White House turmoil grows. TRANSCRIPT: 03/06/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Bill Kristol, Sue Mi Terry, Jeff Corwin

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: March 6, 2018 Guest: Bill Kristol, Sue Mi Terry, Jeff Corwin

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, THE LAST WORD, HOST: The "11th Hour with Brian Williams" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, another adult departs from the West Wing, Gary Cohn, the President`s chief economic adviser is leaving hours after the President said everybody wants to work in the White House and denied those reports of chaos.

Plus, with the heat on from Mueller, the President admits to Russian meddling but not the kind that affected any vote and not just by them.

And the new NBC News reporting tonight, Stormy Daniels, the porn star, sues Donald Trump, the President, saying he never signed their nondisclosure agreement. Proving again, it`s never boring during the "11th Hour."

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 411 this was, of the Trump administration and it brought us a number of developments.

The President spoke out about Russian election meddling. It appears Mueller has convinced yet another witness to cooperate. And an adult film star is now suing Donald Trump. More on all of that ahead.

But we begin with a major departure, another departure from this White House. Gary Cohn, a Wall Street heavyweight who is the President`s chief economic advisor, has resigned. Cohn, a New Yorker like the President.

He`s former president of Goldman Sachs. He served for 14 months as head of the National Economic Council. His decision to leave appears to have been triggered by Donald Trump`s plan to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Tonight, Trump sent out this, "We`ll be making a decision soon on the appointment of a new chief economic advisor. Many people wanting the job, we`ll choose wisely." Gary Cohn`s resignation first reported by "The New York Times" this afternoon was perhaps foreshadowed by this image of his empty chair at the President`s news conference with the prime minister of Sweden.

The news of Cohn`s decision broke shortly after this remark.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working.

Many, many people want every single job. You know, I read where, oh, gee, maybe people don`t want to work for Trump. But believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House.

Yes, there will be people, I`m not going to be specific, but there`ll be people that change, they always change. Sometimes they want to go out and do something else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As is their custom, tonight," The New York Times" has added a new layer of intrigue regarding Mr. Cohn`s sudden departure. They right, "His plan to leave also followed conversations Mr. Cohn held with the President in recent weeks about the possibility of replacing John F. Kelly as White House chief of staff, said people who were briefed on the matter. The President never formally offered Mr. Cohn the job, those people insisted, but Mr. Trump had discussions with him about whether he would be interested."

Cohn had threatened to resign in the wake of the President`s comments about Charlottesville, but remained and went on to shepherd the tax cut legislation. His resignation comes almost exactly one week after White House Communications Director Hope Hicks resigns and underscores the reports of continuing tension and chaos in the West Wing. This is make no mistake, an all-time record in the modern era for turnover in the key positions around the President.

Put another way, this is a picture of the swearing-in at the White House back on January 22, 2017. And now so many of those in the picture are out of the picture in the Trump West Wing.

Amid the high level departures, the President has maintained that all is calm at the White House. And today, he explained the turnover this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It`s tough. I like conflict, I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it, I like seeing it, and I think it`s the best way to go. And I have a choice of anybody.

I could take any position in the White House. And I`ll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position. Everybody wants to be there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On that note, let us bring in our leadoff panel on a Tuesday night, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, Ashley Parker, White House Reporter for "The Washington Post" and Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter of "The Associated Press". All three are MSNBC political analysts. And it`s a good thing because we need analysis tonight.

Ashley, starting with you. It`s been written many times on social media since first word of this came out, Charlottesville wasn`t enough to propel Gary Cohn from the West Wing, but tariffs on steel and aluminum were. Your comment on that, and also on what the President just said about applicants figuratively lining up for every job?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That`s certainly true. That`s a criticism we`re hearing about Gary, that he, you know, he was obviously, according to what he said publicly and expressed privately to the President at the time, upset about Charlottesville but that was not enough to make him leave. It was these tariffs that were sort of the most immediate catalyst.

I will say that sort of since Charlottesville, he immediately fell out of favor with the President, but had worked his way back. But there was a sense ever since then that Gary could be on the way out. He both had some frustrations and on the other hand, he was ascended in some ways.

