Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 20, 2018 Guest: Daniel Goldman, Joe Cirincione, Nancy Cook
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Our breaking news on a Friday night as "The Washington Post" reports, Jeff Sessions has informed the White House he might quit if Rod Rosenstein gets fired by Donald Trump.
Plus, breaking from North Korea, Kim Jong-un announces he`s suspending nuclear testing and shutting down a test site. Tonight, a foremost expert and author will tell us if this can be believed.
And as another week comes to an end, threats converge on this President, threats by the name of Mueller, Comey, Cohen, and Stormy, all as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 456 of the Trump administration, and we have new reporting out tonight from "The Washington Post" that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently told the White House he might quit if President Trump fired his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who is of course overseeing the Russian investigation.
The "Post" reports that according to people familiar with the exchange, "Sessions made his position known in a phone call to White House counsel Don McGahn last weekend as Trump`s fury at Rosenstein peaked after the Deputy Attorney General approved that FBI`s raid April 9 on the President`s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. In the phone call with McGahn, Sessions wanted details of a meeting Trump and Rosenstein held at the White House on April 12, according to a person with knowledge of the call. Sessions expressed relief to learn that their meeting was largely cordial. Sessions said he would have had to consider leaving as the Attorney General had Trump ousted Rosenstein, this person said."
Tonight`s story says the President has derisively nicknamed Jeff Sessions Mr. Magoo and Rod Rosenstein Mr. Peepers. And about Sessions, the President has been famously willing to publicly thrash his Attorney General ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. And on the day of that raid involving Trump`s attorney, Michael Cohen, he went at him again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself, and we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in. So he made what I consider to be a very terrible mistake for the country, but you`ll figure that out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This new reporting on Sessions reminds us that President Trump is facing a number of serious legal battles that could pose a grave danger to his presidency. The FBI raid, which as "The Washington Post" mentioned was approved by Rod Rosenstein, was part of a larger criminal investigation into Michael Cohen by federal prosecutors in New York.
"The Washington Post" also reports tonight the former attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who were both by the way paid to keep quiet about their alleged affairs with Donald Trump, says he has been cooperating with those New York prosecutors.
It`s been reported that many of the President`s allies fear that case may ultimately be more damaging to him, the New York case, than even the Mueller investigation writ large and that some even believe that Cohen might start cooperating with the Feds.
Earlier on this network tonight, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz told us that that could be why Trump recruited Rudolph Giuliani as counsel in the Russia case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Where I think the problems may lie are in the Southern District of New York, where Rudy Giuliani used to be the United States attorney. I think this does send a powerful message to Michael Cohen. The message is, "Hey, stay strong. We have a really good lawyer in our team -- on our team to focus on the Southern District of New York where your problems are."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Keep in mind that Michael Cohen and his client, Donald Trump, are also battling a lawsuit filed by porn star Stormy Daniels. Well, today a federal judge in California refused to grant their request to delay that case until Cohen explains just how his Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination could be an issue because of the criminal investigation.
Also, Trump has renewed his fight against Jim Comey, whose memos detail the President`s concern about the Russia investigation and his apparent effort to get the former FBI director to drop his inquiry into then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, which he denies. Today, the White House unleashed its response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MERCEDES SCHLAPP, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION: What FBI director Comey has done is basically decide, as he put in his own book, in the beginning, that he is driven by being prideful, driven by being overconfident, driven by his own ego.
RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: James Comey has a lot of editorializing within these memos. At no point within them and, frankly, in his testimony last year before Congress both in March and in June after he was fired, does he allege that the President asked him to do anything inappropriate. When you look at James Comey, he has a real credibility problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And the Democratic National Committee has launched a surprise legal attack on the President, filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit in federal court alleging it. "The DNC was a victim of a conspiracy by the Trump campaign, Russian officials and WikiLeaks to disrupt Hillary Clinton`s campaign in favor of Donald Trump." It`s a lot to talk about. We have the people for it.
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Friday night. Matt Apuzzo "New York Times" Reporter, MSNBC Contributor and a man who was just awarded his second Pulitzer Prize. Vivian Salama, NBC News National Political Reporter covering the White House, and Daniel Goldman, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
And since there are home team advantages around here, Counselor, you get to go first. What does this report in "The Washington Post" about Sessions mean to you?
