WH shake-ups create uncertainty for staff. TRANSCRIPT: 03/29/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Jackie Calmes, Philip Bump, Rick Stengel, Jonathan Lemire, Sol Wisenberg

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: March 29, 2018 Guest: Jackie Calmes, Philip Bump, Rick Stengel, Jonathan Lemire, Sol Wisenberg

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 434 of the Trump administration.

The President is at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida tonight. The 137th day of his presidency spent at a Trump branded property. He will spend the long Easter weekend there, living behind a less than rock solid situation in his West Wing where today he said good go-bye to his departing Communications Director, Hope Hicks.

Jonathan Lemire of "The Associated Press," who is standing by to join us tonight, puts it this way. "Hicks was more accurately described by White House officials as Trump`s right-hand-woman and media gatekeeper, providing needed doses of affirmation to the President and able to deliver bad news to him with few repercussions."

This month alone, we have seen four critical senior staff members depart the administration as the President continues to remake his Cabinet among other things, which brings us to John Kelly. "Bloomberg" reporting tonight, "White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has lost some his clout, and wasn`t at President Donald Trump`s side for crucial decisions on staffing and policy moves, according to several senior aides. Kelly wasn`t with the President last week when Trump abruptly decided to oust H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser and replace him with John Bolton. "Last week, when Trump spoke with President Vladimir Putin, Kelly wasn`t on the call."

Even as the President appears to be running the White House without Kelly`s input, Trump has recently made a point of publicly praising his Chief of Staff which, as you know, can also be the kiss of death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have General Kelly here, four-star, and he`s doing a great job in Washington. I think he likes what you do better than what he does but he`s doing a great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Amid to chaos, there`s more talk about something that`s been discussed on this broadcast among others and that is Defense Secretary Mattis remains on the job while the original band of brothers, the generals, that Trump hired have diminished around him. There`s been speculation that Mattis does not welcome and may not get along with the new neocon National Security Adviser and long-time hawk, John Bolton. So it was fun and interesting to overhear the man known in Washington spoke as the sec deaf, great Bolton, today outside the Pentagon for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR-DESIGNATE: Thanks you for having me.

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Ambassador Bolton, so good to see you. Thanks for coming and it`s good to finally meet you.

BOLTON: Absolutely.

MATTIS: I`ve heard that you`re actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As for the President, after a nearly week long disappearance from any public setting, he got to cut loose a bit before a union audience today in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`re now finally putting America first. Just this week we secured a wonderful deal with South Korea. I may hold it up until after a deal is made with North Korea.

We are launching the next phase of America`s economic come back. We are going to rebuild America`s crumbling infrastructure.

They don`t like the winds we`ve been getting. They don`t like that the economy, the Democrats, they don`t like that the economy is so strong.

I have made some changes because I wasn`t happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of.

We need walls. We started building our wall up. And we are getting that sucker built.

There`s a revolution going on out there. Even look at Roseanne, I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On that note, let`s bring in our lead-off panel for another Thursday night, shall we, the aforementioned Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press" and an MSNBC Political Analyst. Philip Bump is back with us, National Correspondent for "The Washington Post" and Jackie Calmes returns for the broadcast, White House Editor for "The L.A. Times."

OK. Mr. Lemire, since we started with you, we know where the head of the Trump administration is tonight. Where is the heart especially on this day when Hope Hicks left his orbit, other than Keith Schiller, his bodyguard, who was with him the duration, the entire length of the campaign? This is the closest person to him.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": That`s right. I mean, Keith Schiller dates years before the campaign.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LEMIRE: But Hope Hicks is one of the original aids, even before there was a campaign. The early months of 2015, she was on board. And today, she saw -- she got a gracious exit from the White House. The footage there of the handshake and the kiss on the cheek.

The President brought her out in front of the Oval Office in full view of reporters to have that good-bye, which is one -- Hope Hicks is someone who usually shies away from the press, shies away from the scene but she got the moment this time here. That is far more. She had a far better exit than, say, Rex Tillerson, who is fired by a tweet, or David Shulkin, who is fired in a court phone call from Chief of Staff John Kelly. And there`s a lot of anxiety in the West Wing and the members of the Cabinet that there may be more departures coming.

