Comey memos leak after DOJ releases them. TRANSCRIPT: 04/19/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Mimi Rocah

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 19, 2018 Guest: Mimi Rocah

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight, those memos James Comey famously wrote about his conversations with Donald Trump. They`ve been handed over to Congress and promptly leaked to the media. And tonight, Comey has already weighed in.

Plus, so many moving parts this evening. The President`s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, coming onboard to negotiate a speedy conclusion in the Russia investigation. There are new developments on a slew of major players, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Rod Rosenstein, Andrew McCabe, and what it all means for the President during another day at his resort and under investigation as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Thursday evening.

Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 455 of the Trump administration brings major developments in the Russia investigation. Another wild one. A lot of them breaking just tonight over these past few hours.

Chiefly, we now have the 15 pages of memos that former FBI Director James Comey drafted about his interactions with President Donald Trump. Earlier tonight, the Justice Department sent those memos to Congress, and as things so often do, they ended up minutes later in the hands of the news media. They do confirm that on February 14, the President asked Comey this with regard to the investigation of now former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. "I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go."

We also learned that on January 28th, remember, fewer than 10 days into his presidency, Donald Trump told Comey he had "serious reservations about Mike Flynn`s judgment." That`s the National Security Adviser in the West Wing.

And later, on February 8th, Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus asks this of James Comey. "Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn? The President was also concerned about the political impact of the Russia investigation. Comey writes on March 30th, the President says, "he said he was trying to run the country and that the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult. He says he would have won the health care vote but for the cloud."

Well, tonight the President`s legal team is making a big play. They are bringing in former New York City mayor and one-time Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. Before he was mayor, Giuliani made a name for himself as let`s call it a very aggressive U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, the same office that ordered the FBI raid on Trump`s personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Giuliani has links to the two key people in this investigation, the fired FBI Director James Comey. He worked under Giuliani in the Southern District. And Special Counsel Robert Mueller was, you`ll recall, Director of the FBI during and after 9/11 when Giuliani was New York mayor.

The Giuliani hire comes as the President has escalated his attacks on Mueller. Tonight, Giuliani told "The Washington Post," "I hope we can negotiate an end to this for the good of the country and because I have high regard for the President and for Bob Mueller." Giuliani did not say whether a final decision has been made on a potential Trump/Mueller sit- down interview. That may be determined by the strength of Giuliani`s personal connection to Trump.

Giuliani spent a lot of time on the campaign trail with the President and was a tireless surrogate for the President. His remarks about Trump during the Republican National Convention may encapsulate their relationship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: I am sick and tired of the defamation of Donald Trump by the media and by the Clinton campaign. I am sick and tired of it. This is a good man, and America should be sick and tired of their vicious, nasty campaign.

What I did for New York, Donald Trump will do for America! I have known Donald Trump for almost 30 years, and he has created and accomplished great things. In my city and all over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So let`s put him down as pro-Trump. In addition to Giuliani, Trump has hired the husband and wife legal team of Jane Serene Raskin and Marty Raskin, former federal prosecutors, both of whom with experience in organize crime cases who run a Florida-based law firm. All three of these new legal additions will be reporting -- working with Jay Sekulow and White House Lawyer Ty Cobb.

As the President settles on his legal team, there is new reporting tonight concerning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Bloomberg News is reporting that at a White House meeting a week ago, Rosenstein told Trump that he is "not a target in any part of the Mueller investigation or the one concerning his personal lawyer here in New York, Michael Cohen. Now, according to Bloomberg, that may have "helped tamp down the President`s desire to remove Rosenstein or Mueller, something the President alluded to, you`ll recall, just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER JACOBS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: 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: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Bloomberg News also reports that investigators started scrutinizing Paul Manafort because they suspected the former Trump campaign chairman might have been serving as a back channel to Russia. This revelation came out in federal court today during a hearing in which Manafort`s lawyers argued that Mueller overstepped his authority in the Russia investigation by indicting Manafort for financial fraud and other charges.

Bloomberg reports that a senior Justice Department prosecutor told the judge Mueller`s team was entirely justified in investigating Manafort because of his role on the campaign, saying "He had long-standing ties to Russia-backed politicians. Did they provide back channels to Russia? Investigators will naturally look at those things."

Well, that`s a lot, and it`s the point at which we bring in our lead-off panel for this busy Thursday night. We`re joined once again by Kimberly Atkins, Chief Washington Reporter for the Boston Herald and an MSNBC Contributor. Frank Frank Figliuzzi is back with us, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, who in the past has worked for Robert Mueller. Also an MSNBC National Security Analyst. And Mimi Rocah returns to the broadcast. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.

