Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: February 12, 2018 Guest: Anita Kumar, Sam Stein, Peter Baker
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, THE LAST WORD, HOST: -- Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley, who is on the House Intelligence Committee will join Brian Williams and that is in "The 11th Hour With Brian Williams" which starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, the President's spokeswoman says he takes domestic violence seriously, he just won't say it himself publicly. And the White House struggles to account for a timeline of who knew what and when about the accuse abuser on the staff.
Plus, a new reporting on why the number three official at Justice is leaving and what it may have to do with the Mueller investigation. The reporter who broke the story is here with us tonight.
And as questions mount about security clearances in the Trump White House, all eyes on the Hill where the nation's top intelligence chiefs will make an appearance just hours from now. "The 11th Hour" begins now.
And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. A new week brings day 389 of the Trump administration. And fallout from the departure of a high level aide over domestic abuse allegations is consuming the White House. It's been nearly a week since the allegations against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter by two of his ex-wives became public, allegations he has denied and the administration has struggled to present a clear timeline about his response to these allegations.
JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Tuesday night when the initial story came out, the White House praises Rob Porter. Wednesday morning photos come out. The White House stands by its statement. Wednesday afternoon, the White House continues to praise Rob Porter. Chief of Staff John Kelly says he acted within 40 minutes within knowing the allegations. Can you explain that?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I said, and I'm going to repeat what I said earlier, that we've learned of the situation involving Rob Porter last Tuesday evening, and within 24 hours his resignation had been accepted and announced. We announced a transition was going to happen, and within hours, it did.
I can tell you that a conversation took place within 40 minutes. And beyond that, I really don't have anything else --
WILLIAMS: Now, to underscore the question you saw there from that Washington Post reporter, Josh Dawsey, here is White House Chief of Staff John Kelly speaking to reporters on this past Friday about his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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?
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Tuesday night. Tuesday night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tuesday night?
KELLY: That the accusations were true. Forty minutes later, he was gone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President's response to the allegations against Rob Porter have also created problems, as you may know, Friday he appeared to defend Porter saying, "He says he's innocent, adding that he did a good job when he was in the White House." The President did not mention either of Porter's ex-wives.
Then on Saturday the President said this, "People's lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?" The White House tried to clean that up today.
SANDERS: The President and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly. About all, the President supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.
CECILIA: Why haven't we heard the President say exactly what you just said right there, that he takes domestic violence very seriously?
SANDERS: I spoke with the President, and those were actually directly his words that he gave me earlier.
CECILIA: But why hasn't he said that? He had the opportunity. He's, as you know, been active on Twitter.
SANDERS: It's my job to speak on behalf of the President. I spoke to him, and he relayed that message directly to me, and I'm relaying it directly to you.
WILLIAMS: The press secretary used the expression of what was it due process eight times during today's briefing. That should tell you something about messaging.
The women's whose allegations are at the center of this controversy are both speaking out. Rob Porter's ex-wives have both published op-eds about their specific experiences. Colbie Holderness has written a piece for the Washington Post titled Rob Porter is My Ex-husband. Here's what you should know about abuse, while Jennie Willoughby piece called "President Trump Will Not Diminish My Truth" appeared on Time Magazine's website just on Sunday.
The focus on the administration's handling of all this has raised questions about the futures of John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn, who were both aware of the allegations against Porter before they became public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAWSEY: We've reported, and others have too, that Don McGahn, over, you know, a period of months was told repeatedly by the ex-girlfriend, by the FBI, by, you know, others in the White House, about these accusations, and didn't do anything. Can you explain why no action was taken by Don McGahn, the chief White House lawyer?
SANDERS: Those allegations that have been reported are not accurate.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is Chief of Staff Kelly's job in jeopardy?
KELLYANE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: No. I spoke to the President last night and told him I'd be with you today and he said, please tell Jake that I have full faith in Chief of Staff John Kelly and that I am not actively searching for replacements.
