Digenova withdraws from Trump legal team. TRANSCRIPT: 03/26/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Robert Costa, Mimi Rocah, Jeremy Bash

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: March 26, 2018 Guest: Robert Costa, Mimi Rocah, Jeremy Bash

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, Trump`s legal drama, the President down three attorneys in just a few days` time while headlines drop tonight that more lawyers have turned him down and one lawyer, Robert Mueller, is hard at work.

Plus, the news breaking from "The New York Times," the President is speaking to Rob Porter, the disgraced former aide out after allegations of spousal abuse, is Donald Trump hopes to bring him back to the West Wing.

And after her "60 Minutes" appearance, Stormy Daniels goes after Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, in a court filing. We got the latest reporting on this legal saga as the "11th Hour" gets underway on a Monday night.

Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 431 of the Trump administration.

And tonight, the dwindling legal team representing this President back in the news. Tonight "The Daily Beast" and "The Washington Post" reporting that another high profile defense firm declined to take on the role of lead counsel in this case. Carol Leonnig and Rosalind Helderman of the "Post" write, "A prominent Chicago defense attorney said Monday that he had declined an invitation to lead President Trump`s legal team responding to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller`s Russia investigation. Dan K. Webb, a Republican, is a former U.S. attorney for Illinois and a corporate and white-collar-defense lawyer for the firm Winston and Strawn."

Well, tonight, NBC News has received this statement from Atty. Dan Webb, "President Trump reached out to Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan to provide legal representation. They were unable to take on the representation due to business conflicts. However, they consider the opportunity to represent the President to be the highest honor. And they sincerely regret that they cannot do so. They wish the President the best and believe he has excellent representation in Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow."

Our NBC News investigative team is reporting tonight that one of the few conflicts could be that Webb also represents Dmitro Firtash, who`s been identified by the Justice Department as a "upper-echelon associate of Russian organized crime." He also has close ties to Paul Manafort who`s facing several charges filed by Mueller. Trump is now down to two attorneys handling the Russia case, the aforementioned, Jay Sekulow, and Washington lawyer, Ty Cobb.

Yesterday, Atty. Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, reverse course and say they could not represent the President a week after it was announced that they were joining the legal team. They cited conflicts as their reason. Toensing is representing Mark Corallo who was the spokesman for Mr. Trump`s legal team in 2017.

"The New York Times" has reported that Corallo has told investigators that he was concerned that Hope Hicks may have been planning to obstruct justice during the drafting of a statement about a meeting between a Russian lawyer and Don Jr. during the campaign.

Earlier, our colleague, Nicolle Wallace, offered this reporting of her own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICOLLE WALLACE, NBC NEWS CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: According to four former senior Justice Department officials I spoke to over the weekend who are all familiar with the investigation is that the two clients in question, Mark Corallo and Donald Trump, likely have diverging interest, two of these former officials saying that Mark Corallo may be a witness against the President. Another former official saying, "We know Mueller was empowered to investigate, we know why Mark Corallo left." That seems to be a conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Let us, on that ominous note, bring in our lead-off panel to start another busy Monday night and the 62nd week of the Trump presidency, by the way. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at CIA and Pentagon, and Mimi Rocah, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. This days, a distinguish Fellow and Criminal Justice at Pace University School of Law.

Mr. Costa, you get to go first tonight. What is the status as you know it of this President and his legal team, his protests notwithstanding?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST: The status of the legal team, lonely. You have Jay Sekulow there trying to run the outside team with regard to the Russia probe, Ty Cobb on the inside working at the White House but his influence has been fading for weeks. They keep searching for some high-profile lawyer to join this team.

And we keep hearing about conflicts and that is true. Based on my reporting tonight, Brian, there`s more to the story. So many of the major firms in this country, whether it`s in the midwest or here in Washington, they do not want to take the political risk of being associated with President Trump, even if they`re Conservative and they`re political leanings (ph). They think it`s too much at this moment to enter such a highly charged case.

WILLIAMS: And sometimes the phrase "business conflicts" can just mean that in their and the business of law firm it would not be a feather in their cap for this particular client at this time.

