Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 25, 2018 Guest: Philip Rucker, Joyce Vance, Daniel Goldman, Michael Crowley, Jackie Calmes, Paul Rieckhoff
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, Rudy Giuliani and Robert Mueller have met face to face, the latest reporting from "The Washington Post" on the negotiations over a potential Mueller interview with Trump. Plus, Michael Cohen says he`ll plead the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit. We`ll look at what that might mean for the president.
And the nomination of the president`s doctor to run the V.A. is in deep trouble. Even more bombshell allegations just out tonight. Now the late word, he`s considering withdrawing his nomination. THE 11TH HOUR on a Wednesday night begins now.
Well, good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 461 of the Trump administration. And on top of a big nomination, that is, right now tonight in deep trouble. There are moving pieces to report to you at this hour in the overarching Russia investigation.
"The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that Rudolph Giuliani personally sat down and met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Tuesday to reopen negotiations for an interview with President Trump.
Robert Costa and Carol Leonnig report that according to people familiar with the talks Giuliani "conveyed the ongoing resistance of Trump and his advisers to an interview with federal investigators, but did not rule out the possibility, the people said, adding that Giuliani pressed Mueller for clarity on when the probe is expected to end. In response, Mueller reiterated he would like a chance to ask Trump questions about key steps he took during the transition and early months of his administration. The special counsel emphasized, as he did in conversations in March with Trump`s team, that an interview is essential for investigators to understand Trump`s intent in making key decisions as they seek to wrap up the portion of the probe focused on potential obstruction of justice."
"The Post" also reports and points out that Giuliani has known Robert Mueller for decades through their work in federal law enforcement. And "one person briefed on the discussions described the session as relaxed and an opportunity for both sides to feel each other out."
Well, just last Thursday, after being hired by President Trump, Giuliani told the President`s favorite hometown paper, "The New York Post," that he hoped to end the Russia investigation in "a week or two." Well, almost a week later now, there`s no indication that`s happening anytime soon.
We are also following some important developments tonight in the ongoing legal drama relating to the President`s long-time attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen said today he`ll assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self- incrimination in that defamation lawsuit filed against him by the adult film star Stormy Daniels. He cited the ongoing criminal investigation in the Southern District of New York as the reason for taking the Fifth.
Daniels is also suing President Trump, arguing a nondisclosure agreement she signed to remain silent about an alleged affair with the President is invalid because the President never signed it. We should note the White House has repeatedly denied Trump ever had an affair with Stormy Daniels.
So a lot to talk about, as we say here, just about every night. And let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Wednesday evening. Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter, Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a Federal Prosecutor. And Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning, White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post." Good evening, and welcome to you all.
Philip, let`s start with the story that we`re really watching minute by minute. It`s 11:03 and change here on the east coast. Where does the President`s nomination for V.A. stand right now?
PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Brian, the nomination of Dr. Ronny Jackson is in extreme peril, I think, at the moment. Jackson is indicating to White House officials that he`s considering withdrawing. He`s, sort of, of two minds right now. He both wants to keep fighting. He wants a chance to clear his name.
He wants a chance to defend himself in a confirmation hearing before the Senate against these allegations, some of which he has already denied to the media. But he also realizes how ugly this has become, how difficult it will be, how unlikely it seems at this hour that he`ll actually get confirmed by the Senate. There are a number of lawmakers speaking out against him more or so by the hour.
And so the White House is very much in limbo at the moment. I would not be surprised to see an announcement sometime, you know, before the end of this broadcast that he`s out. Or maybe he`ll make it till the morning, but I think his days are really numbered.
WILLIAMS: Well, that`s why I asked. And now let me back up to our other lead story and ask you, Phil, about the Giuliani effect. The reporting by your colleagues on where these talks stand with Mueller.
RUCKER: Well, remember, Giuliani came onboard a couple of weeks ago as the President`s lead attorney, replacing John Dowd in negotiating with the Mueller team on the Russia probe. There was a meeting yesterday on Tuesday in Washington between Giuliani and Mueller to get to know each other, to feel each other out. Giuliani seemed to indicate, according to my colleagues` reporting, to Mueller that the President was willing to still consider that interview. Although we know from reporting over the last few weeks that ever since those raids, those FBI raids against Michael Cohen, the President`s personal lawyer, Trump has been, you know, quite hostile to the idea of doing this interview with Mueller.
