Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: March 28, 2018 Guest: Mark Mazzetti, Mieke Eoyang
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: The breaking news tonight, the President`s attorney, John Dowd floated the idea of pardoning Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn. We`ve got two journalists standing by with details from their blockbuster reporting on this story. And the latest on the Mueller effort.
Speaking of which, today`s new details on what could be the most direct link yet discovered between the Trump campaign and Russia.
And only in the Trump era a Cabinet secretary fired tonight via Twitter as the President nominates his doctor, the presidential physician, to run Veterans Affairs, an agency of 370,000 people. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Wednesday night.
And good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 433 of the Trump administration. Another great day for all those involved in the newspaper war that this administration has sparked. Not a great day to be the now-former V.A. secretary, and in a moment we`ll talk about the latest departure from the Trump Cabinet and how the President plans to fill this particular job.
But first, as they say, two reports today with major possible implications on the obstruction angle of the Mueller investigation. "The New York Times" first on the board, "Washington Post" quickly followed to report President Trump`s former lead counsel in the Russia case, John Dowd, spoke last year with lawyers for Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and one-time Trump Campaign Manager, Paul Manafort, about possible presidential pardons.
A five-person reporting team for the "Times" writes this. "The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raised questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation."
The three authors of "The Washington Post" piece write it this way. "President Trump`s lawyer told attorneys representing Paul J. Manafort last summer that the President might be willing to pardon his former campaign chairman if he was charged with a crime stemming from the investigation into Russian election interference, according to two people familiar with the discussions."
Mueller has already indicted Paul Manafort on several charges of financial fraud. He has pleaded not guilty. He has pointedly not flipped or taken a deal. He`s chosen not to cooperate in this investigation.
Michael Flynn, however, has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and is now cooperating with the special counsel. President Trump was specifically asked about the possibility of a pardon for Flynn. This was back in December when he did not rule it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About Michael Flynn, would you consider a pardon for Michael Flynn?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We`ll see what happens. Let`s see.
I can say that. When you look at what`s going on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Back in July, "The Washington Post" reported, "Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members, and even himself in connection with the probe." Today, former Trump lawyer, John Dowd, and current White House Attorney, Ty Cobb, denied that there were any discussions about pardoning Flynn and Manafort. During today`s briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave a similar response but note her use of present- tense language during this critical point in this answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say unequivocally that no one here has discussed pardons in this case?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY: I can say that Ty Cobb is the person that would be most directly involved in this, and he`s got a statement on the record saying that there`s no discussion and there`s no consideration of those at this time in the White House.
KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did the President direct John Dowd to talk to the attorney for Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn about potential pardons?
SANDERS: I`m not aware of any conversations of that nature at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There was one reaction from someone close to the White House that bears noting. George Conway, husband of Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway, and a lawyer and his own right, fired this post off on Twitter shortly after the "Times" broke its story. It reads simply "This is flabbergasting."
For more we turn to our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night. Formidable panel they are. Michael Schmidt, "New York Times" Washington correspondent. His name among those five bylines on the "Times" report we just mentioned.
We welcome to our broadcast Carol Leonnig, Political Investigations Reporter for "The Washington Post" and Pulitzer Prize winner. Hers was among "The Washington Post" bylines today. Michael and Carol, both MSNBC Contributors.
And or good measure also with us is Jeremy Bash. Former Chief of Staff at CIA and Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to House Intel and an MSNBC National Security Analyst. Welcome to you both.
Michael, since you were first on the board, what was the most important part, in your view, of your own reporting, and is anyone alleging that Mr. Dowd was freelancing on his own without permission from his client?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, that`s really the question at the heart of this. Was Dowd simply out just talking, just trying to feel out the lawyers and try and, you know, make a deal here himself, or was he doing it at the President`s behest? That`s the real question. What did the President know and when did he know it?
People that who know Dowd find it hard to believe that he would go out and have such discussions without talking to the President about it. And if you remember this happened in July, right after Dowd took over. The special counsel`s investigation had been going on for just a few months. Trump was beginning to understand the severity of it. He was considering himself getting rid of Mueller. And that is when the discussions happened.