As you know, he was allegedly at one point maybe going to get, you know, Fed chairmanship. We always heard rumblings of chief of staff. We heard other higher posts within the administration. So it is a little sort of surprising that he is leaving on such bad terms amid such frustration with the President.

But the idea that Gary would be leaving right now is not entirely shocking. There was always a sense that he was not necessarily long for this world.

WILLIAMS: Robert, I want to read you a portion of Mr. Wolff`s book, Fire and Fury. This was notable when the book came out, I suppose it remains notable today, it is said to be a quote from an e-mail from Gary Cohn that circulated around the White House. And it says, "It`s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won`t read anything, not one-page memos, not the briefing policy papers, nothing."

"He gets up, halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. Trump is less a person than a collection of horrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family. I am in a constant state of shock and horror."

So, Robert, what kind of West Wing does Mr. Cohn leave behind do you think?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Brian, I can`t speak to the attribution of those words, but I can tell you that based on my reporting, people who came in from the New York business world, Dina Powell from Goldman Sachs, Gary Cohn from Goldman Sachs, friends of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, have thought that President Trump would be someone who may be publically had his nationalist streak, would be incendiary. But privately, he was really a traditionally country club Republican.

But over the course of the past year, they learned through their experienced the direct dealings with him that the President actually has a lot of hardline positions and he`s not really willing to listen, though, he did listen on the tax cut and a few other issues. He really wants to stay with his plan for tariffs, something he`s been talking about for 40 years and he wasn`t able to be convinced. And that has led to frustration after frustration, tweet after tweet that led to more frustration.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan, Bob, is right, he has been talking about it for 40 years. It doesn`t make it any less horrifying to a lot of folks in Washington, an economist about what it may do to exactly the Trump base that put him into office. And yet Trump sees this as kind of the ultimate act of populism.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": That`s right. I mean, he`s received -- there aren`t many issues that Republicans on the Hill have really fought back against this President, where he`s received a lot of public push back. This is one. Paul Ryan, pretty mark will only --

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LEMIRE: -- his office put out like sent out an e-mail blast to reporters, saying like attributing a drop in the Dow to this proposal.

WILLIAMS: Think of the issues Paul Ryan has taken a pass on.

LEMIRE: Yes. He`s kept his mouth shut on a number of things. This is an issue, you know, in terms of Gary Cohn that that one, you know, as Ashley mentioned, he`s had a pretty remarkable up and down arc through the Trump White House where he was ascending and then down again after Charlottesville, rehabilitated himself after the tax cut pass. And indeed, when John Kelly was seemingly on the outs a few weeks ago, after the Rob Porter matter, Cohn was on the short list of people that President Trump was sort of floating to advisors. Like hey, this could be someone who I bring in as chief of staff.

But Donald Trump -- it also points to the turmoil in this White House. Donald Trump wants -- oversaw a reality show, where a key cast member left every week. That`s happening again in the West Wing, it appears, where it seems like a never ending stream of departures.

And from our reporting at the A.P., you know, moral in there has never been lower, it is seen as, as you said another adult in the room leaving, in a sense that, you know, West Wing in disarray and always under the shadow of the Mueller probe.

WILLIAMS: Ashley, you and I both know people directly and anecdotally, who do not want to serve in this White House, who have taken a pass on this White House, and yet there was the President today saying that everyone wants a piece of the Oval Office. How do you reconcile those two?

PARKER: Well, I think you can sort of look at that. If you want to try to reconcile them, in theory and in practice, in theory, everyone does want a piece of the Oval Office. It`s normally a great line on your resume to work in the White House. It`s an honor to serve your country.

Now, does everyone want a piece of this Oval Office and this West Wing? Not necessarily. As you mentioned, there`s a number of people who have sort of been approached about jobs and have quietly said no. Some of that has leaked to the media, some of that we don`t even know about, or we know about and haven`t reported on. And then you have people within the West Wing, as Jonathan just said where moral is incredibly low, and are sort of looking on their way out, and quietly reaching out to consultants and other opportunities in town and just waiting for their exit.

So the President says a lot of things that he wishes were true. But they`re not always the case. And I think that`s how you reconcile that.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, in the insular journalism world, this was a day of pearl-clutching and chin-stroking over what we all witness yesterday. It was hard to look away from a kind of television marathon by Mr. Nunberg. It did speak directly to the Russia investigation that we`re watching playing out. It prompted a round of interviews by Roger Stone today.