Mimi, talk us through what Nicolle Wallace was saying there perhaps with an eye toward what she wasn`t saying there, what she couldn`t say yet? These two clients Corallo who left, Donald Trump who remains not being able to have the same lawyers.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: So, usually a lawyer cannot represent two clients if the client`s interests are materially adverse basically. She used the term divergent interest. So what that means really if one client or potential client could testify or has potentially damaging information against another client, the lawyer cannot represent both. I mean, that`s sort of the simple way to put it.

So, we don`t know here exactly what Corallo`s information is but we know what he`s about, we know that his information is about the Trump Tower meeting. And we know that there are questions relating to Trump`s actions with respect to that meeting. So one could infer, I am not saying this is exactly what he`s told them because obviously we don`t have that information, but the inference seems to be that Corallo`s information about that meeting may be of the nature that it could be adverse to the President. And that is why if there is such a conflict, if that`s the reason why this representation didn`t happen, then that sort of boils it down to his information might be adverse to the President`s.

WILLIAMS: Well, Jeremy Bash, what does this tell about the Mueller case if anything at all? Has Donald Trump`s status migrated to being even more important focus of this inquiry than he was two weeks ago, two months ago?

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: I don`t think we know that yet, Brian. Although, I think Mimi pointed out, you know, Mark Corallo basically could be working with the Muller team. He could be proffering information saying, "Hey, I am prepared to make the following statements about what I observed inside the Trump White House, inside that Air Force One effort to fashion a statement to spin what happened at Trump Tower."

If Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova know what Mark Corallo is working on with the special counsel, they can`t then import that information over to their defense of their would-be client Donald Trump. So it`s not just if their interest my divert is that they may have information that they wouldn`t be able to use in defending Trump and therefore they couldn`t, if you will, put their best play on the field in defense of the President.

WILLIAMS: Also, Mimi, it`s kind of like the parable of the Blind Man and the Elephant it is. It`s also true that people who have spoken to Mueller other folks don`t know what other pieces -- they know what they said when asked by an investigator, they don`t know where their answer fits in necessarily.

ROCAH: Right. In fact, we heard some reporting that Mark Corallo was willing to waive this conflict. That`s something that a potential client or actual client can do. They can say, "I`ve got no problem with this, I don`t see a conflict. I don`t think my information is potentially or is harmful to the President." But he may not -- he can`t see the full picture. The people who can see the full picture are Mueller and the agents, the investigators, people who know what all the different witnesses have said and what all the -- how all the different pieces fit together.

Corallo may not be able to see that and so that may be why he was so willing to waive the conflict if that reporting is accurate.

WILLIAMS: And why the balance of power in these things is often out of luck. So, Robert, we didn`t see the President today. We know only from his schedule he had lunch with Vice President Mike Pence. One can only imagine what that was like on the day after Story Daniels on "60 Minutes."

So it falls on you to tell us what machinations are going on behind the scenes, including comments and questions he`s had for friends and the faithful down at Mar-a-Lago where he was for part of the weekend.

COSTA: He`s been paying attention to cable news, I`m told by White House officials, of course watching the fallout from that interview on "60 Minutes," but then at the same time, he`s looking at perhaps reshuffling his Cabinet he`s delegated Sekulow and to Ty Cobb to handle the legal matters. He is itching to still talk to Robert Mueller, one confidant of the President tells me. But whether that happens, whether the conditions, those are still being worked out inside of the White House.

But he really wants to see something happen politically for him in the coming days. One thing he`s looking forward to is to go on the road and talk about infrastructure. This is a President who knows the midterms elections are coming, knows more confrontations with the Robert Mueller investigation are likely coming, and he knows it`s also a tenuous moment personally as he has all these allegations made against him by Ms. Stormy Daniels.

WILLIAMS: Well, that bring us to another question, Robert, and that is this, this presidency has not been known for its steely diligence and determination as of yet. Is it possible, are you telling me that the only real discipline he`s exerting is not commenting on these women, to name one subject area that apparently has been walled out from Twitter and his public utterances?

COSTA: Every time I talk to sources who are familiar with the President`s thinking, who have spoken to him in recent days or in recent weeks, they say he`s angry. He`s unhappy with the spending bill in Congress, he`s unhappy with media coverage daily, and he`s really working with his network of friends more by phone, talking to long-time associates, including as the "New York Times" first reported tonight Rob Porter, the former staff secretary, rather than working through the usual chain of command.