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It really demonstrations the gravity of what would happen if Rosenstein is fired. Jeff Sessions has been under attack by his own President, by the commander-in-chief, by the head of the Executive Branch since the very beginning of his tenure as we heard in the clip you played earlier. Yet he has withstood all of the humiliation, all of the embarrassing attacks, and he has remained in his position. He has not resigned. And he`s even ruled contrary to some things that Trump wanted such as appointing another special counsel.
So this -- when people ask what will a constitutional crisis look like, this starts to give some indication that if Jeff Sessions is willing to resign over Rosenstein`s firing, one can only imagine what else will follow if that occurs.
WILLIAMS: Some people on social media tonight instantly said, well, this is a huge favor to the President, who wants Rosenstein and Sessions gone together, though cooler heads have said what the President doesn`t want is what this will do to the Justice Department and confirmation hearings that will necessarily come along.
GOLDMAN: Not only the confirmation hearings but the reaction is going to be vociferous both, I think, from the Democrats obviously but also the Republicans. And it is going to grind everything to a halt in Washington generally, and it is going to prolong this investigation. It is not going to end it any sooner if he does that.
WILLIAMS: Let me ask you a decidedly uncomfortable question about Alan Dershowitz and here it is. On another network, as they say, there`s been an ongoing T.V. drama between Jeff Toobin, author, lawyer in his own right, former Dershowitz student at Harvard Law School, and Dershowitz. Mr. Toobin has said to Professor Dershowitz, he has accused him of carrying Donald Trump`s water on a lot of T.V. appearances.
What we just saw Alan Dershowitz do could be construed as a message to Michael Cohen, hang on. The cavalry is coming. This is why we hired Rudy.
Number one, do you believe that`s what`s going on? And, number two, does Rudy have that much charm in the Southern District of New York to derail an investigation like this?
GOLDMAN: I think Alan Dershowitz has some legitimate points, but I think he goes too far in many of the things that he says. By saying that everything is criminalized if you want to find it is wrong. It`s flat-out wrong.
I don`t know that Alan Dershowitz is trying to send a message to Michael Cohen or otherwise. I think the better message might have been the Scooter Libby pardon, that if you stick around, I`ll take care of you like I did with Scooter Libby. But at the end of the day, the Southern District of New York is going to go forward with their investigation, and they`re going to follow it to the end.
Rudy Giuliani is obviously a very well respected former U.S. attorney there. But when I was there, I dealt with former U.S. attorneys. I dealt with former executives and once you leave the government, you`re on the defense side. You`re no different than anyone else.
GOLDMAN: So either Mueller or the Southern District, they`re going to finish their investigation, and Rudy Giuliani may be able to negotiate some agreement as to an interview or something, but he`s not going to be able to make the investigation evaporate.
WILLIAMS: Fair enough. And thank you for the honest answer.
Hey, Vivian, how does this look, this Sessions matter specifically, politically within the Trump White House?
VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, obviously Sessions has been under fire since day one, and so he has recused himself from the Russia investigation. This is something that has gotten really under the skin of the President. He has repeatedly expressed his frustration. You just showed one of many clips where he did that.
But obviously when Jeff Sessions pushes back on these issues and if there`s an incident where he says, this compromises my integrity as an attorney, as a prosecutor, as the attorney general, and I might have to quit as well, obviously that just adds to this cloud that is hanging over the White House with regard to this Russia investigation. They are trying so hard to kind of carve some sort of a positive spin on this whole situation, and unfortunately it`s not really worked out for them. They`ve tried very hard to make this look like Comey, for example, is leaking information, and you have the Michael Cohen situation right now. You have the situation with Robert Mueller`s investigation where they assert that it`s a witch hunt and that they are being framed for all of these things.
When you have Jeff Sessions coming out and saying that he will actually step away, too, it really compromises everything that the White House is trying to achieve in terms of terrifying to make it look like this is not a legitimate investigation. And so it really -- it is really a startling revelation, but something that plays well to Jeff Sessions in this whole entire episode.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Apuzzo, where does Mr. Cohen, as we head into a weekend, where does he stand legally, and what`s the anxiety level among intimates of the President as far as how much trouble he may be in but perhaps worse, how much trouble he could represent for the President?
MATT APUZZO, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Sure. You know, we could get a sense of the seriousness here from the court hearings and from the filings. The search warrant on Cohen`s offices, his safe deposit box, his computers, his phones, they`re looking for evidence of fraud, campaign finance violations, and they`re relatively far along in their investigation. So I think it`s pretty clear to say this is a serious investigation.
