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House Intel votes to release Nunes memo Transcript 1/29/18 THe 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Jennifer Jacobs, Frank Montoya Jr., Eric Swalwell

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: January 29, 2018 Guest: Jennifer Jacobs, Frank Montoya Jr., Eric Swalwell


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over): The breaking news we`re covering tonight comes from Capitol Hill. A party line vote by Republicans to release a controversial and confidential memo even though justice warned it was reckless. Tonight, we`ll get live reaction from a member of the House Intel Committee.

Plus, as the investigators are increasingly under attack, Andrew McCabe is out at the FBI, the reporters breaking the news on this story standing by for us with details.

And what`s it`s going to be like when Donald Trump walks into that chamber tomorrow night as a man under investigation on so many fronts. "The 11th Hour" begins now.


WILLIAMS (on-camera): Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 375 of the Trump administration. The extraordinary rift between the White House and federal law enforcement agencies over this Russia investigation has grown much wider and to some observers much more dangerous.

Earlier tonight, the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to do what the Justice Department warned them against. They voted to release a classified memo that republicans say shows the FBI and the Justice Department improperly used their surveillance authority in the Russia investigation.

As our NBC News colleagues, 1 -- (inaudible) and Alex Johnson write, the vote will "make public a classified memo about some of the government`s most sensitive secrets."

The Democrats on the panel describe the memo as an attack on the Mueller investigation. And they say Republican members are risking national security to protect this president.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This committee voted to put the president`s personal interest, perhaps their own political interests above the national interest in denying themselves even the ability to hear from the department and the FBI. But it does show how, in my view, when you have a deeply flawed person in the oval office, that flaw can infect the whole of government. And today tragically it infected our committee.


WILLIAMS: Mr. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on that House Committee, that memo is now at the White House for review. The president has up to five days to block its publication but that seems unlikely. Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News who joins us in just a moment reports, the president "erupted in anger while traveling to Davos after learning that Associate Attorney General Steven Boyd warned that it would be extraordinarily reckless to release a classified memo."

Just hours before the House Intel vote, one of the president`s key targets at the FBI, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stepped down. McCabe has been under relentless attack from the White House and many Republicans on the Hill. McCabe was expected to retire soon, but as we learned from "The New York Times" and writer Matt Apuzo, he told friends that he felt the new FBI Director Chris Ray was pressuring him to leave.

McCabe briefly run the Bureau after the president fired his boss then FBI Director James Comey who learned of his dismissal while he was in Los Angeles.

Comey`s flight back to Washington that we all followed on live television on a gulf stream private jet used by the government became an issue for the president, who according to NBC`s Carol Lee, called McCabe to ask why Comey was being allowed to travel on a government plane after being fired. Trump also went onto ask McCabe to ask his wife how it felt to be a loser. That`s a reference to her loss of a state election in Virginia.

The campaign for Andrew McCabe`s dismissal has intensified in recent months. Here is the White House reaction to the news that McCabe was indeed stepping down.


SANDERS: As I said, the president wasn`t a part of this decision making process, and we would refer you to the FBI where Christopher Ray serves as the director, which as I said last week and I`ll repeat again today, the president has full confidence in him and has put the decisions at the FBI in his hands.


WILLIAMS: We turn now to our lead off panel on a Monday night. Matt Apuzo, no matter what you hear his name is Matt Apuzo, no matter what you hear his name is Matt Apuzo, New York Times Reporter and MSNBC Contributor, the error was mine. Jennifer Jacobs, White House Reporter for Bloomberg News is back with us. And we welcome to our broadcast, Frank Montoya Jr. a former FBI Special Agent in charge for the agency Seattle division where he served under FBI Director James Comey and reported to, of all people, Andrew McCabe.

Matt, it falls upon you to explain this memo to our audience, what we know about what it includes, and what kind of fix might be in. Why all the hubbub surrounding this memo and why the rush to get it out?

MATT APUZO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this memo concerns surveillance, a warrant for a surveillance -- sorry, an application for a surveillance warrant that was approved by a surveillance court to listen and eavesdrop on carter page, who at the time was a former campaign aide to Donald Trump. And the Republicans have seized on this to say this was a political Democratic driven, you know, overreach of surveillance power by the Obama administration to go after political rivals. And this report is apparently going to make that case.

