Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 9, 2018 Guest: Joyce Vance, Steve Schmidt, Frank Montoya
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: Breaking tonight, Trump unleashed after the FBI raids the office and hotel room of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, calling what happened today a disgrace. The President gives a cryptic answer to the question, will he fire Robert Mueller.
Also tonight, what the Feds are investigating and what they seized in those raids, including communications with his client, the President. One of our guests describes today as a bomb on Trump`s front porch.
Also Trump vowing major decisions on Syria within hours after a suspected chemical attack in that country`s brutal swivel war. THE 11TH HOUR on a busy Monday night starts right now.
Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. I`m Nicolle Wallace in for Brian. Day 445 of the Trump administration brings a bombshell that one Trump confident conceded was "a true cause for alarm for the President."
Today, the FBI raided the Manhattan office and hotel room of Michael Cohen. He`s Donald Trump`s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, the man who paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money.
"The New York Times" broke the story late this afternoon. "The Washington Post" soon followed. They both report that some of the materials seized in that raid is related to the payment to Stormy Daniels, but also that documents related to other topics as well as communications between Cohen and his clients were taken.
"The Washington Post" reports that Cohen`s computer, his phone, and personal financial records were confiscated in the search of his law office and that he`s "under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to a person with knowledge of the case."
The President was not happy about any of it. Sources close to the White House tell NBC News that he found out about the raid after it was under way but before it broke on the news. Those sources also say Trump "furious and stewing over what is being perceived as Mueller forcing a provocative confrontation."
One Trump ally told me tonight that the President "blew his top like a loon before walking into a meeting with his War Cabinet to discuss America`s response to the atrocity in Syria. Before the meeting began, the President released this diatribe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and it`s a disgraceful situation. It`s a total witch hunt. I`ve been saying it for a long time. I`ve wanted to keep it down. We`ve given, I believe, over a million pages` worth of documents to the special counsel.
They continue to just go forward and here we are talking about Syria. We`re talking about a lot of serious things with the greatest fighting force ever, and I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now, and actually much more than that. You could say it was right after I won the nomination it started.
And it`s a disgrace. It`s frankly a real disgrace. It`s an attack on our country in a true sense. It`s an attack on what we all stand for. So when I saw this and when I heard it, I heard it like you did, I said that is really now in a whole new level of unfairness.
This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I`ve ever seen. Democrats all, or just about all, either Democrats, or a couple of Republicans that worked for President Obama, they`re not looking at the other side. They`re not looking at the Hillary Clinton, horrible things that she did and all of the crimes that were committed. They`re not looking at all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about, I can tell you, from the Republican side and I think even the independent side.
They only keep looking at us. So they find no collusion, and then they go from there and say, "Well, let`s keep going." And they raid an office of a personal attorney early in the morning. And I think it`s a disgrace.
So we`ll be talking about it more, but this is the most conflicted group of people I`ve ever seen. The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself, or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country, but you`ll figure that out.
All I can say is after looking for a long period of time, not even before the special counsel because it really started just about from the time I won the nomination. And you look at what took place and what happened and it`s a disgrace. It`s a disgrace.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any concerns about what the FBI might find, Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any concerns?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don`t you just fire Mueller?
TRUMP: Why don`t I just fire Mueller?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, just fire the guy.
TRUMP: Well, I think it`s a disgrace what`s going on. We`ll see what happens. But I think it`s really a sad situation when you look at what happened. And many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing and in finding nothing, that`s a big statement.
If you know the person who`s in charge of the investigation, you know all about that Deputy Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, he wrote the letter very critical of Comey. One of the things I said, I fired Comey, well, I turned out to do the right thing because you look at all of the things that he`s done and the lies and you look at what`s gone on at the FBI with the insurance policy and all of the things that happened. Turned out I did the right thing. But he signed, as you know, he also signed the FISA warrant.
So Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of this, signed a FISA warrant, and he also signed a letter that was essentially saying to fire James Comey, and he was right about that. He was absolutely right. So we`ll see what happens.
I think it`s disgraceful, and so does a lot of other people. This is a pure and simple witch hunt. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Rod Rosenstein keep his job?
TRUMP: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for the night, Ashley Parker, White House Reporter for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC Political Analyst, Michael Schmidt, "New York Times" Washington Correspondent and an MSNBC contributor, Jennifer Rodgers, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the center of the story tonight, now with Columbia Law Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity. And Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a Federal Prosecutor.