But looking back on the last 24 hours, what just happened, do you think?

COSTA: I just read a story about this, Brian, from the "Post". It`s really a painful moment on a personal level for Sam Nunberg. So when I`ve covered and known for much over the last decade, someone who was left out of the Trump campaign right when it was catching fire in 2015, and recriminations ever since then, working with Roger Stone and others, but filling outside of the bubble, the bubble that eventually took over the White House. It`s really nagged at Nunberg knowing him, and he was part of that inception period of the Trump campaign back in 2014, 2015.

And now, he`s just part of this Washington Trumpland spectacle when it comes to the Russian investigation, defiant about the special counsel, but now saying he`s going to work with them and cooperate.

WILLIAMS: Yes, at the heart of the story as we all tried hard to point out yesterday, is a man`s life and livelihood here.

Jonathan Lemire, tonight`s development, something you didn`t hear a lot of during the Obama years, a porn star is suing the President. Let me correct that, in the history of the republic, we have not heard of a porn star suing the President. And we now also learn the President has an alias apparently in the court documents.

LEMIRE: David Dennison, a.k.a. Donald Trump, according to these court documents. Stormy, which of course he`s made himself, also seems to have a pen name, I believe Peggy something.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LEMIRE: Yes, it is a remarkable plot twist for season two of the Trump White House to have this porn star here. It`s a scandal that would bring any other administration down. I mean, it would be all consuming all the time. And it seems like this is a story that`s been sort of percolating, you know, every so often, every couple days there`s a development. But it always seems to run second and third fiddle because there`s just so much else going on, particularly Russia.

But this is becoming more and more serious, you know, if there was campaign money used inappropriately. You know, what exactly did Michael Cohen set up to try to keep her quiet, what did the President know? These are issues that, you know, as a story since we`re coming forward, as it moves forward perhaps now in court, we will perhaps get to the bottom of some of these questions.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, while the ink was still drying on Gary Cohn`s announcement this afternoon, I heard a Trump surrogate live on cable news say that if he wants to take his rattle and leave the White House like a baby, he is free to, but that is wrong. These guys don`t fool around, do they?

PARKER: No, they sure don`t. Gary Cohn is someone who made a lot of enemies. He had a lot of admirers who thought he was a good manager and leader. A lot of enemies.

One thing about this White House is the President sets the tone from the top and he demands absolute loyalty and so well on some levels that`s like Hotel California, you never quite leave. If the President or his aides or surrogates believe you to be disloyal, they are more than happy to cast you out.

And even some of his admirers I spoke to were frustrated with him and they said, look, if he, you know, believes that tariffs are wrong or anything, really, who disagrees with the President, he should stay and fight, because the minute you leave this White House, the minute you`re not in these meetings and in front of the President, you know, your beliefs do not have an advocate. And they said he`s going to be -- they didn`t say take his rattle and go, but they said, look, his beliefs, his policies are going to be forgotten in a week or two.

WILLIAMS: And Robert, Jared Kushner, I`m reminded, goes to Mexico tomorrow. Where does all of this leave Jared and Ivanka? Because Cohn was kind of part of that New York triad and was aligned with them, at least for a time in the West Wing.

COSTA: We`ll have to see if he can make any progress on U.S.-Mexico relations. President Pena Nieto remains very unhappy with President Trump about this demand with the boarder wall, the action on trade. But when you look at Dina Powell leaving, Gary Cohn leaving, Josh Raffel leaving, some of these names we know, some are lesser known, the Kushner and Ivanka Trump circle inside of this West Wing is evaporating before our eyes.

The moderates inside of the White House leaving, who`s there? Peter Navarro, Stephen Miller still hanging around this White House, guiding this President that has real political consequence, it also has a consequence for Kushner and for his wife, two senior advisors. Where do they fit now in this West Wing that`s run by a nonideological chief of staff and still it has a lot of these nationalist, conservative hard-liners dominating the policy discussions?

WILLIAMS: We should probably add in addition the name Kudlow, in addition to Navarro has surfaced tonight as a potential replacement for Mr. Cohn. People come and go so quickly around here.