WILLIAMS: With that, let's bring in our lead-off panel on a Monday night, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the New York Times, Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, and Sam Stein, politics editor for the Daily Beast. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Anita, by my count we're coming up on, what, day six of the Porter news cycle. I just heard Lawrence O'Donnell talk about infrastructure. This was at long last infrastructure day, but in Lawrence's view the way the piece is structured it's so obviously a trial balloon. He says there probably won't be legislation on that this year and here we are tonight talking about Rob Porter.
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: Right. I mean, it's day six, you're right about that. And it's been going on so long in part because of what you said. They've had a conflicting message. You know almost every single day things have gone back and forth with what they're saying.
The leaks coming out of the White House differ from what they're telling us publically. So there's also that. And I think today when Sarah Huckabee- Sanders said that she's not going to answer any more questions, that's not going to help. I mean, the questions are going to continue and her saying that she's not going to answer any more is not going to make it go away.
WILLIAMS: Sam Stein, we heard the response why can't the President use words that Sarah Huckabee-Sanders used, he sits about 30 feet from the White House briefing room. As we know, he has access to a cellphone and thinks nothing of using it. In your view, why do you think, Sam, the President can't exhibit empathy or sympathy to victims of abuse? There's really only one side in this argument.
SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, what the simplest explanation, it's usually the right one and that would be that he often feels conflicted about these things. In his historical records, I mean, you go back to the 1980s and 1990s when he was one of the lone prominent cultural voices defending Mike Tyson after his rape conviction.
This is a pattern that the President has taken. It is something that he's been accused of himself and maybe that informs how he feels about this stuff. But it's not just with Rob Porter, his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski faced accusations during the campaign of touching inappropriately, physically, a female reporter and Trump rushed to his defense.
It's odd to sit here and listen to it because we're so accustomed to what is a simple, if not unfortunate, PR move in such situations, which is they would say something akin to we take these allegations seriously and we're looking into them and then they would get on right -- they get on the same story and present what they have to present.
But in this White House, it seems as if they are doing this almost, you know, like a jazz ensemble. They're just reaping it. And that is feeding this controversy, and now we're on day six of it. And until they can get their stories straight, I just don't see how this goes away. Absent another controversy are opting.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, you have written hell of an account posted late today in the New York Times of the chaos, the whirlwind and the revolving door in the Trump White House. Important to note this is our White House. This is supposed to be the leader of all the people.
In your piece you use the number 34. Tell the good people watching tonight why that number is critical.
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, 34 percent is the number -- is the turnout, sorry, the turnover in the White House staff -- the senior White House staff in the first year according to a study by the Brooking Institution. And that's particularly high figure. That's twice as high as the next highest figure in the last 40 years, that's the Reagan administration, three times as high as the turnover in the first year of the Obama administration.
And what that means is you've got a White House that's constantly turning, constantly trying to fill spaces, constantly seeing people leave after just a few months, you know, constantly trying to reformulate a team that's yet to completely gel.
The President is on his second chief of staff, his second national security adviser, his second press secretary, his fifth communication director, depending on how you count them. And it means that, you know, that you have a situation that's more, you know, filled with turmoil than an effective White House wants to see.
WILLIAMS: You and your frequent running mate Maggie Haberman also wrote this weekend under the headline, abuse case exposes fissures in a White House in turmoil. You write about Kirstjen Nielsen, who was a long time assistant to General Kelly and is now the Secretary of Homeland Security and her on write, "Ms. Nielsen frequently blocked and tackled for chief of staff. Without her, officials often approached Mr. Kelly freely now and he's sometimes does not remember what he has said to different people, two officials said."
Peter, what have you been led to believe about his shelf life and his immediate future?
BAKER: Well, you know, I mean the Trump White House you can never tell people who are supposed to be out tomorrow last, you know, in another six months or a year. People who are supposed to last, you know, a year are gone by the end of business. So, you know, making a prediction is a hazardous affair.
It is certainly the case that the President has been unhappy with General Kelly and not just because of the Porter case and a number of reasons, he feels constrained, he doesn't particularly like General Kelly trying to impose a certain discipline on him. He didn't like General Kelly publically said that the President hadn't been fully informed, not well informed about border issues when he was a candidate, didn't like that at all. So, you know, he's expressed that frustration.