Obviously there are people around the President, around Mr. Cohen who expect that this will ultimately lead to some sort of charges. And there is a growing sense around, you know, around Trump world that Cohen represents a threat because this is a guy who has always said, "I`ll take a bullet for the President." I guess it`s sort of easy to say that in the abstract, but when, you know, the Justice Department is the one, you know, pointing the gun, do you really want to take the bullet?
My colleagues have a really interesting story out tonight about how over the years, Cohen did, you know, did try to serve as this fixer and body man for the President. But the President really didn`t treat him all that great, you know, would berate him or threaten to fire him. And so I think the question now is for a President who has always really put a premium on loyalty, how much loyalty has he engendered in Michael Cohen? Is Michael Cohen going to really be loyal to the President if a threat of indictment or a threat of serious charges comes down, or even just the threat of a long and protracted court fight that has the potential to bankrupt just about anyone?
WILLIAMS: Daniel, something we just kind of skimmed by at the top of the broadcast seems to me could be more important than just a brief mention. The former attorney for Ms. McDougal, former playmate-turned-model, for Stormy Daniels, adult film star, is now working for the government. It`s been reported tonight he was unhappy to learn that potential recordings of his phone calls with Michael Cohen were vacuumed up in this FBI raid.
Now, how damaging -- he`s not one of the larger figures in this investigation, but how damaging might just that, flipping that one person be?
GOLDMAN: Well, I think what I read is that he`s cooperating by giving documents and materials. And what I expect them to be looking for is his communications with Michael Cohen and with AMI, who was the one who entered into the nondisclosure agreement with Karen McDougal. And what the prosecutors are looking for is to see whether there was any, for lack of a better word, collusion between Michael Cohen and AMI to make these payments because now once you have two or three, there`s also the payment to Trump`s doorman from AMI, and you have multiple payments right on the precipice of the election. Now that starts to look like a conspiracy to violate the campaign finance laws, and it`s a stronger case when you have multiple examples of that than just the one that we`ve known about with Stormy Daniels.
WILLIAMS: And for the folks wondering how that could be illegal, isn`t the point that it`s at some point the allegation is it`s a de facto donation meant to change the course of an election?
GOLDMAN: Right. The term is in kind. If Michael Cohen actually did pay $130,000, that would be an in-kind contribution to the campaign if the government can connect that payment to the campaign itself, and that the reason for the hush agreement is to avoid the negative publicity in advance of the election. AMI as a corporation has different rules, but it would be further evidence that that was the purpose for the Stormy Daniels payment, and Michael Cohen could be on the hook for campaign finance violations if that`s the case.
WILLIAMS: So, there`s also cooperation and there`s cooperation. Apparently the latter case is turning over documents and materials.
Hey, Vivian, last night the view was who among the Republicans in the House perhaps thought the Comey memos were going to be exculpatory for the President because at first blush, they did not read like that. I want to play for you what Joe diGenova said about the Comey memos. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I don`t think there`s any doubt that these 15 pages of James Comey`s notes constitute a suicide note. He has deceived Congress as a result of the substance in these memoranda. He has deceived the American people, and I must say he has deluded himself. It is quite obvious that the President is an innocent man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And look at the time, Vivian. Here we are 11:15 Eastern Time. You`re holding up your phone. I`m going to read it off a piece of paper from Donald J. Trump.
"James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a special council," misspelled. "Therefore, the special council," misspelled, "was established based on an illegal act. Really? Does everybody know what that means?
Vivian, you get to explain.
SALAMA: Brian, we see the pattern here. And the sound bite that you just played really shows the defense that the White House and President Trump`s lawyers are going to take in terms of basically James Comey did something illegal in their mind. And so as a result of it, this special counsel is relying on illegally leaked documents and information. And so it is illegitimate. And this is basically their efforts to really establish the fact that this is what they call, and we`ve heard many times, "a witch hunt" and that this is something that is not -- has no basis for any legitimate accusations against the President.
And so, obviously this is weighing very heavily on his mind. Here we are at 11:17 at night Eastern Time. The President is in Florida, and this is something that is weighing heavily on his mind right now and always.
And ever since -- we saw it in the last couple of days obviously because Jim Comey released his book and has been doing a number of interviews. But even especially last week when Michael Cohen`s offices and home were raided by the FBI and suddenly all of these communications with Donald Trump, the attorney-client privilege as he`s put it out there, was vulnerable. It was out there for the world. And so Donald Trump is very, very nervous right now about what that means for him.
