Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: April 30, 2018
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Also an NBC News exclusive. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly quoted as calling the President an idiot and telling colleagues, we`ve got to save him from himself.
And more legal drama for this President as Stormy Daniels files another lawsuit because of what the President said about her.
"The 11th Hour" on a busy Monday night begins now.
Good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 466 of the Trump administration, and as we`ve been saying, we have breaking news in the form of a remarkable piece of journalism from "the New York Times," which has obtained the list of 49 questions that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has recently provided to President Trump`s lawyers. Questions that Mueller wants answered in an interview with the President.
The "Times" Michael Schmidt broke this story. He joins us live in just a moment. His colleague, Matt Apuzzo, has also been poring over these questions all day to provide analysis. He is standing by with that.
They write that these are not quoted verbatim, and some were likely condensed. However, the questions fall into four broad categories about alleged campaign coordination with Russia and those related to former FBI Director James B. Comey, Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Among those on campaign coordination, when did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting? What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.`s e-mails? What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others? What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
On James Comey. What did you think about Mr. Comey`s intelligence briefing on January 6, 2017, about Russian election interference? What was the purpose of your January 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said? What was the purpose of your February 14th, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said? What did you think and do about Mr. Comey`s May 3rd, 2017, testimony?
Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey, when was it made? Why? Who played a role? What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo, and Mr. Coats?
And on Michael Flynn, what did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in late December, 2016? What did you know about Sally Yates` meetings about Mr. Flynn? How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on February 13th, 2017? After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
We`ll cover the questions on Jeff Sessions just ahead in our broadcast. Keep in mind that right now, it of course remains an open question as to whether the President will ever sit down with Robert Mueller. It`s been reported that Rudy Giuliani, the President`s newest addition to his legal team, has been trying to work out terms for that interview.
Well, without delay, let`s get to our lead-off panel on another very busy Monday night. Michael Schmidt, Matt Apuzzo, both of "The New York Times," both Pulitzer Prize winners. As we`ve said, it`s their reporting that has given us our lead story tonight. Also with us, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of the State of Michigan, and Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to House Intel as well, and all four of our lead-off guests thankfully are MSNBC analysts.
Michael, I`d like to begin with you. I ain`t going to ask you who gave you these because you`re not going to answer. So I will ask you how did this list of questions come to be compiled?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So there have been a lot of negotiations over the past few months between the President`s lawyers and the special counsel. And what happened was in March, the special counsel was trying to make an argument to the President`s lawyer that he should do the interview. And they brought the President`s lawyers in, and they went through with them all of the different matters they wanted to question the President about.
The President`s lawyers took extensive notes on that and compiled this list of questions. When they looked at it, they thought it was troubling. They thought it was incredibly detailed. It got at the President`s intent.
There were a lot of questions about his mindset. Why is it that he really was doing certain things? There was a lot of skepticism. And it convinced them that the idea of an interview was a bad one.
WILLIAMS: Were the questions transmitted from team Mueller to team Trump from Mueller to Mr. Dowd, who was at that point the President`s lead attorney, and how? Were they spoken verbally? Was there ever an e-mail transmission? Was it on paper at any time?
SCHMIDT: No. This was all done verbally. The Special Counsel`s office was willing to lay out for the President`s lawyers all of these different topics. They were trying to make the point, look, here are the questions.
The President`s lawyers have been telling the special counsel`s office that he can`t come in. It`s too much. He`s too busy. There`s too many things going on. And they`re saying, "OK, here are the topics. We`ll give you a bit of a -- you know, an easy start on this so you can prepare the President for such an interview." But what it did was it convinced the President`s lawyers that he was in a no-win situation and this could be a perjury trap, a place where the President only would increase his criminal exposure and put him in an even more difficult position.
The problem is Mr. Dowd has left the President`s legal team, and the President is now convinced that he has to do this interview to bring an end to the investigation. Remember, one of the reasons Mr. Dowd left is that he thought there was no good way that he could allow his client, the President, to head into such an interview.
WILLIAMS: So it`s easy to see Mr. Dowd at that meeting coming into contact with this fusillade of questions and having something of a case of sticker shock that he then goes to transfer to his client, the President.
