch is caught in the middle.
HH: Oh, my goodness, the Reid Rule is on the table at Meet the Press. I will watch it with great interest. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Chuck Todd, thank you, great segment as always.
End of interview.