Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: June 25, 2018 Guest: Philip Rucker, Anita Kumar, Ron Nixon; Michael Steele, Nancy Cook, Nelson Cunningham
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Paul Manafort and Stephen Colbert get tonight`s last word. THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight in a free-wheeling red meat rally, the President tells the South Carolina crowd, "Sometimes you have to toot your own horn because nobody else is going to do it." Plus, our very public politics. Sarah Huckabee Sanders kicked out of a restaurant because she works for Trump. Congresswoman Maxine Waters tells people to keep it up, and the President warns her to be careful what you wish for.
And is Donald Trump icing out Jim Mattis? An NBC news exclusive on the apparently deteriorating relationship between the President and his Defense Secretary.
THE 11TH HOUR on a Monday night begins now.
As we start a new week, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 522 of the Trump Administration, and while we have an update tonight on the Mueller investigation and on the issue of immigration, tonight the President was very much in his element.
Here is a sample of what he had to say tonight during a campaign rally for a Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, Harry McMaster, in South Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes you have to toot your own horn because nobody else is going to do it. Some people have said I have the greatest political instinct in 50 years. I don`t think so. I don`t think so. But I have my own feeling.
We are the super elite. We are the super elite.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And this was the President a few hours before that with the visiting King of Jordan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABDULLAH II BIN AL-HUSSEIN, KING OF JORDAN: If the rest of the world just took a little bit of your humility and your grace to help us, we`d be in a lot better position.
TRUMP: Remember, he used the word "humility" with respect to me, so I am very happy with that word. That`s probably the nicest compliment I`ve been given in a long time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In South Carolina tonight, immigration was, as you might imagine, a big part of the speech and the message and the President made sure to sell his hard-line policies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Democrats, they want open borders, and they don`t mind crime. Think of it. The Democrats want to protect illegals coming into this country, some of whom are not good, some of whom cause lots of problems in the worst possible way. They want to protect illegals coming into the country much more so than they want to protect you, and that`s not where we`re coming from.
We want really tough borders, and we want people to come in. We want people to come in through the legal process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That comes just a day after the President sent this ominous message that seemed to support depriving undocumented immigrants their day in court. "We cannot allow all of these people to invade our country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no judges or court cases, bring them back from where they came."
He offered a bit more this afternoon at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We want a system where when people come in illegally, they have to go out. And a nice, simple system that works. We want strong borders, and we want no crime. Strong borders. We want no crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And this idea of suspending due process did not go unnoticed at the White House daily briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President believe that undocumented immigrants have no due process rights whatsoever?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Virtually all Americans agree that it makes no sense that an illegal alien sets one foot on American soil and then they would go through a three to five-year judicial process to be removed from the country. Thousands of illegal aliens are removed every month without seeing an immigration judge as a result of procedures and current law, including voluntary removal and expedited removal. Just because you don`t see a judge doesn`t mean you aren`t receiving due process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that was the Press Secretary ready for that particular question obviously.
And meanwhile, "The New York Times" and other news organizations are reporting that the Head of Customs and Border Protection says the agency has temporarily stopped turning over migrant adults who cross with their children to prosecutors.
As "New York Times" Reporter Ron Nixon, who joins us in just a moment, writes, the decision will "at least temporarily revive a catch and release approach used during the Obama Administration."
Here is how the White House responded to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: The President certainly supports keeping families together, which he has outlined several times over the last week. But he`s also called on Congress to actually fix the system. They`re the only ones that ultimately have the ability to change the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Today the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released this video of migrant children separated from their parents, now in a facility in Tornillo, Texas. More than 2,000 children have yet to be reunited with their parents. The video is mostly of facilities. Most of it does not show children.
Reminder, this is handed out by the federal government, one of several facilities around the country.
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Monday night. In Washington, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post." Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. And with us from McAllen, Texas, tonight is Ron Nixon, Homeland Security Correspondent for "The New York Times." Welcome to you all.
