MSNBC Host Warns: Trump Brings ‘Devastating Political Chapter in American History’

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During MSNBC’s 3 p.m. ET hour on Wednesday, anchor Ali Velshi breathlessly made a sweeping declaration to viewers: “It certainly feels like we’re in the opening stages of a devastating political chapter in American history. Evidence is mounting for the President’s meddling in the Russia probe.”

The host touted some of the latest “bombshell reports” in the press based on anonymous sources, using a jigsaw puzzle graphic to show how the liberal media was building its case to take down Donald Trump. However, despite seeming to have made up his mind that the President was guilty, Velshi turned to the network’s Chief Legal Analyst Ari Melber and asked: “Does any of this actually point to any sort of collusion?”

Melber explained: “Well, I don’t think even [former FBI Director] Jim Comey’s gonna answer that question authoritatively. That goes to what’s inside the investigation.” The most he could he could offer was that Trump “acted in ways that question whether he would interfere with an investigation.”

Fellow panelist, BBC Washington Correspondent Katy Kay, knocked down Velshi’s hyperbolic statements: “I mean, it’s interesting, Ali, that you say that there is increasing evidence. Because actually the truth is, there isn't evidence, as Ari was just saying there.” She added: “I mean, all we’ve got is stuff that doesn’t look great for the White House, but that could be for a whole host of reasons.”

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Velshi was forced to clarify his comments and acknowledge that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia:

What we’re saying there’s evidence of is that Donald Trump is meddling in the investigation into Russia. We haven’t got evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. No one, even John Brennan yesterday when he said, “I’ve known about this since before the election,” has said they’ve seen evidence of collusion.

He still insisted: “But we do know that Donald Trump’s meddling in the investigation.”

Turning to USA Today Senior Political Reporter Heidi Przybla moments later, Velshi excitedly touted a new Quinnipiac poll showing “the percentage of Americans, over 50%, who think that Donald Trump is abusing his power.” Making a reference to Watergate, he gloated: “We don’t even typically ask those questions, actually. We haven’t had to since the early 1970s.”

Przybla excitedly replied: “I think what is significant is that he’s hovered, since coming into office, around 40, we’re starting to – 40%. We’re starting to see some cracks in the base.... And it is only when those base cracks start to become apparent that more Republicans could start breaking with him and could start being harder on him publicly as well on Russia and on a whole host of other issues.”

She also tried to salvage the case for collusion:

You said John Brennan didn’t find any evidence of collusion. Well, that’s not John Brennan’s job. His job is to provide intelligence and pass on that information to the FBI. And I thought what was significant about this week is that we are talking about the C-word again, we are talking about collusion because of what he said, which was that he saw suspicious contacts. Suspicious enough that he thought it might be a possibility that someone within the campaign may have been recruited either wittingly or unwittingly, and I think that is a big development.

Here is a transcript of the May 24 discussion:

3:18 PM ET

ALI VELSHI: It certainly feels like we’re in the opening stages of a devastating political chapter in American history. Evidence is mounting for the President’s meddling in the Russia probe. All these stories in just the last two weeks. The president fired Jim Comey. Donald Trump says he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey. He said that to Lester Holt. Two bombshell New York Times reports. First, that the President had a private dinner with Comey back in February, where he reportedly asked him to stop investigating Mike Flynn. Second, that he allegedly bragged to Russian officials in the Oval Office about firing Comey for reasons related to that investigation. And finally, from The Washington Post out this week, that Trump pressured two top intelligence officials to publicly state that there was no evidence that his campaign colluded with Russia.

Over the course of the next piece of this, we don’t know what Jim Comey’s side of the story is. Joining me now, is MSNBC’s Chief Legal Analyst Ari Melber, MSNBC contributor Katy Kay, Washington Correspondent for BBC World News America, and MSNBC Political Analyst Heidi Przybyla, Senior Political Reporter for USA Today.

Ari, let me start with you. You and I talk about this every day. Does any of this actually point to any sort of collusion? Really that’s – that may depend on what Jim Comey has to say about this.

