Chuck Todd joined me Thursday morning to discuss the dizzying array of scandal story lines connected to Team Trump, a couple of which have legs, many of which should never have opened:
HH: Joined by Chuck Todd of NBC News. He is, of course, the host of Meet the Press and Meet the Press Daily, every single day at 5pm on MSNBC. Good morning, Chuck, how are you?
CT: Hugh, hearing the Game of Thrones music this week just makes me a little bit happier.
CT: Right? It just feels, it feels more real. It’s coming. Winter is coming.
HH: It’s coming. It’s coming Friday. Let me ask you first to agree with me on, or disagree with me on a definitional issue. We keep using the word collusion, and I think we would all be better served if we used the word espionage, because as my friend, Dennis Prager, likes to say, clarity before agreement. Collusion really means espionage. What do you think of that?
CT: Look, I think, I’m not comfortable with any word, yet. I mean, you have collusion, you have coordination. I agree on the espionage. I think, look, at the heart and soul of this, this is an espionage case, right?
CT: That’s what we’re trying to figure out. So that is a, I agree with your, at least your goal here, which is to have a, can we agree upon the same set of facts? And I think everybody will agree this is an espionage case. The question is did someone in America get compromised? And who in America did?
HH: Exactly. Now I have an extended analogy for you, and I want you to critique it, but it will take me a minute. Trump administration scandal stories are like summer blockbuster movies. Number one, they either open big in line with expectations, or they flop. Number two, they grow big as over the weeks, or they fade. And number three, even the biggest ones only last a few weeks before they need a sequel, or they’re done. And we have eight of these openings. The Trump, the President himself as a scandal, that’s in production, expect it at Christmas. We don’t know how that’s going to go. Don, Jr., number two, the emails, that’s a blockbuster. Number three, the story about Jared Kushner and McClatchy, that’s a blockbuster, I think it’s going to grow. Number four, current aides other than Jared, there’s nothing, yet, not even green lit. We don’t have anything other than Jared as a current aide. Number five, former aides Manifort, we’ve got Roger Stone, we’ve got Carter Page, that’s a long-running show that we don’t know much about. It will continue for a long time.
CT: That’s a Hulu, I call that a Hulu series. That would be a Hulu series.
HH: Hulu series. (laughing) Okay, very good. The firing of Comey was a surprise spring hit. Number seven, the Wall Street Journal story by Peter Smith which you broke on Meet the Press Daily, that’s an arthouse theater, right?
CT: Yeah, I’ll give you that.
HH: We’ll find out.
CT: But Hugh, just think about what you just read. It’s Day 180.
HH: I know it’s Day 180. It’s a hell of a, it’s a much better scandal season than it is movie theater season, isn’t it? Now am I wrong?
HH: Am I wrong in any of my analogies?
CT: No, I hear what you’re saying, and you’re right. I mean, look, I think the most significant thing you said, because it’s going to, to me, it’s sort of like how does the next three months, how does this White House function and how does Congress function, right? There’s this whole separate part of this scandal called governing the country, right? And the most intriguing thing that you said there was about how Jared Kushner is the only aide in the White House that’s sort of caught up in this. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? For governing the country, that’s a good thing. Gary Cohn, all these people, they weren’t, Reince Priebus, they weren’t there, McMaster, they weren’t there in June. Remember, Bannon and Kellyanne didn’t get there until August. They can look around and say oh, boy, I’ve got nothing on my hands. So they can compartmentalize. That’s the good part for governing the country. The bad part for the scandals near the President is none of them have any skin in the game, and the only skin in the game they may have is distant. And that’s not a healthy thing if you’re, especially since it’s pretty clear the confirmation of all of these meetings and emails came from inside the White House.
HH: Now the sleeper to me in movie terms is the Jared Kushner-run digital operation story in McClatchy by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon.
CT: Well, because that puts it all together. You’re right to identify that.
CT: …because then that would be the, well, how did it all work? That’s how the conspiracy worked, if that turns out to be true.
HH: And so that’s the one to watch. And to me, of all the noise about Don Jr., that is appropriately categoried as you know, Dumb and Dumber. And it was fun, but I don’t think there’s a sequel there, just like the Dumb and Dumber. You’re a movie guy, so I…
CT: Are you sure? Are you sure, though?
HH: No, of course not.
CT: I mean, do you think there’s cold separation there? I mean, that’s the thing. I mean, well, look, this is the problem that, and I think you know, we didn’t get into a couple of the details here. But the most problematic decision that this White House made was getting involved in the initial statement for Donald Trump Jr…
HH: You’re right.
CT: …because that brought …
HH: You’re absolutely right.