In part, he`s disappointed with members of the Cabinet for their behavior. They`re spending on their own budgets. And he just had a crucial moment in his presidency where he feels besieged and so many staffers have left.

WILLIAMS: Mimi, a quick lightning round for you and Jeremy. Starting with you, what does it do to the Mueller team when a guy they`ve been dealing with, Dowd, suddenly out of the picture, back in private practice, meet the new guys? Does that affect the rhythm of these investigations?

ROCAH: I think does a little. But in terms of the negotiations that may be going on about the potential interview of the President that we`ve been hearing so much about, it does not affect their rhythm with respect to the investigation. I think the place that it`s likely that have the most impact is in negotiations because they`ve been dealing with one lawyer, I suppose, or maybe three and now they`re dealing with one because the team keeps getting whittled down. So there is, a sort of, you know, chemistry and history that gets built up but, you know, it`s not going to affect them in terms of the investigation itself.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, Bob mentioned this earlier. Maggie Haberman is on the board tonight with this piece of reporting about Rob Porter. I`m going quote from it.

"President Trump has stayed in touch with Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary who stepped down after allegations that he had abused his two former wives came to light, according to three familiar with the conversations, and has told some advisers he hopes Mr. Porter returns to work in the West Wing. The President`s calls with Mr. Porter have increased in the past few weeks, as the number of people he is close to in the White House has dwindled because of the large number of staff departures, the people familiar with the call said."

"Mr. Trump has told people that he believes that Mr. Porter`s departure was botched, primarily but not exclusively by his Chief of Staff, John Kelly."

Jeremy, it`s another one of these clips that just kind of normalizes abnormal, doesn`t it?

BASH: Yes, I mean, Porter can`t get a security clearance and, by the way, that was the right call by the FBI, he should not be able to get a security clearance because of his past conduct. You see the President increasingly isolated reaching out to former staff. His staff is shrinking and, in fact, this is the incredible shrinking presidential staff.

There are fewer and fewer people around to support the President and now he has virtually no outside counsel defending him in the most significant national security and legal investigation of our time.

WILLIAMS: And don`t forget it started with his long-time bodyguard, Keith Schiller, who he used to just hang out with in the absence of anybody else around him. No more.

Robert Costa, Jeremy Bash, Mimi Rocah, our great thanks for joining us and starting us off on a Monday night.

And coming up for us, the latest developments just tonight in this case of Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

And later, two Counterintelligence experts weighing in on the expulsion of Russians today. "The 11th Hour" on a Monday night continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?

STORMY DANIELS, AMERICAN PORNOGRAPHIC ACTRESS: No.

COOPER: Not at all?

DANIELS: No.

COOPER: Did you want to have sex with him?

DANIELS: No. But I didn`t say no. I`m not a victim, I`m not --

COOPER: It was entirely consensual.

DANIELS: Oh, yes, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Part of Stormy Daniels highly anticipated "60 Minutes" interview in which she detailed her alleged affair with Donald Trump back in `06. The White House and Trump attorney, Michael Cohen, have denied the affair ever happened.

Since the interview aired last night, Daniels has ramped up her legal battle against the President. She filed an amended lawsuit alleging Trump`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, defamed her and that campaign finance law was violated by brokering the so-called hush agreement before the 2016 election.

Earlier today, Daniels attorney, Michael Avenatti, talked to Nicolle Wallace about the case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, DANIEL`S ATTORNEY: We`re suing him for telling effectively a lie about my client. And his lie was that the affair did not happen effectively. So we`re going to prove, in fact, that it did happen and therefore his denial was inaccurate.

Secondly, and equally important, it`s not more important, we are now seeking to invalidate the agreement, not just because it wasn`t signed but on a host of other grounds, the most significant of which for the purposes of our discussion right now and this goes hand in hand with what Mr. Potter said on "60 Minutes" is because we are contending that this agreement was designed to basically further a campaign finance violation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Michael Cohen has said the $130,000 payment came from his own personal account, a line of credit actually, and not the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization. In her "60 Minutes" interview, Daniels went on to say she was threatened to keep her silence about the alleged relationship with Trump. The threat came back in 2011.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIELS: I was in a parking lot, going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. Taking, you know, seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out. And a guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said a beautiful little girl. It`d be ashamed if something happened to her mom. And then he was gone.