So we`ll see if he actual will come forward and do it. This may be a bit of a game that Giuliani is playing here with Mueller to give the impression of being willing to do the interview which then would sort of provide Trump an explanation and an excuse if it were to decide ultimately not to do it.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, as the former Fed on this panel, and most of the panels we have around here, I have to ask you, it`s clear Giuliani has been anxious to get his side, their side of the story out. Talk about his exploits and his talks on behalf of his client. If you`re Mueller or the Mueller team, how do you react to seeing a once private meeting on a Tuesday afternoon come out in the press closer to Wednesday?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You expect that it`s going to happen. That`s been the trajectory of this entire investigation. I think Mueller, like most prosecutors, is happy to try his cases in the courtroom and leave it to others to try their cases in the press.
WILLIAMS: Julia, there`s reason to believe that people have spoken publicly about investigations wrapping up real soon, by Thanksgiving, by Christmas, by tonight, for an audience of one. Have you in all of your reporting been given any indications this thing is going to wrap up anywhere close to soon?
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I think what we have learned as this investigation has continued is that it`s very possible that Mueller will be able to sort of lob off part of that, that part being the obstruction probe. We believe that may be able to wrap at some point this summer. But of course, as "The Washington Post" points out tonight, Mueller wants to see Trump interviewed first. He wants to be able to get to that key question that underlies every case of obstruction and that`s his intent.
He wants to know what the President`s intentions were when he made that statement on Air Force One about the Trump Tower meeting. He wants to know what the President`s intentions were when he decided to fire Jim Comey. He wants to know if the President was at in any way intending to talk to Michael Flynn and get him to lie to the FBI about his conversations with Russia. Trump`s mindset and his intentions underlie every bit of this.
And so for Mueller to be able to wrap up this one piece of the investigation, he definitely wants to talk to the President. But as we`ve seen before, this really could be a game, as Philip pointed out. It could be that Giuliani just wants to open this window so that there`s some point of leverage, but he knows that if the President refuses to talk, Mueller may be able to move forward and wrap up the obstruction case without the interview.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, there`s no in this bill of particulars, there`s no surprises, correct? I mean, Mueller might as well say to Rudy, "I want to talk to your client about the heart of the case."
VANCE: Yes. And, you know, it`s interesting. I`m not sure that I agree that Mueller really is all that interested in interviewing the President. Of course, we`ve endlessly speculated about that. But typically, when you have an obstruction case, you don`t get to interview the target. And you build as a prosecutor that case based on what took place and what resulted from what took place.
And here Mueller has got all of those facts out. He`s got the President, for instance, writing this letter, trying to explain away the June meeting in Trump Tower. And doing it using facts that it turned were untrue. He`s got the Comey firing.
I`m not really sure that interviewing the President adds all that much. And, of course, we`re assuming here that the President is the target of an investigation. That may not be true. Mueller has already told, we have learned, the President that he`s a subject, not a target. The President may never be a target.
Mueller may have decided that he can`t be indicted. And in that case, he can be interviewed just like any other witness, with a grand jury subpoena. Of course, if he`s a target, subpoenaing him is much more complex and frowned upon by DOJ policy.
WILLIAMS: Phil, we quoted your work on this broadcast last night. Nothing exceptional about that. That minute was only Tuesday for us, but the piece you did about the President`s utterances, calling it a witch hunt. And yet the tone and tenor and content of what he`s saying on Twitter sure doesn`t sound like he`s trying to proclaim Michael Cohen`s innocence for one. I almost said guilt there for a minute.
RUCKER: Yes, you know, it`s again and again, President Trump is talking about the Russia probe and the other legal challenges, such as the Cohen situation in New York from a perspective of guilt almost. And it may be totally unconscious on the part of the President, but the way he speaks about it gives the impression that he has something to hide, that he might be guilty. We saw the other day on Twitter that the President was talking about whether Michael Cohen could flip and arguing that he doesn`t think Cohen would flip.
Well, if Cohen doesn`t have any incriminating evidence about the President, what is there for him to flip about? There`s no leverage there. So he just -- he casts himself in this way that`s very unusual. But as Joyce Vance on the panel here, I actually interviewed her for the story, and she pointed out in a really on point quote that, you know, this is behavior that`s reminiscence of a lot of criminal defendants she`s encountered.