Mimi, home field advantage goes to you. I`ll start with you. What stands out to you -- here, we all have a copy of these memos with big black marks for reductions, the stuff we really want to read and aren`t allowed to see.

MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Exactly.

WILLIAMS: What happened tonight when these were released?

ROCAH: Look, what stands out to me is that this just bolsters the credibility of Jim Comey. I was not one to doubt it in the first place, but for those who might have been on the fence about it, I mean you don`t make this up. This is not made up stuff. This reads like real-life happening and him recording it.

And so to the extent that this was, you know, orchestrated, released at a time that somebody thought politically it might help them, I don`t think it did that, helped someone on the Republican side, helped the Trump backers. I don`t think it did that at all. I think it really shows how Jim Comey`s mind works, and that is to absorb information in a very detailed way and record it in a very detailed way. And that is the hallmark of a truth teller in my view.

WILLIAMS: We urge people to, on your device, your laptop, find a way to read these because it does speak to the process. Those of us who are lay people and not in law or law enforcement can`t imagine taking notes like this. But he says in here that within five minutes of leaving Trump Tower, within minutes of leaving the White House, he gets in a vehicle or in a corner somewhere and just dumps out everything that happened for posterity, quoting wherever he feels is accurate. And this is a guy -- this is his process, by the way, his life`s work.

ROCAH: Exactly. This is what FBI agents are trained to do from day one. You know, the recording of events and statements and observing things in a way that others might not, that a layperson might not, the attention to detail. And I just think that is.

You`re right. It`s hugely important for people to see themselves because we`ve heard about the Comey memos for so long now. And even in reading his book, it reads differently because, you know, that`s a novel in a way. That`s, you know, literature.

This is more like an FBI agent report, you know. They`re called FBI 302s. But that`s how this reads. And I think it shows his training and how it comes through.

WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, I`m coming to you next. Before I do, I want to play James Comey was a guest on Rachel Maddow actually in this very studio earlier tonight. And he talked about this very process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`ve explained to Congress that you didn`t write memos like this after other interactions with other Presidents. What trained you or told you or made you believe that you should write a memo like this after interactions with President Trump?

JAMES COMEY, FIRED FBI DIRECTOR: Well, the first meeting in particular, I was concerned that I needed a record to show the other intelligence agency chiefs who had been with me but didn`t stay behind for the second private meeting. And also I was worried that I was meeting alone with the President to talk about things that were relating to him and to the FBI`s core responsibilities. And given the nature of the person, as I understood the President-elect, he might not tell the truth about those if it ever became an issue, and so I need a written record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, Frank, let`s agree on the process. Let`s agree that it would be near impossible and damn unlikely for a guy like him to exit the White House and make up a fiction as if to assume where the future is going to take us and how that fiction would help out someday. So that said, as a career investigator, when you look at these Comey memos, what stands out to you?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: So Mimi is right. First, they are consistent with someone who has been in the law and around investigations for decades, and that`s exactly what you do is you have this -- you gain this incredible ability to absorb large amounts of information, understand where people said some certain things in certain conversations, and then quickly recount all of them. And you learn that in part because you don`t want to sit in front of subjects a lot and take notes or tap out on a laptop. You completely distract any interview you`re doing. So it`s consistent with that. It adds to his credibility.

Now, what I see, let`s look at it from the other lens, which is what it tells us about the White House. I read the memos and I see dysfunction. I see a bunch of newbies and rookies who just don`t understand how government works.

I mean at one point Reince Priebus asked Comey if he`s an attorney. I mean there`s no homework done on anybody. They leave the FBI director alone with the President. The President asks Comey if he can investigate the hooker allegation in Moscow just to make it kind of go away, continually asks if McCabe has a problem with him. It`s odd.

And, you know, you reported earlier that we`ve heard that the President`s hired a couple of organized crime attorneys from Florida. I got to tell you, from what we see in these memos, maybe that`s the right way to go. I worked in the FBI in South Florida. There`s a lot of Russian mobsters down there, and maybe these two attorneys know how to deal with that.

WILLIAMS: For the record, they were on the prosecutorial side and not the defense attorney side. But to your point, they have been in the business a long time.

Hey, Kim, you have the dual burden of being an attorney and a reporter. How about the reporter side of you? I`ll make a suggestion that maybe a President, so few days into his administration, having doubts about his national security adviser, is a story. What else do you find? What does the journalist in you find to be the stories in this collection of documents?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, THE BOSTON HERALD: Yes. I mean it gave us just a few more details of what we already saw. I agree with what was said about James Comey and his consistency. It really shows that he has been consistent from his testimony before Congress, through his book, and now his book tour in the story that he tells. But we do get additional nuggets about the concern that President Trump was expressing about his own national security adviser, someone who he publicly defended even after he was fired for some time, but privately really expressed concern about.

