Putin praises Trump in new interview. TRANSCRIPT: 03/07/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Mieke Eoyang, Shannon Pettypiece, Toluse Olorunnipa, Peter Baker, Christina Bellantoni

11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: March 7, 2018 Guest: Mieke Eoyang, Shannon Pettypiece, Toluse Olorunnipa, Peter Baker, Christina Bellantoni

STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: But if the President wants to make an America first plan to help the American worker and help the American economy, it`s not America alone. And a 10% and 25% tariff, that`s not going to do anything but hurt us.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, THE LAST WORD, HOST: Very important reporting, Stephanie. Thank you very much for joining us with that important reporting tonight. Stephanie Ruhle gets tonight`s "Last Word."

RUHLE: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: "The 11th Hour With Brian Williams" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight from "The New York Times," President Trump has spoken to witnesses about their conversations with Mueller. The reporter who broke that story standing by.

Plus, from "The Washington Post," Mueller gathering evidence that a 2017 meeting was an effort to establish a back-channel to the Kremlin.

Also tonight, new reporting on Stormy Daniels` lawsuit against the President. And Trump`s attorney, Michael Cohen`s attempts to silence her with a restraining order.

And Vladimir Putin shares his thoughts on the President and our political system. "The 11th Hour" on a Wednesday night begins now.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 412 of the Trump administration. And just to keep it fair, there is breaking news tonight from both "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" in this Russia investigation.

"Times" journalist, Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report President Trump spoke to witnesses about their conversations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s team. We will talk with Michael Schmidt in just a moment.

He along with Haberman write that according to three people familiar with these encounters, "The special counsel has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators. In one episode, the President told an aide that the White House counsel, Don F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a "New York Times" article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told investigators that the President once asked him to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller. Mr. McGahn never released a statement and later had to remind the President that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed, the people said. In the other episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how his interview had gone with the special counsel`s investigators and whether they had been nice, according to two people familiar with the discussion."

Now to the latest from "The Washington Post," Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett write that Robert Mueller has "gathered evidence that a secret meeting in the Seychelles just before the inauguration of Donald Trump was an effort to establish a back-channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin, apparently contradicting statements made to lawmakers by one of its participants, according to people familiar with the matter. In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company, Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to President Vladimir Putin and later described the meeting to congressional investigators as a chance encounter that was not a planned discussion of U.S.-Russia relations. A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators the meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary from Moscow to discuss future relations between the two countries."

The "Post" goes on to note an associate of Erik Prince, Lebanese businessman, George Nader, attended and helped organize the Seychelles meeting. Nader for himself has testified before a grand jury and is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

That should be enough to talk about over these next few minutes. And first things first, let`s begin with tonight`s "New York Times" piece and the coauthor, Michael Schmidt, who is with us by phone tonight.

Michael, it seems to me there are two competing concerns here in your story. Trump`s concerns over what was asked and what was said to the special counsel, and the concerns of those who are hearing Trump is asking about what happened with the special counsel.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): There`s a longstanding expectation and advice that folks who are at the center of an investigation should not speak, either with prosecutors or with witnesses, as it could create an appearance of trying to interfere with an investigation. And the President has disregarded this, disregarded it back in February of 2017 when he spoke to James Comey about the Flynn investigation, and now as the investigation intensifies, engaging with Reince Priebus about his interview, and engaging with Don McGahn about reports that McGahn had been told by Trump to fire Mueller. And if you`re someone who is concerned about the appearance of obstruction, these types of things would alarm you.

WILLIAMS: You point out in the story, you and Maggie do, that -- I forget the wording you used, that he`s very curious, and such an effort by him to find out, hey, what did you guys talk about in there, would be natural if not proper. Tell us about one of your stories that you and Maggie also coauthored back in January 25th that prompted one of these conversations.

SCHMIDT: We reported that last summer, Trump had gone to McGahn and asked him to get rid of Mueller. And in the aftermath of that story, Trump was very upset, especially because this had come out that McGahn had told Mueller about this and Mueller knew about it.

Trump went to Rob Porter, who was still at the White House at the time, and told him that the President mentioned -- Trump said that he wanted McGahn to put out a statement that this was not true and that he would get rid of him if he didn`t do that. Porter relayed that message to McGahn. McGahn and the President then had a confrontation in the Oval Office in which the President said, look, this never happened. And McGahn had to remind him of what had occurred over the summer when Trump told him to call Rosenstein and say that Mueller had these conflicts and needed to go.

