Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 26, 2018 Guest: Jennifer Rodgers, Jeremy Bash, Robert Costa; Nancy Cook
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, President Trump has spoken out in praise of "Fox & Friends" after his eventful and rambling half hour long television interview this morning, described by Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" as another installment of this President versus the presidency. It included Trump`s admission Michael Cohen represents him in the Stormy Daniels case and Trump`s threat that someday he won`t stay away from the Justice Department.
And tonight, there`s also this. The leader of North Korea became the first to cross into the south since the fighting stopped in the Korean War when Eisenhower was our President.
THE 11TH HOUR on an eventful Thursday night begins now.
Good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 462 of the Trump administration, and the President stepped right into the legal battles surrounding his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
In a let`s call it freewheeling and at times rambling phone interview with "Fox & Friends," which took place right after his pick to run the V.A. withdrew his nomination, President Trump both distanced himself from Cohen and for the first time admitted Cohen represented him in connection with the adult film star Stormy Daniels.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: Mr. President, how much of your legal work was handled by Michael Cohen?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, as a percentage of my overall legal work, a tiny, tiny little fraction. But Michael would represent me and represent me on some things. He represents me like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal. He represented me and, you know, from what I see, he did absolutely nothing wrong. There were no campaign funds going into this which would have been a problem.
AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST: Then why is he pleading the Fifth?
TRUMP: Because he`s got other things. He`s got businesses, and from what I understand, they`re looking at his businesses. And I hope he`s in great shape. But he`s got businesses, and his lawyers probably told him to do that. But I`m not involved, and I`m not -- and I`ve been told I`m not involved.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You`ll recall just a few weeks ago, the President said this about Ms. Daniels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make the payment if there was no truth to her allegations?
TRUMP: You`ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael`s my attorney, and you`ll have to ask Michael.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?
TRUMP: No, I don`t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And you`ll recall Cohen`s $130,000 payment to Daniels was part of an agreement not to talk about her encounter with Trump as alleged in 2006. Cohen is under federal criminal investigation in New York where federal prosecutors are looking into the hush money payment and his other business dealings. Earlier this month, the FBI raided his residences and office and seized documents and other items.
Prosecutors, lawyers for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump, have been sparring over whether those items are privileged. Well, today a judge appointed a retired federal judge to serve as what`s called in the law a special master to decide what items prosecutors will have access to. More on that later.
The President has been particularly agitated about this raid, and reports have indicated that his aides see the Cohen investigation as potentially more damaging than the overall Mueller-Russia inquiry. In his phone interview this morning, the President unleashed his anger at federal law enforcement and made what sounded like a veiled threat.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: Because of the fact that they have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn`t be there, they have a witch hunt against the President of the United States going on, I`ve taken the position, and I don`t have to take this position, and maybe I`ll change, that I will not be involved with the Justice Department. I will wait till this is over.
I`m very disappointed in my Justice Department. But because of the fact that it`s going on, and I think you`ll understand this, I have decided that I won`t be involved. I may change my mind at some point because what`s going on is a disgrace. You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it`s a disgrace. And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won`t. Our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There has been mounting concern the President might move against the officials directly connected to this Russia investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to protect Mueller. Although it`s unlikely it will reach the floor for a full vote. While the President criticizes the investigation, reports indicate his legal team is now -- is still negotiating, rather, potential interview terms between the President and Mueller. Trump kept up his attacks even as he seemed to be open to a sit-down with the special counsel.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`m fighting a battle against a -- a -- a horrible group of deep- seated people, drain the swamp, that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me and they`re not bringing up real charges against the other side. So we have a phony deal going on, and it`s a cloud over my head.
BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: Does it make you want to talk to Mueller and put an end to it? Does it make you want to talk to him, because that`s Rudy Giuliani --
TRUMP: Well, I can.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It went on from there. Let`s turn to our lead-off panel on a Thursday night. Jennifer Rodgers back with us, Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now the Executive Director for Columbia Law School Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity. Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon. And Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.
Jennifer, it was interesting to watch all this sitting next to you in our studios here in New York. I`ll keep your reactions between us, but what did Donald Trump do today in your legal view to his own case and that of Michael Cohen?