Joyce, let me start with you because a former federal prosecutor said to me tonight, "Ignore the U.S. attorney`s manual. There are two things that they had to have suspected Michael Cohen of doing to have obtained this search warrant. One, either he was non-responsive to subpoenas, or, two, they have evidence or suspicion that he was destroying evidence." Your thoughts?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think it`s unlikely that he was just non-responsive to subpoenas. I think that they would have continued to try to work that out. That leaves me with the choice behind door "B," the fact that they believe that there was evidence that was at risk of destruction. And also that they believe that they were entitled to pierce this veil that really covers lawyer-client conversations and communications in secrecy, and there was probable cause to believe that there was evidence of criminality that superseded that privilege so that it was appropriate for them to go in and collect evidence.
WALLACE: So, we listened to that sound together, Jennifer. I just took a quick list of everyone he maligned in that tirade. Mind you, the purpose of that meeting, he wasn`t just bringing in the pool to get something off his chest. That was -- he had convened the War Cabinet to talk about the atrocities in Syria, and he talked about an attack on our country.
He was talking about his own Justice Department and FBI. He ticked off Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, Mueller, and his own pick for the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to smear.
And let me just read you something from "The Washington Post" report tonight on the raid of Cohen`s apartment and offices. The "Post" writing, "The Cohen raids required high-level authorization within the Justice Department. Under regulations governing the special counsel`s work, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if his team finds information worth investigating that does not fall under his mandate to examine Russia`s interference in the 2016 election."
So, walk us through what that could have been. And, again, how high the bar had to be for such an extraordinary search and seizure like what we saw today.
JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, I think what likely happened is that Mueller`s team came across information that suggested criminal activity that was not within the mandate of the Mueller investigation, right? So, even if we`re just talking about the campaign finance violations and potential bank fraud around the Stormy Daniels $130,000, that`s not really within the area that Mueller is supposed to be looking at. So they then kicked that over to the U.S. attorney`s office in Manhattan, which of course is the jurisdiction where Cohen`s office is and where this activity likely took place.
To get a search warrant into a lawyer`s office, there are very, very high bars. There are additional obstacles. You have to get approvals from the Department of Justice. You have to show a special need for that information.
You have to show that you`ve used other avenues and they`ve been unsuccessful. And you have to put in place a clean team that will review the information before it goes over to the investigatory team to make sure that no attorney-client information that isn`t pierced by the crime fraud exception goes over.
WALLACE: Ashley Parker, you and your colleagues out with some extraordinary reporting tonight about the President`s state of mind, which was on full display in what we just played. But I heard from a source in close contact with West Wingers that he was out of his mind today, that this really set him off. And when I asked if firings were possible, this person said, indeed they were. That as your paper reported, there`s nothing imminent, but that this certainly is the closest the President`s come to doing what I think a lot of news organizations have reported that he`d like to do, which is to get rid of Sessions and his Deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, that`s exactly right. The President sort of like the rest of the country was glued to the television as this unfolded, watching the reports come in. And he was just getting, our understanding, is increasingly angry, increasingly frustrated.
He was sort of grousing about Rod Rosenstein, who he has never particularly liked. He was again fuming about Sessions who, after that original sin of recusal, he`s just been furious with. And he was asking, we understand, quite detailed questions about, you know, who would have made this decision to authorize this raid and who was responsibility, and who was at fault.
And I have to say you played that footage of him in that Cabinet meeting. You know, when he was asked about are you planning on firing Mueller? And he said, "Well, some people are telling me maybe I should fire him." Anyone who is a Trump watcher knows that`s one of the President`s tells. When he says that, it`s very well people may be telling him that.
I know a lot of outside advisers who have been urging him to be more aggressive. But that also means that`s something I`m thinking about. That`s something I would love to do.
So far, he`s been able to restrain himself. But when he talked about that red line in the interview to "The New York Times" before that Mueller crossed, it would be, you know, if he looks into his businesses or his family`s, and going after Michael Cohen, his personal attorney, who is, as you pointed out, his enforcer, his fixer, his constrict area, sort of his close as you can come to the family and to the businesses without quite crossing that red line.
WALLACE: So, Mike Schmidt, you`ve done a good deal of reporting on the President`s pique that his own Justice Department does not serve as his personal legal operation. He added a new name to his own Justice Department enemies list. That`s the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, Jeff Berman. He`s someone I understand to be close to Don McGahn, the President`s own White House Counsel, somebody appointed by the President, somebody interviewed by the President and placed there as a Trump appointee not yet confirmed as far as I understand.