SCHMIDT: You have to come back to the President, though, on this. The President believes he`s his best spokesman, his best strategist, and his best lawyer, and that he can explain anything to anyone and talk his way out of things. And the President believes that he can go into Mueller and do that. But the President`s lawyers are afraid that he becomes easily distracted. He will go on tangents, talk about other things, bring up other matters, and the President can get very angry.
So how would the President respond to these questions that are really skeptical questions about these crucial decisions he made to fire Flynn, to fire Comey, how he has dealt with Jeff Sessions, his own ties to Russia, the meeting that his son had in 2016 with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. These are questions that have loomed over the presidency for more than a year now and have really dogged him. And the President`s lawyers were really afraid of how he would react in such an intense situation under questioning.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers, we`re sharing the screen intentionally with these questions on a rolling basis. Again, there are 49 of them, but some of the instant analysis along with the writing in "The New York Times" this evening leads us to believe the actual list of questions in a sit-down meeting would just explode into a million different tangents. Let`s bring in Matt Apuzzo for that.
And Matt, I heard an experienced lawyer tonight say these are more like topic sentences. This lawyer said that any of us on just the flight home from the NATO meeting and what might have transpired on Air Force One could think of 10 to 12 tributary questions off of the topic sentence.
MATT APUZZO, REPORTER "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, that`s absolutely right. You can imagine a prosecutor saying to the President, for instance, "What was your reaction when Jim Comey testified before the Senate and confirmed the existence of the Russia investigation?" Well, then the President answers him, he said, "Well, why -- and the prosecutor comes right back and says, well, why did you think that? Well, and then what happened? Well, who did you talk to then?"
And so these are really opening salvos on a number of topics. And I was really struck, as Mike and I pored through these today and tried to both write them out and provide that kind of context, we were really struck by the fact that some of these were obvious as you said. The Trump Tower meeting, that was a no-brainer.
But some of these, especially at the end, they really signal that Bob Mueller has not closed the door on the question of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. He has more questions that he wants answered. He`s obviously not fully satisfied with what he`s learned about interviewing former campaign officials, reading those e-mails, and talking to people at the White House.
WILLIAMS: Mike, another question, the questions are going to occur to us all evening long, of course. Was note-taking allowed on the part of Mr. Dowd and his co-counsel, or was this all something they couldn`t wait to get outside the room and spew it onto paper to the best of all their recollection?
SCHMIDT: No. It`s our understanding that note-taking was allowed. This isn`t the S.A.T.S. I think you`re allowed to come in and take notes in that kind of situation. I think that was the point of the meeting. The point was to get across to them, here are the topics we want to talk about to give them sort of a fresh start on this type of -- these ways and prepare the President for these types of questioning.
So I don`t think this was a way they were restricting the access. They were trying to get them this. Maybe they didn`t want to put it in writing. Maybe they thought if they put it in writing it would be more likely to leak. But this was certainly a way of conveying it to them in a way they could come back to the President and potentially prepare him.
WILLIAMS: Matt, I`m curious, as you were poring through this, for your surprises. You just mentioned that some of the back-loaded questions are tells because they show that what Mueller has left on the table. What about percentage of the questions having to do with time in office as opposed to the campaign? What about the use of proper names in these questions? It can`t be good to see your name in the body of these questions.
APUZZO: No, that`s absolutely right. And, you know, in some ways a lot of these questions were sort of a recap of reporting that`s been done over the last 18 months from fantastic competitors at "The Washington Post," my colleagues the at the "Times" have been revealing, you know, interactions that are now under investigation by the special counsel. And so I guess some of those are obvious. Some of the really took us by surprise.
There was one question in particular that said, what did you know about campaign aides, including Paul Manafort, making overtures to the Russians and trying to get support for the campaign? That`s a new one to us. We didn`t know -- we don`t actually have any information that has come out publicly that any such overtures were made. Now, maybe that`s an open- ended sort of fishing question. But it certainly -- the questions like those tell us that Bob Mueller knows a lot more than what`s been in the papers, which obviously is a no-brainer.
