Attorney General Barr testifies for first time. TRANSCRIPT: 4/9/19. The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests:
Neal Katyal, Anita Kumar, Jon Meacham
Transcript:

JULIAN CASTRO, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT:  – other

big corporations, but I believe in small business.  And one of the things I

look forward to doing during the course of the campaign is to releasing a

plan on how I would make small business more successful.

 

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And we will hear more about that next

time.  Secretary Julian Castro, thank you very much for joining us, and I

really appreciate it.

 

Julian Castro gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  “THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian

Williams starts now.

 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the Attorney General promises the

Mueller report within a week, but the question remains what will Congress

and the people not be allowed to see?  How much will be covered by the

black lines of redaction?

 

Democrats in Congress are on guard after today because the top lawyer in

our land sounded like he was protecting the boss.  Among the questions he

would not answer has the White House seen the Mueller report?  It`s likely

to come up again when he next appears hours from now.

 

Plus the first reaction from Putin since the Mueller investigation wrapped

up, and it involves a mountain and a mouse.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR

gets under way on a Tuesday night.

 

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New

York.  Day 810 of the Trump administration.  And today we heard from the

Attorney General William Barr for the first time in public, at least since

the Mueller investigation wrapped up.  As expected he took a pass on some

questions entirely, and hedged on others.  But he did talk about the

ongoing process of removing information, sensitive information, from the

report during the preparation of releasing it to the public.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We will color code the excisions from

the report.  And we will provide explanatory notes describing the basis for

each redaction.

 

This process is going along very well.  And my original timetable of being

able to release this by mid-April stands within a week.  I will be in a

position to release the report to the public.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Interesting. Barr added he would engage the chairs of both the

House and Senate Judiciary Committees about any further requests they may

have.

 

As we`ve mentioned, back on March 29th, Barr told lawmakers he is redacting

grand jury material, information that could compromise Intelligence

sources, ongoing investigations, and material that could violate the

privacy of people not charged.  Today Democrats peppered Barr with

questions, including whether or not Mueller`s team had a chance to review

that now-famous four-page summary letter he released back on Sunday, March

24th.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  The letter of the 24th, Mr. Mueller`s team did not play a role in

drafting that document, although we offered him the opportunity to review

it before we sent it out and he declined that.  The letter on the 29th, I

don`t believe that that was reviewed by Mr. Mueller or that they

participated in drafting that letter.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Democrats are insisting they want to see a clean version, an

unredacted version of the Mueller report.

 

During Barr`s testimony, Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Democrat from New York,

the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, asked Barr if the White

House had had a chance to see Mueller`s report.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. NITA LOWEY, (D-NY) CHAIR, APPROPRIATIONS CMTES.:  Did the White House

see the report before you released your summarizing letter?  Has the White

House seen it since then?  Have they been briefed on the contents beyond

what was in your summarizing letter to the Judiciary Committee?

 

BARR:  I`ve said what I`m going to say about the report today.  I`ve issued

three letters about it.

 

LOWEY:  Will we have the complete report?  Or are you going to be selective

as to what you give members of Congress?

 

BARR:  You mean the unredacted report?

 

LOWEY:  Uh-huh.

 

BARR:  No.  The first pass at this is going to produce a report that makes

these redactions based on these four categories.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Here`s how “The New York Times” reported on that moment

specifically. “In the past, Justice Department officials have said that Mr.

Barr had not shown the White House any part of the Mueller report or

briefed Mr. Trump`s team about its contents.  His demurral on Tuesday

raised the possibility that the situation has shifted and the White House

knows more than the public or Congress about what Mueller said.”

 

The Attorney General was also asked about Mueller not having reached a

conclusion on that question of whether or not the President obstructed

justice.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

CHARLIE CHRIST, (D) FLORIDA:  Can you elaborate on what is meant by, does

not exonerate the President?

 

BARR:  I think that`s the language from the report.

 

CHRIST:  Right. I understand that.

 

BARR:  That`s – that`s a statement made by the Special Counsel.

 

CHRIST:  Right.

 

BARR:  I report it as one of his bottom-line conclusions.  I`m not in a

position to discuss that further until the report is all out, and then what

is meant by exonerate is really a question that I can`t answer, what he

meant by that.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Also today you`ll be happy to know Vladimir Putin has weighed

in.  The Associated Press reporting, “Putin on Tuesday mocked Mueller`s

investigation, saying, “a mountain gave birth to a mouse.”  Putin sought to

cast the 22-month investigation as a failure and disregarded the Special

Counsel`s exposure of a Russian operation to put Donald Trump in the White

House.  “It was clear for us from the start that it would end like this,”

the Russian leader said.”