He's talked with associates about who might replace General Kelly but then you've heard obviously Kellyanne Conway sent out specifically yesterday and say that's not the case, he's not actively, that was the adverb she used, actively looking for a replacement. If I were General Kelly, I would notice that adverb.
WILLIAMS: And yet, Anita, our friends at "Meet the Press" put together a graphic which they shockingly call the Sell By Date of some former senior aids to the President, Lewandowski 369 days, Manafort 144, Bannon 211, Reince Priebus 190, John Kelly thus far 200 days on the job. Do you think this graphic and those stats are at all predictive?
KUMAR: Well, I'm with Peter, you cannot tell. Remember, Rex Tillerson was going to be gone tomorrow, right? Jeff Sessions, we didn't think he'd last this long. I mean, you really can't tell, especially with President Trump sometimes he'll praise, sometimes he'll, you know, tweet something and you just can't tell what's going to go on.
I will tell you that on Friday, you know, when the news broke that General Kelly had said that he would leave, resign, if that's what the President wanted that we were sort of at a fever pitch, right? Here, we were talking about all sorts of replacements. You know, the President may not have called specific people, but he sure had people being called. I mean, some people were being called. And, you know, Mick Mulvaney, we mentioned the OMB Director, you know, he was approached in some kind of way.
But, you know, as the days went on, here we are, it's Monday and we're not really hearing a lot about that. So who knows, he could last a day or he could last another year.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I talked to someone family with the President's thinking over the weekend who was not bullish on the immediate future of John Kelly.
Sam, what is the squirm factor within the GOP or was this just Monday?
STEIN: Right. I mean, at this point I think they are so callous to this. I mean, keep in mind the RNC is still holding onto the donations, the large amount of donations from its former finance chair, Steve Wynn who's in his own hot water, facing serious accusations of sexual assault. So there's sort of a weird callousness that the Republican Party has to the scandals.
I would like to just jump back because I think Peter's two stories are intertwined here, one on the staff turnover and one on John Kelly. One of the reasons Rob Porter was able to stay in his position for so long, even though there were credible accusations of spousal abuse and even though the FBI could not grant him a full security clearance for over a year is precisely because there are so few high ranking aides that John Kelly and others trust to do a competent job inside the administration.
And so, that creates this situation in which you either have to hold on to people who has dubious ethical records or you have to frantically search for people outside of your own ecosystem.
And one of the problems that the Trump White House has that the President doesn't want to hire anyone who has been previously critical of him and that eliminates a lot of prominent Republican professionals in Washington, D.C. And so, there is a real start in promise, not just a short-ish. It's a hiring problem that they're having and it's really coming to the forefront right now in the Rob Porter situation.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, you write about the carters of the old Executive Office Building since the rename the Eisenhower Building next to the White House. Usually bustling, teaming, buzzing with activity, not so much.
BAKER: Yes, crickets some days. Look, you know, Sam is exactly, by the way. I think this is one of the -- this is the blinders that they had on about Rob Porter, he seemed very mature, professional, reliable and they had opacity of people in the White House that they knew they could depend on.
If you're John Kelly you're not anxious to go after people who are doing their jobs well, you're anxious to go after people you felt are not. And he obviously has spent a lot of time these last 200 days using that count you just should, you know, trying to purge the White House and people he thought were problematic.
Steve Bannon, you know, Scaramucci, you know all -- Omarosa, you know, the apprentice star, all sorts of people that he has kind of nudged out and he's still having some, you know, struggles even with some of the people who are still there.
So those were his priorities and sort of a, you know, we don't know how much information he was given by the FBI but if it wasn't particularly detailed, it's not 100 percent surprising he would try to find some way of moving on and pay attention to something else, given all the things that on his plate. Obviously a mistake, obviously he didn't choose to look more deeply at what he was being told because it didn't take very much information to discover just how compelling these charges really are..
WILLIAMS: Please note it was the guy from the Times who name checked Omarosa on tonight's broadcast. BAKER: Naturally..