We also saw the President really backing the idea of jailing journalists who published reports based on leaks, saying how a couple days in jail and they`ll start talking. I`m paraphrasing. And James Comey even laughing after that. I don`t know if it was out of discomfort. Let`s hope so because clearly that`s not the way our First Amendment works here in America.

But just more details about these conversations that they had that really paints the President as somebody who was concerned about people and his own team, who was consistent, who would tell James Comey one thing and a few minutes later tell him the exact opposite. For example, he told him that Reince Priebus, then the Chief of Staff, didn`t know that they were having dinner, and then later said that he did. Just a lot of inconsistency that is a stark contrast to the consistency in statement that you see coming from Comey himself.

WILLIAMS: Mimi Rocah, some of the other news of this day, Rudy Giuliani. Does he have a magic sway over Robert Mueller? Are his charms such that Mueller is going to say, "You know what, you`re right. We`ve gone way too far on this. I`m going to end it now."

ROCAH: I really doubt that. You know, I read somewhere that Giuliani is saying he`s being brought in to try and negotiate an end to this, a swift end. And he even said a couple of weeks.

WILLIAMS: Is that the definition of wishful thinking?

ROCAH: Yes. I mean a prosecution is not a negotiation, and we`ve kind of heard this on before. We heard it at one point when there was a lot of news about whether the President was going to sit for an interview. And one of the conditions he was going to put on the interview was that they agreed to then wrap it up afterwards.

So, you know, look, Mueller is going to end his investigation, unless somebody else interferes and makes him end it sooner in some more forceful way. He`s going to end it when he`s done investigating and has uncovered every stone that he needs to uncover, and not because he has some prior maybe good relationship with Giuliani. I don`t know. They certainly have a history together. But this isn`t about charm, and this isn`t about negotiation.

WILLIAMS: So, Kim, is it possible that Giuliani may be coming onboard in the role of what we used to call a rainmaker, in this case a sayer of sound bites and not necessarily legal acumen?

ATKINS: I think it`s definitely, it`s that and maybe a dual role of trying to keep the President from doing something stupid that could make things only worse for him, perhaps even like firing Robert Mueller. I think Giuliani and maybe other people in his -- some people in his orbit recognize what a bad idea that would be and that he`s coming in just to sort of keep the President calm, sort of act as an intermediary and say, "Hey, I got this."

Rudy Giuliani, as you know, had a long history as a federal prosecutor and understands how this works. I don`t think that he believes he can bring this to a speedy end, but I think he knows that the President trusts him. He`s been a very faithful backer of Donald Trump for a long time, and perhaps he wants to come in to keep the President from harming himself.

WILLIAMS: Frank, what`s the upside of Rosenstein telling the President he`s not a target, and let`s not forget the report includes the Mueller investigation et al. and the Cohen raid here in New York. Is that an example of hopeful or cute wording, and how can he get away saying something like that, which clearly will have a demonstrable effect in bringing down the temperature in the West Wing?

FIGLIUZZI: Well, it`s buying time, and he can get away with it because it`s accurate. They`re not yet ready to charge the President apparently, so they`re being truthful. But they`re also at the same time trying to buy time so that they can stay in their position and get their job done. And if it calms the President down, if it delays firing or something hasty of either Mueller or Rosenstein, all the better. But let`s understand that you can turn from a subject to a target in a heartbeat whenever the prosecution says they`re ready to go.

WILLIAMS: And, Frank, that line about Manafort being a potential back channel to Russia today really gets your attention, doesn`t it?

FIGLIUZZI: Yes. Look, I`ve said before that Mueller`s really like an epidemiologist, looking for the origin of a disease or virus. Where did we catch the Russian infection? And it`s looking more and more like Manafort was at least one vector of that Russian infection, the conduit for it, and Mueller is going to get to the bottom of where it started.

WILLIAMS: Mimi, as the former Fed here you get all these uncomfortable questions. Why would Reince Priebus have wanted to know if Michael Flynn was under a FISA warrant surveillance, enough to ask the visiting FBI director?

ROCAH: Sounds like he wanted to know what they didn`t know because if Flynn was under FISA surveillance, then they would know that there`s a lot more that the investigators at the FBI knows that the President and his team may not know was set. So they`re trying to figure out, you know, where the ball is and how bad it is, I think.

WILLIAMS: We hope everyone is keeping a white board at home because sometimes that`s what it takes to follow the tentacles of this story, especially on a night like tonight. Kimberly Atkins, Frank Figliuzzi, Mimi Rocah, our thanks to the three of you for starting off our broadcast in this style tonight.

And coming up, the politics of what this all means for the President and this White House.