 

With that let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Tuesday night.  We welcome

to the broadcast, former Democratic senator from the great state of

Missouri, Claire McCaskill.  And back with us, two of our returning

veterans, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staffs at both CIA and Pentagon, and

Neal Katyal, former Acting General Solicitor General during the Obama

administration, also happens to be veteran of the Justice Department where,

importantly, he drafted the special counsel regs under which Mueller was

appointed.

 

And Neal Katyal, I would like to begin with you.  You tell us what happened

today?

 

NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL:  Well, I think what

happened, it`s fitting you just started by talking about Vladimir Putin

because what happened today was really very Kremlin-y.  I mean, I think we

saw the Attorney General Barr testify before Congress about how much – how

many efforts he`s taken to prevent the American people and the Congress

from getting information, setting out these categories, these four

categories, which are really expansive.  I mean, privacy about peripheral

third-parties we`re not going to see information about.

 

He has this now color coding chart and this and that.  I mean, it reminds

me of the color coding after the horrible September 11th attacks, which was

much more security theater than anything else.  And I fear this is going to

be much more public release theater.  And it`s sounding like he is laying

the seeds to not tell the American people everything that`s in the Mueller

report, to not tell Congress everything that is in it.

 

I mean, in one very telling fact today, as you just mentioned, he wouldn`t

even tell the American people if Donald Trump has been briefed on the

report ahead of Congress, ahead of the American people.  I mean, that is

the way Putin operates.  It`s not the way American governments operate.

 

And in the past we`ve had special counsels likely on Jaworski and Ken Starr

and they went to court to try and get – and got all of the information to

be given to Congress.  They got court orders to do that.

 

And Barr further today said, “Oh, I`m not even going to bother doing that. 

I`m not even going to try and get grand jury information released.”  That`s

not American.  It`s not democratic.  And it`s not consistent with the rule

of law.

 

WILLIAMS:  So Senator, let`s agree that patriotic Americans don`t want to

burn sources and methods overseas.

 

FMR. SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Correct.

 

WILLIAMS:  And they don`t want to scorch people who were called before a

grand jury and are otherwise innocent bystanders.  That said, if you were a

senator on tomorrow`s Appropriation subcommittee, how would you go back at

Barr, knowing, having seen that he`s going to be a tough witness?

 

MCCASKILL:  Well, I think, first of all, he`s a really smart lawyer.  He

didn`t want to make news today.  He wanted to be very low key.  He was very

smart in the way he answered the questions.

 

I think I`d ask him, who`s peripheral?  Is Ivanka Trump peripheral?  Is

Jared peripheral?  Is his son peripheral?

 

I mean, he`s saying that he wants to protect people that are on the – not

in the center of this.  Well, that probably needs to be defined.  I would

try to get that out of him.

 

The other thing – the term he used today, Brian, that was really

interesting, he said at the first pass –

 

WILLIAMS:  I noticed that.

 

MCCASKILL:  – we`re only going to show this.

 

WILLIAMS:  Does that mean he`s anticipating a fight with steps along the

way?

 

MCCASKILL:  Evidently.  Because why would he use that terminology?  It`s

almost like he`s acknowledging, I`m going to try to keep as much possible

from you, but it may be that there will be another iteration where I will

reveal even more, which tells you really all you need to know.  And then

finally, why would he not want to tell us – I bet you a dollar, the White

House has seen this report.

 

WILLIAMS:  I`m a little short.

 

MCCASKILL:  I`ll bet you a dollar because the President went nuts over the

weekend on the Mueller report again.  I mean, a few minutes ago he was, oh,

I`m exonerated, this is great, you know, this is wonderful. And now he is

trashing the Mueller report, which tells me they`ve seen it and now they

are very hopeful that Barr will do their bidding.  Because after all, the

President thinks Barr is his lawyer, not America`s lawyer.

 

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, what`s the chance that the White House has seen the

report, and as the senator is implying, it may explain some of the

emphasis, the almost maniacal emphasis on the border we`ve seen these past

72 hours?

 

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Very high, Brian.  I think if a

question is posed to the Attorney General and he`s asked, “have you shared

the report with the White House,” and he says, “I can`t tell you,” I think

we all know what that means, that means yes.  I agree with Senator

McCaskill

 

The other thing that struck me, Brian, is that the fact that the Special

Counsel himself chose not to review the four-page summary.  I think in some

ways it`s make clear that Bob Mueller kind of wants to wash his hands of

any characterization of his work.  I think it sounds to me like he was

concerned that Bill Barr was issuing somewhat of a misleading, perhaps,

summary of the conclusions.  And you have to look no further than the fact

that with respect to the part of the Barr letter in which he said, “yes,

the President was not exonerated, there was criminal conduct,” that said,

within 48 hours, I`m going to clear the President completely even though

the Special Counsel has taken two years to investigate this matter.