And it`s going to make the case that some of this information in the application for a warrant came from the dossier, the Trump dossier. This is the opposition research that was paid for first by anti-Trump Republicans and then by Hillary Clinton. And so that is all tainted.

Now, look, I would love to see this memo. I`d like to see the whole FISA application, the whole warrant application. The problem is, you can`t tell if there were abuses just by looking at a little bit that`s been pulled out. And what apparently is happening here is we have, Republican who were trying to make the case that this is all tainted surveillance, but we`re not going to be able to see the whole thing. And the public is not going to be able to make that determination off of this report. That much is clear.

WILLIAMS: Matt, a sub-question and that is to the Bill Kristol theory that this is all predicated on the O.J. trial, that this is an effort to cloud up to jury pool and we`re all in the jury pool. Is this memo going to have impact among the core or the general public? Are we going to have people walking the streets of New York, Washington, L.A., and Texarkana saying, "You know, I don`t think they followed the right procedure on that FISA warrant?"

APUZO: Right. There`s no question that the harder that this all becomes to understand, the better it ultimately is for Republicans and for the White House. The more this is about, well, it was the Steele dossier information used to predicate a FISA, where was it used to supplement a FISA. The more that`s the discussion we`re having, the less the discussion is about what was the Trump campaign ties to Russia, was there obstruction of justice?

The murky, you know, the murkier this is, the better it is for Republicans. Whether that`s their intention, I have to talk to them. But, I mean, obviously, if you really wanted to have a public discussion about the propriety of using information in a FISA warrant, you would release as much as possible. And as a journalist, I`m all for seeing as much as possible.

WILLIAMS: Now, Jennifer, the president on paper has five days to decide whether to hold it back or release it. I guess he also has the powers of redaction. Is there any reason to think that this thing isn`t coming out in the public lair?

JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, it`s possible. So they have several choices. They can decide to essentially block the release. They could decide to, OK, and not object to the release. They can redact it further, block it out more as you said or they could just stay silent.

But if they decide t block the release, that could force a vote in the house. It would go back to the full house and I`ve been told that it`s just very unlikely if the Republican president of the United States blocks the release of this memo, that the full House would then vote to override that decision. So if they decide to block the release, then theoretically it might not appear, it might not be released.

WILLIAMS: And, Jennifer, we saw Schiff come out. And Schiff said that in their meeting today they pleaded. The Democrats did and the minority, for the minority remarks about this to come out. Everything they wanted to say to counter the points in this edited memo, that`s been rejected until this memo comes out. Would something like that be leaked and find its way to the public domain anyway?

JACOBS: Well, one would hope not. If it contains classified information, you would hope that it would not be leaked. And I think that that was -- this was part of the reason why the intelligence community was willing to share this information. They allowed members of Congress to view classified documents, about a thousand pages and to gather the information that was used to write these dueling memos.

And the reason they showed it to them because they trusted them not to leak it to the public, they trusted them not to, you know, pull shenanigans or do anything that would jeopardize or compromise the sources or methodology in these documents.

WILLIAMS: Now, Frank, to you and we appreciate you very much for coming in. As a veteran of the bureau, what`s it been like to watch? Comey`s been fired. The president has been attacking a career civil servant over his Twitter account for the world to see, and today we learned that Mr. McCabe is stepping down.

What do you think the mechanism was? Do you think this was truly his decision as long as he got his retirement benefits, which he has worked hard to earn?

FRANK MONTOYA JR. FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Andy is a great guy. Stellar pro, really lives up to his oath every single day. And I think ultimately he just got tired of being dragged to the mud.

I mean, this is a guy who is a professional law enforcement and intelligence officer. This is why who has dedicated the last two decades of his life to public service. And through no fault of his own, he`s been dragged through this partisan mud. And I think it just got to the point where it`s just not worth it anymore, and he had the opportunity to leave. Rather than accept a relegation to another role and he took it, because that`s what is -- that`s who Andrew McCabe is. And I think it was an act of principle on his part.

WILLIAMS: What`s it been like for you to watch the partisan stuff that has surrounded this? The notion that it may be a liberal cesspool of people wanting to bring down Donald Trump, when the joke at the FBI for decades was, you can wear any shirt you want to work as long as it`s white or blue. He had hardly has a liberal reputation.