WILLIAMS: Carol, you`ve been focused on Manafort. Take us back to that time and fast forward with us to present day and how notable it remains that he is still in the fight and has not flipped.
CAROL LEONNIG, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It`s really, really important, Brian. And remember at this moment in time, it`s hard to rewind because it feels like it was five years ago but it was just about seven months. At this moment, it was very well known throughout -- there are tons of news reports saying that Paul Manafort was under intense scrutiny, under intense pressure to cooperate with Bob Mueller`s and his special counsel team.
And the President was conferring privately with his own lawyers about whether or not he could pardon himself, his allies, his friends, as we reported it back in July. This was an intense period. And there is a lot of speculation now, looking back, on why is it that a man who faces, if convicted of the charges he faces decades in prison, why does he consistently resist cooperating or even entering into plea negotiations? His attorneys have been very quiet, except to say that they are convinced that the charges are an overreach.
They don`t appear to be an overreach. In fact, they feel, especially on the financial fraud cases, to be an open-and-shut matter. So it remains incredibly mysterious as to why there are no talks to negotiate with Bob Mueller.
WILLIAMS: Also, Carol, I remember where I was specifically driving on the New Jersey Turnpike just past Newark Airport, and I don`t like to brag, when I heard the news that Sheriff Joe Arpaio was getting pardoned. And remember how many of us thought that was kind of a potential bellwether, maybe a little signal.
LEONNIG: Absolutely. And there was a lot of recoiling in the legal community about just that, Brian. Fear that the President had overstepped, because remember, the difference there was that the sheriff was accused of contempt of a federal order. And was it appropriate for a President to step in with his, you know, very expansive pardon power, but ultimately limited and to make that kind of gesture for somebody who was snubbing the entire federal government and a court order.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, among your bona fides I did not mention Harvard- educated lawyer, which is the side of you we desperately need in this conversation. As I understand the law, which isn`t saying much, it`s not illegal to mention in conversation a pardon per se. It being the most awesome power we grant our presidents. It is illegal, however, and could be construed as such, to dangle a pardon. And we should also mention, it usually comes as a last resort, not a first.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, the constitution gives extraordinary leeway to a President to pardon almost anybody he wants for almost anything under any circumstances. And so the President discussing a pardon, I think it`s going to be hard for a prosecutor to say that per se is illegal.
What`s so unusual in this case is that, of course, the investigation is about the President and it`s about the President`s conduct and the President`s inner circle. And so we`ve never in our country had a circumstance in which the pardon was used to obstruct an investigation of the President. This may be a case of first impression for this special counsel. This might be the kind of thing that if litigated could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
WILLIAMS: And that becomes a unique question is what you`re saying to this case, that we`ve never seen a pardon dangled in this way that could potentially affect the outcome of a case detrimental to the President?
BASH: Absolutely, that`s precisely right. When else in our history has a President sought preemptively to pardon people so that they wouldn`t testify against him in a massive national security investigation of his own conduct?
WILLIAMS: And, Michael, you make particular note of current and former administration officials, say they recounted conversations, they either took part in or overheard, about pardons. So tell me, Michael, in your role as analyst of your own work, where`s the Mueller interest in a line like that?
SCHMIDT: Well, the question really here is, was there an intent to actually obstruct the investigation? Did the President simply, you know -- was the President going to Dowd? And we don`t know if that`s true but was the motivation here, look, this is an investigation that there`s nothing to it, we`ve done nothing wrong, it`s a distraction for the country, we need to pardon these guys to move beyond it. Or was there a larger motivation there, was there a corrupt intent to actually get in the way of the investigation?
And now that these questions have surfaced, I find it hard to believe that Mueller will not try and find that out. And the way that he can do that at the heart of this is obviously with the interview with the President.
The biggest question, the next phase, you know, looking the President down on this investigation, will the President sit with Mueller, will Mueller have a chance to understand from the President why he did the things he did, why did he fire Jim Comey, why did he ask Comey to end the Flynn investigation? That will allow Mueller to assess what were truly the President`s intentions?
