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GOP faces bleak odds ahead of midterms. TRANSCRIPT: 04/11/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Chris Megerian, Bob Bennett

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 11, 2018 Guest: Chris Megerian, Bob Bennett

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Coming up, much more on Steve Bannon`s legal advice to Donald Trump. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, new from "The Washington Post," Steve Bannon offers up a plan to cripple the Russia investigation. The reporter who broke the story is here tonight.

Also, the "Access Hollywood" tape back in the headlines as we learn the search warrant on Michael Cohen included any communication with Donald Trump about that tape. And will the President ever meet with Robert Mueller? We`ll ask the lawyer who defended Bill Clinton.

All that, plus, Steve Kornacki is at the big board as Paul Ryan exits stages right amid daunting prospects for the GOP. "THE 11TH HOUR" on a Wednesday night begins now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here`s in New York. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams. Day 447 of the Trump administration.

And we have breaking news tonight about one-time White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon who was pushed out of the White House last summer. "The Washington Post" reports tonight, he`s back and he`s got plan to try to derail the Mueller investigation and protect the President.

Robert Costa, who joins us in a moment, writes Bannon "is pitching a plan to West Wing aides and congressional allies to cripple the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to four people familiar with the discussions. The first step these people say would be for Trump to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and in recent days signed off on a search warrant of Trump`s long time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Bannon is also recommending the White House cease its cooperation with Mueller reversing the policy of Trump`s legal team."

Also tonight, the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape is back in the headlines. The video that threatened to derail candidate Donald Trump`s campaign is now rocking the White House.

"The New York times" was first to report that the agents who raided Trump attorney, Michael Cohen`s, residences and office on Monday were looking for any records related to that video. "The Washington Post" Carol Leonnig also covering that story and standing by to join us.

She reports investigators who executed the search warrant on Cohen "sought all his communications about a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape that captured Trump boasting about grabbing women`s body parts, according to a person familiar with the investigation." They also "sought Cohen`s communications with Trump and campaign surrogates about potential sources of negative publicity in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential election."

The "Post" reports the warrant seems to indicate that investigators are looking into whether Michael Cohen played any role in suppressing negative stories like that video. The recording was an out take from 2005 episode of "Access Hollywood, an NBC Universal program. This is just part of what the nation first heard on October 7, 2016, one month before the presidential election.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the gold. I better use Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I`m automatically attracted to beautiful, I just start kissing them. It`s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don`t even wait. And when you are a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.


TRUMP: Grab them by the [bleep]. You can do anything.


VELSHI: And that raid on Michael Cohen has reignited President Trump`s anger at Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, as well as about the Russia investigation. The Cohen raid was not officially part of the Russia inquiry, but was triggered by a referral from Mueller to the U.S. Attorney`s Office for the Southern District of New York and signed off on by Rosenstein.

And this morning, the President sent this tweet. "Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all, except Rosenstein who signed FISA and Comey letter. No collusion so they go crazy."

Here`s how the White House responded today when asked about the new investigation into Michael Cohen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President certainly has been clear that he has a very deep concern about the direction that the special counsel and other investigations have taken. This investigation started off as Russia collusion of which there was none. That has been very clear that nothing has come up over the last year.


VELSHI: Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Wednesday night. The aforementioned Robert Costa, he`s a National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and Moderator on Washington Week on PBS. The aforementioned Carol Leonnig, Political Investigations Reporter for "The Washington Post," and Barbara McQuade, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Of Michigan. All three are MSNBC Analysts.

Robert, let`s start with you. Bannon and Trump had a falling out over the book "Fire and Fury." It`s not clear to people whether they`ve been talking over recent months. Why is he back in the circle, and what`s he trying to do?

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST: This is one track of multiple tracks around the White House urging the President to fire Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General. And it`s something the President has been talking about privately as a consideration in recent days, but he`s hearing from congressional allies and he`s also hearing from friends of Bannon inside and outside of the White House to make a move on the Mueller probe by firing the Deputy A.G.

VELSHI: Carol, there seems to be more and more chaos in the White House. In fact, you know, in a report that I believe you contributed, too, in "The Washington Post" entitled "Trump chooses impulse over strategy as crises mount." This paragraph caught my attention.

"It`s just like everybody wakes up every morning and does whatever is right in front of them, said one West Wing aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. Oh, my God, Trump Tower is on fire. Oh, my God, they raided Michael Cohen`s office. Oh, my god, we are going to bomb Syria. Whatever is there is what people respond to and there`s no proactive strategic thinking."

Carol, this will be troublesome in the best of times, but after the President also tweeted today something we`re going to be talking about later, the fact that there might be missiles flying towards Syria, this is downright worrisome.

CAROL LEONNIG, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it`s worrisome when White House is always in react mode. I mean, let`s be clear, every White House is drinking from a fire hose at all times. National security, domestic policy, trips every other day, so much going on. Working Congress, trying to get your agenda through, hot spots around the world.

But here, we have a President who is basically boiling over with anger at the same time about a probe that just won`t go away and seems to be getting worse. The Mueller investigation has infuriated the President, but now it has a new wrinkle in its referral, at least, at this point a referral to the Southern District of New York to look more closely at somebody that couldn`t be more close to Donald Trump and that is Michael Cohen.

He`s as close to family as you can get. He solved lots of problems for the President. The President confided in him and now this raid is searching communications between Michael Cohen and his most important client, then- candidate Donald Trump.

VELSHI: Michael Cohen is somebody that, Barbara, we`ve seen on T.V. for a long time. He`s long been associated with Donald Trump during the campaign. But it`s interesting the role he played with Donald Trump and what the attorney for the Southern District of New York is interested in.

Donny Deutsch was on "Deadline: White House" on MSNBC at 4:00 p.m. today about a conversation he had at lunch today with Michael Cohen. Listen to what he said about Michael Cohen and his relationship to Donald Trump.


DONNY DEUTSCH, DEUTSCH INC. CHAIRMAN AND FORMER CEO: Michael`s words to me, he`s loyal. He says I`d rather jump out of a building than turn on Donald Trump. You know, he`s fiercely -- that might change overtime, but he has this fierce, fierce, well, you know, fierce loyalty that`s almost inexplicable at this point.

Michael`s point of view is he really has not done anything wrong. He`s also a smart enough guy to know that in this world even if you haven`t done things wrong in your own perception, he understands the fire. He`s not a fool. He understands he`s in a very, very difficult position.


VELSHI: Barbara, something that`s interesting is the idea that there is executive privilege obviously between -- there`s attorney-client privilege between an attorney and their client. I`ve heard criticism that this raid on Michael Cohen`s office and this very building and his residence is somehow breeches that.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, there`s a very detailed protocol at the Department of Justice when you want to search an attorney`s office because the attorney-client privilege is so very well respected and so carefully guarded, but the attorney-client privilege can`t be used as a shield to hide illegal activity. And so, you can search an attorney`s office, but only if you go through some very specific and stringent requirements. You have to get approval from the Department of Justice in Washington. You have to get, of course, probable cause and a warrant from a judge.

You would have to create what`s called a privilege team, some teams people called it a team or a filter team, but a team of agents who would first look at all of the material to identify that which is privilege and that which is not. Certainly there`s lots of material in his office that`s not privileged at all.

Privilege materials only communications between a lawyer and a client for the purpose os seeking legal advice. So, anything beyond that can be shared, and then things within that, they will look at. And if there are things they believe could fall under this crime fraud exception, they can take that to a judge and get an order that the privilege should yield in this instance and be shared with the prosecution team.

VELSHI: Robert, there`s another matter and that is executive privilege. That is a different thing all together and it is what Steve Bannon is saying the President should assert with respect to anybody around the President, and there are many people, who have already been interviewed by Robert Mueller`s team.

COSTA: That`s a long ball and it enforce terms. That`s a real risk for this White House if they pursue Bannon`s strategy. Ty Cobb, the President`s lawyer, has shown no sign that he wants to listen to Bannon and Bannon, in fact, is calling on Cobb to fired, in our interview. And Cobb tonight -- Mr. Cobb decline to comment.

You`re seeing most legal experts in this country are dubious about Bannon`s suggestion. They say that there`s no way to retroactively assert executive privilege and you can`t take back interviews that were given voluntarily to the federal probe.

VELSHI: Carol, there`s another wrinkle here and that is James Comey`s book is about to come out. If the country liked Fire and Fury, they`re going to be very interested in James Comey`s book. There`s all sorts of publicity, we have seen ads for the book. Apparently it`s selling very well.

If the President is angry this week, what happens after the Comey interview and his book?

LEONNIG: It depends a little bit on what Former FBI Director Jim Comey has to say. It`s hard to imagine he`s not going to make some news, but it`s also hard to imagine he`s going to throw down the gauntlet and share everything, because keep in mind he`s central in some ways to two ongoing probes. One of them, the Department of Justice`s inspector general, who`s probing the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe and is finding a lot of things that are worrisome about the way certain matters were handled there, including the allegation that Former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe hadn`t been totally honest about his communications with the media.

And then second, Comey is right in the heart of this obstruction probe. I can`t see the director -- Former Director who cares so deeply about the Justice Department muddling up Mueller`s work.

VELSHI: Barbara, let`s talk a little again about this executive privilege, the idea of retroactively taking away this executive privilege or claiming executive privilege now and sort of trying to nullify everything that Robert Mueller already has from interviews with the Trump circle. From a legal perspective, Robert Costa was saying lawyers are pretty dubious about the fact that this can be done. What`s your take?

MCQUADE: Yes, I think it`s an absolute non-starter. Once you wave the privilege is waved forever. You can`t unring a bell. And so, once they have already answered questions, you can`t go back and retroactively assert the privilege and say Mr. Mueller should strike that from the record. He knows what he knows. He`s already, no doubt, followed up on some of those leads, and so I think that`s just absolute non-starter.

VELSHI: And, Carol, just to bring us all full circle, the fact that these FBI agents who went into Michael Cohen`s office and residences looking for things and having to do with the "Access Hollywood" tape, what`s the point that they are trying to get at?

LEONNIG: So, what we`ve seen in the course of a lot of reporting and, you know, is it 48 hours? There have probably been 10 stories volleying back and forth between the major media organizations and different cuts of what happened in this raid. What you see is a pattern of activity that the FBI and the Southern District of New York is examining.

And that alleged activity has to do with every effort in which Cohen played a role, the President`s lawyer played a role in shutting down, silencing, tamping down, closing down anything that was bad publicity during the Trump campaign. And remember, as we reported the other day, the search warrant indicates that one of the things that Michael Cohen is under investigation for is campaign finance violations. If what he was doing during the campaign and if he was coordinating with Donald Trump, the candidate, it`s very serious. What he was doing was basically an illegal in-kind contribution to help the campaign stifle and silence bad news.

VELSHI: Robert Costa, in the moments when the President is contemplating launching missile strikes on Syria, we`re hoping that everybody there is levelheaded and calm. What`s the level of fear right now in the White House about this investigation that`s closing in on them?

COSTA: There`s a fear among some of the President`s aides that he`s isolate and that he has a limited legal team. He had dinner last night with Alan Dershowitz, the veteran professor. He is trying to work with Jay Sekulow and Ty Cobb, his lawyers, but his behavior when it comes to the Russia probe remains unpredictable to most of his staff. They wake up and see the same tweets that we do lashing out at the Mueller investigation and as much as they continue to say he`s not really moving towards firing Rod Rosenstein, they don`t rule it out and you see pretty steady contained comments from Ms. Huckabee Sanders at the podium.

VELSHI: Yes, indeed. She tends to say we don`t have any personal announcements to make right now. All right. Robert Costa, Carol Leonnig and Barbara McQuade, thank you.

Coming up, given what we`ve reported, are Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein safe in their jobs tonight or are they going to fall victim to Donald Trump?

And later, a look at the state of play for this President and this investigation when we speak to President Bill Clinton`s Former Defense Attorney. "The 11th Hour" is just getting started on a Wednesday night.



JOSEPH DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Jeff Sessions, tomorrow morning, should fire Rod Rosenstein. It is not up to the President to fire Mr. Rosenstein. It is Mr. Sessions` job and he has a duty to fire Rod Rosenstein.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, U.S. ATTORNEY: I think Rod Rosenstein is recused. I don`t think he can serve on an investigation in which he will end up being the key witness.


VELSHI: Those are two Trump confidants tonight on Fox News offering their thoughts on how the President should handle the special counsel`s Russia investigation. They are two attorneys whose opinions we know the President values. In fact, Trump had dinner at the White House with Alan Dershowitz just last night, and he tried to hire the guy on the right, Joe diGenova, for his own legal team. We can assume the President was watching because he tweeted "Big show tonight on Sean Hannity" about 10 minutes before it started.

Trump spent a good deal of time attacking the Russia investigation today tweeting this morning that Mueller is most conflicted of all, except Rosenstein who signed FISA and Comey letter. No collusion so they go crazy.

And tonight, "The Washington Post" in their story with 21 sources reports "The President has been particularly livid in the wake of Monday`s FBI raids on the home, office and hotel room of Michael Cohen. In the days after, he has seriously contemplated a shake-up at the Justice Department in the hopes of curbing the expanding probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose referral led to the Cohen raids. Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing the probe."

Well, joining me now for more "The Los Angeles Times" Reporter Chris Megerian, who covers the special counsel investigation, and Former RNC Chairman and my friend, Michael Steele, also an MSNBC Political Analyst. Gentlemen, good to see you both.

Chris, let me start with you. We now know, everybody knows that the President takes his cues, in many cases, from things he hears on Fox News. Do we have a sense of how he`ll react to two lawyers? Obviously lawyers he likes and respects, giving him advice to either fire Rod Rosenstein or get him recused or get rid of Mueller.

CHRIS MEGERIAN, COVERING ROBERT MUELLER, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, I think one of our cues is that he wanted us to watch the show. The President tweeted before. He`ll make sure you tune into Sean Hannity.

So, you know, maybe he already has had a sense of what they`re going to say. He`d already been talking to Alan Dershowitz. You know, he almost hired Joe diGenova as one of his lawyers.

And there is, you know, feedback loop. He has these people go on T.V. They give him advice through the T.V., and then he kind of repeats it back. He`s a close looking for a much more combative approach on what he`s getting perhaps from his own counsel.

VELSHI: That`s interesting, Michael, because one of the more combative guys out there is Rush Limbaugh and he`s got different view of this. Listen to what Rush had to say today.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: The worst thing Trump could do is start firing people. That`s what he is being goaded into doing. Many of you think that`s what Trump should do, many of you think this is the just and proper thing. But this is more than just and proper right now. This is about survival.


VELSHI: Michael, it`s tricky because there are Republicans and Democrats warning against the President firing Robert Mueller or Rod Rosenstein and they don`t normally find themselves on the same side as Rush Limbaugh. So, what do you make of this?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: I agree with Rush. I think Rush is offering very wise counsel because Rush is astute enough to know that it`s not about the act of the firing.

It`s not about your peak with the subjects here, it`s about what happens afterwards. It`s about what it would mean to the party. It`s about what it will mean this November. And it`s about what it means when the Democrats take over a House.

And if you create a landscape where they can slip in and wind up taking the Senate as well that put this presidency in jeopardy. So, Rush, despite the wise counsel from the two lawyers is offering wise stage political counsel which actually Trump`s, the legal counsel here, because it is about the survival of administration that has already put itself on perilous footing to begin with.

VELSHI: Chris, this is interesting, because we have Barbara McQuade on and Bob Bennett on, but the fact is while there are all sorts of Americans asking whether or not Trump can fire Mueller or whether he can fire Rosenstein, I guess he can fire Rosenstein, that`s a little clearer. The political calculus here is a little trickier because at some point the Congressional Republicans may have to act.

MEGERIAN: Well, right. I mean, also it`s kind of a risk reward situation. And we saw this last year when the President thought it was a good idea to fire James Comey that the special counsel`s office that is currently investigating him.

So, you had have this sense of, well, you kind of get that he may want to take a step. He may want to fire somebody. But is he going to think that`s the best way forward? Is that going to give him the result that he really wants?

VELSHI: Michael, what happens next? We had a litany of Republican senators today making comments about why the President shouldn`t touch Robert Mueller, why he should let this continue. In fact, Lindsey Graham had this to say about it.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. President, if you are watching, I think you are going to be fine unless you screw this up. Let the process play out.


VELSHI: So, are these warnings meant to say we will actually do something if you take action to fire Robert Mueller? Are they hoping that that`s going to work? I know there are Republican leaders at the White House tonight meeting with the President. We don`t know what they are talking about, but might hope they are sending a collective message to say don`t do this.

STEELE: They may be. I doubt they are. There`s been nothing indicated and there`s certainly has been any public inclination that the leadership or caucus members in the whole are prepared to actually go and press back against the President on his desire to fire Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller.

We hope that that counsel is being given to him tonight, but I doubt it is. The reason is they are still looking, you know, to their right and their left and in their districts and seeing themselves surrounded by those avid supporters for Donald Trump, and they don`t want it to blow back on them. They don`t want those voters not to turn out this fall because they`re ticked off.

But, again, I go back to the first point, Ali, there`s a greater danger here if you don`t check this President`s impulses that could damage the party irreparably, electorally and make the last couple of years of this administration the toughest. So I think that there is a wise counsel all- around for the President tonight, certainly from Rush Limbaugh and on the conservative side and from members and leadership from the political side that the President should be paying attention to.

VELSHI: The Former Chairman, Michael Steel, always great to talk to you. Chris Megerian, good to talk to you as well. Thank you both for being with us.

All right. Coming up, the attorney who defended Bill Clinton, Bob Bennett, he`s here next with some important advice for the President that the President likely won`t take. "The 11th Hour" is back after this.


VELSHI: As we`ve been reporting, President Trump is ramping up his attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein following this week`s raid on Michael Cohen`s office and residences. And today, "The New York Times" reports the President is souring on the idea of sitting down with Mueller. "Although he had said for month that he wanted to be questioned by Mr. Mueller, his stance changed since Monday and the prospect of him willingly being questioned is far less likely according to two people briefed on the matter."

Tonight, Professor Emeritus of Harvard Law School and Trump ally, Alan Dershowitz which told colleague Chuck Todd that the president should not sit down with Mueller.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR EMERITUS: Look, no person who is a subject in an investigation should voluntarily speak to the prosecutors. The prosecutors aren`t there to help you. They are there to get to you hurt yourself. He may have to and make a negotiated appearance because otherwise he could be subpoenaed in front of a grand jury, but if he has the choice not to talk at all, of course, any subject would be advised by his client exercise that choice not to testify.


VELSHI: Here to talk all about this is somebody who`s got some experience in this area. Bob Bennett is a veteran Washington lawyer who is President Clinton`s personal lawyer in the Paula Jones case. He`s also the author of "In The Ring: The Trial of a Washington Lawyer". Bob, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.


VELSHI: All right, Bob, pretty simply. Given that you were the president`s attorney during the Paula Jones case, what advice would you give to President Trump right now?

BENNETT: Well, I`m not directly involved, but based on everything I know, I think I`d give him the following. First of all, you have to have a goal. And everyone has to work on that. And the goal should be as it was in President Clinton`s case, that he would be reelected to the presidency and he fulfill his term. And what does that mean? That means that the political and the legal aspects have to all be consistent and not all over the place.

So the first thing is the president should not comment on the investigation at all. Should not comment and criticize the special counsel, Mr. Rosenstein or for that matter Mr. Session, and he should -- and his lawyers should not unless there is good reason to consistent with the goal of keeping him in office and getting him out.

VELSHI: It sounds like, just to your advice, there`s too much talking going on.

BENNETT: There`s much too much talking. They should let Mueller finish his investigation. He`ll make some kind of a report and if the very worst happens, the very worst happens that the Democrats take over the House and vote the articles of impeachment, he is going to have a trial before the Senate which probably will still be Republican. They will be sympathetic to him.

The presiding judge will be the chief justice of the United States and it looks to me like this is the kind of case that looks better on paper that it may in real time. A lot of these witnesses have made deals so they are open for impeachment. And to the extent that you depend on materials from Russia or witnesses from Russia --

VELSHI: You`re not going to get them.

BENNETT: You just not going -- you`re not going to get it.

VELSHI: So you bring up an interesting point, Bob. Impeachment proceedings in Congress is a trial before members of Congress. And the more the president talks, the more there are things upon which he can be impeached. In other words, he might get in trouble for small things as opposed to big things if he talks too much.

BENNETT: Well that`s right. You`re right on. Look, this could be a complicated case to prove. But if he sits down with the special counsel and makes a false statement, that`s one of the easiest charges the prosecutors can bring. All they have to show is they made a representation to the FBI or the special counsel and it`s false. And he knew it was false. That`s not too hard to prove.

So he should avoid the risk and, you know, there are occasions when someone who was a subject should go in. You know, what would be -- let`s say Mueller said to him, look, I don`t find anything here except one thing troubles me. If your client comes in and says, A, B, C and I`m going to drop this, well then you might decide to bring your client in.

But absent something special like that, I think the president would be very foolish to sit down and be interviewed. He doesn`t have any real idea of all that Mr. Mueller and his team have. And he should stop this attacking no matter how -- this isn`t about feeling good. It`s about winning. And he`s not doing things which will bring that result home.

VELSHI: So he hasn`t tweeted about you being on the show tonight. Have you been approached to advise President Trump?

BENNETT: I don`t feel it appropriate to answer that. I am sorry, OK?

VELSHI: Understood. Do you think the president`s legal team is strong enough?

BENNETT: I think it needs more. I think the best lawyer for this kind of thing that they have is Ty Cobb in the spirit of full disclosure. He was a former partner of mine. And I know the quality of his work. He is not his personal lawyer, but he`s on the White House Council`s Office coordinating the Russian scenario. Ty is excellent and I believe Ty is encouraging him to cooperate. But that doesn`t mean he necessarily sits down with him. That means you may voluntarily produce documents rather than have them subpoenaed.

VELSHI: Bob, you think you would be a good addition to the team?

BENNETT: You are getting too close to that. And I`m going to respectfully decline.

VELSHI: Understood.

BENNETT: There are lawyers out there that have my skill set. So, I think that skill set is very important if this president wants to survive.

VELSHI: Bob Bennett, good to talk to you. Thank you.

BENNETT: You`re certainly welcome and thank you for having me.

VELSHI: All right. Coming up, Donald Trump changes his tune on Russia has he warns the country to get ready for missiles in Syria. We`re back after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. planning to target Russian assets or personnel in Syria as part of the attack the president himself said is coming. The missiles are coming. What does he mean?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We`re maintaining that we have a number of options and all the options are still on the table. All options are on the table. It sounds like all options are on the table. As I said, all options are on the table. Again, all options are on the table that contains a number of different things. All options are on the table and will continue conversations with our allies and partners and move forward from that point.


VELSHI: I guess from that we can surmise that all options are on the table. Days after the suspected chemical attack in Syria which left dozens dead, the White House said this afternoon all options are on the table. But this morning, President Trump`s tweets all but warned of imminent attack. As he wrote, "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia. Because they will be coming. Nice and new and smart. You shouldn`t be partners with a gas killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it."

The Syrian government has denied the use of chemical weapons, but Trump`s tough warning to its ally, Russia is a striking contrast to his past comments. With us for more is retired four star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, a former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf. Michael McFaul is a former U.S. ambassador of Russia, also author of the upcoming book "From Cold War to Hot Peace", and American ambassador in Putin`s Russia. Both are MSNBC analysts.

Ambassador McFaul, I`m going start with you. There are a lot of questions that a lot of people have and we probably don`t have as deep and understanding as we should collectively of why Russia is so interested in Syria and why they are there. But I think the bigger question is why the sudden about-face from Donald Trump? You have been on this show many, many times discussing the fact that President Trump will never criticize Vladimir Putin or Russia. Why now on this topic?

AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, it was unprecedented. I agree. I did not expect a tweet like this from the president. But I want to remind you that he also tweeted some other things today as well where he basically blamed Special Counsel Mueller and people like me. We went out of the way to say people that used to work for Obama for the poor relationship and can`t we all get along?

And the bottom line of the comments not unlike comments he made just about 10 days ago about Russia is there`s no coherent policy there. He contradicts himself. Maybe the Trump Administration has a coherent policy towards Russia and towards Syria. But the president himself doesn`t seem to embrace that policy. So it`s all over the place. And I think it makes him look very weak in the eyes of the Kremlin most certainly but maybe around the world as well.

VELSHI: General McCaffrey let`s talk a little bit about Syria and the military preparedness. 17 years after going to Afghanistan, 15 years after going to Iraq, a lot of Americans will want to know if we launch an attack on Syria that`s more meaningful than the one that we launched a year ago. What`s the end game? What`s the reason for doing so? What does success look like?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, RET. U.S. ARMY: Well I think, you know, we`re in a very complex, very dangerous situation. The tweet from the president this morning was really unsettling. It`s not the head of state rhetoric that the situation demands.

I do think it`s legitimate for us to respond strongly to the use of chemicals against civilians. If we don`t, we`re implying that there are back on the battlefield. Only we can tolerate that. So a significant U.S. military response is probably coming in the next 48 hours.

Four questions. Who are our allies? Question number two, is there just a target list or is there a strategy to deal with this? Third question, have we called in congressional leadership, both parties, both houses and consulted? And then finally, what next? The day after the strike, we will have killed a lot of Russians. They`re manning S-400 anti-aircraft systems which are extremely dangerous. We will be able to take them out. F-35 stealth fighters can get in there, tomahawk missiles can get in there but this is going to be a very bloody operation and there may entail U.S. losses. So, what next the day after the strike?

VELSHI: Ambassador McFaul, is there some danger that the tinder box that is Syria which has Iranian interest, which has Russian interest, which has American, which has Islamist interests. Israel is involved in some way. Is it possible this could become substantially more serious than a targeted strike?

MCFAUL: Yes. In particular when they repeatedly that White House says all options are on the table. And if those options includes killing Russian soldiers, Putin will respond to that. We should be very clear about that. They`re not going to sit back and say well, we`re sorry that we a lined with this guy. They may not strike, they might not strike in a symmetric fashion but they may very well strike at opposition forces inside Syria where we have the soldiers up to 2,000 allegedly inside the country and that I think is a very serious escalation. And I think they should think very hard about when they target Russian soldiers in Syria.

VELSHI: General McCaffrey, I want to get ahead of myself here, but it`s fair for our viewers for us to explore the idea that -- is there a danger of Syria becoming some sort of a proxy war? The United States doesn`t like Iran and doesn`t like what Iran up to where adversaries with Russia and all those parties are involved in Syria.

MCCAFFREY: I don`t think there`s any question but it is a proxy war and has been for several years now. You got (INAUDIBLE) Shiite minority government dominating a largely Sunni Muslim nation. When you start looking at the, you know, score sheet, who`s fighting on the ground, you know, Kurdish allies, 4,000 killed in action helping us kill 65,000 ISIS fighters. Now the Turks are aiming to eliminate the Kurdish state. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are there, Hezbollah is there. So poor Syria with 400,000 dead. The country is destroyed. Has become the centerpiece of what is largely, not just a civil war, but a regional war.

VELSHI: Barry McCaffrey, I will spend tomorrow examining the questions that you asked. Is it a target list or is it a strategy and what happens next? General Barry McCaffrey and Ambassador Michael McFaul, thank you both.

Coming up, as House Speaker Paul Ryan announces his retirement, Steve Kornacki is at the big board what was looming over Ryan`s political future. "The 11th Hour" back after this.



REP. PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: That`s why today I am announcing that this year will be my last one as a member of the House. To be clear I`m not resigning. I`m intended to full serve my term as I was elected to do, but I will be retiring in January, leaving this majority in good hands with what I believe is a very bright future.


VELSHI: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announcing today he won`t seek reelection this fall but expressed confidence in the Republican Party. However, our NBC news colleague Jonathan Allen writes Ryan is walking away from, "President Trump, a brutal midterm election and trillion dollar plus annual deficits that will bind Congress`s hands for years to come."

Joining me now the big board Steve Kornacki, MSNBC national political correspondent. Steve, your thoughts.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, he`s got his reasons. He put him out there for resigning for walking away from Congress the end of this year but that GOP majority he talks being in good hands. The reality is it`s in a very precarious position right now as Paul Ryan announces his retirement from the House.

