AG Barr testifies before Senate Committee. TRANSCRIPT: 5/1/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests:
Berit Berger, Matthew Miller, Ken Vogel, Jon Meacham
Transcript:

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And I don’t think the Trump team is now

or ever has been or ever will be worried about breaking the law.  That’s

tonight’s LAST WORD. “THE 11TH HOUR” with Brian Williams starts now.

 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight in a stunner of a day-long hearing,

Attorney General Bill Bar presents an unabashed defense of the President

while seemingly trying to diminish the importance of his friend of 30

years, Robert Mueller.  And now Barr is refusing to show up tomorrow before

House Judiciary because the Democrats in charge there want lawyers to

question him and now that means it’s possible the nation’s top law

enforcement officer could find him in contempt.

 

Tonight, the calls for Bill Barr to resign are growing, and all eyes,

again, turn to one, Robert Mueller, whose testimony becomes more critical

by the hour as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on this Wednesday night.

 

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

York.  Day 832 of the Trump administration.  A full day, an explosive day

on Capitol Hill, as attorney general Barr defended the man who appointed

him, defended his handling of the Mueller report, to members of the Senate.

 

We’ll take you through the hearing in just a moment, but the latest news

from today came tonight.  It’s about tomorrow.  Barr has decided he’s one

and done, where hearings are concerned.  He turned down House Judiciary

tomorrow.  He’s not going to show.  He didn’t like the idea of getting

questioned by the Committee’s appointed lawyers in addition to members of

Congress on the Committee, something the committee chairman said tonight

shouldn’t be up to him.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY CMTE.:  The Attorney

General has a nerve to try to dictate, and the administration has a nerve

to dictate our procedures, simply part of the administration’s complete

stonewalling of Congress.

 

He’s trying to blackmail the committee into not following what we think is

the most effective means of eliciting the information we need.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Tonight a spokesman at the Department of Justice tells NBC News

that Nadler’s insistence on the staff question format is, “inappropriate.” 

Nadler also says Justice refuses to hand over the full unredacted Mueller

report.  His committee is now trying to get Mueller, himself, to testify

May 15th.

 

And now back to the Attorney General.  He spent much of today before senate

Judiciary defending at every turn how he handled and released and

summarized the Mueller report.  Defending Trump’s assertions about the

Mueller report, even the mischaracterizations of Mueller’s findings.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. LIDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA CHAIRMAN JUDICIARY CMTE.:  Do you

think the President’s campaign in 2016 was thoroughly looked at in terms of

whether or not they colluded with the Russians?

 

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Yes.

 

GRAHAM:  And the answer is no, according to Bob Mueller.

 

BARR:  That’s right.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  In his report, Mueller noted he was applying the framework of

conspiracy law, not making a judgment about collusion which is not an

entity in federal law.  Mueller also made claim the evidence that Trump

directed his ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired. Trump

also denied this and today Barr seemed to as well.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  The President never directed him to fire and there is a distinction

between saying to someone, go fire him, go fire Mueller, and saying, have

him removed based on conflict.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  In his report, Mueller also detailed evidence indicating Trump

attempted to get rid of the Special Counsel with the corrupt intent of

curtailing the investigation.  Trump has suggested he could have fired

Mueller because he believed the investigation to be a witch hunt, which you

may have heard.  Here is what Barr told the Committee today on that front.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  If the President is being falsely accused and he felt that this

investigation was unfair, propelled by his political opponents, and was

hampering his ability to govern, that is not a corrupt motive for replacing

an independent counsel.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Barr’s appearance came just hours after we learned that Mueller

had, in fact, written the A.G. in late march, suggesting that Barr misled

the public with his four-page now-famous letter describing the report’s

conclusions in advance.  Earlier last month, Barr under oath told a House

committee that he was unaware that members of the Mueller team were

concerned about what he’d written in his summary.  Today, he was asked

about that apparent discrepancy.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Why did you say you

were not aware of concerns when weeks before your testimony, Mr. Mueller

had expressed concerns to you?  I mean that’s a fairly simple –

 

BARR:  I answered the question and the question was relating to

unidentified members who were expressing frustration over the accuracy

relating to findings. I don’t know what that refers to at all. I talked

directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team.

 

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Would you

concede that you had an opportunity to make this letter public on April 4th

when Representative Crist asked you a very related question?

 

BARR:  I don’t know what you mean by related question.  It seems to me it

would be a very different question.