WILLIAMS: I noticed that and took near parental joy in seeing Joyce`s quote in the body of your piece. It was fantastic.
Hey, Julia, I want to -- I have a dramatic reading for you to react to. This is "The Washington Post" reporting. Let`s call this segment meet the Raskins.
"Trump hired the Raskins," husband and wife attorney team, "after meeting them for the first time. The decision was overshadowed by the simultaneous announcement that former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani would also join the team and take the lead in negotiating with Mueller. But the Raskins could play as important a role if the case escalates. They have both tried and defended clients in criminal cases and in hardball negotiations with prosecutors, skills that Trump would need if the Mueller case escalates. Among their early assignments is to try to use attorney- client protections to keep investigators from scouring Trump`s communications with his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who`s under federal scrutiny, according to a person familiar with the President`s legal strategy who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential discussions."
I love modern-day disclaimers in 2018. Julia, what do you make of that? These are two attorneys, again, husband and wife. Folklore has it that he met them at Mar-a-Lago who could play a hugely significant role in a case that has already matured. It`s closer to ending, we assume, than beginning.
AINSLEY: I`m really glad you`re talking about the Raskins, Brian. I think that they haven`t gotten enough attention and they are kind of these dark horse lawyers that are indicative of the President`s broader legal strategy. He brought on Giuliani, someone who understands the Southern District of New York as he gets worried about the Michael Cohen case and what Cohen might be able to say about his client, the President.
And he`s also bringing on this husband and wife team that are really notorious at being able to get people off, people who it seems like all of the evidence is stacked against them. And their clients walk away scot- free. And so they`re really sort of the antithesis, if to you will, to someone like Andrew Weissmann on Mueller`s team, someone who`s notorious for being able to flip people. They`re trying to build up a team really around a defense based on what`s going on in New York.
And that from people I`ve spoken to, it`s sounds like the President is getting more and more worried about what is coming out of the Southern District, what information they might get from Michael Cohen. And he`s building his legal team and strategy around that. It`s the same reason we`re hearing less and less about Rod Rosenstein, about people in Washington who the President was worried about. Instead he`s focused more here and this hiring of this husband and wife team from Florida. It would make sense that they would have met at Mar-a-Lago.
The hiring of them, people who are loyal to him and people who can fight back against someone like Andrew Weissmann who`s good at being able to flip witnesses, this is indicative of not only the kind of anxiety the President is under, but also where that anxiety is being focused.
WILLIAMS: As we say, meet the Raskins. Hey, Joyce, I had to read twice the wording when it came out today that the President is making himself available to go over everything seized from his lawyer`s office, more than willing to be there when they unseal the boxes and just go through what they have. Talk about the precedence for this and how it lives in reality.
VANCE: Well, the President, of course, has objected to the use of the government`s team procedure. This is how government attorneys typically operate to ensure that a prosecution team doesn`t see any material that`s covered by the attorney-client privilege when they search either a privilege holder, a client office, or the attorney`s office. And it`s a pretty standard procedure.
The President objects to it here and he`s got a little dilemma that`s been created for him because Michael Cohen has now asserted the Fifth Amendment privilege in the Stormy Daniels case saying that he can`t testify about anything that he did that involved Ms. Daniels and the payment of $130,000 without subjecting himself to criminal liability. And that would seem to mean that any files that he has in his office aren`t really attorney-client privilege files because of the crime fraud exception, which says that if there`s a course of criminal conduct between an attorney or client, they`re not protected.
So now we`ve got Trump coming in offering to review these files, which his lawyer, Michael Cohen has told us would not be attorney-client but would rather be crime fraud exception. And the President takes this unprecedented step of saying, "I`ll personally be available to look them over," almost as though that he wants to get a first cut at the government`s evidence before anyone else does.
WILLIAMS: Attorney Joyce Vance who almost makes it easy for we civilians to understand all of this we`re covering every night. To Julia Ainsley, to Joyce Vance and Philip Rucker, our thanks for starting us off on a Wednesday night.
And coming up for us, Michael Cohen announces he`ll take the Fifth, as we mentioned, in the Daniels case. As you might imagine, Stormy Daniels` lawyer has had something to say about that on more than one network tonight.