MONTOYA: You know, whether it`s (inaudible) looking glass, I mean, it`s an alternate universe that`s upside down. And every day you alternate between frustration and outrage. One, to see the organization, you know, a great organization staffed by many, many outstanding Americans, men and women both, who have to be dragged through this process simply for doing their jobs, for conducting investigations. Not just this one but around the country.

WILLIAMS: Around the world.

MONTOYA: Around the world for that matter, and then have to be subject to these kinds of insults. Because this is more than just an attack on Andrew McCabe or Jim Comey or even Pete Strack (ph). This is about attacking the people who make up the FBI because everyone of them represents the FBI.

WILLIAMS: I want to ask our control room to get what Comey said on Twitter up on the screen. And while we do that, Matt, talk to me about the pressure McCabe was feeling. The pressure he`s been under.

Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last eight months when small people were trying to tear down the institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you.

So the former director appealing right there to the rank and file. Matt, talk about the pressure on McCabe.

APUZO: Well, look, anybody with a Twitter account can see what the pressure was on Andrew McCabe from the president`s own tweets. And he`s basically been taunting him for some time. Now, there is an inspector general investigation going on in the Justice Department that`s reviewing Comey`s handling of the Clinton investigation, McCabe whether he should have recused himself because his wife was running for state Senate as a Democrat and took some money from Clinton connected Democrats.

And all of that, look, all that`s going to come out. And I think the feeling in the FBI today from people I talked to and my colleague Adam Goldman talked to was just a sense of whether you like Andrew McCabe or you don`t like Andrew McCabe, the president whenever he starts mucking around in bureau affairs, it gets dicy.

Now, the problem here is Chris Ray is a new FBI director. And a new FBI director would be expected to pick his own deputy, and his own chief of staff, and his own council. But it makes actually harder for him to do that it difficult to do that when the president goes in and seeming to call all the shots because it makes Ray look like he is just acting ahead to the White House.

WILLIAMS: Yes. This is the kind of organic natural turnover that would have happened, but now it`s all cloaked in this.

So, Jennifer, we`ve been talking about the pressure put on McCabe. Let`s talk about your reporting today, the pressure writ large being applied on the Department of Justice?

JACOBS: Right. So the president was traveling to Davos when he was able to focus on the news that had just broken about this letter from a top DOJ official to the House Intelligence Committee urging them not to release the memo, saying it would be reckless to do so. The president`s frustration boiled over.

He`d had a long week of frustration with the Department of Justice. I`ve been told that he has a bit of a preoccupation with the Department of Justice and its inner workings, and has been very critical of what they do. At the beginning of the week, he was critical of Department of Justice officials for failing to fiend these e-mails that, you know, could have shown some sort of bias.

And he called in Jeff Sessions and Ray into the White House on Monday to talk to them about finding these text messages. Later in the week, on Tuesday, Sessions was back in the west wing. On Wednesday, Kelly sat down again with Justice Department officials about various things.

Things came out during these conversations in which both Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly said, "Listen, you`ve got to live up to expectations. You`ve got to really work here. You need to be great or you`re going to go down in history as being some of the worst at your jobs in history". So really laid down the line of what they expect of them and how they want them to be handling their jobs.

So it was a long week of frustrations. And then when this letter from the DOJ was sent saying don`t release the memo, I was just told that the president and other White House officials were just thinking is this Justice Department trying to undercut us again? What is their motivation here? Are they trying to hide something? Are they trying to protect someone? Is this an overreach? There was just a lot of frustration.

So Trump on Air Force One setoff a kind of chain of events where various people from the White House were calling their counter parts in the Department of Justice saying, you know, what is happening here and don`t overreach, and keep in mind that you are really not a part of this decision to release this memo.

WILLIAMS: Frank, I have 15 whole seconds for a last word. And that is for all the FBI agents tonight who are working a 4 to 12, serving a warrant or worse, do you have any memories of the rank and file holding together and keeping their heads down and doing their jobs?

MONTOYA: absolutely none. There are total pros too just like Andy, just like the rest of them. It really is a good thing they`re out dispersed around the 56 field offices around the world because that`s where their focus is and should be. And we`ll weather this.

We`ve weathered other crises before. This one is a little different, more intense, and then more personal but, you know, the country is in good hands. The FBI is a great institution. It has the interests, the best interests of this country at heart. And every one of them will live up to their oath to defend and protect.

