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Trump sends democrats' intel memo back. TRANSCRIPT: 2/9/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Philip Rucker, Jill Colvin, Tamara Keith, Joyce Vance

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: February 9, 2018 Guest: Philip Rucker, Jill Colvin, Tamara Keith, Joyce Vance

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Breaking tonight, a second White House official out after alligations of domestic abused. On the Russia front, the President doesn`t release the Democratic memo after the Republican one went public.

Plus, the number three at the Justice Department suddenly out. And signs of Donald Trump`s frustration over Chief of Staff John Kelly and reports Kelly is willing to resign. All of it as the "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Friday night.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams.

Day 386 of the Trump administration and we have two breaking stories out of the White House. First, the President says at this time he is unable to release the classified memo on the Russia investigations drafted by House Intelligence Committee Democrats as a rebuttal to a Republican memo that was released. We`ll have much more on that ahead.

Also tonight, first reported by the "Washington Post" and confirmed by NBC News, a second White House staffer has resigned amid allegations of domestic abuse. The post reports, "A White House speechwriter resigned Friday after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent two and a half year marriage, allegations that he vehemently denied, saying she was the one who victimized him.

The abrupt departure of David Sorenson, who worked under Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, came as the "Washington Post" was reporting on a story about abuse claims by his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett. Corbett told the Post that she described his behavior to the FBI last fall as the bureau was conducting a background check of Sorensen. She said that during her marriage to Sorensen, he ran a car over her foot, put out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall and grasped her menacingly by her hair. This latest report comes as the West Wing faces mountain of questions about the handling of domestic abuse allegations against a top White House aide.

Today, the President broke his silence on Rob Porter, a former Trump`s staff secretary who resigned after his two ex-wives accused him of physical and verbal abuse. Porter denies the allegations calling them "false, outrageous and part of a coordinated smear campaign." In the Oval office, the President seemed to come to the defense of his former top aide.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It`s an obviously tough time for him.

He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. And hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it and certainly he`s also very sad.

Now, he also, as you probably know, he says he`s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he`s innocent, so you`ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job while he was at the White House.


VELSHI: The President did not mention either of the women who accused Rob Porter of abuse, what you also didn`t hear was any mention of the growing controversy over who knew what and when about the accusations against Porter. Porter`s second wife says she alerted the FBI during a background check interview for his security clearance.


JENNIFER WILLOUGHBY, ROB PORTER`S EX-WIFE: I was completely honest with what my experience of the marriage, including telling them instances of abuse or police contact.


VELSHI: An administration staffer tells NBC News the FBI told the White House counsel`s office about those abuse allegations a year ago. And there have been questions about when exactly John Kelly was made aware of what the FBI had learned. Tonight Kelly confirmed he had known for months about an investigation.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF FOR DONALD TRUMP: In November, I got an update on some of the investigations. And the update was that there was some things that needed to be looked into. Literally that was it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you clarify to us exactly -- there has been a lot of reporting about the timeline and when you found out about things. Can you just clarify that?

KELLY: Tuesday night. Tuesday night.


KELLY: That the accusations were true. Forty minutes later, he was gone.


VELSHI: Tuesday night was the same night the White House released a statement from Kelly calling Porter, "man of true integrity." Now, multiple sources close to the President tell NBC News that Trump is frustrated with his chief of staff for mishandling the Porter allegations and has been speculating about possible replacements.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Friday night. Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR, Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for the Washington Post and an MSNBC political analyst, and Jill Colvin, White House reporter for the Associated Press. Welcome, all three of you. Thank you for being with us.

Philip, let me start with you. You`ve got two pieces out tonight, one, about White House staffer saying that John Kelly`s account of the timeline of Rob Porter`s exit was untrue, and another separate piece about the chaos that seems to be engulfing the White House. The first piece seems to underscore the other. What`s going on?

PHILIP RUCKER,WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Ali, what we have here is the fourth day of building mounting crisis for this White House, the likes of which we`ve not seen since the early months of the presidency, and we have conflicting accounts. The stories keep shifting and changing. There is a lot of internal finger pointing. Much of that blame pointed at Chief of Staff John Kelly, but also Communications Director Hope Hicks and others in the White House who have been trying to manage this situation.

And what we don`t have so far is any sort of transparency from the White House. We don`t know the answers to some key questions, still. We don`t have a clear sense of the timeline, especially as it relates to what Kelly knew and when and how he took his actions. And we heard in our reporting this morning that at the senior staff meeting, a private meeting of about a dozen or so top aides, Kelly, you know, encouraged them to communicate what they believed to be a false version of events, of how quickly Kelly took action.