But this seems like another domino to fall in the President`s ongoing war against his own appointees in the Department of Justice at the FBI and now in the U.S. Attorney`s Office for the Southern District.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, the President repeatedly does this with the Justice Department where he complains about it endlessly, just the other day complaining about the documents the Justice Department had not turned over to Congress. I think the President sometimes forgets or maybe is afraid of the fact that he controls the Justice Department. He could call the Justice Department and tell them to end this. And I guess that`s where we sort of stand right now.
How truly angry is the President, and is he willing to do this? Is he willing to push the Republicans to the point of having to confront him getting rid of some of these folks and trying to end Mueller`s investigation, and what will it be because as this story has gone on, I`m sure there will be far worse things than a search warrant executed at Michael Cohen`s office to come down the line. So if the President realizes that, then he might as well rip the band-aid off and do it now, you know, if this is just going to get worse as it comes.
WALLACE: Let me come back to you on that, Ashley Parker. One former campaign adviser said to me that what they would unearth from Cohen was little shady stuff, that this wasn`t some -- you know, that he was a guy that took care of ugly little stuff. That he would have been involved in intimidating city council members and cleaning up messes from the kids and the kinds of thing that he`s become now infamous for, I guess, the hush money payment to a porn star with whom the President allegedly had a sexual encounter.
So can you talk about how the President`s personal fixer could, if it has enraged the President the way your paper, the way multiple news organizations understand the President`s state of mind at this hour to be. People do not view it as inconceivable that he could tip that first domino and put in motion the firing that a lot of people have been warning about of Sessions, of Rosenstein, and eventually of Mueller.
PARKER: That`s right. Michael Cohen was someone who -- and this is something Mueller could find, perhaps has found, but who by his own admission, if you just look at his public statements is someone who sort of makes stuff go away and makes things really unpretty and unpleasant for people who dare to cross the President or his businesses or his family. And that`s why what we saw today is so problematic and so enraging for this President. As we`ve seen in some of the other people who have gotten caught up in Mueller`s probe, like for instance former Campaign Chair Paul Manafort, you know, it is not necessarily just limited to the original scope.
People get entrapped in all sorts of ways, and they find themselves under indictment or pleading guilty for things that actually have nothing to do with either collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. And so Michael Cohen has the sort of background and, again, some of this is by his own proud admission. This is what he proudly did for the President. He said, "You know, I would take a bullet for the President or his family."
That once you start looking into it, it`s not going to be pretty, and it could entrap and turn over other people and other dealings with the Trump Organization, with the President`s family that the President doesn`t want to see the light of day and just might make him angry enough to disregard the advice of his lawyers, to disregard the advice of others in the West Wing, and maybe set one of these firing dominoes in motion.
WALLACE: Joyce, let me -- you and I have talked a lot about Michael Avenatti. He was on "The Last Word" tonight. Let`s listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: When we filed this case about four or five weeks ago, you know, a lot of people mocked us. A lot of people mocked my client. I wonder if some of those people are laughing now.
The FBI just raided the personal attorney for the President`s offices over the exact matter that we have brought to the forefront and brought to the attention of the American people. I don`t think Michael Cohen`s laughing tonight. I don`t think the President`s laughing tonight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: We know the President`s not laughing, Joyce. Your thoughts.
VANCE: So, it`s very interesting how Avenatti has managed to keep this story at the forefront, and now today we have a little bit of information that perhaps this story really does belong at the forefront. One thing that we know from reporting is that the reason Cohen`s offices were raided was that investigators were looking for evidence of campaign finance violations, of bank fraud, and of wire fraud. And we also know that this bank transaction where money was transferred from Cohen to Stormy Daniels` then lawyer Davidson, that that transaction was also flagged by the bank.
So there`s something here that has caught the attention of investigators. I think on Ashley`s point, it`s really very interesting that Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, made a decision that this case was far afield from the work that he had asked Mueller to do and that it needed to be sent instead to the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.
You`ll recall that Rosenstein told Mueller originally that he could work on collusion between Russia and the campaign, anything that arose out of those allegations, and then any efforts to terminate, to obstruct justice or commit perjury in the course of that investigation. But now we`re seeing a piece of this investigation that`s apparently not related to collusion with Russia, but that did derive, that was somehow unleashed in this investigation, and it`s been sent to a new jurisdiction. That possibly indicates that Mueller is defining Rosenstein`s jurisdiction very narrowly and very carefully.