Our thanks to our leadoff panel. You guys really come to play tonight. We appreciate, Robert Costa, Ashley Parker, Jonathan Lemire.

Coming up for us, new Trump comments on Russian meddling and developments in the Mueller investigation.

And later, if it`s Tuesday, it must be election day somewhere, it is in Texas. We have a late live report tonight from Steve Kornacki, when the "11th Hour" rolls along on a Tuesday evening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever. But certainly there was meddling, and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals.

And I think you have to be really watching very closely. You don`t want your system of votes to be compromised in any way and we won`t allow that to happen. We`re doing a very, very deep study and we`re coming out with some I think very strong suggestions on the `18 election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Word of a deep study underway came from President Trump today during the joint press conference with the prime minister of Sweden, acknowledging Russian meddling in our elections with the usual caveat, as long as it didn`t affect any of the vote. The President went on to say, the U.S. would counteract any Russian interference in the midterm elections. But beyond making the case for paper ballots, he offered very few specifics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: One of the things we`re learning is it`s always good. It`s old fashioned, but it`s always good to have a paper backup system of voting. It`s called paper, not highly complex computer, it`s paper. And a lot of states are doing that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But are you worried about Russians trying to meddle in the midterms?

TRUMP: No, because we`ll counteract whatever they do. We`ll counteract it very strongly. And we are having strong backup systems. And we`ve been working actually -- we haven`t been given credit for this, but we`ve actually been working very hard on the `18 election and the `20 election coming up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Today`s remarks from the President come just days after a "New Your Times" report that said the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million. It`s been allocated to counter election meddling.

The "Times" reports it this way, "As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working in the department`s Global Engagement Center, which has been tasked with countering Moscow`s disinformation campaign, speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts."

With us tonight, Frank Figliuzzi, Former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, including service under Robert Mueller. He`s also an MSNBC National Security analyst. And Bill Kristol is back with us, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations and Republican politics in general and editor-at-large of "The Weekly Standard." Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Bill, are you familiar with orders in the Kremlin to go meddle in the U.S. elections, but not to the extent that it might affect the vote?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I know, Trump has insist on that as a matter of personal pride. But it`s just silly and minimizes what might have happen, of course. I mean, they spent a lot of - - they put a lot of effort into interfering into our election, so.

WILLIAMS: This came as a result of a question from a visiting Swedish journalist, asking the President of our country, if our coming midterm elections were defended to his liking?

KRISTOL: Yes, the President never really condemns Russia, incidentally. He mentioned this when he acknowledged that Russia seems to have meddled, maybe other countries and other individuals, too. What`s that about?

But is there an actual condemnation of Russia for doing this? Is there any -- have they been punished? And that`s just a very simple question.

Has there been any Obama put some sanctions on them probably before he left office? Counter system on a few sanctions but not many as Trump has chosen not to I think impose on the Russia. Has Putin paid any price for what he did to us in 2016? And the answer is not much. And therefore, he`s emboldened certainly to keep trying in other countries to do a lot of -- they meddled in Italy, it sounds like. They continue to do stuff online, on Twitter and other places, and they seem to have paid no price.

WILLIAMS: Frank, after a life spent in law enforcement, and in your case, Counterintelligence, how did you view the President`s comments today? And frankly, go ahead and scare people. How concerned should the folks watching tonight be about the day coming up when we go cast our midterm ballots?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: So look, we`re seeing an almost total lack of resolve and lack of will from the President to actually do something meaningful to counteract what the Russians are doing, even as we speak. So we are on notice that they have been successful in breaching certain states of voter registration. And now we hear from the President that the only great idea he`s come up with is to go to paper ballots.

The intelligence community has planned for this. The intelligence community has actions that can be taken. Now when I hear, unfortunately today, that we`re looking at a "deep study" to look at the issue, I fear that we`re going to be too late, a day late, a dollar short, when we`re talking about the November midterms.

There are actions that can be taken. One of the simplest things that President Trump can do is come out publicly and very symbolically and demand extradition of those 13 Russian officials that have been indicted. He can instruct the FBI to start naming names and making it painful for hackers to continue to do what they`re doing, but we see none of that happening.