Phil, I`d like to begin with you. I made a list tuning into the rally tonight at various times. I heard the President relitigate the presidential election results. I heard him discussing Fallon, Colbert, Kimmel, Johnny Carson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elon Musk to name a few. What was that we witnessed tonight?
PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Brian, it was a pretty discursive hour-long monologue by the President of the United State. He flew down to Columbia, South Carolina, with the explicit purpose of helping boost the candidacy of Governor Henry McMaster who is on the ballot tomorrow in a primary campaign there. McMaster is one of Trump`s earliest supporters from the 2016 campaign.
But the rally was really not about McMaster. It was about whatever came to Donald Trump`s mind in that moment. He talked about all of that. He raised rumors that have not even really been published about his wife, Melania Trump, and why she had been absent from the public spotlight for so many weeks there.
And he aired a lot of grievances, especially with the media, referring repeatedly to the "fakers" at the press risers and talked about North Korea. He said that the signs, the anti-U.S. signs were coming down all across North Korea, which was an indication of how good his chemistry is with Kim Jong-un.
WILLIAMS: Anita, on the issue of immigration, the President`s been playing a little defense last 24 hours, perhaps worried that his base would think he had been too soft on the issue. Are we any closer to any clarity on the topic?
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: Well, you`ve seen his rhetoric has pretty much been the same. You mentioned the rally tonight where he was sort talking -- sort of talking tough about enforcement like he always does. It`s a big topic when he has a political rally. So that was similar.
But obviously last week, he signed this executive order that says families wouldn`t be separated after they crossed the border, parents and children. And then today, as you mentioned, we learned that they are going back on their zero tolerance policy. So they`re not going to charge or prosecute adults with children that cross the border. Those are two big walk-backs for him, things that he said he wouldn`t do, the administration has been telling us they would not change on those, and they did.
So I mean, his rhetoric`s the same. Meanwhile, his administration is changing the policies.
WILLIAMS: So, Ron, this is where the conversation comes out to you with apologies for what I`m told is a rather lengthy satellite delay. Now that you`re out there and able to see it, what is the reality that occurs to you on the ground in Texas?
RON NIXON, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES: Reality in terms of, you know, families being prosecuted as they come across the border. As the colleague there just said, is no longer happening. We learned today from the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection that they will not refer families with children to the Justice Department for prosecution as a result of the executive order. And this is a temporary stay while they work out with the Department of Justice on just what to do because they want this to serve as a deterrent for people crossing the border but try and stay within the parameters of the executive orders of keeping families together, particularly after the blow back that occurred as a result of them separating families at the border.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, at least once a week when you`re kind enough to come on this broadcast, I ask you some form of the question of how is this latest policy whipsaw being seen behind the scenes in the West Wing? I guess tonight I would take a little different take on it and ask you if tonight is any different behind the scenes in the West Wing?
RUCKER: I don`t think so, Brian. Part of the problem behind the scenes over at the White House is that there`s not a clear sense of how to implement this executive order and how to deal with this policy on the ground. The agencies are struggling to figure out how to unite some of these families. They`re struggling with how to interpret the various directives that they`re getting from the President.
There`s the executive order that the President signed last week, but then there are also all sorts of sometimes contradictory public statements that he`s been making over the last week. The most recent one, as you mentioned at the top of the show, came yesterday in a tweet where he said, he effectively called for denying the due process rights of illegal immigrants who cross the border, not letting them have an appearance before the judge, not letting them have a trial. But that`s really just a view of the President`s. That`s not a policy.
There`s no law or order or official directive to that count. And so at least the government sort of scrambling to figure out how to interpret all of this. And it also leaves the, you know, lawmakers on Capitol Hill really scrambling to understand what`s happening here and how to fix it.
WILLIAMS: Anita, please reassure us that Congress does not threaten to become a suddenly functioning body. They`re not going to try to do anything legislatively this week, are they?
KUMAR: I don`t know about that. Well, you know, the house is going to take up or supposed to take up a big immigration package, but it`s pretty much for certain that they don`t have the votes. So whether they -- you know, they were supposed to take it up last week, and they decided to take it up this week because they didn`t have the votes. So it`s possible they may not vote on it.
