Chuck Todd Declares ‘Summer of Comey,’ GOP ‘Could Go Down With Trump’

During a panel discussion on Wednesday’s NBC Today about the reported James Comey memo accusing President Trump of asking to the former FBI Director to “let go” of the investigation into Michael Flynn, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd made clear what the media agenda would be for the next several months: “I think we know what the summer is gonna be, it’s gonna be the summer of Comey.”

Co-host Savannah Guthrie used the latest development to put pressure on Republicans in Congress: “Because now this all raises the specter over to you Congress, how serious are you about this? Are they going to get their hands on that memo? Are they going to let James Comey come and testify?  Where do you think Republicans in Congress go? Because they hold the key here.”

Todd agreed, proclaiming: “I think one of the barriers has broken. You now have Republicans this week talking about an independent commission or a special counsel. That was a conversation they did not want to have last week...” He touted how “Democrats have moved the conversation to impeachment this week,” with the GOP “saying we’ll go to special counsel.” Todd concluded: “The point is, everything is shifting. The ground is completely shifted on Capitol Hill.”

The Sunday show anchor wasn’t alone in raising the prospect of impeachment, all three network morning show’s hyped the “I” word on Wednesday.

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Todd continued:

So yes, you’re going to have hearings. I think we know what the summer is gonna be, it’s gonna be the summer of Comey....And when Republicans, when Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan decide their majorities are at stake and the party could go down with Trump, that’s when they’ll separate. I don’t think they’re there yet. I think that’s what these hearings are gonna be about.

Co-host Matt Lauer turned to political analyst and MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace, fretting over Trump nominating a new FBI director to replace Comey: “Does Donald Trump have credibility right now to name a new director of the FBI?” Wallace replied: “Well, I wonder if he’s going to take himself out of that process.”

Guthrie chimed in, suggesting that the President lawyer up: “I have a former criminal law professor quoted in The New York Times saying the President is making what she called ‘a beautiful case against himself’ and he needs a lawyer.” MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber responded: “Yes...he probably needs private counsel and he needs to understand that it would be best for him personally, as well as independent law enforcement, to comment less about all of this.”

At the top of the segment, Lauer wondered if critics were “getting closer” to proving that Trump was guilty of “obstruction of justice.” Melber breathlessly announced: “You are getting a lot closer. This memo is by far the most legally significant thing we have seen to hurt the Trump administration since he became president.”

That declaration came despite Justice Correspondent Pete Williams only moments earlier explaining that legal experts saw little evidence to back up such charges:

But as for whether it’s obstruction....It sounds like what you’d think is an attempt to impede an investigation. But the legal experts I’ve talked to disagree about whether it’s obstruction. First, to prove obstruction requires proving the President knew he was doing something wrong. And it could, for example, he didn’t realize how inappropriate this was. Second, apparently just two people in the room, so it’s one man’s word against the other. But an FBI director’s notes would be credible....some legal experts say purely as a matter of law, even if the President did what the memo says, it might not be obstruction because, for example, all federal employees who work for him – work for the president, he can tell them what to do.

Here is a full transcript of the May 17 panel discussion:

7:11 AM ET

MATT LAUER: And we are now joined by MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber and NBC News Political Analyst Nicolle Wallace. And from D.C., Chuck Todd. Guys, good morning to all of you.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Obstruction of Justice?; Bipartisan Calls to Investigate if Trump Tried to Influence FBI Probe]

Ari, let me start with you, as Pete rightly says, there’s a high hurdle to get over before you can start talking about obstruction of justice. However, if you combine the words the President used with Director Comey about “I hope you can see clear to end this.” You go two weeks earlier, “I want your loyalty,” which Comey said, “No, I’ll give you my honesty.” And then you go to the fact that a day or so after that second meeting, Comey is fired. Are you getting closer?

MELBER: You are getting a lot closer. This memo is by far the most legally significant thing we have seen to hurt the Trump administration since he became president. Alone, it is probably not obstruction, even though it looks bad. But taken together with the other pressure and the possible reasons behind the firing, which still needs probably a full investigation, it is the kind of thing that together could amount to obstruction.