 

I think that`s something that when the report finally comes out, I

sincerely hope there`s not a lot of redactions there because there is going

to be a lot to learn about the President`s conduct in that section.

 

WILLIAMS:  And Neal Katyal, to Jeremy`s second point, his friends over at

the Pentagon gave us the term standoff to describe certain weapons that

don`t need to be fired while over the target.  Are you surprised that

Mueller is taking a standoff position?  Because I sure thought we were

being told a few days back that he was going to be part of the review

process.  This is his work product, after all.  And he`s about to have it -

- a judgment cast upon it.  So he was going to be part of the team deciding

on which redactions were fine, which were perhaps too severe.

 

KATYAL:  Yes, I guess I`m not surprised because I think this attorney

general has acted with I think a little bit of – not totally on the up and

up.  And I think Mueller recognizes that.  I mean, this all started last

summer when Barr wrote a 19-page memo that basically said, the President

can`t be guilty of obstruction of justice.

 

And it continued, as Jeremy just said, with, within 48 hours of Barr

getting Mueller`s report in which Mueller pointedly says, “I can`t resolve

the obstruction of justice inquiry, presumably because he wanted to give to

it Congress.  Barr goes and just grabs it for himself and clears the

President.  Then the President says, “Oh, the report totally clears me.”

 

So all of these things are happening and I think it`s really smart of

Mueller to recognize that had he reviewed this four-page letter, Barr very

well may have said, “Oh, Mueller`s behind this, he supports what I`m doing

and the like.  So by washing his hands of it, I think he protects his

ability to come forward in the future.”

 

And you know, if there`s something that gives me hope in all of this saga,

it`s that, that Barr has to recognize that Mueller at the end of the day

can go and testify in the Congress.  When he wrote the special counsel

regulations, we presupposed that the special counsel would come from

outside the Justice Department so that they couldn`t be subject to a

presidential order.  And so that`s the ultimate safeguard.

 

 At the end of the day, Mueller can go and testify before Congress and say,

“Here`s what I found.”

 

WILLIAMS:  While I happen to know you were preparing today for your next

Supreme Court argument, here`s what you missed in realtime.  ou were not by

name but by work product invoked today. I`ll play this we`ll talk about on

it the other side.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  It`s interesting because this whole mechanism for the Special

Counsel, as I said, was established during the Clinton administration in

the wake of Ken Starr`s report.  And that`s why the current rule says that

the report should be kept confidential.  Because there was a lot of

reaction against the publication of Ken Starr`s report, I think the

situation here requires me to exercise my discretion to get as much

information out as I can, and I think these categories – I think most

fair-minded people would agree are things that have to be redacted.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Neal, what`s the short version about what he might have gotten

right or wrong about your work on the regs?

 

KATYAL:  Thank you for playing that.  It`s flatly wrong.

 

So, he said the report must be confidential and that`s what the regulations

say?  They say no such thing, Brian.  They say the special counsel is to

give a confidential report to the attorney general.  The attorney general

should review it for stuff, you know, sources and methods and things like

that.  Those can be appropriately redacted from a public version.

 

But there`s nothing in the regulations that requires the report to be

confidential, and indeed, there`s a provision we wrote in the regulations

which Mr. Barr didn`t talk about which provides for the public release of

the attorney general`s report.  Barr is not a special counsel.  He is the

attorney general.

 

The provision about confidentiality only governs the special counsel, not

the attorney general.  Of course the attorney general can give such

information to the Congress and the American people.  That`s, after all,

the job the attorney general, to provide public confidence in the

administration of justice.

 

WILLIAMS:  Senator, we did pay for 22 months` worth of work.  And on behalf

of the Democrats who are demanding the clean version of this report, the

folks watching tonight know how leaks work in Washington.  And they`re

worried that perhaps information we don`t want in the public realm might

get out.

 

MCCASKIL:  I think that`s a fair concern.  But I do think one of the things

that is going to end up governing this going forward is going to be

Mueller`s loyalty to the hard work of the law enforcement professionals

that did this work.  We know that Bob Mueller is somebody who has deep and

abiding respect for the rule of law.

 

I think he took his job seriously.  They didn`t leak.  They did their work. 

And I think he`s going to want that work to be respected.

 

So, if Barr goes too far with redactions, I think Barr probably knows that

Mueller – that`s when Mueller would be, I think, willing to push back

because he doesn`t want the work that his people did to be dismissed behind

a lot of green shading, red shading, yellow shading, and blue shading, or

whatever colors the attorney general picks.