WILLIAMS: Or maybe even comment after the indictment of 13 Russians. Bill Kristol, we were talking during the break, there are so many unbelievable parts of this story. One of the unbelievable things you hear is people without trying to be patronizing, counting their blessings that there are adults in the West Wing around the President, those have included Gary Cohn, they include General H.R. McMaster. Your view on the departure of another of the adults today.

KRISTOL: I`ve always said that I thought the replacement of Michael Flynn by H.R. McMaster one month into the presidency was -- if the Trump has -- he ends up nondisastrously, historians will look back and say, that was really important. Can you imagine where we`d be suddenly if Michael Flynn and that whole cast of characters there in the National Security Council, and General Kelly took over and now Steve Bannon after McMaster took over about that enough out of the National Security Council?

Gary Cohn`s been there throughout. Kept the fictitious and then the trade wars in check, kept other things, I think, bad things from happening.

Now Cohn is out, McMaster is very strongly rumored to be on his way out. I gather the President met with John Bolton, that he wildly thought to be a possible successor in the Oval Office today. Kelly is on a somewhat difficult ground. Partly as a result of his own mistakes, but still he`s being sniped at by Anthony Scaramucci, who`s still to be in touch with Trump or people close to Trump.

I mean, it`s been pretty last year. But honestly, without McMaster and Cohn, I talked to allies, I mean, really serious allies who wish us well. And as they look, you know, it`s a tricky working with Trump and McMaster on foreign policy, Cohn on economic policy, international economic policy. We can work with them.

If they were both to go, I do think there would be a -- it would cause -- it may cause trouble here, but I think it will cause real shock waves abroad.

WILLIAMS: Well, that`s chilling. Frank, there was a story today that entered our consciousness and brought in the United Arab Emirates, this has to do with a meeting in the Seychelles. Here`s the headline in the "Times," adviser to Emirates with ties to Trump aides is cooperating with special counsel.

So, Mueller has convinced him that it would be best to work with the home team. What is the thumbnail sketch of what`s alleged to have happened here?

FIGLIUZZI: So, we`ve got a brand new cooperator. We`ve also learned that last week he actually testified before the grand jury. This is George Nader. He`s a known adviser to government officials in the United Arab Emirates.

But what`s intriguing here is that we actually have a secret meeting back in January of 2017 in the Seychelles, where a Russian investment fund leader who is very closely tied to Vladimir Putin is present with Nader, with Erik Prince, former head of the Blackwater organization, and the crown prince of the UAE, all in a meeting in the Seychelles, in the middle of the Indian ocean.

Why are they there? It appears that Mueller is interested in the meeting, because it looks like it may be a strong sense of a conduit for money flowing between the UAE and/or Russia, and the Trump campaign and/or a back channel for communications between the Russians and the Trump transition team. He`s on to something. Mueller is on to something.

And what`s very intriguing is that here we have a man, George Nader, who`s decided to cooperate. What is it that Mueller has on him, what laws has he broken, what criminal exposure does he already have that`s convinced him to cooperate with Mueller?

WILLIAMS: We have almost run out of ways to say, you can`t make this stuff up. Even though it was a depressing conversation, we thank both gentlemen for coming all this way to talk to us. Frank Figliuzzi and Bill Kristol, we`ll have you both back, of course, thank you very much.

And coming up for us, the President says he is to thank for North Korea`s seeming openness to new talks. That and more when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that North Korea`s recent willingness to talk is sincere, or is it an effort to buy time for their nuclear program? And to what do you owe this recent openness to talk?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Me. No, I think that -- nobody got that. The sanctions have been very, very strong and very biting. And we don`t want that to happen. So I really believe they are sincere, I hope, they`re sincere. We`re going to soon find out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: President Trump today casting aside his usual modesty while reacting to reports that North Korea may be willing to negotiate with the United States. Word that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was open to talks came from a South Korean delegation just returning from a visit to Pyongyang. They reported back that the North might be willing to get rid of its nuclear weapons as along as there weren`t any threats to the regime.