WILLIAMS: As I keep saying wait until the country need them in a big way and this debate will change dramatically. Two terrific journalists and then a veteran of the bureau, Matt Apuzo, Jennifer Jacobs and Frank Montoya, thank you all very much.

More on that partisan vote tonight from House Intel when we continue as we approach our first break. We`ll get reaction from California Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of House Intel.

Plus, the Russian shadow hanging over the state of the union address, Trump`s first as president, we`re just getting started on a Monday night.


WILLIAMS: We`re back with more on this breaking news tonight involving both the House Intelligence Committee`s vote to release a controversial memo disparaging the FBI. With us to talk about what happened today, California Democrat, current member of House Intel, Congressman Eric Swalwell.

Congressman, you said earlier this afternoon on this network that this memo should never see the light of day. And I want to ask a question that sounds flat but not intended to be. What`s the worse that could happen?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Brian. The worse that could happen is, it would falsely poison the well of public opinion of the rule of law, of the independence that we are supposed to have at the FBI. You know, people ask me, you know, what`s the big deal about this?

Well, you know, first world democracies, you don`t attack the police when they`re investigating you, and you don`t use them to attack your enemies. And this is falsely attacking the FBI to protect the president. It`s a line that we just cannot cross, and I`m still hopeful that we don`t go there, but I think we`re as close as wave ever been.

WILLIAMS: If you`re able, I know you`re not able to speak to the contents of the memo. It`s the point of the argument. But if you`re able to even if it calls for speculation, what`s at work here? Why is this being pushed out? What`s it toward?

SWALWELL: Yes, I`ve read both memos, the Republican one that will go to the public as early as tomorrow and the Democratic one that they`ve prevented the public from seeing. What this does is it really seriously discredits Bob Mueller and his investigation by putting out facts just not supported by the evidence. It`s a brainwashing of the public, Brian.

And, you know, again what it risks is that it also has a collateral effect of the rest of the line, FBI agents who you`ve referenced early in the night. They have to go to courts tomorrow and put warrants and affidavits forward on money laundering cases, on corruption cases, on terrorism cases. And if their credibility is undermined by this, that`s going to affect their ability to do their job.

WILLIAMS: What if, another question I asked in the first discussion, it turns out we really need the FBI? God forbid a thousand times if the president is briefed on a plot, a domestic terrorist plot in this country, and it works to his advantage, some reform he`s trying to get, something he is trying to get through, does he need to stop and say, no, this time we`re serious? This is really an FBI product.

SWALWELL: And you can`t have it both ways. You can`t say that, you know, career officials like Andrew McCabe and others are corrupt but those who work for them are not when it serves your purposes.

And, Brian, I also just want to go back to our memo and say that the one that they prevented the public from seeing was a ten-page painstaking rebuttal that relied upon actual facts, highly sensitive facts that not only rebut what the Republicans will be putting forward to the public but would open the door to new evidence that I think would give even greater credibility to the work being done at the FBI.

And so, if the Republicans truly cared about transparency, they would release the counter memo that correct the record and puts all of this rightfully into focus.

WILLIAMS: Eric Swalwell, Democrat of the state of California, member of the House Intel. Congressman, after a long day we appreciate you staying up with us. Thank you.

SWALWELL: MY pleasure.

WILLIAMS: And coming up after a break, Chris Matthews is here. We`ll talk about the news of the day tonight and preview the state of the union.


WILLIAMS: It`s not every day that our friend Chris Matthews is with us here in New York. So we naturally asked him to stop by and react on today`s news and predict some of tomorrow. You know him as the host of "Hardball" but also the author of the best-seller "Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit", which is why we had you on last time, which is actually where I`m going to begin tangentially.


WILLIAMS: Joe Kennedy III, when you and I back in this room tomorrow night, we`re going to be talking about Joe Kennedy III, as my late mother would say a face like the map of Ireland.


WILLIAMS: He`s going to give a Democratic response. What do we need to know about?

MATTHEWS: Well, look at him. He looks like -- he could be a British Royal too. But, you know, they want somebody from the future. They want somebody from the strong future. They want somebody from the past. They want to go back to their roots and they want to talk about hope in the future.

And I think they even want to put one of their presidential out there. I talked to Joe Crowley, one of the leaders today. By the way, this is serious candidate, it`s maybe not in his own words, but there are people out there pushing him for 2020. Believe it or not, people like Louis Susman of Chicago, the guy who pushed Barack Obama to give the speech in 2004 are pushing him.