 

So I think that Mueller wanting to protect the process that his people went

through and to show the public the facts, that the public should have a

right to know.  I think that will help keep Barr on this side of obnoxious

in terms of trying to protect the President.

 

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, perhaps because I`m sitting with a former member of

the national – the Homeland Security Committee in the Senate, I want to at

least get you on the record with a word on what`s going on in that Cabinet

Department, excuse me.  This is not the division of weights and measures

inside commerce, though they do important work.  This is a vitally

important Cabinet Department.

 

We learned today secretary – outgoing Secretary Nielsen`s former deputy is

herself leaving, clearing the way for the guy Trump wants to become acting

secretary.  What`s going on and what are the ramifications?

 

BASH:  Well, the President not only fired Kirstjen Nielsen, but he also

pushed aside a 28-year veteran of the Department of Defense and the

Department of Homeland Security, Mr. Grady – Ms. Grady, excuse me, who has

been in that role as the under secretary.  By law she is the next in line,

the succession.  But of course this administration doesn`t really respect

the rule of law.  So they fired her, pushed her aside and put in their own

individual.

 

I think it shows you, Brian, just the lengths to which the administration`s

going to go to violate norms, violate policy, violate laws, and undermine

the Senate`s ability to confirm a leader of that Cabinet department.  We

now have acting officials at both Defense and Homeland Security.

 

Again, a Tuesday night massacre down at a couple of yards from here at our

studios on Nebraska Avenue at DHS.

 

WILLIAMS:  Senator, you`re nodding.  I have a few seconds to give you.

 

MCCASKILL:  Few seconds, one of the most important things that happened

today is they`re firing the lawyer at Homeland Security.  He is tired of

being told that what he wants them to do is illegal.  So, Stephen Miller is

going to try to figure out how to put a lawyer in there that`s going to

tell the President what he wants to hear, rather than what the law is.

 

WILLIAMS:  Our great thanks to our guests tonight, former Senator Claire

McCaskill, Jeremy Bash, Neal Katyal, greatly appreciate your time starting

off our broadcast on a Tuesday.

 

And coming up, more reaction to this Barr testimony today as the Senate

gears up for its turn tomorrow.

 

And later, the President says migrants are coming here to go to Disneyland. 

We have two reporters here to break it down as THE 11TH HOUR is just

getting started on this Tuesday night.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. JERRY NADLER, (D-NY) CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Congress has need

of the entire report, including the grand jury material, including all the

– including everything.  If we don`t get everything, we will issue the

subpoena and go to court.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Democrat of New

York, already getting to the go ahead from his committee to subpoena the

full Mueller report, the clean version without the black lines of

redactions.  And from what he said there, he`s prepared to do exactly that. 

Democrats have made their frustration with Barr`s four-page summary very

clear.  Something the A.G. addressed today.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  In my judgment, it was important for people to know the bottom-line

conclusions of the report while we worked on the necessary redactions to

make the whole thing available.  And as you know from your own experience,

from a prosecutor`s standpoint, the bottom line is binary, which is charges

or no charges?

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Here with us to talk about it tonight, Anita Kumar, White House

Correspondent and Associate Editor over at “Politico.”  And John Heilemann,

MSNBC National Affairs Analyst, also happens to be coauthor “Game Change”

and co-host of “The Circus” over on Showtime.  Welcome to you both.

 

Anita, what was the White House reaction to the testimony?  And let`s take

on the Democrats` worst fear is that the top lawyer in the land has the

President`s back.  Is there confidence at the White House that that is

indeed true?

 

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  You know, it`s really

interesting that he did not – he declined to say whether the White House

has seen the report.  Because the White House has told us repeatedly they

haven`t seen the report.  So there is either a disconnect there or the

Attorney General doesn`t want to reveal what those conversations were

about.  But they claim they haven`t seen them.

 

You know, I don`t think that their worry is any more worry than any other

day when they`re getting a lot of requests, threats of subpoena from House

Democrats on a variety of things.  They have pushed back hard.  They have

sort of a strategy now on how to deal with the House Democrats, which is

not to give much of anything, not to give anything personal for sure of the

President`s.

 

And just to say, we`re going to ignore it.  I mean, in many instances

they`re not even responding by letter.  The customary letter that you send

back.  So, I think they`re feeling sort of the same about it.

 

WILLIAMS:  John Heilemann, point one is a pure aside.  As a fellow

linguist, I love watching intelligential words rise and fall under

popularity.

 

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  Yes.