The New York Times reporting it this way, tonight, "If the statement is corroborated by North Korea, it would be the first time Mr. Kim has indicated that his government is willing to discuss relinquishing nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the United States. Until now, North Korea has said its nuclear weapons were not for bargaining away. President Trump`s tone today was in sharp contrast of course to what we`ve heard in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sound more optimistic about this.

TRUMP: I`d like to be optimistic but I think maybe this has gone further than anyone`s taken it before. Nobody`s been in the position. This should have been handled long ago. But these are the cards we were dealt. We`re handling properly.

And, again, as I said, hopefully, we`ll go in the very peaceful beautiful path. We`re prepared to go, whichever path is necessary, I think we`re having very good dialogue. And you`re going to certainly find out pretty soon what`s happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: We are so happy to have Sue Mi Terry back with us, a Senior Fellow at the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, importantly a former Senior Analyst at the CIA who was in charge of this region while on the White House Security Council.

You have you taught us to be highly suspicious and suspect when dealing with the North. What do you make of today`s development? How seriously do you take this next chapter?

SUE MI TERRY, SENIOR FELLOW, KOREA CHAIR: Well, I will take it more seriously if North Koreans reiterate what the South Koreans have told us. So if it is true that North Korea is willing to sit down with the United States, to talk about denuclearization, it is a step forward, it is serious.

But you notice they said, "We are willing to give up nuclear weapons, in return for regime security guarantee." Now, what does that mean? That means they`re going to have a security guarantee only if U.S. forces leave the Korean peninsula, if there`s a peace treaty, is we can see couple U.S- Korea alliance. So we still have a long way to go here. And so, I would caution against excessive optimism.

WILLIAMS: So do they also mean get rid of these sanctions that are crippling our country and starving our people?

TERRY: Absolutely. I think sanctions are being to divide. So what Mr. Trump said is true. So they are looking for sanctions relief down the road. I think they`re also paying very close attention to what`s going on in Washington, and they`ve been unnerved by this whole bloody nose limited strike talk coming out of Washington.

So I think there`s a number of reasons why North Koreans have now decided to turn to charm offensive, peace offensive, and sort of take a pause under nuclear missile program.

WILLIAMS: As you know, there are people in both parties who believe this president a novice on the world stage. A rookie at this is getting played, and I want to show you one of them, former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly in the studio today with Nicolle Wallace saying just that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAVID JOLLY (R), FLORIDA: North Korea, he doesn`t realize that he is being used in this very moment, to legitimize the nation state in North Korea, by giving them legitimacy of talks. That is an imperfect equation in diplomacy for a secretary of state. And an experienced administration that can handle it, this president can`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Your reaction to that?

TERRY: Well, I do think just to sit down with the North Koreans to hear what they have to say is important. Because we just have a Europe tensions last year, suggesting with them, it`s not really giving them any kind of concession, it`s not a negotiation, but the problem is, we don`t have anybody right now, we don`t have an envoy that can deal with North Koreans. We had Ambassador Cho Eun-ju who just resigned last week. So we don`t have people in place.

So I think, first thing, is that the Trump administration should appoint an envoy that could deal with the North Koreans and negotiate with them.

WILLIAMS: So start with an ambassador to South Korea.

TERRY: Yes. You know, ambassador to South Korea and an envoy to North Korea who can at least start the talks, again, talks are not the same as negotiation, I`m not saying we should lift sanctions or lift pressure, because pressure is what got the North Koreans to even talk about sitting down with Americans right now.

WILLIAMS: It`s always a pleasure to be able to ask you questions on this subject. Thank you so very much --

TERRY: Thanks for having me, yes.

WILLIAMS: -- for coming in and visiting us once again, Sue Mi Terry.

Coming up, the polls are closed tonight on some critical races in the state of Texas, Steve Kornacki with the results at the big board after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The 2018 midterm season officially kicked off today as voters in Texas headed to the polls for the first primaries of the election cycle. Yes, we`re there. A lot of Democrats especially have been looking to the lone star state of all places for signs of movement. And here to break it down, at the big board, Steve Kornacki, our National Political Correspondent.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: March 2018 starts tonight, doesn`t stop until November 2018. It will stop a little bit here and there. But I won`t stop, I promise you that.