WILLIAMS: And, Michael, you and I have had this conversation before. When we learn that Mueller`s on to something, isn`t the usual rule of thumb that he`s been on it for weeks or months before we have learned about it?
SCHMIDT: Yes, we don`t know if this is a part of the obstruction inquiry that Mueller is looking at. But if you talk to legal analysts and you kind of watch this investigation and read between the lines, it`s hard to believe that Mueller would not look at this question.
You have to remember, Mueller wants to overturn every rock here to make sure that when he closes up shop, he can say that he looked at all these issues and he`s not faced with a disclosure afterwards that raises questions about whether he actually did a good job looking at everything.
WILLIAMS: Carol, put it gently. This is not a recruitment poster for future members of the Trump legal team, is it?
LEONNIG: No, it`s not. And it`s been I think very vexing, especially for the people still left holding the bag, if you will, the few who remain as advisers to the President`s legal strategy, Jay Sekulow on the outside, his personal attorney, and Ty Cobb on the inside.
John Dowd`s resignation was abrupt. They had some sense, I think, that he was eventually going to take a lesser role. But his departure last week was unknown to them and a shock.
And now, we have reported four high-profile attorneys have all been contacted in recent weeks and have all said no. People like Ted Olson, people like Bob Bennett, Dan Webb. It goes on and on. And we are told that most law firms are telling the President`s allies, "I`m sorry, this is just too nuclear a topic, too controversial for our clients, our partners, and this is not a client we are willing to take on."
WILLIAMS: Especially stepping in now to a case that has already all but matured. Jeremy Bash, on the question of what did the President know, when did he know it, could the President have possibly given Dowd the permission, rolled this idea out himself?
We have compiled just based on public reporting things this President has reportedly asked of the people around him. Asked James Comey to shut down Michael Flynn, asked Andrew McCabe who he voted for, Don McGahn to get the Justice Department to fire Mueller, senior aides about interviews they`ve conducted with Mueller, Jeff Sessions to investigate Obama and the Democrats. It is, I guess based on this list, within the realm of possibility.
BASH: Yes. I mean, legally speaking, the President is sort of a magnet for the inappropriate. He sort of seems to stumble every time into this unethical territory of putting the arm on someone he shouldn`t be putting an arm on, given his position as President. It would not surprise me at all if he asked directly how fast can I pardon these people and can I pardon myself?
WILLIAMS: A magnet for the inappropriate, a phrase if not already in American jurisprudence sure should be. Michael Schmidt, Carol Leonnig, Jeremy Bash our thanks tonight for starting off our broadcast with a terrific conversation and great reporting.
Coming up for us, another important thread, as we mentioned, in this Mueller investigation. What it reveals about the Trump campaign`s connections to Russia and who was talking to Russians during the 2016 campaign.
And then later, movement on two other legal issues that could haunt this President or harm him involving Stormy Daniels and the Trump family business. "The 11th Hour" on a Wednesday night just getting under way.
WILLIAMS: A new court -- ruling in a court filing, I should say, in Robert Mueller`s Russia investigation giving us a look at where the special counsel may be headed. According to this document, and this takes a little explaining, Former Trump Campaign Aide, Rick Gates, he`s an aide to Manafort, was in contact during the 2016 campaign with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence.
Mark Mazzetti of "The New York Times" writes, "Gates had frequent phone calls in September and October 2016," note that date, "with a person the FBI believes had active links to Russian spy services at the time, the document said. Mr. Gates told an associate the person was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU. That`s the Russian military intelligence agency. The individual is identified only as person "A", and the document describes him as someone who worked for Mr. Gates and Paul Manafort.
Aaron Blake of "The Washington Post" puts at this way, "Mueller just drew his most direct line to date between the Trump campaign and Russia." He write, "What`s particularly significant in the Mueller filing are six words and had such ties in 2016. Prosecutors have said previously that a long- time Manafort and Gates associate had ties to Russian intelligence, but they have never said those ties remained during the 2016 campaign," and that`s the distinction.