What`s really interesting is last week President Trump tweeted that he didn`t know why they were wasting time on immigration on this big package because they weren`t getting anywhere. So today we hear from the White House. They`ve changed their tune again. Sarah Sanders said that actually the President does want that bill to pass. So they probably should have come out with that before and told lawmakers because they`re struggling to get votes for that.
So they do want that bill to pass, but what we`re probably going to end up seeing is in the House and Senate, they are coming up with standalone bills that just deal with this family separation issue and trying to get that done before the July 4th recess.
WILLIAMS: Ron, our audience might find it useful and interesting to know about you that you`re a Marine and that you have had overseas combat deployments. And as a reporter for "The New York times," you`ve also seen a lot of sporty places around the world.
WILLIAMS: What are you learning on the ground in Texas as our eyes and ears that has occurred to you only since being out there. What impacts you most?
NIXON: Well, I think what we`re seeing here is that we went out on patrol with border patrol agents today, and we encountered people coming across the border. In one case, it was several young women coming across. One of them had a baby that looks like it was about, you know, four or five months old.
And you talk to the agents on the ground, and they say people are continuing to come even though you have this policy in place that was supposed to serve as a deterrent. People are still coming. And when we talk to some of the people as to why they are still coming, they said, well, the alternative is that you have, you know, countries where the danger outweighs the kind of danger that you would face trying to get here, and it outweighs you being apprehended or even having your child taken away from you while you`re here, not that, you know, people want their children separated from them. But that the dangers that they face back home were just overwhelming.
WILLIAMS: And, Phil Rucker, you get the last word. Amid all of this, almost lost in the march of today`s news, here is the King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, visiting close ally the United States, having learned somehow or another that flattering the President of the United States, this President in this Oval Office, gets results.
RUCKER: Yes. You know, so many of these world leaders learned that, starting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who flew to Trump Tower shortly after the election with a gift, that golf club. They`ve figured out that the way to appeal to him is through a personal relationship through flattering him.
I don`t know that many people have ever sort of honestly called Donald Trump humble. I don`t think he himself would consider himself humble, and yet that`s what, you know, the King of Jordan said today in the Oval Office. Trump seemed quite flattered by that, and maybe that`s the makings of a friendship right there.
WILLIAMS: With our thanks to Philip Rucker, to Anita Kumar and a welcome to the broadcast for Ron Nixon. Thank you for joining us from Texas tonight. Appreciate the lead-off conversation this evening.
And coming up for us, how a restaurant in a town of 7,000 people has turned into some sort of national symbol of our current politics and discourse.
And later, the latest Cabinet secretary perhaps out of the inner Trump loop.
THE 11TH HOUR starting off a new week, just getting started on a Monday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them, and you tell them they`re not welcome anymore, anywhere.
We`ve got to get the children connected to their parents. The children are suffering.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California on Saturday there, urging people to confront members of President Trump`s Cabinet where they see them, when they see them, in public over this child separation crisis. And the moment she said that, many, even loyal Democrats, moved very quickly to call that a bad idea and an equally bad precedent in the discussion we`re having over civility or the lack of it in our politics. For one thing, it gave a huge opening to the President, who said this today. "Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low I.Q. person, has become together with Nancy Pelosi the face of the Democrat Party."
The President goes on to write, "She has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for, Max."
Earlier tonight, Congresswoman Waters replied to the President`s tweet during an interview on this network with preface.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WATERS: I did not call for harm for anybody. The President lied again. As a matter of fact, I believe in peaceful protest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: All of this is an issue, of course, because of the Trump Administration officials who have been publicly confronted in just these past few days. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave this place, the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, Friday evening because she worked for the President.
Last week, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was heckled by activists while trying to eat at a Mexican restaurant in Washington. And "The New York Post" reporting White House Adviser Stephen Miller was called a fascist, among other things, at a different Mexican restaurant, we note, in Washington. And on Friday, Trump ally Pam Bondi, Florida`s Attorney General, was confronted by demonstrators at a movie theater in Tampa.