ARI MELBER: Well, I don’t think even Jim Comey’s gonna answer that question authoritatively. That goes to what’s inside the investigation. The problem for Donald Trump, as you just outlined, is he has acted in ways that question whether he would interfere with an investigation, which itself is the kind of thing that is often perceived as obstruction of justice. And the questions going forward are how does Mueller’s investigation proceed? Who cooperates with it and how much of a backseat does Congress take?

VELSHI: Katy, let me ask you this. What’s the best road forward for the White House? If you’re in the White House, what’s your best outcome right now?

KATY KAY: I mean, it’s interesting, Ali, that you say that there is increasing evidence. Because actually the truth is, there isn't evidence, as Ari was just saying there. I mean, all we’ve got is stuff that doesn’t look great for the White House, but that could be for a whole host of reasons. Donald Trump can get up and say, “Well, look, I was just loyal to Michael Flynn because I'm a person who was always loyal to him.” That’s an equally plausible reason.  

VELSHI: Right, so this is an interesting point, Katy. What we’re saying there’s evidence of is that Donald Trump is meddling in the investigation into Russia. We haven’t got evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. No one, even John Brennan yesterday when he said, “I’ve known about this since before the election,” has said they’ve seen evidence of collusion. But we do know that Donald Trump’s meddling in the investigation.

KAY: Well, we know from the memo from Jim Comey, which is why I think the most interesting bit of all of this is going to be when we hear from Jim Comey directly and hear what he has to say. And I guess from Dan Coats yesterday, who refused to say that Donald Trump hadn’t told him to lay off the investigation. The best case for the White house is probably to do what the White House is doing at the moment, and that is, hire as many lawyers as they can. Because this is going to go on for a while. And there are going to be more subpoenas coming, I imagine. I don’t see any way around that.

VELSHI: Heidi, let me ask you this, we just showed you that Quinnipiac poll about the number of Americans, the percentage of Americans, over 50%, who think that Donald Trump is abusing his power. We don’t even typically ask those questions, actually. We haven’t had to since the early 1970s. What are the implications of that for a White House that does keep track of polling?

HEIDI PRZYBLA [USA TODAY]: Lots of implications, mostly just for getting anything done in Congress. But I think all of that’s going to be overshadowed regardless by the Russia investigation. I think what is significant is that he’s hovered, since coming into office, around 40, we’re starting to – 40%. We’re starting to see some cracks in the base. And the reason why those cracks are significant is because so far all of the Republicans, privately who I talked to on Capitol Hill, are looking at the same numbers that his base is holding strong. And it is only when those base cracks start to become apparent that more Republicans could start breaking with him and could start being harder on him publicly as well on Russia and on a whole host of other issues.

But I wanted to point out something as well about John Brennan. You said John Brennan didn’t find any evidence of collusion. Well, that’s not John Brennan’s job. His job is to provide intelligence and pass on that information to the FBI. And I thought what was significant about this week is that we are talking about the C-word again, we are talking about collusion because of what he said, which was that he saw suspicious contacts. Suspicious enough that he thought it might be a possibility that someone within the campaign may have been recruited either wittingly or unwittingly, and I think that is a big development.

VELSHI: Right. And back to you, Ari. That concept of wittingly versus unwittingly, you and I were talking about this yesterday. John Brennan went to great lengths to say that the way the Russian espionage apparatus works – and I guess the way anybody’s apparatus works – is that they try and get information from people, that doesn’t mean the person they’re trying to get information from is necessarily cooperating with them.

MELBER: Bingo. The question is, are you a user or are you getting used? And it’s entirely possible that foreign governments are using individuals who might be in the United States or even have important jobs and that doesn’t mean they’re part of a criminal conspiracy. In fact, investigators look very closely at what was is in your state of mind? Were you doing something consciously? Were you showing evil intent, negative intent, criminal intent, as the term goes? Or did you just get used? That is a big open question. Again, to restate the obvious, but sometimes the obvious bears repeating. The problem for the Trump White House is they are not currently conducting themselves like they want to help get to the bottom of this. And by the way, if they found someone who got used, help get them out of the orbit of the foreign intelligence. But rather, sometimes it sounds like they just want the whole thing to go away.

(...)