 

WHITEHOUSE:  I can’t even follow that down the road.  That – I mean, boy,

that’s a masterful hair splitting.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  On several different occasions, Barr seemed to diminish his

friend of 30 years, Robert Mueller, calling him the equivalent of a U.S.

attorney, which, indeed, Mueller was years ago, saying Mueller wasn’t a

career prosecutor, and then hours into the hearing, here’s how he

characterized the letter that Mueller had sent him.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  You know, the letter’s a bit snitty and I think it was probably

written by one of his staff people.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Another revealing moment today during withering questioning from

former prosecutor turned Democratic Senator Kamala Harris who asked Barr

about his contact with the White House.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. KAMAL HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Has the President

or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an

investigation of anyone?

 

BARR:  I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t –

 

HARRIS:  Yes or no?

 

HARRIS:  Could you repeat that question?

 

HARRIS:  I will repeat it.

 

BARR:  Yes.

 

HARRIS:  Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or

suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?  Yes or no, please,

sir.

 

BARR:  The President or anybody else?

 

HARRIS:  Seems you’d remember something like that and be able to tell us.

 

BARR:  Yes, but I’m trying to grapple with the word, “suggest.”  I mean,

there have been discussions of matters out there that they’ve not asked me

to open an investigation, but –

 

HARRIS:  Perhaps they’ve suggested?

 

BARR:  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t say suggest.

 

HARRIS:  Hinted?

 

BARR:  I don’t know.

 

HARRIS:  Inferred?  You don’t know?  OK.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Because elections have consequences, time for civics. 

Republicans run the Senate, and Lindsey Graham, who years ago was a

withering Trump critic, is now a close Trump ally.  He set the tone for the

other Republicans on the panel.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

GRAHAM:  After all this time and all this money, Mr. Mueller and his team

concluded there was no collusion.  But when the Mueller report is put to

bed and it soon will be, this Committee is going to look long and hard in

how this all started.  We’re going to look at the FISA warrant process.

 

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R) IOWA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  What are you doing to

investigate unauthorized media contacts by the Department and FBI officials

during the Russian investigation?

 

BARR:  We have multiple criminal leak investigations under way.

 

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The Obama administration

Justice Department and FBI decided to place their bets on Hillary Clinton

and focus their efforts on investigating the Trump campaign.

 

SEN. THOM TILLIS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Starting with

Strzok and page and everybody else leading up before the investigation, I

hope they’re being investigated.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Which brings us to our leadoff discussion on this consequential

Wednesday night, Berit Berger, former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the

Eastern District of New York and Southern District of New York, Matthew

Miller, former Chief Spokesman for the Justice Department, Jeremy Bash,

former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to the

House Intel Committee, and Ken Vogel, Veteran Politic Reporter for “The New

York Times.”  Good evening, and welcome to all of you.  I know it’s been a

long day.

 

Jeremy, if I might, I’d like to begin with you because you were here when

this broadcast started over two years ago.  Among our first guests, you’ve

been along for the ride ever since.  What did you make of today’s hearing?

 

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, today was a sad display,

Brian.  I think the Attorney General advanced weak and shallow arguments. 

He’s gone the full Trump.  Basically he mischaracterized Bob Mueller’s

report, badly mischaracterized it.  Bob Mueller called him on it.

 

But for the media reports the last 24 hours, the Attorney General would

have appeared before the Senate morning and actually repeated the lie,

repeated the mischaracterizations.  In addition, Brian, as I think we’re

going to get into, his analysis of the obstruction volume of the Mueller

report is way off base, essentially he is saying, no, the President didn’t

order that Mueller be fired, he just ordered that he be removed as if we’re

all too stupid to know the difference.

 

WILLIAMS:  Berit Berger, knowing you for five minutes means learning you

love the Justice Department.  Having established that, what did you make of

today, what did you make of William Barr?

 

BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Yes, I

mean, I think it’s painful any time you watch a witness testifying and

having to sort of twist themselves into a pretzel to answer really basic

questions.  It is even more painful when that witness is the Attorney

General who, in my opinion, needs to be held to higher standard.

 

To see somebody like Bill Barr quibbling over the word of “suggest,” it’s

painful.  This is the nation’s top prosecutor.  This is somebody who should

be able to answer questions clearly and honestly and I don’t know that the

public can have much confidence in him after the performance today.

 

WILLIAMS:  You’ve got friends, former colleagues, of course, still on the

inside.  This is their leader, their boss.

 

RBERGER:  Right.  And many of whom have investigations that were referred

from the special counsel’s office team.  This is the person that continues

to oversee all of those investigations.  And look, I think this testimony

today answered some questions.  I think it raised a lot more questions,

specifically, about, you know, where the Attorney General’s loyalties are

here, who is he really serving in this role?

 

WILLIAMS:  Matt Miller also a loyal former DOJ employee, come from the calm

side of the street.  Did we see a communications strategy today?  The

Democrats charge that, yes, this was the period at the end of the sentence

that obfuscated and fuzzed up the Mueller report writ large.