And an NBC News headline distilled the story down to some very clear language sighting Mueller`s court filing, "Trump campaign`s Gates knew he was speaking to Russian intel agent."
As you may recall, Rick Gates now cooperating with Mueller`s team, but Paul Manafort, as we mentioned early on in the broadcast tonight, has pleaded not guilty on a number of charges, including money laundering. Put another way for the sake of clarity, if Manafort gets the book thrown at him, he will die behind bars.
For more on all of this, we welcome to our broadcast Mark Mazzetti, Washington Investigated Correspondent for "The New York Times." We welcome back Mieke Eoyang, an Attorney and Former Staffer for the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.
Mark, talk to us about how significant is this filing. We`ve got people watching us tonight who probably read a headline on their devices and who have just gotten home from work, especially if they rely on the New York City subway system, they`re just getting home from work. Update them on what they need to know on this story.
MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think the significance is that you have a senior Trump campaign adviser in the final weeks of the campaign who`s having these communications with an associate who is, as Mueller has said today, active member of Russian intelligence service, has active ties to the service, and who Gates himself said he knew was a former GRU officer. If you step back and you say, what`s the cosmic significance? It just shows once again that the Trump campaign was having these contacts with not only the Russian government, with Russians, but with people who were affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.
We don`t know yet that too much of the substance of the calls between Gates and this individual, the man named Konstantin Kilimnik. But if you put together the totality of these contacts, it paints a picture of a Trump campaign that finds itself frequently in contact with Russian spy services.
WILLIAMS: Mieke, I`ll do that one better. He says cosmic significance. There is a constellation of people connected to the Trump campaign and White House who have been in contact with Russians.
We have never seen this before in the history of our republic, certainly in modern politics and campaigning. This is all new territory for all of us. So, Mieke, with that buildup, what`s the lead story to you as you read Mr. Mazzetti`s work?
MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFER: Right. So, as I look at this story, what it showing is the Trump administration has been denying that there were actual contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians? And they were saying this activity took place before people are in the campaign. What this shows is that Mueller is slowly, slowly tiptoeing up to the point where he can prove these ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Now we saw this in the Papadopoulos plea agreement. We see this with this conversation with Rick Gates. And what`s interesting, what Mark was saying about not knowing the content of this conversation. We don`t know publicly. But because Rick Gates is cooperating with the Mueller investigation team, we should presume that Mueller knows the content of those conversations.
WILLIAMS: Mark, along the way, we`re all getting a master`s degree in contemporary Russia. And we`ve learned that so many people who come up in the news are hyphenates, they`re kind of part-time oligarchs, they`re part- time government types, part-time spies. Tell us about this man suspected to be person "A" with the, for most of us, the unpronounceable name and what`s known about him?
MAZZETTI: Konstantin Kilimnik is a Ukrainian who worked with both Manafort and Gates for many years helping their work in Ukraine as part of the pro- Russian government there. He was a business associate. He kept ties with Manafort and Gates really up to the end. And the question has been exactly how directly is he tied to Russian intelligence?
There were always suspicions of that, his background, that he may have had past ties. But the significance of the document today is that, you know, Mueller and the FBI believes that these ties are pretty current. And to go to something that Mieke said, if you go to the Papadopoulos case, you go to the, you know, infamous Trump Tower incident with the Russians meeting Don Jr. and senior officials. These -- It doesn`t look like random coincidences anymore. It looks like not only were there eager attempts by the Russians to make contact with the Trump campaign, but the Trump campaign was certainly eager to reciprocate.
And I do have to say that in February of last year, the "Times" wrote the first story about contacts with Russian intelligence and we took some heat for it. But we`ve only seen case after case that have shown that these contacts were real.
WILLIAMS: And, Mieke, Mr. Gates is not the most famous or infamous name in this case. He surfaces in the news from time to time. Let`s talk about him for a moment. He`s cooperating, of course, which means, I`m guessing, that the feds have infiltrated his life. So what`s the potential that he comes up with even more of this sort of thing?