With us for more on all of this, two very brave people. Michael Steele, Former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for Politico. We welcome them both back to our broadcast.
Michael, I`ve been asked about this all day, so I will now neatly transfer the question to you.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yes, sir.
WILLIAMS: What if someone else had been thrown out of a restaurant for reasons, say, including religion or the color of their skin, and what if during the Obama era, a Republican Member of Congress had gotten up and say, "Wherever you see these people, surround them and confront them?" I know it`s whataboutism, but take on the question.
STEELE: No. I think it`s very much that kind of reality check, you know, because we know life would have been very different. The outcome would have been very different, and the responses would have been very different.
But here`s the point. For me, the big takeaway from what Maxine did, the Congresswoman did, was she stepped in it. And she stepped in it trying to do Trump. And the only person who can do Trump is Trump. And that`s what`s so unfortunate about this, is that it is a space unto which only he occupies it, and it`s a space in which others kind of revolving around it protect this President in that response.
What Maxine did, when you consider all the other stuff that has gone before it, is consistent with what`s been going on in the country. But the reaction to her, that she`s the one that should be civil, now everybody wants to have a civil discussion, belies the fact that it is the leader of the free world, the President of our nation, who opened this Pandora`s box during his presidential campaign in which he called out members of the audience. He responded with laughter when he saw his audience go after individuals.
So this is a space we`re now in, and how we adapt, Brian, and how we adjust to it, the onus is not just on folks like Maxine Waters or you or me. The onus is on the President as well. And that`s where the change of behavior really has to come. We just can`t sit back and point fingers at everybody else and say, "You all need to be civil. Oh, but he doesn`t. You all need to change the way you speak about these issues, but he doesn`t. How you refer to other people, but he doesn`t."
This is a two-way street, baby. You got to get on it just like we do, and pushing back should be recognizing that responsibility and the accountability on behalf of the President to cut out the act that he`s doing right now as well.
WILLIAMS: Nancy, a friend of mine, a longtime loyal Democrat, said today, leave it to us Democrats to be handed the high ground for one weekend and drop it and break it. Another way of putting it, people said today that Maxine Waters opened the door for a huge White House talking point to come out. Is that what you`re getting?
NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Absolutely. I mean I think that she just gave the White House a huge gift so that they could run away from much more damaging stories like the separation of migrant children and families. DHS` plans to reunify those families. That has been a brutal story for this White House and there has been tons of internal tension over that policy. And basically this allowed Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the briefing, in addition to getting a lot of questions about that, to try to turn this into a conversation about civility and for Trump and all those people to basically lean back on the cultural issues, which has played for them so well politically in 2016, play that cultural hand instead of answering much more specific questions about the policies that they`ve put forward.
WILLIAMS: Michael, you mentioned some of the comments you might have heard Donald Trump make on the campaign trail. We happen to have thrown together a few of those. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell -- I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.
The guards are very gentle with them. He`s walking out big high fives, smiling, laughing. I`d like to punch him in the face, I`ll tell you.
Yes, get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I`ll defend you in court. Don`t worry about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Michael, as the former head of the party he is now the titular head of, no chance he`s a victim or a symptom? You find him the cause of this conversation we`re having now about civility?
STEELE: Yes. I think so. But just look at the tweet in response to the Congresswoman. You know, low I.Q. You know, be careful what you wish for with a threat at the end of the tweet. So, you know, I get, you know, Maxine stepped in it like I said at the beginning, and she opened up a door that we`re now talking about what she did as opposed to how the President has handled and behaved in these situations. And specifically with respect to these children.
So that little vignette that you shared with us, again, I think tells us what the truth is and where the origins of a lot of this lies, and why we now should be of a mind to say, wait a minute. Hold up. This is a two-way street here. You don`t just get to look at others and go, you can`t say this or do this or behave a certain way. We`re also watching how you`re behaving and what you`re saying, and that is unacceptable, particularly given the position you have as President.