 

MATTHEW MILLER, FMR. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF SPOKESMAN:  Yes, I think it

was a simple communications strategy by the Attorney General.  That was to

defend the President at all costs.

 

It’s kind of stunning when you look at what he was there to testify about. 

He was there to testify about the Mueller report, which in its entirety is

a pretty scathing account of the President’s behavior.  It all but accuses

the President of committing a crime of obstructions of justice.  It lays

out a number of very troubling patterns of conduct on the campaign.   It

doesn’t accuse him of crime there but, you know, lays out some things that

the American people should be concerned about.

 

And yet, every question that the Attorney General was asked he excused the

conduct, he dismissed the behavior of Bob Mueller and his team.  At times

he attacked the leadership of the FBI and Justice Department.  He seemed

skeptical of this entire investigation in the first place.

 

It was a very disappointing performance for the Attorney General who should

have been there defending the department’s work, instead went up there and

questioned it kind of from the beginning.

 

WILLIAMS:  Ken Vogel, by one theory what we saw today was two hearings

under Republican questioning and under Democratic questioning.  Watching

cable news tonight, I saw two hearings.  One as covered by this network,

another as covered by another.  What will shine through, in your view,

tomorrow?

 

KEN VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITCAL REPORTER:  Well, I think Republicans

definitely did provide fodder for Barr to present this alternative story

line.  He did talk about spying.  He echoed the President – the

President’s claim continuing – he didn’t back down from the claim that he

previously made which echoed the President’s claim that Trump’s campaign

was spied on which a lot of career intelligence and law enforcement folks

took issue with that term.  He didn’t back down from it.

 

He also took the bait, not just took the bait, he talked at some depth

about the investigations that he has launched at the Department of Justice

into the origins of the Russia investigation into possible FISA abuse.

 

And we’ve heard a little bit from Rudy Giuliani and even from the

President, himself, that they would like an investigation by Barr of

Ukrainian meddling on behalf of the Clinton campaign.  So, these are the

types of things that Republicans prefer to talk about and they found a

willing sort of response from Barr on those issues.

 

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, you were chief of staff, out of all places, spy

headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and he did invoke the word today.  Went

further than that.  Let’s listen to some of that.  Talk about it on the

other side.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  I don’t think the word, “spying,” has any pejorative connotation at

all.

 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But you recognize –

 

BARR:  To me the question is always whether or not it’s authorized and

adequately predicated, spying.  I think spying is a good English word that,

in fact, doesn’t have synonyms because it is the broadest word

incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collections.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Of course, Jeremy, politically, spying is the preferred word of

the Trump, right?  No collusion, no obstruction, is the preferred

phraseology of the Trump right.  All your time at CIA, was it known or ever

referred to as spying if someone was put under surveillance and all the

traps were run that have to be run?

 

BASH:  It’s spying if it’s done against foreign adversaries, Brian, to

collect foreign intelligence.  But when you’re talking about undertaking

surveillance, electronic surveillance, or investigative surveillance, on

U.S. soil against U.S. persons, no, you don’t call it spying.  To call it

spying is basically to say there is no predication, there is no judicial

oversight, and that’s contrary to the 4th Amendment in our constitutional

order.  And our Attorney General knows exactly that.  he knows better.

 

In fact, he told me so when he was general counsel of Verizon and he was

lobbying Congress for an exception from liability for the

telecommunications companies under then President Bush’s surveillance

program.

 

WILLIAMS:  And Berit Berger, I have one for you.  Here is senator Klobuchar

also a former prosecutor talking about potential witness intimidation at

the hands of the President.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) MINNESOTA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The report found

that Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House before it, that the President

repeatedly implied that Cohen’s family members had committed crimes.  Do

you consider that evidence to be an attempt to convince a witness to change

testimony?

 

BARR:  No.  I don’t think that that could pass muster.

 

KLOBUCHAR:  The report found that after Manafort was convicted, the

President, himself, called him a brave man for refusing to break.

 

BARR:  Yes.  And that is not – and that is not obstruction.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Berit, in your view, does that reasoning hold up?

 

BERGER:  Well, whether or not it’s obstruction, it’s certainly not

appropriate for the President of the United States to be congratulating a

witness on that breaking.  I mean, in the Department of Justice –

 

WILLIAMS:  I’ve seen it in movies.

 

BERGER:  Fair enough.  I mean the Department of Justice, we had, you know,

gang cases, organized crime cases where we would bring additional

obstruction charges against defendants for doing just these kind of actions

for, you know, potentially threatening witnesses or, you know, making sort

of these veiled threats against family members.  So, you know, whether or

not it reaches a criminal threshold is sort of beyond the point here.  You

have the Attorney General sort of acting like he sees nothing wrong with

that, which to me is just baffling.