JENNIFER RODGERS, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, there were really three things that stuck out to me kind of from a legal perspective. You know, the first is this comment about how much legal work Michael Cohen did for him. You know, Michael Cohen`s attorneys are in there in the Southern District of New York trying to kind of claim a broad privilege so that the prosecutors get as few documents as possible. And here`s the President in there saying, "Well, you know, I have a lot of lawyers. He did very little legal work for me."
That`s not exactly the same as saying of all the things he did for me, not much of it is legal. Those are two different things. But still, he`s generally kind of backing away from the notion that he wants a broad assertion of privilege here, which is different from when he was tweeting out that, you know, the attorney-client privilege was dead and that sort of thing.
RODGERS: So Michael Cohen and his lawyers are not going to be happy about that development in the Southern District case. Secondly, we have the comment about being represented by Michael Cohen in the Stormy Daniels matter. Of course that`s a separate civil litigation in California right now.
Previously as we saw at the top of the show, he said, "I don`t know anything about any of that." And now he says Michael Cohen is my lawyer in that matter.
WILLIAMS: What`s the distinction there?
RODGERS: Well, the difference is -- so when you are a client and have a lawyer in the matter, the lawyer is acting on your behalf. The lawyer has to keep the client apprised. That`s all about what a lawyer does. I mean, the legal ethics rules require that. So it makes it much more likely that he actually was involved, he knew what was going on.
And that, to me, is bolstered by the comment he made directly after, which said, "And by the way, no campaign funds were used so there`s no issue here." I mean, how does he know that, you know, if he wasn`t involved from the beginning with all of this and deciding how these payments were going to be made? So, to me, he has kind of undermined the claim that he had no involvement in this, and that`s going to be a problem in that civil litigation because we all know that Michael Avenatti is out there on this network and elsewhere --
RODGERS: -- saying I`m going to depose the President because he`s making inconsistent statements about his involvement. So those are the kind of two biggest issues. You know, there`s also the notion of not getting involved with the Justice Department, which is not involved -- not having to do with those litigations, but the Mueller investigation. You know, to the extent that he is throwing another piece of circumstantial evidence on the pile of intent evidence in the obstruction case, that`s bad for him, too.
WILLIAMS: Right. All of this is on the meter as the meter runs and people are watching and listening.
Hey, Jeremy, I want to talk about Mr. Cohen. Before I do, we found the signature line from one of his e-mails. These have been out in the public domain. This is an e-mail from Michael Cohen in 2018, but it`s important. Kind of the automatic name stamp at the bottom of an outgoing Michael Cohen e-mail is, personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.
That`s how he identifies himself, though there were indications this morning, Jeremy, we`ll watch this together and talk about it, that the President set out on "Fox & Friends" to perhaps diminish Michael Cohen`s legal work and talk up Michael Cohen`s own business.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: Michael is in business. He`s really a business man, a fairly big business, as I understand it. I don`t know his business, but that doesn`t have to do with me. Michael is a businessman. He`s got a business. He also practices law, I would say, probably the big thing is his business.
And they`re looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business. I can tell you, he`s got other things. He`s got businesses, and from what I understand, they`re looking at his businesses. And I hope he`s in great shape. But he`s got businesses.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Our friends at "Meet The Press Daily" for that compilation. Those were the President`s own words from that one interview this morning. Jeremy, what do you think is at work here?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, if you had the word business on your bingo cards you were doing pretty well tonight, Brian. I think what`s going on here is the President has inadvertently told the truth for a moment. He has acknowledged the reality that Michael Cohen is essentially a businessman who received a law degree and did some legal work in the Trump Organization, but his main role was to undertake business activities in conjunction with Donald Trump and some on his own.
We know very well that Michael Cohen, for example, was leading the negotiations with individuals in Russia in late 2015 and very early 2016 about the construction of the Trump Tower plan in Moscow. And it`s clear from other documents and other things we`ve seen that Michael Cohen is principally and foremost a business associate of Donald Trump, and that would undercut his claim of attorney-client privilege.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, why did this interview happen today? Was this a regular timed release of steam, and what has the reaction been among allies of this President?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Based on my reporting, there are two tracks now against this Mueller investigation, against the Justice Department, and they`re coming from the President`s legal team with Rudy Giuliani meeting on Tuesday with Mueller and bringing up James Comey, the Former FBI Director, in that conversation, Brian, asking Mueller to his face, based on conversations with sources familiar with that meeting, about whether he sees Comey as credible. So you have the President`s legal team challenging Mueller in Mueller`s office. And then at the same time, you have Mark Meadows another Republican congressman challenging Rod Rosenstein to his face behind the scenes at the Department of Justice. All of this is going on as the President talked with Fox News. That gives you the context of this ratcheting up of tensions on multiple fronts.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, let`s talk about your reaction when you hear this President go after institutions like the Department of Justice and, as he put it, corruption inside the FBI.
