New reporting on Stormy Daniels. TRANSCRIPT: 03/14/2018

Guests: Phil Elliott, Jill Colvin, Michael Crowley, Mimi Rocah, Jennifer Rodgers, Malcolm Nance

11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS March 14, 2018 Guest: Phil Elliott, Jill Colvin, Michael Crowley, Mimi Rocah, Jennifer Rodgers, Malcolm Nance

BRIAN WILLIAMS, FBN HOST: Tonight, Donald Trump return to the White House where staffers don`t know what comes next, who maybe next to go, including prominent Cabinet members or why anyone would want to join season two of this particular show.

Plus, new reporting on Stormy Daniels and a lawyer for the Trump organization apparently involved in the arbitration to silence her.

And is Jeff Sessions about to fire Trump nemeses Andrew McCabe days before he earns his pension for 20 plus years at the FBI. One of the reporters who broke the story is standing by for us as "The 11th Hour" gets underway.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 419 of the Trump administration. And the President appears to be engineering a transition, a turnover of staff and Cabinet. We`ve seen some big departures. We have reason to believe more are on the way. Here is how he describes this effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ve gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year. And I`m really at a point where we`re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Tonight, Veteran Reporters, Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen, have written this for Axios, quoting, a White House official is saying to them, "This is the most toxic working environment on the planet. Usually tough times bring people together, but right now, this atmosphere is ripping people apart. There`s now leadership, no trust, no direction and at this point there`s very little hope. Would you want to go to work every day knowing whether your future career was going to be destroyed without explanation?"

What appears to be driving the constant personnel changes is the President search for unfailingly loyal lieutenant for his team, especially those who are willing to be loyal in public.

Well, today, the White House announce that CMBC regular Larry Kudlow, a veteran of the Reagan administration and Wall Street who`s known to many of us and has been a television commentator for decades, will be Trump`s new Chief Economic Adviser replacing Gary Cohn who announced his departure from the West Wing after disagreeing with the President on tariffs.

Kudlow has been a booster of Donald Trump on the air and off. Here is how the two men describe each other.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I`ve known him a long time. We agree on most. He now has come around to believing in tariff as also in negotiating point. You know, I`m renegotiating trade deals. And without tariffs we wouldn`t do nearly as well.

But Larry has been a friend of mine for a long time. He backed me very early in the campaign. I think the earliest -- I think he was one of my original backers.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I`ve known the President a long time. We have a mutual admiration society. He is the President. He has a different role, and I will abide by that.

There`d maybe agreements. There`d maybe disagreements. We`ll talk it through. But as I said, once decisions are made, that`s it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Larry Kudlow enters the President inner circle just one day after Trump`s decision to fire his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and move CIA Director Mike Pompeo over into that job. Another personnel departure that unsettled the number of people at the White House this weekend involves the President`s personal aide, Johnny McEntee. He held the job known in the trade as the body man.

The body man is assign to the President wherever the President is, usually when he`s up there working, including weeknights and weekends. They are the carriers of the sharpest, the hand sanitizer, the breath mints, the phone, and often the documents. McEntee was fired on the spot, Monday, and escorted off the ground. He was not allowed to go back to his desk to get his personal possessions, including but not limited to his jacket.

The job is vital. It calls for a high security clearance because you see and overhear everything the boss does. Reggie Love became something of a reluctant celebrity when he held that same job assisting President Obama.

In McEntee`s, case he is under investigation for potential financial crimes. But after his firing at the White House, the Trump campaign announced his hiring. So a soft landing after a rough exit for him. His swift departure underscored the sense of instability among some of the Presidents closest advisors. The Presidents party has been reluctant to weigh in.

And today, Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota said he wasn`t concerned about these constant changes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think it`s a different -- it`s a sort of unconventional management to how this President who doesn`t do things the way the other administrations have. And, you know, that`s sort of I think we`ve kind of gotten used to that. But I think in terms of the turn over, that`s not unusual.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The loyal Republican from South Dakota, John Thune. Amid all of these, there was also the growing scandal involving Stormy Daniels, the porn star who alleges who have had that relationship with Donald Trump before he became President, which he denies.