COOPER: You took it as a direct threat?

DANIELS: Absolutely. I was rattled. I remember going into the workout class. And my hands were shaking so much, I was afraid I was going to drop her.

COOPER: Did you ever see the person again?

DANIELS: No. But I -- if I did, I would know it right away.

COOPER: Did you go to the police?

DANIELS: No.

COOPER: Why?

DANIELS: Because I was scared.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: A lawyer representing Trump`s attorney, Michael Cohen, sent a cease and desist letter to Michael Avenatti, the attorney there that addressed this alleged threat. It reads in part, "Mr. Cohen had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any such person or incident, and does not even believe that any such person exists, or that any such incident ever occurred."

Daniels never named Cohen as the person who threatened her. And Michael Avenatti told our own Nicolle Wallace this afternoon that it was not Cohen in that garage.

Earlier today, the White House spokeperson addressed this alleged threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Was the President aware of a physical threat made against Ms. Daniels when she was with her daughter back in 2011?

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the President doesn`t believe any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night during the interview are accurate.

WELKER: He doesn`t believe she was threatened.

SHAH: No, he does not.

WELKER: What`s his basis of that, Raj?

SHAH: I`m sorry?

WELKER: What`s his basis for that?

SHAH: Well, he just doesn`t believe that -- you know, there`s nothing to corroborate her claim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: "The Washington Post" has some new reporting tonight about the President`s behind-the-scenes reaction to the "60 Minutes" interview. "Privately, the President has lobbed sharp attacks at Daniels and her media tour, calling her allegations a hoax and asking confidants if the episode was hurting his poll numbers. The President even has griped to several people that Daniels is not the type of women he finds attractive."

"Trump, who was among the estimated 22 million Americans who watched the Daniel`s interview that aired Sunday night on CBS, asked staff in the White House if the, too, had watched and wondered what they thought of it, said someone who has spoken to him. The President said that he personally did not think Daniels appeared credible, this person added."

Well, on top of all that, with us to talk about it Kimberly Atkins, Chief White House Reporter for the Boston Herald and Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for "The New York Times." Both are MSNBC Contributors.

So Kim, boiling all of this down, reducing it down to its essence, there`s new polling out tonight that shows roughly two-thirds of American believed the woman in this case. What do you think the lead story is right now from the Stormy Daniels matter, including the interview last night?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER," THE BOSTON HERALD": Well, I think the biggest thing more than just the siliceous details of an alleged affair that the President had more than a decade ago is the legal aspect of this. I mean, you have fresh lawsuits being filed in this case and the more legal litigation there is over this, the more potential peril this could pose for the President and those around him because it just presents more opportunities for him to be on the record under oath, making statements or even being deposed in these cases.

If you recall, some of the most high-profile legal cases that brought down some politicians, including Bill Clinton, what led to his impeachment was the Paula Jones litigation. What brought down John Edwards was the discovery that he had used campaign -- use money to pay someone who he fathered a child with and that was considered to be an illegal campaign contribution. It`s things like that that could lead the President to trip up.

We already know he`s surrounded, even his own advisers are worried about him testifying in the Mueller case for fear that he might perjure himself. If he perjures himself in one of these civil litigation cases, that could be the same problem for him. So it`s a lot of land mines here for him legally.

WILLIAMS: And, Jeremy, we`ve discussed the number of people who believe this is what could get him. He may not rank this as highly as the Mueller investigation. I just mentioned this poll two-thirds there about some Americans believe the woman. How do you think Congress would poll?

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPOTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think Congress would pull pretty close to 80%, 85%. I`d spent the day talking to a lot of Republicans, Brian, and almost every one of them said, "Wow, she seemed really credible, really believable."

But to your point about this being the thing that brings President Trump down that may very well be. I think one hurdle, though, that prosecutors will have to get over if this is indeed what they go for, and we don`t know that, in structural imagination, is to keep the finance laws as they`re written are full of holes and they`re full of holes because Republicans have worked to make them full of holes.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

PETERS: One of the Republicans who worked insidiously to make sure that these laws are full of holes is Don McGahn, the White House counsel, who during the John Edwards matter argued that this really wasn`t a violation - - what John Edwards did, yes, sure it doesn`t look so great. He cheated on his dying wife, yes, but legally speaking, there was nothing that the government should go after him for. So that just gives you an idea of what prosecutors will be going up against if they decide to go after Trump on this, which we don`t know.