WILLIAMS: Just an incredible yarn. Michael Schmidt, one half of the writing duo of Schmidt and Haberman, on the board tonight over at "The New York Times," supplying our lead story. Michael, thank you as always for being here with us on the show.

And here to react now further, Chuck Rosenberg, a Former U.S. Attorney, Former Senior FBI Official, currently an MSNBC Contributor. And we welcome back Mieke Eoyang, an Attorney and Former Staffer for the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committee. Good evening and welcome to you both.

Chuck, if you watch too many movies or legal shows on T.V., you go around using phrases like, witness tampering, is there anything legally wrong if this story in "The New York Times" proves true, if the President had at least these two encounters with people, and say, hey, what did the special counsel ask you about, what did you tell those guys?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER UNITED STATES ATTORNEY: You probably dislike it, Brian, when lawyers say, maybe, but maybe. And here`s why, it`s a maybe. The first thing that prosecutors do, and I was prosecutor for a long time, is ask witnesses, who else did you talk to? And the first thing defense attorneys do, at least good ones, is they tell their clients, don`t talk to anyone else because at the very least, there`s an appearance of impropriety.

But more than that, the witness tampering statute that you alluded to, Brian, requires not that you succeed at tampering with the witness, but just that you try an endeavor, an attempt is sufficient to trigger the statute. And so, you can`t really tell just from this reporting whether or not the President was trying to influence their testimony or get them to withhold testimony. But in the larger patchwork of all the things he`s been saying and doing, maybe that`s what he was trying to do. And if, in fact, he tried it, whether or not he succeeded, that is witness tampering.

WILLIAMS: Now Mieke, is it notable to you that witnesses and/or lawyers or both felt strongly enough about this to have gone and reported it to Mueller`s staff?

MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE STAFFER: Yes, I think that is significant. It shows that they don`t think that this is innocuous. They also know that he`s not supposed to be asking them about this.

One of the challenges you see in these questions is, even though he`s been advised by his lawyers not to ask anyone, he can`t help himself. And at this kind of impulsiveness and erratic behavior that really will cause him problems down the line if he`s speaking to federal investigators.

WILLIAMS: And Chuck, what about -- I looked at several of the cable networks tonight. I saw a graphic on the screen that said obstruction of justice. Does this match any definition of obstruction of justice that you know?

ROSENBERG: Absolutely. There`s a lot of overlap between the obstruction of justice statute and the witness tampering statute and incidentally, both of them only require an attempt. So, again, whether or not you succeed at obstructing justice, whether or not you succeed at tampering with a witness, the fact that you tried is enough to trigger it. And, frankly, a prosecutor could charge either or both in this situation.

WILLIAMS: And Mieke, tossed into this story like a grenade is the fact that John Kelly is present for at least one of these encounters with the President. Now what does that do to John Kelly`s chances of getting a request from across town to talk to Mueller`s folks?

EOYANG: Well, if hasn`t gotten one yet, he certainly will. He`s been present in so many of these conversations, in so many instances with the President. You know, he`s very trusted by the President. He will get that request, and then the question will be how much does he provide to Mueller and what does he know?

WILLIAMS: Chuck, I want to throw up "The Washington Post" story here on the screen. As people look at that, I have a question for you about this meeting. It`s a complicated story to tell, perhaps just as complicated as to ask a guy like you. If you weren`t present, you weren`t invited, you didn`t know bill in realtime, how do investigators go about finding transportation records, guest lists, what was talked about, at a meeting that was shrouded in secrecy for good reason in the Seychelles, for goodness sake, in 2017?

ROSENBERG: Well, if you look at other indictments, Brian, that have surfaced, you`ve seen that this investigative team is very good at uncovering stuff. So, airline travel, you need to get out of the country and get back in you`re going to need a passport, that`s all recorded by customs. Hotel and lodging, credit card records, phone calls, text messages, e-mails, everywhere we go, every one of us leaves an enormous digital trail. You can`t go to the Indian Ocean without doing that.