 

WILLIAMS:  We`re winning on narrative, the word everyone had to use ones in

a sentence.  Binary.  Go invest in the word binary because everybody is

starting to use it.  Now –

 

HEILEMANN:  You know, I`ve been a fan for a long time of the false binary,

which is where people say either/or, when in fact it could easily be

and/both.  But, yes –

 

WILLIAMS:  I knew you were going to add value to that.  Number two in the

actual question for you, can this report contain real good news for this

White House?  And another way of asking that is, where are we going from

here?

 

HEILEMANN:  Well, no, I think it`s pretty evident that things are bad, are

getting – going to get worse for the White House as it goes forward. 

Which actually brings into question the political strategy and that`s what

it is, right?  It`s increasingly difficult.

 

You listen to the guests on your first – the first block tonight.  You

think about – you listen to the Attorney General today in congress.  It is

increasingly hard for people of good will, who wish, as I think all

Americans, should for the Attorney General to be not a political actor at

this moment in particular, and in general, it`s almost impossible now to

not see him as a political actor given where we`re headed, given the

flimsiness of the explanations, given the lengths to which he seems to be

going to protect the President.  He made a political and PR judgment to do

this.

 

And it strikes me as a foolish one in that there was a theory of the case

seems to have been, get the best possible case out early, cement

perceptions, and then the President will be able to claim exoneration and

when the bad news comes out people won`t notice because everyone will have

already bought the exoneration line.

 

WILLIAMS:  Part one has happened.

 

HEILEMANN:  I just think the Part 1 has happened.  But I think it`s a

woeful misreading of the news environment we live in now where everything

is evanescing, where everything jut vanishes into the air.  Winning the day

now is not winning the first day.  It`s winning the last day in the

argument.

 

And it seems to me that the trajectory of this only gets worse for the

President and that the strategy fails on its own merits in that sense.  But

also looks increasingly bad as you go forward.

 

WILLIAMS:  Both our guest have agreed to stay with us over the break.

 

And coming up, the President says the record number of migrant families

trying to cross the Southern border into this country are coming here,

“like it`s a picnic or Disneyland.”  And he has taken credit for stopping

child separation.  We`ll talk about that topic when we come back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  President Obama separated

the children.  Those cages that were shown, I think they were very

inappropriate.  They were built by President Obama`s administration, not by

Trump.  President Obama had child separation.  I didn`t have – I`m the one

that stopped it.  President Obama had child separation.  Now I`ll tell you

something, once you don`t have it, that`s why you see many more people

coming.  They`re coming like it`s a picnic, because let`s go to Disneyland.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  President Trump today blaming, as you heard, the Obama

administration for separating children from migrant families even as his

White House is said to be preparing to take tougher action at the border,

including, according to reports, reinstating that very policy.  Trump

denied that today but his critics were quick to point out the Obama

administration only separated families when a child`s welfare was in

question.  And there was this fact check from the President`s preferred

cable news network.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS:  Now separating rhetoric from reality when it

comes to immigration in America.  The Trump administration did separate

families.  The Trump Department of Homeland Security estimates more than

2,300 children had been separated from their families by last spring.  And

the Trump administration did detain children in cages.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Shepherd Smith at Fox News.  “The Washington Post” sums up the

current state of play, “Trump`s increasingly erratic behavior over the past

12 days since he first threatened to seal the border in a series of tweets

on March 29th has alarmed top Republicans, business officials, and foreign

leaders who fear that his emotional response might exasperate –

exacerbate,” forgive me, “problems at the border, harm the U.S. economy,

and degrade national security.”

 

Anita Kumar and John Heilemann have been kind enough to stay with us.

 

John, is this his go-to zen place?  You hear him now repeating the sound

bites of the points he wants broadcasts like this to play.  And is, as

someone said today, is that, that scene in the Oval Office, the evidence we

need that he`s been offered a glimpse of the Mueller report?

 

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  I`m having a little bit of

difficulty starting here because I`m trying to contemplate the notion of

compatibility between the notion of zen and Donald Trump.

 

WILLIAMS:  I know.

 

HEILEMANN:  But OK, that`s –

 

WILLIAMS:  You also survived LaGuardia tonight.

 

HEILEMANN:  I did.

 

WILLIAMS:  And we appreciate that.

 

HEILEMANN:  I did.  I was not zen in that situation at all.  It is –

there`s no doubt it`s his go-to.  It`s his go-to place.  And I think

there`s a lot of political calculation involved in what he does in this

area.  I think he is looking towards 2020.  He understands how difficult

re-election is going to be.  He thinks he can win.  He thinks – as with

everything, the only touchstone of his entire administration has been, to

his deficit in some respects because he hasn`t grown his base at all, but

feeding the base, stoking the ire of those who are with him, has been his

sole political lodestar, right?  That`s been the thing.