WILLIAMS: So, Kimberly, let me ask the combination of the lawyer in you and the journalist in you. Does this -- people don`t understand, does this dovetail with the Mueller operation racial? Does it become subsumed in any way? Does it become a part a hole of the Mueller investigation?

ATKINS: The question is, it could, it could overlap here. I mean, again, Jeremy is right, we don`t know exactly what`s prosecutors are working on and what Robert Mueller is looking at. But in a case, if the President, for example, as said is accused of perjury in the course of this litigation that is something that Robert Mueller could look at the same way as the perjury charge was brought up with Bill Clinton in that investigation with him.

If it is found that, let`s say, for example, Michael Cohen, Trump`s attorney, did violate campaign finance laws or possibly violate campaign finance laws that`s something that the special counsel could use as a leverage in an attempt to get Michael Cohen to cooperate somewhere, at least, give more information of any would have before. We know Michael Cohen is very loyal to the President so that may or may not work. That hasn`t worked in the case of Paul Manafort so far, but it`s something that the Mueller team could try. So there is some overlap here, even though we don`t know for sure exactly what they`re looking at at this point.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I want to read you piece of work tonight from Jill Colvin, frequent guest on this program, covers the White House for the "AP." Daniels was on Trump`s mind this weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, where he had dinner Saturday night with Cohen at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump, according to one person who spent time with him, told guests that Daniels now owes him $21 million for breaking her silence, and that every time she talks, she owes him a million more. Trump appeared in good spirits, laughing off the fact that Daniels will be bringing her "Making America Horny Again" strip show to a nearby venue next month, said the person."

Is this going turn out to be, to my question to Robert Costa, the one area of steely discipline in his life will be not saying people -- or writing publicly about this matter, the women quotes?

PETERS: I would say looking at his track record, probably not because, one, has he ever been able to exercise steely discipline for an extended period of time. I think he`s found a real adversary in Michael Avenatti. I think -- I was thinking about this, there are two people who`ve really gotten to Trump, who`ve gone toe to toe with him in the media, on social media, especially were the basket player`s father and Michael Avenatti. They both understand how to manipulate the media, use the media to get drive their message and get under Trump`s kin doing that. And that`s how they`re going to get to him, and that`s ultimately where we`ve seen him break down before.

WILLIAMS: I keep waiting for one of my print friends to pick up on the story that we own a racing fans know Avenatti is an endurance driver.

PETERS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: The Seashell, Le Mans and Daytona 12 Hour races he is in it for the long -- we digress into auto racing. See how that happens. Kimberly Atkins, Jeremy Peters, thank you, two of our best friends at the this broadcast.

Coming up for us, dozens of Russians expelled from the United States today. But President Trump remained quiet on the issue. The "11th Hour" back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: The Trump administration, this is interesting, taking its toughest stance against Russia yet with this expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S. The White House identified the diplomats as intelligence officers as often happens, they also shut down the Russian consulate in Seattle over concerns that the Russians were spying on a nearby U.S. submarine base and a Boeing facility.

The moves are in response to this nerve agent attack, the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. It was a coordinated attack with 14 European allies who blamed the Kremlin for this attack. So that`s what this U.S. action was a part of.

The White House commented on the relationship right now between Washington and Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This is not the type of conduct that the United States or allies can accept. But the President still remains open to working with the Russians on areas of mutual concern, counterterrorism and others. That`s really up for the Russians to decide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The President has not addressed the latest developments personally on television or Twitter. POLITICO has categorizing the reaction this way, "The dramatic move continues a two-face U.S. policy toward Russia, further escalating official diplomatic tensions even as President Donald Trump continues a friendly approach toward Russian President Vladimir Putin."

Here to talk about all of it, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence. And, Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent and member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, both gentlemen MSNBC National Security Analyst.

Frank, when I heard about this today, I thought it was maybe the most normal thing the administration has done in 14 months. This is the kind of thing you used to do.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It`s an expected response to horrific act in London by Vladimir Putin. But I can tell you, Brian, today a lot of counterintelligence professionals including myself really were asking the question, what just happened? Has the President actually changed his mind about Putin? Are we looking at a brand new approach to Russia, a much tougher approach perhaps driven by John Bolton and/or Mike Pompeo, who really know the risk and threat, or something else more complicated going on here?