EOYANG: I think it`s very high. And you have to remember that Rick Gates was not only Paul Manafort`s right-hand man, but he was the deputy campaign manager for a time on the Trump campaign. So he would have been privy to all kinds of strategic conversations and within the Trump campaign itself, and also privy to all these conversations that Manafort was having with these pro-Russian-Ukrainians. So it may be that he has a lot more information about how this web of connections works than we have seen publicly so far.
WILLIAMS: We are happy to bring our viewers the face behind the byline Mark Mazzetti at the "Times." There`s this story, there`s the fact that he`s one of the five bylines in our first segment tonight. We greatly appreciate you staying up with us after a better than average news day in the business, Mark and Mieke Eoyang. As always, thank you so much for joining us on our broadcast.
Coming up for us after another break, the former chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush and the White House on the multiple legal fronts Trump is facing right now where the family business is concerned.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: As Mr. Mueller looms over this White House, the President is facing mounting legal pressure on other fronts. Stormy Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti, has filed a motion asking permission to depose President Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen. It`s not known if these depositions will ever actually happen. If they did, Trump would likely have to address Stormy Daniels` allegations under oath.
President Trump has repeatedly denied Stormy Daniels` claims through White House officials. As "The Washington Post" points out, in the motion Avenatti said he, quote, "Intends to prove that the hush agreement did not have a lawful object or purpose, Rather, the agreement and the $130,000 payment made pursuant to the agreement was for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election."
Michael Cohen has said the payment came from his own personal funds, a line of credit, in fact and not the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization.
Earlier today, Avenatti defended his move on CBS News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORAH O`DONNELL, CBS HOST: You mentioned Clinton versus Paula Jones in your motion. Why is that relevant?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` ATTORNEY: Well, it`s the Supreme Court precedent. The Supreme Court already decided that a sitting president can be deposed in connection with a civil matter. And if that was the law then, it certainly is the law now and hasn`t been overturned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And we heard from the other side in this, an attorney for Michael Cohen said the motion is, "A reckless use of the legal system in order to continue to inflate Michael Avenatti`s deflated ego and keep himself relevant." So they went personal.
We also learned today that a federal judge is allowing a lawsuit to proceed that accuses President Trump of receiving improper payments or emoluments from foreign governments through his Washington hotel. This is from Democratic attorneys general from Maryland and D.C. The argument is the President`s hotel and event spaces have an unfair advantage over their own convention centers because of their ties to the President. They do bear his name. The Department of Justice says the harm is speculative.
Here to talk about it, Peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and MSNBC Political Analyst and Richard Painter, former Chief White House Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush 43. We should tell you Richard is involved in three emoluments lawsuits against the president, including today`s. We should also tell you, full disclosure, he is contemplating a run for Al Franken`s old Senate seat in the great State of Minnesota.
Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Peter, I`ll begin with you. Sooner or later, this president`s going to be facing real legal problems. You`ve got Russia, you`ve got Stormy Daniels et al., and now you have the family business which everybody kind of knew about going in.
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. You know, , that`s exactly right. It is hard not to think back to Bill Clinton and the Paula Jones case. And the reason why is, you know, Paula Jones was a state employee in Arkansas who alleged that the then-Governor Clinton sexually harassed her and she filed a lawsuit, sexual harassment lawsuit. And it was allowed to go forward by the Supreme Court on a unanimous vote.
The Supreme Court said at the time of course a president ought to be subject to civil litigation while in office and it shouldn`t be -- it shouldn`t really take up that much of his time. I think everybody ultimately learned from that example that it can, in fact, have great consequences, a civil lawsuit. That civil lawsuit not only led to the president of the United States being deposed as Michael Avenatti seeks to do here, it led to the Monica Lewinsky case because President Clinton told false stories under oath about Monica Lewinsky in that lawsuit.