CT: …that brought it into the White House, and that established a pattern of this White House intentionally misleading, right? They were caught misleading in 24 hours in a big way, not a small way. And that could have actually brought problems to the President, if you’re one of the President’s…
HH: Now let me bring up one more movie that isn’t on anyone’s list, but Lindsey Graham brought it up with Christopher Wray yesterday. And I only know the outlines of it. The alleged DNC – Ukraine coordination, what the hell is that?
CT: It was a one story hit about Ukrainian, you know, folks trying to offer Clinton help. Now nobody knows anything that. That’s my understanding of that story, that it was…
HH: Are you surprised that Lindsey Graham, who is the utmost when it comes to responsibility, and also the funniest senator, brought that up to Christopher Wray, an otherwise…
CT: No. It’s very important to Lindsey Graham in particular that look, there’s somebody, he thinks what happened with Russia is obviously extraordinarily important, extraordinarily significant. He seems to be, he brings these things up to give more credibility to his critique on Russia and the President.
HH: Oh, interesting.
CT: He’s, and I don’t mean and it’s some sort of like, it’s not like he doesn’t find it important. I think he does find it important. But I think he really believes it’s really important, if you’re going to convince a skeptical part of the country that these charges are real and this scandal is serious and important, then you need to also acknowledge the other things that they’ve heard in their news stream. And look, I think that piece is extraordinarily important. I think everybody should take a lesson on that.
HH: Okay, so that’s in limited release. We’ll see if it gets to other theaters. Now Chuck Todd, how are you going to cover this on Sunday, because all of those eight categories could be an entire Meet the Press hour. What are you going to do?
CT: You know what you didn’t bring up, which I thought I was going to be doing at least half my show on this week?
HH: Health care.
CT: Health care.
CT: So look, you know, I am going to get, you know, I think we have to hold off another couple of hours before we promote, but I’ll have a couple of pretty important Senate leaders on who can handle both issues of health care and intel on that front. But I’m also working on, I think the most important thing about this story is think about what you just read out to your listeners, and the sort of eight different storylines that are out there that are all one stream. We’re spending a lot of time trying to put together an, what I call an accessible timeline for the viewer to sort of understand. I’m a believer that the timeline on this investigation now, and the timeline of the Russia information that we’ve learned, is now evidence in and of itself, where the timeline becomes evidence. You see this happen on one day, this tweet over here, all this stuff. We’re going to spend a lot of time putting that together in at least beginning…
HH: Oh, interesting. That’s a…
CT: …helping people paint, and look, as we joke, we’re putting our…
HH: That’s why you have Mark.
CT: Yeah, well, that’s right.
HH: That’s why you have Mark.
CT: Yes, absolutely.
HH: You can bring the super brain in. All right, let me ask you about health care. If Mitch McConnell does a deal that says rural America is different, if you have under X number of people per county, we’re going to give you special money, is that an Alaska Purchase, a Louisiana Purchase, a Cornhusker Kickback? Or is that a reality check on rural America and health care?
CT: I think it depends on whether you want this legislation to live or die. I think if you’re Rand Paul or Mike Lee, you’re going to say that’s nothing more than a Cornhusker Kickback. I think if you’re a Susan Collins, or a Joe Manchin, although he may not say it, or Shelley Moore Capito, you may say hey, this is the reality. This is the reality of how this system is going to have to work. But let me share with you something that a Republican senator said to me yesterday. When all is said and done, and all the buyoffs are done, this person said, and this is a person who’s going to vote for this bill, Obamacare is going to look like the conservative alternative. That’s how concerned some senators are about how this is going to look at least optically, that it is going to look like it is nothing more than an attempt to buy the 50 votes.
HH: You know, the bottom line for me as a conservative, Chuck, if they devolve Medicaid on however long a runway it takes, I don’t care if they take care of rural America. They should take care of rural America. They need opioid funding, and they need to get rid of the mandate. I don’t mind if they keep the 3.8%. I don’t mind if they keep the surcharge on payroll taxes. They need to devolve Medicaid so that the states can actually be more effective in administering it.
CT: Hugh, can you think about this? If the Republican Party can’t follow through on this pledge and promise, think about every pledge and promise that has been made about every entitlement program for the last 30 years on the right, about fiscal responsibility. I’ve been thinking about this. If the reform of Obamacare proves that you cannot, that even Republicans debating amongst themselves can’t agree on slowing the growth of Medicaid, let alone, like we’re just talking about slowing the growth of Medicaid, explain to me how we’re ever going to deal with Social Security and Medicare.
HH: We won’t, and in fact, it means the loss of the House majority, and if not in 2018, then the Senate majority in 2020, because the base, as you’ve always warned, when a base is demoralized, it’s when a wave happens. If they don’t deliver, that base is demoralized. Chuck Todd, if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press, every day at 5:00 as well. Thanks for playing my movie game with me.
End of interview.