WILLIAMS: Mieke Eoyang, Erik Prince is a very interesting individual. He and his company came along just at a time when the American armed forces decided it was a good idea to contract out more of our war fighting and support work, and that made him a very wealthy, connected man. He happens to be brother of the current education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

If it turns out that Erik Prince didn`t tell the whole truth to a congressional committee, what kind of trouble is that?

EOYANG: Well, I think that he`s actually -- this meeting and his attempt to set up a back-channel, especially if he`s not being truthful about it, will cause him a lot of problems with his business. Because in doing business with the United States military, in wanting to get security clearances, you have to go through these same processes that have tripped up so many others and you have to be truthful about that process.

Lying in the security clearance process can get your clearances revoked, which means that you cannot get the business anymore. So it may also cause him problems with trustworthiness as a partner for the military. And you really have to trust the people that you`re working with when you`re asking them to provide security for you.

WILLIAMS: We`re always grateful to be able to talk to you, two of the very best in the legal business, Mieke Eoyang and Chuck Rosenberg. Thank you both so much for explaining all we had to explain here at the top of the broadcast.

Coming up for us, the other lead story today and tonight, the latest in this case of the porn star versus the President. And news tonight of an attempt to silence the woman suing Donald Trump.

And then later, Jeff Sessions goes to California and then goes after California in a speech. Then the governor of California goes after him. We`ll have all of it for you. "The 11th Hour" is just getting under way on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We`re back and we have a lot more to get to. New reporting from NBC News reveals that President Trump`s long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, is trying to silence the porn star, Stormy Daniels, over her alleged relationship with the President. Stay with us here.

Last week, Cohen obtained a secret restraining order, more on that later, through an arbitration process that warned Daniels she`ll face penalties if she starts to talk. The news comes one day after we learned that Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, filed a lawsuit against President Trump. In it, Daniels alleged that an agreement not to disclose her "intimate" relationship with the President is invalid because Trump never actually signed the document.

The hush agreement as it`s called in the suit, directed $130,000 to be given to Daniels in exchange for her silence. Michael Cohen says he used his own personal funds to facilitate the payment. He also said neither the Trump organization, nor the Trump campaign were a party to the transaction. And that neither reimbursed him for the payment directly or indirectly.

Cohen has said, in fact, that President Trump vehemently denies the allegations. We should note that Daniels is not suing for money but for the freedom to tell her story about her alleged affair with Trump, which of course she could eventually sell for a high price.

The Stormy Daniels drama was, of course, a major theme at this afternoon`s White House press briefing. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this story relating to Daniels 12 times, including multiple questions about what the President knew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the President approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his long-time lawyer and adviser, Michael Cohen?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the President has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that, I would refer you to the President`s outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he know about that payment at the time, though?

SANDERS: I`ve addressed this as far as I can go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not talking about the actual allegations, but the payment. Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I`m aware of. And, again, anything beyond what I`ve already given you, I would refer you to the President`s outside counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Stormy Daniels` attorney just spoke to my colleague Lawrence O`Donnell tonight and addressed Sanders` claim that the case has been won in arbitration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY TO STORMY DANIELS: I personally like Ms. Sanders. I think she has a near-impossible job. But the fact of the matter is, and I`m confident that she didn`t know that it was nonsense when she effectively told that to the world. But it`s absolutely bogus. It`s nonsense.

Any claim by the administration that Donald Trump won in arbitration is no different than me claiming that I won the Super Bowl a few weeks ago. It`s complete hooey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Well, on that note, here to talk more about all of it, Peter Baker, chief White House Correspondent for the "New York Times" and MSNBC Political Analyst. Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for "Bloomberg," Danny Cevallos, veteran Criminal Defense Attorney and MSNBC Analyst.

Danny, I`m going to start with you. Gingerly be very tender with those of us who are lay members of the audience, especially the slow among us when I ask you to describe what this arbitration process is that Sarah Huckabee Sanders is saying the President won.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The arbitration process is a form of alternative dispute resolution. And what it means is companies love these, big companies, rich folks, because they offer a private, a secret way of resolving disputes in a way that will never --

WILLIAMS: Like retired judge?

CEVALLOS: -- exactly. Retired judges will often become arbitrators. It`s a private court. You can resolve your claims there. Usually -- you can define the parameters of this secret tribunal in your contract. You can say, there`s no appeal.