Donald Trump`s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels 130 grand to keep silence about the alleged relationship and formed the separate company called E.C to make that payment.

Well, tonight, NBC News was reporting that new document show another lawyer for the Trump organization named Jill Martin, "was involved in trying to enforce a secrecy agreement that adult film star Stormy Daniels signed in exchange for $130 grand before the 2016 election."

Other news outlets are also reporting about Jill Martin`s involvement in this case. Tonight, Stormy Daniels` attorney responded to this reports.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS ATTORNEY: For months we have heard from Mr. Cohen and from others associated with the Trump Organization that there was no linkage between E.C. LLC and the Trump Organization. Mr. Cohen has maintained that he form that LLC on his own, unannounced to Mr. Trump, unannounced to the Trump Organization. This idea that there is a separation between E.C. LLC and Donald Trump and the Trump Organization is a complete and utter fiction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On that note, we bring in our lead-off panel for yet another busy Wednesday night, Michael Crowley, National Security Editor and Senior Correspondent for Politico. Jill Colvin is back with us, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press" who was with the President on his whirlwind trip to California and the Midwest. And returning after his all too brief appearance last night, actually, early this morning because of the breaking news we were covering in Pennsylvania is Phil Elliott, Politics Correspondent for Time Magazine.

Phil, since we used your term of phrase at the top of the broadcast you`ve called it through your reporting "Season Two" for our only President, the history of our Republic with the background in reality television. What is it like what are people inside "Season Two" telling you?

PHIL ELLIOTT, POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: They`re bracing for high turnover. The long and the short of it is no one thinks they are immune for being riding off the island to make some metaphors of reality show here. On the way over here, I was talking with one White House official who like to spring cleaning that the house owner, in this case, President Trump, has an idea on cleaning the house for astatic. And the housekeepers trying to open the house for the summer and getting rid of everything that`s rotten.

If you combine those two and everything they are throwing away, you`re going to windup with a guy stock with a mortgage and no couch to sit on and the housekeeper looking for a job. There really is this dual cleaning of the house that`s happening right now between the President getting rid of people he never really liked and Chief of Staff John Kelly trying to get rid of people who really shouldn`t have been there in the first place.

WILLIAMS: Jill, having covered the White House, I know it`s frustration when people like me ask people like you, what was the mood on the trip? The truth is, unless the President decides to come back on the plane during one of those legs you don`t know and you`re limited to talking to the White House aides you`ve come to know. So, I`ll ask about them.

Some of these folks have families. This, of course, is their livelihood. Some of these folks are not ideologues but came to work in a job in the White House. What`s it like for them right now?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": At this point in the White House, I think you speak to almost any aide and they are clearly having a very rough time. There`s just a sense of doom and gloom. You know people are kind of looking behind them wondering who it is, who`s going to be next, wondering who they can trust. And it`s just a very kind of depressing place to be around.

That said, I have to say, I was quite surprised the President actually seemed to be in a fabulous mood, especially as he was departing. You know, he left for California just after tweeting that he had fired Rex Tillerson. He had that scram that he did as he was leaving the White House where he talked about the reasons why he wanted to do it. And the President very much feel that we`ve seen has been telling confidant that he is feeling empowered, that he feels he is cleaning the house right now, just like Phil said. And that he feels empowered to kind of follow his own instinct. He feels like he`s been getting that advice.

Another thing I thought was notable was the Chief of Staff, John Kelly, who was often almost always around, who follows the President when he goes Mar- a-Lago, who, you know, make sure he`s beside him, actually dropped off the trip today and decided to stay in California. So, he is not actually with him today. And that`s quite unusual for the two of them to be separated.

WILLIAMS: Interesting. We will live that where it lays.

Mr. Crowley, I know because you shared it with one of out producers, you and I are of the same belief. One of the key people to watch right now is General Mattis across the Pentagon -- across the Potomac at the Pentagon.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Absolutely, Brian. I`m struck in all the conversations about shakeups and changes that we never hear General Mattis` name. And I think at the time when Mattis does get swept up in all of this, if he does, you`re going to see a kind of new level of alarm, categorically different that will really shake foreign capitals as well.