This is a President who in his past life relied very heavily on nondisclosure agreements in terms of the way he did business in general. And so suddenly all of these communications, these so-called private communications are vulnerable. And so he`s getting very nervous as a result.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Matt, I`m going to list four threats to the President and the presidency. Mueller, Cohen, Comey, Stormy. Any one of those names chief among equals?
APUZZO: Boy, I`d have to rank them. I mean, I wouldn`t put Stormy up near the top although the wrinkle to that is for Cohen, it becomes a problem because if you are facing the possibility of a criminal investigation, the last place you want to be is in civil court.
APUZZO: So I can`t imagine Cohen -- we saw that he dropped his libel lawsuits against BuzzFeed. You know, we see that he wants a delay in the Stormy Daniels case. The last place that Cohen wants to be is in a civil courtroom when he has the possibility of a criminal case going on. So, those two kind of go together. I mean, look, Mueller is still -- Mueller is still the special counsel.
APUZZO: Yes. Well, we still don`t know what he has up his sleeve. He has the authority to, you know, pull evidence from all corners of the federal government and the intelligence agencies. That is where the majority of my attention is still focused. Hopefully we get some resolution and, you know, we`re all sort of wiser for it. It`s been a long year for us.
WILLIAMS: Speaking of wiser for it, that, ladies and gentlemen, is a two- time Pulitzer recipient, Matt Apuzzo.
APUZZO: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Vivian Salama, Daniel Goldman, thank you all of you for starting off our broadcast tonight.
Coming up, the breaking news from overseas on North Korea. What it could mean for Trump`s upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un.
And later, it`s always been important to Donald Trump to be called a rich guy. As important today as it was 30 years ago, and there are tapes to back that up. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Friday night.
WILLIAMS: North Korea announced tonight that that country has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests and that it will also shut down its nuclear test site. It`s a development of note in what`s been an extremely tense situation ahead of those planned negotiations between the Trump administration and Pyongyang.
President Trump wrote on Twitter these words, "North Korea has agreed to suspend all nuclear tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the world. Big progress. Look forward to our summit."
Here to talk about it, Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund and the Author of "Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late," a book we thought might be appropriate to put on the screen. And Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon. He`s an MSNBC National Security Analyst.
Joe, I`m trying to not be naive when I ask, who believes the North is going to denuclearize because we ask them to?
JOE CIRINCIONE, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR NIGHTMARES": We`re a long way from denuclearization, and if Donald Trump thinks he`s going to go to the summit and come back with Kim Jong-un`s nuclear weapons in the cargo hold of Air Force One, he`s delusional. But the arrows are starting to point in the right direction with today`s announcements, the odds went up that the summit will happen at all, and the odds went up that it might be a successful summit.
What does Kim want? Kim wants this summit to happen. He wants the validation, the legitimacy that will be conveyed by him meeting with the President of the United States. So he is throwing out a lot of carrots to Donald Trump to convince him to come.
And in the process, he`s making some gains for us and U.S. national security. He`s agreed to end long-range nuclear weapons tests, agreed to long-range missile tests, nuclear tests, shut the nuclear site.
Is this good? This is great. Is it reversible? Yes. But if you want somebody to denuclearize, the first thing you have to do is stop them from going forward, and that`s partially what happened today.
WILLIAMS: That point you made about there, craving validation, Donald Trump has given them that tenfold in discussing him so much, and talking about him, even in giving him a derisive nickname, it kept him in the discussion.
CIRINCIONE: That`s right, but those nicknames, we`re a long way from dotard and rocket man now.
CIRINCIONE: You saw President Trump`s tweet today. It was right, it was respectful. It was diplomatic. We see a diplomatic process going.
Why is this happening? Kim is driving it. Kim Jong-un is a lot smarter than he looks.
He`s handled this brilliantly. He`s driving the process. He`s setting the agenda. He`s got summit for the first time with the South Korean President next week, a week from tonight. And this is all building momentum that may be irresistible for the President of the United States.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Jeremy Bash, as they say, we have this just in to us from Mar-a-Lago. Big night there, and you would think someone`s watching T.V. From the Twitter account, this just came out a minute ago. A message from Kim Jong-un. "North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, also will shut down a nuclear test site in the country`s northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests. Progress being made for all."