So these have great consequences. They can detour, sidetrack a presidency in ways you might not even imagine on the front end. And you can certainly see why President Trump`s attorney will make every effort to both quash this lawsuit and at the very least avoid any kind of deposition.
WILLIAMS: Richard, let`s talk about emoluments which to many people sounds like the active ingredient in a moisturizer. This assumes that if you`re coming from the UAE or Senegal or Fiji, common sense would tell you, hey, if we get our rooms at the Trump Hotel and then maybe during that conference in Washington, let it be known we brought him our business. He is subject to flattery, it may mean good things for us.
These suits as I understand it, are people, cities, hotels who are saying, we`re losing out on business. They are trying to prove harm to their livelihood. And that`s how they`re getting hurt in court. Is that close to correct?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, yes, that`s the standing argument. As to why they get to go into court and ask the judge for injunctive relief. What the President is doing is violating the emoluments clause of the constitution, and it`s really a very simple concept, because the founders were aware of this problem. Emolument means profit or benefit and the founders did not want, they specifically prohibited any person who holds a position of trust in the United States government for receiving profits or benefits from foreign governments. So that`s what`s going on when foreign governments patronize these hotels.
It`s unconstitutional. It`s a form of influence over the United States government official by the foreign government. The founders didn`t want it. They put it in the constitution. And that`s exactly what that language means. And we`re going to expect the judge to rule on that and interpret the emoluments clause, explain it to the President what the law is. Not just with respect to that hotel, but the law is the same with respect to the entire Trump business empire. And that`s why we`re going to court. We filed three of these. So there are three separate lawsuits in front of three federal judges.
I have to mention, though, the Congress has an obligation to enforce the emoluments clause as well. And they to be having hearings on this, neither the House nor the Senate want to do that. The Republicans in particular are reticent to stand up to President Trump on this issue, even though it`s a serious constitutional violation. And that`s one of the reasons I`m looking at that Senate seat in Minnesota. And I`ve hired a Republican political consultant to look at it because we need to help people in the Republicans and Democrats and Congress who are going to enforce the constitution of the United States.
And meanwhile, we`re going to ask the judges to look at this and the judge in Maryland is going to be doing that as well. This is a very, very serious situation. It was contemplated by the founders, it`s in the constitution, and he`s violating it.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, let`s call it judicial restraint. Have you been amazed at the selective silence on the part of this president on all things Stormy Daniels related? I am reminded he has plans to go to the friendly confines of Mar-a-Lago as early as tomorrow night to catch the tail end of his family`s week of spring break.
BAKER: Yes. And he has been very quiet. Look, he is somebody who`s not restrained, as you point it and he`s commenting on almost any other matter that comes before him, others matters that have nothing to do with him. He`s a watcher of television. He likes to weigh in on many, many different subjects. He`s not somebody who holds back.
But on this subject, at least, he has been very, very quiet. And that is what any lawyer would tell a client to do. But as we`ve seen in the past, this is a client who sometimes doesn`t listen to the advice of lawyers. So it`s interesting that he is here.
His lawyers, I`m sure, are telling him -- any lawyer would tell him, you can only make things worse by commenting publicly, so keep out of it. He seems to be listening to that advice at this point. Whether he will continue to in the days to come, who can say? He went for several months listening to his lawyers telling him not to attack Robert Mueller directly and then over the last week or so has clearly shifted course in that direction.
When he got frustrated, if he gets frustrated further in this situation, you could imagine him changing his pattern.
WILLIAMS: Richard Painter, if the President came to you and made an argument, appealed to your patriotism, and said, I need you, a first-class lawyer, to join my legal team, yes, it`s late in the game, what would you say to him?
PAINTER: Well, I`d tell him he needs to stop obstructing justice and violating the constitution. And I do not want to represent clients who are continually violating the law. And that`s what I`ve seen from this president. He`s violated a law.
And just today we`ve heard this story that his lawyer apparently was shopping around the idea of giving pardons to people who were implicated in the Russia investigation. That implies that they may be trying to buy testimony or interfere with the Russia investigation.
