Chuck Todd Urges Trump Impeachment: ‘How Much More Do You Need to Know?’

In a softball interview with Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine on Sunday’s Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd wondered if a report in the New York Times about the FBI investigating President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia in 2017 meant it was time for congressional Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.

At the top of show, Todd argued that the “political crisis” of the ongoing government shutdown was being used by the President “to deflect focus from his own legal jeopardy.” Minutes later, while talking to Kaine, the NBC anchor noted how the former vice presidential candidate made the case for Trump colluding with Russia during the 2016 campaign:

 

 

Senator, on the campaign trail in 2016, you spent the last two months regularly questioning the President, at that time candidate, Donald Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin, complimentary ways he talked about things. So you have those questions that you had, as a candidate. Now, you have this story in the New York Times that has the FBI worried that the President acted on Comey at the behest of the Russian government.

At that point, Todd suggested it was time for liberal lawmakers to take action: “Does that mean that Democrats should be looking at actually beginning impeachment proceedings? Or is this something you think, let the Mueller probe go first?” He impatiently added: “How much more do you need to know?”

Kaine talked about the need to “protect the Mueller investigation” and told Todd: “You’re right, I was very worried about this, you know, in 2016 because the President took a public stage in July and encouraged Russia to cyber hack the election...”

Todd briefly wondered if perhaps the FBI “overreacted” by launching a counterintelligence investigation, which he described as “a pretty alarming investigation, that the sitting president was acting against the interests of – of the United States of America.” Kaine predictably dismissed such skepticism: “I think it’s less, ‘Did the FBI overreact?’ I think the question is this. They had to have a very deep level of concern about this president to take this step.”

Discussing the topic later with Lawfare blog editor-in-chief Benjamin Wittes, an NBC News legal analyst, Todd hoped the Times report would “give Mueller a better shot of...subpoenaing the President and having it being upheld.” Wittes replied that the story “should profoundly condition our expectations of what Mueller’s report is gonna look like.” Todd hopefully chimed in: “Meaning much more damning?”

In the panel discussion during the second half of the show, NBC political reporter Carol Lee touted how Democrats have used media reporting on the Russia investigation to repeatedly go after Trump:

You know, I think it’s interesting that a number of things that all of us have covered and that Democrats have then, and the President’s critics, have used against him on these various data points, whether it’s changing the platform during the – at the Republican Convention or, you know, “Russia, are you listening? Can you get Hillary Clinton’s emails?”

She then assured viewers that those partisan lines of attack “were very serious and weren’t just political talking points.” Lee added: “They were seen as very serious within the FBI.”

Both Todd and Lee seemed to congratulate Democrats for successfully shaping the narrative of alleged Trump collusion with Russia and potentially even impacting the Special Counsel investigation.

Here are excerpts from the January 13 broadcast:

10:33 AM ET

(...)

CHUCK TODD: For President Trump, the focus on a wall and the symbol it represents to his supporters may be the political crisis he needs to deflect focus from his own legal jeopardy.

DONALD TRUMP: They could name it whatever – they can name it, “Peaches,” I don’t care what they name it. But we need money for that barrier.

TODD: But ultimately, the shutdown leaves the President boxed in and weakens him for the fights ahead.

(...)

10:51 AM ET

TODD: Senator, on the campaign trail in 2016, you spent the last two months regularly questioning the President, at that time candidate, Donald Trump’s ties to Vladimir Putin, complimentary ways he talked about things. So you have those questions that you had, as a candidate. Now, you have this story in the New York Times that has the FBI worried that the President acted on Comey at the behest of the Russian government.

What does that tell you where things are now? Does that mean that Democrats should be looking at actually beginning impeachment proceedings? Or is this something you think, let the Mueller probe go first? How much more do you need to know?

SEN. TIM KAINE [D-VA]: Yeah, Chuck, it’s got – we’ve got to protect the Mueller investigation. You’re right, I was very worried about this, you know, in 2016 because the President took a public stage in July and encouraged Russia to cyber hack the election, at the same time as my son and his entire battalion were deployed helping allies on the border of Russia protect themselves against Russian aggression. I found that highly unusual for any American, much less somebody who wanted to be president.

But now, what we have is, you know, more – nearly 100 documented instances of ties between the Trump campaign, transition and administration with Russia, bizarre failure to be honest about meetings, and now this indication that President Trump has gone to unusual lengths to hide the content of discussions with Vladimir Putin. But the right answer is, as you suggest, it is to protect the Mueller investigation at all costs, let it get to its end, make sure that the results are made public, so then can we decide.

TODD: Are you at all concerned – are you at all concerned though, that the FBI looked like it overreacted in trying to investigate a sitting president this way? I mean, this is a pretty alarming investigation, that the sitting president was acting against the interests of – of the United States of America.

KAINE: Well, I flip the question around, Chuck. I think it’s less, “Did the FBI overreact?” I think the question is this. They had to have a very deep level of concern about this president to take this step. And that's, again, why we need to protect the Mueller investigation. And I think that’s going to be a critical issue in the Judiciary Committee hearings about the attorney general nominee, “Will you guarantee to protect this investigation? And will you make sure that the American public and Congress get the results of it?”

(...)
    
11:02 AM ET

TODD: Alright, legally, the obstruction question has always been, “You can’t indict a sitting president.” Maybe they can’t even interview him about his actions as a sitting president. But if it’s part of a counterintelligence, does that give Mueller a better shot of having – of subpoenaing the President and having it being upheld?

BENJAMIN WITTES [EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, LAWFARE]: So I don’t think it affects the likelihood that a subpoena would be – would have legs, one way or the other. I do think it will profoundly – it should profoundly condition our expectations of what Mueller’s report is gonna look like.

TODD: Meaning much more damning?

WITTES: Well, much – much more of a continuous story, as in, “The Russians did this stuff to influence the election and here are all the things that we investigated on the U.S. side...

CHUCK TODD: Gotcha.

WITTES: ...that may have been done in support of that: people lying; people doing X, Y, and Z; The president trying to shut down our investigation.” I think, I think it provides a through narrative, potentially, to the report that is, potentially, quite profound.

(...)

11:07 AM ET

CAROL LEE: The big questions coming out of this New York Times report is whether this counterintelligence investigation involving the President, what the status of that is. And then this question of whether he – the question they were asking is whether he was wittingly working for the Russians or unwittingly, you know, under Russian influence. And we’ve already seen, in some of Mueller’s indictments, that there are Americans out there who were unwittingly under the influence of Russians.

You know, I think it’s interesting that a number of things that all of us have covered and that Democrats have then, and the President’s critics, have used against him on these various data points, whether it’s changing the platform during the – at the Republican Convention or, you know, “Russia, are you listening? Can you get Hillary Clinton’s emails?” These various data points really raised – were very serious and weren’t just political talking points. They were seen as very serious within the FBI. And then eventually, that boiled over with the Comey firing.

(...)

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