Jeremy, your turn.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, nobody`s smarter than Joe Cirincione on these issues, and I agree with his overall take. I think there are reasons, though, even though we`re on the right track, the diplomatic track, to drive under a yellow caution flag.
First of all, the North Korean dictator is not giving up his nuclear weapons. He`s merely saying, "I have enough testing data, I have all of my weapons. I may even have the ability to deliver to the United States." We don`t know that for certain. "And, therefore, I don`t need to do further testing in order to maintain my deterrent capability."
And I agree with Joe. We`re a long way away from the end result that we all need, which is effectively North Korea dismantling its nuclear program.
Second is the North Koreans have made these promises in the past, and everybody knows that in the mid-2000s they made similar promises to get rid of their program. They cheated and they proceed along a very dangerous path.
And third, I worry about the way the summit is being set up here, Brian, is that Kim Jong-un has grabbed the initiative. He`s going to put us on the defensive, demand concessions from us and if we`re not willing to make them, we look like we`re not going forward with the diplomatic track.
WILLIAMS: Joe, if I asked you to make a case that sanctions are working and that the hidden driver of a lot of this is that sanctions are working, how would you make that case?
CIRINCIONE: There`s no question that this North Korean economy has been hurt by these sanctions, but it hasn`t stopped him from making these tests. He did more tests last year than his father and grandfather combined, both nuclear and missile. But here`s what Kim said today in the announcement of this, that now is the time to turn from the nuclear program.
He says, "We`ve completed it and turn to the construction of the socialist economy. That`s what he wants to do. To do that, he needs to have normalized relations with the United States. He needs to have investment from South Korea and Japan. He needs to open up to the world, and that`s what he wants. That`s what he wants from the summit.
So if we`re going to give that to him in part, what are we going to get? What are we going to get in addition to what he did today? Can we actually not just stop the nuclear program but start to drive it in reverse? This is going to be a step by step process. It`s going to take a long time to negotiate this, and even longer to verify that it`s actually happening.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I`m also thinking of another friend of ours and that`s Barry McCaffrey, who routinely calls North Korea a third rate nation, a third rate military. I heard an author and expert this week theorize that Kim Jong-un may fight Geneva as a site for the summit solely because there`s no guarantee any of the aircraft Kim would use can make it all the way there without refueling. It kind of underscores that they have been living behind a curtain, a lot of it unknown to us, and are not at the leading edge of technology.
BASH: Yes, it`s a fourth world country in so many respects, Brian, and we are elevating Kim Jong-un undoubtedly by putting him next to the President of the United States. That may be troublesome.
The other thing I wanted to mention, and Joe knows this all too well as well. President Macron from France is going to be coming here this week.
BASH: And the main issue on the agenda is the Iran deal. The Trump administration is going to try to get France to pull out of the Iran deal with the United States. And how does it look to the world if we`re basically saying Obama`s Iran deal is terrible. It`s awful. You know, we got to get rid of it, but yet this deal with North Korea, it`s terrific. We have to embrace it. Very inconsistent messages and something that I think will cause a very destabilizing effect in the Middle East.
WILLIAMS: Be brilliant in 15 seconds.
CIRINCIONE: It`s one of the strongest arguments for keeping the Iran deal. We don`t trust North Korea and they don`t trust us. And they will trust us less if we break our word and pull out of a solemn agreement that we made with the rest of the world including Iran.
WILLIAMS: And that, ladies and gentlemen watching at home, is why we invited these two gentlemen to discuss this topic, and we will indeed have them back. Joe Cirincione, Jeremy Bash, our thanks on a Friday night.
Coming up for us, what it means for life inside the West Wing now that a key role is missing. That and more when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. The President`s frequent shifts on key positions, creating confusion within the administration. It was just this week, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was caught off guard after the White House walked back Russian sanctions that she had announced publicly on Sunday morning TV.
In an article entitled, "Trump gets lost in translation amid West Wing shuffle", POLITICO points to the staff changes as a factor for the growing confusion, writing, quote, "some of the president`s allies attribute the recent spate of public disconnects to the departure of loyal aides who were skilled at translating his impulses into legible stances on key issues and perhaps more importantly at keeping all the relevant White House and agency staffers in the loop on big decisions."
Well, with us to talk about it tonight, we welcome to the broadcast the co- author of that piece, Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for POLITICO. Also with us, Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter. We want to let you know, he is co-author of "Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton`s Doomed Campaign", which comes out in paperback on May 1st, same great content, less to carry. So we welcome both of you.