And later, a nomination hanging by a thread as the President`s Navy doctor nominated to run the V.A. faces new allegations of prescribing himself meds, drunkenness on the job, wrecking a government vehicle and more.
"THE 11TH HOUR just getting under way on a Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS` ATTORNEY: This is the personal attorney to the President of the United States for at least the last 10 to 12 years. That same individual that the President pointed you, other members of the media and the American people to for answers is now refusing to provide those answers and claiming that he can`t answer the questions because the answers will incriminate him.
This is a staggering development. It cannot be exaggerated, overexaggerated. It cannot be overstated. This is a big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You heard the man, Stormy Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti, speaking to our colleague, Lawrence O`Donnell moments ago. As we mentioned, Michael Cohen, taking the Fifth in this defamation lawsuit Stormy Daniels has filed against him. Cohen cited this ongoing criminal investigation, there is that, in the Southern District of New York, as the reason for asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege.
Earlier this month, the FBI raided the office and residences of Cohen, seeking information related to that $130,000 pay out he made to Daniels days before the election to stay silent about the alleged affair with Trump. Cohen has said the payment came from his own personal funds and not the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization.
President Trump now famously said on Air Force One earlier this month he didn`t know about the payment. And the White House has repeatedly said that President Trump never had an affair with Daniels.
Today`s news comes as one of President Trump`s lawyers told the judge the President would make himself available as needed in the legal battle over documents seized in the Cohen raids. NBC News tells it this way, "Trump`s attorney said in a letter to the judge that the President would aid in a potential review of the materials that were taken by the FBI to determine which items are subject to attorney-client privilege should a special master be appointed to oversee the filtering of the seized materials. Trump`s involvement would need to be authorized by the judge."
So to repeat in plain English, the President of the United States is saying, "Hey, I`d love a crack at seeing what you gathered up in my lawyer`s office as you open it and go through it."
With us to talk about all of it, Michael Crowley, National Security Editor and Senior Correspondent for Politico, and Daniel Goldman, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the aforementioned Southern District of New York.
Daniel, let`s start with taking the Fifth before we get to the image of the President on the floor in the residence of the White House going through sealed boxes that say federal evidence. We all learned in civics that it doesn`t imply guilt. So what does it mean in this case?
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, the sort of bare case that it doesn`t mean that much is that following the searches and the revelation that there is an intensive investigation of Michael Cohen. Any defense lawyer who represents Michael Cohen would say, "I`m not going to have this guy under oath, even if he`s innocent, because somebody else thinks he`s committing crimes."
So anything he says could be used by them and therefore could be incriminating. But it`s not, as Michael Avenatti said, necessarily an admission that if I speak under oath I will be incriminating myself. That is not what the Fifth Amendment is and that`s not what he`s doing by asserting the Fifth Amendment.
WILLIAMS: Are you telling me Stormy Daniels` lawyer is zealously protecting his client and may have overstepped the bounds of --
GOLDMAN: Well, he says it cannot be exaggerated or overstated. I think he did do that. But it is a remarkable event that Michael Cohen is sitting here now having to take the Fifth because he`s under investigation in a lawsuit that he really precipitated by trying to enforce this NDA.
And I think right now he probably wishes he had taken that settlement that Stormy Daniels offered him. The reason why it can`t go away is because Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels added a claim of defamation against Cohen. Otherwise, I`m sure, just like he did with the BuzzFeed suit, he would get rid of this one as fast as he could.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Crowley, I have an incredibly superficial question for a learned man like yourself and that is, can the President actually remain silent on these doings we`re talking about here?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Remain silent -- could he take the Fifth for instance? I mean --
WILLIAMS: No, is he going to remain silent from commenting on Michael Cohen, for example?
CROWLEY: Brian, I`m so glad you asked me, because I saw this evening, and I hope you don`t mind me plugging another network, but the President tweeted tonight that he will be appearing tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. on "Fox & Friends" which is a show on another network. But we do know that it`s a show that the President watches quite faithfully.
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.
CROWLEY: Gets very excited about. And the idea of Trump appearing on "Fox & Friends" which is an incredibly friendly environment, which will be stoking all his pressure points, his resentments, the things that get him fired up, I just can`t even imagine. We`re all used to waking up and the President has tweeted, you know, three or four times, and at least in the news room that I work in we`re all kind of scrambling to respond. But Trump on a television, on a show like that is going to be the bonanza potential and this is exactly the kind of thing he might be weighing in on. He weighs in on the top of the day.