WILLIAMS: Nancy, I looked up at Fox News tonight at one point. The graphic was intolerance on the left. And about the left, the Pelosi/Schumer types are going to have to get in here because enough people are saying, "OK, what about legislation?"
COOK: Yes. I think that basically this just, you know, puts Democrats on the defensive and makes them respond to Trump really on his own terms. And as Michael said earlier, really the only person that does Trump well is Trump. And this makes the Democrats just play into his hand.
I think the other thing politically is, you know, the Democrats had really hoped to take the high road heading into 2018. You know, they had hoped to talk about a bunch of, you know, pocketbook issues and turn to that whereas instead they`re sort of going back this tit for tat between Maxine Waters today and President Trump. And that`s not really where they want to lie. And this is also what Republicans wanted. You know, they want the Democrats to what they call overplay their hand heading into 2018 so that even if the Democratic base is really fired up for 2018, they`ll overplay their hand so much that it will turn off more moderate and independent voters in the presidential election in 2020.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to two of our returning guests, Michael Steele, Nancy Cook. Appreciate you both coming on tonight. Thank you both.
And coming up for us, how something a senator said at a party this weekend in a swanky place has him under attack from the President tonight when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Point after point after point, and I did nothing, and it just never ends. Never ends. No collusion, no nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump spent much of his Monday railing against the Russia investigation. That was South Carolina tonight where just prior to touching down, while circling because of weather, Trump sent this from Air Force One, "Why is Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, perhaps in a near drunken state claiming he has information that only he and Bob Mueller, the leader of the 13 angry Democrats on a witch hunt, knows? Isn`t this highly illegal? Is it being investigated?"
That was seemingly a response to a Politico report that at a fund-raiser in Martha`s Vineyard, Warner joked to the crowd, quote, if you get me one more glass of wine, I`ll tell you stuff only Bob Mueller and I know. If you think you`ve seen wild stuff so far, buckle up. It`s going to be a wild couple of months.
Now, you can`t just say that if you`re Senator Warner, who happens to be vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He dismissed the remark as a bad joke. The president also took aim today at DOJ, his own justice department. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have been demanding, as you may know, DOJ and FBI to name a few letters hand over classified documents related to the Russia investigation. That prompted this attack from the president this morning. I have tried to stay uninvolved with the Department of Justice and FBI although I do not legally have to because of the now totally discredited and very expensive witch hunt currently going on. But you do have to ask why the DOJ and FBI aren`t giving over requested documents, question mark.
To be clear, the DOJ has turned over hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents. With us tonight to talk about all of it, Nelson Cunningham, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who also worked under Rudolph Giuliani and alongside James Comey among others. He also happens to be former general counsel at the White House Office of Administration under President Clinton and former general counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Counselor, thank you very much for coming on. You looked at the calendar today and said to one of our producers, with Manafort`s trial date now four weeks away, this would be a really good time for all of us to pay attention. What do you mean?
NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, it`s funny. There seems to be not a lot going on right now publicly. The president`s tweets of course. But there seems to be not a lot going on in the investigation, and that has to ask cause you to wonder what is going on? I think there are two things that bear watching here.
First of all is this. Paul Manafort has just spent his tenth night in a row in jail. His first trial is in four weeks. It is a straightforward trial. He received money. He failed to pay taxes on it. He failed to register as a foreign agent. He laundered the money overseas. It`s a straightforward case. He`s 69 years old.
This is the moment in the weeks right before a trial begins when the prosecutor and the defendant sit down and look at each other and say, are we going to have a deal here? I think anybody who is following this knows that there have to be conversations going on and that any day now you might see something break.
Manafort wants a deal for obvious reasons. But Mueller wants a deal. He wants Manafort`s testimony. He also wants to get the Manafort trials out of the way. He has two, one in July, one in September, because I think he`d like to get to focus on the main part of his investigation.