And that what people have assumed to be wide ranging investigation, not all of it related to Russia and collusion, perhaps it really does tie back in, and perhaps these early pieces with Flynn and Manafort will come full circle. We`ve seen a little bit of that this week where we`ve seen some tie-in with Nader. This may be a lot more Russia centric than people have originally expected.
WALLACE: Let me give you the last word on that. You know, we talk about Bob Mueller being completely immune from, walled off from all politics, but it doesn`t mean he`s oblivious to them. This seems like a very smart move for Mueller politically to be able to show the White House or the White House counsel, whomever is still able to talk sense into this President, that there is no mission creep, that anything outside of what Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein articulated in that memo, because Manafort is already challenging the legitimacy of the probe, is being sent to other prosecutors. You worked in that office. Is this a typical kind of investigation that that office would and could handle?
RODGERS: Sure. I mean the Southern District can handle any kind of investigation.
WALLACE: They`ve prosecutes terrorism cases.
WALLACE: They`ve prosecuted anything.
RODGERS: Sure. I mean, there`s no question they can handle it. And I agree with you on the mission creep argument. It`s a smart move. It`s also a smart move to put it in a place where it`s not subject to ending if Mueller gets fired and his team gets disbanded.
And I think it`s a good argument to say, listen, these are Trump`s people. It`s Trump`s DOJ. It`s Trump`s U.S. attorney. They`re still moving forward.
You know, a federal judge has approved this search warrant. So we`re now not in Mueller, you know, witch hunt land anymore despite the President`s earlier comments. We`re in a different category, and it`s moving forward on a different track, and i think that`s important for the President`s supporters to understand.
WALLACE: They`re all Trump appointees, though. I mean, the witch hunt argument, the witch hunt is being run by Trump appointees as well. Rosenstein selected Mueller to run the special counsel.
RODGERS: True, but Mueller is independent in a way that Jeff Berman is not. And so, you know, whether Berman is going to continue and if he gets pressure, you know, we`ll see what he does, of course. But he`s a more direct Trump appointee. So the fact that he is pursuing this with the approval of a federal judge I think is important.
WALLACE: All right. Ashley Parker and Jennifer Rodgers, thank you for starting us off. Mike Schmidt and Joyce are stuck with us for a little while longer.
Coming up, Steve Schmidt is here to react to tonight`s breaking news, including the President`s description of the raid as an attack on our country.
Plus, a big development in the Mueller investigation involving foreign money. And inside the deliberations about how to respond to the reports of chemical attacks in Syria. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Monday night.
WALLACE: Welcome back. Joining the conversation is Steve Schmidt, a Veteran Republican Strategist and an MSNBC Political Analyst. Steve, go.
STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Well, I thought what we saw today was extremely disturbing, Nicolle. We see Donald Trump sitting there with his arms crossed like a dime-store Mussolini saying that an attack on the country is the result of a legally executed search warrant on his private attorney. What he really means there is that anything that endangers him politically or otherwise legally is, in fact, an attack on the country. That the leader and the country are synonymous.
And that just goes to show the degree to which Donald Trump doesn`t understand the United States of America. It is because the United States of America is a nation of laws, where the rule of law prevails, and no person, even the President, is above the law. And so what we saw of him today is using the senior military uniform leadership of the country as political props while he goes on this disturbing rant while at the same time speculating about the use of military force and sending America`s fighting men and women into harm`s way.
It was a very, very disturbing performance, and per "The Washington Post" reporting, and I think as evidenced by his comments today, he seems unhinged. He seems off balance, and he seems unhinged and off balance at an exact moment in time where he appears to be contemplating military action.
It was disturbing to watch him in action today. It was disturbing to see how he operates. But his reaction is obvious because this scandal has moved another giant step closer to the Oval Office.
WALLACE: And, Joyce Vance, you make that point in what has to be the best put of the night. You`re quote in "The Washington Post" piece saying the search warrant is like dropping a bomb on Trump`s front porch.
VANCE: You know, it really is. I just think that that`s the best way to look at it. This is so close to the President that he can no longer ignore it, and you`ve had to wonder over the last few months did he really believe that this investigation would never touch him, or was he just posturing and all along he knew it was coming his direction?
