Meet The Press’ Chuck Todd joined me this morning to talk about yesterday’s stunner:
HH: On just an amazing day, the day after an announcement that shocks the world, Donald Trump sitting down with Kim Jong Un, to discuss that with me is Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press, director of NBC politics, and of course, last night the recipient, along with the entire show, of the 1st Amendment award for outstanding individual organization given by the Radio, Television, Digital News Foundation, first ever 2018 1st Amendment award. Congratulations, Chuck. That’s a big deal.
CT: Yeah, it’s a great thing for the show. And it’s about what the show has done for political journalism, especially on the television side.
HH: And on a night where the room must have been abuzz, right? What was it like? What was the buzz?
CT: You know, actually, actually, Hugh, it wasn’t, which to me shocked me in a weird say in the mist. It sort of, we’re so conditioned now to always having something breaking and something scrambling, it’s amazing that something like this didn’t sort of like, even an announcement like this didn’t sort of make everybody run like their heads were cut off, like chickens with their heads cut off. And it just only goes to this is the Trump administration – there’s always a shocking development no matter, you know, if it’s 12 hours, there’s a new shocking development coming. This was right in there.
HH: You know, Chuck, last night, I was sitting down at a different dinner. I was interviewing Ed Meese in front of the Friends of Ronald Reagan, and we spent our time talking about Reykjavik and how that was a summit believed to be a disaster at the time that turned out to be very, very important. But the key was, and Ed stressed this, Reagan prepared and prepared and prepared and prepared, and he had a red line, which he wasn’t going to give up SDI. Do you see the work habit, like Nixon’s work habit…
HH: …like Clinton’s work habit for Camp David, like Jimmy Carter’s work habit for Camp David, or Carter’s with Wye River? I got them reversed, but go ahead. Do you see that in this President?
CT: Look, I mean, obviously you’re asking the question, because you’re skeptical, too. That’s the risk here. Is he going to be prepared for every scenario? Is he going to be prepared for the negotiation? You know, his level of self-confidence is through…there are not roofs that could hold his level of self-confidence. But boy, this is high risk stuff, giving Kim Jong Un a level of legitimacy. I mean, when you talk about summits, when you talk about Reykjavik, you know, those were two superpowers meeting. That was, this is, this is an amazing platform that the United States has agreed to give him. So I think that it raises the stakes, oddly, even more than those old summits.
HH: Chuck, remember this term. I’m going to, I think this is what we’re up for – reverse Munich. Not peace in our time, but Donald Trump saying my way or no highways. In fact, no infrastructure at all left in North Korea, that he’s just going there to throw down the gauntlet. Do you think that’s possible?
CT: Look, I will say this. They got them to the table. So I don’t know how, I think you have to look at it the way I think President Trump’s going to look at this. He’s going to say my saber rattling worked. My way of sort of punching back at him, punching down if necessary, remember a lot of people criticized him, why are you punching down, you know, ignore it, stay above the fray. So you’re right. He might do that. And I think that he is going to go in there with a cockiness that will make him feel comfortable doing that if necessary. But I think the concern goes back to your first question. Is, I think the bigger concerned is, is he going to get played? Is he going to, is he going to get, is he going to allow himself to get used and not realize it until after the fact?
HH: And that’s what Ed, General Meese was saying last night, is that Gorbachev waited to day four to spring and you’re got to throw in SDI. That was on the last day, at which point Reagan got up and left. And there’s that very famous picture of a grim Reagan and a grim Schultz leaving, because he wasn’t going to get played. He just wasn’t going to get played.
HH: He knew in his own mind, even though it was a disaster politically, it was very bad when he left Reykjavik. Everyone thought oh, God…
CT: But look what you just said, Hugh. Reagan and Schultz got up. And I say this. Reagan and Schultz were exactly what each other, where each other stood.
CT: There was a…
HH: Yeah, oh we just lost his phone. Chuck, are you still there?
CT: Sorry, sorry, yes, I am.
HH: Oh, there, you’re back. You’re back. Reagan and Schultz got up.
CT: But Trump and Tillerson, are they going to have that kind of comfort level with each other, trust level with each other? You know, is the President going to listen to McMaster as he prepares him? Is there going to be a new national security advisor still happening between now and this summit? I would argue no way…
HH: No way.
CT: No way he’s going to shake up that team. No way.
HH: Oh, what a disaster.
CT: That’s right.
HH: You might…
CT: You can’t do that.
HH: You might bring in…
CT: You’ve got, I mean…
HH: You might bring in Bolton and give him a working group.