WILLIAMS: We have two exhausted journalists and two fresh lawyers and analysts on this panel. And Barbara, you get to be the first lawyer to go. Forty-nine questions. What are the themes and threads that jump off the page to your experienced eyes?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, they clearly relate, the bulk of them, to obstruction of justice. There are some questions as we`ve heard that relate to the core investigation of connections between the Russians and the Trump campaign. But many of them relating to the firing of Jim Comey, the firing of Michael Flynn, his tweets regarding Jeff Sessions. And so it does seem that quite a bit of it relates to obstruction of justice.
But a lot of the questions begin with what did you know, and what did you think? Why that`s important is to prove a charge of obstruction of justice, you also have to prove corrupt purpose, corrupt intent. And so what he knew and what he intended would be really critical to those kinds of charges. No doubt Robert Mueller knows a lot about these matters from having talked to others. But he doesn`t know everything, including what was in President Trump`s head at the time.
In many ways, this is President Trump`s opportunity to tell his side of the story and perhaps clear himself if he wants to take advantage of that opportunity. But it sounds like at least to date, he does not want to avail himself of that.
WILLIAMS: Barbara, I have two enormous lawyer questions for you. Number one, does the release of these questions hurt Mueller`s case? Does it take away any element of surprise? And, number two, is anyone going to make an argument that if it`s ever proven that these came out of the White House counsel`s shop, anyone, any lawyer serving on behalf of the President, that the release of these questions is, in and of itself, an act of obstruction?
MCQUADE: Yes. So with regard to the first question, the element of surprise, I don`t think so. You know, it`s very extraordinary for any witness to get the questions in advance. Usually the element of surprise exists right then and there. But the fact that Trump`s legal team already had these questions, the fact that now the public also knows them, I don`t know that that compromises the ability to ask these questions. So I don`t think so.
And then the second question is whether the release of these questions to the public could amount to obstruction of justice in and of itself. That`s really fascinating because it suggests perhaps a motive to undermine the investigation, right? If these questions were out there in the public, perhaps that means, oh, all bets are off. We can`t go forward with the interview now. It`s all been compromised. I guess we`ll have to start over.
I don`t know that that`s the case. But if that is the effort and that`s the attempt, I think that could be some evidence of obstruction of justice. So I wonder whether it was done in an effort to help President Trump, or by someone who is disgruntled and has left the team and is trying to send some unsettled message in another direction.
WILLIAMS: All right, Jeremy Bash, all the same questions. Pick up where you wish what stands out to chiefly.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, just look over there, Brian.
BASH: On this pane of the screen, the one word you see over and over again is "you." "What did you do? What did you think? What was your intent? What was your purpose?" All of these questions pertain to the President`s conduct, and that`s why I presume they were so deeply disturbing to the President`s legal team because it wasn`t about things the President might or might not have observed.
He`s no mere witness in this matter. He is the subject of every single one of the 49 questions and their subparts, and this is sort of the softball version, Brian. It doesn`t say we have here a document we`d like to show you. We have here an e-mail. We have here phone logs. We have here the testimony of other witnesses.
This is kind of the opening gambit, and all of the subparts will be the evidence that Bob Mueller has amassed over the past year. And so 49 questions with multiple subparts. We`re talking about at least eight to ten hours of questioning. This is a very difficult set of questions for the President to answer.
WILLIAMS: Someone said tonight these are not the kinds of questions you ask anything less than a target. Jeremy, not the questions you ask a witness or even a subject. I guess time will tell.
BASH: Yes. It`s very difficult to know. You know, in the Jim Comey book, as he was describing the end game with the Hillary Clinton investigation who he, by the way, described as a subject in that investigation, not a target, he said "We couldn`t complete the investigation at all without interviewing the subject because we needed to know the subject`s intent." And that`s the way the FBI thinks about things.
There`s no way for them to button up this investigation of the President`s own conduct without asking two big things. With regards to the conspiracy with Russia, what did you know, and what did you do, meaning what were your actions? What were you knowledgeable about? And with regards to the firing of Jim Comey and other efforts to obstruct the investigation, what were your intentions, what did you know? Without understanding that from the President himself, this investigation is incomplete.