And later, President Trump learning history on the job and trying to convince all of us that we`re all learning this with him in realtime. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Welcome back. And as we might have mentioned, we`re tracking an extremely busy night of breaking news on a number of fronts. James Comey`s memos on his interactions with President Trump have been turned over to Congress and then promptly leaked to the media.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani joining President Trump`s legal team in the Russia investigation. Here to talk about all of it and anywhere it may take us, John Heilemann, NBC National Affairs Analyst, and Sam Stein, a veteran Political Journalist, now a Politics Editor for "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC Political Analyst. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Mr. Heilemann, I have a lay-up, an open-net shot for you first and that is this. What Republican on Capitol Hill thought that leaking these Comey memos was going to be exculpatory, helpful to the boss and the home team?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The one who believed, as they all believe apparently -- let`s put it this way. The one who was blinded by hatred for Jim Comey, I think, is that all of them, you know, we`ve now heard this chorus, this orchestrated chorus orchestrated by the White House and carried out on Fox News, carried out in the halls of Congress among Republicans, who think that Comey is -- and there are reasons to have different interpretations of how well he`s done this week and what the book says. But they all believe that he is killing himself, killing his credibility, destroying himself, self-immolating in public.

They see him as being someone who is presenting every day new political vulnerabilities for the anti-Trump forces, that he is creating problems for Bob Mueller, and they think just revealing the notion that Jim Comey was taking these notes, sending them around, writing about the President the way that he did, that all of it makes him look bad. I`m not crediting that point of view. But the existence of these notes is seen as incriminating by some in Republican land on Capitol Hill, and they`re not looking at the substance. They`re looking at what they think of Comey and how they see this behavior as in some way being self-undermining.

WILLIAMS: Sam, Paul Begala reminded me tonight of what some people have called the rule of four, ways of disseminating information in Washington. In the old days, there`s telegraph, there`s telephone, there`s television and there`s tell a member of Congress. The last one is what we have seen play out tonight.

Let`s turn a little bit into Rudolph Giuliani, and my question to you, what could go wrong?

SAM STEIN, POLITICAL EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Oh, just about everything, I think, right? First of all, we need to start with the fact that although Rudy was at SDNY --

WILLIAMS: Yes. Southern District of New York for people who think that`s a sports network.

STEIN: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Go ahead.

STEIN: It`s been multiple decades since he`s practiced the type of law that he is ostensibly being asked to practice now.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

STEIN: He`s been far more a creature of politics and after his mayorship a creature of consultancy. And there will be a thorough combing of that consultancy record for potential conflicts of interest that could arise. Also keep this is mind, he is not -- let`s just this way. He`s not an unattached player in this probe either.

He was the foremost surrogate for the Trump campaign, and this probe is looking at the actions of the Trump campaign vis-a-vis Russian collusion. So it`s perfectly within the realm of reason that Giuliani actually becomes a witness or a person of Mueller`s interest in the probe now that he`s defending Trump. So, there`s a lot that can go wrong here, least of all which is to mention that Rudy does have a propensity for saying outlandish things being grandiose and that could get him in trouble, not just with Mueller but with his own boss, who as we all know likes to be the one on the spotlight.

WILLIAMS: And I`m duty bound to report the husband and wife pair of attorneys that also joined the team, we went on their website and promptly discovered they had misspelled their own name at the top of the page.

STEIN: It happens to the best.

WILLIAMS: I know. When your name is B-R-I-A-N, you`d be amazed how many people call you a Brain without intending to, especially those who don`t know me.

So, John, hookers are back in the news. And I`m going to read this to you from the Comey memo.

HEILEMANN: When if they left the news, Brian?

WILLIAMS: I don`t know. It`s a terrible word. My late grandmother was in a rug hooking group in Maine and always resented that another occupation shared that title. But anyway, the President said, "The hookers things is nonsense but that Putin had told him, we had some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. He did not say when Putin had told him this, and I don`t recall." Then there`s something redacted.

John, what are Trump and Putin doing talking about hookers?

HEILEMANN: Well, I cannot claim this to be my original insight because it occurred on the air of this network a little while ago when David Frum was on with Lawrence. David was claiming that what has happened here is that Vladimir Putin in some public setting, at a press conference of some kind, made a comment about how Russia --

WILLIAMS: I remember. Yes.

HEILEMANN: -- has the most beautiful hookers in the world. And that according to the record that we know of that`s out there in the public right now, that doesn`t mean it`s perfect. It is the case that the first time that Donald Trump ever spoke to Vladimir Putin, again according to the public record, was when they talked after Trump`s election just in October -- I`m sorry, November of 2016.