And so, this is serendipity. He was picked by the leadership. But I`ll tell you, everybody likes him. In fact, I`ve met two politicians in my life who had say call me by my first name. One was Pat Monahan who would have been a great manager. We want to send him for New York. And the other is this guy.

WILLIAMS: Interesting.

MATTHEWS: Call me Joe.

WILLIAMS: All right.

MATTHEWS: It`s rare in politics to say just call me Joe.

WILLIAMS: We`ll see how he does tomorrow.

MATTHEWS: And I think it works for him. I think he`s going to give a hell -- he`s giving a speech, by the way, for working people, which is about going back to the roots of the party, the white working class and all that working there, Fall River Technical School that`s where he`s going to give his speech tomorrow responding to Trump.

WILLIAMS: OK. You said something on your broadcast tonight that got our attention. You called the sum total of today`s developments, where we stand a slow motion Saturday night massacre. Why?

MATTHEWS: Because he`s purging one person after another. Trump is giving away his motive, which is really I think obstruction. He got rid of Comey because Comey was doing the Russia investigation. And then today, he pushed out McCabe and he`s clearly going after Rosenstein now, the Deputy Attorney General. He clearly wants to get rid of anyone involved with his prosecution. To me, it`s prima facie.

WILLIAMS: If he -- he may not have the knowledge to realize that sometimes it`s the devil you know that career civil servants are replaced by career civil servants in many cases, lawyers by lawyers, prosecutors by prosecutors, and you can keep going through the layers of these organizations.

MATTHEWS: I agree because after the deep state, at the same time he makes it personal. He wants to decapitate, I suppose, the deep state. He`s going for both.

WILLIAMS: You`re a speechwriter. I am guessing that if I gave you the assignment to write tomorrow night`s State of the Union, you may pull an all-nighter, but you would emerge from your hotel room with a nifty speech written that if he stays to prompter, would be a terrific speech as delivered.


WILLIAMS: The way I look at it, if he does tax bill, economy, Wall Street, infrastructure, jobs and stays to that, he could deliver --

MATTHEWS: You know how beautiful movie stars always play the sort of tough part like the monster of the movie or monster or Charlize Theron or that now Margot Robbie plays the tough Tonya (ph)?


MATTHEWS: I think Trump will play against type tomorrow night. I think he will play a very solid Jerry Ford kind of day to day government servant. I think he will -- and everybody will be impressed by that tomorrow night around 11:00, oh, it was so wonderful the way he stuck to the teleprompter and he didn`t go off script. And it had impressed --

WILLIAMS: That`s the bar for tomorrow night.

MATTHEWS: That`s the bar. And I`m afraid that it starts (ph) tomorrow night around 11:00 at Central, we`ll be sitting over here, in fact I`ll be right over there somewhere, and we`ll be talking about it. And I just hope we`re not taken with that, because I think that`s an embarrassment for our society that a man can read a prompter and then seen as a statesman. But he will do that just to sort of get critics. It will be his way of sticking it to his critics, like I can be a gentlemen if I want to be a gentleman.

WILLIAMS: Do you agree with the following statement, no president has entered the House Chamber to deliver his rookie year State of the Union Address with his presidency in this much peril?

MATTHEWS: No. I think the idea of -- to me, there are three rings to this circus. One is the economy. Nobody`s been this lucky, this successful, deregulating like mad, unleashing capitalism with the tax cut to give more stimulus to it. Of course we`ll be paying for this year later. The second is that his show --


MATTHEWS: --that goes on everyday, and it will go on -- I mean, Wednesday morning, he`ll be tweeting out in the morning, right after this speech. No matter how well this goes over, he`ll be tweeting Wednesday morning. And that show has been disparaging (ph) to the market people. They`re in the 30s. They don`t -- 65 percent roughly of the country doesn`t like this show. And the third ring is the Russian probe, which is going relentlessly mechanically forward.

And we`ve noticed in the last couple of days this sort of old Polaroid film and it`s developing in front of our eyes and we`re seeing obstruction. Now, whether the House of Representatives, Goodlatte (ph) and those people or Paul Ryan move on it when the time comes, who knows? But I`m clear they`re going to put the case before the American people and I think Robert Mueller would do that and I think it`s coming before us.