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, we`re aware that you come on the broadcast as a friend of the broadcast, and sometimes in your job you know how you have to do due diligence. You know that there`s going to be no or a disappointing answer. I`m going to do the same with you right now because you don`t ask, you don`t get. Were these released by a friend or foe of the President?
SCHMIDT: I`m not going to wade into that territory. I`m going to decline to comment. The favorite thing I get to hear from people when I ask them questions.
You know, the one thing I will say about these questions that did strike us was how many of them were about obstruction. This is an investigation that started in the summer of 2016, looking at Russia`s efforts to influence the election and ties between the President`s campaign and Russia. And here we are almost two years later, 15 months into the President`s time in office, and Mueller wants to talk to the President about many, many things he has done in office.
More than half if not two-thirds of these questions are about that, including a question about an interaction the President had with his White House counsel as recently as January. So the ongoing questions of obstruction are things that have run all the way into this year.
WILLIAMS: And, Matt, isn`t one of the sub themes we learn in looking through here, we`ve been told by allies of the President, take him seriously, not literally. More often than not, what they`re talking about is his Twitter account. What we`ve learned looking through these questions is tweets matter. Tweets are construed as statements by the President.
APUZZO: That`s right. Tweets are construed as statements by the President, and a lot of these questions are basically Bob Mueller saying, "Hey, square this for me. You said that Jim Comey was fired because he violated the Justice Department rules and spoke publicly about Hillary Clinton. But then the next day you went on NBC, and you told Lester Holt that you were thinking about Russia. What was that about?" So there`s a lot of that going on where the President`s own remarks are coming back, and he`s facing scrutiny.
And then just to add one thing to the question you asked Mike because I do think there is a bit of a parlor guessing game going on in a story that it came out today. You know, it does say that this did not come from the Trump legal team. So I do think that`s important, and I do think it was smart by Mike and the editors to include that in the story because I do think the focus here is on the questions and the volume of what`s being asked.
WILLIAMS: You are correct, and your modest host was just trying to dig around in the garden a little bit. Let me ask you, Matt, about Jeff Sessions. I`ve saved this trunch of Sessions references for you. What did you learn going through the material that pertains to him especially?
APUZZO: You know, he asked a lot of questions about, you know, why were you so mad that Jeff Sessions recused himself? As you know, the President has talked repeatedly about how disappointed he was that his attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation. He really berated Jeff Sessions in the Oval Office. At one point he said, "I need somebody to protect me."
And the questions really came down to the theme of, "Mr. President, how do you view federal law enforcement? Are they independent investigators who are there to get to the facts, or do you see them as people who work for you and should make their priority to defend you and protect you?" That was really the thematic point that a lot of these questions were getting at.
"Why did you say that? You know, did you raise other Attorney Generals, you know, in conversations? What did you do when you learned that Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself?" And it really just goes back to this theme that people in the Justice Department and retired from the Justice Department keep bringing up, which is the President keeps kind of reaching into DOJ in ways that previous presidents just never have when it comes to ongoing criminal investigations, much less criminal investigations that directly touch on the President`s own conduct.
WILLIAMS: Barbara, you`re the former Fed here. Can you put into words exactly how antithetical that would be as a concept to one Robert Mueller to have a sitting president, who has gone after attacked, and diminished these prongs of the Federal government, including, but not limited to, the Department of Justice, the Intelligence Community, and the FBI?
MCQUADE: Yes. I`m sure Robert Mueller shares the view that most of us who have worked at the Justice Department that the Justice Department, the FBI, and law enforcement needs to be independent from the White House so that investigations can be done fairly and there can also be the perception that they`re being done free from partisan politics. Now, that being said, I don`t think that Robert Mueller would do what he is accusing President Trump of doing and using personal disdain for that theme to in any way influence his investigation. I am sure that he continues to be objective and to work independently because that`s what he`s all about.
WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy, as you go through these questions, we`re always told that adage, a good lawyer never asks a question the lawyer doesn`t already know the answer to. You think that by design and structure, it`s OK to admit on this list there are things Mueller may not know, which is precisely why he`s asking?