So if it`s true that was the first time they`d ever spoken, it seems unlikely that Putin would have raised this topic in a congratulatory phone call to Trump. So, we know that when Trump went to Moscow, for instance, for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, very wanted to speak to Putin, did not get to speak to Putin. But, again, according to Russian roulette that Corn in his scrapbook.

So, it seems if you take this theory, the David Frum theory, what Trump is doing here is lying to Comey and claiming that he had a conversation with Putin which he actually never had, but in fact what Trump has done is taken a public comment by Putin that was on the topic of hookers and claimed it to have been a conversation that he had with Putin, which in fact he did not have.

WILLIAMS: All right, there was that.

HEILEMANN: I mean it`s an extraordinarily weird thing. But, A, we know Trump is a pathological liar. He lies about everything. This would not be the first time that Trump had taken something from the public record, a comment made in public by someone, and claimed that it was a comment that was made directly to Trump.

That is not a new thing for Trump. He does that occasionally. The fact that it happens to involve Putin and hookers makes it special.

WILLIAMS: For those just joining us, we`re talking about our government and the President of the United States.

Sam, I have for you a reading from the book of Costa, our friend Bob is on the board again tonight with a piece in "The Washington Post."

STEIN: Sure.

WILLIAMS: Which reads in part, "Trump also loudly and repeatedly complained to several advisers earlier this week that Former FBI Director James B. Comey, Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, you heard of those people, among others, should be charged with crimes for misdeeds alleged by Republicans, the associates said. Although White House officials said Thursday that Trump had not called Justice Department officials or taken any formal action, the persistent grousing has made some advisers anxious according to two people close to the President."

Sam, what`s going on here?

STEIN: Well, you know, the weirdness of it all is that we collectively, the media, but also now increasingly people high up in the administration and close to the President have basically checking the tactic of letting Trump vent himself into exhaustion, then moving on. And it`s not normal for a president to muse about using the prosecutorial powers of the government to go after his political opponents. In fact, this is very abnormal, something you`d see in a banana republic.

And when, at first in his presidency, these types of things would happen, people would be aghast at it, and rightfully so. But we`ve become numb to it. And so a story like what Bob Costa has in "The Washington Post" tonight gets fourth, fifth billing, when in any other administration would have been a five-alarm fire.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Yes, good point.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Can I just quickly just say one quick thing here?

WILLIAMS: You`re John Heilemann.

HEILEMANN: There are just two -- these two stories --

WILLIAMS: Co-author of "Game Change".

HEILEMANN: These two stories I think are fascinating that we`ve just talked about because they both talk about -- reveal something about Trump`s mind in the case of the hookers, right?

WILLIAMS: Here we go.

HEILEMANN: It come -- if you go through the Comey memos, it comes up again and again.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: He raises it in every conversation that he has with Comey, almost every conversation. He comes back to the topic again and again.

WILLIAMS: And as one would who had been mentioned in relation to the thing in Moscow.

HEILEMANN: Well, maybe. I mean Trump -- there is a little bit of a doth protest too much kind of quality to it.

WILLIAMS: Right.

HEILEMANN: Why does he keep talking about it, insisting over and over to Comey that he would have nothing to do with hookers and certainly not to do with the activity, the golden activity that he disputes he had no -- would never have any need for or interest in? Why does he come back to it over and over again?

In the same way, the hiring of Giuliani, you know, you hear over and over from Trump, he loves his lawyers and thinks his legal team is great. And he says it over and over and over again. And yet, the other repetitive thing that he`s doing is reaching out to new lawyers all the time. It`s like,hey, sees diGenova on television, tries to bring him on the team. Jay Goldberg, the guy who was on Lawrence`s show earlier and the guy talked to the "Wall Street Journal" yesterday about Michael Cohen flipping on Trump. Lawyer that used to work for Trump in the `90s, 20 years ago, Trump is calling him on Friday. Now he`s reaching out to Giuliani.

Trump gets stuff stuck in his craw. And the stuff that sticks on Trump`s craw reveals something, either it reveals something that he is obsessed with and that he, like I said, does protest too much, something that he feels vulnerable about, or the things where he senses some kind of weakness. He can say over and over again to his legal team is all in great shape, but his habit of perpetually and relentlessly calling out, reaching out to new lawyers, looking for new solutions --

WILLIAMS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: -- wanting to bring someone, tells you about places where he feels vulnerable and not on the firmest of ground.

WILLIAMS: Sam, do you agree on the protesting too much front because, I mean, there is a case to be made that anyone accused of what`s in that dossier, what is alleged to have happened in Moscow -- I was just going to say would be pissed off, perhaps, I`ll use a different expression, would be angered to read that and looking to be cleared?