 

WILLIAMS:  Matt, Neal Katyal, frequent guest of ours, former Solicitor

General for this country, our lead lawyer before the Supreme Court, a guy

who co-authored the regs that allowed Mueller to d his work has written

this and this is kind of an instruction manual for Mueller request list

going forward.  This is interesting.  “Mr. Mueller needs to testify and

tell us whether he disagrees with Mr. Barr’s analysis and conclusions about

obstruction of evidence, what he thinks about the Attorney General’s

reaching his decision without reviewing any of the underlying evidence,

what Mr. Mueller thought of Mr. Barr’s characterization of their reported

disagreements, whether there were other disagreements that have not been

reported, and whether Mr. Mueller’s knowledge of what Mr. Barr has done

leads him to conclude that the attorney general must recuse himself from

the continuing Trump investigations.”

 

It’s a long list, Matt, obviously, valid questions.  One problem, Bob

Mueller is an employee of the Department of Justice.  His boss is Bill

Barr, the attorney general, unless and until such time he’s allowed to

testify or is no longer an employee.

 

MILLER:  Yes, and, Bill Barr said today and he said previously that he had

no objection to the special counsel testifying.  However, for some reason

he can’t – the Justice Department can’t seem to find a date to make him

available to the House Judiciary Committee which is said very much it wants

to have him come testify.  I think those are very good questions that Neal

laid out.

 

I think before this week, I always thought that Mueller’s testimony would

be a bit of a disappointment, that he would come in and talk and kind of

testify the way he did when he was the FBI director which would be reticent

to say anything beyond what was in that report.  But after finding out last

night that he was so upset with the way Barr handled himself in his first

letter that he sent two letters to the special – to the Attorney General

complaining and in the second one arguing that he misled the American

people.  And what’s happened since then?  The Attorney General doubled down

on that at a press conference and then tripled down on it today and

continued to mislead the American public about what the Special Counsel had

found.

 

I wonder now if Bob Mueller, if he was mad enough on March 27th to send

this kind of extraordinary letter to the Attorney General, if he’s even

more upset now that he might come in when he eventually testifies, maybe

after he’s left the department and really lay his disagreements out for

everyone to see.

 

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Ken, the Democrats as of tonight have been presented with a

moment.  There will be no Barr at tomorrow’s hearing.  They are capable of

playing it correctly and whatever – who’s ever view that is or screwing it

up.  Do you think there’s going to be empty chair theater in the hearing

room tomorrow?

 

VOGEL:  Possibly.  I mean, you know, sort of the rub here, Brian, is that

there is this conventional wisdom which I think is well founded that having

professional lawyer staff members who are professional lawyers for the

committee do the testimony tends to result in more poignant questions and

better answers or at least more confrontational on-point questions.  But we

saw today there were several Democratic senators who were able to elicit

very revealing responses from Bill Barr during the testimony, including

Senators Harris and Blumenthal.  We talked a little bit about and you

showed some clips of their very on-point questions.

 

And so you would think that the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee

might be able to do the same thing, but at this point, the sides are kind

of dug into their corners and I don’t expect that either will give.

 

WILLIAMS:  Figuring that they’ve all been up all day, anyway, all of our

guests have agreed to stay with us over just this next break.  And when we

come back, what Ken just referred to, we’ll look at how much Senate

Democrats were really able to accomplish on their own today.

 

And later, one Republican strategist today called Barr the President’s

taxpayer-funded defense lawyer.  Tonight, the reviews are in from Barr’s

boss.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this eventful Wednesday night

on Capitol Hill.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  Bob Mueller is the equivalent of a U.S. attorney.  He was exercising

the powers of the attorney general subject to the supervision of the

attorney general.  His work concluded when he sent his report to the

attorney general.  At that point, it was my baby, and I was making a

decision as to whether or not to make it public.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  During his testimony today, the Attorney General spoke about a

conversation he had with Robert Mueller after he received that critical

letter from Mueller of Barr’s March 24th summary to Congress.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

BARR:  I said, Bob, what’s with the letter, you know?  Why don’t you just

pick up the phone and call me if there’s an issue.  And he said that they

were concerned about the way the media was playing this and felt that it

was important to get out the summaries which they felt would put their work

in proper context and avoid some of the confusion that was emerging and I

asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate and he

said no.  That the press – he felt that the press coverage was – and it

was – and that a completer (ph), a more complete picture of his thoughts

and the context and so forth would deal with that.

 

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (F) CONNECTICUT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  But there’s

nothing in Robert Mueller’s letter to you about the press.  His complaint

to you is about your characterization of the report.  Correct?