BASH: Absolutely. I think there`s a factual basis, a factual predicate to ask each of these questions. All of these questions are in bounds. There are no exogenous or far flung questions about topics that, you know, may touch on the presidency. No, this is right at the hot, molten core of what Bob Mueller was charged with investigating, which is was there any communication, conspiracy, effort to violate the campaign finance laws between the Trump campaign and representatives of the Russian government? And also what was the President doing when he tried to stop the investigation, fired Jim Comey, and otherwise obstruct the federal investigation to that matter?
So the basis for each of these questions is very sound, and I think it was smart of the Mueller team to frame these questions in this way because it showed that they`re reasonable, they`re fair, they`re right down the fairway. These aren`t gotcha questions and they`re fairly straightforward although they are very difficult for the President to answer without getting himself into a lot of hot water.
WILLIAMS: Michael, I`m not going to ask you again about whatever motive may have led to this piece of work tonight. But can you talk about how unusual it is to cover a president where a part of the mindset among those of us who are consumers of your work, we have to consider that this was a friendly leak by a friend of the President, someone looking out for his best interests to hammer home, "Mr. President, these are just the topic sentences. These are just the categories they want to talk to you about. Try this on for size and imagine taking on this burden if you thought for a second this was going to be a morning session or an afternoon session between you and Mueller."
SCHMIDT: You know, I think the President probably understood the severity of this after his lawyers came back and told him about it. I have no indication that they kept this from him. And then indications are that he probably knew about what was going on here.
But I think you hit on a larger question that the President`s facing, is that he has to make a decision, is he going to sit with Mueller or not? I still don`t think the lawyers around him, even though Dowd is gone, think that this is the greatest idea. The lawyers know the President is someone who at best exaggerates and at worst, you know, tells straight-out falsehoods.
And I think they`re concerned about putting him in a room with Mueller and what could come out of that. But at the end of the day, Mueller could then say, "OK, I`m going to subpoena you," and this could be something that goes to court. And then the President`s going to have a political issue on his hands where he`s going to have to explain why he`s not answering these questions to Mueller. And is this something he has to hide? Why is it he`s not doing that? And he will have to make a call about that.
Now, the question is, is this something he makes a decision about now, or does he wait until we get closer to the midterm elections? There`s a lot of different issues at play here. Remember, he has brought in Rudy Giuliani to try and negotiate the interview here. They realize they have to do the interview to bring an end to this, and they think, look, they are convinced the President has done nothing wrong here, and all he has to do is take care of the interview issue.
WILLIAMS: Matt Apuzzo, what`s the significance -- I`m looking at the -- continue to look through these questions as we`ve been scrolling them. "Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you in reference past attorneys general?"
APUZZO: Yes. And you can actually trace the origins of that one back to Mike`s interview with the President at Mar-a-Lago in which the President talks about how he really respected the fact that past attorneys general seemed to really be looking out for the President. You know, we know in other conversations that he singled out Bobby Kennedy and he`s obviously close ties with his brother, President Kennedy. And he singled out Eric Holder, who he said really went out of his way to protect Barack Obama. And obviously no love lost there, but President Trump said, you know, I really respect that.
So, again, this comes back to that theme we talked about earlier, Brian, where Trump is really trying to get at, "What do you think law enforcement is all about, Mr. President? Are they there to get to the bottom of things, or are they there to protect you?"
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, the question I asked Barbara, I`d love to hear your answer as well. Does this do any material harm to the Mueller effort? Does it switch it up? Do you think Mueller and his co-counsel will be angry to see this development in "The New York Times?" Does it hurt their momentum?
BASH: They`ll probably be a little bit miffed about it because they`ve kept a tight lid on everything. But does it fundamentally weaken their ability to question the President with vigor? No, I don`t think it does.
These are basically topic sentences as we`ve discussed. They`re essentially softballs. They are the general headings.
The real questions, the real follow-ups, the factual predicates, documents, witness testimonies, phone logs are yet to come. Those are the things the President won`t see coming.
WILLIAMS: And we should probably restate the obvious. In all of the analysis we have seen and read tonight, no one is guessing that this came out of the Mueller shop because in plain English, the question is why would they start now? Why would they leak this?