STEIN: I suppose, but I actually do agree with John. And the reason I agree is a specific part of these memos, which is Trump going out of his way to ask Comey to look into this so that Melania Trump could feel more at ease about the accusations. If you knew in your heart of hearts that these accusations were completely frivolous, there was nothing to find, that they were so false, there would be no need to send someone out to investigate them. There would be no need to send -- to try to -- there would be no need to even entertain the idea of an investigation because they would seem so outlandish to anyone who knew you.

But instead, this president not just only came back to the issue again and again and again, much more so than we actually knew prior to the memos being released, but he proactively asked for James Comey to go and investigate them. And that to me is a doth protest too much moment.

WILLIAMS: John?

HEILEMANN: How would one prove that one had never done something that one would never conceivably do? I mean I would ask you, please, go out and prove, you know, there`s something I never done, would never consider doing. Brian, please go prove that I never did that thing.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: How would that work?

WILLIAMS: I don`t know thankfully. On the legal team point you made, what I keep saying on this broadcast is this is a mature case. This is down the tracks.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

WILLIAMS: The president said it himself yesterday an estimated 1.4 million pieces of paper or documents have been either handed over or electronically forwarded. That`s a tall order for a lawyer to come in and say, OK, now where are all you people working on this? Where are we? What have I missed?

HEILEMANN: Especially a lawyer, again -- whatever you -- there are a million things one could say there are critical of Rudy Giuliani and some that you could say there were commendatory. But he`s not someone who`s been deeply involved in the practice of high stakes litigation for a long time.

WILLIAMS: Right.

HEILEMANN: This is not -- he`s not someone at the top of his game who`s been dealing with complex litigation with lots and lots of discovery. That`s not something Rudy has done for -- well, for a really long time. And so to come to the case this late, I think he is being honest when he expresses what he thinks his actual role is, which is not to be involved in case management and certainly not to be involved in the intricacies of this investigation or defending the president. He thinks he`s coming in to be an arbitrator, a mediator of some kind. He says I`m going to work out a settlement.

Now, I -- the way -- I don`t understand at all how he believes that that is a role that is in any way contemplated by the setup of the special prosecutor, what Bob Mueller thinks he`s doing, what Rod Rosenstein has tasked Bob Mueller to do, what we are all expecting from Bob Mueller, like there`s -- settlement negotiations aren`t really part of that, but I think Rudy thinks that that is what`s going to happen that somehow he knows Mueller, he knows Trump and somehow he`s going to make this all get fixed. He said he thinks in two weeks.

There`s a restraining detachment from reality there, but at least it`s connected to reality in the sense that that`s the kind of role that a Rudy Giuliani might be able to play in some alternative universe, not the case management of this kind.

WILLIAMS: Sam?

STEIN: I think it just says a lot more about Trump honestly. For starters, he has been trying to hire the type of seasoned litigator who would be actually useful in a situation like this. And to a person they`ve turned him down either because there`s conflicts but mostly because they don`t want to have the association.

He also, as we know very well, is attracted to high-profile picks who are good on TV.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

STEIN: Now, Rudy hasn`t been on TV in a little while, but he did establish his bona fides as a surrogate during the campaign. So, now, we are in this place where Trump is relying on someone strictly on an aesthetic basis to perform a task that isn`t really plausible, which is negotiating a settlement over god knows what with the Mueller team when he needs someone exactly opposite in every legal sense. So, again, you asked me early on, how could this go wrong? That`s how it can go wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

HEILEMANN: He wanted Joe diGenova because Joe diGenova would go on television and advocate for him in a forceful way. He wants I think -- Trump I think, wants the same thing from Rudy Giuliani. Maybe -- Giuliani thinks he`s going to do a settlement. I think Trump thinks he`s going to be an attack dog.

WILLIAMS: For we Americans who stand up at ball games and stand when the national anthem is played and remove our hats and care about the place, how should people feel about the fact that a president eight days into his presidency, 10 days into his presidency had concerns about his national security adviser?

HEILEMANN: Bad. I mean I continue to think -- I mean there are a million -- there are a lots of things to say about Michael Flynn. But whatever those things are, all of them point to one thing, which is that the idea that the Trump organization, the Trump transition was in such a state of disarray and was so incompetent and so irresponsible that Michael Flynn was placed in that position, it is probably --

WILLIAMS: Right.

HEILEMANN: -- the single greatest failure of political national security vetting in the history of the country. And the only thing that strikes a slightly optimistic chord is at least the Trump -- according to these Comey memos, at least Trump knew there was -- at least sensed there was a little bit of a problem.

WILLIAMS: Sam?

STEIN: But you need to understand the context of why he said that, at least as I read the memos, which is there was a -- when Trump assumes office, he has to make phone calls to a number of foreign leaders and a number of foreign leaders are calling him. Trump takes his first call with Theresa May, and he waits for an unnamed redacted name leader. Six days, Michael Flynn doesn`t tell him about this leader`s call.