Our reporting tonight suggests there`s that one imminence, although we always put an asterisk, the President could change his mind at any time. But there`s a sense around the building that Shulkin, you know, had the President`s suspension in recent days for the Ethics scandal. Now that that`s over, Trump, who likes to do it kind of one thing at a time may turn his attention to someone else, whether that`s Ben Carson, or Zinke, or Pruitt, and even John Kelly, who is again, job standing at the moment seems secure but is without question, seen his influence weighing in the West Wing.

WILLIAMS: Jackie, I`m curious as to what you`re hearing. It is odd that a departure or two, and it`s Thursday after all, creates more kind of ancillary anxiety back home in Washington, especially now that the boss is in that environment, the friendly confines of Mar-a-Lago where paying friends and paying guest will surround him now for the next couple of days.

JACKIE CALMES, WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Right, and we`ve seen with one personnel change after another that after the fact you learn that he was talking to people, the friends that he runs into over dinner, plays golf with, and he just throws out names and asks them, "What about this person, what about that person?" And that`s not the kind of people that people back in Washington, his own staff, would like him to be talking to.

You know, and a lot of these people are telling him what they want to hear anyway. And it`s just the idea -- I mean, take this week that Dr. Shulkin was replaced by Dr. Ronny Jackson, who`s at the White House heading up a team of about 20 doctors and nurses and health assistance in the care of the President and Vice President. And he`s going to a second largest bureaucracy in our government, second only to the Pentagon that is just renowned for its dysfunction. It`s like a recipe for disaster.

WILLIAMS: Philip, the departure of Shulkin was Corleone ask, the more we learn about it. I`m going to play for you from our 8:00 p.m. broadcast an interview Chris Hayes conducted with the now Former V.A Secretary. It speaks to the out of nowhere dismissal of him yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER VETERAN AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I spoke to the President yesterday. We spoke about the progress that I was making, what I needed to do from a policy perspective.

CHRIS HAYES, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES HOST: That`s before you were fired?

SHULKIN: That`s correct.

HAYES: You spoke to him and he made no mention of the fact that he was about to terminate you?

SHULKIN: That`s correct.

HAYES: And then you found out via tweet.

SHULKIN: Yes, right before that, the Chief of Staff, Kelly, gave me a call, which I appreciate. He gave me a heads-up. And so -- but that was much after the phone call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, while not a dead carp inside newspaper, inside a bullet proof vest that is the kind of thing that can spread anxiety among employees.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, unjustifiable. I mean, it certainly isn`t the case. So this was totally out of the blue. I mean, there had been press reports for a long time that Shulkin was perhaps going to make an exit. He seems had prepared an editorial that gotten to "The New York Times" fairly quickly, so he seemed to see the writing on the wall.

But I think what`s fascinating in here is, none of us are surprised, by the way, in which maybe -- it was almost textbook to what happened to Rex Tillerson, right? Rex Tillerson got a random call in Africa from Kelly saying, "Hey, look out for a tweet." And next thing you know, Rex Tillerson is out, right?

WILLIAMS: And he made sure to leak where he was when he received the call, just to add insult to injury.

BUMP: Exactly. I mean, I actually went back and looked at all the people who`d left the White House. And first of all, it depends on how you define senior staff members. But by my count, the number of senior officials that have left this administration, we are losing one essentially every nine days with Shulkin`s departure, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes, it seems eight or nine days.

BUMP: And not only that, but I went back and looked at all the ones who`d actually been officially fired, not just resigned under pressure, and I think McMaster was the only one where Trump himself actually did the firing. Every other case, it was either Kelly or someone else that had fallen out that sword. And I think that`s a remarkable thing, especially if you`re fired by the President.

WILLIAMS: You just mentioned the name of the Chief of Staff. And, Mr. Lemire, the kind of the Kelly sweepstakes are back in play. I heard two television correspondents reporting from Mar-a-Lago tonight just to say that there are renewed new doubts and fears about Kelly. What are you hearing?

LEMIRE: Well, I think the point just made about these rumors seem to pick up every time the President goes to Mar-a-Lago is a good one. That is where he often sounds out his friends and advisers. "What do you think of this? What do you think of that?" It is also where some of them plant ideas in his head in terms of making personal changes.

John Kelly has had a roller coaster the last six weeks or so where he, you know, seemed to be in fairly firm footing on the White House. The Rob Porter scandal badly damaged him, not just because of negative media coverage, which the President was very upset about, but within the West Wing itself. Staffers who felt like the version of events he told about he handle the Porter dismissal were not accurate and they were self-serving. And that he seems like he may have been on his way out.