WILLIAMS: He does like the show. As I heard somebody say tonight, they could drop this house memo while he`s delivering the State of the Union to, you know, so we could all talk about that.

MATTHEWS: He`s good at that and that is the reality TV show, that the American people are asking not to be re-upped.

WILLIAMS: Always a pleasure when you come by.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: We want to let you know, Chris Matthews will be a big part of our State of the Union coverage tomorrow night. Fans of "Hardball" may be overwhelmed by the news that there will be two broadcasts tomorrow night. The first at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, the second at midnight. So you want to --

MATTHEWS: I never know when you`re kidding.

WILLIAMS: You may want to premedicate. Chris will book in the State of the Union Address --

MATTHEWS: And Rob Reiner and Brad (INAUDIBLE), lot of Hollywood glitter coming in midnight --

WILLIAMS: -- here on MSNBC. Well, I think of you, I --

MATTHEWS: And we`re holding them till midnight.

WILLIAMS: -- I think of Hollywood glitter.

MATTHEWS: You can stick around for a few minutes.

WILLIAMS: I`ll stick around.

MATTHEWS: It`d be nice.

WILLIAMS: I`m a night owl. We`ll see you tomorrow night, my friend.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Thanks.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, the background and backdrop for tomorrow night`s speech. Why we have never been here before? In fact it`s not even close, when "The 11th Hour" continues.


WILLIAMS: As I mentioned in the last segment, no president has entered the House Chamber to give his first State of the Union address as president with his presidency in this much peril. Numerous reports say lawyers are actively negotiating back and forth what form Trump`s interview with prosecutors might take. Trump will also be addressing a body that has multiple active investigations under way into Russian interference in this past election and possible obstruction of justice.

Our friends at "The Washington Post" put it this way. It will be an incongruous picture the American public sees Tuesday night, a divisive chief executive who has discarded countless norms, performing one of the most traditional of presidential rituals, an hour or so during which uninterrupted and unfiltered he can claim ownership for his accomplishments and set an agenda for the year ahead.

We are fortunate tonight to be joined by three of our favorites. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post", moderator of Washington Week on PBS and an MSNBC Political in a spare of time, Kimberly Atkins, Chief Washington Reporter for the Boston Herald and an MSNBC Contributor, and Veteran Journalist back with us, an MSNBC National Affairs Analyst.

Greetings to you all. Kim, is it possible, would it seem in character if portions of tomorrow night`s speech had a bipartisan reach, a bipartisan goal, a lofty reach across the aisle kind of who`s with me spirit?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER: Yes. Well, that will fall into that sort of traditional state of the union that you`re talking about. And that is what the White House is saying the President wanted to do tomorrow to strike a conciliatory tone and talk about bipartisanship and unity moving forward as he, of course, touts his own record and pitches other agenda items like infrastructure.

But it`s going to be really hard to do at a time given everything that is so unusual about this presidency and nontraditional. You have a host of lawmakers protesting, boycotting the event altogether based on the comments the President`s made. You now have this House presidency and nontraditional. You have a host of lawmakers protesting, boycotting the event altogether based on the comments the President`s made. You now have this House Intelligence Committee kafuffle over this memo that he`d likely will release in the matter of days. You have the fact that the government will shutdown in 10 days if the President and lawmakers cannot come to a resolution on immigration which they don`t seem any closer to doing.

So you have all of these sitting on top of the State of the Union that I think even if the President goes and reads from the teleprompter like Chris was talking about, doesn`t give that same sense of, hey, we`re turning a corner here.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, take a look backwards one year. How consuming has the subject of all things Russia been?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: it has been all consuming on Capitol Hill and to a large extent, but it`s not the reason exactly for this legislative stall. You`re going to see this year a real lack of movement based on my report on some of these key issues like infrastructure, moving forward on any kind of economic program, an immigration deal that`s comprehensive, because there are political fault lines that are deep and embedded in the political culture and especially in Congress. And the Russia investigation hangs over all of these divisions as a cloud, and that makes things even harden to get and it sharpens the partisanship. I mean we saw that just today.