And, Nancy, how big -- encapsulized your reporting for us in this way. How big a moment is this right now as we speak?
NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, this is a big moment of transition in the White House. There`s just a number of key top staffers that have left in the last few months, and it just means that there`s fewer people to, as you said, keep people in the loop on policy decisions.
And we saw that with the U.N. sanctions. Michael Anton who is the National Security Council spokesperson, you know, resigned. He wasn`t in the loop too. Perhaps, he could have kept Nikki Haley abreast of a very fluid decision-making process on the sanctions. We`ve just seen a number of other people who have left, Rob Porter who was the staff secretary, who would have double this. Gary Cohn who is the director of National Economic Council, and then Hope Hicks, who was one of the President`s trusted aides.
So it`s just this big vacuum of people who aren`t necessarily there to be close to Trump. And then just to keep people abreast of how fast he`s changing his mind and sort of what is actually happening.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan, it`s hard to get a straight answer and separate out the hyperbole. When you listen to some people, the State Department has been hollowed out. You can roll a bowling ball down the hallways and not hit anybody. I will ask you, though, for the effect it has had, especially with kind of President`s direct acolytes now missing. Talk about the whipsaw effect, how it careens through the administration. What starts in the oval office or generally the West Wing?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I mean, number one throughout the administration, you`ve got an inability for people at the agencies to know not just where the policy is headed, but all the twists and turns it`s going to take along the way. The lack of consistency makes it harder for them to do their jobs.
But in addition to that, you`ve got a situation on Capitol Hill. We all remember the President`s negotiations on immigration with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. And then going through that, going back and forth, there were some problems already. But those problems as Nancy and Andrew in their piece talk about what`s going on at the White House in communicating on policy. You also see that on Capitol Hill just in the last couple of weeks on trade policy in particular.
You know, the President has a real problem right now and certainly Republican candidates have a real problem with his trade policy hurting farmers. You know, our big export markets for agricultural products are China and Mexico, and so renegotiating NAFTA and slapping tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, even though they haven`t been implemented, you`ve got the threat of reciprocation from China.
What you`ve got is a President who`s trying to make these bold policy pronouncements, and then he comes back and finds out members of his own base and the legislators are concerned about what that might do to them not only substantively but also politically. It`s very difficult for Republican candidates running for Congress to know where these trade policies are going to end up. And so they end up with very mixed messages about how they support the idea of punishing China, but they understand their own constituents are going to suffer.
Then the President goes out and says, hey, farmers can take this. They`re going to bear the brunt of it, but they can take it. And then suddenly he has to have a big powwow with Republican senators to try to walk it back, and he tells them he wants to do subsidies. Here`s a whole new policy he`s talking about.
They don`t want to have anything to do with it. They don`t like farm subsidies. And you can see how it`s confusing not only for the legislators but also for the candidates as they try to explain what they`re going to do to help their own constituents and, you know, the Democratic strategists I talked to see a real opening, and the Republican strategists I talked to are deathly afraid that the impact on farmers is going to have a real -- be a real problem for them in the midterms.
WILLIAMS: And, Nancy, take that example Jonathan just gave us. There are supposed to be fully staffed shops, there have been in every modern White House, public liaison, political liaison, legislative affairs, the White House`s lobbyist on Capitol Hill. They`re supposed to be up and running, but their jobs are made more difficult if every 12 minutes there`s going to be a policy gyration that affects a huge swath of the American economy.
COOK: Absolutely. And this whole past week was really dominated by foreign affairs. And this is at a time when the National Security Council has seen a huge amount of turnover. So there`s a new National Security Adviser John Bolton who recently just started. There have been four people, four top people at the National Security Council who are leaving as Bolton remakes his team. He just announced a new deputy tonight.
But as this was going on against the backdrop of this, the White House is trying to decide should they do air strikes against Syria. You know, should they do economic sanctions. What is going to be their -- where are they going to meet with North Korea. So there`s all these huge foreign policy decisions that are happening as the players on the National Security Council are drastically changing, and that makes the policy making really hard.
Jonathan, a question I`d like to ask folks like you on this very broadcast, how did the Trump agenda advance today?
ALLEN: Well, the Trump agenda did advance today in particular North Korea as your last guests were talking about. I mean, it is a step forward to see Kim Jong-un say that he`s not going to do these tests anymore, whether or not, you know, he has the data he needs and doesn`t need to do the tests. It`s a step forward to see him closing down the site.