And I believe it`s more complicated. I think what`s happened is the allies have kind of shamed the President into this action today. We would be standing alone very obviously if we didn`t do something. It allows the President cover. He can say, "Look, I`m tough on Russia, see what I just did?" While keeping his arm`s length from any bad decision involving Putin, which remains a mystery to us as to why he seems aligned with Putin.

WILLIAMS: Yes. I heard General Hyten tonight say on television, just based on his hunch. He thinks Trump didn`t demand this and Trump didn`t choose to block this from happening either.

So, Clint, often in this Russia then response.

CLINT WATTS, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right.

WILLIAMS: They counter our action, which led someone in our afternoon meeting to say what are they going to do, rifle through our election? Haven`t they done enough already? Do we really expect a Russia counter response to our move?

WATTS: Right. We should expect them to, you know, do an expulsion themselves. And they were literally taunting the West today on Twitter saying, who should we, you know, throw out of the country in return?

And what ends up happening, is we ultimately lose in this, because Russia stocks the deck against us. They put far more spies into foreign countries under the cover of diplomats than the U.S. or even the West would do to Russia. At the same point, it can actually help Putin in a way because it looks like he`s besieged by the world. He is taking on the world and now he is being besieged and being punished for it.

And then, the Russian people or in many ways, in their immigrants around the world are punished as well because they don`t have access of their embassies. If we really wanted to go at Putin, we go at oligarchs financially by putting pressure on them. They will put pressure back on the Putin in the financial system. And John McCain sort of brought that up today.

WILLIAMS: By the way, we knew Russians were using off a space in Seattle, did we just figure out that Boeing is in Everett, Washington and, oh, there`s a submarine base out there. What`s the cover for that Seattle story?

WATTS: I think it was just a way to provide some sort of context for the American people about why they pick Seattle. We`ve already squeezed them in other places by closing consulate in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York. We`ve taken these measures in terms of putting pressure.

So if you squeeze them in all these places, they -- ultimately, there`s only a few places left, and Seattle was a natural place.

WILLIAMS: And, Frank, to your initial point, you`ve got this action today which looks old school, like we used to do to the Russians. But then, it`s complicated because Donald Trump doesn`t match it with any kind of a statement. Donald Trump when he last spoke to Putin congratulated him on a victory in a rigged election and never mentioned.

By the way, you guys can`t use that nerve agent in public. You can`t use it to try to assassinate individuals in other countries.

FIGLIUZZI: There`s an interesting dynamic going on here, which is ironically that we have a president who really wanted to cozy up to Russia, proclaimed publicly that wouldn`t it be great if we just got along, thinking wrongly that somehow that Putin would reciprocate with friendship.

All that`s done for someone like Putin is given him license to do whatever he wants around the world, including now, it appears, the poisoning or attempted poisoning of a man and his daughter, an important individual that, you know, we swapped in a prisoner exchange, a spy exchange, right out of a John Lockrey noble.

So this is an equal and opposite reaction going on here, but Putin is laughing at Trump today because he knows he has license to do whatever he wants. This is largely a symbolic gesture, closing a very small consulate, and expelling about maybe roughly half of the known or suspected Russian intelligence officers in the United States.

WILLIAMS: Last word, Clint, do you think this is may be a function of Pompeo`s new job or Bolton`s new -- do you think this is new blood already making itself known?

WATTS: No. I think this is the long-held national security leaders in our government, that those that have been there for a long time standing by our allies and working with them.

WILLIAMS: Those few remaining people in the system.

WATTS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you, as always, Frank Figliuzzi and Clint Watts, always appreciate you being part of our conversation.

Coming up, who`s in and who`s out, what time you got? The game of turnarounds continuing inside the West Wing, that`s when "THE 11TH HOUR" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The Trump White House offered mixed signals today about whether V.A. Secretary Dr. David Shulkin has a future in this administration. This comes after the CEO of Newsmax and Trump confidante, Christopher Ruddy, cast doubt about Shulkin`s long-term status with the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: He did say that he`s expecting to make one or two major changes to his government very soon, and that`s going to be it. Now, other White House sources, not the President, tell me the Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is likely to depart the cabinet very soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Now, fast forward to the briefing this afternoon, Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah only defense that Shulkin was to say, he had no personal announcements to make at this time.