So the short answer, Brian, is I don`t think that he can remain silent, particularly when you have people like Avenatti who is brilliant. I mean, he is like pumping the bellows into the fireplace when something like this happens. He knows exactly how to inflame the situation. So, I expect we`ll be hearing a lot from Trump. Not necessarily words that his lawyers want to see him uttering in public.
WILLIAMS: Daniel, when the President says he`ll make himself available to go through evidence, isn`t he, and I don`t say this argumentatively, the last person who should be deciding on attorney-client privilege or who should be deciding what is and what is not germine to the investigation into him and his lawyer?
GOLDMAN: Well, I agree with you on the last point. But that ship has sailed in some respects because the judge ordered last week for the government to turn over the materials that we`re seized to Michael Cohen. Once he did that, the cat is out of the bag. And whether it`s the judge who`s going to make the decisions as to what`s privilege or not, or a special master, or perhaps a magistrate judge, someone is going to have to make those decisions. And once Trump and Cohen have the information, it is Trump`s privilege to assert.
So I don`t expect, as you mention, him to be on the ground and weaving through box, but the hot docs that his lawyer finds may ultimately be relayed to him. And I think the sub text to all of this is that the judge issued a surprising order to hold a conference tomorrow to ascertain what`s going on. There already is a conference scheduled a month from now when that was supposed to happen.
Reading the documents, the sub text here is, is this special master that the defense has asked for going to delay things exponentially? And so I think Trump and his team were painted in a box where he had to say he was available because otherwise they weren`t going to get the relief that they wanted.
WILLIAMS: Everyone is worried about undo delay. Michael, yesterday the President snapped to somebody in the Oval Office and called a question about the potential pardon of Cohen stupid. How do you regard that question about the potential pardon of Cohen?
CROWLEY: I think it`s a totally valid and important question, particularly after President Trump seemingly out of nowhere pardoned Scooter Libby, who was not a front burner topic of conversation. And, you know, it came in such a -- it was a pregnant act to come at a moment like this. And I think really reintroduced in everyone`s mind the question of whether pardons could be part of a legal political strategy on the part of this President.
We also know from good reporting from newspapers that the President has -- at least I believe the President`s lawyers have raised the idea of potential pardons in conversations. So it`s not like something reporters are conjuring out of thin air. It`s been a topic of conversation within the President`s legal team. And, look, it would be an incredibly dramatic act, but the President has virtually unlimited power to pardon. There`s not much people can do about it.
So it`s kind of his nuclear bomb at this point. And we don`t know whether he`s willing to use it. But this is a President who`s not very interested in historical norms or the tastes of people who are commenting about his behavior on television. So, you definitely can`t rule it out.
WILLIAMS: Just when I thought we weren`t in the nuclear bomb business, it turns out we are. Michael Crowley, Daniel Goldman, thank you gentlemen both of you. I really appreciate tonight.
Coming up, the veterans who happened to be the most important thing about the V.A. which may have to go a while without a new boss. When we continue.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back tonight. We have new reporting on Dr. Ronny Jackson, the president`s pick for V.A. secretary, two sources telling our NBC News colleagues, Geoff Bennett and Kasie Hunt that Jackson is talking with senior White House officials about perhaps taking his name out of the nomination process. And one source says a decision about Jackson`s future could come as early as tonight or tomorrow. That gets your attention.
"The Washington Post" was first to report on Jackson`s thinking tonight saying, "Jackson has grown frustrated with the nomination process and has told colleagues he may remove his name from consideration, according to the two White House officials with knowledge of his deliberations."
This comes as a summary released today by Democrats on the Senate Veterans` Affairs Committee details new allegation against Jackson." This is incredible reading. "They involve mishandling of opioids like Percocet, writing prescriptions for himself and wrecking a government vehicle while intoxicated." Today in a brief comment to NBC News, Jackson denied any kind of car crash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. RONNY JACKSON, SECRETARY NOMINEE, VETERAN AFFAIRS: No, I have not wrecked a car, so I can tell you that. We`re still moving ahead as planned. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The allegations against Jackson come from current and former colleagues and have not been confirmed. Tonight, Politico reports Republican support for Jackson is collapsing. And the, "For Senate Republicans, the question of the day is not if, but when, President Donald Trump pulls the plug on Ronny Jackson. In the Senate, no one is predicting Jackson will be confirmed, and no Republicans have stepped up to his defense.` As they put it, report is cratering.