But after he changed the White House security clearance procedure a lot of that heat suddenly turned to Jared Kushner and Kelly seemed to reestablish himself at least temporarily. He was no fan of H.R. McMaster. He was agitating for him to get out. But we`ve seen here in the last week or so he opposed the John Bolton move. The President made it anyway.

He wasn`t in the Oval Office when the President made the decision to go with Bolton. And, you know, Kelly has been taken upon himself to be on a number of the President`s calls, domestic or foreign. He was not on the one with Vladimir Putin last week that led, of course, to the President overstaff objections congratulating Putin on his reelection.

WILLIAMS: Somebody lead the diet this week said it`s just as likely Michael Bolton could be hired for the next opening in this West Wing at the right we`re going. Hey, Jackie, about three nights a week I manage to ask one of our journalist contributors how the Trump agenda advanced today. So, I`ll ask that version of that question to you specifically.

This event in Richfield, Ohio was designed to feature infrastructure. But how much -- what of this plan is ever going see the light of day and who`s going to work with this guy?

CALMES: You know, this speech couldn`t have been better at just underscoring why the President`s agenda in particular on infrastructure, frankly, isn`t going to go any where this year as many Republicans will tell you if only privately. This speech, even by Trump`s standards was the most disjointed, rambling speech I have ever seen. It was like he could go to the teleprompter where he was supposed to talk about infrastructure.

Infrastructure didn`t even get mentioned until fully one-third of the way into the speech and then he would give paragraphs worth from the teleprompter, and then he was off on any number of topics, you name them. On a more serious note, it was a campaign speech. And he is going to need Democrats votes to pass any infrastructure bill, although Republicans don`t want to bring in to the floor.

But seriously, this speech from the very first words out of his mouth to the end was a campaign speech he repeatedly derived. The Democrats said they were for illegals and drugs coming across the border, that they were going to repeal the second amendment. He talked about the midterms, how people needed to get -- people in his audience right in front of him as well as those watching need to get out and vote in the midterms to give him more Republicans to advance his agenda.

This was a taxpayer financed supposedly official event, not a campaign event. And yet taxpayers paid for what was from beginning to end a political speech.

WILLIAMS: Let`s not forget, there was a little Roseanne Bar. And as we pointed out on the broadcast last night, he took another whack at the wall construction going on our southern boarder claiming credit for it. It is not correct. This is a project that started in `09. This is not the Trump wall, it`s a wall replacement project.

Philip, I made a list. We refer to weeks like this as quiet weeks around here because this is all we`ve been covering. The two members of the legal team who left before they were on duty, diGenova and Toensing, Stormy Daniels, a certain prime time, Duke University delayed, but prime time television interview Sunday night, the floating of the pardons, the dangling of the pardons was just last night, and of course, a Cabinet member dismissed. That`s what passes in 2018 as a slow week.

BUMP: That`s true. First of all, I would like to point out, it was Kansas delayed, not Duke delayed. But this has been the by-Trump standards a really unrocky week. And I think part of that is simply we`re so acclimated to it, right.

I mean, this is the fourth Cabinet member that has changed positions, including Kelly who obviously roughly go to the White House. But there are three people who have been fired essentially from Trump`s Cabinet, which is unheard of beyond someone like Gerald Ford coming in and replacing everyone from Richard Nixon`s Cabinet, right? This simply doesn`t happen, this level of turnover. But we`re so used to by this point, that we sort of just take it as, yes, OK, so Shulkin was gone. We expect him to be gone. And, you know, that therefore is not remarkable.

I think the important thing to note here is there`s been all this conversation about what happen, what does the White House looked like once Hope Hicks, this stabilizing force, is gone, if John Kelly is out of power? What happens? And, you know, the response to that is, look what happens with them there. Like I just -- I don`t know how Donald Trump can be less stable and less erratic than he has been since he was inaugurated essentially. It is his style.

What he wants to do is he wants to go do things like that speech in Ohio today where he gets up in front of the crowd and the crowd applauds, and he sort of rest on whatever he`s thinking about. He wants to basically give speeches that are in his Twitter account. In the rest of it, it has never held much interest for him. And I`m not sure how having Hope Hicks leave or John Kelly potentially leave down the road, I`m not sure how that gets worse in that scenario.