WILLIAM: That should be our last warning. Peter Baker, Anita Kumar, Sam Stein, always a pleasure. Much obliged from the three of you for starting us off on this new week.
Up next for us, how many people handling the nation's most closely guarded secrets are doing so without the proper security clearance, and who do we see about that?
And then later, will the White House eventually release this Democratic memo and if so, how much of it will have to be cut out? A member of the House Intel Committee will be here live for an update. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Monday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, why are hi level staffers handling sensitive information without security clearance?
Mr. President, do you have a vetting problem?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was our own Kristen Welker this afternoon trying to get answers from President Trump. Tonight, the security clearance vetting process at the White House is under spotlight after the accusations of domestic abuse against Rob Porter who was operating on an interim clearance. Porter as we've said has denied the allegations.
Tonight, Michael Shear and Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times have reporting about what the White House counsel Don McGahn knew about allegations made against Porter. And we "Mr. Porter told Mr. McGahn in January 2017 that there could be what he described as false allegations against him, according to two people brief on the situation.
In June, the FBI told Mr. McGahn that allegations of domestic abuse had surfaced, but Mr. McGahn encouraged the bureau to keep investigating.
In November, the bureau informed Mr. McGahn that Mr. Porter was not likely to succeed in getting a permanent clearance, according to one person briefed on the case, but Mr. McGahn requested that the FBI complete its investigation and come back to the White House with a final determination about the allegations."
Here to talk with us about it, Jeremy Bash, former of chief of staff at CIA in the Pentagon, also happens to be an MSNBC National Security Analyst.
Jeremy, in your experience in the annals of red flags in the pursuit of security clearance, how bad is this issue as a red flag? And talk a little bit -- we've tried to get into this, about the clearance required normally in this job, about what the person with the title staff secretary sees and handles and hears.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, let's start there, Brian. The staff secretary handles all of the most sensitive correspondence and memoranda and decision documents that go to the President of the United States, including everything pertaining to national security, including everything from the National Security Council, including covert action documents that the President and only the President can review and sign.
And so, so this position, staff secretary, position, requires the highest level of security clearance, which is considered top secret, sensitive compartmented information.
Now, that clearance, Brian, is done after a comprehensive background investigation by the FBI. And if you look at the guidelines, the guidelines clearly state that the FBI will talk to former spouses. And so, it is perfectly within the purview of the FBI to understand relationships that ended middle has to former spouses. And if this -- those former spouses are going to say negative things it's possible that that could deny an individual like Rob Porter a security clearance.
WILLIAMS: So, how do you process the number of people operating without a so-called hard pass, the result of a full-field investigation that results in a full security clearance we've been led to believe that also includes, but is hardly limited to, the President's own son-in-law?
BASH: It's highly unusual and I think highly inappropriate for those senior White House officials to operate with an interim or temporary security clearance. Basically what that means to me, Brian, is that they're not going to get a clearance. It's in effect a denial but it's sort of waiver by the President saying I want these people around anyway.
And I think the problem, Brian, is that, basically, it establishes a double standard. If you're a professional career intelligence, military or state department official and you have that situation where you can't get a permanent clearance, you're out of your job, you're out of luck. Whereas, if you're a political appointee in the White House, the President can kind of wave his magic pen say I want you around.
And that means that people around the President are far less trustworthy, potentially susceptible to blackmail and not really supposed to be handling those sensitive materials.
WILLIAMS: And how do we balance that, Jeremy, with the President's desire? And I think most American people would believe that within reason you should be able to hire the people around you if you exert good judgment that you want
BASH: Yes, and the President should be able appoint his or her preferred staffers around them, but, again, there are certain job qualifications, having a security clearance is a one in the paramount job qualification. And if you cannot get a permanent security clearance, I'm sorry, but you should not be working in the West Wing of the White House.
WILLIAMS: I heard Director Clapper on another network speculating that because so many people like him, Republicans specially who had been part of the standing mechanism of government, did not come forward and volunteer to work for this administration, nor were they asked because they weren't the super loyal, super believers that this is part of the reason for the backlog that a lot of these folks are new to government.