Phil Rucker has agreed to stick around with us to talk about this. And we welcome back to our broadcast Jackie Calmes, White House editor of the "L.A. Times". And, Jackie, I started with Phil this very same question, it being now 11:33, 11:34 p.m., what is your reporting on the current status of this nomination?
JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE EDITOR: Well, I would have thought he would have been gone 24 hours ago, actually. We were prepared for him to be, you know, announced that he was withdrawing his nomination at the end of yesterday after what the president said at the press conference yesterday at the White House that he had with French President Macron, where he said he stood by him. And yet he says I don`t know why he`d want the job or why he`d stay and why he wants to go through this process. And it seemed like an invitation to withdraw and he hasn`t yet, which is astounding. And in any other administration, he would have been gone by now.
WILLIAMS: Phil, I know this came up at the briefing today and as I`m watching I`m thinking, I hope no one is confusing a kind of promotion procedure with a vet. Vetting is a term of art in Washington and it usually means an FBI full-field investigation and they take a good hard look at your life. Working in proximity of the president, we`ve since known about all kinds of bad characters who`ve worked around this president and others.
So does this point out a vet problem and perhaps now a procedural problem that this has been allowed to hang out there for enough days to attract even more allegations as it did tonight?
PHIL RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, clearly, Brian, there is a vetting problem in the White House if these allegations about Dr. Jackson are just now coming to light and were not known to the White House before President Trump tweeted that he would be the nominee to head the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Sarah Sanders said at the briefing this afternoon that there had been four separate background checks, investigations. At one point she used the phrase vetting on Jackson, but she did not detail what those entailed. She said one of them was conducted by the FBI. It`s unclear whether all of them or most of them took place before Jackson was nominated for the V.A. I assume they did. It`s very likely that he would have these sorts of procedures going on just because of his proximity every day to the president. He was the personal physician. And so there would be an interest on the part of the FBI and the White House and the executive branch as a whole to make sure that he was up to snuff to do that.
I can tell you talking to White House officials, they`re very confused by the allegations that have come forth about Jackson. Because they`ve traveled with Jackson around the world, they know him, they feel like he`s close to them personally. And this is not the behavior that they have seen from him. And they`re really startled by it and caught off guard.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I don`t blame them. This is explosive stuff. Jackie, as far as your reporting and your understanding of this, whose decision will this be? In or out? Is this the president? Is this Jackson? Is this some mixture of the two?
CALMES: Well, the president said yesterday at his press conference that he was leaving it up to Ronny Jackson. But there`s not anybody who thinks that`s really true. So it`s unclear. You know, it would be like a chicken and the egg situation, like did he -- was he asked to go or did he make the decision? It should be pretty clear to him by now he should go out.
It`s really -- it`s sort of an astounding situation. We talk about there should have been more vetting. The president talks about extreme vetting for immigrants, but he should apply a little of that to his appointees. In case, I don`t think there was any -- there`s no indication there was any vetting much at all. He announced the firing of Shulkin, his predecessor before -- by tweet and naming Dr. Jackson. I think he just knew him on a personal level. He`s 15 months into his presidency at a time when most administrations would have institutionalized their vetting process and gotten better at it. And instead, the president has become more of a unilateral actor and just gone right around his staff and acted on whim and he`s left with this.
And then you see that the Republicans are not defending Dr. Jackson and he`s losing support among them. This little surprised, the V.A. is one of the top agencies that members, as much as they defer to a president to pick his own administration officials, they have a personal stake given the veterans in their district and what they hear from them.
WILLIAMS: That`s one of the few things every member of Congress has in common.
WILLIAMS: They go home to veteran constituents. Jackie Calmes, Philip Rucker, thank you both for coming on and helping to explain this still moving story at this hour.
Coming up, let us not forget that at the center of this political fight over the V.A. are those veterans. All of whom volunteers to serve our country. And we`ll also talk about the president who promised to help them once he took office. More on that when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to make the veterans administration so good, so proper, which going to be run so well. We`ve got some -- I`ve got some of the best people in the world to run it already.