WILLIAMS: You all know what I`ve just done by calling it a slow week. I have just invited the busiest Friday of our lifetime tomorrow. And if we have it, we`ll invite everybody back.

Hey, Jonathan Lemire, Philip Bump, Jackie Calmes, always a pleasure. Our thanks to the three of you for starting us off tonight.

And coming up for us, new reporting on how Trump has tried to balance his public relationship with Putin at America`s toughening stance against Russia. Some of that being forced upon him.

And later, the President today says he doesn`t know what community college means. The "11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Russia announced today it will expel 60 Americans. And tonight`s "New York Times" headline puts it simply, "Tensions are worst than decades." The move came several days after the U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomats, we used that term advisedly, and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle in the wake of a poison nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. President Trump has been unwilling to publicly criticize Vladimir Putin as you may have heard as the U.S. teams up with allies to combat the Russian threat.

Our NBC News colleagues, Carol Lee, Courtney Kube, and Kristen Welker, report tonight that behind the scenes, "Trump has recently taken a sharper tone on Putin, administration official said, but the shift seems more a reaction of the Russian leader challenging the President`s strength than a new belief that he`s an adversary. Putin`s claim earlier this month that Russia has new nuclear capable weapons that could hit the U.S., a threat he underscored with video simulating an attack, really got under the President`s skin, one official said. So much so that after hearing Putin`s speech, Trump called the leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. to say the Russian leader sounded dangerous, so the four of them needed to stick together."

And about that phone call last week with the now famous all capital letter instructions to the President, Do not congratulate Putin they write, "Two officials said Trump told Putin during a phone call last week after Putin`s re-election, if you want to have an arms race we can do that, but I`ll win."

With us for more, the aforementioned Courtney Kube, our NBC News Pentagon- based National Security and Military Reporter who co-authored that report and Rick Stengel is back with us, Former Under Secretary of State for Public diplomacy and Public Affairs as well as the Former Managing Editor of "Time Magazine."

So, Courtney, there has been an effort, I don`t want to be too polite here, to toughen and normalize this President`s reaction to a leader of Russia who has had us under a kind of slow motion, quite but profound electronic attack and otherwise for a couple of years now.

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND MILITARY REPORTER: That`s right. And as you mentioned in our story, Carol Lee and Kristen Welker and I, we talked about some of the specific times where administration officials, one of them being Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had to really convince President Trump why it`s important to be tough against Russia. And one of the ways that they convince him was to say Vladimir Putin responds with strength, so you need to be strong.

One of the parts of the call that he had last week that we reported on our story is that, you know, President Trump said, "Why did you show those weapons," you know, referring back to President Putin`s -- to Vladimir Putin`s displaying those nuclear weapons right before the election in that show of strength. And Trump said, "Well, if you want an arms race, we can have one and you can have one but I`ll win." So he used some tougher language but our reporting is that he really had to be pushed along.

Another specific case was the idea, this notion that the U.S. would supply some weapons to Ukraine in their battle against Russia. Last summer, I wrote a story in August saying that there was $50 million arms package that had made its way to the White House that had been endorsed by the National Security Apparatus, including the Pentagon and the State Department for javelin anti-tank missiles. Well, that sat on the President`s desk for months.

And Secretary Tillerson and others continued to bring it up, you know, throughout the course of that time saying, you know, this is still there, will you endorse it. And President Trump really had to be pushed to go forward with that plan.

WILLIAMS: Rick Stengel, it strikes me, while none of this is good because it has at his heart an attack on these two people in the U.K. using a nerve agent too virulent to be allowed in warfare. This is normal. This is the most normal feeling U.S.-Russian relationship certainly of the last 14 months.

This is what we do. We eject their folks. They throw out our folks and we bicker as this relationship has been.

RICK STENGEL, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Yes. You know, the word that diplomats used is reciprocity. And the Russians believe in reciprocity but this is how they look at it. "We invade your sovereignty. You toss out some of your diplomats, we toss out some of yours and now we are all equal."

WILLIAMS: And we try to kill guys over in the U.K.

STENGEL: So, that`s right. So the thing is they want this kind of false equivalence where you throw out the same number. But that is how they deceive people to act like things are normal. And it is normal to be adversarial.