Well, none of us would object if they moved the Pulitzer judging to a weekly basis. It would certainly continue to enrich our first two journalists who joined us tonight. Michael Schmidt, Matt Apuzzo, gentlemen, can`t thank you enough as we also thank Barbara McQuade, Jeremy Bash. What a conversation on this breaking story out of "The New York Times" tonight. Much oblige.
Coming up for us after our first break, this blockbuster reporting today from NBC News on the President`s chief of staff. It has already prompted an outburst from the President tonight. We`re back with that discussion right after this.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, we mentioned this earlier. We are also following this new bombshell report tonight on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. This comes to us from our own colleagues here at NBC News.
Carol Lee, Courtney Kube, Kristen Welker and Stephanie Ruhle. They report John Kelly has "eroded morale in the West Wing in recent months with comments to aides that include insulting the president`s intelligence and casting himself as the savior of the country according to, get this, eight current and former White House officials, and that he has referred to Trump as an idiot multiple times to underscore his point, according to four officials, who say they`ve witnessed the comments".
Our colleagues also report on other comments attributed to Mr. Kelly, the chief of staff, that he "told aides multiple times that women are more emotional than men, including at least once in front of the president, four current and former officials said". And during the fallout over domestic abuse allegations against that former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, Kelly quote "wondered aloud how much more Porter would have to endure before his honor could be restored, according to three officials who were present for the comments. He also questioned why Porter`s ex-wives wouldn`t just move on, the officials said."
Tonight, Kelly issued this response to this NBC News report, and we quote, "I spend more time with the president than anyone else and we have an incredibly candid and strong relationship. He always knows where I stand, and he and I both know this story is total BS. I am committed to the president, his agenda, and our country. This is another pathetic attempt to smear people close to President Trump and distract from the administration`s many successes."
Well, let`s talk about the whole lump of it tonight. Ashley Parker is with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House reporter for "The Washington Post." Also an MSNBC political analyst. And Jill Colvin is back with us, White House reporter for the Associated Press.
Ashley, it is impossible to have the discussion we planned to have absent our lead story tonight from your pals over at "The New York Times" because this just adds to the undercurrent of stress and the fact that people are walking around the West Wing morose at what`s going on, I imagine.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It certainly does. Our understanding was basically as soon as the NBC story broke, the West Wing in the White House started scrambling to figure out how to handle it.
General Kelly privately was sort of indignant and defiant. You see that in the statement he put out. And our understanding is that General Kelly and President Trump met in the Oval Office very shortly after that story posted. They were both very upset, very frustrated. They said -- they claim it`s not true. They`ve been getting along well, and they counseled sort of a very aggressive strategy of pushback, which is what you`re seeing now both in their public statements and sort of what we`re hearing privately from West Wing aides who are pushing the administration line.
WILLIAMS: Well, here`s what -- to our audience, here`s what Ashley is talking about. I`m going to read two tweets tonight from the president. When I`m done, we`ll talk about what`s not in either of these.
Number one. "The fake news is going crazy making up false stories and using only unnamed sources, who don`t exist. They are totally unhinged, and the great success of this administration is making them do and say things that even they can`t believe they are saying. Truly bad people."
Tweet two. "The White House is running very smoothly despite phony Witch Hunts, et cetera." Again, the capitalizing remains a mystery. "There is great capital "e" Energy and unending capital "s" Stamina, both necessary to get things done. We are accomplishing the unthinkable and setting positive records while doing so. Fake news is going bonkers."
Jill, the only problem there is the lack of a defense or props or a good word for his chief of staff, General Kelly.
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, that is indeed missing there. Look, we know it`s been months now that the president has been angry at John Kelly. One source told my colleague, Jon Lemire, today that the president is actually still angry about that Fox News interview that John Kelly did months and months and months ago, where he suggested that he was the one who helped the president evolve on immigration issues, sort of taking credit there for the president`s thinking.
We also know that -- look, this is a president who constantly goes to friends, goes to confidants outside the White House and throws ideas around. One, that he has thrown around a little bit over the last couple of days is the idea of making John Kelly his new V.A. secretary. That`s something we`re told Kelly is not at all interested in, but it does show that this is something that the president continues to be upset about and that he continues to think about.