I love the vets. The vets are treated like fourth class citizens in this country.
The veterans administration is a mess. It`s corrupt, it`s run poorly, our vets are going to be treated well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that was the campaign trail. And now, let`s talk about those veterans, the sprawling bureaucracy called the V.A. second only to the Pentagon in size was set-up just for customer service. Think about it, just to serve those who serve us. Presently, there is no boss and it`s not like the VA`s problems have gone away since the campaign trail. The V.A. is the news because of this high drama involving the president`s nominee to run it, the White House physician, Navy admiral named Dr. Ronny Jackson.
His nomination, as we`ve been saying, has in deep trouble right now. Current and former colleagues, most of whom still active duty military describe their rear admiral using among other words unethical, explosive, toxic, abusive, volatile, despicable, dishonest and vindictive.
With us tonight, Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, his title before this posting was U.S. Army first lieutenant and platoon leader in Iraq. Full disclosure, I have raised money for IAVA happily and a donor, though, not near enough for this guy, our next guest.
So, Paul, welcome first of all.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, FOUNDER AND CEO, IAVA: Thank you. Good to see you.
WILLIAMS: What got my attention last night was when Senator Tester, Democrat of Montana, said he had 20 active duty military. Now this means they busted out of the chain of command. This might mean the chain of command did not help them in this case. They felt the need to approach the U.S. Senate. What does that tell you?
RIECKHOFF: Look, Brian, I`ve been talking to you about V.A. controversies, it feels like for over a decade.
RIECKHOFF: Right? I mean, it takes some really crazy stuff to push Stormy Daniels and Comey out of the headline for two days. This is bonkers. I mean this is, you know, an agency that`s been riddled with chaos and riddled with controversy. This is a whole new level. But I think you bring up an important point. You know, these folks haven`t come forward yet and I think, honestly, what`s happening here is the Senate is depending on the media and the public to vet him, you know.
RIECKHOFF: He wasn`t vetted by the White House. The Senate may not have the resources. You`re bringing up an important point. You know, the chain of command in the military is different. It`s not like the civilian world where folks can, you know, say something about their boss and just walk out and quit. They may have to work alongside this guy.
So, I think over the next maybe 24 hours or maybe when we wake up tomorrow morning we`ll probably start to see faces on these names if they are substantiated. And again, it`s important to note, we don`t know that they are, but this is really damaging. It`s just constant chaos and tumult in an agency that`s had seven nominees just since 9/11, four since I came home from Iraq. It just has to end. And we`re exhausted, we`re demoralized. It`s just over and over again. And right now, all that stuff that Trump talked on the campaign trail is for not if we have to continue to deal with this.
WILLIAMS: I want to read you from Barry McCaffrey, one of the great Iraq war ground commanders, what he said on Twitter tonight. This is -- these are always better when you read them in his voice. "Feel badly for Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson. Very sharp Navy combat physician, 12 years in the White House. If returned to Navy, completely not competitive for any senior service position. Totally unprepared for V.A. secretary. He should withdraw and demand inspector general look at new charges." That`s interesting and coming from a retired four star with tons of credits, interesting. Who is not speaking up in your view?
RIECKHOFF: Retired fly grades who served near him, folks who served over him.
RIECKHOFF: Absolutely. I mean look at who you don`t hear from. You haven`t heard from anyone on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you know. The way this was rolled out seems like it`s half cooked. I mean, usually, you`re ready for opposition and you`ve got validators, you got folks who talk about combat experiences, who talk about what he was like during training.
Where are they? They`re not to be found. And that really, I think, says a lot, especially, you know, you know this, so many people at the Pentagon know this person or near this person, and if they were ready to step forward, they would have done it by now. You know, I feel bad for Ronny Jackson. Feel bad for the vet who`s coming home who lost his or her leg and is waiting for care right now. Those are the folks we should feel, feel bad for.
WILLIAMS: And that`s what I want to talk about, customer service, because that`s the name of the game. You guys brought a graphic with you of a word cloud design that came out of polling you did from your membership. This should break the heart of everyone watching tonight. Look at that. What are they looking for from the V.A.? Leadership. What does the military teach and instill in American civilians when they join the military? Leadership. But look at that. Needs, care. That`s heart breaking.