If you read this agreement, and everyone has access to this complaint and this agreement, the terms are so in favor of D.D., David Dennison, whoever that may be. David Dennison can pick the arbitrator. David Dennison can pick the state, the laws of the state that he wants. David Dennison can decide that there`s no appeal. David Dennison has all the power as to the arbitrator.

So that when Sarah Sanders said they won in arbitration, they didn`t really win. The contract allowed them to walk over to an arbitrator of their choice and say, give us a TRO, give us a temporary restraining order. And you can see in the arbitrator`s order that she looked at it, decided that she really didn`t have a choice but to issue a TRO.

And that was done without any due process. Why? Because the contract allowed for it. That`s why Stormy Daniels and her team have to invalidate this contract. Because it has an arbitration clause that will keep the Trump team exactly where they want to be and that`s in arbitration.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, let`s swing back to the news business and that equals what the public knows out of the White House today. This arbitration term put this right inside the White House today.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it did. For the first time in a way, the White House has tried very hard to sort of sidestep this story, doesn`t want any part of it, you can understand why. And so, when Sarah Sanders today at the briefings, you know, did disclose this idea of an arbitration result that was favorable to the President, it seemed to put the White House right in the middle of it. And it seemed to acknowledge there was, in fact, a real dispute here. That there is, in fact, an issue that the President has not himself addressed, which is, what is the situation with his relationship with this woman, what kind of arrangement was made that resulted in her getting $130,000 from the President`s lawyer, how did that money get, you know, authorized and so forth.

So, we don`t really have answers to those questions. She didn`t give us the answers to those questions. It doesn`t sound like the story is going away very soon.

WILLIAMS: So, Shannon, this is a first indeed for the presidency. It`s a first for all of us. This story`s been doing a slow build. It`s been out there. But given what we watched in today`s news cycle, fair to say it`s going to stay for news cycles to come?

SHANNON PETTYPEICE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Yes, because now it`s a legal dispute. It`s not just sort of a tabloid story about an affair. Now we have a legal battle and a court battle between two -- you know, Stormy Daniels is someone who doesn`t seem to be backing down from a fight, and Michael Cohen certainly is someone who does not back down from a fight.

He is a street fighter-style lawyer. He fancies himself a godfather character. He, you know, slit-dressed, nicknamed the "pit bull." He`s not backing down either here. I see two big personalities, neither going away any time soon.

WILLIAMS: Now, counselor, I heard Stormy Daniels` lawyer on television this evening. When asked the overarching question, did Donald Trump know, he answered it this way. For Donald Trump not to know, it would have meant that his attorney, on his behalf, negotiated and drafted a detailed agreement, engaged in negotiations, cut a check for $130,000, and then entered into arbitration without ever telling the client, which would be a violation of ethics. Correct?

CEVALLOS: I agree on all fronts. In fact, -- it goes -- there are several ethical issues. In addition to those that you just mentioned, lawyers are not supposed to pay settlements on behalf of their clients.

If you look at this agreement, though, there`s no indication that Cohen signed it on behalf of Trump as his attorney. He signed it on behalf of some entity called "E.C." So that makes it even more challenging for Trump to say that, yes, I`m a party, I can enforce my rights against Stormy Daniels, if there`s a big blank space where he was supposed to have signed the agreement

Now, again, they want to keep it in arbitration and they have to -- the Daniels team has to convince the court to keep it out of arbitration and keep it in the court, because believe me, the Trump team, even though they didn`t sign -- he didn`t sign that agreement, will try to bring it right back to arbitration.

WILLIAMS: And Shannon, despite the President`s words yesterday, is the truth that this administration is having a hard time filling and keeping West Wing jobs filled? And is a news cycle like today part of the reason why?

PETTYPIECE: It`s a record level of turnover. It`s about 40% turnover rate so far in this presidency. There`s vacancies on top of vacancies on top of vacancies. There`s people doing three jobs, four jobs, in this administration.

Chief of Staff John Kelly is without deputies. He`s a man doing a job that, you know, you typically have four deputies with about two deputies right now. There is an enormous amount of turnover going on at this White House. It`s only going to get worse with Gary Cohn meeting leaving. McMaster, our reporting indicates is going to be leaving next.

So, yes, it`s incredibly difficult to recruit people for this White House, and throw in more, you know, drama in the news cycle, not to mention all the drama that`s created internally, but the external drama, too. And the White House just does not have the allure that it has in past administrations for people who really are at the top of their game.