Jim Mattis is a kind of rock of pragmatism, wisdom. He is a, you know, mature, serious, thoughtful military figure who has restrained some of the President`s more impulsive ideas when it comes to national security and military policy in America on the world stage. And I think that a great many people who dislike Trump take a lot of comfort in the idea that Jim Mattis is there. He is essentially, you know, legally, he can`t stop Donald Trump from pressing the nuclear button, but he is in his ear on those gravest issues of national security and military matters.

And I just am sort of waiting for the day when we find out that Mattis has run afoul of President Trump. I think that will be possibly one of the most dramatic developments in this kind of soap opera of Trump personnel.

I stress again, that there`s no information that makes me think that Trump and Mattis do have a bad relationship. But show me someone who is sort of an establishment figure, who is kind of conventional, again, pragmatic, nonidealogical, with whom Trump has been able to get along with for a long period of time and maintain a trust bond with. So, that`s the relationship I`m watching most closely right now, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Phil, I don`t want to turn this into Gelshy (ph) he meets doctor, Phil, but between Keith Schiller and Hope Hicks, I keep thinking about this as well. Those are two comfort level people in the first year of this White House. Keith Schiller, of course, head of security for Donald Trump in New York, very easy relationship, Navy veteran, former New York police officer. Hope Hicks was with this campaign from its embryonic first hours.

They are both out of the President`s life now. And, again, because that immediate atmosphere around him looms so large and seems so important, it`s those two vacancies I think about a lot.

ELLIOT: You`re right to think about them that way. They were really the souvenirs from the campaign. The chotskies that sat right outside the Oval Office for the longest time, it could remind Trump that this used to be fun, that winning the campaign was fun. Dispatching the Republican rivals, dispatching Hillary Clinton.

He had a lot of fun doing that and they could remind him of that, that they were kind of like mascots to him. They were also very useful to White House staff, that the President really wouldn`t listen to everyone. But if they could have Hope Hicks say something in a meeting, the President will pay attention.

If there was inclination that the President was going perhaps off the rails, they could maybe have Keith perhaps suggest it nimbly, gently, and the President would heed that. They were really the bumpers. They were like, if you`re going bowling, they were the things that keep you out of the gutter. They`re both gone now.

The closest thing we have now are Ivanka and Jared and there`s no -- there are no signs that they have the bandwidth to sit outside the Oval Office all day, every day, to be at the President`s side holding his elbow, trying to steer him away from some of his own worst instincts.

And to be clear, the President doesn`t want guided anymore. He feels that he was ill served by people who kept him away from his own instincts. And he is really ready in this second season of his presidency to let -- to produce his own show.

WILLIAMS: Jill, please help me in veering into the subject matter, Stormy Daniels. I hear people on cable television all day almost reassuring the audience this is not about sex. And it isn`t. This is becoming, though, more of a legal story, more of a preoccupation. Do you have any reason to believe it won`t just keep on that trajectory?

COLVIN: No. I mean, it very much seems like as new evidence kind of trickles out, you`ve got, you know, the story that you guys are reporting tonight about the fact that there was this Trump organization affiliated lawyer who was involved in the arbitration. There`s been reporting earlier about Michael Cohen using his Trump Organization e-mail and one of the correspondents. I mean, these things are not, you know, smoking guns in any way but, nonetheless, these things come closer and closer to making it seem increasingly unlikely that the President wasn`t aware of that.

And the problem with this story with an ordinary environment, kind of sex scandal involving an adult film, you know, star would be a huge, huge story. You`ve got all these other things going on, you`ve got this White House in this kind of staffing chaos, who will stay, who won`t stay, is it McMaster today, is Shulkin going. You know, this constant day-to-day, who`s going to stay on the island, to use Phil`s language.

But it`s still, you know, constantly trickling in the background. And I don`t see this going away, especially as questions continue to arise about whether there was some kind of campaign, finance violation here or potentially something else.

WILLIAM: And, Michael, I need a last word from you. What`s the chance of the reality at the Mueller effort? Do you think Mueller is looking around saying, who`s up, who do we have because we`re got to get on this Stormy Daniels matter? Or do you think they were on it before us?