And, look, the Trump foreign policy with North Korea is a big break from, you know, where the Obama foreign policy was on it, and they`ve been pretty consistent in this idea that they can, you know, at first it felt like more brinksmanship with North Korea, and they felt like ultimately that would bring Kim Jong-un to the table.
Right now, he`s walking toward the table. You know, it`s still mid-story. We don`t know how it`s going to end, but I think there are people in the Trump foreign policy world that would, you know, would like a little bit of credit for moving things in the direction that they`ve moved.
WILLIAMS: Good answer. Hey, guys, thanks for staying up late with us on a Friday night. Nancy Cook, Jonathan Allen, our thanks.
And because of every so often we like to compare where we are to normal, and because we`re preparing to cover a somber event tomorrow, we thought this Friday night would be a perfect opportunity for a conversation with our friend presidential historian and author Michael Beschloss.
So, Michael, I have asked some form of this to you a number of times. I have a list here. Mueller, Cohen, Comey and Stormy. Just take the presence or the existence of those four. How can we compare these times to anything close to normal in your life`s work and study?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: Well, have you ever seen a president with this kind of legal trouble coming from all directions? You know, we used to think that Richard Nixon was the gold standard for that, and it was nothing like this in terms of the number of dangers from different places. And the other thing, Brian, is that during Nixon`s time, there was a general feeling you shouldn`t sort of bother a president in office with legal trouble unless he had done something like Watergate.
For instance, as you well number, when Nixon was enmeshed in that scandal, there was a grand jury that wanted to indict him for conspiracy to cover up the Watergate burglary. They didn`t feel that that was possible, so that`s how he became an unindicted co-conspirator. 1997, there was a case decided called Clinton v. Jones which says that a president doesn`t have immunity from civil litigation. So all this is sort of coming to roost with Donald Trump. We`ve never seen a president with this kind of distraction.
WILLIAMS: Michael, the President did something that actually seemed normal this week, and I want to read you The Washington Post coverage. Trump complained this week about Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, saying the judge had proved too liberal in recent cases according to administration officials who heard about the complaints. Associates said he was incensed that Gorsuch had voted against the administration on an immigration case and it renewed his doubts that Gorsuch would be a reliable conservative.
Now, this is a complaint we`ve heard from President. I guess, my favorite case is Eisenhower having appointed the great New Jersey Irishman, Brennan, the towering liberal to the court. Right to his dying days said it was the biggest mistake he made as president.
BESCHLOSS: Sure it was. You know, you and I have competed for years in our knowledge of Supreme Court history and once again I defer to you. It`s a great example. And finally, we`ve got a case where Donald Trump has done something that there really is a history of in the presidency.
Great example, Kennedy complained that Byron White, whom he appointed to the court, was too conservative. Nixon complained that Harry Blackmon was too liberal. George H.W. bush complained that David Suitor was a lot more liberal than he expected. So that`s a threat that goes right through American history right up to Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: And I have to ask about this somber event you and I are going to be part of the coverage of tomorrow, and that`s the memorial for Barbara Bush. It does, as so many departures do, it feels like a sign post. It underscores something about our times, and I want to say that in addition to their daughter, Robin, Barbara Bush was pre-deceased by civility.
BESCHLOSS: That is absolutely true. You know, she was basically in politics for, what, you know, 52 years from the time she first campaigned for George H.W. Bush for the Senate from Texas, 1964, till the time she campaigned for Jeb Bush in 2016. Look at how things changed in terms of civility and also the role of American women.
WILLIAMS: Michael Beschloss, our thanks as always, and I mentioned this. I should repeat it. Michael will be a part of our special coverage of the funeral of first lady Barbara Bush noon Eastern Time on this network tomorrow. Our own Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews and others will be with us to take a look back and measure this life and her role especially in the history of our modern presidency.
With thanks to Michael, a quick break for us, more 11TH HOUR right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I`m using my own money. I`m not using the lobbyists. I`m not using donors. I don`t care. I`m really rich.
So I have a total net worth, and now with the increase, it will be well over $10 billion. But here, a total net worth of $8 billion, net worth, not assets, not liabilities. A net worth after all debt, after all expenses, the greatest asset, Trump Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Bank of America building in San Francisco, 40 Wall Street, sometimes referred to as the Trump building, right opposite the New York. Many other places all over the world.