RIECKHOFF: Yes. You know, we polled about, you know, over 2,000 of our members in 48 hours. Quick poll. And only about 28% of them supported Jackson. We closed the polling Tuesday morning. That was before this stuff started to fall out. We also posted on our website, you got to iava.org, hundreds of questions from our members that they wanted to hear Jackson answer today if they had the hearing.
So whoever the next nominee is, which will be, now the 8th since 9/11, we have hundreds of questions on our website from average veterans, folks who are also serving overseas who can`t put their names on things, they have hard questions for the nominee and they have questions for the American people. In the meantime while we go through more controversy, the American people can step up, they can support Veteran Service Organizations, they can support their local V.A. staff, they can support the nonprofits at the point of attack. You know, the V.A. can`t do it all, even when it`s at its best. So this should be a time for America to send in some reinforcements.
WILLIAMS: Thank you for keeping the faith and being a friend.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you. Appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: Appreciate it. Paul Rieckhoff, here with us in our New York studios.
Coming up, all the hugging and kissing aside, we`ll show you what happened when the French president really did get down to business today in Washington. That and more when we continue.
EMMANUEL MACRON, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE: In 1778, the French philosopher Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin met in Paris. John Adams tells the story that after they had shaken hands, they embraced each other by hugging one another in their arms and kissing each other`s cheeks. I can remind you something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, Ben Franklin is smiling somewhere no doubt. French President Emmanuel Macron began his address to a joint meeting of Congress today with that story, a wink and a nod toward the sheer physicality of the relationship he`s developed with President Trump. And it`s true, the at times over the top petting and pawing and hand holding came close to overshadowing the reason for the gathering, important discussions on topics ranging from the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris climate accord.
But then today, Macron got down to business as if to remind his hosts he is the head of an international power, a nuclear nation, and our oldest alliance. Standing in that House chamber with the Senate also in attendance, he made it clear he has some significant disagreements with his host President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MACRON: We are killing our planet. Let us face it, there is no planet B.
I am sure one day the United States will come back and join the Paris agreement. There is an existing framework called the JCPOA to control the nuclear activity of Iran. We signed it at the initiative of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MACRON: We signed it, both the United States and France. That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that. To protect our democracies, we have to fight against the ever growing virus of fake news which exposes our people to irrational fear and imaginary risks.
Let me say we have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal, and nationalism.
But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse flame and fears of our citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And we`ve had a little fun with his accent, but interesting point, ask yourself when was the last time an American president spoke to the French legislature in French? President Macron flew back to Paris tonight. Trump`s next big name guest is Merkel of Germany on Friday.
And about that Macron speech, we just took a looked at, it went over big with one Republican political veteran. Steve Schmidt said tonight, "It is perfectly clear that Macron is the leader of the free world. Trump vacated the job." That is lifelong Republican Steve Schmidt.
Another break. Coming up, proof that even presidents get buyer`s remorse from time to time.
WILLIAMS: One last thing before we go tonight. Just a reminder of what it takes to be president. Let`s start with a bigger than average sense of self. Running for president means, by definition, that at some point in your life you get up in the morning, look at the image looking back at you in the mirror and say, yes, they need me. I`m the person for the job. I`m the person who should run this country and the post-World War II alliance while we`re at it.
But like most things in life, the job of president sure looks different from the cheap seats. Some of our presidents have really disliked the job and I`m looking at you, William Howard Taft. Others have complained about it. Others have reveled in the job while being perfectly bad at it. And on top of whatever else you want to say about this president, he seldom misses an opportunity to point out how much he liked his life before he had this job and how much he envies civilians who aren`t president. He did it again this week in relation to his White House doctor who`s under siege and he has done it before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I said to Dr. Jackson, what do you need it for? If I were him, actually in many ways I`d love to be him. But the fact is I wouldn`t do it. No, I wouldn`t do it. What does he need it for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What advice would you give to the 25-year-old Donald Trump knowing what you know today?
TRUMP: Don`t run for president.
They used to treat me so good, too, until I ran for office. I used to get the greatest publicity.
And finally I have somebody that`s given up a lot, my other life was very good. I had a very good life. I had a very good life.
I loved my previous life. I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. I actually -- this is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a -- I`m a details oriented person, I think you would say that. But I do miss my old life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: As the doctor say, our current president presenting with a possible case of president`s remorse.
That is our broadcast on a Wednesday 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