 

BARR:  Well, the letter speaks for itself.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  After that exchange, the Judiciary Chairman, Lindsey Graham,

said he would reach out to Robert Mueller to ask him if he disagreed with

Barr’s characterization of that conversation.  He was then asked about

calling Mueller to testify.  This was in the hallway after the hearing.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why not call for Mueller to testify?

 

GRAHAM:  Because I’m not going to do any more.  Enough already.  It’s over.

 

If there’s any dispute about a conversation, then he’ll come, but I’m not

going to retry the case.  I’m not calling McGahn.  It is over.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  The Chairman disappeared after that.

 

Still with us, Berit Berger, Matt Miller, Jeremy Bash, and Ken Vogel

 

Berit, the question is, and I know you’re not a political person, did the

Democrats do the damage to this witness they wanted to do?  One of the

headlines tonight, because I’m from New Jersey, the record shows he took

the blows for his boss.  Donald Trump did not get pummeled today.  Barr

did.

 

BERGER:  Yes.  I think the democrats landed a lot of really strategic

punches in this hearing.  I mean, they were able to ask effective

questions.  I think they really poked holes in a lot of what Barr had to

say.

 

I mean, I think the ultimate question at the end of this is, like, so what,

right?  Because how does this actually help Congress in what is their

ultimate decision, which is do they actually use the information in the

Mueller report to begin any kind of impeachment proceedings?

 

Did this advance the ball for them on that field?  I think it did.  I think

it definitely gave them some more fodder for bringing in it additional

witnesses, such as Mueller, such as McGahn, but I don’t know that – I

don’t know that we have a, you know, full picture of what went into the

unrolling of the Mueller report.  So I think there’s definitely still room

for more inquiry on this.

 

WILLIAMS:  Matt Miller, Barr says with a straight face that Trump fully

cooperated but we know Trump didn’t sit down for testimony.

 

MILLER:  Yes, that was one of the remarkable things he said that he’s said

for a while now that the President fully cooperated when he only gave

written answers to half the report.  He wouldn’t sit down at all.

 

I think it goes to this point that he was really acting kind of as the

President’s defense attorney.  And so the to question you asked Berit,

look, I think Democrats succeeded in dinging his credibility, in kind of

dirtying up his credibility a little bit.  But at the same time, he’s not

playing the same game, he’s not worried I don’t think about his credibility

with the mainstream press or with kind of, you know, people in middle

America.  He’s aiming for that Fox viewer, the Fox audience, who just needs

to hear a different narrative, they need to hear no collusion, no

obstruction and that this was a witch hunt from the beginning and there

needs to be an investigation into the investigation.  That’s what he was

trying to do.

 

And so for Democrats going forward, you know, look, he’s not coming to

testify before the House Committee tomorrow chaired by Democrats.  I don’t

think that’s actually a bad thing for Democrats.  They don’t need to hear

any more from the President’s chief defender who can sit there and explain

why in his view the President didn’t commit a crime.  They need to hear

from the witnesses that Bob Mueller put in his report.  Don McGahn, Don

McGahn’s chief of staff, Corey Lewandowski, start hearings with those

folks, so the focus is not on Bill Barr but on Donald Trump.

 

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, if your chief concern is the fact that our next

Presidential election is vulnerable to the Russians again, did you hear

anything today that would satisfy you?

 

BASH:  No.  In fact, I think the Attorney General is downplaying the whole

notion that the Russians posed a threat.  I mean, there was some back and

forth with some Republican senators about it but the whole approach by the

Department of Justice and the Attorney General in this case is there’s not

much to see here, don’t worry about it.

 

You know, I agree with Matt.  I don’t think the Democrats gain much by

having the Attorney General there tomorrow.  Although I have to say, I’ve

been along for many Congressional testimonies of Cabinet secretaries,

agency heads, where they usually do this Senate then the House, House and

the Senate, back to back.  I have never seen a witness throwing a towel

after day one, and just refuse to show for day two.  It shows how much they

don’t believe that Barr actually did the President any good and how he’s

actually doing him tremendous damage.

 

WILLIAMS:  Interesting.  And, Ken Vogel, you have a big story tonight in

the New York Times website.  Tomorrow, page 1 of the print edition.  If you

can summarize what folks will hopefully later read, it involves this man,

Joe Biden.  There’s even a cameo by Rudolph Giuliani.

 

KEN VOGEL, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, POLITICO:  Yes.  It’s almost two

separate stories.  We have Joe Biden as vice president having intervened to

sort of force the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who happened to have an

open case looking into a company, a Ukrainian gas company that was

employing Joe Biden’s son.  Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was on the

board, so potential conflict of interest there and I think Joe Biden will

have to answer for particularly as he’s casting himself in the presidential

campaign as a real statesman and someone who avoids the type of

controversies that have surrounded Donald Trump.