BASH: That may be the case except, Brian, except -- that's why we have a presidential transition so that in November, December, and January of an election year you get all these people lined up and cleared so that they can hit the ground running on January 20, 2017. We shouldn't be sitting here in the middle of February 2018 with these individuals still having an interim clearance. Something has gone wrong.
WILLIAMS: All of the security chiefs are appearing before Senate Intel, actually in a matter of a few hours tomorrow morning. It's the good guys' version of the heads of the five families. Is it going to get uncomfortable for a guy like Christopher Wray running the FBI again? They're in the spotlight here because this is a kind of a convenient excuse for folks who have been after the FBI any way.
BASH: Yes, it's an open congressional hearing. I think the lead point that the intelligence chiefs are going to make is that, yes, counterterrorism is still a concern but we need to be worried about near peer competitors. I think you'll hear that term and that of course refers to China and importantly, Russia.
And I think when they come on strong and say that Russia is a threat, the natural follow up questions from the members of Congress and Senate is going to be, why isn't this administration taking Russia's meddling in our election, not just last year but in fact in this coming year, why aren't they taking it more seriously.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, thank you for talking our questions on all of these matters tonight.
And coming up for us, what's special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly had to do with the departure of number three at the Department of Justice. The reporter who broke the story coming here to talk to us next
WILLIAMS: We mentioned this at the top of the broadcast. NBC News has some new reporting tonight on why the Justice Department's number three official decided to step aside this past Friday.
Julia Ansley reports that Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand has grown frustrated by vacancies at the department and feared she might be asked to oversee Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, "While Brand has largely stayed out of the spotlight, public criticism of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by Donald Trump worried Brand that Rosenstein's job could be in danger. Should Rosenstein be fired, Brand would be next in line to oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, thrusting her into a political spotlight that Brand told friends she did not want to enter."
The aforementioned, Julia Ainsley, is here with us tonight. She's an NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter. We also welcome back Chris Megerian, reporter for The Los Angeles Times who covers the Mueller investigation.
Julia, just to fill in some blanks for our viewer, she is leaving for job as executive Vice President of Walmart. Rachel Brand was raised in Michigan and Iowa. She's a product of Harvard Law School. She clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Kennedy. She is roundly described as serious taciturn, all business. Even the Attorney General called her a lawyer's lawyer, so why not stay?
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS, NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That's a good question. And of course a lot of factors go into anyone's job decision. There are push and pull factor. So we understand that Walmart approached her about this job sometime ago. But someone with that resume that you just read, Brian, get approached by private sector lucrative jobs really often and Rachel Brand throughout much of her career has decided to stay in public service.
She is making this change now. We understand, Brian, and the frustration at the Justice Department because there are vacancies, a number of the division that she oversees, like the civil rights and civil divisions do not have had. And most importantly, most interestingly, she felt a fear that she could be cast into that spotlight that Rod Rosenstein finds himself and now where she would have to oversee the Mueller probe if he was fired.
And we know that the President has been very openly critical of Rod Rosenstein. His job has been in question for some time.
WILLIAMS: Let me take the other side, Julia. I know you're the reporter on the story and not the defender of the number three justice but maybe you have some knowledge on this. Why not stand in the batter's box?
It's a coveted job the slot at the Justice Department especially among careers (ph) in the government, especially among lawyers. Why not stand in and take whatever it comes?
AINSLEY: I think it's the time we're living in, Brian. I've spoken to some people who say, of course, that is a high profile position but when you look at the pressure that the Justice Department has under, it's a very toxic environment to work in right now and that job in particular is the most toxic. She's someone who is a conservative that she worked for George. W. Bush and President Barack Obama as well, and she does not want to be in this position or she would be forced to really be in this political area. She'd much rather stay in the legal area where she's able to make progress on things like civil rights or in civil litigation.
She's a lawyer's lawyer as Jeff Sessions described. She's not a politician and that what she might be forced to be if she were in a position where she had to constantly defend the Justice Department's actions in the Mueller probe.