This is outrageous. I agree with my law school classmate, George Conway, who tweeted out today about that, that he`s just flabbergasted that this kind of things going on. And I think Mr. Conway is right. I don`t know if his wife, Kellyanne, agrees with him. But this is absolutely flabbergasting, what`s happening in this administration. No way, I`d want to be their lawyer.
WILLIAMS: Two gentlemen, one view of our politics and the state of our nation in 2018. Peter Baker, Richard Painter, thank you both very much for joining our conversation.
And coming up, the President has fired yet another cabinet secretary, yet again on twitter. What we know about the President`s pick to take over when "THE 11TH Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I also want to express our appreciation for Secretary Shulkin, who is implementing the dramatic reform throughout the VA. I have no doubt it will be properly implemented. Right, David? It better be David. We`ll never have to use those words. We`ll never have to use those words on our David.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, after weeks of uncertainty, David Shulkin, our David, is out as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the last Obama-era carryover in the Trump cabinet. He was in good favor with the President until he wasn`t.
He took heavy incoming fire after an internal report showed "serious dereliction" surrounding a trip Shulkin took to Europe with his wife, the tab for 10 days was a $100,000, while in the U.K., they accepted tickets to Wimbledon. The report also found his chief of staff doctored an e-mail, so taxpayers would cover the trip`s expense.
Trump announced the staff change were also on Twitter writing, "I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DoD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin`s service to our country and to our great veterans."
And while Shulkin`s rumored possible replacements ran the gamut from a Fox News host to a three-star army general, the President`s choice was a genuine surprise. He chose his doctor, the physician to the President, to run the second largest agency in all of our government, 10 times bigger than the FBI.
You may remember the doctor from his memorable on-camera briefing after examining his patient, the President. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ronnie Jackson was selected as White House physician back in `06. He previously treated President Obama. And just last week he was promoted and received his second star.
Here is a bit from that memorable briefing a few months back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: He has absolutely no, you know, cognitive or mental issues whatsoever, that he is very sharp. He has incredibly good genes and it`s the way God made him. His heart is very healthy. He is very sharp and, you know, he`s very articulate when he speaks to me. More stamina and more energy than just about anybody there.
The President`s overall health is excellent. His cardiac health is excellent. He has incredible genes. I would just assume remain fit for duty for the remainder of his term and even for the remainder of another term if he is elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, let`s talk about this with retired four-star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, former Battlefield Commander in the Persian Gulf, now an MSNBC Military Analyst. He also served as this nation`s drug czar under President Clinton.
General what do you make of this choice? And I`m also curious as to your customer experience, as a more important than average customer of the VA.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it`s certainly a very unusual appointment. By all accounts, by the way, this young admiral is a superb physician. Look at his background. He`s been the honor graduate of most of his courses. He was a combat doctor in Iraq. So he is genuinely a very capable physician with a lot of time in Washington. And he`s got the confidence of the President of the United States.
I must admit, though, it`s unusual to have someone of that background, who`s been running for 12 years now, he`s been running a couple hundred people in the White House, to now be in charge of $180 billion budget in 380,000 employees. And it`s not just health care. I mean, there`s 131 cemeteries for God sakes, veterans` benefits program, which is Byzantine beyond belief. So, it`s a very unusual appointment. We`ve got to wish him well.
WILLIAMS: Some people say this is another possible step toward privatizing more of the VA, and there are two distinct opinions about that. What`s your take on that?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think that`s -- that was the major reason Secretary Shulkin got canned. Now, he had a boneheaded incident with the travel thing but I think he was fighting with the political appointees in his own agency.
I must admit, Brian, there is an argument that the VA, which is an absolutely national treasure to the veterans. Once you`re in it, in the system, they`re just terrific docs, medical care is first rate. We spend a ton of money supporting our veterans, the most generous nation on the face of the earth to our veterans.