 

And then on the other side, you have Rudy Giuliani and allies of the

President who are actually soliciting information from Ukrainians that

could be damaging to Joe Biden and also could be used to undermine the

origins of parts of the Special Counsel, what became the Special Counsel

investigation.  So you have Rudy Giuliani really trying to capitalize on

this in a way that could redound to Donald Trump’s benefit.

 

WILLIAMS:  To our viewers, the request remains the same.  Look for Ken

Vogel’s byline as always, especially tonight.  To Ken Vogel, our thanks,

along with Berit Berger, Matt Miller, Jeremy Bash.  Our foursome taking on

this big day.  Our thanks.

 

And coming up, what Donald Trump had to say about what he saw today, when

we come back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  I heard that the Attorney

General was really, really, solid and did a great job today.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Not all – not all the reviews were quite like that.  The

Washington Post headline tonight is this.  “With Mueller silent, Barr

interprets the Special Counsel’s report to the advantage of Trump.”  And

there is no question the President is pleased.  Here he was on Fox Business

tonight. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

TRUMP:  He did a fantastic job today, I’m told.  I got to see some of it. 

He did a fantastic job.  And it’s all a big hoax.  He’s an outstanding man. 

He’s an outstanding legal mind and I heard he was really – he performed

incredibly well today.  And –

 

TRISH REGAN, HOST, FOX BUSINESS:  You have, you know, Kamala Harris.

 

TRUMP:  Well, she was probably very nasty.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  That was about Kamala Harris.  I had not heard the President

call it a hoax before, however.  With us to talk about it tonight. John

Heilemann, Veteran Journalist, National Affairs Analyst, Co-author – thank

you, thank you, Jonathan, of “Game Change” and Co-host, Co-creator of “The

Circus” on Showtime.  And Jonathan Lemire, who was pointing to Heilemann

earlier, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.

 

Jonathan Lemire, we begin with you and your beat because you have fresh

reporting on how today as a broadcast live television event went over in

the West Wing and portions of the residence.

 

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:  It went over

very well.  There are a number of televisions in the West Wing throughout,

scattered throughout the offices there, including one just off the Oval

Office in the President’s private kitchen, dining area.  That was tuned to

the hearings today.

 

And the people I’ve talked to, who have spoken to the President since,

others in the West Wing, White House officials, said the President kept a

careful eye on this both in the residence before coming down to the Oval

Office, and then again between meetings once he got to work for the day. 

And that he told people privately more or less what he said publicly adding

a few details.

 

That he, yes, he thought the Attorney General did a good job.  He defended

him appropriately.  He really – he told a couple people that he thought

that he was very combative with Democratic senators and liked that.  He

liked that sort of fighting spirit.

 

 

And this continues, what has really become, you know, that the President

didn’t have much of a relationship with Bill Barr before he took this post. 

But since that summary, that four-page summary a month or so back, was

released of the Mueller report, the President has been telling people

really raving about his selection saying it was a great choice for him.  In

particular, and this was heightened again today, because he feels like Bill

Barr was loyal to him.  And that’s what he wanted.

 

He as we all know, he complained a length with the previous Attorney

General, Jeff Sessions was not after Sessions recused himself from the

Russia probe and he feels like Barr here is sort of protecting him, is

protecting the President.  As we know, this President feels like the

Attorney General job is about that, much more so than, perhaps, being the

nation’s top law enforcement officer.

 

WILLIAMS:  All the evidence shows he’s got his man in that job now.  John

Heilemann, I have this for you.  Here is how Sean Hannity started his

broadcast tonight.

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS :  All right.  Buckle up.  Welcome to

“Hannity.”  Let me give you a quick headline.  The details will follow. 

Nobody else will report.  The Mueller witch hunt is completely over.  It is

done.  Nobody listened to the Attorney General and, yes, the Attorney

General admitted today everything we’ve reported the last two years, full

criminal investigations, are now just beginning.

 

Imagine that.  A talk show host is right and so many in the fake news

industry are wrong.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  John, have we gotten it wrong these past two-plus years?

 

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  I just – Yes.  First of

all, you bring me in here and the first thing you serve me up is a big fat

steaming plate of Hannity, so thanks for that.

 

WILLIAMS:  On the house.

 

HEILEMANN:  I bet it’s been a long day.

 

WILLIAMS:  On the house.

 

HEILEMANN:  And you just brought it out here for me.

 

WILLIAMS:  Happy to do it.

 

HEILEMANN:  There’s a phrase, people talk about a pig in, you know, that’s

Sean right now.  He’s happy as a pig in, you know.