WILLIAMS: John, on the Winston Churchill scale of we will fight them on the beaches? Where is the bar set for this President`s delivery of said speech tomorrow night?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYS: I don`t know. I think that -- I really think there`s so much now in the ether this notion, to your point looking back a year ago and having -- had Trump have that incredibly divisive early days of his administration chaotic, he gives the speech and people apply the normal conventional (INAUDIBLE) kind of metrics to it. And I know, you know, that was pretty like traditional standard normal speck kind of arousing and kind of inspirational and kind of trying to pull the country together or the parties together.

And then we now had a year in which there was no relation of that speech to how Trump governed, to how he behaved, the Russia probe and so much else that has occurred. I think people are now pretty wised up to the question of whether we should be judging the President by sort of the normal metrics. So I think people are going to be looking at it through the window that you`re looking at it, Brian, which is to say this is an extraordinary thing. It`s more extraordinary than even when Nixon gave the `74 inaugural and he were -- State of the Union and he was under investigation for Watergate because this investigation in some ways is in some ways more encompassing than Watergate. It`s a domestic abuse of power investigation, it`s also a way with the greatest foreign policy scandal of our times. And so, everyone goes into this with a (INAUDIBLE) I think.

WILLIAMS: So, Kim, to pick up on your very last point, because the air is so charged and everything is so fraught, his people, I`m sure, are hoping to get the speech on the prompter as delivered. They get into trouble -- the President gets into trouble when he employs kind of sentence helpers, greater than ever before, a couple of believe mes, and then fills the space between lines on the prompter, that`s where rhetorically he`s gotten into trouble.

ATKINS: Yes. I think we will see that. Look, he`s less likely to do those little quirks when he is in a more controlled environment like the House Chamber will be tomorrow night. It`s not like when he`s at a rally and he`s feeding off the energy of the room and he goes off script, and that`s where we see more of that. I`m sure the script writers will avoid, you know, using word -- putting words like little to keep him from finishing that sentence about little rocket man or things like that.

I think for the most part, we have seen this President give, you know, controlled speeches and manage to read a teleprompter for a period of time. It`s a longer speech this time than we`re seeing, for example, in his address in Davos. So there`s always a potential that he will adlib a bit, especially if there is some negative reaction coming from lawmakers tomorrow night, there`s a possibility for that. But I think for the most part, this is going to be one of those controlled teleprompter addresses.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Robert, before I sneak a break in, a question about policy and this memo. Your understanding of this argument is MI6 going to read this thing in the public domain and say, well, that`s the last time we ever share intel with the yanks (ph). Are people going to publicly debating this memo in the streets or does it verge on shiny object?

COSTA: It can have sweeping consequences, Brian. I spoke a couple of hours ago with Adam Schiff, a Democratic Ranking on House Intelligence for California and he said Christopher Ray, the FBI Director, advised him earlier today to not move forward with releasing this memo. He urged people on the House Intelligence Committee to follow that plan. That`s according to Schiff in our interview. That didn`t happen of course. They decided to release this memo to the public in the coming days. And so you see now people in the intelligence community and the law enforcement community, they wonder if this intelligence and this information is so susceptible to being released to the public, it could raise questions in those different orbits.

WILLIAMS: Two prongs when we come back after a quick break. Our guests are going to stand by with us. New reporting tonight on the Russia front and new reporting on "The New York Times" about the first lady`s role tomorrow night. That right after this.


WILLIAMS: The State of the Uniom Address is still most of a day away and they are already dealing with their first crisis. That would be the State of the Uniom, the misspelling on some of the tickets for members of the spectator gallery was discovered with enough time remaining to get them reprinted. This one is not on the White House, rather on the House of Representatives. There it is right there, State of the Uniom. It`s their chamber after all.

It was announced today the first lady will be in attendance tomorrow night. All eyes have been on her of late since the reports first surfaced that her husband had an affair with a porn star. She pulled out of the Davos trip. She then went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington alone before flying to Florida unannounced via Air Force Jet. So tomorrow night will be her first major public appearance since the porn star story first came to light.

"The New York Times" reporting it this way today, quote, the reports of a payoff blindsided the first lady, who was furious with her husband, according to two people close to the couple. She has kept a low profile since. The uncertainty over Mrs. Trump`s appearance was in contrast to her willingness to show up and support Mr. Trump in the past.

Our guests remain with us. Robert Costa, Kimberley Atkins, John Heilemann. Kimberly, this is uncomfortable, but it is the state of the Trump marriage and thus is news.