WILLIAMS: And just as it`s occurring to all Americans that, holy cow, suddenly Fourth of July is in a week after this one, you say we should be extra attuned coupled with the fact that we haven`t heard from the ubiquitous Rudolph Giuliani in the last couple of days.
CUNNINGHAM: Where has Rudy Giuliani Been in the last week? You remember about a month ago he said, I`ve already been talking to the president about his possible testimony. We`ve been practicing some questions. But, you know, it`s going to have to wait until after the June 12th summit in Singapore because that takes priority. Well, that was two weeks ago.
If you`re Rudy Giuliani and you`re off the air, maybe it`s because you`re preparing the president for his testimony. I don`t know what the president was doing all day long at his golf club in Virginia yesterday. Maybe he was playing golf. Maybe he was sitting down looking at time lines and witness summaries and wanting to blow his brains out.
WILLIAMS: And you`re saying to sit down -- if you`re the president, to sit down with Mueller, as good as a time as any may be Fourth of July week when most of Americans are at least trying to be near a barbecue and some fireworks?
CUNNINGHAM: Exactly. And most importantly, Congress is out of town. Many reporters are out of town.
CUNNINGHAM: It`s a quiet time. If both sides, both Mueller and Trump, want to do something quiet and low-key, it might be the week to do it.
WILLIAMS: And we remind our viewers that even lawyers use expressions like blow their brains out and mean it, metaphorically conversation, of course.
CUNNINGHAM: We do. We do.
WILLIAMS: Final point. What do you make of the president dangling this threat to somehow get involved in his hone justice department yet again?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, he says, I haven`t been involved in my justice department. That`s -- I`m sorry to say that`s just untrue. I`ve never seen a president meddle publicly with the workings of his justice department ever in my decades of working on this. The last time we saw something like this was Richard Nixon, and he was interfering with the justice department, but he was doing it quietly and through his aides and agents and then ultimately by firing the special Watergate prosecutor.
WILLIAMS: Nelson Cunningham, our thanks for coming back on the broadcast and taking these questions for us tonight. We will be especially attuned to the coming days. Appreciate it.
CUNNINGHAM: Watch for fireworks. Thank you.
WILLIAMNS: OK, will do.
And coming up for us, President Trump once compared him to General Patton. But has the president`s relationship with one of his favorite generals come under some hard times? The latest issue with a cabinet member in this government when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Mad Dog. He`s great. He is great. He`s our best. They say he`s the closest thing to General George Patton that we have, and it`s about time. It`s about time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Donald Trump loves nicknames. He tends to use meek names to diminish his enemies and rewards the people he likes with muscular nicknames like Mad Dog. It`s been reported Trump loved the nickname "Mad Dog" the first time he heard it. It`s been theorized it paid a part in the selection of General James Mattis to be defense secretary.
But exclusive reporting out today from NBC News finds that these days the man known as Secretary Mattis is often out of the loop when it comes to key policy decisions. He was apparently blindsided by Trump`s decision to pause those military exercises with South Korea after that meeting with Kim Jong-un. Mattis was said to be surprised at Trump`s announcement to form a new branch of the U.S. Military, the Space Force.
Current and former administration officials tell NBC News, quote, the president has cooled on Mattis, in part because he`s come to believe his defense secretary looks down on him and slow-walks his policy directives. Well, here with us to talk about it tonight, Carol Lee, our NBC News national political reporter, whose byline appears on this NBC News report. And retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, a decorated veteran of combat in Vietnam, one of `72 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, also happens to be for good reason, our MSNBC military analyst. Welcome to you both. Carol, how did we get here vis-a-vis the president and his defense secretary?
CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think there`s a number of ways in which we got to this point. You know, when Secretary Mattis came in, he was part of this group of generals that was, you know, supposed to kind of -- in terms of if you talked to people on Capitol Hill or others who felt like they were a stabilizing force on the president and that they were going to keep him from doing and taking steps that could plunge the country into some sort of chaos or might take U.S. foreign policy in a direction they felt like it shouldn`t go. And so he was, you know, so it was Secretary Mattis. It was then former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And then john kelly, who is now the chief of staff.