But the VA`s got endemic problems. They`ve had a lot of problems with institutional lack of integrity, not telling the boss the truth. They just -- they can`t seem to organize themselves. There is a solid argument to have every veteran have a credit card with a chip in it that says, here`s the care he`s authorized, and let the veteran decide whether to go to a VA facility or to go to a private practitioner. I might add that`s a way the military medical retirement system works.
If I had a choice, I`d go to Walter Reed because I live in Seattle, I use Swedish hospital. So, I think we`ve got to do something to have competition and to downsize the VA and not try and have them take care of the direct care of veterans all over the nation.
WILLIAMS: With us from Washington tonight, always a great pleasure to have you on the broadcast, General Barry McCaffrey, sir, thank you very much.
MCCAFFREY: All right, Brian, good to be with you.
WILLIAMS: And coming up tonight for us, a passionate protest in California`s capital city. It has captured national attention for all the wrong reasons. We`ll bring you the latest after this break.
WILLIAMS: We have pictures from the West Coast tonight just in to us. A new round of protest stopped rush hour traffic tonight in Sacramento. That`s after the police shooting of an unarmed father there. Stephon Clark was shot 20 times and killed by police officers last week.
We have a report on this whole situation in Sacramento tonight from NBC News Correspondent Joe Fryer.
JOE FRYER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anger is boiling over in Sacramento. Hundreds showed up last night for a special city council meeting focused on the death of Stephon Clark.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those officers need to be fired.
FRYER: There were tense moments. The Clark`s brother, Stevante, jumping on the mayor`s desk in criticizing the city. Today, a calmer scene as Clark is remembered at his wake.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He had a personality and his smile was out this word.
FRYER: Police who responding to report`s of vandal as breaking car windows when two officers confronted Clark in his grandmother`s backyard. They thought he was armed.
But Clark had no weapon, just a cell phone. California`s Attorney General is now joining the investigation into the shooting. Clark`s family wants more.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: We are going to correspond with the Department of Justice and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to open a federal investigation.
FRYER: Today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about high-profile police shootings, including the Clark case.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is something that is a local matter, and that`s something that we feel should be left up to the local authorities at this point in time.
WILLIAMS: That late report from Joe Fryer out in Sacramento. That is why of course there is a movement called Black Lives Matter. A lot of people are paying close attention to Sacramento tomorrow. More protest are planned there as is Clark`s funeral.
A final break for us and then coming up, now for the first time and not for the last but the President today stirred up confusion on social media, which we will attempt to fix right after this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Are you ready?
We will build -- build that wall. Build that wall. A great wall along the southern border. Build that wall. Build that wall. Who`s going to pay for that wall?
You better believe -- I look at the trade deficit we have with Mexico, it`s massive. The wall is a peanuts compared to what we`re talking about.
We`re going to have a wall, folks. We`re going to have a serious wall.
It`s a high ceiling. That will do. We will use the best technology including above and below ground sensors, above and below.
Towers, aerial surveillance. The wall is a thousand miles, right? Believe me, so easy. You build buildings, this is like easy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Still no late word on Mexican funding but the last thing before we go here tonight is something the President ran on and really constructed his campaign around, specifically, though, let`s talk about something the President tweeted today. And here it is, the text reads, "Great briefing this afternoon on the start of our southern border WALL," in all caps. It`s accompanied by photos showing what is apparently an incredible engineering and construction project of great size and scope.
And then the "L.A. Times" came along and ruined everything with this headline, "Trump tweets that his border wall construction has started. It hasn`t." They quote a spokesman for the border patrol, and forgive us for thinking perhaps a former spokesman for the border patrol as saying the following during a media tour of the sector earlier this month, "First and foremost, this isn`t Trump`s wall. This isn`t the infrastructure that Trump is trying to bring in. This new wall replacement has absolutely nothing to do with the prototypes that were shown over in the San Diego area."
Indeed the kill joys at the L.A. Times say, "The wall construction the President is talking about and tweeted about today is a replacement project that started back in `09." So that is our round up of the real news tonight from the America`s southern border and that is indeed our broadcast on a Wednesday evening.
Thank you so very much as always for being here with us. Good night from NBC news headquarters here in New York.
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