WILLIAMS: I would guess that someday it should a spectacular choice for the federal bench.
Chris, a couple of questions for you. Number one, give us a status report how real do you think the threat is, I guess any given day to Rod Rosenstein. And what if, if Rosenstein is fired tonight, absent Brand at Justice, who then gets -- who does it cascade down to, who gets to be the next person to oversee the Mueller investigation?
CHRIS MEGERIAN, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES REPORTER: So, as far as the threat to Rod Rosenstein, it's hard to know. You know, as was said earlier tonight, a lot of people wind up in President Trump's bad graces and they stay there for a very long time. It could be, you know, weeks or months before he actually takes action. He's often very hesitant to actually take action on people he's actually unhappy with. So it's hard to know.
One thing to note about Rod Rosenstein as well is that in a way he's also a witness in the Mueller investigation. He played a role in the firing of James Comey, something as being examined by the Special Counsel's office. So that's another way that he may need to not supervise as part of the investigation that may involve himself if it does come down to that.
Going further down the chain of command, without Rachel Brand there, you can look at the Solicitor General or the President could appoint somebody to replace her.
WILLIAMS: And Julia, let me pivot a little bit because we have a Democratic member of House Intel standing by to talk to us in our next segment. What's your understanding of the contents of the Democratic memo that's now gone from House to White House to House, and the extent of the redactions that will be required?
AINSLEY: So, Brian, it seems that what the Democrats have -- they believe they have, is something that would give the full story to what led to that FISA application for Carter Page. That, of course, is what the Nunes memo presented is only being based on a very flimsy and biassed dossier that was, of course, funded in part by Democratic dollars. So they want to be able to show the larger story, show that that FISA application came from a lot more information.
But the redactions required will be heavy, Brian. As we know, the White House on Friday night said that the Committee would have to meet with the Justice Department officials to go over what exactly would have to be redacted because they're saying a lot of this is too sensitive. Of course, Democrats are saying that's hypocritical because they released the Nunes memo with very few redactions at all.
WILLIAMS: Chris, is that Committee broken for all intents and purposes? How toxic an atmosphere is it?
MEGERIAN: It is incredibly toxic. I mean, if you just look at the transcripts of the meetings, you'll see people sniping back and forth to one another. You know, Congressman Schiff, you know, criticizing the Chairman Devin Nunes, Devin Nunes making sarcastic comments back. It's been just incredibly partisan, and really a change from how it's operated in the past.
You know, it was created as this way to provide bipartisan objective oversight of a very secretive part of the American government. And more recently, I guess, hasn't operated like that.
WILLIAMS: Well, we have a party in said sniping standing by to talk to us. And with that, our thanks to both of you, great work tonight, guys. Julia Ainsley and Chris Megerian, thank you both very much.
Coming up after a break for us, Congressman Mike Quigley, member of House Intel on the Democratic side will join us live when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The President doesn't want the public to see the underlying facts. What is revealed in our memos are quotations from the very FISA application that really demonstrate just how misleading the Republicans have been. Their goal here is to put the FBI on trial, to put bob Mueller's investigation on trial, and the President is only too happy to accommodate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Determined to have their counter memo released, Congressman Adam Schiff, the top ranking Democrat on House Intel says he'll meet with the FBI once again. They'll review the contents of the Democrats' memo and decide what needs to be redacted for national security purposes. As our own Julia Ainsley just noted last week, the White House Counsel's office said the President was unable to release the memo at this time because of classified information. The White House director of Legislative Affairs, their chief lobbyist on the Hill, elaborated this morning on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: The reality is that the White House is going to look forward to releasing that memo. What we've heard from the Intelligence Community is there are sources and methods in the Democrat memo that they do not want revealed. So the President simply said I'm going to send it back to the House Democrats, ask them to clean it up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So with us from Chicago, Illinois Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley and importantly a member of the House Intel Committee. And Congressman, for folks who have been watching the Olympics, and the half pipe and curling perhaps and veering into and out of news on any given day, remind our audience, in your view why is it important to get this memo out and how is -- what's in it going to reach above the din?