What we know from the public record and from sort of behind the scenes reporting previously in the previous days is that Kelly was defending Porter internally, he defended him publicly and was trying to get him to keep his job.

VELSHI: Jill, there are mounting calls for Kelly`s resignation from people on the outside who don`t think this was handled well. We heard reports earlier this evening that John Kelly seemed willing to resign but then he denied that to NBC News. What do we know about John Kelly, Trump`s satisfaction with him and what may happen next?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, I think there is a little bit of a distinction between Kelly formally offering his resignation, and then Kelly making clear that if the President is unhappy with him, then he would be willing to resign, which is really kind of a sentiment that`s shared by most senior staffers who serve at the pleasure of the President.

Look, what we know right now is that the President is not happy with John Kelly and the fact he was not looped into this and didn`t know about it and wasn`t told about this until Wednesday. And that the President -- this is a President who very frequently calls up his friends, calls up outside advisers, asks questions about how they feel his staffers are doing. But this has reached kind of a more serious level and he`s been throwing out a couple of names, a couple a number of people have been reported, Mick Mulvaney is one that seems to come up again and again, and that he`s kind of weighing the possibility of a future without John Kelly.

But nonetheless, I just want to stress the fact that John Kelly is such an integral part of this White House, and that at this point, still as of tonight, it still seems like it would be a stretch or at least very -- people would be surprised if the President actually decided to pull the trigger and get rid of Kelly at this point.

VELSHI: So this is interesting, Tamara. What Jill is talking about is something that people in the White House want John Kelly to be, what people in the public were hoping John Kelly would be, a stabilizing force. But increasingly, over the last several months, we`ve seen things that have gone wrong that Kelly has been at the front of or involved with. And there`s some people who are saying maybe he`s not -- maybe he`s a little more temperate than people think. Maybe he`s a lot like Donald Trump but with a little bit of discipline. Maybe he`s not the answer.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Right. You know, the reputation sort of conventional wisdom in Washington is that John Kelly was the, "adult in the room" or the stabilizing force. He came in saying that he was coming in to manage the staff, not the President. Well, this week managing the staff has not been going particularly well.

And the thing with the chief of staff is that they don`t want to be the one getting the headlines. They don`t want to be the one getting the attention. I was talking to Leon Panetta, former chief of staff, and someone who knows Kelly well about this. And he said, you know, there are consequences for chiefs of staff who steal the headlines and not in a good way. And remember that just this week, Kelly said some pretty crude and insensitive things about immigrants known as Dreamers, basically implying that they were lazy.

VELSHI: Jill, let me ask you about some of the President`s comments. He did break his silence about Rob Porter and he said some things that we aired at the top of the show about the fact that Rob Porter has denied the allegations.

I want to take everybody back to November 21st when Donald Trump first talked about the allegations against Roy Moore. This is what he had to say.


TRUMP: Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn`t happen, and, you know, you have to listen to him also. You`re talking about -- he said 40 years ago this did not happen.


VELSHI: Similar structure of the comment that he used about Rob Porter today, saying he strongly denies it. You have to listen to him. This is a pattern for the President.

COLVIN: It is, indeed, a pattern from the President where he again and again likes to put the focus on the denials, the claims of innocent by various men who are accused of wrongdoing, whether it be this allegation of spousal abuse or allegations of sexual misconducts. We also have to keep in mind that the President is also somebody who has been repeatedly accused of misdeeds himself and, therefore, comes into this from a position of somebody who has repeatedly had to go on the record, repeatedly denied allegations against him. And even privately really seems to want to take stock into what these people -- including Porter, who I mean had been such a trusted aide, someone who constantly traveled with him, was constantly in the Oval office, and really taking stock in those denials.

VELSHI: Philip, Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, was on Meet the Press Daily today. He was commenting on the President as it related to the Rob Porter incident. Let`s listen.


SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Here, he really wasn`t served well by his staff. I don`t believe he knew about this, had any idea about this. I don`t think an issue like this about an FBI clearance for Rob Porter was taken to him, nor should it have been.


VELSHI: So reason this is interesting, Phil, is because when the President feels under pressure, when he feels cheated or out of the limelight or in the limelight for the wrong reasons, he tends to tweet we tend to hear from and he tends to lash out. He tends to identify other people as having failed him. What do you think is going to happen?

RUCKER: Well, Ali, tomorrow is Saturday, and we know Saturday morning is when some of these tweet storms come, so I guess we`ll stay tuned. And I heard there might be even be rain in D.C. which means golfing may not be an option, so more likely to have tweets then.