As of today, there`s no longer any question. Investigators now have access to the papers of his attorney. We know that some of what they have uncovered today, what they have claimed in discovery in the course of this search warrant affects the President`s relationship with his lawyer. And, again, we can`t repeat enough that that sort of documentation would normally be covered by the attorney-client privilege.
The fact that this search warrant was granted by a federal judge and approved by the top officials in the Justice Department tells us that there`s something about that relationship that`s not kosher.
WALLACE: And, Mike Schmidt, you`ve reported on the subpoenas for the Trump organization. If you lay over everything that that may yield for Mueller`s investigators with everything that the southern district of New York, which now has jurisdiction over the Michael Cohen, whatever he`s involved in, there`s not much that federal prosecutors will not have access to at this point, is there?
SCHMIDT: Correct. As we reported tonight, the Trump Organization has handed over documents about a contribution Donald Trump received from a Ukrainian steel oligarch who had given him money for a 20-minute Skype speech Trump had given in the middle of the campaign when he was running for the Republican nomination. This is a deal that was put together by Michael Cohen, who went to the Ukrainian oligarch, asked him for the money, and $150,000 was moved into Donald Trump`s Foundation, the controversial foundation which Trump has been repeatedly criticized for using as a personal piggy bank and for overstating his donations to.
So, what we`re looking at here is another aspect of Trump`s behavior that is being examined by Mueller. Mueller now has the documents on this. It was in response to this subpoena that went to the Trump Organization. And it`s just part of a larger look at flows of money that went into -- where were these monies going? Was there money being sent towards the campaign, was there money sent to the foundation or to Trump Org itself? And these are issues that Mueller is focusing on himself and that Cohen is involved in.
WALLACE: So, Joyce, this comes back to your about how Russia centric you think Mueller probe is at this point. He`s basically outsourced whatever shady dealings Mr. Cohen was involved in. Speak to the significance of "The New York Times" reporting tonight about the follow the money investigation theory leading to more pots of money tied to more folks with ties to foreign governments.
VANCE: You know, there`s really no telling what investigators will uncover once they begin following decades of Trump transactions in foreign countries. The Justice Department has an authority to prosecute a crime under a statute called the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, and that involves business practices in some countries where bribery is a way of life. It`s illegal for United States companies to engage in that.
There`s been speculation overtime that Trump organizations abroad could have been involved in that, that there could be money laundering. We don`t really know where that goes. But an interesting opportunity for Mueller here is whether or not Michael Cohen will begin to feel some pressure and whether or not he might conclude a plea deal with prosecutors in the southern district of New York that would give him lighter sentence or lesser charges in exchange for cooperation with Mueller on the Mueller investigation. That`s the real pressure point for Trump out of everything that`s taken place today.
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: Steve Schmidt, try to marry up these two developments today, the bombshell that the president`s personal attorney`s home and offices were raided, another no-knock warrant. I think the only one -- other one we know about was for Paul Manafort`s computers and electronic devices and files. With the new reporting in "The New York Times" that Bob Mueller is following the money and finding that it leads to some pretty curious and interesting places.
STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Here`s the analogy I would use, Nicolle. It`s a person who goes to the doctor and says, I`m not feeling well, and I have some stomach pain. And the doctor does some tests and they come back and they say, we have some bad news. We looked and what we see is cancer is everywhere.
And in the same way, I think what the prosecutors have done is that the empowering of the Special Counsel that they`ve looked inside the Trump organization. They`ve looked at this collusion issue, but what they found is there is corruption everywhere. Everywhere they look from the former national security adviser, who is implicated in a potential plot to kidnap U.S. persons from U.S. soil, to transfer that person to Turkey, or sitting on the inaugural dais and trying to do a nuclear deal with Russian interests. And, the people that have lied about contacts with Russians, the Russians that have been indicted. Other people that have been involved in financial transactions with Russians, and who knows what Michael Cohen`s role and involvement is in the Trump Tower Moscow project.
So, we don`t know what we don`t know, but what`s increasingly clear to me is anywhere you look inside this Trump organization, it appears to be dirty. For example, how is it possible that suddenly on the precipice of a default, there`s a $1.2 billion bailout for Jared Kushner`s 666 Fifth Avenue? Where did the $27 million from the inaugural committee disappear to with regard to Melania Trump`s friend, to say nothing of Scott Pruitt, to say nothing of the loans from Citi or Apollo Group in excess of $500 million to Jared Kushner, to say nothing of the Kushner organization`s trying to sell access in Asia to the White House, or for the Trump organization to send a letter to the government of Panama saying that unless they get relief in the private business issue in Panama between the Trump Hotel and a Panamanian business partner that will anger the president and there`ll be retribution on Panama.