BASH: Well, three things struck me, Brian. First, he said, "It`s my Justice Department." No, it`s not. It`s the American people`s Justice Department. Second is he said, "I`ve tried to stay away from the Justice Department, but I won`t for much longer," implying that he`s going to interfere in a criminal investigation into his own conduct. And, third is he said there`s corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.
In fact, the FBI Director, Chris Wray, is someone who he appointed. And all of the people who the President supposedly was concerned with, Jim Comey, Andy McCabe, he fired. And so the people who are still at the FBI, he`s still saying they`re corrupt. It really does undermine their work there on the front lines trying to protect our country, and the President is doing nothing but undermining them.
WILLIAMS: Jennifer, I often come to you for definitions of legal terms on behalf of our audience, all of us lay people. Special master sounds like a title in the British army.
Today the federal judge, Kimba Wood, appointed a special master to go through the stuff that was swept up in the Cohen search. She happens to be a retired federal judge. Talk about the definition of the term special master and your knowledge of this judge who`s been appointed. We see her right there.
RODGERS: Well, it`s not as exciting a job as special master might indicate because you`re really sifting through legal documents and making calls about what`s privileged and what`s not. So Barbara Jones is the special master who was appointed. It`s her job to go through the documents and decide on whether the items are privileged or not. The parties will help her by making claims about what is and what isn`t privileged, and she`ll ultimately make that decision.
But she was on the bench for 17 years. I had many cases in front of her. She was a terrific judge. She`s fair. She`s very calm. She`s not ideological at all, so she`s a very good choice here on the merits.
I also think it was smart of Judge Wood to pick someone not on either of party`s lists, because, you know, she could be kind of said to favor one side or the other if she did that. And the other thing that`s great about Judge Jones and none of the seven people on the parties` lists had this characteristic, she was a judge so she`s used to adjudicating conflicts, she`s used to making the call on privilege documents and she also was on the defense side for the last five years. So she kind of carries that credential, too. And I think it`s going to be important to both sides and President`s team and Michael Cohen`s team if you have someone with that kind of defense experience in that role.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Robert, let`s talk about inside the West Wing because your reporting from there is always so good. A couple of questions on the legal front. What`s Giuliani likely to tell his client after that appearance on T.V. this morning? Is Ty Cobb still swinging in the batter`s box and able to give advice and counsel to this President? How is the staff taking this appearance and the feeling these days?
COSTA: One of the most important comments was that aside the President made in the Fox News interview talking about how he may sit down with Mueller but he didn`t give a definitive answer. And that reflects the conversations behind the scenes between Giuliani and the President. Among of all of the President`s lawyers, there`s a real reluctance, of course, to have him sit down.
They look at past special counsels and they realize whenever a President or any witness sits in front of a special counsel prosecutor, if you say one lie, you`re liable for prosecution. And so they believe that if Mueller is searching for intent at this moment, whether the President had corrupt intent in his decisions, and he can`t prove it with witness testimony or with documents, there`s no reason for the President`s lawyers to put him in front of Mueller to give him anything that would even lean into it intent.
WILLIAMS: Really important stuff on a night like tonight, and these were three terribly important guests for the top of our broadcast. Jennifer Rodgers, Jeremy Bash, Robert Costa, our thanks to all three of you.
Coming up for us, did anything in today`s interview advance the Trump agenda, or did he just open up more questions? John Heilemann, Kimberly Atkins standing by to talk to us next.
And later, Scott Pruitt tries to defend himself but did the, as we call him, embattled EPA chief do himself any favors?
THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Thursday night.
WILLIAMS: As we might have mentioned, the President distanced himself today from his longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, who is facing that criminal investigation in New York. He hinted he may get more deeply involved in the management of his Justice Department as he called it, which is overseeing of course the Mueller-Russia investigation. The President slammed Former FBI Director James Comey as "liar, leaker," and said his memos were phony. And of course the President made very clear, as he often does, there was no collusion.
Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" wrote on Twitter after the interview aired "Trump aides fought for months to keep him from doing what he did this morning, the thing that makes him happiest, just calling "Fox & Friends" and talking as if one of his private conversations. It was another installment of this President versus the presidency."
This morning`s interview did seem to make the President happy. He went back to Twitter tonight and wrote "Loved being on "Fox & Friends" this morning. Great show."
With us for more, John Heilemann, MSNBC National Affairs Analyst. He also happens to be co-author of "Game Change" and "Double Down," and co-host of "The Circus" on "Showtime." This is his busy season. Kimberly Atkins is back with us as well, Chief Washington Reporter for "The Boston Herald" and an MSNBC Contributor.
So, Kimberly, you know I come at you in both of your roles in life, journalist on one side, lawyer on the other. I don`t know how the two of you get along. But with both hats on, did the President`s appearance today help anyone, or were people only diminished by it?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, "THE BOSTON HERALD": I think it probably gave his attorneys more agita and more reason to want to keep him from sitting down with Robert Mueller based on the sort of stream of consciousness, angry, anger-fueled rant that he went on, that not only did he seem to inculpate himself in matters involving Michael Cohen, railing against the Justice Department, which only fuels a potential obstruction of Justice investigation, but he has difficulty again with the truth, with matters in terms of the Democrats, for example, torpedoing his V.A. pick. No. It was actually Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee which put a halt to that nomination once this information about Ronny Jackson came up. So these are all the things that putting him in front of federal prosecutors with that sort of potential liability in front of him -- these are the things that keeps his lawyers up at night.
WILLIAMS: John, the question I always ask, how did the Trump agenda advance today? That is to say, this was another huge, bright, shiny object and distraction.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: If the Trump agenda were to prioritize the question of mental health, the President`s performance shined a bright light on the problem of mental health among certain people in the country this morning. The President was having something that approached, I think -- I`m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I`m a man familiar with manic episodes, and that was a man having a manic episode on national television. It was the least strategic, the least tactical, the least legally or political helpful performance the President has given in a very long time.
I`ll focus on one thing in particular. A lot of things have been said about the various ways in which he made his situation worse on all those fronts. There`s a guy named Michael Cohen who we spent the last couple weeks with a lot of discussions about. Would this man flip on the President of the United States?
Talking to Michael Cohen`s friends a week or ten days ago, he was distraught. He was upset. The notion that he might turn on the President was very close to the surface.
In the last few days until this morning, you started to hear from people around Cohen that he was calming down. He had felt that he had good attorneys, and he`s felt like the signals he was hearing from the President suggested that the President had his back. Michael Cohen watching that performance this morning is not a person who looks at that man and says, "That`s a guy I can count on to have my back." The President did himself damage with Michael Cohen this morning, and that may be the biggest damage he did to himself of all.
WILLIAMS: To the first point you made, one of the more sober people I have known is retired U.S. Army Four-star General Barry McCaffrey. We`ve all been on television with him, and he wrote this today.
"Worried about the health of President Trump. Chief of Staff John Kelly needs to get him off line and get a week rest. Phone call to Fox News really troubling. Has three years left in office. Potus has immense legal authority. An unstable President is not good for the American people." This is the conversation we`re having, Kimberly Atkins.
ATKINS: It is, and I think it`s important to note, a, the likelihood that someone, anyone, John Kelly or anybody else can rein in this President, to speak to him, to reason with him and say, "Look, whether it`s to advance your agenda or to keep yourself out of legal trouble, you really need to cool it with this." Obviously that hasn`t played out so far in the first year and a half of his presidency.
I mean even this week at the Supreme Court when you had an argument over his travel ban that involved his tweets with, and Don McGahn was sitting in this courtroom, and all I can think is he probably would want nothing more than to get a hold of the President, get his phone out of his hand, keep him from going on television and saying these things. But the idea that somebody can get a hold of him now, I think that`s far gone.
HEILEMANN: It sounds crazy to say this, but the President`s substance, the things he said this morning were not off the charts by his standards of unhingeness.
HEILEMANN: The tone of it, though, was so frantic. The voice was at a high pitch. It sounded like he`d been up all night. He was palpitating. You could hear his agitation in his voice, and I think the tone of it is what a lot of people were reacting to as much as the actual things he said.