I would never want to disagree with anything in the "New York Times" but I wouldn`t agree this is the worst in decades. I would say certainly after the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine just a few years ago, that was much worse.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I thought some headline was surprising in its tone. Hey, Courtney, the video of the Russian weapons, I remember covering it in realtime that night. It`s probably not a surprise that it got to the President who takes in so much of his world, admittedly so, from television. However, when we need a question answered about weapons, we call you at the Pentagon. The world can know that you are our in-House expert.

Were they ever real, the things we saw depicted in that Russian combination of kind of video and computer game animation?

KUBE: So, we know that one of them was actually an old video. It was from several years ago, like about 10 years ago. None of the weapons that were show they were really a surprise though. They were all part of a larger weapons program that has actually been laid out and that we know -- we`ve known the -- the U.S. has known for some time that Russia was working towards. But the reality is, you know, they do have some of those capabilities that were shown there and they are working towards some of the others.

You know, I guess, long story short, what he showed that day was not a surprise. Not all of it was new but some of it is actually a potential threat to the United States or the other adversaries of Russia.

WILLIAMS: And, Rick Stengel, so much of the utterances of Vladimir Putin, like a lot of leaders, is for the folks back home.

STENGEL: Yes.

WILLIAMS: It`s for public consumption. They love to see strength. Putin newly re-elected in and as quicker now gets into a spat with the American President. This probably feels much more normal to them, too.

STENGEL: Yes. I think if Donald Trump listened to his intelligence officers, which we know he doesn`t necessarily do, they would say you know what Mr. President? What he was doing was with those videos was for his domestic audience. He was about to be running for President.

WILLIAMS: Right.

STENGEL: They like to see strength. And in fact, the other thing I`d say to Donald Trump is, I want you to go back and read, another dubious thing to say, George F. Kennan`s long telegram that he sent from Moscow.

WILLIAMS: Yes, he`s not going to do that, by the way. Go ahead.

STENGEL: But everything that we see in terms of Putin`s behavior was laid out in Kennan`s long telegram that the Russians respond to toughness, that they`re suspicious about the west, that they are insecure. I mean, this is -- Vladimir Putin today was describe by George F. Kennan and Trump had learned something about how to treat this guy that he`s afraid to criticize.

WILLIAMS: You are as usual absolutely right. Our thanks to Courtney Kube, our person at the Pentagon, and Rick Stengel, our person here in New York. We greatly appreciate it, guys.

And coming up, the 2016 Republican convention in the city of Cleveland now a focus of Robert Mueller`s investigative team. We`ll talk about why when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The Reuters News Agency is tonight reporting that the Muller investigation is looking into Russian contacts of the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, "Investigators have asked detailed questions about conversations that Jeff Sessions then a Trump campaign adviser and senator," we might add, "had at a convention event attended by then Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak," said the first source who was questioned by Mueller about the event.

So this is someone who is actually been asked about it. The same source said Mueller`s team also has been asking whether Sessions had private discussions Kislyak on the sidelines of a campaign speech Trump gave at Washington`s Mayflower Hotel on April 2016. Sessions` spokespersons have denied repeatedly that he had any private discussions with Kislyak at the Mayflower.

Reuters also reporting investigators are looking into the party platform language. You may recall the hubbub over this, "Another issue Mueller`s team has been asking about is, how and why Republican Party platform language hostile to Russia was deleted from a section of the document related to Ukraine," said another source who also requested anonymity.

This report comes the same day time magazine release this cover, featuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also featuring shall we say unusual and borderline haunting photography.

Among the headlines, Sessions says in the article. He stands by his recusal from the Russia investigation, "I think I did the right thing. I don`t think the attorney general can ask everybody else in the department to follow the rules if the attorney general doesn`t follow them." Sessions also told Time, his loyalty is not to any man but to a principal. "Congress passes a law, judges follow the law, nobody is above the law including the judges and including the president."

We should also point out this safety tip. The president believes he holds the record for Time Magazine covers. He does not. That belongs to Richard Nixon. He also reportedly hates when his own people are on the cover of Time Magazine. You`ll recall Steve Bannon`s cover story was five months before his abrupt departure from the White House

Well, back with us Jonathan Lemire from Associated Press, and with us from Chicago, our friend Jill Wine-Banks, Attorney, former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel and an MSNBC Legal Analyst.

Jill, the first convention I covered was at the Moscone Center San Francisco, 1984, where Mario Cuomo gave his memorable speech. Didn`t see a single Russian wasn`t aware of them. I`ve covered a bunch of them since. Not a single Russian. Can you help us point out to our audience how unusual any paragraph is that contains meetings with Russians in Cleveland, a change of the GOP platform language to abide by some Russian changes?