ATKINS: You know, the State of the Union is probably one of the most high profile events for a first lady. We have seen past first ladies, they are there. They usually get the biggest applause of anyone in attendance and they`re usually there with a special guest, whether it`s a member of the military or someone involved in one of causes that they work for. So it is an important event for her.

We have seen her take her role as first lady very seriously. So I`m not surprised that she is going to be there. But, yes, look, as you know reporters, we are talking about things like the fact there was a payoff before the election. You know, that`s a newsworthy event. But for this first lady, I can`t imagine how difficult it is to deal with something like that at all, let alone in the public glare. So I`m inclined to let her choose for herself and her son how she handles that privately.

WILLIAMS: Robert, we have heard what we`ve heard from this President on videotape. We`ve seen video of his hand batted away in an ambiguous way. Again, this is uncomfortable but what has the White House have to say about it?

COSTA: Well, I always decline to speculate on any marriage whether it`s the President or someone else or any relationship because these are intensely private things. I will say having covered the first lady when she was on the campaign trail in 2015 and 2016, this is woman who is very private. All conversations she used to have with reporters were usually about her parents or her son or maybe something she was doing on the campaign trail. Very little else. This is not someone who would come as natural to the position of first lade in terms of an outsized public role. So it`s somewhat not surprising for people who know her inside of the White House to see that a year in she`s not perhaps based on all of this reporting, loving the position, even though they hesitate to say much more because she relishes her privacy.

WILLIAMS: And John Heilemann the stort because of so many other shiny objects that almost didn`t make it on the air tonight, Washington associated press, the Trump administration has decided not to punish anybody for now under new sanctions retaliating for Russia`s election meddling. It`s a surprising move from the State Department. What do you make of it?

HEILEMANN: Well, let`s just review for the sake of history here. Russia intervened in the American election in 2016. The United States government determined that. There is a consensus on that view. As a result of that, the United States Congress passed sanctions against Russia over the objections of the Trump administration. As part of those sanctions, the Trump administration was now supposed to slap penalties on people or companies that we`re doing business with the Russian defense or intelligence agencies.

There are people who have been doing that kind of business, and now the administration is declining to do what it is supposed to do under that law that it objected to being passed in the first place. This will for anyone who thinks that Donald Trump and his administration are in bed with Vladimir Putin, are too soft on Russia. This will be another exhibit in a long list of exhibits that will point to this and say we passed that law, you were supposed to implement it, you are now giving them a pass. That`s what happened here.

WILLIAMS: That`s the subject we will end tonight`s broadcast or at least this conversation on, with our thanks to Robert Costa, Kimberley Atkins and John Heilemann. Another break is ahead for us. And coming up, the drive to keep going despite setbacks. It is part of this day in history. We`ll explain.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight is about space. This past weekend upon hearing of a grim anniversary Americans of a certain age might have remembered the tragedy that almost derailed our mission to the moon. Fifty-one years ago, astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee were going through a rehearsal for their February launch when a spark ignited a flash fire in their capsule while it sat on the pad, and in an instant three of our best and brightest were gone. Mistakes were made by NASA and tragic as it was, we did not let it stop us on our way to the moon.

Yesterday was the 32nd anniversary of the Shuttle Challenger explosion, a searing day for those of us who were alive to see it on television because watching that explosion we knew we were watching seven people die. Among them was Christa McAuliffe. We were watching as her students watched her in New Hampshire. We watched as her parents witnessed the Florida launch and seemed to understand that NASA meant -- what NASA meant in the moment when mission control described it as obviously a major malfunction. Mistakes were made on the Challenger mission, and importantly we did not let it stop our exploration of space.

And now there are reports that a draft budget calls for stopping the U.S. funding for the international space station by the year 2025. That might be a slightly unsettling thought to the six brave humans who are at this very moment going over 200 miles up, streaking around the Earth at 17,000 miles an hour. They are, when you think about it, the only citizens of Earth who are not living here on Earth. And some believe the International Space Station emphasis on international could go on even if the U.S. pulls out. In other words, those who feel space exploration is essential cannot let it stop them.

That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you so much for being here with us. I`ll see you back here from this very studio tomorrow evening, 8:00 p.m. Eastern time is when it all gets under way, our full live coverage of the State of the Union Address. Until then, good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.


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