So everywhere you look, there seems to be the stench of corruption, and I think this is just another piece of evidence, and what we`re going to see unfold, that before very long, the extent of the shambolic Trump organization`s corruption and the dirtiness around this administration.
WALLACE: Steve Schmidt is just getting started, but we`re going to hit pause right here. When we come back, an FBI veteran joins us next to talk more about today`s raids on the president`s attorney. That`s next when The 11th Hour continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself, or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country. But you`ll figure that out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Welcome back. Thanks for staying up with us. Joining our conversation now is Frank Montoya, he`s a former FBI special agent in charge for the agency Seattle Division, served under FBI director Jim Comey and reported to Andrew McCabe. The panel is also still here.
Frank, let me get your thoughts first on the president`s ongoing assault on the Justice Department on his own appointees at the Justice Department, his own appointees at the FBI, and now, it would seem he is displeased with the actions of his own appointee for an acting U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York. Your reaction.
FRANK MONTOYA, JR., FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, after today, it`s gone from outrage to extraordinary. It`s just incredible the kinds of things that we`re seeing in this American tragedy.
You know, one of the things that stood out to me in his comments earlier today were the fact that there was no mention whatsoever of the rule of law. It was just about attacking people on the basis of politics, on the basis of, you know, what he perceives as character flaws, on the basis of what he calls a witch hunt. But none of it had to do with the fact that this is not just a legitimate investigation but a very serious one that it involves a lot of people in our legal process, including federal judges, high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice, the FBI, all the way down to the investigators on the ground who, you know, are putting in the hours and actually putting their credibility on the line to make sure that this is an unbiased, objective investigation.
WALLACE: Frank, let me read you something that "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight. This is from a Washington lawyer who says the seizure of Cohen`s records should be the most concerning for the president. It might help explain his freak-out. He says, "You can`t get much worse than this other than arresting someone`s wife or putting pressure on a family member. This strikes at the inner sanctum, your lawyer, your CPA, your barber, your therapist, your bartender. All the people who would know the worst about you."
I`m thinking Sopranos and Dr. Melfi getting hauled in. I mean, talk about the significance both of Michael Cohen now being of enough interest and of enough questionable conduct or responsiveness or lack thereof to have justified a search and seizure like what we saw today of his residence and his office as well as the president`s response to that.
As you said, no regard for the rule of law. No contemplation in the president`s mind that perhaps his lawyer had violated any laws and that perhaps his own pick at the U.S. attorney`s office was simply following the evidence.
MONTOYA: Well, that`s why it is extraordinary. I spent 25 years in the FBI, and I can count on one hand the number of times that I was involved with searches of, you know, the offices or even more significantly the residences of lawyers. This is something that just doesn`t happen. And then for them to execute in the southern district of New York today to execute search warrants in multiple places against the president`s personal lawyer, I mean, that`s huge. That`s why it is extraordinary. It`s beyond anything we have seen, I think, in so -- in at least in my experience, but even in the history of this country. It`s just something that doesn`t happen.
And, again, it`s not like we -- you know, the FBI or the Department of Justice pulled this out of thin air or, you know, the Special Counsel has some kind of vendetta against the president of the United States or anybody that works for him. This is all based on facts, on evidence, on information that they`re getting from sources, on probable cause. And frankly, I would say that in the case of the president`s personal lawyer, it`s probably information beyond probable cause just because of what we`re talking about here and how close it is getting to not just the office of the presidency, but to the president himself.
And so, yes, you know, on the one hand, it is extraordinary. The other part of this is just how frustrating it must be that we are in this place right now, especially for the investigators, that they have to look at, you know, the leader of the executive branch in the way that they are doing. It`s unprecedented. It`s frustrating, and, you know, the question now is, where does it go? How does this thing end? And, you know, I also served under Bob Mueller, and I can tell you that what you`re seeing is a direct reflection of his pursuit of truth and justice. It`s undeviating. It`s specific. It`s focused. It`s targeted. And it`s about making the case. And he`s, you know, on a track it seems to make some pretty significant advances in that case.