I think it`s fair to presume -- and this is a -- I`m not basing this on fact. But it`s fair to presume that leader was Vladimir Putin, and Trump got really, really upset that Flynn did not tell him for six days that Putin had called. That was the basis by which Trump turns to Comey and says, I question this man`s judgment. So, yes, maybe he had some doubts about Michael Flynn, and they would be deserved.

But it also may be that he was talking about how Flynn had not respected Putin in the way that Trump was hoping to respect him as well.

WILLIAMS: What Sam is talking about is a redacted portion of this. A lot of people are saying in journalism and social media tonight what Sam just said. Would you redact the name and title of the leader of Australia? No, not necessarily. But because Putin is in the news and germane to these documents, you might do that. But we don`t know the truth. What a great note to end on with our thanks to John Heilemann, to Sam Stein. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

As we go to break, the president has just issued forth another tweet. "James Comey memos just out and show clearly there was" -- where have I heard this before -- "no collusion and no obstruction. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow. Will the witch hunt continue?" I can give you 10 seconds for reaction, Mr. Heilmann because I`m late for a break already.

HEILEMANN: You asked at the very top of our segment who would have thought these memos would be exculpatory. Anyone of them who`s been talking to Donald Trump who apparently was waiting for these memos to be leaked so he could write that tweet.

WILLIAMS: Well, they are out now. Again, thank you to our guests. We`ll go to a break.

Coming up, potentially, the greatest high Wire Act of this administration where foreign policy is concerned when "The 11th Hour" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: There are new indications tonight that progress is being made in talks between North and South Korea. This is separate from and out ahead of that potential meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. South Korea announced today as reported in "The New York Times" that Kim Jong-un has removed a key obstacle to negotiations with Washington by no longer demanding that American troops be removed from South Korea as a condition for denuclearizing his country.

South Korea also says the North has committed to denuclearization, but a huge note of caution here. The leader of the North has not and most foreign policy professionals believe the idea of the North truly being willing to denuclearize is pure fantasy.

As negotiations surrounding the talks start to take shape, Axios is reporting it this way today. "President Trump views the North Korean crisis as his great man of history moment. Sources close to him say he genuinely -- he believes he and he alone can overcome the seemingly intractable disaster on the Korean Peninsula." And that, "He thinks just get me in the room with this guy," referring to Kim Jong-un, "and I`ll figure it out."

Well, with us to talk about this, Rick Stengel, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs as well as former managing editor of "Time" magazine. He happily is currently an MSNBC political analyst.

Rick, Bill Richardson was in the position you are in last night, and I asked him this question I`m going to re-ask to you. What could go wrong with Donald Trump sitting down with Kim Jong-un? And what could go right?

RICK STENGEL, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, first of all, I applaud the fact that he wants to talk to Kim Jong-un and try to resolve this crisis. But secondly, the reason that diplomats exist is to prevent aspiring great men from negotiating a catastrophe. The fact that, as you mentioned, that the South Koreans are saying the North Koreans have agreed to denuclearize, that they`ve agreed to not get rid of American troops, it`s like, well, that would be wonderful. I would do a song and dance. But until we hear from the North Koreans, we don`t know that.

Second thing, what can go wrong? Even between allies who speak the same language, us and the British, we get crosswise about different things. We`re going to be in a room with people who have been outside of modern civilization for 40 years, who don`t speak our language --

WILLIAMS: Isolated.

STENGEL: -- who don`t understand anything that we do and try to come to an agreement. And so what diplomats do on both sides traditionally is have as little margin for error when the two guys actually get in the room together whereas Trump is saying, hey, just let me at him and let me improvise. I mean this is not a situation where you want somebody improvising. And I think Trump has already set the bar so high, like I`m going to solve it. The Peninsula will be denuclearized. I mean it`s almost impossible to achieve that.

WILLIAMS: And let me add, this is a tough to brief president because of a number of things. He doesn`t like to read. He has a famously short attention span. He doesn`t love being surrounded by members of the establishment, whether it be foreign policy or domestic. And this is what happens when you gut the State Department. We don`t have an ambassador on station in Seoul, South Korea, for example.

STENGEL: Right. And of course Mike Pompeo went there. He was the head of the CIA. He was only accompanied by other members of the CIA. And I have enormous respect for the intelligence community, but you need three legs of the stool. You need the State Department and you need the intelligence and you need DOJ. And they just see it through one particular lens, and that can be a real problem.