WILLIAMS: And, Ashley, I have to say the V.A. job would seem to most people to be an appropriate setting for John Kelly. And at this point tonight, as we have this discussion, a convenient place for John Kelly.
PARKER: Well, I think the important emphasis is on convenient. This is something, as Jill said, by all accounts General Kelly has absolutely no interest in. He sort of said privately he cares and loves -- about and loves the nation`s veterans. But if he`s going to leave this administration, it will be when his time as chief of staff is up and he`ll do it then.
But I think the key point is the fact that the president is sort of floating this -- and, again, he floats a number of things that never happen and are sort of outside even the realm of plausibility. But again, the mere fact he`s mentioning this just sort of underscores that he is potentially eager for General Kelly no longer to be the official disciplinarian in that role of chief of staff, and there`s also a recognition in this White House that someone has to be able to leave and not be publicly humiliated.
And so sort of going to run another agency, an incredibly important agency, seems to solve that problem. You know, General Kelly could leave. He would not necessarily be fired by tweet or deeply embarrassed the way sort of all these cabinet officials before him have come. The only problem again is that the White House says it`s simply not true, and General Kelly has made clear that he has no interest in that position.
WILLIAMS: And, Jill, let me speak English, the kind of English I heard people speaking on cable this afternoon. They came right out and said, this was a hit job by the kids, meaning Ivanka and Jared. They`ve had it.
COLVIN: I mean, look, you can see with NBC talking to eight sources coming out here, going up against Kelly, there are people both inside and outside the administration who would prefer that Kelly not be there. That includes certain individuals outside the administration, people who may have formerly worked for the president who would potentially like to work for the president once again.
But I wanted to go back to Ashley`s point there as well. You know, I spoke to somebody close to Kelly a little while ago who was walking me through -- he said, you know, just -- if you Google Kelly`s name before he joined the Trump administration, you`d see this glowing record, someone who`d served the country, someone whose son had died and served us, somebody whose son now has just, I believe, left the military. And if you look at his name now, what`s it going to say? Called Trump an idiot, called the commander in chief an idiot. Just talking about how difficult it is for Kelly and people around him to sort of watch this transformation and what happens to so many people once they`re in Trump`s orbit.
WILLIAMS: Such an important thing as this becomes a kind of sordid story if that`s where we`re headed, that this is a gold star father who has worked for the United States all of his professional life.
Ashley Parker, Jill Colvin on a busier than average Monday, even in this administration, can`t thank you enough for staying up late with us. Really appreciate it.
And coming up for us, the porn star sues the president again, but we`ll look at the chances this case will survive. More on that when we come right back.
WILLIAMS: The adult film actress Stormy Daniels is escalating her ongoing legal battle against President Trump. Earlier today, Daniels filed a defamation suit against the president over a tweet in which he implied Daniels was lying about being threatened to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. President Trump wrote on Twitter earlier this month this, "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man, a total con job, playing the Fake News Media", again, capitals here, "for Fools, but they know it."
Here is the sketch of the man Daniels claims threatened her in a Las Vegas parking garage back in 2011. As you might imagine, it`s become a whole sub meme on the web. Earlier today, Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti, laid out part of his client`s case to our colleague, Nicolle Wallace.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Well, he effectively accused my client, Nicole, of coning the American people, lying to the American people about the incident, about the sketch, about the man that approached her at the car door and basically accused her of committing a crime in that she`s reporting some criminal activity and describing somebody that did it, and he`s claiming it never happened.
What`s really interesting about this is, if he didn`t know anything about Ms. Daniels, never had a relationship with her, never knew anything about the In Touch (ph) story, Michael Cohen and he never discussed it, he never knew anything about the agreement, never knew anything about the $130,000 payment, which is the nonsense that he`s trying to sell the American people, how would he know whether the guy was nonexistent or not?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We should note the White House has repeatedly denied President Trump ever had an affair with Stormy Daniels, and on that note, let`s bring in our panelists. Joining us tonight, A.B. Stoddard, happy to welcome her back to the broadcast, a veteran Washington journalist, columnist and associate editor at RealClearPolitics. Remaining with us is among our favorite former feds, Barbara McQuade.