Let`s take you through what we were looking for, first of all, in these primaries here tonight. So, look, Democrats, we know nationally, they got to take 24 seats. They got to pick up 24 to get the House from Republicans. They`re looking at Texas. They`re seeing a number of opportunities here on the map. A number of Republican seats like in the 23rd district, maybe the 21st, also this little one here, Houston Area, 7th district and the 32nd up here for the North Dallas suburbs.

Those are four, right here. Republican held different reasons, Democrats kind of eyeing them. So what did we learn from these tonight? Well, we`re going to see a lot of runoffs, first of all.

Remember in Texas, you got to get 50 percent to get the nomination. You get a lot of candidates to these races. But there`s one particular race that we want to focus on here. It`s gotten some national attention, it could have national implications, And that is, let me see if I can call it up here, there you go. The 7th district primary, this is the Houston suburbs, basically, the suburban part of Houston, a little bit of the suburbs. This is a Republican held district and why it`s got attention is, Democrats nationally, the DCCC came into this race and basically tried to destroy this candidate, Laura Moser, running for the Democratic nomination in this district.

Now, what she said a couple years ago, she got interviewed. She talked about, you know, didn`t want to live in Paris, Texas, she said. She sooner would have her teeth pulled without anesthesia.

That was her quote. She now said she`s sorry. Well, National Democrats were scared of having her as their nominee. And they came in and they publically said, Laura Moser is unacceptable, this quote would make her totally, totally unelectable in this district.

Well, it looks like there was a backlash. It looks like she`s going to finish in the top two, and advance to a runoff and have a chance of actually winning this nomination. What she benefited from here, was just the idea of Democrats saying, "Hey, Washington Democrats what are you doing trying to tell us what to do. So it looks like she might survive."

And remember, in this district, this is one of the most competitive in the country. Traditionally Republican, suburban, Romney carried it easily in 2012 by 21 points, flipped to Hillary by a point in 2015. Represented by Republican, those are the stakes when that runoff get set. But the headline from the runoff, that candidate of DCCC doesn`t want in there is in the runoff, it looks like.

WILLIAMS: So many people, Steve, have been saying that Democrats have to play this right and tread lightly in some of these districts. And for the record, you and I both love Paris, Texas.

KORNACKI: There you go. I`d never say a bad word about it.

WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. We now understand the great state of Texas, Steve Kornacki at the big board on this first primary night.

Coming up, a quiet reversal of something that seemed important to this president. More on this story when we come right back.

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WILLIAMS: You may remember this, after a strong backlash late last year, the White House changed course and decided to keep an Obama era policy, which banned the import of elephants and lions killed for sport in parts of Africa.

At the time of this decision, Trump went on Twitter calling the practice a horror show. The change of policy was seen as a win by humane organizations. And as a something of a surprise, given that the two Trump sons are big game hunters, when asked by Piers Morgan just over a month ago, the president, in fact, stood strong on his administration`s decision to enforce this original policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I changed it, I didn`t want elephants killed and stuffed, and have the tusks brought back into this -- people can talk all they want about preservation, and all of the things that they`re saying, where money goes toward -- well, money was going in that case, going to a government, which was probably taking the money, OK?

I do not -- I turned that order around. You know, that was an order. That was done by a high level government person, as soon as I heard about it, I turned it around, that same day. Not even a day went by.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That was then. And now, the strangest thing has happened just days ago. It was quietly announced by the U.S. fish and wildlife service that Americans will once again be allowed to hunt and bring home the threatened species on a case by case basis.

With us tonight, to talk about it, Jeff Corwin, wildlife biologist, conservationist and EMMY Award winning TV host of "Ocean Treks."

Jeff, what do you think has happened here? And what do you think would constitute a case that you would be allowed to ship the parts of an elephant to JFK after your trip to Africa?

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: Well, Brian, to be honest with you, this decision is sad, it`s deplorable. It`s depressing but it`s not surprising. This is an administration that does not always stand by its word, that waffles. So the fact that he`s reversed course in this, it`s not surprising, but it`s very depressing.

In Africa today, there are only six remaining countries out of the 54 African nations that allow big game hunting. And the two countries that have been highlighted in this debacle are Zimbabwe and Zambia. The population of elephants in Zambia, Brian, has been reduced from 200,000 animals just about 40 years ago to only 20,000 today.