 

This is the issue that he associates most firmly with it.  Of course, we

could point out that he said he was going to build a great big wall with

Mexico paying it.  We could point all that out.  The reality is he thinks

that if he doesn`t keep riding this issue, that it could cost him re-

election.

 

Now, there are – we all would say there are a lot of other things that

could cost him re-election, we could name like 30.  But this is one where

he really believes he`s got – a lot of people would say he`s got racism in

his heart, he`s got xenophobia in his heart, he`s cruel, he doesn`t care

about arguments about family separation, putting kids in cages, a lot of

people would say all that and probably it`s true.  But most importantly why

I think he`s animating a lot this is he doesn`t know much else about

politics except how to keep those people with him, and he thinks this is

the key to that.

 

WILLIAMS:  Anita Kumar, I don`t know where you were at 4:43 this afternoon

but time will forever record that it was when we first saw a video with the

President`s imprimatur on it, he put it out on social media and it`s dark. 

It ends with the brand name of Trump 2020, it`s a re-election theme video. 

It starts with a recitation of grievances.  The soundtrack is from “The

Dark Knight” after all.

 

We`re told it`s a just a Trump super fan who put this together.  This does

not have the stamp of approval of the campaign.  But conveniently now the

President has put it out into the bloodstream.  First they ignore you, then

they laugh at you, then they call you racist.  And that`s the opening

credits.

 

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.  I mean, I was sure

it was from the Trump campaign, but as you say, they are saying it`s from a

fan.  I think we`re going to continue to see things like this.  As you

know, the President is a fan of these videos.  He put one out or put

something out similar when he had the North Korea talks awhile back.  He`s

very into this stagecraft.

 

So even if they didn`t put it out, we`re going to see all these themes

coming back.  We`re going to see videos like this.  We`re going to see

campaign like, you know, things like this.  But it was very interesting. 

One – you know, obviously, there was a lot in there about things that they

say he has accomplished, right, the stock market, North Korea.  But there

was an awful lot of Hillary Clinton still in there.  And Bill Clinton was

in there.  So it`s still a look back at 2016 while they`re trying to go to

2020, which is sort of what President Trump does.

 

WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to our guests tonight, both returning veterans, Anita

Kumar and John Heilemann, thank you very much for being with us as always.

 

And coming up, badly in need of historical perspective, we called the

history boys, Meacham, Beshloss, here with us in this very studio right

after this.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

WILLIAMS:  As we have noted a time or two this administration seems to be

in the habit of breaking norms and protocols.  But “Washington Post”

columnist Max Boot puts it in more drastic terms.  He writes, “The real

national emergency isn`t at the border, it`s in Washington.  Trump is

trashing the rule of law to stay in power.  And the very same Republicans

who excoriated President Barack Obama for his supposed misuse of executive

power are meekly going along.”

 

On that note, we are joined tonight by two of the most widely read authors

of our age.  Our NBC News Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, his

latest work is called “Presidents of War.”  And Pulitzer Prize-winning

author and historian Jon Meacham is here.  His newest work because it`s

been a few weeks, coauthored with Tim McGraw, I guess we can expect a

project with Yanni next, is “Songs of America” out on June 11th.

 

Full disclosure, I enjoyed a meal with these two gentlemen here in New York

City tonight.  Welcome.  Thank you both for coming on.

 

Jon, before we veer into country music, I`ll start with you.  Yesterday

alone, a purge at the Department of Homeland Security and orders apparently

from the administration to tell folks to go ahead and break laws if they`ve

been – if they`ve come up against resistance.  As I always ask you, what

is happening right now as we watch?

 

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENT HISTORIAN:  Well, it`s a rolling Saturday night

massacre at this point.  And you have, to me, one of the things that I`ve

heard many people comment on is if you believe in the mission of the

Department of Homeland Security, aren`t we reaching a point where our

Homeland Security now is in danger?  Because the people charged with

executing the defense are not in place?

 

WILLIAMS:  It`s pretty important cabinet department.

 

MEACHAM:  Created in the wake of the deadliest day in American history. 

Created to – and having, knock on wood, praise the lord, wherever you

stand on the spectrum, whatever you wan to say remarkably successful.  And

right now, because of this I would argue largely manufactured crisis at the

border, we now have – we`re in a position where the people charged with

our safety are missing because the President is using this as an

ideological paint ball field, as opposed to taking it seriously.