But seriously, we know just from reporting, talking to people today who have been in touch with the President, he`s been venting privately. He`s not taken to Twitter to lash out at either the media or any of his aides or to comment on this matter, but he`s been very bothered by it, very frustrated, quite angry, and I would expect for that tone to continue through the weekend.

VELSHI: Tamara, let me ask you about Hope Hicks. The President released a statement earlier today amidst reports that he was frustrated, not just with john Kelly, but with Hope Hicks and the handling of the situation in which he said, Hope is absolutely fantastic. She was with the campaign from the beginning and I couldn`t ask for anything more. Hope is smart, very talented and respected for all. Where do you think Hope Hicks stands in this whole thing?

KEITH: Here`s the other thing about Hope Hicks, she`s loyal. She`s absolutely been loyal to President Trump in a way that many of his other aides have not been, and the President values that sort of loyalty. It`s a unique relationship that`s there that he has not had with other aides because she really, truly has been there since the very beginning.

And the other thing about Hope Hicks, she doesn`t generally, except this week, and she certainly didn`t seek it out, she doesn`t seek attention. She doesn`t want to be in the limelight. She hangs back. You know, she almost never goes on the record. And that is one of those things that makes her valuable to the President in a way that to people on the outside, it doesn`t always entirely compute.

VELSHI: She`s the White House director of communications and most Americans wouldn`t know what her voice sounds like, so you`re right, she doesn`t seek it out. Thank you, Tamara Keith, Phill Rucker, Jill Colvin. Thank you for being with us on a Friday night.

Coming up, the other breaking story we`re covering this hour, the White House decision not to be classified the Democratic memo at this time. And number three at the Justice Department suddenly announces her exit as her boss, Rod Rosenstein, faces increased scrutiny amid the Russia Investigation. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Friday night.


We have two major developments tonight tied to the Russia investigation. President Trump is declining to release the Democrats` response to a controversial GOP House Intel memo accusing the Department of Justice of misconduct.

In a letter sent to the House tonight, White House Counsel Don McGahn rights that after the review the Department of Justice, "The Department has identified portions of a February 5th Memorandum, the disclosure of which it believes would create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests." And that "Although the President is inclined to declassify the February 5th memorandum because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time."

Now this means that memo will now go back to the congressional committee. The FBI had warned against the initial release of the Republican memo citing grave concerns, something Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff pointed out in his response tonight, "The White House ignored their concerns and approved the publication of the Republican memo with no redactions even though the action was described by the agencies as extraordinarily reckless and omitting material facts. After promising to treat the Democratic response precisely the same way, the White House now seeks to have the Democratic memo sent back to committee and revised by the same majority that produced the flawed Nunes memo to begin with. That news coming hours after NBC News confirmed that this woman, the third highest ranking official at the Department of Justice, is quitting after just nine months on the job.

Rachel Brand was confirmed as associate attorney general in May. The "New York Times" broke that story tonight, adding this important context, "Ms. Brand`s profile had risen in part because she is next in line of succession behind the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who is he overseeing the special counsel`s inquiry into the Russian influence in the 2016 election. Mr. Trump, who has called the investigation a witch hunt, has considered firing Mr. Rosenstein. Such a move could have put her charge of the special counsel and, by extension, left her in the cross hairs of the President.

Democrats have been concerned that GOP memo, we`ve been talking about might give President Trump ear cover if he did desire -- decide to fire Rosenstein. When ask if this was his intent, this was Trump`s response exactly a week ago.


TRUMP: I think it`s terrible, if you want to know the truth. I think it`s a disgrace what is going on in this country. I think it`s a disgrace. And you look at that and you see that and so many other things, what`s going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does this make more likely to fire Rod Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?

TRUMP: You figure that one out.


VELSHI: You figure that one out when asked about Rod Rosenstein. I can`t really interpret the first part of that comment by the President because it didn`t make a lot of sense. But joining me now is Jonathan Allen, NBC News national political reporter and former U.S attorney, Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor. Thank to both of you for joining us on a Friday night.

I am -- I think let`s start with this memo, Joyce. There are some legitimate national security concerns tied to these memos but the White House seemed to dispense of those concerns in its decision to release the Nunes memo, the Republican memo unredacted. Now they seem concerned about the response.

JOYCE VANCE, U.S. ATTORNEY, NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA: Right. You know, it`s so important to contemplate what this memo really represents. Because the larger issue involved here is a national security issue. The FISA Court is the place that the Justice Department and law enforcement goes when they`re dealing with matters that has a significant risk to our national security.