CROWLEY: I don`t know, Brian. I think it`s hazardous to try to guess what Mueller is doing.

WILLIAMS: Smart man.

CROWLEY: But, you know, we saw how far afield the original investigation in to Bill Clinton`s real estate investments in Arkansas, how far that spread over the course of his presidency to lead to the affair he was having in the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky. So, these investigations can go into unexpected places. And I would not completely rule it out, absolutely

WILLIAMS: What a great panel to start off with. We`re lucky to have them tonight. Michael Crowley, Jill Colvin, Phil Elliott, our thanks.

Coming up for us, what Robert Mueller may be looking to find out? And when he sits down with Donald Trump.

And later, a three-decade veteran of Counterintelligence on that Russian attack in the U.K. And Trump`s response.

The "11th Hour" just getting under way on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Welcome back to new reporting from "The Associated Press" reveals that after weeks of talks between Robert Mueller`s office and President Trump`s team there is still no agreement on an interview with the President. But a decision could come soon.

"A.P" tells it this way, "Mueller`s office has so far presented the President with more limited questions. Prosecutors trying to establish whether Trump took steps to obstruct justice have conveyed interest in talking with the President about his decision to fire Comey as FBI director last may and about multiple conversations between the two men, including one in which Comey says he was encouraged to end an investigation into National Adviser Michael Flynn, people familiar with the investigations say. They always say that.

The "A.P" also says prosecutors are interested in Michael Flynn`s firing and President Trump`s pressuring of Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he recused himself, took him out of the matter of all things Russia. This comes after Democrats on the House Intel Committee released a document of their own outlining unresolved issues they would like to continue to explore, even after the Republicans who are in charge shut down the whole effort on Monday.

Our own Mike Memoli points out that in their document, "Democrats said they have a good faith, reason to believe that the White House has documentation of Trump`s conversations with James Comey, which could corroborate the then-FBI director`s accounts that the President pressured him to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn."

Now our colleague, Ari Melber asked Congressman Adam Schiff about this portion of this document earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I`m not referring to tapes. We haven`t seen any evidence apart from the President`s own suggestion, for whatever reason he made it, that there were recordings. But there are indications that there were at least some memorialization of discussions between the President and Comey that would shed light on the issue of obstruction of justice, enough for both myself and Mr. Conaway in a bipartisan basis to have the right to the White House and demand those, if not recordings, then memoranda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here with us tonight to talk about all of it, Matt Apuzzo, "New York Times" Reporter, and MSNBC Contributor. And back together again, the two former assistant U.S attorneys, both of them who worked for perforar (ph) in the Southern District of New York, Jennifer Rodgers, who is now the Executive Director Columbia Law School Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, and Mimi Rocah, now Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.

I`d like to begin with you, Mimi, and that is this. People talk to Feds, are interviewed by Feds every day. Interviews completed, they go on their way. Often that person isn`t the subject of the investigation. And very seldom is that person, the President of the United States. Lay out the stakes. Remind us of the stakes.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, you hit the nail on the head, Brian, because there are -- those two things make this very high stakes for the President because he is the subject, at least, of this investigation, that`s clear, which means he has some risk. If he goes in there and he either lies, certainly, then he could be facing, you know, perjury or false statement charges. But even if he doesn`t lie, if he tells the truth, the question is, will Mueller accept what he`s telling, will it fit in with the other evidence that Mueller has? Will it contradict it? Or will it, you know, make his case better or worse?

And I think there`s a pretty good chance given this President that it could make it worse, because he is so prone to exaggeration. And he`s seeing things as he wants to see them. He just seems to state realities that are so or facts that are so different from what reality is. And so if he goes in there and does that, he`s going to get himself in more hot water.

But then the other piece of it is he`s not just any person who can say, I`m going to pass. He faces real political consequences if he does that, I think, because, you know, it looks like it reinforces this idea that he has something to hide, which is, you know, definitely part of the theme here that is going on, you know, politically. So, I think there would be people who would cover for him, but I think it does have carry a political risk as well.