 

WILLIAMS:  Michael, we often cover these events as the shiny object of the

day.  Because the ongoing, to coin a phrase, narrative of this

administration has been the Russia investigation.  Something we deal with

here every night.  But the shiny object suddenly become history over time,

don`t they?

 

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  They sure do.  And

especially if, God forbid, they result in a catastrophe.  And one of the

shiny objects that`s a consistent pattern but we`ve seen it a lot the last

week is this President`s unbelievable disrespect for the rule of law, which

again, especially in the Republican Party, is very much out of the pattern

of history.

 

You know, I always used to think that Richard Nixon was a one-time fluke. 

He considered something called the Houston Plan in 1970 to combat his

domestic political enemies.  People who are against the Vietnam War with

illegal mail ordering – openings and domestic surveillance and burglaries

and actually, you know, approved burglaries and some other things that led

to the Watergate scandal.  But much of what we`ve seen from Donald Trump

over the last two years has a very great potential to put Watergate in the

shade.

 

WILLIAMS:  Jon, everyone who loves history, American history, knows the

date April 12th.  And why it`s important in the last century.  Remind our

viewers about what happened on that date upcoming, and how far we`ve

traveled since that day.

 

MEACHAM:  Late that afternoon, Franklin Roosevelt is in his cottage at warm

springs, Georgia, where he had gone to try to regain the use of his legs,

where the saltwater ponds had enabled him to have the sense of movement. 

The back of the cottage was built as the prow of a ship so he would feel he

was moving because he couldn`t.  He was being painted by Russian

portraitist, Madam Shoumatoff and had a cerebral hemorrhage, died that

afternoon.  After 12 years the longest-running President.  We`ll never

match that again.

 

BESCHLOSS:  Let`s hope.

 

MEACHAM:  Unless they start suspending elections.

 

BESCHLOSS:  Right.

 

MEACHAM:  And you had in that moment where a president had come into office

at a moment where – of existential crisis.  March 4th, 1933, he said the

only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  Nameless, unreasoning fear that

paralyzes our efforts and converts retreat into – advance into retreat. 

Fascinating isn`t it that he used the word paralyze.  Because he knew in

his own life that you could overcome and he believed that he could make the

country walk again.

 

Did during the depression, led us to victory in World War II.  Michael`s

written a brilliant book about that.  And really you had a modern era that

began in a way with William McKinley and his assassination, 1901, goes

through FDR building the nuclear age.  Truman drops the bomb.  The

possibilities of Armageddon are suddenly quite real.  And the entire modern

presidency – again, Michael knows more about this than I do – the entire

modern presidency in a way has been created by Roosevelt in order to govern

both the relation of the state and the marketplace, and the relative

projection of power against our foes and rivals.

 

And to me what`s so striking about this moment is, if you think about

American history and the modern era as being a kind of figurative

conversation between FDR and Reagan about those two questions, that was a

coherent spectrum.  We`re not in a coherent, sequential chapter to that

story.

 

WILLIAMS:  The history boys have agreed to stay with us.  And when we come

back, there is more to discuss from just today in this unprecedented

presidency when we continue.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  Somebody should run against John McCain who has been, you know, in

my opinion, not so hot.  And I supported him.  I supported him for

President.  I raised a million dollars for him.  It`s a lot of money.  I

supported him, he lost, he let us down.  But, you know, he lost.  So I

never liked him as much after that because I don`t like losers.  But,

Frank, let me get to it.

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He`s a war hero.

 

TRUMP:  He`s not a war hero.  He is a war –

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Five and a half years –

 

TRUMP:  He`s a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren`t

captured, OK?  I hate to tell you.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  That was a moment, July of 2015, and many people who saw that

thought in the moment that it might end his month-old presidential campaign

right then and there.  As we later learned, it did not.  The President has

since doubled down on his dislike for the now-dead American hero, John

McCain.  It sounds as though POWs have not been his thing.  Nonetheless, as

President, he did what others have done on this date by declaring April 9th

as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day.

 

Still with us, Michael Beschloss and John Meacham.  Michael, no mention, no

reverence.  He was blocks away from the Hanoi Hilton where so many

Americans were tortured in Vietnam.  No visit.  It`s not his thing.

 

BESCHLOSS:  It is gross and disrespectful to the memory of John McCain, and

self-knowledge by name is not Donald Trump.  You sort of wonder if it

occurred to him when he was approving the idea of National POW Day that

this was not exactly in sync with the terrible comments he made about John

McCain four years ago when he was beginning to run for president and those

he made even after John McCain passed.  I just don`t get it.  This doesn`t

help him in any way I can see.

 

WILLIAMS:  John Meacham, last night on this broadcast we aired part of a

speech delivered Sunday by Mayor Pete, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. 

