Harry Reid says Trump is damaging the country but warns against impeachment

LAS VEGAS — Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said he is worried that U.S. institutions have been “decimated” under President Donald Trump and blames Republicans for being lax on Russian election meddling — but he also warned his party against heading down the road of impeachment in an exclusive interview with NBC News.

As some Democrats, most notably Silicon Valley billionaire Tom Steyer, are publicly pushing to remove the president from office, Reid has a message: “I say to everybody, stop it.”

“I’ve been through impeachment, and they’re not pleasant," he says. "And the less we talk about impeachment the better off we are.”

The longtime Democratic Senate leader is also breaking his silence about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, expressing “disappointment” with Republicans for an unwillingness to warn the public about past Russian activities.

Reid said that Trump, former FBI Director James Comey and the billionaire Koch Brothers are all to blame for the fact that Americans didn’t learn earlier about Russian attempts to influence the U.S. election.

And he singled out Senate Republicans for not doing more. “My colleagues were afraid. They were afraid of Trump. They were afraid of Comey, the FBI,” said Reid, who spoke in his first network interview since leaving the Senate in 2016.

In October of that year, Reid sent a letter to Comey blasting him for withholding “explosive” information about Trump and Russia even as the FBI chief held a press conference about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

He’s largely withheld comment on the issue since then. “Well,” Reid now says with a chuckle, “I’m right.”

And he said Republicans remain afraid of the Koch Brothers, whose political network spends millions supporting GOP candidates and causes, accusing the donors of “buying the country for their own commercial interests.” Upon leaving the Senate, Reid said he approached a GOP colleague to ask why he hadn't helped with a particular issue and the Republican answered, "because I was afraid they (the Kochs) would go after me.”

Reid said he has been relatively silent since leaving office because “I’ve tried to not jump on the bandwagon” of “sour grapes.”

In a 35-minute interview, Reid also said he believes the Senate is “irreparably damaged” and will eventually become like the traditionally less deliberative, less bipartisan House of Representatives. Reid, who served 30 years in the Senate, called Republican members of Congress the “limpest waffle you’ve ever seen” who’ve done “everything they can” to hurt the Judiciary and legislative branches of the U.S. government.

“It’s Trump’s party now,” said Reid.

Reid repeatedly returned to GOP leadership, even as he declined to specifically criticize Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“With the Republicans, I’m not mad, I’m just terribly disappointed in what they’ve done to the institution,” he said. “I believe the federal government has been so harmed, the legislative branch has been decimated, judicial decimated, checks and balances sliding out the door,” he said.

"Our democracy will survive but it’s going to be tough,” he said.

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Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks on the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, stands next his official portrait during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. Reid, the tart-tongued ex-boxer known for pugilistic rhetoric about Republicans, is marking the end of his 34-year career in Congress with the unveiling of his official portrait that was painted by former Senate staffer Gavin Glakas. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, speaks during a news conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Hillary Clinton pulled out a victory over Bernie Sanders in Nevadas Democratic caucuses that will help right her campaign as both candidates head into a 10-day blitz of crucial contests starting next Saturday in South Carolina.

(Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks with reporters regarding a stop-gap funding bill to avoid a federal government shutdown later this week on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NORTH LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 23: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a campaign rally with U.S. President Barack Obama for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Cheyenne High School on October 23, 2016 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Obama urged Nevadans to vote early one day after a record-breaking start to early voting in the swing state with almost 40,000 people going to the polls ahead of the November 8 general election. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
NORTH LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 01: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks at a get-out-the-vote rally featuring first lady Michelle Obama at Canyon Springs High School November 1, 2010 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Recent polls show Reid, who is seeking his fifth term, four points behind Republican challenger Sharron Angle. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES â SEPTEMBER 22: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., participates in the Senate Democrats' news conference in the Capitol on Thursday Sept. 22, 2011, to urge House Republicans to fully fund disaster relief. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) appears on 'Meet the Press' Sunday, Jan 9, 2011 at his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.. (Photo by Stephen J. Boitano/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 03: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) talks to reporters after the weekly Democratic Senate policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol February 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reid is wearing a bandage over his right eye after undergoing surgery to repair damage from an exercise accident. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 22: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-AZ) speaks during a pen and pad session with reporters at the US Capitol January 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reid spoke about the injury he suffered over the Christmas break and talked about issues before the US Senate. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 20: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., makes his way through the Senate Reception Room after the senate luncheons on his first day in the Capitol since injuring himself in a exercise accident, January 20, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Minority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) leaves a meeting with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill January 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. Reid returned to work at the US Capitol on Tuesday for the first time since suffering injuries in an exercise accident in late December at his Las Vegas-area home. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. Reid, the U.S. Senate's top Democrat, will have surgery next Monday to try to restore full vision to his right eye. Reid suffered three broken ribs, a concussion and broken facial bones near his right eye socket in a New Year's Day accident. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images ** Local Caption *** Harry Reid
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WARNING ON RUSSIA

Reid spoke at length about the period before the election, noting that, at the time, “we all thought” Hillary Clinton would win.

“But I wanted to cover my bases and that’s why I wrote the letter to Comey. Because I thought, well, maybe not.”

He repeatedly praised the media for taking the lead in informing the public, saying that now “the press has most everything that I knew” before the election.

“The good work has been done by the press, not the federal government,” said Reid.

He also jabbed at McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who rejected then-Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson’s recommendation to send a letter alerting U.S. governors about Russian meddling.

“Ryan and McConnell said ‘no, elections are a state process, we should stay out of it.’ So that pretty well says it all, doesn’t it?” said Reid, who spoke from the library of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where he has an office.

Reid would not directly blame former President Obama, though he did say: “I think we should have done a lot more.” On Comey, said Reid: “My feelings haven’t changed.”

"HE'S NOT A NICE MAN"

In the interview, Reid repeatedly marveled at Trump’s ability to withstand scandal.

“If Bill Clinton or either of the Bushes or anyone had had someone with 1/100th of his ethical problems he would have been gone,” he said.

To show “what kind of a person he is, when I injured myself, I couldn’t sleep in a bed for 4 months,” said Reid.

“I had 12 hours of surgery on my face, broke all the bones in my face. What did he say? Did he send me a note of sympathy? He said, words to the effect ‘hope Reid tries another accident, gets hurt again.' How about that?”

“He is not a nice man," Reid said, "and that’s an understatement.”

LAST OF AN ERA

Reid is out of the politics game now and when asked what he wanted to be remembered for, he didn't pick a career highlight, instead talking about his wife and children.

“I hope people look back and say ‘yeah, he did ok with his family. As bad a guy he was politically, he was good with his family,'" Reid, said jokingly. “We tried hard to treat each other well,” he said.

Jim Margolis, a longtime Democratic ad consultant who’s worked with Reid, also had some thoughts on Reid’s legacy.

“This is a guy who grew up in a place without plumbing, he hitch-hiked to high school, the boxer, the Capitol Hill cop,” said Margolis, ticking off previous jobs Reid has held. He even got a “crude bomb” put in the family car when he was “trying to clean up Las Vegas” in the 1980s, said Margolis.

“There’s nobody like him left,” he said

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