WILLIAMS: Jennifer, I don`t want to let Congressman Schiff`s remarks just lay out there without taking a whack at it. I think what they may be referring to when you interview a President, even if the ground rules are off the record for your own background and education, they will usually have a steno, a stenographer, right there with you. It can be you and the President alone in the room but for the stenographer. They are I think contract employees.

They`re ubiquitous in the West Wing. That would match the description of this, which would also back up the contemporaneous notes of Jim Comey known for being an assiduous note taker, correct?

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Right. I mean, if there really is a transcription of that conversation then I think that the Mueller team needs to get a hold of that. And, you know, whether Schiff and his team do, too. I mean, you know, hopefully they`ll be able to make something of it, I suppose. But, really, I`m concerned about the Mueller team getting that.

There aren`t going to be recordings, I think. But any transcription would be vital because Comey`s account, while very credible, given who he is, and also the contemporary note taking that he did, you know, right after leaving the West Wing, this would obviously corroborate that, especially if it`s a verbatim transcript by somebody.

WILLIAMS: So, Matt, thank you for your patience. A dual question for you. Did it occur to you they were talking about steno here, as it occurred to me, one. And number two, do you get the sense there`s any hurry or any trigger behind Mueller`s effort to sit down with the President?

MATT APUZZO, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: As far as the notes go, I mean, I watched that interview, and obviously I`ve been intrigued to know was there a transcription, were there notes? Were there were e-mails sent around afterwards? What is there that Congressman Schiff is referring to?

And the question of interviews, I mean, this is something that`s been negotiated since, God, I feel like it`s been around Christmas time, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes.

APUZZO: Obviously the lawyers and President Trump`s advisers and his surrogates all are throwing out red flags here and saying, this is dangerous, you`ve got a President who is known for at the very least hyperbolic statements. He is somebody who has -- who does not stay on script.

And Bob Mueller is somebody who has shown, even in this investigation that you don`t get to come in and clean it up afterwards. If you make a misstatement, if you knowingly make a misstatement, you don`t get to fix that. That exposes you to criminal liability.

So this is a Danger, Will Robinson, territory here. And the President has said he`s eager to talk. And so I think that is the potential conflict here. And as the "A.P" reported and others have reported, there`s a back and forth on what are the ground rules going to be, what can they talk about.

The lawyers are going to try to narrow that as much as possible so that they don`t give President Trump a lot of like free range to go in and chat.

WILLIAMS: And Mimi, what`s in it for Mueller to agree to ground rules, other than just being an all-around nice guy?

ROCAH: Well, I mean, look, on the one hand, I think Mueller has the leverage here.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

ROCAH: On the other hand, you know, he wants to be able to say at the end of the day, I gave the President his opportunity to come in and say his piece and explain himself. So that if there is some kind of charge or referral, the people who are the President`s supporters, you know, know that the President had a chance to explain himself. So I think he`ll make it as attractive as possible for that reason, possibly. And also because he doesn`t really need Trump`s information, the President`s information, for the other part of his investigation, I don`t think. The rest of it is I think self-sufficient, if you will, on other witnesses and documents and all of the other evidence that he has.

It`s really the obstruction piece where Trump`s words and Trump`s state of mind matter. And so that`s where he would want to hear from him. So it makes sense for him to focus in on that.

WILLIAMS: Jennifer, as our other former Fed, I`m curious if McCabe gets fired short of his pension. How will that go over at the larger Department of Justice, do you think?

RODGERS: Well, it`s hard to tell. I mean, he`s very popular there. When he was kind of shoved out, and certainly all of the insulting comments he got from the President`s misstatements did not go over well at FBI or I think at DOJ from people who had worked with him.

You know, it`s a little troubling, and Mimi and I were talking earlier about how an office of professional responsibility recommendation gets out. Actually those are supposed to be confidential. But if it`s true that the DOJ inspector general did find that McCabe mislead investigators and that OPR recommended his firing, you know, those are -- those officers are staff of career people. They are nonpartisan.