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE MEMBER: Yes, it's a fair question. But let's just put it in perspective. The President immediately and with almost no scrutiny releases a memo that he says vindicates him. And that memo, if you follow my questioning in these open hearings, I think shows that this memo was put together in conjunction or in coordination with the White House and the Republicans on the Intel Committee. A memo that the Justice Department said was dangerously reckless and the FBI said had grave concerns about its accuracy.
So when our memo comes down the pipe it's a whole different story. A memo that I believe would bolster the integrity of the investigation in the Intelligence Community. It's a different story.
Look, the Republicans can get away with this. They have the votes. The question is, are they willing to help suppress this investigation? Are they willing to help the President of the United States obstruct what we're trying to do?
WILLIAMS: Well, they return the favor to you guys and say your memo is hardly pure as the driven snow that it was loaded with sources and methods creating an intentional political football and making redaction necessary.
QUIGLEY: I think the first memo launched this. I think the only thing worse than releasing the first memo is releasing the first memo without the second. And as Adam Schiff has suggested, we are more than willing to work with the Justice Department and the FBI to go over those redactions, to move this forward so we don't reveal sources and methods. It's hard to undo the damage they have done, not just to the integrity of the investigation but the trust and the relationship between Congress and these Intel agencies. That's going to take a long time to repair.
So, we're willing to work with Justice. The White House was not. The Republicans on the Intel committee voted against us when we asked that this be reviewed before it was released. It was only done on a cursory basis. The Justice Department also asked, before it was released, to be able to come address the entire body of Congress in an executive session, to discuss their concerns about its accuracy and about its attacks on sources and methods. The Republicans refuse to accept that vote as well.
WILLIAMS: Well, let me ask you something else on behalf of taxpayers everywhere. We're paying the tab for the House Intel Committee. Everyone we have on the broadcast says it's beyond toxic and the Committee itself is broken which is a little scary considering it's one of our repositories ideally of our nation's secrets. We entrust that to you members of the committee. Why are we continuing something called House Intel if it's this broken?
QUIGLEY: Because it does extraordinarily important work to keep our country safe. I served in that committee for two years before the Trump administration and again, we didn't have these problems. It got broke when Devin Nunes decided that he was going to be an agent of the White House and not an independent investigator. When they decide to invest in what can only be described as an autocratic President, and by that I mean, a President who believes he is above the law.
This isn't the first time they have done that with this memo. Believe us, we'd love to have attacked back to the original investigation. We're hardly done. We haven't scratched things like money laundering.
Devin Nunes has refused subpoenas on key witnesses. He's gone along with the White House on gag orders. He started rogue unilateral investigations. It wasn't like this before. The common theme is this began when they decided to help the President of the United States stop this investigation.
WILLIAMS: Congressman Mike Quigley, Democrat of the great state of Illinois. Thank you for sir, very much for being with us live on a Monday night.
QUIGLEY: Thank you. Take care.
WILLIAMS: And coming up for us after this next break. Are we closer to seeing direct talks between the U.S. and North Korea? Some possibly answers when we come right back.
WILLIAMS: Well, this was a tension convention if you were watching. Vice President Mike Pence drew attention for sitting just feet away from Kim Jong-un's sister at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony without speaking to her or acknowledging her, but flying back from South Korea. Pence appeared to describe a shift in the U.S. position. He's indicated that if certain conditions are met, the White House could be open to discussions with the North Korean government.
Pence told The Washington Post, "The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization. So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we'll talk."
We have asked Jeremy Bash, Veteran of the CIA and Pentagon to come back around to take another set of questions from us. Jeremy is this our ball game to decide if North and South agree to talk as neighbors and long-time combatants, cold and hot, can they do that on their own?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Absolutely, they can. And there are some very powerful imagery emanating from Pyeongchang, Brian. You see the Korean teams coming together, playing together. And I think this is very effective propaganda and messaging by the North Korean leader, by Kim Jong-un, with the world's eyes on the Olympic Games to basically say, I'm open for business, I want to have dialogue.