WILLIAMS: Shannon Pettypiece, Danny Cevallos, always excellent. Thank you so much. Peter Baker, though, he`s done nothing wrong, has been asked to stay late tonight. We`ll see him on another topic later. Our thanks, guys.

And coming up, record turnover rate. You heard our last discussion, Republicans sounding alarm bells and a White House essentially saying, nothing to see here. We`re back with all of it after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can be more presidential than anybody. I can be more Presidential if I want to be.

I know the best people. I know the best managers. I know the best dealmakers.

We are going to win so much. We`re going to have win after win after win. You people are going to get sick and tired of winning.

Our program is working far beyond our wildest expectations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As we`ve been reporting, recent developments are testing the President`s theories and confidence about leadership, particularly the rate of staff turnover at the White House. According to the folks at Brookings, the Trump administration has seen a 43% turnover among senior aides in 13 months. That, of course, is a record turnover rate for the West Wing. Yesterday came word of another big departure, Chief Economic Advisor, Gary Cohn, announcing his resignation just hours after the president insisted "that everybody wants to work in the White House." Well, today the White House was asked about the rather constant personnel changes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far this year, six top White House staffers have resigned. The president says there are more names to come. Why are so many people leaving this administration?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This administration has had a historic first year. We`re going to continue to do great things. This is an intense place as every White House. And it`s not abnormal that you would have people come and go. The president`s got a number of very accomplished, smart, capable people around him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Gary Cohn`s decision was apparently prompted by the president`s plan to impose these tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. NBC News reports tonight that it`s unclear when the president will actually sign off on those tariffs. He`s now considering an exemption, a carved out for countries like Mexico and Canada. Today, he continued to press the case for his proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We have finally given American businesses a level playing field. And you`ll see more of this in the coming weeks. We`re bringing it back. Our jobs have been stolen from us. Our businesses have been taken. Our factories have been closed. It`s all coming back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Mr. Trump`s tariff proposal coupled with the impending departure of Gary Cohn is raising concerns among top Congressional Republicans, some of whom believe the president may be veering too far from core party beliefs.

Here to talk about it tonight, the appropriately named Michael Steele, former Chairman of the -- I`ve been working on that all day, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and an MSNBC Political Analyst, and Toluse Olorunnipa White House Correspondent for Bloomberg. Welcome to you both, gentlemen.

Michael, what is the level of chaos? Steel and aluminum are not topics that come up in every American home every day. But when you screw around with these, and what it could cause as a counterattack?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: We`ve seen the ripple effect already, our allies especially, which apparently no one around the president or the president really accounted for. Reacting the way they did. And the truth of it is, this is a reactionary policy. This is a policy born out of things that have nothing to do with the economic foundation of our economy or the direction the president really ultimately wants to lead. It has to do with other things.

And so, the party right now is sitting there going, you know, this is a space we`ve never been in before. We are free traders. We`re not about putting tariffs and imposing tariffs. We`re thought about protectionism. Remember, how much they railed against Rand Paul and Ron Paul on foreign policy and their protectionist policies here and there.

This is a different space for a lot of leaders in the party right now. And what is frustrating for a lot of us is they seemingly just going along with it. You know, they`re doing sort of half-measures of protest and resent --

WILLIAMS: You`re speaking out a little bit.

STEELE: They`re speaking out a little bit. But if this is a foundational principle, if this is something that is important to how you articulate a vision and a future for the American economy, I think you would stand up a little stronger than we`ve seen.

The president knows this. He`s able to take advantage of it. And this is where he is. When he say in that clip, and I love them, people need patient to what he said. I can be presidential if I want to be.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

STEELE: And that sums up everything that the party`s had to deal with over the past year.

WILLIAMS: So. Toluse, we were led to believe the president may sign this thing as early as an event tomorrow, but there is no event scheduled on this for tomorrow. Instead there`s talk of carve outs for countries like Canada and Mexico. And that`s fraught to open that door, as you know, because then the conga line begins of all the countries who feel they have a special pleading to make.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Yes, that`s right. That sort of takes us back towards the very early days of this presidency where there was so much chaos. They were rolling out various executive orders that had not been vetted. This is a similar process where the president is sort of vacillating from one position to the next.