It was about his life in large part as a gay man in this country.  The last

item on a long resume, as I said last night, he`s a lot of things.  He`s a

Harvard grad, he`s a Road Scholar, he`s an Afghanistan, veteran, veteran of

the U.S. Navy.  He`s also all but declared running for president.  We made

the comparison to the Obama race speech in that it might live on past its

moment.  Do you see the potential for echoes in what he said?

 

MEACHAM:  Absolutely.  And as we`ve discussed before the sociology on this

 

WILLIAMS:  South Bend, not Fort Wayne.  Forgive me, I made a mistake.

 

BESCHLOSS:  They`re very close.

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

 

MEACHAM:  Nothing has moved closer than the question of broader acceptance

of differing understandings of sexual identity.  One of the most

fascinating days in modern American history was in June of 2015 which was

the mourning of the marriage equality decision, President Obama greets in

the Rose Garden and then he goes to Charleston to speak at the church where

there`d been the terrible shooting.

 

BESCHLOSS:  Seems a lot longer ago than four years.

 

MEACHAM:  Isn`t it interesting?

 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.

 

MEACHAM:  But one day that was sort of you saw the new America and the

tragic shadows of the old America.  And I think a figure like the mayor is

at the time is exactly right for him to become a significant national

player.  I don`t know what his vote getting ability is at all, but he`s

already helped shape the conversation.

 

WILLIAMS:  Michael, I think this is the fastest moving public issue I`ve

ever seen.  Based on sheer math, the number of American families with a

friend or family member as part of the LGBT community.

 

BESCHLOSS:  Absolutely.  And go back to 2004, which was 15 years ago.

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

 

BESCHLOSS:  George W. Bush to some extent got re-elected on the basis of

opposing gay marriage and generating voter support or voter opposition to

the idea of marriage equality in a number of the states.  And that was

considered to be something that got votes.  You know, the country has moved

very fast and thank God.  It`s great to see.

 

MEACHAM:  It`s interesting.  One of the last – when I wrote the book about

President Bush Sr., one of the last exchanges we had before it went to

press was there were some entries in his diary from the vice presidential

years where he was pretty harsh on the politics of gay Americans.  And I

said what are your thoughts at this point, and he wrote me a note that said

he wish he`d love who they love and marry who they love.

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

 

MEACHAM:  And I guess you could say I`ve mellowed.

 

WILLIAMS:  That`s a migration.

 

MEACHAM:  The country has mellowed.

 

BESCHLOSS:  And it makes you feel better when you see presidents who mellow

in the end.  Sometimes that even happens when they`re in office.

 

MEACHAM:  And they react to data.  They react to – they use reason instead

of –

 

(CROSSTALK)

 

BESCHLOSS:  Yes.

 

WILLIAMS:  With special greetings to everybody in the home of Notre Dame

University in Indiana, and thanks to our friends, Michael Beschloss and

John Meacham.  I like the history boys thing.  I think there`s a future in

that.

 

Coming up for us, that feeling when you realize you`re a member of a group

you`ve been complaining about for years.  This man had that feeling today. 

When we come back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  You have perhaps heard

Bernie Sanders railing about a specific group in American life and society. 

The people he constantly mentions in speeches, especially during his last

run for president.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It`s the

priorities up on the Hill are not for working people.  They are tax breaks

for millionaires and billionaires.

 

Millionaires and billionaires.

 

Billionaires and billionaires.

 

Millionaires and billionaires.

 

We had in fact run a strong and, I believe, winning campaign without asking

millionaires and billionaires for a nickel.

 

We will no longer tolerate the greed of Wall Street, greed of corporate

America and the billionaire class.

 

Virtually every other campaign Republican and Democrat is dependent upon

super packs funded by billion-airs and millionaires.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Well, guess who`s a millionaire with all the hubub about Donald

Trump not releasing his tax return, Bernie has had a problem on that front. 

He`s only ever released one year.  That was as a candidate back in 2016 and

naturally people have been curious as to why.  We don`t know the answer to

that.  But we do know that he`ll release 10 years worth of returns between

now and tax day next Monday.

 

Interestingly his recent speeches have mentioned billionaires more than

millionaires.  And perhaps this is a related item.  He conceded today in an

interview with “The New York Times” that while he`s not a billionaire,

Bernie`s a millionaire as he put it.  And this sounds better in his native

Brooklyn, “I wrote a best-selling book.  If you can write a best selling

book, you can be a millionaire, too.”

 

That`s going to do it for us and end our broadcast on this Tuesday night. 

Good night from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

 

 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY

BE UPDATED.                                                                                                    

END

 

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