The DOJ inspector general was appointed by Obama, so these are nonpartisan people. So that would give, I think, some cover to saying, you know, look, even though he was popular, if he did something wrong here and gets fired and loses his pension, you know, maybe it was at least partially deserved. So, hard to say, he`s a popular figure, but, you know, that kind of cuts the other way.

WILLIAMS: And Matt, as is often the case, it`s your reporting leading the way on the Sessions-McCabe front, anything we have left out?

APUZZO: Well, I mean, I`ll just echo what was just said, except one the one thing on this question of lack of candor is what the finding is in this -- in the OPR, the Office of Professional Responsibility, recommendation and that can be really the kiss of death for an FBI agent. There`s really no coming back from that one. It`s under oath.

The issue here is that as we understand it, McCabe and his people, you know, strenuously deny that he misled anybody. And so, I think, it`s absolutely crucial that, you know, we see the report, we see what was actually said, what were the words that were used in the interviews where McCabe talked to the inspector general.

Andy McCabe is no dummy here. And he knew what the stakes were. You know, the idea that he was going to go in and just straight-up lie, I mean, that`s something that I think everybody is going to want to see in writing and see exactly what was said. And that`s when I think people are going to be able to make their decision on. Well, is this somebody who should be fired? Is this, you know, splitting hairs or what is this? But obviously, look, this doesn`t timing wise, this doesn`t look great for the Justice Department because of all of the taunting that the president has done on Andy McCabe. It`s, you know, its going to contribute to the perception, if he gets fired that Jeff Sessions is doing the president`s bidding.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: There is that to consider. We`re much obliged to our panel tonight, from "The New York Times," Matt Apuzzo, and from the post-graduate Preet Bharara School of Law, Jennifer Rodgers and Mimi Rocah, formerly of the Southern District of New York.

Coming up, the White House goes against the Russians but not the president per say. The Brits have been attacked which should mean we`ve all been attacked. A reality check when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Under the Vienna Convention, the United Kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. They have just one week to leave. No explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in contravention of international law. Instead, they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

WILLIAMS: The British Prime Minister taking a hard line in front of the House of Commons today as the U.S.` closest ally clashes with Russia. The Prime Minister moved to kick, as you heard, those 23 Russians who she labeled as spies out of the country in retaliation for this nerve gas poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter on British soil.

The U.K. is confident Moscow is behind the attack, a sentiment U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, echoed strongly today.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED KINGDOM: Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning. The United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain. The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

WILLIAMS: That right there today on New York`s east side is notable because we have not heard the president condemn Russia. He`s been reluctant in the past to criticize the Kremlin. "New York Times" headline puts it this way tonight. "Trump, pressured to criticize Russia for poisoning, leaves comment to aides."

They`re correct in that, the statement tonight is from the White House press office, "This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes."

Now for more on this, Malcolm Nance is back with us. He`s the man who wrote the book on this, before we knew what it was, "The Plot to Hack America: How Putin`s Cyber Spies and Wikileaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election." Malcolm is also a veteran of Navy Intelligence Special Ops Homeland Security, 35 years working in the counterterrorism and intelligence business. He is our analyst in this area. Malcolm, let`s do this as a lightning round. Any doubt in your mind this is the Russians?

MALCOLM NANCE, AUTHOR, "THE PLOT TO HACK AMERICA": No, without any doubt. The weapons system that they deployed, the Novachuk nerve virus, which is eight times more virulent than V.X., V.X. that he access the nerve gas that Kim Jong-un had his half-brother assassinated with in Kuala Lumpur. This is an attack by Russia using state weapon systems.

WILLIAMS: So the Russians who don`t seem to scare easily seem pretty brazen about this stuff. You can`t blame people for fearing that this material could end up in the wrong hands on the streets of Washington or New York. How easy or hard would it be to fly some in to JFK and get it through security and deploy it, use it on someone here?

NANCE: Well, it wouldn`t fly through JFK, it would fly through an airport using diplomatic couriers, using diplomatic bags, which means they wouldn`t be searched, it would be kept in a container that you wouldn`t allow or, you know, our chemical detectors wouldn`t detect until it was actually employed.