A week ago when he announced these tariffs for the first time, a lot of the people within the west wing were surprised to hear that the president was going to go ahead with this. Many people thought that this decision was not going to be made for several weeks and maybe even months. And now, when the president rolled it out, it appeared he did not really have the specifics lined up, and now they`re sort of rushing to try to get the papers together, make sure everything is able for the president to sign.

Looks like now, it`s not something that`s going to happen tomorrow as several people within the administration said earlier today, it could get pushed a little bit later. And there`s this mad scramble among members of the Republican Party, both on Capitol Hill and within the West Wing, trying to get the president to sort of tailor this decision, make some changes, and maybe even sort of scale this thing back so that there isn`t this major ripple effect where our allies in Europe and other parts of the world are retaliating and causing prices to go up for American consumers.

So there`s a lot that`s in flux several days after the president first made this announcement.

WILLIAMS: And, Michael, to your point about not seeing through the consequences, this is going to affect the Trump base. It`s going to affect all of us who buy washer/dryers, refrigerator/freezers, cars in a real way. So are you prescribing backbone to your fellow Republicans?

STEELE: I am. You have to at some point recognize that there is a price to be paid for all of this, a price to be paid for the chaos, a price to be paid for the lack of focus and direction. And, you know, yes, you passed a tax cut. OK? Does is not an administration make, that is not, you know, American economic policy made that way.

So there are so many different components of this right now that need to be brought to heel. And you look at this tariff effort, the president, if he talk to Republicans would have told them, why don`t you do what Reagan did. Just impose quotas on Chinese steel. Hello. Just put a quota. And say, all right, guess what, we`re going to limit the amount of steel you`re going to bring into the country.

WILLIAMS: And would require someone in the West Wing saying, hey, you know what Ronald Reagan did.

STEELE: Right. So, you know, there are examples that this president, this Republican president, can look to from other Republican presidents who handled these types of situations in a way that didn`t alienate our allies, put us on an economic collision course with them, with a trade war, but more importantly, keeping safe the American pocketbook, you know, the consumers` pocketbook. Because you`re absolutely right, you know, your car, your refrigerator, even your can of beer despite what we`ve heard, is going to cost you more.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Toluse Olorunnipa, I owe you one. I had to shorten you tonight because of time. Well have you back, you can represent aluminum alongside the appropriately named Michael Steele. Our thanks to both gentlemen tonight for coming back on our broadcast.

And coming up, you`re going to want to hear from Vladimir Putin had to say about our country today. That`s next on "The 11th Hour".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: President Vladimir Putin spoke very highly of the American president today. In an interview with a Russian journalist, Putin said Trump made a very good impression on him, adding, "It`s possible to negotiate with him to search for compromises."

But notably, following the unanimous finding that Russia meddled in our election, something even our own president now admits. Putin took a shot at the U.S. government saying he was disappointed in the American political system, adding, "It has demonstrated its inefficiency and has been eating itself up."

Focus on that last line there as we welcome Peter Baker back to the broadcast. Before he joined "The New York Times", he was, among other things, Moscow Co-Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post". He is a man with a lot of experience in that corner of the world.

Peter, are these good days to be Vladimir Putin? And we caution that translation can do a lot of things, U.S. Russian, Russian to English, so take everything with a grain of salt but we get the gist there.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, we do, I think. And these are good days to be Vladimir Putin. In just a little over a week, he`s about to be reelected. Almost nobody doubts that.

He`s got the election all wrapped up because, in fact, there`s no real competition. And everything is under his control. So he is playing out these days before the election in an interesting way. He`s toddling back and forth between sort of an anti-American tone which he took last week when he introduced this new -- supposedly new nuclear missile that they plan to roll out. And he used, in fact, animation showing such a missile attacking, what, Florida where the president of the United States has a vacation home.

And then, today and this week, he says he likes President Trump. He`s got good relations with him. He can do business with him. So he`s playing on our dysfunction at the moment and he`s not wrong to say the system here is eating itself up to some extent, to a large extent he has some responsibility for that, according to the intelligence agencies.

WILLIAMS: you Know, I wish I had his quotes in front of me. We had retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey on our broadcast late last week for a little bit of a reality check on Russia. All the stats he used would be familiar to you. He called them something like a fourth-rate military power with one functional aircraft carrier, and their societal problems, and on and on and on.

And the point was I think that all of this has elevated them way beyond their global rank. They`ve taken on such an importance in American life. Did you ever think in your American life you`d see that day come?