Sorry, I didn`t mean to interrupt you, but to me it was the most striking thing because he says sort of unhinged things all the time, but there was something about the totality of that performance that was kind of unnerving even for people who have pretty low expectations of his degree of coherence on television.
WILLIAMS: I was just going to throw out a dramatic reading for both of you and a point, and that is that Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, it strikes me are the Reese`s Peanut Butter Cup of journalism. They are fantastic separately, and you forget how great they are together. They share a byline tonight in part that reads, in part, "Another day, another casualty or two. A ride on President Trump`s bullet train can be thrilling, but if is often a brutal journey that leaves some bloodied by the side of the tracks. In only 15 months in office, Mr. Trump has burned through a record number of advisers and associates who have found themselves in legal, professional, or personal trouble or even all three. Half of the top aides who came to the White House with Trump in 2017 are gone, many under painful circumstances, either because they fell out with the boss or came under the harsh scrutiny that comes with him."
Kim, you first then John.
ATKINS: I think that`s an example. I mean even if you`re looking at Ronny Jackson, who I think the idea that he was qualified to lead the V.A., I think, is the most troubling part of the whole nomination aside from all of the allegations. But you have someone who now probably has folks looking very closely at his medical license and seeing if he should be disciplined in some way.
This is someone who served multiple Presidents, even someone who seemed probably untouchable in that kind of sense has fallen in the spotlight of this stuff. Why? It`s because the President thrust him in the face and gave him -- thrust him into a position where he didn`t really belong in the first place. I think whether it`s that or whether through the deeds of the people around him, this has just been a disaster for a lot of people.
HEILEMANN: The White House is a magic building, and one of the things that we`ve seen over the course of our long careers is that it takes people, whether they are great or mediocre and it spits them out the other side invariably in a better place than when they came in. They`re worth more money. Their stature has been enhanced. Their career prospects are better off. All of them, right?
Name one person who has come into Donald Trump`s contact in that office in the last 16 months who has walked out the other side in a better place than when they walked in. There is not one. All who have gone through there so far have been diminished in all of the ways that we can count. In all the ways that we can -- just in an empirical sense.
None of them are worth more money. None of them have their stature or reputation enhanced. There`s not anyone who has come out better on the other side, and that`s hard to do. The building is magical, right?
And somehow, Donald Trump is -- I mean there are various phrases for it. People say everything Trump touches dies, whatever. There are different cliches around this, but it is true. And it`s really is an odd exercise to go through. Try to think of someone who Donald Trump -- by their contact through Donald Trump as President has emerged, enhanced, burnished. I`m coming up empty.
ATKINS: Reverse Midas man.
WILLIAMS: Great stuff as always from our friends. Kimberly Atkins and John Heilemann, thank you both for coming in tonight.
HEILEMANN: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, a tense hearing in Washington with a man who happens to be in a very bad place right now. There he is. We`ll talk about him on the other side of this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Now, the issue of the two close aides who used to work for you in Oklahoma and their pay raises, are you saying that you were not aware that those pay raises were provided to them until after the fact?
SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I was not aware of one of those individuals even seeking a pay raise. I was aware of another person going through the process. I was not aware of the amount that was provided or the process that was utilized to evaluate that.
COSTELLO: And I believe you`ve demonstrated -- or you`ve not demonstrated the requisite degree of good judgment required of an appointment executive branch official on some of these spending items.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Under some intense at times grilling from Congress today, the man who is now constantly referred to in journalism as embattled EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, changed his story there on a critical accusation admitting he gave the go ahead indeed for pay raises for two favorite EPA staffers. That specific line of questioning came from a Republican member of Congress from Pennsylvania. Pruitt contradicted what he told Fox News about it earlier this month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED HENRY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Why did you go around the president and the white house to give pay raises to two staffers?
PRUITT: I did not. My staff did, and I found out about that yesterday and changed it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Pruitt was even less forthcoming about some other possible ethics abuses including a history of first class air travel, a sound proof booth in his office, and a $50 a night condo he rented from the wife of a Washington lobbyist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARDENAS: Did any of the attorneys at the EPA look at your lease before you signed it?
PRUITT: The review took place afterwards.