WALLACE: Mike Schmidt, you`ve reported on the president`s difficulty in hiring and identifying lawyers willing to represent him in the Mueller probe. I think he`s down to basically one attorney, Jay Sekulow, representing him. How do you think today`s developments impede or impact that search?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, the question is, is there someone really around the president, providing him with a legal advice that he`s going to listen to and that will be actually helpful to him? I don`t know if Sekulow is that person. Sekulow has not known the president for that long. He doesn`t have that deep of a relationship with him. I`m not sure anyone can control the president, but I`m not sure certainly that Sekulow is that person. Is someone like John Kelly around the president at all, weighing in on any of this, or is the president just simply off talking to people on the phone that are reinforcing his views like Jeanine Pirro, the former prosecutor from Winchester that`s a Fox News analyst that he has relied on increasingly for legal advice in this.
And those are folks, you know, who have told him not to interview with Mueller and taking a more adversarial tone. So the question right now is, who are the legal voices in the president`s head? And as we always know with the president, he thinks he`s his best lawyer and his spokesman and strategist, so he may simply just be relying on himself.
WALLACE: You`ve reported that when he has threatened to fire Mueller in the past, it was Don McGahn who basically laid his body down on the tracks and said, you know, over my dead body. Do you think we`re coming to Don McGahn`s dead body now? Do you think anyone can stop the president if he gets it in his head that he`d like to fire the whole chain of command at the Justice Department over this?
SCHMIDT: Well, Don McGahn is sort of the ultimate survivor here, still around, was around for the campaign, and around this far into the presidency. I`m not sure who`s been around that much. Maybe Dan Scavino. I`m not sure obviously with Hope Hicks gone. But, McGahn has been someone that was able to or tried to put the brakes on some things, failing on Comey, succeeding on not firing of Mueller in -- over the summer.
The problem is, is that McGahn is not really involved with the president on questions of the Russia investigation. That stuff is being handled by Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer that deals with the Special Counsel`s office. And because McGahn is a witness against the president in the obstruction investigation, he tries to keep his distance from him on questions like this.
So, I`m not sure if McGahn is someone that even would have access to the president on an issue like this to tell him what to do or what not to do.
WALLACE: Steve Schmidt, I sometimes try to put this White House in my brain and try to figure out who the players would have been in the Bush White House. And I know we weren`t perfect, but I can`t even figure out who`s who in this soap opera.
But, can you imagine any scenario where there are no guardrails left. I mean, as you pointed out earlier in the show, he walked into a meeting about the most grave sort of thing that a commander in chief deals with, a chemical weapon attack on children, on women, on innocent civilians in Syria. And before he gets to the business of how America will protect any more slaughtering of innocent lives, he just lets it rip on his own appointees at the Justice Department, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney`s Office of the southern district, calls that an attack on this country.
Can you just speak to something because I know Brian likes to ask on this program all the time, how far from normal we are tonight.
SCHMIDT: We are light years from normal. We are outside of the galaxy from normal. This is unprecedented. What we saw today was an American president say, essentially, I am the state. I am the country. And that is simply not the case in the United States of America. And I think if you listen closely tonight, you can hear the faint applause from heaven of this country`s founding fathers, who bequeathed to us a nation where the rule of law is supreme. We are a nation of laws. We are not a banana republic. This was a legally executed search warrant on the president`s private attorney.
And what that means is that the institutions in this country, despite the constancy of the attacks on them by this president, remain strong and that we have men and women who are under siege and under attack, but they remain fidelities to the oath of office. They remain faithful to the oath they took to the constitution of the United States. And so we saw a president today do what he always does, the constant lying about what`s happening. But more importantly, his reveling in his ignorance about the concept of the rule of law.
It`s clear he doesn`t understand it, and he revels and wallows in his ignorance about it the same way that a hippopotamus would gleefully revel in a roll in the mud. It`s extraordinary that the president of the United States is so completely detached from the foundations, the structures, and the institutions that preserve American liberty, and we saw that on full display today.
WALLACE: And we got to talk about the hippopotamus. All right, Frank Montoya, Steve Schmidt, Mike Schmidt, Joyce Vance, my thanks to all of you for spending so much time with us tonight.