But the other thing is what is it that thus far that they can give -- that we can give them now? I mean why would Kim Jong-un agree to this? What is he going to get in exchange? Like Mr. Trump saying, hey, we`re not going to bomb you? Look what`s happened to other people we`ve made promises to who have denuclearized. Muammar Gaddafi, that didn`t end well. Look what happening -- he`s got to look at what`s happening with Iran now where we want to renegotiate the agreement that we made.

I mean I just think from a rational perspective, I`m not quite sure what`s in it at this point for Kim Jong-un if he has already done these things that he said he`s going to do.

WILLIAMS: I`ve also heard it numerous times what he really craves is relevance, and what we`ve given him by elevating him in this conversation is relevance. Rick Stengel, thank you so much for coming by tonight. We`re always happy to hear your viewpoint on stories like this.

Coming up, one sure fire way of knowing when the president just learned something brand-new. That`s when "The 11th Hour" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: South Korea is meeting and has plans to meet with North Korea to see if they can end the war, and they have my blessing on that. They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war. People don`t realize the Korean war has not ended. It`s going on right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That was President Trump from earlier this week telling the American people what they don`t realize, and that happens a lot. Long ago on this broadcast, our friend and frequent contributor Eli Stokols while writing for "The Wall Street Journal" would often join us to talk about what he calls Trump`s tells. And this was one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELI STOKOLS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Usually, when you parse what Donald Trump says, he`ll say something like, you know, a lot of people don`t know this. That`s code for I just found this out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: This is back in the news this week because the president has uttered some gems in the past few days and thus attracted the attraction of Jenna Johnson of "The Washington Post". In an article under the headline "People don`t realize: Trump and the historical facts he wants you to know," she writes that these tells of Donald Trump, "Often begin with some variation of the phrase `Most people don`t know` and end with a nugget of information that many of those surrounding him, fellow world leaders, diplomats, journalists, politicians or aides do indeed already know. And indeed when you search for the president`s phraseology on this front, when he is speaking about known things in history that may indeed be brand-new to him, there is a lot of material in the archives."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What people don`t realize about Clemson, it`s a great academic school.

But what a lot of people don`t know is that universities get massive tax breaks.

A lot of people don`t know what a community college means.

Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

We will pay not to take the insurance. People don`t understand that.

A lot of people don`t know the Air Force One project is actually two plans.

People don`t realize it.

A lot of people don`t know it but our country`s in trouble.

People don`t realize we are an unbelievably divided country.

People don`t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why? People don`t ask that question.

A lot of people don`t realize that Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.

So few people remember but Republicans are the party of Abraham Lincoln.

Most people don`t even know he was a Republican, right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don`t know that.

It`s like people forget.

People don`t realize that, take a look.

You don`t realize how important you are.

People don`t know it. Canada is very smooth.

Ppeople don`t realize Canada has been very rough.

France is America`s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don`t know that.

China puts barriers on trade. A lot of people don`t even know that.

What many people don`t know is that South Korea is a major trading partner with the United States.

The economy in Italy is one of America`s trading partners. A lot of people don`t know that.

Iraq has among the greatest oil reserves in the world, which a lot of people don`t even know.

Afghanistan has tremendous minerals which a lot of people don`t know.

A couple of papers said Donald Trump doesn`t realize that the Crimea was already taken. I know it two years ago approximately.

I also know things other people don`t know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you know that other people don`t know?

TRUMP: You`ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: It`s unclear whether the president ever followed up on that Tuesday or Wednesday. So another break for us. And coming up, the era that ended the day with so little fanfare. In fact, it`s fair to say Americans hardly noticed today`s historic change.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, with a whimper and not a bang, the Castros are gone from power in Cuba, no shots fired, no missiles launched, no exodus of refugees headed north to our shores. For the first time in 58 years, the leader of Cuba is not named Castro and the new guy turns 58 just tomorrow. He is Miguel Diaz-Canel. And part of the reason today didn`t feel earth shattering is his bio, he`s a long-time Communist Party official, used to run higher education in Cuba. He enjoys a down-to- earth image.

And make no mistake, Raul Castro, who replaced his brother Fidel Castro, of course, Raul is 86 years old and is stepping away. While he will still retain various titles, real and honorific and a slew of other Castros remain in government and sprinkled throughout the legislature, including one who is the chief of intelligence.

While Cuba is not a changed country tonight, the change at the top is enough to cause Americans of a certain age to reflect. Cuba gave an entire generation of Americans its greatest scare. It tested our young and later martyred president. It tested the world`s ability to hold together. It taught us about the awesome power and hair trigger danger of the nuclear age.

While it is hard to conjure this today, think of this, during the Cuban missile crisis there were Americans who went off to work in the morning not sure that they would see their families again. Ten U.S. presidents dealt with the potential threat posed by Cuban leaders named Castro, just 90 miles to our south where today a new era quietly got underway.

That`s our broadcast on a Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END