CARDENAS: It`s tempting to ask why you spent nearly $68,000 on hotels and travel from august through February, just in five months, and $50,000 on modifications to your office including a privacy booth that cost over $43,000.
PRUITT: I did have a phone call that came in of a sensitive nature, and I did not have access to secure communications. I gave direction to my staff to address that, and out of that came a $43,000 expenditure that I did not approve --
ESHOO: Yes or no:
PRUITT: -- or to live in a way.
ESHOO: Do you have any remorse?
PRUITT: I think there are changes I`ve made already. The change from first class to coach travel, that`s a change I`ve made. I learned about the pay raises --
ESHOO: Sir, you`re not going to outtalk me. You`re not going to outtalk me.
WELCH: Did the taxpayer spend $30,000 for a security detail to accompany you on the trip to Disneyland?
PRUITT: I`m unsure about that. I mean, we took --
WELCH: That`s knowable.
PRUITT: Yes, if the records show that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With us tonight, Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for POLITICO, and Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for the New York Times and an MSNBC Contributor.
I trust you both could hear that sound, the sound of a bus rolling over members of Secretary Pruitt`s, Administrator Pruitt`s staff. Nancy, I was trying to remember the night where I saw the headline earlier this week that this hearing could be a litmus test for whether or not he keeps his job. What in your view transpired there today?
NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I think he did a pretty good job of, you know, keeping the temperature of the hearing down and keeping his cool amid of tough questioning. But the fact of the matter is, he did change his story on a few key things.
You know, as in the clip we just heard, he changed his story on the pay raises that he got for the staff. He also changed his justification for the $43,000 soundproof booth that he put in his office. He had said that that was so he could have classified conversations, and then he changed his story on that.
And people that I talked to both in the White House and Republicans close to it this week were saying going into the hearing that, you know, if there were any discrepancies in his story coming out of the hearing, that could be a big problem because he was called to the carpet at the white house, you know, a few weeks ago and told, you know, we don`t want any more new information to come out. If there`s anything else that`s going to come out, please tell us. And meanwhile the story is just drip, drip, drip. It`s really, you know, a bad moment for Scott Pruitt.
WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy, you know the points I usually make at this point, and that is number one, elections have consequences. Number two, it`s the guys like Pruitt and Sessions who are doing the job that the president appointed them to do. But, number three, here`s the tricky part. Where`s his support coming from still? We know the president is still onboard. We don`t quite know the degree to which.
JEREMY PETERS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I do know, Brian, from my reporting, that there were people in the White House who were actually disappointed in Scott Pruitt`s performance because he did not do worse. There were many people who were looking for a reason to throw him under the bus. That didn`t happen.
Scott Pruitt didn`t exactly help himself, but he didn`t hurt himself either. It was clear that he had a lot of coaching. Somebody probably sat him down and made him watch the interview tape with Fox News and said, do not act like this again when you`re in front of members of Congress. I think when you stack up the way he performed before Congress with the caricature of him in the media, he was bound to beat expectations because the caricature of him right now is so bad.
I know also, Brian, that Democrats were upset on Capitol Hill that Scott Pruitt didn`t do worse as well. They were hoping for that blood in the water moment, and they didn`t quite get it.
WILLIAMS: They say we live in a cynical year of 2018. Imagine that. Hey, Nancy, you know, incumbent presidents hate to move chess pieces if they don`t have to. There`s already that theory that Rick Perry may be the next nominee for VA. That would open up energy. The president doesn`t want to appoint another EPA administrator.
But where in your reckoning and reporting is the real support for Pruitt? Is it in the donor class? Is it out in actual America?
COOK: I don`t think it`s out in actual America. I think it`s really in the donor class and in really conservative groups. These are some of the same groups that really supported Attorney General Jeff Sessions when President Trump went after him by reminding the president both publicly and privately that Sessions was, indeed, carrying out a very conservative agenda at the Department of Justice.
So these same types of groups have been reminding the White House of that. You know, Pruitt has rolled back a lot of the Obama-era regulations. You know, he`s instituting a conservative agenda. He`s doing the deregulatory stuff that the president really wants, and that is really in his base of support.
The interesting thing that I found from the hearing today was that he basically threw a bunch of his loyal EPA political appointees and staff under the bus by blaming them for, you know, some of these spending issues with the agency, and it will be interesting to me in the days ahead to see if any of those people turn against him because the EPA was really one of his few bastions of support in the administration because he has very little support in the White House apart from the president.
WILLIAMS: Oh, Nancy, you`re so right about that. You know what they say about the word pay back.
Jeremy, a final question to you. Our friend Steve Schmidt talks about the lack of rigor constantly, the lack of vetting among this crowd. We learned more about the Rob Porter case today, specifically communication with the White House that disagrees with the Chief of Staff Kelly`s timeline. What do you think is the reason for all these personnel kind of errors and gaps?
PETERS: It`s a sloppy White House, Brian. They do not do due diligence. They look at -- I mean the security clearance issue alone that the Rob Porter scandal exposed is hugely problematic. I mean, I think that spoke volumes about the level of organization inside this White House. Remember, this resulted in the revoking of security clearances from numerous officials, including the president`s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
I mean look at Ronny Jackson this week. There wasn`t uncovered in this background investigation the allegations of workplace impropriety and giving out prescription drugs and drinking functions to excess. So you add all of this up, and it`s a picture of disarray that has become all too familiar to really anyone in America who`s been paying attention to the news the last year and a half.
WILLIAMS: And it`s all at the end of the day a great tragedy because here at the same time is a Navy rear admiral, a veteran who served as volunteered to serve his country, including a combat assignment. Our thanks to two of our of favorites, Nancy Cook, Jeremy Peters. Thank you so much for joining us on a Thursday night.
And coming up for us, we`ll show you what history in the making looks like because it just happened here in the past few hours. That`s when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: On occasion around here, we get to show you what history looks like in the making. And here`s what it looks like tonight. South Korean President -- I`m sorry, Moon Jae-In with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un are currently meeting inside the demilitarized zone separating their two countries. This is not just the first time the two men have met. This is the first time a North Korean leader has visited South Korea since the Korean War. We`ve asked Jeremy Bash to stick around and join us and talk about the importance of this.
Jeremy, your resume is so unique with your experience at both Pentagon and CIA, two buildings highly interested in what happened there tonight our time, daytime their time. What just happened in your view?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: First, let`s describe the scene, Brian. There along the 38th parallel, is the town Panmunjom. It`s been the scene of so much drama, so much bloodshed. Actually, there have been military confrontations between North Koreans and South Koreans over these many years, and it`s the place where there`s a row of conference rooms. And that`s where over the years, there have been dialogue, sporadic, episodic, halting, and ultimately unsuccessful between the North and the South.
At that place, at that actual demarcation line which is part of the demilitarized zone, you saw the two leaders of North Korea and South Korea respectively come together, shake hands. When the North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un, stepped into South Korea, he then invited President Moon of South Korea to go back with him into North Korea.
We are seeing now reports tonight that that was an impromptu move. That was not scripted, and that the two gentlemen faced North for a picture, faced South for a picture, and then proceed into South Korea into what`s known as Peace House, which is a structure there on the southern part of the border of the demarcation line, and that`s where they`ve been holding these discussions.
WILLIAMS: It was incredible live television to watch tonight. I think only Trump and Macron held hands more when they were together than these two. But still, just spectacular to watch. I was on the phone with a friend of mine when this happened, and he said, "I know this isn`t German unification, but I know it`s something up there. This is a moment we`re witnessing."
That`s right. And I`ve stood in those places up there on the 38th parallel, and I`ve looked across at North Korea, and it`s a very steely, icy, tense location. And for it now to be a location of peace and dialogue is really stunning. But I have to say, Brian, none of this means that the path ahead is easy.
And in fact, if you look back at other famous handshakes, I`m thinking of the 1993 handshake on the White House lawn between Arafat and Rabin. That was followed by two intifadas. The second Lebanon War, and two wars between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
And so, nobody thinks that a handshake means that peace has broken out. The North is still armed with nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver to the United States. This is going to be a very long road ahead.
WILLIAMS: An area so tense the U.S. Army slogan there for years has been ready to fight tonight. Jeremy, last word from you. Did the achievable goals that President Trump is looking for sitting down with this guy, Kim, just become a little bit more achievable for him?
BASH: I think we are inching closer to what can be achieved. But, again, the denuclearization, the removal of the arsenal that Kim Jong-un has, is a long way away.
WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely. Most people with any experience have just said they don`t see that happening. Jeremy Bash, thanks so much. And thanks especially for sticking around to talk to us about this history we witnessed being made on live television tonight.
Coming up, a victory that was felt far beyond a courtroom in Pennsylvania, that`s when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: We talk a lot around here about the pace of news these days. Look away from this president, or this presidency, for an hour or god forbid, for a day, and you`re libel to miss a lot. Other all a while, the news of the day continues.
For example, if you last checked in with the life and career of Bill Cosby in the `80s, then you knew him as America`s dad. Tonight, however, Bill Cosby is a convicted felon. The jury verdict was guilty of sexual assault in the Cosby trial in Pennsylvania. Three counts of aggravated indecent assault against the 80-year-old now former entertainer. We have a report on all of it tonight from NBC News Correspondent Stephanie Gosk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Cosby, comedian, actor, the man once dubbed America`s dad. Tonight the 80-year-old is convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
KEVIN STEELE, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, MONTGOMERY, PENNSYLVANIA: What was revealed to this investigation was a man who spent decades preying on women that he drugged and sexually assaulted.
GOSK: As the verdict was read, Cosby accusers not part of the case gasped and sobbed in the courtroom forcing the judge to call for order. The jury decided beyond a reasonable doubt that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in his Pennsylvania home in 2004. Constand, a former Temple University employee, stared ahead during the verdict, with little emotion on her face.
This was the retrial, nearly a year ago a jury deadlocked over the same criminal charges. For many alleged victims whose accusations never led to criminal charges, this was seen as their victory as well.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I`m dreaming. Can you pinch me? I feel like I`m dreaming.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The justice system is finally paying attention.
GOSK: In the retrial, five accusers in addition to Constand, herself, testified telling the jury they too were drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby. The prosecution attempting to show a pattern of behavior, the defense fired back in cross-examination, accusing the six women of wanting money and fame.
In closing arguments, Cosby`s attorney, Kathleen Bliss, personally attacked one of the women. Former model Janice Dickinson, telling the jury, "It sounds like she has slept with every man on the planet. Women`s rights attorney Gloria Allred represents several of the accusers who testified.
GLORIA ALLRED, WOMEN`S RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Finally, we can say, women are believed and not only on #MeToo, but in a court of law.
GOSK: District Attorney Kevin Steele battled to get Cosby`s bail revoked and send him straight to jail, telling the judge he was a flight risk and has a plane. Cosby then yelled he doesn`t have a plane. You a-hole, I`m sick of it, you a-hole.
Outside, Cosby and his defense team stunned. Said they would appeal.
TOM MESEREAU, BILL COSBY`S ATTORNEY: We are very disappointed by the verdict. We don`t think Mr. Cosby is guilty of anything and the fight is not over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Interestingly, as we get that report from Stephanie Gosk in Pennsylvania, in our line of work, if you were ever interviewing Bill Cosby or introducing him in front of a crowd, you were instructed to refer to him as Dr. Cosby. Don`t hear any talk of that title anymore. Cosby has returned to his home tonight. He`s been confined by order of the court to the county where he lives.
He`ll undergo what`s called a sexual violent predator assessment next and then in two to three months from now, he will return to court for sentencing. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
Another break for us. Coming up, it was take your kids to work today. That included the White House, more on that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, a great broadcaster who once toiled in this very same time slot used to go off the air every night with an offering of a moment of Zen. So we want to present you with this. It`s great to watch. On this Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, the president hosted the children of White House staff but also children of the news media, as you`ll hear, in the oval office, which you`ll hear about as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Does everybody know the name of this office?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Oval Office.
TRUMP: At the count of three, one, two, three.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Oval Office.
TRUMP: And you know they say this is the most important office anywhere in the world. Is that right?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Yes.
TRUMP: And you`re in the oval office.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Yes.
TRUMP: And your parents are behaving very nicely for a change. I can`t believe it. That means they love and respect you, right? Look how nice your parents are being. I can`t believe it. They`re not screaming and they`re not going wild. But you love your parents, right? Everybody love their parents?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Yes.
TRUMP: You love your country?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Yes.
TRUMP: Got it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more, kids. One more. One, two, three. All right.
TRUMP: Thank you very much, parents. We appreciate it. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The president and a roomful of small visitors earlier today. That is our broadcast on a Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. 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