But Russia is clearly on an assassination campaign on ex-spies who worked for either the former Soviet Union or in former FSB. They seemed to understand that they can operate with impunity in the west to deploy a weapon of mass destruction in a state-sponsored terrorist attack? This is -- It`s not only uncalled for, OK, this is an emergency that the president of the United States himself should be addressing.

WILLIAMS: OK. So, how would a president of the United States, in the face of this emergency and by the way, when the U.K. is attacked, it`s supposed to mean we were all, as NATO nations, attacked. What would a president in normal times say or do right now?

NANCE: Well, a normal president, one, who understands the role, would have immediately made an address to the nation, let them understand that for the first time, a weapon of mass destruction by a state sponsor of terrorism has been employed against one of our allies. Two, he would have called and would have directed the department of defense and all other U.S. government agencies to assist England with whatever they need. Whether that`s technicians from USAMRIID, the CDC, the U.S. army chemical warfare divisions to go and assist our NATO ally in this investigation.

Not just to help out with the victims but to identify, how did they bring this weapon of mass destruction into the United Kingdom, through a NATO ally and how did they deploy it and how can we prevent that from happening again?

WILLAIMS: Malcolm Nance, it`s scary stuff, you`re in a scary line of work, but it`s why we have you on the broadcast. Thank you, sir, very much for coming on.

NANCE: Good to be here.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, what does yesterday`s vote in Pennsylvania mean for the future of Trump`s Republican Party? About what happened last night, we`ll talk to Steve Schmidt in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

MICHAEL STEEL, FMR. ADVISOR TO JEB BUSH & JOHN BOEHNER: I think any Republican candidate that isn`t running as if their life depended on it is doing it wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you`re a Republican you cannot say it`s easy. You better be ready.

CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The Republicans cannot win a district that Donald Trump won by 20 points. If that does not send chills through the Republican Party, I don`t know what would.

(END VIDEOCLIP)

WILLIAMS: Just some of the reaction from three Republicans to the drama we covered here last night. And by the way, while we heard Conor Lamb`s victory speech live on our air last night as we watched, here`s where we have this race. NBC News is calling him the apparent winner in an extremely tight election result.

Millions of Americans who never had any reason to think about Pennsylvania`s 18th Congressional District were experts on it by late last night. And with us tonight to talk about what it is we`re witnessing here is Steve Schmidt, a Republican Strategist, and Political Veteran of the Bush White House and McCain Presidential Campaign also happens to be friends ours and an MSNBC political analyst. So Steve, we`ll start local.

This guy was a Democrat really in title only. Anyone else, any other Democrat who made a commercial with an AR-15, the progressives would just have him for lunch. But this is Pennsylvania, 18th District, what do you make of the fact that the winner had a "D" next to his name?

STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, Brian. This is a scary hour for Republicans in Congress as they consider their majority. Only three times in the last 118 years has the president`s party not lost seats in the first midterm election.

So we start off structurally with the headwind. You look at all of the special elections that have taken place over the course of Trump`s presidency. And we`re seeing profound and dramatic underperformances by the Republican candidates.

And what this victory last night would seem to suggest is that a tsunami wave is developing and a hour will come in November on Election Day where Trumpism will be massively repudiated in this country. And it will be a coalition of intense Democrats, Independents, and then substantial numbers of Republican women, chiefly marked by their suburban geography and their college educations, but they will join in a coalition that will wipe away, I suspect, these Republican majorities, and we`re seeing the evidence of that.

WILLIAMS: Steve, one of the things that always struck me about your appearances on our broadcast is your use of the word "rigor" and all that that entails. And I`ve been wanting to ask you about rigor in this respect. Considering it was a job held by Jefferson (ph) and Madison (ph), talk about the absence of rigor in an administration where the Secretary of State is dismissed over Twitter.

SCHMIDT: It`s appalling. It shows, as Jeremy Bash, our colleague said, the smallness of this president, completely inappropriate. Secretary of state is fourth in line of succession to the Office of President of the United States. And it just shows the lack of respect that this President has for the institutions, for the offices, for the place that he has privilege to call home and work, just another low and appalling moment by this White House.