And so the three of them kind of worked in tandem together and would push the president to go in directions that they wanted his policies to go, particularly on Iran, for instance, on the nuclear deal. And the president, over time, got frustrated with that. We saw Rex Tillerson eventually be fired. We`ve seen John Kelly lose some of his clout and power. And the president meanwhile, you know, towards the end of last year became more emboldened and more inclined to listen to his own instincts and want to take big strides on the world stage.
And so he was less incline to listen to somebody like James Mattis and more inclined to turn to some of the new folks coming in to his administration like his National Security Adviser John Bolton, or when Mike Pompeo moved over to become secretary of state.
And so all of those factors kind of played a role in what`s now, according to our reporting, a dynamic where the president doesn`t really take Mattis` advice. They don`t really agree on many policy issues. And even more so, he doesn`t notify him in some instances that he`s going to take certain significant foreign policy or national security steps.
WILLIAMS: Jack, knowing a little something about guys like you and Secretary Mattis, I`ll lump in our mutual friend Barry McCaffrey, you`re patriots driven by duty. You`ve all been shot at for your country. You all believe in chain of command. Having said all that, it is hard to envision a Secretary Mattis saying, that`s it. I`m out of here. You`ll have to find somebody else.
COL. JACK JACOBS, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think he`s going to stay in his post until he`s dragged off. But it raises an interesting question why he stays there other than the fact that he will stand on his post until he`s relieved.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with a very good friend of mine who rose to the top ranks in the military establishment some years ago. And he was involved in executing our plan to go into Iraq, which was very poorly managed certainly at the time we took over Baghdad and so on. It didn`t work out very well. And you could argue strenuously, it was a rotten idea to start with. All that notwithstanding, I asked him how come he didn`t put his foot down and keep us from doing the kinds of things that we shouldn`t have been doing. And he said, because if I did that, I`d be fired. I said, what`s wrong with that? He said, I`m more effective inside than outside. And I told him, I said, if you`re ineffective inside, you might as well be outside.
James Mattis is ineffective inside, and over time he`s going to become more ineffective. And it`s just a matter of time, I think, before he leaves. It won`t be by his own volition like John Kelly, for example. It will be because he`s shipped out.
WILLIAMS: Carol, as someone on this network said, he is viewed by so many, especially the moderates, as the human guardrail for this administration.
LEE: Yes, he is. And that`s, you know, one of the things I think that people -- it started to get noticed in Washington that Mattis is not aligned with the president on certain issues, and there`s been questions, you know, privately asked of what his influence is and what the value is and just exactly what you two were talking about a minute ago. You know, what`s the role? At what point does it become where is Mattis ineffective and the whole, you know, him being the adult in the room is just torn to shreds.
I do think that the one area in which Mattis is being effective or where you see him kind of drilling down on his job is running the Pentagon. It`s a massive organization. He`s very complicated. And he has been effective in convincing the president to not take certain steps like earlier this year when the president was saying he just wanted all troops out of Syria and the U.S. to completely withdraw there. He managed to convince him that was not the way that he should go in terms of that policy.
And so there are certain areas in which I think he`s really increasingly chosen his battles and taken steps where, you know, say the president wants him to do something like with his transgender in the military policy. He`s chosen not to -- to just kind of slow-walk things and move it at his own pace. And the consequence of that is that the president`s less inclined to loop him in when he wants to make decisions like that.
WILLIAMS: And, Jack, I know that in a DOD that is so full of recent combat veterans, the number of stars on Mattis` shoulder before he took this job have to matter, and he has to enjoy respect from the ranks.
JACOBS: Well, no, he`s very highly respected, not just in the Marine Corps but all the services. I mean he`s very -- was very well respected long before this. But at the end of the day, one has to question whether or not he`s actually having an impact.