GUTHRIE: And a lot of people from the White House are saying, wait a minute, if Comey’s sitting on this memo, if this happened way back in February, did he have an affirmative duty to disclose it right then and there to Congress, to an inspector general, to somebody? Why did he sit on it?  

MELBER: Probably not. Indeed, the FBI’s more responsible tact would be to say, “I’m memorializing this precisely for this reason, if more happens.” The President certainly gets the benefit of the doubt in that time. He got it. Adding to other information now, it is a memo on file that investigators can use.

LAUER: The President’s learning an important lesson here. James Comey is a career law enforcement guy, he’s a cross-the-Ts, dot-the-Is kind of guy. All you have to do is look at him and you know this is a guy who takes notes and keeps them. He’s not a guy you try to outmaneuver in a real estate deal.

NICOLLE WALLACE: When you have angered presidents of both parties, you sort of stand on a different ground in a political context. And what James Comey learned, he probably learned from his fights with the Bush administration. That, in his mind, he’s always on the side of angels, he always takes notes. And to come out of a fight with the FBI or the CIA winning is near impossible for a president who has declared open war on the intel –  

LAUER: And you fire him and then you criticize him, and now his friends are leaking this memo.

WALLACE: Well, and I think that the way this went down, this goes back to being a bad winner, this goes back to being a bad firer. He fired him and then he taunted him. And so at every turn, Trump seems to tempt his own fate by picking fights with people he’s already either defeated or ousted.

GUTHRIE: There are two tracks you could go here. We’ve talked about legal track. Chuck, let’s turn to you and the political track. Because now this all raises the specter over to you Congress, how serious are you about this? Are they going to get their hands on that memo? Are they going to let James Comey come and testify? He says he will, but he wants it to be public. Where do you think Republicans in Congress go? Because they hold the key here.

CHUCK TODD: Well, they do. I think that, look, what – there’s sort of different layers, different barriers here that have to break in different ways. And I think one of the barriers has broken. You now have Republicans this week talking about an independent commission or a special counsel. That was a conversation they did not want to have last week, right? Democrats have moved the conversation to impeachment this week. Okay, Republicans are saying we’ll go to special counsel. The point is, everything is shifting. The ground is completely shifted on Capitol Hill.

So yes, you’re going to have hearings. I think we know what the summer is gonna be, it’s gonna be the summer of Comey. And I think after all this is going on, at the end of the day, as Pete [Williams] pointed out earlier, this is a political decision for Congress. And when Republicans, when Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan decide their majorities are at stake and the party could go down with Trump, that’s when they’ll separate. I don’t think they’re there yet. I think that’s what these hearings are gonna be about.

LAUER: Right. Nicolle, let me end with you. We have to remember, we don’t have a director of the FBI right now. We have an acting director. And the search is on to find a replacement. Does Donald Trump have credibility right now to name a new director of the FBI?

WALLACE: Well, I wonder if he’s going to take himself out of that process. John Cornyn removed himself from consideration, saying the times require an independent director of the FBI. I’ve talked to a couple of folks who’ve interviewed for that job and other jobs at DOJ, and there's a lot of angst about heading down to main DOJ right now.

GUTHRIE: Can I ask one more question of our lawyer here. I have a former criminal law professor quoted in The New York Times saying the President is making what she called “a beautiful case against himself” and he needs a lawyer. Do you agree he needs to have somebody who says to him, “Hey, the things you are saying have legal significance now, and you need to watch out”?

MELBER: Yes, and at a minimum, what we’ve seen in the Sally Yates issues and Michael Flynn is that the White House Counsel is now involved in this deeply. So he probably needs private counsel and he needs to understand that it would be best for him personally, as well as independent law enforcement, to comment less about all of this.

GUTHRIE: Alright. Chuck, Nicole, and Ari, lots to discuss, thank you so much. We’re going to have much more on all of this in our next half hour.  

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC