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Trump calls Russia probe a "hoax." TRANSCRIPT: 04/18/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Jill Colvin, Jim Warren, Bill Richardson, Malcolm Nance

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 18, 2018 Guest: Shannon Pettypiece, Jill Colvin, Jim Warren, Bill Richardson, Malcolm Nance

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: -- We will detail today`s wild and wide- ranging news conference. And on the Russia front, a new story tonight says Trump`s former lawyer is warning him that Cohen could flip and work for the Feds and might even wear a wire.

Plus, about that meeting with Kim Jong-un, Trump says it will only happen if it`s fruitful. He says if not, he`ll bounce. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 454 this was of the Trump administration. And during a press conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Trump would not say whether he would fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein.


JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: On the Mueller probe, have you concluded that it`s not worth the political fallout to remove either Special Counsel Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jennifer, I can say this that there was been no collusion and that`s been so found as you know by the House Intelligence Committee. There`s no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia, other than by the Democrats, or as I call them the obstructionists because they truly are obstructionists. So, we are giving tremendous amounts of paper.

This was really a hoax created largely by the Democrats as a way of softening the blow of a loss which is a loss that, frankly, they shouldn`t have had from the standpoint that it`s very easy for them. They have a tremendous advantage in the Electoral College.

As far as the two gentlemen you told me about, they`ve been saying, I`m going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months. And they`re still here. So we want to get the investigation over with.


WILLIAMS: The President also said his team has been cooperating with Mueller`s investigators. Trump`s remarks come as "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight the Trump allies in Congress are taking part in what reads like something of a shakedown on the Deputy Attorney General.

"Two of President Trump`s top legislative men met with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein this week to press him for more documents about the conduct of law enforcement officials involved in the Russia probe and the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mail server. Rosenstein`s meeting at his office Monday with Congressman Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan came days after Meadows warned Rosenstein that he could face impeachment proceedings or an effort to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not satisfy GOP demands."

Over on the Senate side, debate is heating up over legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The Hill is reporting that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said his committee would take up legislation to protect Mueller despite these comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: There`s no indication that Mueller is going to be fired. I don`t think the President is going to do that. And just as a practical matter, even if we passed it, why would he sign it?

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: So, you don`t think it`s a good idea. And you don`t think it`s something the President would entertain or should entertain?

MCCONNELL: Well, I don`t think he should fire Mueller. And I don`t think he`s going to. So, this is a piece of legislation that`s not necessary, in my judgment.

CAVUTO: But, obviously, none of your colleagues fear it enough to say it should be in there as an insurance policy.

MCCONNELL: Yes, but I`m the one to decide what we take to the floor. That`s my responsibility as majority leader. And we will not be having this on the floor of the Senate.


WILLIAMS: That was interesting. The Hill also reports, "With at least GOP Senators, Thom Tillis and Lindsey Graham joining Democrats in supporting the bill, it`s expected to have the votes to clear the Judiciary Committee next week. But it faces an uphill climb to getting 60 votes in the Senate, much less passing the more conservative House."

Longtime Trump ally, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, offered his response today when asked by our own Garrett Haake if a bill to protect Mueller should be debated on the Senate floor.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don`t think so, and I don`t think anybody is going to -- I don`t think the President is going to be so stupid as to do something like that.

GARRETT HAAKE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That`s good enough for you, just the idea that the President wouldn`t do this so we don`t need to pass it?

HATCH: Well, that`s right, and we ought to let the President be the President, but I don`t think he`s about to do that. He would take such criticism that it wouldn`t be worth it to him.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, the "Wall Street Journal" reports tonight President Trump was given a clear warning about his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, cooperating with investigators, potentially. "One of President Donald Trump`s longtime legal advisers said he warned the President in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen would turn against the President and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges. Mr. Trump made the call seeking advice from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg cautioned the President not to trust Mr. Cohen."

"On a scale of 100 to one, where 100 is fully protecting the President, Mr. Cohen isn`t even a one, he said he told Mr. Trump." Goldberg went on to warn Trump that Cohen could even wear a wire for the Feds to record conversations with the President.

Again, the FBI raided the office and residences of Cohen last week. He`s under investigation for possible bank fraud, possible money laundering, campaign finance violations, while Cohen is yet to be charge with any crime.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Wednesday. Three of our favorites are back with us. Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, also an MSNBC National Security Analyst, and Barbara McQuade former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and also MSNBC Legal Analyst. Welcome to you all.

Shannon, the President in his remarks today, this was a bilateral press conference for both leaders, kind of went down a couple roads, hopped on the interstate, got off three or four cul-de-sacs. Are we any clearer on knowing his intentions vis-a-vis Rosenstein and Mueller?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: So, I know some people thought he missed an opportunity here to say, "No, I`m not going to fire them." I heard that he was -- that`s what he was saying, "I`m not going to fire them."

WILLIAMS: In his own way?

PETTYPIECE: "That they are here," and he added to that, "I want to end this investigation quickly." And I know he has been counseled over and over again by his advisors that, "If you want to end this quickly, leave them in place. If you fire Muller, if you fire Rosenstein, that will only drag out this investigation."

And our reporting also indicates that the temperature has gone down a bit on this whole drumbeat of firing Rosenstein. Last week, he was openly contemplating firing Rosenstein, talking to people about it, mulling about it. We were told it wasn`t very serious, but that was a conversation he was having because he was so angry about this Michael Cohen raid. But then his attention turned to Syria and his attention turned to Japan, and so he think -- it seems in that time, for the moment at least, that drumbeat of effort to fire Rosenstein, you know, by some of the President`s allies, has quieted down.

WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy Bash, let`s talk about Mr. Cohen and how he was in the news today. Here`s the President apparently cold-calling an old lawyer, perhaps because he`s having trouble finding new ones. Are we surprised that this lawyer advised him, you know, watch for this guy flipping and working for the Feds? And would you be surprised Michael Cohen is a married father of two? People keep saying he could be looking at 20, 30 years, heavy federal time. That could be a life sentence.

JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, the old lawyer, Mr. Goldberg, I think had very sound advice for his former client, the President, which is that the President shouldn`t assume that Michael Cohen will always have the President`s back. I don`t know about wearing a wire, but we do know that Michael Cohen has a tendency to record conversations. But more fundamentally, he has documents, he has records, he has e-mails and he has his own personal recollections of conversations with the President. And so he is very well positioned to provide information to federal investigators about the full gamut of the Trump organization`s business dealings with Russia, and in particular, any communications between Trump officials and the Russian federation during the campaign about a conspiracy to violate federal election law, which I think is still the heart of what Bob Mueller is looking at.

WILLIAMS: Barbara, let me ask a hypothetical. How big a deal, how big a whale could Cohen be if he chooses to cooperate with Mueller, and are we making a mistake every day in forgetting names like Keith Schiller, Hope Hicks, some of the keepers of the secrets who are on the inside, who aren`t in the press necessarily every day?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Sure. I mean, I think we frequently heard this analogy to the tip of the iceberg that you know, we in the public, only know a small part of what Robert Mueller is up to and all of these people have the potential to be cooperators. I think Michael Cohen could be a very significant cooperator. And I know people often say, "Oh, he`s so loyal to the President. He would never flip on him," but I have seen this happen in time.

And, again, as you say, people have to decide between a long prison sentence and coming home to their families, people, when they`re in that situation, suddenly loyalty doesn`t look quite as attractive as it did when you were sitting at the table over lunch. And so I`ve seen it happen, and those kinds of cooperators can be incredibly important. As Jeremy said, his own recollection can really flush out what`s in documents and recordings. They can become sort of a narrator for a trial to really bring those documents to life and connect the dots.

WILLIAMS: Shannon, where do you put GOP support these days? We talked about the temperature coming down to fire Rosenstein. GOP support for Mueller, the larger investigation.

PETTYPIECE: It`s still very strong, both in the House and in the Senate.

WILLIAMS: Strong enough to pass a vote?

PETTYPIECE: Well, if Mitch McConnell would bring it to the floor, we could find out. The members of the Republican Party have been very, very clear about this, about Mueller and about Rosenstein, that they don`t think the President should do it, that that would be crossing a red line. But I will say there is a group in the Republican Party, Devin Nunes being one of them, that has been calling the President and voicing their displeasure with Rosenstein`s cooperation with their investigation.

So, the President has been hearing from certain members of the Republican Party, that they feel the DOJ and Rosenstein is not cooperating enough with their efforts to investigate a whole variety of things at the DOJ, FISA warrants, Comey memos, things beyond Russia collusion in the 2016 election, and they have not been shy about going after Rosenstein. But there is definitely another strong part of the party that says, "Hands off."

BASH: Brian, can I just --

WILLIAMS: Yes, Jeremy.

BASH: -- inject a dose of reality here, which is this Devin Nunes effort is just political interference in a Department of Justice investigation into potential criminal conduct and national security issues. And so, that`s a total side show. And with regards to the McConnell decision not to bring it up to a vote to protect Bob Mueller, that bill would obviously pass.

So the elephant in the room, pardon the pun, is that the only reason that McConnell doesn`t want to bring it up is because he fears that Mueller would be protected, thus Mueller might find something, and that would be embarrassing to the President and his party.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, further to your point, Nunes must have been smiling somewhere today. The President quoted the House Intel report in saying there was no finding of collusion.

BASH: And that was a partisan report that basically was written before the evidence was in to exonerate the President.

WILLIAMS: Barbara, a hypothetical for you. What`s next?

MCQUADE: Well, I think the Cohen piece of this is incredibly interesting and the fruits of that search are obviously going to be very interesting. It`s also troubling to hear Senator McConnell say that no vote will happen. He does control the Senate agenda.

What I`m not hearing them say is this would be unconstitutional. There`s a separation of powers reason not to pass it. What I`m hearing instead is we don`t need to do this because the President has not indicated that he plans to fire Robert Mueller. But once he does, it`s too late and that law can`t be passed at that point. So, it`s frustrating that they don`t want to head that off at the pass.

But it doesn`t sound like it`s imminent. You never know what this President will do next, but until then I`m sure Robert Mueller has his head down working hard to make as much progress in the case as he can and as are the folks in the Southern District of New York.

WILLIAMS: And, Barbara, let me -- there was one more legal question that people have actually asked me, mistaking me for a smart person, and that is this. We know the Southern District of New York case was spun off from Mueller`s, and it now has its own heart and lungs. If they find things that belong back in Mueller`s lap, in his shop, is there a process for that?

MCQUADE: Yes, absolutely. You know, there are 94 U.S. attorneys` offices all around the country who work together as part of the Department of Justice. And so, they share evidence all the time.

In the cases that I supervised at the U.S. Attorney`s Office in the Eastern District of Michigan, if we saw things that spilled over into Northern Ohio, for example, or even the Western District of Michigan, we would share it with them if it was properly venued there. So, very similarly, if they were to find things in the Cohen search that related to the Russia investigation, there would be nothing to stop them from just handing it right over.

WILLIAMS: OK. And, Jeremy, because we`re never more than two sentences away from a playmate or adult film star, I`m going to read you this and get your reaction.

"New York Times" reporting on Karen McDougal. "The tabloid news company American Media Inc. agreed to let a former Playboy model out of a contract that had kept her from talking freely about an alleged affair with Donald J. Trump. The settlement agreement, reached on Wednesday, ends a lawsuit brought by the model, Karen McDougal and protects the President from being drawn into a legal case involving efforts to buy the silence of women who had stories to tell about him during the 2016 campaign."

I also note, Jeremy, this happened on the day when the President attacked the sketch as described by Stormy Daniels of the person who threatened her. So, here we are with playmates and adult film stars in the news.

BASH: The "National Enquirer" and the Trump team were eager to settle the civil lawsuit, unless they be put in the position where discovery would ensue evidence would come out and the President or his allies would be forced to incriminate themselves with an ongoing federal investigation. That`s never a position you want to be in.

WILLIAMS: Shannon, I want to show you something that came out of the Trump event today. Here we are as a nation in the wake of the news last night of the death of Barbara Bush. The President came out to the lectern, read a dignified statement, came to the length of the union between George and Barbara Bush and proved that even following the death of a First Lady, there is a way to quantify competition. Here`s the passage in question.


TRUMP: Melania and I send our prayers to Barbara`s husband of 73 years. I`ll never beat that record.


PETTYPIECE: Yes. You know, they give him a script and, you know, he just can`t stick with it. But, yes, he does have a way of making things about him, and that`s because friends, people who love him would say, "Yes, kind of, because he`s a narcissist." It all ends up coming back to him at the end the day, and people who support him, you know, don`t mind that quality about him, but yes, there is always an element of him in everything he has to say.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for not shrugging that off as merely a foul ball. You took a full swing at it. And I sense a good place to get out of our lead conversations. And with our thanks to Shannon Pettypiece, to Jeremy Bash and Barbara McQuade. Really appreciated, guys. Thank you very much.

And coming up for us, the President said it again today, nobody has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump. And at the same time, the whole Russian thing, he said again today, is a hoax despite having already snapped up convictions and indictments with a promise of more on the way.

And on another front, the secret mission in North Korea to clear the way for Donald Trump to sit down with Kim Jong-un. One of the few Americans alive who has negotiated with North Korea is standing by to join us tonight.

THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Wednesday evening.



TRUMP: If I think that it`s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we`re not going to go. If the meeting when I`m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave.

There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump. If we can get along with China, and if we can get along with Russia, and if we can get along Japan and other nations, that`s a good thing, not a bad thing.


WILLIAMS: Tonight, the President took an uncompromising stance on America`s role in the world while hoping to make clear he is driving the nation`s foreign policy. The comments came after a few days of whiplash over Russian sanctions or not sanctions.

Trump reportedly grew angry after his U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced new sanctions on Sunday morning. The White House later insisted there were none coming. Larry Kudlow then claims she had been confused.

Here is how Trump responded tonight when asking about those sanctions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are the sanctions on Russia -- sir, why did you delay the sanctions?

TRUMP: There will be sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it. We will have -- that is a question. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

Between building up the military, between creating tremendous vast amounts of oil, we raised billions and billions of dollars extra in NATO. We had a very, very severe, we were talking about it a while ago, fight in Syria recently, a month ago, between our troops and Russian troops, and it`s very sad. But many people died in that fight. There has been nobody tougher than me.

With the media, no matter what I did, it`s never tough enough, because that`s their narrative.


WILLIAMS: By the way, that off-camera quote appeared to be "There will be sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it."

As for Nikki Haley who insisted she did not get confused, she described her relationship with President Trump, she said, "perfect." We can report with certain view that her record with Kudlow is one to nothing.

Here to talk about it, Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press." She is, as they say, traveling with the President joins us from Florida. And Jim Warren who joins us here in New York, a Veteran Print Journalist, now Executive Editor of the new start-up NewsGuard that will rate the veracity of news and information sites. I hope they come out with a lotion and a spray for the days when we`re really deep into it around here.

Hey, Jill, what is happening with this White House? And I don`t mean that to sound flip. What of the machinery of the White House, the agenda of the Trump White House? All the while we are told this guy just wants to hire a good, relevant lawyer who`s willing to take the job.

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes. I mean, there is a lot going on right now. The President just finished up this two-day meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe where they were talking about a whole host of very consequential items. This upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un, whether they`re going to do some type of trade ramifications with Japan, so these are high stakes issues. At the same time you`ve got this spat going on now between Nikki Haley and Larry Kudlow, who is one of the newest additions to the Trump administration.

Our understanding of the way this played out, or at least the administration`s line on how this played out was that Nikki Haley was basically just not up to date when she went on television, the idea being that there had been a plan to roll out sanctions on Friday at the same time as the bombs in Syria were dropping, and that was pushed back because the sanctions weren`t ready. Then there was sort of this wait and see period over the weekend. They were expecting Russia had had all this very heated rhetoric saying they were going to respond very quickly and very forcefully to the bombing and that reaction didn`t really happen. And so, the White House, they considered potentially rolling out the sanctions as a response to a Russian action that never actually took place.

So there line of thinking on this is that Nikki Haley just wasn`t up to speed when she went up speaking on Sunday. But I think what this has all taught us is that Nikki Haley is somebody who has political ambitions, who is very highly respected in the White House, who has grown very close to very key figures, including Mike Pence, and is not someone that you ever want to mess with.

WILLIAMS: Yes, we learned that much this past week. So, Jim, I`ve known you this way for many years and you`ve been in this business a long time. As you sit and watch Donald Trump, as we just did together, what`s your reaction to this guy, his command of the facts, his command of the language?

JIM WARREN, COLUMNIST, U.S. NEWS WORLD REPORT: Fascinating. I mean, I thought tonight by Trump theatrical standards were pretty low-key, even muted. But the frame was the same, sort of, low decibel Make America Great campaign theme. We`ve been losing, now we`ve got a win and now we are winning, not just terrorism but as we found out tonight or even apparently selling more refrigerators.

It was pretty darn curious, and I think when it came to bravado, we all can accept the notion of acceptable political bravado. He had something to do with great attendance at the winter Olympics.


WARREN: As if he is ticket master in chief. But when it comes to the important matter of collusion with Russia, I think one should know, and not just because 48 hours ago, not too far away on the upper east side, Pulitzer Prizes were announced and two great rivals, two great institutions, "New York Times" and "Washington Post," shared a national Pulitzer Prize for documenting such interference by the Russians, documenting multiple meetings among Russians and Trump family and friends. So, as I said, a couple blocks from here in our start-up`s office and we want to assess the credibility of websites. It was hard to look at that and say, "Wait a second, has he perhaps gone beyond the pale?"

In addition, there was all this improvisation as I think Nikki Haley now knows, and it`s one reason you can understand why people around the world, particularly foreign leaders, whether it`s in declaration in the Q&A, question and answer like tonight or a tweet, is this to be believed? It`s one thing for a manager, T.V. host to keep staff, you know, a little bit off balance, to create a certain creative tension. It`s another thing to keep them totally confused and perhaps even totally scared as to what you`re going to do and ultimately not trusting what you`re going to do.

WILLIAMS: And about those Pulitzers, we had two of the winners. We had Rucker and Parker on with us the night they won. I didn`t envy the Pulitzer judges this year, because it seems to me Pulitzer-quality work is being done every day.

WARREN: When you hear no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. Just go to Google and Google their stories.

WILLIAMS: Yes, exactly. Right. Hey, Jill, when people ask you what is it about this West Wing atmosphere that allows Nikki Haley V. Kudlow dust-up to happen? That allows it -- here we are Wednesday night. She said what she said Sunday morning. It allows people like us to still be talking about it and kind of gearing up for the next encounter.

COLVIN: I mean, it`s because this is a White House that is all about a single individual, President Donald Trump, and it doesn`t matter what anyone around him thinks. Many people around him have no idea what he`s going to say from one day to the next, and just to loop in to what you were talking about earlier, I mean, this is a President who one day will suggest in a random meeting that maybe I`m open to rejoining TPP. He`ll actually, in that meeting with a number of members of Congress, actually designate certain members of his staff to look into rejoining the TPP negotiation process. And then you get a tweet last night saying, "Never mind, we don`t really like TPP," and then another statement today saying, "Well, you know, if they come to us with a great deal, then maybe we would be totally into this."

You`ve got a President who takes multiple positions on the same issue in the same day, and all these staffers around him are trying to figure it out, who are basically setting policies in place based on tweets, based on trying to anticipate and responding to what the President has proclaimed, and all of these different sections and all of these different people who may have spoken to the President, may have spoken to people who are in the know at different periods in the process who just aren`t on the same page, and as we`ve seen this week, are really willing to throw each other under the bus as a result, which is such a toxic environment.

WILLIAMS: Jim, as much as we like to think we make the news fresh around here, the real purveyor of news traditionally is the President. And on a day like today, he used the phrase no collusion five times, he called it a hoax multiple times. What do you do as part a new start-up that is designed to steer Americans to the truth and weed out false news?

WARREN: The same thing you do every night. You try to just smart folks to tell you what`s the deal. Put your idealogies aside, put your prejudice aside, put aside who you voted for in the last election. What were the facts?

You mentioned having those two reporters on. The facts are it`s been amply documented. There were multiple meetings among Trump family, Trump aides and Russians of various sorts. So to say no collusion, I think, is arguably, you know, beyond traditional, political bragging that you don`t know.

It`s not like saying, "Oh, there are more people at the Olympic, ice hockey arena because of me. It`s not game. It`s not even saying in that really interesting, remember early on tonight, that sort of new visual matrix for assessing the success of or failure of missile attack. Not one, zero.


WARREN: Zero, so that means our policy toward Syria in a very complex matter on what to do with Assad is somehow successful. So, step back and do what you can do, and you hope that folks out there in the Heartland, in Portland, Oregon, Albuquerque, New Mexico will stop and think and say, "Hmm, OK, I`m going to weigh these facts. This is what I conclude."

WILLIAMS: Two more of our favorites, Jill Colvin in sunny Florida, except when it`s dark, and Jim Warren here with us in New York. Our thanks folks very much.

And coming up, I`m glad you mentioned Albuquerque because we have advice for Donald Trump in dealing with North Korea from one of the few Americans, and there`s a hint, in history who`s been there and done that, including negotiating with the North Koreans for hostages. We`re back with more right after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope to have a very successful meeting. If we don`t think it`s going to be successful, Mark, we won`t have it. If I think that it`s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we`re not going to go. If the meeting, when I`m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting. And we`ll continue what we`re doing or whatever it is that we`ll continue.


WILLIAMS: Interesting points there from President Trump on plans for a meeting with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un. Earlier in the day, Trump confirmed on Twitter that CIA Director Mike Pompeo had met with Kim. He said the meeting went very smoothly, and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now. Elsewhere in the same statement, the president falsely said, the Pompeo trip was last weekend. It was Easter weekend, in fact and the White House later corrected it.

With us to talk about it tonight, Bill Richardson, one of the few Americans to ever successfully negotiate with North Korea. He`s a former member of Congress, cabinet secretary, governor of the State of New Mexico and ambassador to the U.N., among all the other things he`s done in life.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much, because you`re the name we settle on when we need to talk about this topic. Thank you for coming on. Let me ask you a question I like to ask, and that is, what could go wrong? And let me pair that with, what could go right?

BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, what could go wrong is overexpectation, that the president says that he wants North Korea to denuclearize. For the North Koreans, that is basically meaning that they`re going to reduce their nuclear weapons. For us is that they`re going to dismantle their nuclear weapons. That`s not going to happen. So that`s what could go wrong.

What could go right, Brian, is a lot of good things that could happen. The release of three Americans, the remains of our soldiers, some of them coming back from the summit. The president today talking about the Japanese abductees, human rights issues. But I think we`ve got to lower expectations. I have given credit to the president for making this decision to go to North Korea or meet with the North Koreans in this summit. Very high risk. But at the same time, things couldn`t be worse in the Korean Peninsula, so I give him credit.

The problem is overexpectations. The problem is that he won`t be prepared. Now, I commend him for this trip of Pompeo to North Korea. I mean, that`s like all CIA days, Henry Kissinger going to China, secret mission Richard Nixon, that was good. So, this is a positive step.

But my worry is that, one, we won`t be prepared. North Koreans are relentless. I`ve negotiated with them. They`re tough. They have an agenda. But, they`re not going to denuclearize. They`ve got 60 nuclear weapons. Maybe we can get them to reduce the weapons, curb their use, missile activity, reduce it, stop pointing their artillery to South Korea. I think it was good that he met with the Japanese prime minister. You know, we`ve got 50,000 American troops. Japan is vulnerable, the Japanese have been left out of the negotiations. I think Abe was a little resentful. The tariffs on steel and aluminum. That doesn`t mean Abe looks good in Japan. So, I think we helped the politics of Japan.

So, so far so good on North Korea. My worry is, you know, the president is talking about collusion, Russia. He`s delusional about that issue. He should leave it alone. Leave Mueller alone. Finish the investigation. Stop saying that everything is the press`s problem. Our foreign policy, in my judgment, is not moving in the right direction. But on North Korea, I give him credit for what he`s doing and for what Pompeo did in this secret trip. That was good.

WILLIAMS: So you snuck in there, I know that he won`t be prepared and a whole lot of people agree with you, is this the revenge for this kind of anti-establishment administration? We don`t have an ambassador to South Korea who could be an expert on the region, who could sit as a briefer and go over with this president what to expect from these guys and to expect that they`re going to try to wear them down.

RICHARDSON: Well, that`s the problem, no ambassador to South Korea. But what I think is interesting here, Brian, is that the channel to North Korea has been through intelligence channels, not the State Department, not the New York channel --


RICHARDSON: -- the CIA. The good thing is that Pompeo is moving to the State Department, and what I would like to see Pompeo do is be a diplomat. He`s no longer a spy. So we give him credit for going to North Korea secretly. It`s like the CIA is back, you know, with a secret plane. But if he talked to Kim Jong-un, the good thing is that Kim Jong-un is engaged. He`s his own nuclear negotiator. Kim Jaewon (ph) used to be the father`s nuclear negotiator. It looks like Kim Jong-un wants to make this summit work, that`s a good sign. I mean, I`m going to give him credit, the president and Kim Kong-un for trying to see that this summit has some success. But if we expect the North Koreans to denuclearize, to get rid of nuclear weapons in one meeting, it`s not going to happen, I can tell you that.

WILLIAMS: Final word, out of left field, if you were asked to brief this president, would you do it?

RICHARDSON: Well, I would, but he`s not going to ask me. I`m a Democrat. But that`s OK. I mean --


RICHARDSON: -- he`s got good people there in the State Department. Go to our diplomats, our Asia specialists. You know, maybe Pompeo can bring those Asia specialists back from the Foreign Service diplomacy, not intelligence people. Our military people should help too, but it is clear that Kim Jong-un relies on his security people, or his intel people. And maybe Pompeo can do that. I wish him the best.

WILLIAMS: I didn`t say right field for a reason, I said left field. Known-Democrat Bill Richardson, a pleasure as always. I hope you`ll keep coming on to talk about this matter as it continues in the news. Thank you very much.

Coming up, does this president trust his diplomats? Does he, in this case, prefer a spy in this job? And how is that playing into this overall strategy and beyond? Lots more conversation when we continue.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back. And as we`ve been saying, President Trump`s decision to send former Kansas congressman and current CIA director Mike Pompeo to secretly negotiate with Kim Jong-un has received a lot of attention. And right up top and to be sure, we should say this. If the president`s approach to North Korea works, it will be a colossal bank shot and a foreign policy triumph.

Now, back to the choice of Pompeo, as emissary here, Mark Landler of the "New York Times" has chosen to highlight this quote. "The central role that spies, rather than diplomats, played in brokering what could be the historic opening between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim." Landler also adds this. "It also underscores Mr. Trump`s unorthodox approach to one of the riskiest diplomatic gambits of his presidency. However trusted by the president, Mr. Pompeo is hardly a traditional emissary. He is not yet the nation`s chief diplomat but a lame duck as the nation`s spymaster.

Well, with us to talk about this, is our friend Malcolm Nance, a veteran of Naval Intelligence, Special Ops Homeland Security, 35 years working in the business of counterterrorism and intelligence. That`s why he happens to be our analyst in this area.

So, Malcolm, I happen to know that you make -- you think too much as being made of this choosing a spy over diplomats. This might well be a case of Mike Pompeo, blessed with equal parts E.Q. first in his class of West Point then on to Harvard law. And I.Q., who knows enough through E.Q. about the president to realize if he briefed him every morning for months in person, he became kind of a quality hang for this president around the White House.

MALCOLM NANCE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TERROR ASYMMETRICS PROJECT: Well, I think Ambassador Richardson put it quite well, that perhaps Mike Pompeo was the right choice to go to North Korea to carry out this mission. You know, he comes from Congress. He also now has run the CIA and he`s going to go over to State Department if he`s confirmed, and this may be the only type of person Donald Trump can listen to, that he can trust. And if he can trust him, then some things can be done.

The State Department has been decimated, you know, under former -- Secretary Tillerson. Donald Trump seems to think that he wants to do diplomacy directly, but if Mike Pompeo can bridge this by using his intelligence quotients as we see, and bring that over to Foggy Bottom, then I think we may be able to have some more negotiations outside of the Defense Department and the CIA.

WILLIAMS: Let me ask you, when you hear the president as he did again tonight, "No one has been tougher on Russia than me." As the author of the book about what Russia did to us during the campaign, how do you react to that?

NANCE: First off, it`s laughable. I mean, we all knew who Ronald Reagan was and, you know, he may have been the person who put the real scruce to Russia to break the Soviet Union, to go over with Mikhail Gorbachev, get Glasnost and make the transition into the modern Russian federation that it is today. Granted, Russia has become more of an authoritarian state, semi- kleptocracy, but Donald Trump is certainly not done as much towards Russia as anybody else. If anything, he is, you know, he supersedes his subordinates, he acts in an obsequious fashion towards Vladimir Putin. You know, despite the sanctions that have come against him, Vladimir Putin is going to get what he wants in the end. Donald Trump signals that he`s going to give it to him, he`s just being held back by this difficult thing they called democracy.

WILLIAMS: In our final seconds, do you believe this report that originated on CNN that the White House said to the Russians, don`t worry, there are no new sanctions in this round?