And in the country of Zimbabwe, whose former dictator got pushed out in a coup on his 90th birthday, it was celebrated not with birthday cake but with a feast delicacy of roasted baby elephant. So where that evidence is, that these countries have reached a state of stability and good environmental stewardship to open up big game trophy exports, I have no idea.

WILLIAMS: In the benefit of the doubt department, can`t we decide the government is a big sprawling place? And let`s say the president didn`t know about the original policy flip, he changed it. Take him at his word, the next day. Let`s say that this is an inside play by somebody at the Interior Department and the Trump White House is just now learning of this. Is that possible?

CORWIN: In this situation reality seems like fantasy. This policy which was put in place by the Obama administration in 2014 was based on sound science and was based on the $20 billion a year black market wildlife trade.

Now, as we all know, Donald Trump`s son, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother are big African game hunters. There`s the picture of there of Donald Trump Jr. in his Hemingway S Uniform with a high caliber bullets in the 5:00 shadow and the Bowie knife in the dispatched elephant tail in his hand.

The president`s son, Donald Trump Jr., personally vetted the position for the director of Interior, which is Secretary Zinke. And Secretary Zinke apparently has acquiesced to this interest and it`s quite mind boggling. The U.S. fish and wildlife service has an excellent reputation, is made up of incredible professionals dedicated to conservation.

As of now, it does not have an executive director, so who knows where the logic is behind this decision. But what we do know, Brian, is that the population of African elephants in just under a century has decreased from 10 million animals to just 400,000. Talking about African lions, that population, a century ago 400,000 animals, today 20,000, a decrease by 180 percent.

The Northern White Rhino, one surviving adult male, is critically sick, two surviving females of that species is literally on life support. And it`s very important, Brian, that we separate distinction between the American hunting model where a significant amount of revenue goes into conservation with great partners, like Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and what`s happening in Africa.

WILLIAMS: Jeff Corwin, we love your passion and the challenge has once again been laid at the president`s feet. And we will stay on this, we`ll have you back, and we`ll talk about what happens with this case. Our great thanks for joining us tonight, Jeff Corwin.

CORWIN: Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, one of the last big names remaining in the Trump White House, got a harsh reminder today about the difference doing the business of the party and doing the business of the nation. That`s when the 11th Hour continues.

And a remember, if you can`t watch us in realtime, download our app and press play. We`re also a podcast available every day. And if you`re on the move, we`re with you live right there on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, we`re back with all of it right after this.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, has do with in that woman right there. It`s a reminder that television has consequences.

Earlier today, you might have seen an alert that the special counsel has determined that Kellyanne Conway has violated federal law. While that is true, it wasn`t that special counsel. It`s not Robert Mueller.

It`s a man named Henry Kerner. He runs the OFC, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates violations of something the Hatch Act. If you`ve ever worked anywhere near the Executive Branch then you know the Hatch Act. You know that it means you can`t use your government position to influence elections.

The government watchdogs found that Conway violated the Hatch Act during two campaign appearances when they say she not only discussed the Alabama special election late last year on television, they say she took a side for Roy Moore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE AIDE: And Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don`t be fooled. He`ll be a vote against tax cuts. He`s weak on crime, weak on borders, he`s strong on raising your taxes. He`s terrible for property owners and he`s a doctrine liberal which is why he is not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So vote Roy Moore?

CONWAY: I`m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get the tax bill through.

The only endorsement that matters in this race is President Trump`s. And when he came out, questioning the ideology and the vote of Doug Jones, he`ll be a reliable vote for tax hikes, he`ll be a reliable vote against border security, he`ll be a reliable vote against national security and keeping ISIS, in which he`ll reliable vote against the second amendment, against life. He`s out of step for Alabama voters according to the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So you see how two media appearances from the White House lawn can be viewed by some as de facto campaign appearances. Roy Moore, of course, lost that election to Doug Jones, who is now Senator Doug Jones.

Well, the Office of Special Counsel said Kellyanne had training in the Hatch Act and knew better but did it anyway. All they can do is refer to the White House and recommend disciplinary action. As you might have guess, the White House push back hard, chance of disciplinary action unlikely.

That is for us, our broadcast for Tuesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters in New York.

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