 

Have we all got it wrong?  I mean, many people would say that the news, not

so much the Barr news, not the Barr performance today, which as my friend

Mr. Lemire says, you know, a predictably, what was – how Barr has been

behaving for the last two months.  Certainly for the last – since the

events in question have really unfolded.  As a political apparatchik for

the President.  So the President is happy.

 

For once, a President who has now lied 10,000 times in office seems to be

telling the truth and that he is saying he was pleased with performance

and, in fact, he seems to be actually pleased with performance and for good

reason.  But the news really the last 24 hours is nothing that happened in

the hearing today.

 

The news is the Mueller letter that we now know that Mueller wrote to Barr

and we can fairly characterize the Special Counsel is having been furious.

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

 

HEILEMANN:  Apoplectic, willing to write multiple letters, you know, trying

to beat down the door of the Attorney General’s Office to say you’re lying

about my report.  That’s a pretty big piece of news and it suggests that,

perhaps, there’s an alternative reading of reality here that’s not what

Sean Hannity wants us to think.

 

WILLIAMS:  Both of these gentlemen have agreed against their better

judgment to stay with us over this break.

 

When we come back, what was on the President’s mind before Mr. Barr sat in

that witness chair this morning?

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

WILLIAMS:  We are back and we have established the media attention was on

the Attorney General today.  The President’s attention this morning seemed

squarely focused on one Joe Biden, bordering on obsession.

 

Donald Trump fired off roughly 60 tweets and re-tweets within a 20-minute

span.  What got him – what got to him, specifically, today, the National

Firefighters Union support for Biden’s presidential bid.

 

Still with us, John Heilemann, Jonathan Lemire.  So, Mr. Heilemann, you saw

the Trump Republican Party operating as one today from chairman of the

Committee, to Attorney General, what they couldn’t do was effect the head

guy who’s got to say what he’s got to say.

 

HEILEMANN:  Yes.  I mean, the President has his – there’s – it’s – this

Republican Party is rarely operates in quite so much concert in terms of

its message strategy, and often acts in concert in terms of what its aims

are in terms of protecting the President, falling in line behind him.  But

rarely is the message quite so well-orchestrated as this today, except, of

course, the President is not part of that.

 

The President has his own wants and his own impulses.  And right now it’s

clear not just from today but really since Joe Biden got in the race that

the former vice president is a burr under the presidential saddle right

now.   And, you know, anyone who – everyone makes of Joe Biden’s prospects

in the Democratic Nomination fight, there are varying views about that,

he’s clearly right now not just the paper front-runner but the real front-

runner.

 

At this moment, Joe Biden is the front-runner and anybody who right now

thinks that Joe Biden is a paper front-runner, they’re not in sync with

Donald Trump.  Donald Trump is clearly bothered by Joe Biden, is worried

about Joe Biden, is obsessed with Joe Biden.  He’s a man who is the fear

that he has, the nervousness he has about the prospect of running against

Biden, is pretty evident in his social media and other utterances.

 

WILLIAMS:  But political wisdom would teach you, Jonathan Lemire, you don’t

want to be the front-runner now. 

 

LEMIRE:  No.

 

WILLIAMS:  It’s eight months before our first primary.  The entire party is

going the opposite way of Joe Biden.  He’s in many ways an outlier along

with Bernie to a lesser degree.  So what is it about this guy if you’re

Donald Trump?

 

LEMIRE:  There’s a few things.  You’re right.  Certainly Biden is having a

moment.  He’s the front-runner now.  These polls have all been very good. 

Surprisingly good I think to many here.

 

The reason why Biden, people I’ve talked to that close to President,

consider significant, it’s a few.  But there’s a history of bad blood here. 

Remember in the 2016 campaign, there was even talk of the two of them going

out behind the barn and having a fight.

 

WILLIAMS:  Right.

 

LEMIRE:  There is that.  So that’s something that Donald Trump is sort of -

- certainly remembered.  But Biden has an appeal to a particular

demographic that the President really prides himself for having won, sort

of that blue collar white voter, working class voter.  Many of whom preside

in the upper Midwest that was so essential to the President winning in

2016, and he is really banking his hopes on again this time around.

 

Firefighter resembles that character pretty carefully.  And I know being on

the trail in 2016, a lot of firefighter types, different personnel

supported the President.  Even if the unions did not.  That time they sat

it out.  This time they’ve already given their endorsement.

 

And these re-tweets say almost all firefighters who said they weren’t going

vote for Biden.  They were going to vote for Trump.  The President clearly

wants them to stay on-board.  I know you have some thoughts about

firefighters.

 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  However, look at the time.  To John Heilemann, to Jonathan

Lemire, it’s been a long day for all of us.  Thank you, both, for coming

on.