In the past month, President Trump has parted ways with among others, his Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, lead lawyer in the Russia investigation. Last week, the Washington Post reported that prominent Republican lawyer Ted Olson has declined an offer to join the President`s legal team.

Earlier on this very network, Andrea Mitchell spoke with Olson about the high level of shall we call it turnover in the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED OLSON, FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL: I think everybody would agree, this is turmoil, as chaos since confusion is not good for anything. We always believe that there should be an orderly process. And, of course, government is not clean or orderly ever but this seems to be beyond normal bounds.

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WILLIAMS: We have convinced two very good guys, Robert Costa and Jeremy Peters to stick around and continue our conversation late into the evening.

So, Robert, Chris Ruddy usually, I mean, we know the access he has to Trump. We know about their years-long friendship. When he says something, it`s usually fresh from farm to table and you can lay a cash wager on it being true. Is it still, you think, going to come true?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes and no, Brian. Calling around the White House today asking about Ruddy`s comments, I say to my sources, "Is he a direct surrogate of President Trump? Is he directly reflecting the wishes of the President?" They say, "Yes and no." They say, "He wants his cabinet members to twist in the wind, to feel uncomfortable about their positions, he doesn`t like their conduct and decisions." And so when Ruddy gets out there and says the President may be making some changes, the President likes it.

The President did not give Ruddy his blessing, I`m told, to go out there and say Shulkin, that`s why we saw Ruddy was careful with his language, he said, different sources, not the President, that Shulkin in on chopping block. But what we do know is unrest is everywhere in this West Wing, inside of the cabinet.

WILLIAMS: A little bit of a cruelty to that, Jeremy, like pulling the wings off flies. It`s also instantly traceable. When you look at those last three officials we just showed. All of them have one thing in common and that is that some point before they were fired or departed, the President defended them and talked about the health of their great relationship on Twitter.

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Exactly, and then proceeded to torment them. This is what he does. President Trump enjoys his petty torment with his staff. And, you know, we`ve seen this time and time again. They`re never be gone until they`re gone but it`s like being a fifth year senior, you know, they keep on hanging on until finally it`s time to go.

WILLIAMS: And then sometimes and some of them are not gone because they`re on auto dial and they`re just as present --

PETERS: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- and some of them sometimes have more influence from the outside.

PETERS: That`s exactly right. Trump is somebody who despite his bravado, never really sobers, ties with people. And he doesn`t hold a grudge. I think that`s a big misconception about people.

Yes, he is very thin skinned. Yes, he is very temperamental. He flies off the handle, but he forgives and forgets relatively easily as long as you reproach him and reengage. Sometimes it doesn`t even take that. Sometimes, his attention span is so short he`s going from one subject to the next, one grievance to the next. And that`s I think what`s you`re going to see here.

WILLIAMS: Robert?

COSTA: Can I just build on that?

WILLIAMS: Go ahead.

COSTA: There`s a real fascinating dynamic with President Trump, when you work for him, people who work for him tell me. He makes sure you`re aware you are subordinate. But when you somehow fade away from the staff and you`re fired, and then you appear on television, you seem to be President to be more of an equal, someone he can call on the phone who`s not directly working for him. And that dynamic seems to be reappearing week after in this administration.

WILLIAMS: And, Robert, that`s a risk of reputation, go back over what the first departure of many really for the President`s comfort level was one Keith Schiller, Navy veteran, former New York City cop, body man, bodyguard and just kind of a hangout friend.

COSTA: A central figure that most of the country doesn`t know much about. But when you would be on the plane with candidate Trump, you wouldn`t bother Trump when he`ll be watching TV, watching golf, eating a hamburger, but Keith would be allowed to be at a quiet presence, a steady presence on the plane.

We he went to the 26th floor, Trump Tower there, Keith was sitting outside, a guard, a friend, always there. When he suddenly removed, the person who`s not only on the plane but giving a letter to James Comey to fire him at the FBI, you remove a sense of presence of the President`s life. With Hope Hicks now leaving, all these people who are part of his orbit, central, removed. And that has a consequences associates tell me.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, we should all have a Keith Schiller.