BAKER: Well, it`s interesting, right. They`re not the Soviet Union. They don`t have the global reach. They don`t have the sort of super power status. They don`t certainly have the economic power they once did.

And yet, they are playing on a big stage and they`re playing in lots of different corners of the world. They`re playing not just here in our country in our political debate. They`re playing in Syria, in the Middle East. They`re playing in Iran. They`re playing in the Far East with North Korea. And we saw in the last 48 hours, they`re seem to be playing once again possibly even in our own ally of Britain where the poisoning of a former Russian spy has now been confirmed by Scotland Yard. The question is, is it a repeat of what Russia did a few years back with Alexander Litvinenko and the polonium poisoning episodes.

So, they seem to be able to create great impact for low cost. And that`s one of the things that they have been trying to specialize in the last few years, given their limited resources.

WILLIAMS: And won`t that take all of the West ganging together to stop it, and won`t stopping it first take an aggressive move by the United States, and more specifically, the president of these United States?

BAKER: Well, we heard the president say something interesting yesterday. He did say at his press conference with the Swedish prime minister that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the election in 2016.

WILLIAMS: That was a big deal.

BAKER: It was a big deal. That, of course, he said, of course, other people might have meddled as well. It kind of minimizes to some extent. And they said, he`s going to make sure it doesn`t happen in 2018. But he didn`t say exactly how, and he didn`t exactly condemn Russia for doing it.

He didn`t say this is an outrage. This is something we consider a violation of our sovereignty. He didn`t say he would bring this up with Vladimir Putin and some more robust way. Remember, the last time he and Vladimir Putin talked about it, he said Putin denied it and that he, the president of the United States, was inclined to accept that denial, which of course very few others in Washington do.

So we`re in this sort of odd place right now with Russia where they`re not certainly a friend, but the president of the United States is trying to make sure he doesn`t treat them like an enemy either.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, always, our great thanks. One of the true thoughtful people we try to have on this broadcast as often as we can talk you into staying up late with us. We really appreciate it, thank you, Peter.>

BAKER: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, the U.S. attorney general took on the state of California today. And California fired right back at him. We`ll have it for you when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Well, you don`t see this every day. The U.S. attorney general took on a single one of our 50 states today, speaking in California. Jeff Sessions formally announced the Justice Department under his direction, filed a lawsuit against the state of California claiming their sanctuary laws restrict the ability of our federal immigration agents to do their jobs. In a speech before a law enforcement official, Sessions took on the state and included the Oakland mayor, who had recently warned residents there of upcoming immigration raid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: California, we have a problem. A series of actions and events has occurred here that directly and adversely impact the work of our federal officers.

So here`s my message to Mayor Schaaf, how dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open borders?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That did not go over well. California Governor Jerry Brown wasted no time pushing right back on his home turf, arguing the attorney general was performing a political stunt to please his boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: This is really unprecedented. For the chief law enforcement of the United States to come out to California and act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer. And this attorney general is -- maybe he`s trying to keep his job because the president is not too happy with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: California, by the way, went for Hillary Clinton by 30 points in the election. We should also note Trump is the first president since Ike to skip a visit to California in his first year in office. Truman made it there two and a half months into his presidency. Trump is slated to make his first visit as president to California next week.

Well, with us tonight from L.A., Christina Bellantoni, Assistant Managing Editor for Politics at the "L.A. Times."

Christina, first things first, we`ve had an invitation in to Governor Brown to come on this broadcast. And we`re nice, I just want him to come on and say his name. It`s been for a year. He doesn`t normally do this but I think it took what Sessions said to get him to that podium today.

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR FOR POLITICS, L.A. TIMES: Yes, that is exactly right. I mean, it is very clear from Brown`s actions. Also, last night, you know, when the news broke, at 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time, Jerry Brown made sure to tweet something that used Trump`s tones exactly, even used the word SAD in all caps at end of his tweet. He was clearly frustrated.

And he doesn`t normally come out and do news conferences. He made a point to join Xavier Becerra, the attorney general. And he was completely (inaudible), I mean, that clip there was actually one of the mild ones that he mentioned the Russia investigation, attempted to say that that has something to with this. He said, this is going to war with California. And when you have a governor, who chooses his words and as public appearances carefully, you know that this has really gotten under his skin.

