Attorney General Barr testifies for first time. TRANSCRIPT: 4/9/19. The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.
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
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
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
(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?
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
(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.
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
And Neal Katyal, I would like to begin with you. You tell us what happened
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
(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-
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
(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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the