Now, the problem, Brian, has been, is that in the past, when the United States and other world powers have offered dialogue to Kim Jong-un, he has said no and he's chosen instead to build his nuclear and missile program.
WILLIAMS: What do we do about the fact that they appear to be irretrievably and irreversibly a nuclear nation?
BASH: Well, they are a nuclear nation, and they've had a testable nuclear device going all the way back to 2006. So, that's not new. But what we haven't seen yet is them make that nuclear warhead on top of intercontinental (ph) ballistic missile.
In fact, earlier in the program, we talked about the intelligence chiefs testifying tomorrow before Congress. I expect that one of the big issues they'll be asked about is the timeline, when will North Korea get that delivery device, the ability to put a nuclear warhead on American soil? And they're probably going to say some time within the next year, and that portends a very fateful decision for an American president, any American president, which is, does -- do we take preemptive military action to stop North Korea from doing that?
I do think the Vice President has been directly on message saying the sanctions. The pressure campaign is going to continue. But we're open for business. We're ready to talk to the North Koreans anytime, anywhere.
WILLIAMS: Isn't this point we're at right now the greatest case for a government full of professionals in their areas? The experts at state, the experts at the Pentagon, the experts at the CIA, because this is now for professionals?
BASH: No doubt. And navigating this crisis is hard enough under the best of circumstances. But when our commander in chief kind of swerves all over the place with his messaging, and he says, my nuclear button is bigger than yours and fire and fury and little rocket man, it really makes the jobs of our diplomats, of our intelligence professions and ultimately of our military planners, a lot harder.
You know, our defense strategy, Brian, was supposed to be as Jim Mattis said last week, the operationally unpredictably but strategically predictable. I'm afraid on North Korea, we've been strategically very unpredictable and therefore dangerous.
WILLIAMS: And in 30 seconds or less, is it a good thing the White House told us today Putin and Trump were on the phone talking about, among other things, North Korea?
BASH: I think it's OK, but fundamentally useless. I wouldn't trust Vladimir Putin on North Korea, on Syria, on Europe. He is not proven to be a reliable ally of the United States.
WILLIAMS: There you go again returning us to normal thinking on Russia. Jeremy Bash, thank you, as always, for staying up late with us on this Monday night.
And coming up for us, as we've demonstrated, it is among the President's favorite words. We got three more uses just today. We'll be back with that after this.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. We all have favorite words and terms and phrases that our loved ones have heard us use so often, they can predict what we're going to say in a given situation. Having said that, this President certainly has his share of favorite words and phrases.
If you've been paying any attention at all over the past year, then you know he promises a lot of things in a very short period of time and he's big on saying, believe me. But we are proud to have noticed in our very crowded field a word he loves and uses often and pronounces with the gusto, the glee, of a spelling bee champion, often including a complimentary definition of the word reciprocal and its close cousin, reciprocity.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have taken historic steps to demand fair and reciprocal trait. It must be fair and it must be reciprocal. Such an important word hasn't been used very much in the United States.
Reciprocal. We both seek a trading relationship that is balanced. Reciprocal, I love the word reciprocal.
Fair and reciprocal trade.
Fair and reciprocal trade.
Fair and reciprocal.
Fairness and reciprocity.
With partners who abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade.
We will be reciprocal, meaning, if they're doing it, we're doing it.
We're reviewing all of our trade agreements to make sure that they are fair and reciprocal, reciprocal, so important.
We're fighting to create fair and reciprocal trade.
And reciprocal. Reciprocal.
Fair and reciprocal one, and the word reciprocal is so important.
Reciprocity, my favorite word. Reciprocity. Fair and reciprocal trade, a word that you're going to hear more and more coming from this administration. Reciprocal trade.
From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and very importantly, reciprocal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, today, imagine our surprise, bordering on excitement when he gave us three more in the space of 15 minutes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The reciprocal tax. So, we're going to be doing very much a reciprocal tax and you'll be hearing about that during the week and during the coming months.
A reciprocal tax. How do you feel about that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Without further comment, that is our broadcast on this Monday night as we begin a new week. Thank you so very much as always for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END