You know, the FBI and the intelligence community, they`ve done an amazing job since 9/11 of not letting the bad guys get through, whether that`s terrorism or whether that`s a challenge like the one the Russians face to us with these sorts of spying operations. So, I have enough prosecutor DNA in me that I don`t want to see anything compromised, the integrity of that process. But like you say, once this has been politicized and part of this memo, sort of cherry-picked Republican part of the information has been released, then there is a certain amount of need for at least some balanced information in a non-classified, non-damaging setting so the American people get the full truth and not just the information this President thinks it`s in his self-interest to release.

VELSHI: But this was always the worry, right, that while the Department of Justice and the Democrats and the FBI, who all happen to be on the same side on this issue, have a story to tell, because we`re dealing with classified information, Joyce, it was going to hamstring them a little bit in getting a response out.

VANCE: You know, it`s almost impossible to tell that side of the story here. We worry so much about compromising sources or methods, and so a great example of that is here, when a source has been compromised and publicly sort of, you know, berated back and forth and paraded in the political process, what does that mean for our future ability to get other sources to provide information?

VELSHI: Right.

VANCE: So there is a real risk here.

VELSHI: People will feel unsafe that this information will be made public. John, do these memos ultimately affect the Mueller investigation? We`ve had a lot of Republicans and Democrats saying actually it`s a different fight.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: At some level this is the skirmish at the very edge of a war. And the partisans have to fight it and we`re seeing pettiness in it in terms of trying to release some information that contains sources and methods but not necessarily other information people that had kind of play around. The broader picture is none of this has anything to do with the Mueller investigation. That`s not just what Democrats are saying, that`s what House Speaker Paul Ryan has said. So, in terms of the question of whether this is going to help cloud the picture for the President, the answer is no.

VELSHI: But to what degree does it serve the President`s interest in diminishing the authority or the legitimacy of the FBI and the Department of Justice in the eyes of the American people?

ALLEN: Well, if Robert Mueller or others come to the conclusion the President or the people around him broke laws, then his effort is going to be and has been to get his base to believe that those institutions aren`t legitimate that they`re not credible and that they`re not fair. And what we`ve seen, and I think we`ll talk about a little bit later, we`ve seen this exodus from the Justice Department and from the FBI during the course of the President`s administration.

VELSHI: Right.

ALLEN: That`s only getting worse, and it`s no longer the people that were holdovers from Obama.

VELSHI: Right. And to that point, Joyce, let`s talk about Rachel Brand, the number three in the Department of Justice who is leaving for a very significant private sector job. I don`t think anybody in the country would have doubted that she would have gotten any job she wanted. But what do you make of her departure after nine months?

VANCE: It`s hard to know what to make of it, but nine months is an extremely short tenure. Rachel Brand is very talented, very highly regarded, and so having her leave after such a short time in office will undoubtedly be a real hit to the morale of the career prosecutors and the career DOJ employees who have come to depend on her leadership and her good judgment in a difficult time. It`s not a good thing for the Justice Department to lose important people like this.

VELSHI: Richard Painter sent out a tweet. Rachel Brand is getting out of there. She`s way too smart to be in the third position at the DOJ. Robert Mueller`s job during the Saturday Night Massacre. What do you think of that, Jonathan? Do you think there is any chance she`s getting out of the line of fire?

ALLEN: Yes, I mean, one night early, coming out on fire, she`s outrunning Saturday night massacre. Yes, I mean, look the President suggested that he`s not have confidence in Rod Rosenstein, the number two. We know that his not wanted Jeff Sessions, the attorney general there at times. He doesn`t want Robert Mueller.

I mean, there`s nobody at the Justice Department he likes, and the reason is as I was saying a minute again, you went from Obama holdovers, who the President didn`t like to career officials who the President didn`t like. And now you`re getting with Rachel Brand, a Republican appointee of the President of the United States, who is getting out of town.

And look, she is somebody who was well regarded enough that President Obama appointed her to a board. But she was general counsel on presidential campaign the campaign and she`s not a Democrat. And so we`ve seen this real fundamental shift in where the President is going after people and there`s nobody left on his team.

VELSHI: Right, right. All right. Jonathan Allen, good to see you. Thanks you so much for being with us. Joyce Vance, always a pleasure to see you.

Coming up, the unprecedented way Donald Trump receives his intelligence briefing, and could it be putting the country at risk? "The 11th Hour" will be back after this.