CT: Bring people in or something like, sure, but you can’t like, you can’t dump McMaster now, right?
HH: Now, now…
CT: You can’t let him go until, this is too big. So you know, is the President going to work with this team and take that guy to town? I don’t know.
HH: This is too big. You just said, Chuck, the most important thing. This is too big. And it goes to your 1st Amendment award last night. There was a book that Richard Nixon put out in 1980 which I worked on, so I know about it – The Real War. Here’s what he wrote on Page 266 of it. “A president should go to a summit only if the stakes are worth the risk, and if the meeting is thoroughly programmed in advance. No American president should go to a summit with an adversary unless he knows what is on the other side of the mountain.” I’ve quoted that for, you know, 37 years, because…
HH: …R.N. knew what he was talking about, most successful summit in modern times with Mao. I just don’t think the State Department is, the lights aren’t on. There’s no Korean ambassador. Do you think everyone will put aside politics, and the media will put aside, maybe even Mueller put aside parts of the investigation if this is coming down in two months?
CT: No, I don’t think anything stops. I mean, I don’t know about that. But you know, I think this is, I want to go back to what you said. Do you think in two months we’re going to have all the information about where Kim Jong Un is on this? I mean, no American, what American in this Trump administration has met one on one with Kim Jong Un? Don’t you think that that would be helpful to have that kind of knowledge? I mean, it is, it is, to me, striking that these, Tillerson hasn’t met him. Mattis hasn’t met him. You know, don’t you want to have somebody, you know, don’t you want to have something like that?
HH: Oh, Kissinger went back and forth to China secretly…
CT: That’s right.
HH: …secretly to prepare the way out.
CT: To prepare for this.
HH: So if they intend to negotiate an agreement, it’s a disaster. If he intends to go and give an ultimatum, it may not be a bad play. But it took a year to get Qaddafi’s hidey-holes emptied after he agreed to denuclearize and get rid of his chems, a full year of follow up. You just can’t go there and wave a wand and say denuclearize. I mean, he’s got stuff hidden in every mountain.
CT: Well, and you know, we know President Trump’s a little impatient sometimes.
CT: …with some things. But look, I want to go back to, the fact is Kim Jong Un is coming to the table, all right? That’s not a small deal. That’s a big deal. Something’s working here. The sanctions, it is a little odd to me that it’s South Korea brokering talks between North Korea and the United States and not the United States brokering talks between South Korea and North Korea, but let’s set that aside. And I think, I’m sure you’re troubled by this, too, where’s China in all this, right?
HH: Where’s China? It’s the only place to hold it.
HH: I’ve been thinking to myself you’ve got to do this in Beijing. He’s not, Kim’s not coming to the South. We ought not to go to the North. I mean, the president of the United States ought not to go to North Korea, period. That’s a bad sign, even if you do send the my way or no highways message. Don’t you think it’s got to be Beijing?
CT: Boy, do you do that if you’re the United States? I don’t know. I might suggest Australia. I might suggest, I think actually you go something, you know, you find a Pacific version of Reykjavik, right? Go fully neutral somewhere, maybe go to Indonesia. Make it Bali. I don’t know. I would stay away from China, but we’ll see. And I assume you’re right that Un isn’t going to want to do it in Seoul or Tokyo. So you know…
HH: Wow, what a couple of months. Who are you going to talk about with this on Sunday?
CT: Well, we have a couple of things lined up that I think I’m going to change, to be honest with you.
HH: Of course. I mean…
CT: I’m not going to, yeah.
HH: You know, this was sort of a gift to him, because he had such a horrible week. I mean, tariffs are awful, Cohn leaving, it was a horrible week. And now, we’re talking about North Korea.
CT: And how about the way, I think, you know who knew he had a bad week? The President himself, because he makes his first trip to the briefing room so that before the 6:30 news, everybody could know hey, there’s going to be news coming from North Korea, but he didn’t tell anybody what it was. But he himself broke the embargo.
HH: Wow, how wild.
CT: And so I think, I know.
HH: Hey, my…
CT: He literally ducked his head into the briefing room, and everybody scrambled, and he said big announcement coming on Korea.
HH: Well, let me close where I began. Congratulations, the 1st Amendment award is richly deserved.
CT: Thank you.
HH: …by the 70 years of excellence of Meet the Press which will continue this Sunday as Chuck Todd and his guests plumb whatever it means. We’ll find out on Sunday. If it’s Sunday, it must be Meet the Press. Thank you, Chuck.
End of interview.