So the total is $8,737,540,000. Now, I am not doing that to brag because you know what, I don`t have to brag. I don`t have to. Believe it or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It is very important that Donald Trump that he be portrayed as a rich man, preferably a billionaire. As the first president ever to emerged from the world of reality television, Trump is wealth and the image of a wildly successful businessman were both central to "The Apprentice." And each episode ended in a mock boardroom, even though because he run a family company Trump didn`t have a real board of directors.
All of this is in the news because of a "Washington Post" story quoting journalist who use to work at Forbes. Reporter Jonathan Greenberg writes that Trump lied to him about his wealth 30 years ago in order to be included in the Forbes 400 list. He claims that May of `84, Donald Trump called him to pretending to be a Trump Organization official name John Barron, a pseudonym Trump has used before.
Greenberg says, quote, "When I recently rediscovered and listened for first time since that year, to the tapes I made of this and another phone calls, I was amazed that I didn`t see through the roofs." Although Trump altered some cadences and affected a slightly stronger New York accent, it was clearly him. Barron told me that Trump taken possession with the business he ran with his father, Fred."
Here now is a portion of that recorded conversation.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GREENBERG: OK. What`s your first name, by the way?
BARRON (TRUMP): John.
BARRON (TRUMP): John Barron.
GREENBERG: Does Fred Trump make money management decisions?
BARRON (TRUMP): Oh yes, sure. He`s the chairman. Donald`s the president and Fred Trump is active. He`s an excellent guy and, you know, they`re very close, the relationship of the two is as you know, very close as you`ve heard or know or perhaps you don`t know. Fred Trump is active in the business too.
GREEBERG: Yes. We know this is really strange technical thing, Mr. Barron, is terms of who owns, you know, who holds the equity. I mean, are you saying that perhaps for tax purposes, it`s been -- the ownership has been transferred to Donald Trump?
BARRON (TRUMP): Correct, correct. That`s correct.
GREENBERG: OK. And when you say, you know, in excess of 90 percent of the ownership?
BARRON (TRUMP): I`d say in excess of 90. In fact, well, it`s really closer to even the ultimate, but it`s in excess of 90 percent, yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Greenberg writes that he informed did push back on Trump at the time, but eventually he learned that Trump should not have been on the first three Forbes 400 list at all. "In our first ever list in 1982, we included him at $100 million but Trump was worth roughly $5 million, a paltry sum by the standards of his super monied peers, as a spade of government reports and books showed only much later."
Greenberg goes on the write, quote, "It would be decades before I learned that Forbes had been conned." In the early 1980s, Trump had zero equity in his father`s company. According to Fred`s will, portions of which appeared in the lawsuit., the father retained legal ownership of his residential empire until his death in 1999, at which point he left it to be divided between his four surviving children and some of this grandchildren.
The White House decline to comment on Greenberg`s story and the Trump Organization did not response to a request for comment.
Another break for us and coming up, figuring out what the President Meant when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. Let`s call them the little things that we`re still getting used to about this presidency. Take for example the tone and tenor, the subject matter and content, and spelling of the President`s tweets. And it`s true, we really shouldn`t refer to them as tweets, that diminishes what they are which is short presidential statements.
They may be at times ill thought out they maybe done on the fly and at all hours but the folks @RealPressSecBot on Twitter, they may have the right idea. They present each Twitter utterance by this president, reformatted as an official statement by the President laid out on letterhead the way statements from the president used to look.
The problems today were spelling errors and the wrong name, we have already this hour recorded tonight`s two misspellings of the word "counsel" as in special counsel. And earlier today, you could hear English teachers all across the country saying in unison, "If you are going to call the FBI Director Shady James Comey, spell shady correctly without the E." It has still not been corrected
Tonight, it was Florida Congresswoman and former DNC had Wendy Wasserman Schultz. The problem with that is, her name is Debbie Wasserman Schultz. While it was later corrected, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times wondered if the president was perhaps thinking of the late great New York playwright Wendy Wasserstein.
And while we may never know, it`s all apart of a new dynamic, the still new world of the Trump presidency. As yet another week in the Trump`s presidency comes to an end, a week that included a statement of condolence after the death of Barbara Bush that was dated last year.
That is our broadcast on a Friday night and for this week, thank you so much for being here with us, and until we join you again, here at noon Eastern Time tomorrow for the memorial service for the former first lady Barbara Bush. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END