PETERS: You don`t? I`m surprise.

WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. Thanks for being with us tonight, guys, Robert Costa and Jeremy Peters, late into the night. We appreciate it.

Coming up, the former Republican presidential candidate under fire tonight for how he believes the Parkland student survivors should be spending their time and effort. More on that when we come back.

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CAMERON KASKY, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS: Today, we take to the streets in over 800 marches around the globe and demand commonsense gun laws. Today is the beginning of a bright, new future for this country.

DELANEY TARR, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS: We are here to call out every single politician to force them into enacting this legislation, to addressing this legislation, to doing more than a simple band-aid on a broken bone.

EMMA GONZALEZ, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS: Everyone who was there understands, everyone who has been touched by the cold grip of gun violence understands.

Fight for your lives before it is someone else`s job.

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WILLIAMS: According to our best estimates the number of people who attended the "March for Our Lives" in Washington on Saturday exceeded the number of people who live in Washington. Satellite photography of the crowd is staggering.

What was truly staggering was the message when received at ground level, and how it was delivered by a group of angry, but composed, sad but not maudlin, powerful but not arrogant high school students mostly and in some cases younger kids. Make no mistake, while they are survivors they are also leaders.

The kids from Parkland were just high school kid, remember, until a crazed former student walked in and shot up their high school and killed their friends. Emma Gonzalez for one did something on Saturday that presidents, and politicians, and preachers have failed at in the past. She commanded that crowd and brought them to silence for what seemed like an eternity.

The silence of that moment, the power of that whole day was broken for some folks by the comments of one man, Rick Santorum, lifetime NRA member, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, former GOP presidential candidate in fact. These days he appears as a Trump defender on CNN panel discussions. And it was on CNN this weekend that he said this about the student protesters.

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RICK SANTORUM, FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATOR: It`s really all about politics or is it all about keeping our schools safe. Because it is about keeping our schools safe then we have to have much broader discussion than the discussion that`s going on right now. How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem do something about maybe taking CPR classes, they took action to ask someone to pass a law. They didn`t say how do I, as an individual, deal with this problem.

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WILLIAMS: CPR classes, Santorum`s comments were cheered on by the gun lobby but shunned from many others from parents, to students, to medical professionals. The Executive Director of the American Board of Surgery took the time to write this, "Mr. Santorum, CPR doesn`t work if all the blood is on the ground. This is a dangerous and wrong message."

And Stoneman Douglas shooting survivor, David Hogg, appeared on CNN this morning with a chilling response of his own.

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DAVID HOGG, STONEMAN DOUGLAS SHOOTING SURVIVOR: At the end of the day, if you take a bullet from an AR-15 to the head no amount of CPR is going to save you because you`re dead.

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WILLIAMS: And perhaps a perverse form of proof of just how impactful these students have been, the fake photo of Emma Gonzalez that circulated on social media this weekend, that`s the fake on the left. It shows her tearing up the constitution. The actual photo from the photo shoot on the right showed Gonzalez tearing up a paper target from a shooting range.

Another break for us, we`re back in a moment with a notable departure from this American life.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. It was back in 1954 the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren thought it was very important that the court rule unanimously in what he knew would be a landmark case for all of us and for all time. Thankfully, it is still taught in schools today.

The ruling by a unanimous Supreme Court found that school segregation was unconstitutional. The cases did not solve inequality in education. That goes on today. The case did send a clear and indelible message to our still evolving country, not yet a decade after the end of the Second World War in the age of FDR.

The Brown in Brown versus Board of Education was Linda Brown. It was her father who objected to his daughter being turned away from an all white school near where they lived. And so, while the case took on so much importance and represented so many other plaintiffs, she lived out her life as Linda Brown of Brown versus Board of Education until her death last night in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas.

She could not have predicted what she and her dad started, a case argued before the court by Thurgood Marshall who would later make history by sitting on the court. The 101st airborne being sent to Arkansas by President Eisenhower because a racist governor down there would not enforce Brown versus Board of Educators.

It`s why we tonight remember Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas, because all great struggles have to start somewhere. This one started with her.

That is our broadcast for this Monday night as we begin a new week. Thank you so very much for being with us. Goodnight 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