JILL WINE-BANKS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I don`t know why it hasn`t become a bigger story already because it is been clear from the very beginning that the change in the platform that favored you Ukraine to begin with, and then became favorable to Russia, is one that should have raised eyebrows a long time ago. And when you combine that not just with sessions meeting, with the Russian ambassador at the time, Kislyak, during the convention, preceding the change in the platform language, and with all of the other meetings that happened during the campaign between Russians and Trump staff.

And now, with the actions of Mueller looking at these, I see collusion becoming a major focus. We have moved from obstruction being the main effort of the prosecutor to possibly finally getting to the point of what is the relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign. and there are so many connections very evident now and this is one of them.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan, before I get back to a tributary off, the point Jill just made. I wanted you to reemphasize one of the president`s favorite expressions, and he has a number of them, a very short period of time. So he famously said about Manafort, he was with the campaign sort period of time. During the time, Manafort was with the campaign, this was his baby. This was his convention.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Paul Manafort joined the campaign to run the convention.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LEMIRE: He was there. He stayed in charge obviously through the end of the August, another month, a month and a half or so but this was it. He oversaw everything that was happening those four days in Cleveland. Initially, it was to beat back a delegate challenge with Ted Cruz. But while, he insert he was the driving force behind this change, this language change in the platform to make it more favorable to Russia. And, of course, Paul Manafort`s ties to Russia are of great interest to Special Counsel Bob Mueller right now.

WILLIAMS: Jill, there`s a CNN report right now that when Mr. Gates went in and spent his time with Mueller. He, of course, is cooperating with the home team. It was made clear to him, they weren`t so much looking for information for him to dump on his former boss, Manafort, they were looking for collusion information that you just mentioned, contacts he had with Russians that were in the news just yesterday, anything that would tie Mr. Gates effort, the campaign effort to the Russians.

WINE-BANKS: Absolutely. It is clear that Mueller already had more than ample evidence to go ahead against Manafort and didn`t need any help from Gates on Manafort, but was looking for much more. And we can tell from the release, I think it was yesterday, things are moving so fast it`s hard to remember if it was yesterday or the day before, in the sentencing report for van der Zwaan where he mentions that there was a lie about the connection between Gates and a Russian operative who we now think as a man named Kilimnik.

But that is one of the first real ties to the Russian government between the campaign and operatives of Trump and the Russian government. So they are definitely closing in, again, we`re looking at collusion and the conspiracy between Russia. So this is a very major development and I think Gates` role is going to be important as we find out how much he new. He stayed after Manafort left the campaign. He went through the inauguration.

So he is in a position to know a lot, and he was clearly talking to Manafort who was in a lot of meetings with the Russians.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan, I`ll give you the last word. Just based on what we discuss here every night, what we know, which we always later learn is weeks or months behind what Mueller is working on. Imagine trying to run a White House with this kind of pre-occupation.

LEMIRE: That`s right. There is just -- it is a constant distraction. People and the staff in the West Wing, a number of whom who believe they`re doing their job for their country, feel that this is -- it`s always overhead. That they feel like they can never get around the corner without seeing the Russia probe there again, and many of them trying to wall themselves off from it, realizing they concerned about legal exposure to it. But yes, it is there, all the time, there are questions being asked.

Rick, to followup in that point, Rick Gates was spotted in the White House repeatedly in the first months of the Trump administration. He was living at the Trump Hotel down Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the White House. This is something that they were dealing with all of the time.

And if I may on the Time Magazine cover, it is very true that President Trump get upset when any age still the spotlight. Particularly the next spot light is the Time Magazine cover. In fact, I spoke to an associate of the president tonight, who says that Trump has said to him in the past that Trump believes he should be on the cover of Time Magazine every week.

WILLIAMS: Wow. We`ll end on that note. I think we better. Jonathan Lemire, Jill Wine-Banks, it`s always a pleasure, again, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

And coming up for us, the latest in this saga of the president versus the porn star when "THE 11TH HOUR" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Stormy Daniels suffered a set back today in her legal battle against President Trump and we`ll try to explain this in greater detail. A judge denied her motion to depose President Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen under oath.