 

And coming up, after yet another unprecedented day for the Trump

administration, and by the way, for our country, Pulitzer Prize-winning

historian Jon Meacham is with us to talk about all of it after this.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

WILLIAMS:  The critics who pounced on the Attorney General today said he

acted like his client is the President and not the American people, as our

chief law enforcement officer.  James Comey, whose firing started it all,

posted a piece in the New York Times just as the hearing got under way.  He

offered a theory on how the President co-ops people like Bill Barr.

 

And he wrote, “Trump’s outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply

must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values

you hold dear.  Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell

yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.  Of

course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further

compromises.  You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his

commitment to values and then, you are lost.  He has eaten your soul.”

 

Back with us again tonight, Pulitzer Prize winning Author and Presidential

Historian, Jon Meacham.  Jon, I want to know where we are tonight as a

country?  And before you compare this any other moment in hearings, we have

loved in the past, I watched the coverage tonight on two different cable

networks, here’s a hint one of them employs us both, and they apparently

covered two different hearings today.  So, that’s something new for

American society, relatively.

 

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR AND PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, we do live on

separate political planets and hopefully we occasionally have diplomatic

relations between the two.  I’m going to use a fictional analogy, if I may,

but based on history.

 

I thought where we were today was in a reality TV version of “A Man for All

Seasons,” where Thomas Moore is betrayed by Richard Rich, in exchange for

whales.  He’s granted a title in Whales.  And Thomas Moore says as he’s

being carried off, “But for Whales, Richard, for Whales?”  Put in the word

Trump, and change the name to Bill and you have where we are.

 

Bill Barr has decided that for whatever reason, his historical fate is in

safer and better hands with Donald Trump than with the rule of law, and –

or with Robert Mueller.  And so, and I guess in this analogy Mueller

becomes Thomas Moore, which may be a beat too far.  But we watched someone

today, basically, historically, decide that they would like the rest of the

American republic to look back and use this man as a case study in how to

altercate and cherry pick in defense of a particular client, as opposed to

the broad nation as a hole.

 

And this isn’t really even a partisan point.  It’s clear, I mean, I was

watching it, thinking, I hope this guy goes back into private practice

soon, because I might need to hire him at some point.  He’d be a good

defense lawyer.  You’d want him on your side.  He has that laconic, almost

cheneyesque jowly cynicism that tends to try to appear, he tries to make

the questioner appear to be the outrageous one.

 

When what the questioners are doing is exercising their rights under a

constitution that was based on divided sovereignty.  And right now, it

seems to me, we have an Attorney General who has decided that he’s a

defense lawyer, he’s not our lawyer.

 

WILLIAMS:  To thine own self be true.  And does Robert Mueller’s reputation

remain where it was?  Is he just about to a lot of people the most

important living American at this point in time? 

 

MEACHAM:  You know, three weeks ago, four weeks ago, I thought, you know,

the great Mueller moment had probably passed, that our sense that he was

our Fortinbras, that he was the heroic figure who was going to come down,

you know.  At that moment had passed, his decision to follow the OLC

opinion as opposed to trying to litigate or adjudicate whether you can

indict a sitting president, seemed to me as a Layman he has ducked on the

issue.

 

Bill Barr has now done something I didn’t think was possible, which is has

reelevated Robert Mueller to almost sanctified status.  Perhaps after

Director Mueller testifies, if that ever happens, perhaps he falls back off

that pedestal.  But compared to what the Attorney General’s been doing,

Director Mueller, you know, looks like maybe Thomas  Moore is not a bad

example.

 

WILLIAMS:  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why our guest tonight has a

Pulitzer Prize and I have a valid driver’s license.  Jon, always a

pleasure.  Please come back.  Thank you, sir, very much for joining us on

this, as we say consequential Wednesday night.  More of THE 11TH HOUR when

we come right back.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA:  In reaching your conclusion, did you

personally review all of the underlying evidence? 

 

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  No.  We took and accept –

 

HARRIS:  Did – did Mr. Rosenstein?

 

BARR:  No.  We accepted the statements in the report as factual record.

 

HARRIS:  Did anyone in your executive office review the evidence supporting

the report?

 

BARR:  No.

 

HARRIS:  No.  Yet you represented to the American public that the evidence

was not “sufficient to support an obstruction of justice offense.”

 

BARR:  The evidence presented in the report.

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

WILLIAMS:  Democratic senator and former prosecutor Kamala Harris of

California made headway for her side of the hearing room late in the day

during her questioning of the Attorney General.  She will be a guest

tomorrow morning on “Morning Joe.”  With thanks to Nicolle Wallace and all

of our legal experts and former feds who are with us all day long for every

moment of the coverage today.

 

That is our broadcast for this busy Wednesday night.  Thank you so much for

being here with us.  Goodnight from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

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

BE UPDATED.                                                                                                    

END

 

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