WILLIAMS: We had some reporting at the top of the broadcast from Axios quoting a White House official saying, the West Wing right now is the most toxic work environment on the planet. You don`t have to venerate the space. You don`t have to have read every history book about that structure and the 18 acres surrounding it. But Steve, at some point an environment inside may affect and reflect the face we`re trying to show the rest of the world.

SCHMIDT: Well, of course. Look, at the end of the day, this is an office where life-and-death decisions are made. And I think there`s a real absence in the American imagination for the immensity of the tragedy that can be caused around that office. So when there is chaos and there is the toxic environment, the serial dishonesty, all of it that we see every day, including the multiple criminal investigations, that creates a climate where there`s danger. It could be life and death danger. It could be the type of danger caused by an unprepared president who precipitates a trade war because he wants to change the subject from today`s Stormy Daniels coverage.

WILLIAMS: Steve Schmidt, it is always a pleasure. We`re much obliged for you joining us from the great city of Austin, Texas, tonight. We very much appreciate it. Steve Schmidt on "The 11th Hour" this evening.

And coming up for us, it happened today it happened all at once and across the country, and it`s just getting started. That story when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Exactly one month after 17 people were shot and killed at a Florida High School, thousands of students across our country walked out of their schools to protest gun violence.

At 10 a.m. Local time in each time zone, students held 17-minute protests to honor the people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There were rallies in Washington, D.C., in New York City, in Atlanta, in Milwaukee, Littleton, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida. Some of the protesters risked detention or suspension for leaving school grounds. Some stood in silence to honor the victims of gun violence but they also spoke and spoke loudly and clearly about what they expected from the adults in Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(Inaudible)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am marching for gun control and for Congress to step it up to protect our teenagers and our kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We won`t tolerate being scared to come into school. We won`t tolerate having to stay out of school because we`re scared. It has to change. We can`t be hunted. We`re the victims that we are the ones that are going to die if this continues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m a 11th grader at (inaudible) Leadership Academy. I stand here to tell you that you can be the change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What`s going on in schools is not OK. There needs to be change. I shouldn`t be afraid to walk into school. My peers shouldn`t be afraid to walk into school. And little kid shouldn`t be afraid either. School should be a safe place rather than a war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in-unison): Gun reform.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in-unison): Now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: This is what it looks and sounds like when a new generation steps in to take charge. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School aren`t finished. The next rally is the big one, March 24th in Washington. They`re expecting half a million people to show up for starters there.

Coming up for us, the news that almost got by us, having to do with the President`s signature campaign promise. We`ll show you what happened on that front when "The 11th Hour" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is something we`ll be straight up here, we had prepared for you about it never aired. In the incredible hubbub that was our two-hour broadcast last night, we were covering the Pennsylvania cliffhanger, the firing of the secretary of state, then late last night even the death of one of the extraordinary minds of our time Stephen Hawking.

We did not have time to show you a key portion of the President`s first visit to California as president. And he started his time on the ground there by inspecting eight different border wall prototypes near San Diego, comparison shopping as people would with carpet samples. Speaking to reporters, Trump went into detail about what he`s looking for in a wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The problem is you have to have see-through, you have to know what`s on the other side of the wall. So we`re looking at the walls where you have treat -- really some see-through capability. If you don`t have some see-through, it`s a problem. The round piece that you see up here or you see more clearly back there, the larger it is, the better it is because it`s very hard to get over the top. It`s really deterrent from getting over the top.

Who would think, who would think. But getting over the top is easy. These are like professional mountain climbers. They`re incredible climbers. They can`t climb some of these walls. Some of them they can. Those are the walls we`re not using.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Professional mountain climbers. And a reminder about the obstacles literal and figurative that stand between this President and his wall, first, there`s funding, but in the unlikely event that it`s fully funded and even if the administration is allowed to waive some environmental regs as they wish to, then comes the issue of taking and purchasing private property and the eminent domain lawsuits that will pile up, then the physical challenges of the terrain, and for starters the entire Texas border with Mexico is the Rio Grand River.

They`re going to build something somewhere, but with financing from Mexico no longer an option, shall we say, this central promise of the Trump presidential campaign faces a very shaky future.

And that is our broadcast on a Wednesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. 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