You know, we have a term, there`s a mission. It`s a terrible mission in the military. It`s called a Detachment Left in Contact where a very small number of people are left behind to defend against the withdrawal of the remainder. And I think at this point Jim Mattis probably feels like attachment left in contact. He may be one of the very few people who are still doing what he started out to do, but is going to find it increasingly difficult to get it accomplished.
WILLIAMS: Very well put. Our thanks to both of you, Colonel Jack Jacobs, Carol Lee, thank you very much for joining this conversation.
A break for us. And coming up, some corporate news the president did not want to hear today.
(BEGIN VIDO CLIP)
TRUMP: Great to have Harley Davidson, what a great group of people, what a fantastic job you did and thank you for the votes you gave me in Wisconsin. So thank you Harley Davidson for building things in America. I think you`re going to expand. I know your business is now doing very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump as you heard held up Harley Davidson as a shining example of American manufacturing. He also held them up as an example of an American company that would thrive under a Trump administration. Harley executives visited the White House shortly after he took office. But now that the president has started imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum declaring, quote, trade wars are good and easy to win, those tariffs have Harley Davidson on the move. The company says, it`s shifting some of its production overseas to avoid retaliatory tariffs introduced by the EU.
That prompted this response from the president today as he flew to South Carolina tonight. Quote, surprised that Harley Davidson of all companies would be the first to wave the white flag. I fought hard for them and ultimately they will not pay tariffs selling into the EU which has hurt us badly on trade down 151 billion. Taxes just a Harley excuse, be patient. Hashtag MAGA.
Harley-Davidson`s decision is fueling new criticism of the president from his within his own party, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan who represent Wisconsin, Harley`s home state said, quote, this is further proof of the harm from unilateral tariffs. The best way to help Aamerican workers, consumers, and manufacturers is to open new markets for them, not to raise barriers to our own market.
Republican senator Ben Sass of Nebraska downright sassy, even more critical saying in a statement, quote, this will go over like a Vespa at Sturgis. The problem isn`t that Harley is unpatriotic, it`s that tariffs are stupid. They`re tax increases on Americans. They don`t work and apparently we`re going to see more of this.
Harley-Davidson was even more ominous saying in prepared remarks, quote, increasing international production to alleviate the EU tariff burden is not the company`s preference, but represents the only sustainable option to make its motorcycles accessible to customers in the EU and maintain a viable business in Europe.
Coming up, the story about a man of courage who left this world 20 years ago will be honored tomorrow for something he did 73 years ago
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight is about what will happen tomorrow in Washington. An American farmer named Garlin Murl Connor who has been gone for 20 years now is going to posthumously receive his nation`s highest honor. He`ll be awarded the Medal of Honor tomorrow for something he did during the awful winter of 1945.
Toward the end of World War II after the battle of the bulge, Garlin Connor fought for 28 months, 10 military campaigns, four amphibious landings, wounded seven times. He volunteered to go to the front and up against 600 Germans and German tanks. He stared down the battle as he called in artillery and at the end apparently not expecting to live he called it in on his own position. He survived and returned home to the U.S. and built a family and a business. After all these years his wife, Pauline, now his widow, will receive the medal in his name tomorrow. Well, today she talked about her quiet husband who never ever talked about the war.
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PAULINE LYNDA WELLS CONNOR, GARLIN CONNOR WIDOW: My husband was a very humble man. And I`m honored to represent him. It`s not about me. It`s about him. And he was my hero. He was for 53 years. And he still is. He`s been gone 20 years.
In World War II in Korea, they didn`t recognize PSTD like they did in Vietnam. But I`ve always said if anybody ever had PTSD, he did, because every time he wake up in the night, you know, with nightmares. And after I would wake him up he would go outside and sit on the porch and smoke cigarettes for hours at a time.
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WILLIAMS: Mrs. Connor she asked her husband about the visible hole in his hip. She asked him about the bullet wound to his jaw that knocked out a tooth, a tooth she still has, by the way, but she couldn`t get her husband to talk about the war. Well, tomorrow others will talk about him as they remember a very brave young man, a young lieutenant during a very different time.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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