The bottom line math we`re looking heading in this election year, bounced the House right now. You`ve got Conor Lamb from Pennsylvania. He`ll swear in tomorrow. We`ll count him as part of that. Two of these vacancies here are Democratic seats. So let`s say it`s 195. That means Democrats need to pick up a net gain of 23 seats. If they can net 23 this fall, they get the majority, the Republican majority goes away.

Here`s some of what Paul Ryan and everybody is looking at. First of all, this is the history. Presidential approval rating when it gets down to where Trump is now, you see 41% here. Who else in their midterm is beneath (ph) that level? Here are some modern examples. Here`s what happened. Bush was at 38 in `06, Republicans lost the House. Democratic way, Clinton was 46 in `94. Republicans won as they called that. The Republican revolution 54 seats. And Reagan, he was at 42% in 1982. Democrats made big gains and you could throw Obama in 2010 on there. Low presidential approval rating right in that zone where Trump is in the past in midterms. It is translated into sizeable gains for the opposition party. And remember we just said the number there for Democrats this year is 23. That`s the gain they need.

The other thing we are seeing signs of that kind of wave and certainly Paul Ryan was seeing signs of it in the special elections we`ve had for Congress, for the Senate, for the House since Trump became president. It started in April of 2017. A Wichita area district, Trump won by 27. They held a special election. The Republicans won but that was a gain for the Democrats 20 points in their direction.

Montana, remember that (INAUDIBLE) the reporter. Trump had won the state by 21. They had the special election. A gain of 15 points for Democrats. He had one exception here in Georgia. But look, 15 points for Democrats. The Alabama Senate race, they senate.

Pennsylvania 19, we know that one, almost a 20-point gain. Not a lot of -- this is the biggest success of Republicans that won in Georgia but otherwise you`re seeing here what you see typically when there`s a way. You`re seeing that low presidential approval rating. You`re seeing it`s only 23. Democrats need that. That`s a lot but it`s in line with what you get in a wave here. And you`re also seeing this. Retirements, other Republicans making the same decision Paul Ryan made today. 33 Republicans now say they`re going to retire. They`re not going to run for reelection this here. Put that in some context. We mentioned 94 the big wave here against Democrats. You had 28 Democrats retiring that year. You know, 2010 now that was a big wave year. You only had 18. 33 retirements. They`re not all retiring because they think a wave is coming. But when you start getting numbers that high, look, that 33, you compare that going back, you know, 40 years there at 33 is awfully high for the party in power in the White House. That tells you something too, Ali.

VELSHI: Steve, no better counts the clock better than you. We got 45 seconds. Tell me about the story in the Senate.

KORNACKI: Yes. So that`s the other thing. Look, we`ve been talking about the House as if it`s the ball game this year because at the stat of the cycle nobody thought the Senate would be in play. The Democrats have a lot of seats. We`re talking about 10 seats in states that Trump won. Very tall order. But again, if the midterm climate goes in your favor they could win most and maybe in their ideal situation, all of those if they could do that, they would need a net gain of three seats, Nevada, Arizona, some Democrats will tell you, Tennessee, if you could defend those and pick off those other three, the Senate could end up in play.

VELSHI: Steve Kornacki, I can listen to you all night, which is kind of what we do on election night. Steve Kornacki. All right, a quick break for us. More of the "11th Hour" right after this.


VELSHI: The last thing before we go tonight isn`t about the current speaker of the house but the guy who has the job before him. John Boehner made some news this morning before Paul Ryan announced his retirement. Boehner has a new gig and it`s generating a lot of buzz.

A creature of country clubs who`s known for his love of red wine and camel cigarettes. On the issue of marijuana, he told a voter in 2011 he was unalterably opposed to legalization. Well, now Boehner says his thinking has evolved. Boehner joined the board of Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company that operates in 11 states.

The former speaker says, "I`m convinced descheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities."

And before we go tonight, we have reminders for you, if you missed the show on your TV, you can watch us any time you want by download the MSNBC app on any Apple device. If you like to listen on-the-go you got two options. You can hear the show live each night on SiriusXM satellite radio and we`re also available as a free podcast.

That`s for me. I`m back tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC. Brian is back here tomorrow night. That`s our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us and goodnight from MSNBC headquarters in New York.


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