As we`ve reported, Daniels is suing the President to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement she signed before the election to keep quiet about the alleged affair with the President. President Trump has denied Daniels` accusations multiple times through White House officials.

Now, Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti, said today, all of this is temporary and they will eventually refile their motion to depose Trump and Cohen.

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MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` ATTORNEY: We have to wait until the President and Mr. Cohen file their motion to compel arbitration. As soon as we do that or as soon as they do that, we can refile this motion. And that`s exactly what we`re going to do.

But, Wolf, there`s language in this order that I am very, very pleased with. Because the court appears to agree with our assessment of the law and it shoes that what David Schwartz and others have said that this motion had no merit, that that is baseless. I mean, they are in a lot of trouble, Wolf. This is not good for the President and is not good for Mr. Cohen.

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WILLIAMS: An attorney for Michael Cohen, so this is the attorney for the President`s attorney. A lawyer friend of his from New York named David Schwartz has called Mr. Avenatti`s motion a reckless use of the legal system. Mr. Schwartz has also said, President Trump was not aware of Cohen`s agreement with Stormy Daniels.

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BURNETT: Can you say unequivocally that the President was never in any way aware of the $130,000 of the agreement itself?

SCHWARTZ: The president was not aware of the agreement. At least Michael Cohen never told him about the agreement.

BURNETT: Not aware about the agreement, what about the money?

SCHWARTZ: He was not aware about any of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Now, we should note Cohen has said the $130,000 payment came from his own personal funds, a line of credit and not the Trump Organization or Trump campaign.

Here to talk about it, Sol Wisenberg, Deputy Independent Counsel for the Whitewater- Lewinsky Investigation. He was chosen by Ken Starr to conduct the grand jury questioning of President Bill Clinton among other notable cases in his life and the law.

Sol, back to the -- we`ll start with that last point. If Mr. Schwartz is arguing that Donald Trump had no realtime knowledge of this payment to Stormy Daniels, Mr. Avenatti, Stormy Daniels` attorney says, thank you for helping to prove my case so the nondisclosure agreement is not binding on my client. Does anyone have a case here that you can hear?

SOL WISENBERG, FORMER DEPUTY INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR THE WHITEWATER- LEWINSKY INVESTIGATION: Oh my gosh, Brian, there are so many interesting aspects to this. First of all, yes. If the agreement, this is something I haven`t heard a lot of people talk about. But its term, the agreement says, it`s not valid until it`s signed by all of the parties. DD is one of the parties. DD did not sign. So that`s an issue, an important issue there.

Then we have the issue is, if, really, if Mr. Cohen paid this money and negotiated this agreement, paid this money without the knowledge or consent of his client, he has potentially some very serious ethical concerns which I would be happy to mention to you. They are prohibition against -- first of all, he said he paid out of his own funds. There could be a potential violation there.

Second, you`re not allowed to negotiate something on behalf of your client without his knowledge or permission and without keeping him or her informed. Third, if Stormy Daniels and her attorney thought that Mr. Cohen was representing Mr. Trump that`s a big problem for Mr. Cohen because you`re not supposed to say make false representations to a third party. Then, you`ve got the whole campaign violation situation.

You know, a president, a presidential candidate has no limits on what he or she can contribute to his own campaign. So one of the ironies here is that, if President Trump did authorize the payment or did make the payment, it`s not a campaign violation. But If Mr. Cohen made the payment, he is like any other citizen and there`s a limit on that contribution so he could be in violation of federal campaign laws. They are just -- and I could go on and on.

WILLIAMS: Yes. People have said, you know, if you one way, this is $130,000 spent to effect the outcome of an election to your point. Now, what is the chance Mr. Avenatti will refile and ever depose the President of the United States do you think?

WISENBERG: Well, he may refile the motion. I think the chances of him deposing the President are pretty remote. And he tried to put the best spin possible on the decision today, which was a procedural decision. But one thing the court said is, we`re not rushing anything for you. This is not the most important case on our docket.

Number two, Mr. Avenatti according to the court, did not take certain procedural steps that he needed to take to trigger certain deadlines including a deadline for the Cohen camp to respond. So they have quite a bit of time now at least several weeks it looks like, to decide whether or not they are going to respond. And the court said something very interesting, which brings up kind of another potential avenue here.

The court said, look, the President and Mr. Cohen who are both involve here, they may not file to compel arbitration. Then, you can go back to state court and try your case or they may file, and their response may tell us something so that there`s no need for a deposition of the President, so all of that could happen.