It`s important to point out the mayor Oakland, who the Attorney General Sessions went after. She said Brown protegee. You know, this is the city that he was mayor of in addition to the fact that he very much supports the law for a lot of reasons.

WILLIAMS: Am I wrong to assume that a lot of people in the most populous state in the union will throw down over these ice raids that are intended to send people out of this country?

BELLANTONI: Yes. I mean, this is a very hot topic here in the state. And, certainly, the sanctuary state law, I think it`s important to know when it passed the legislature last year, it was actually scaled dramatically back and compromised with some of those same law enforcement officers that Sessions was speaking to today.

There are three provisions that the government is going after. But, yes, this is something that has pretty wide support in the state. The last poll that we talked about in our story today had more than 60 percent of the state supportive of the measure. And in addition to that, President Trump has less than a third of support here in the state. And I expect that there`s going to be continued protests that we saw today with Attorney General Sessions, I think that`s going to happen on Tuesday when Trump comes to Los Angeles.

WILLIAMS: All right. On the point, play the role of a GOP advance person and if you were deciding where his trip goes, we haven`t been told yet, perhaps you have, where would you send Donald Trump in his first visit to California, OK, Orange County is a given, just after his first year being president?

BELLANTONI: Right. Well, he`s going to do these border wall prototypes down in San Diego and that he`s actually raising money. We had a bit of information today at latimes.com, looking at how they`re doing a big fund raiser in Beverly Hills. The minimum tickets sales for $35,000, the highest you can donate is $250,000 and the benefits the RNC.

So I don`t think he`s going to much else other than that. I mean, obviously, we`d love for him to come to the L.A. Times and come talk to us for an interview. There`s a lot that you can do in L.A. He has the Trump national golf course there. And I would imagine that he`s probably going to visit it or maybe stay there.\

But we haven`t heard the exact details of his movements but we`ll be covering it very closely because this is very near and dear to Californians. Since he has been elected, you`ve seen a resistance movement in the state and an activism really unprecedented that really is fueling what we`re expecting in the midterm elections that are going to be very critical here in California.

WILLIAMS: It`s among the reasons we are always going to try to have you on and we`re happy to air your invitation. So, Mr. President, go to the "L.A. Times" editorial board meeting. Governor Brown, please come on our broadcast. There`s so much to discuss. Christina Bellantoni, it`s always a pleasure, thank you so very much for coming on tonight.

BELLANTONI: Thank you, goodnight.

WILLIAMS: And coming up, it was promise made by Donald Trump and to be fair, the presidents before him. Today, we learned yet again, it hasn`t been kept, what needs happen now when "The 11th Hour" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. It was one of those promises, one of the applause lines that became part of the boiler plate of the Trump campaign speech when he promised to take care of our veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`re going to take care of our veterans because our veterans have been horribly, horribly treated.

The Veterans Administration, you look at what`s going on in Arizona with the V.A., it`s a corrupt enterprise.

I`m going to rebuild our depleted military and take care of our great veterans.

We are going to finally take proper care of our veterans, OK?

Rebuild our military and we are going to take great care of our incredible veterans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: But here`s the problem, the V.A. under Donald Trump and its current leader Secretary David Shulkin are in big trouble. Shulkin is an Obama holdover, already under fire for his personal travel, but now, there`s this.

A 150-page report by the internal watch dog at the V.A., it deals only with one facility, the sprawling Washington, D.C. Medical Center. The report says, Veterans Administration officials knew of staggering problems for years but did not fix them.

The report tells stories of patients placed under anesthesia before doctors realized they didn`t have the right equipment for surgeries, cases where staff members have to run across the street to a private hospital to borrow supplies, and tax payer waster like this. Over three years, the V.A. rented in-home hospital beds for three patients for nearly $875,000 when they could have just purchased them for $21,000.

One of the easiest things for a candidate to do is to campaign on a promise of doing more for our veterans. Those same promises, again to be fair, have been made by our candidates for generations. And yet because our men and women in uniform continue to sign up to answer the call, we make more veterans every day, every day more of them become the responsibility of the V.A. And it`s a huge responsibility and it`s probably time politicians stop talking about the enormous debt we owe to all of them, and repay that debt instead in the form of the quality care they all deserve.

That is our broadcast on a Wednesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us and goodnight from NBC News headquarters.

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