NANCE: Absolutely. I mean, we`ve seen that happen all the time. And poor Nikki Haley. I mean, she`s going to have to decide whether she`s going to go along with this game, or she`s going to stand on her word. I think there were sanctions that were coming down. It was just good diplomacy, good alliance building and Donald Trump for some unknown reason decided to kill it, and that`s why we have the Mueller investigation.

WILLIAMS: Malcolm Nance, that`s why we have you back so often. Thank you so much for coming on with us tonight.

And coming up for us, when the business of the president is good to the president`s business, we`ll explain when we come right back.



TRUMP: Are you comfortable? Everyone OK? We`re having a meeting, big meeting at Mar-a-Lago. Call it the Southern White House, which it actually is. It`s originally built as the Southern White House, lot of people don`t know. But it`s sort of strange how it got there. Everybody always wants to go to the Southern White House. So, are you going to be at that meeting? Even if you heard about it, right? It`s going to be great.


WILLIAMS: Now, former cabinet secretary there, former secretary of, what was he, V.A., David Shulkin.

Trump has spent 146 days of his presidency at Trump properties, it is clear his favorite is Mar-a-Lago in Florida, where he has spent 68 days fully 15 of his presidency. And when he is on site, he talks up the amenities of the Mar-a-Lago Club as if he is V.P. of sales. And this week`s visit of Abe of Japan gave provided the president with just his latest opportunity.


TRUMP: Many of the world great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach. They like it, I like it, they`re comfortable. We have great relationships. As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. And, when we do it -- it was originally built as athe Southern White House. It was called the Southern White House. Many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically.

Thank you very much, Shinzo. I`d like to just maybe conclude by saying that it`s an honor that you wanted to be at Mar-a-Lago. We have a lot of people that want to be here. It`s just a special place. And somehow it makes people feel good, and that`s good for our relationship.


WILLIAMS: A note about these repeated mentions of the Southern White House. That never happened in the end. The heiress of the Post cereal fortune, Marjorie Merriweather Post, owned Mar-a-Lago and used it as her winter getaway. She donated the property to the federal government and hopes that it would turn into the winter White House. But Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter passed on that opportunity. Because it would have cost so much for the government to maintain, the famously frugal Jimmy Carter eventually gave it back to Marjorie Merriweather Post`s heirs in 1981.

Donald Trump bought it in `85. Other presidents did have vacation places in Florida, most famously Harry Truman in Key West and Richard Nixon in Key Biscayne. All of that brings us to the issue of Trump`s businesses and their operation during his presidency. Our friend Anita Kumar of McClatchy Newspapers, who was with us just last night, writes that according to a new report set for release on Monday, Trump`s U.S. businesses have received at least $15.1 million in revenue from political groups on federal agencies since 2015. The biggest chunk of money coming from his campaign, Mar-a- Lago is listed as one of the recipients of that money.

Coming up after one more break for us, why the lights are off again tonight across Puerto Rico when the 11th Hour continues.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people on the streets are saying this is the new normal. Is it? Is this the new normal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is. It`s a sad situation every time.


WILLIAMS: So the last thing before we go tonight is a simple question. How much more can the people of Puerto Rico be expected to take? Tonight, they have been forced to endure an island-wide blackout because someone operating an excavator cut through a transmission line. That`s all it took, by the way, to bring down the decidedly patchwork electrical grid.

And so again, tonight, 1.4 million power customers, American citizens all, have been forced into the dark. And just like the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, those who have generators will be better off than those who don`t.

Luis Oscar Rivera, a computer technician, who just got his power restored two months ago told the "Washington Post" today, this is too much. It`s like the first day of Maria all over again. He`s right, of course, it is too much. And once again, we are forced to ask that hypothetical question because we know Puerto Ricans did not receive the same level of rescue effort that American citizens here on the mainland have received after similar catastrophic storms.

So what if the power was out tonight for the American citizens on Island of Nantucket, on Sanibel Island in Florida, or where we are on the Island of Manhattan? The likely answer is, there would be outrage and a massive effort to fix the problem and help the American citizens affected by it.

So as you head to bed tonight and turn out the lights, please reserve a thought for our fellow citizens, who spent this entire night in the dark and may well be forced to do so again tomorrow night. That is our broadcast for a Wednesday evening. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.


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