But here is an interesting thing that I haven`t heard, I don`t think I`ve heard anybody mentioned. Stormy Daniels has already been on "60 MINUTES". She has already told her story. There isn`t really much to the story.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

WISENBERG: you know, why not say just, OK, you know what Stormy, you`re agreement, you`re no longer bound by it. Go ahead, talk to anybody you want. then the President doesn`t have to answer and Mr. Cohen doesn`t have to answer at least in this proceeding anymore uncomfortable questions. They don`t have to worry about being deposed.

WILLIAMS: That`s why we have Sol Wisenberg on the air with us to talk about these cases from time to time. Things you don`t always think about. Sol, thank you, as always. I appreciate it very much.

WISENBERG: Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, what the President said today about an American institution helping people all across this country when we continue.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: A word that you don`t hear much, but when I was growing up, we had what was called vocational schools. They weren`t called community colleges because I don`t know what that means a community college. To me it means a two-year college. I don`t know what it means.

But I know what vocational -- and I tell people, call it vocational from now on. It`s a great word. It`s a great word. Call it vocational and technical perhaps, but use vocational because that`s what it`s all about. People know what that means. We don`t know what a community college means.

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WILLIAMS: President Trump seemed to confuse community colleges and vocational schools as you heard there while speaking today in Ohio. While he has stressed the importance of vocational training going back to the campaign, he seems to have a problem with community colleges, including perhaps not knowing what they are and what they do.

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TRUMP: Let`s open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.

And we should have vocational schools. You learn mechanical. You learn brick laying and carpentry, and all of these things. We don`t have that very much anymore. I think the word vocational was a much better word than in a lot of case as community college. A lot of people don`t know what a community college means or represents.

So we need vocational schools. Now, they call them a lot of times community colleges. I don`t think it`s an accurate definition.

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WILLIAMS: When the President made this comparison back in February, the education reporter for The Washington Post apparently had had enough and attempted to clear up the confusion. "Trump may think the word vocational is a better way to describe a community college, but in fact the two are not interchangeable. They simply aren`t the same thing. Vocational or trade schools have traditionally offered hands-on training related to a particular career, often but not exclusively in high school. Two-year, community colleges provide many of the same features as four-year colleges, including wide curricular offerings in different subjects."

The American Association of Community Colleges, look at that map, says, there were over 1,100 community colleges as of last year. Nearly a quarter of our high school students go on to pursue a degree at a community college. For many of us, yours truly included, it was the only real college option after high school.

And make no mistake, community colleges are a huge American success story. If anything, they`ve been let down by the government and the communities they serve in many cases. A whole lot of today`s nurses, and teachers, and business people will tell you they would not be where they are today had there not been a community college in their community.

Another break, we`re back with another thing the President said today after this.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. Just a short lesson in history before we get to what else the President said today.

The arrival of the electric light crushed the whale oil business in this country, while it was welcomed news among members of the whale community. The arrival of the automobile did the same thing to the horse and buggy business. They`ve never been the same. The Sears & Roebuck catalogue changed retailing by bringing catalogue shopping to rural Americans especially who didn`t live near a store.

But nothing has impacted retailing quite like Amazon. They sell everything as you know and you don`t have to get dressed for that matter or get out of bed to go shopping. The President has a problem with Amazon. Most believe he has a problem with the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, who happens to also own "The Washington Post."

With that in mind, and this is still new territory, the idea of our President attacking a big American company, a big American employer, the President went ahead and attacked Amazon on Twitter today, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as their delivery boy causing tremendous loss to the U.S. and are putting many thousands of retails are out of business."

So a couple of things here, first, there`s no question Amazon has put retailers out of business, but they pay taxes, almost a billion dollars in federal government last year, and they collect sales tax in all the states that have one. Amazon has been good for the U.S. postal service. It`s estimated the USPS handles delivery for up to 40 percent of Amazon`s business, and a lot of people believe they should charge Amazon more to do it.

To the charge of Amazon using the postal service as delivery boy, that is their job. They are the delivery men and women in our country. And a word about the postal service as a whole, they do a generally incredible job day in and day out, in snow, rain, heat and gloom of night. Paying $0.50 for a stamp to have a letter flown from New York to anchorage or from Saginaw to San Antonio is one of the last true bargains left on this planet.

That is our broadcast for a Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us as always and 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