Coming up, what will the president decide to do about that tragedy in Syria? That decision coming anytime now. The 11th Hour continues after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We`re making a decision as to what we do with respect to the horrible attack that was made near Damascus. And it will be met, and it will be met forcefully. And when, I will not say, because I don`t like talking about timing. We`re going to make a decision tonight or very shortly thereafter. And you`ll be hearing the decision. But, we can`t let atrocities like we all witnessed, and you can see that, and it`s horrible. We can`t let that happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: In the middle of the president`s meltdown over the Mueller investigation today, Trump somehow managed to steer himself back to the topic he was supposed to spend the evening discussing with senior military leaders, the horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria over the weekend that killed dozens, including women and children.
With us to talk about it, retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, and MSNBC military analyst, and Vivian Salama, national political reporter for NBC News.
Let me start with you. Obviously, a horrific and not the first, but a horrific situation in Syria, a horrific event over the weekend, and one that John McCain thinks has its origins in the president`s words. John McCain saying over the weekend that "President Trump last week signaled to the world that the United States would prematurely withdraw from Syria. Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers have heard him, and emboldened by American inaction, Assad has reportedly launched another chemical attack against innocent women, men and children". Is that a fair critique?
COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY RETIRED: Yes, I think so. But I`m not a fan of single (ph) factor analysis, I don`t think that Assad needed any motivation to do what he did. He`s done it before without the president saying, we`re going to leave. But it didn`t help. You know, there`s a principle of war called the element of surprise. It`s never a good idea -- and by the way, this president`s violated it. The previous president did as well. It`s never a good idea to tell anybody what you`re going to do, and certainly not when you`re going to do it. It was a bad idea.
WALLACE: What are our options right now in Syria?
JACOBS: I think there are three. There are four if you include doing nothing. But I don`t think we`re going to do nothing. You can group them into three separate kinds of targets. The first -- the kinds of targets we did last time, in last April, we fired 59 rockets.
WALLACE: On an empty airfield.
JACOBS: On an empty airfield which, by the way, was back in business in 48 hours. So there is that sort of ineffectual -- see, I was going to fire them and I did. I told you I was going do something.
The second group of targets include command and control nodes. Combat operation centers where there are people who are making decisions about tactical and strategic deployment. The third -- and this is sort of escalation.
WALLACE: Right, right.
JACOBS: Escalation. The third are troop formations. Places where there are masses of troops, a real big escalation. I don`t think we`re going to do that.
WALLACE: And there would be Syrian troops, Russian troops, Iranian --
JACOBS: Well, that`s the problem, you see. When you -- if you launch missiles and they land in an empty airfield, you`re probably not going hurt very many people. And it`s less likely that any of them are going to be anybody other than the Syrians. But you start putting them on command and control centers or troop formations, you`re bound to hit people from Iran and Russia.
WALLACE: Vivian, I started my day reading your incredible reporting about what was today, John Bolton`s first day. And in a normal White House, the fact that he`s such a controversial figure, not just in foreign policy, but in Republican politics would have been one of our top stories. We`re getting to it there -- getting to it here the end of the hour.
But talk about what an extraordinary first day this must have been for John Bolton and about maybe his first witnessing of the swerving policy that this president makes when it comes to Russia and foreign policy as it pertains to Russia.
VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: That`s right, Nicolle. So John Bolton has pretty much like built his whole entire career up to this very moment where he`s going to be here at the White House. I mean, this is something that he`s really looked forward to. He`s wanted to be part of this White House and has been pretty clear about that, always kind of supporting this president.
But, they do not necessarily agree on a number of issues. And John Bolton being a hawk on so many foreign policy issues happens to have very starkly different views about certain very key issues, including his position on Russia, where the president tends to take a stance where he is very open to try to improve the relationship between the United States and Russia. He`s not as skeptical as a lot of the foreign policy advisers around him. And he even said today that, you know, while he called out Russia over its support of the Syrian regime, he doesn`t necessarily go against -- doesn`t rule out that idea of talking to Russia. John Bolton, of course, not on the same page as that.
WALLACE: We`re going to pick this up. I`m sorry we didn`t have more time. Colonel Jack Jacobs and Vivian Salama, thank you so much. A quick break for us. More 11th Hour after this.
WALLACE: Quick reminder, tomorrow, Facebook`s CEO Mark Zuckerberg will begin two days of testimony in front of multiple congressional committees as questions swirl about how Facebook uses your data and Russia`s use of the social media site to influence American elections. Special coverage of that, continuing coverage of all of our breaking news all day tomorrow here on MSNBC.
For Brian Williams and myself, that`s our broadcast. Have a good night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END