So, Barbara, let me use that law degree you have and start on a legal basis. Is this a serious case, and my second question is, why file this in New York if the lawyer and client are mostly L.A.-based, if the president`s offensive tweet was issued in Washington, why has it been filed here?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. So first, you know, is this a real case? I think it is. You know, it`s a little bit ironic as well because it`s President Trump who is always decrying the defamation laws and wants to change them to make it easier for people to file defamation lawsuits. And so his wish has come true here in this case.
But, I think it is. He`s made a statement accusing her of lying publicly. Now, is that the sole motive here to vindicate Ms. Daniels` reputation? I don`t know. It may be that putting additional pressure on President Trump creates some leverage that might help them resolve the other case. It might help them with a global resolution to the two cases. Sometimes that happens when you increase the pressure. So that may be part of the motivation. But I think it seems like on its face a legitimate case.
Then your other question about why file in the southern district of New York? And I`m not sure. It`s based on diversity jurisdiction, which means Stormy Daniels lives in one state, the state of Texas, and she alleges that President Trump resides in the state of New York. You know, it seemed more likely that he resides in the District of Columbia, but I suppose he`s got enough ties to New York to make that a legitimate place.
But, it could have been filed in Washington, D.C. or probably anywhere where this tweet was seen, anywhere in the United States. And so why choose the southern district of New York? I`m not sure. Perhaps it is close proximity to media outlets and an opportunity to be there and be present and have the media cover the case. That may be one reason. They may want to be nearby where Michael Cohen is fighting this search warrant matter so that attorney Michael Avenatti can jump back and forth between the two matters in the same courthouse. So, I`m not sure, but it does seem like a strategic decision on their part.
WILLIAMS: A.B., as usual, Barbara is being very polite. This is a lawyer who is spending so much time at networks like this one, he could have his mail forwarded. But he seems to be winning what could be a very high- stakes, high-class kind of trolling war against a formidable president in the social media sphere.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Oh, absolutely. I think he and Stormy Daniels are definitely beating the president at his own game right now. But remember, so much of this has to do with Michael Cohen. I mean, the first case actually really in the end, that President Trump recently acknowledged, he said, oh, Michael Cohen represented me in that Stormy Daniels deal -- that crazy Stormy Daniels deal. That`s technically an in-kind contribution to a presidential candidate if Trump approved that payment, and you look at -- that`s a potential campaign finance violation.
Today, we learned Michael Cohen`s $228,000 of his legal fees were paid for by the Trump campaign. He was never part of the Trump campaign. Michael Cohen, as much as the president is trying to distance himself from his personal attorney, is very important to Trump. He`s very nervous about what the Stormy Daniels case and the other sort of raid on his -- on Michael Cohen`s offices and the other southern district of New York probe means for Trump. And Michael Avenatti has made dire predictions all along in addition to making a lot of television appearances and trolling him, some of which are coming true. He`s now predicted the president won`t fill out his first term. Of course, that Michael Cohen will flip on him. So anytime Michael Avenatti has a reason to get on television and make more predictions, I think it`s trouble for the president.
WILLIAMS: Do you believe that he`s changing minds? I hate that I`m going to ask this. Has the base for the president, the real base, baked in Stormy already is Avenatti, are minds on the move because of his actions or worse?
STODDARD: Well, I think that the base accepts that the president has dalliances with people like Stormy Daniels. But certainly, Michael Cohen has become sort of the eye of the hurricane right now. And that for independent voters and people who were skeptical about what -- you know, what Trump has done with his businesses and his business dealings, this whole discussion of Michael Cohen and Michael Avenatti talking about how he`s going to flip on the president and really be his undoing actually becomes far more perilous than just an affair with a porn star, of course.
WILLIAMS: Can`t thank you enough. A.B. Stoddard, Barbara McQuade, thank you both for coming back on our broadcast on this night of all nights.
Coming up, the word the president reserves for a special kind of derision, he used it again today. That and more when we continue.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s virtually dead. Obamacare is dying. It`s essentially dead. I also want people to know that Obamacare is dead.
Increases in Obamacare that are going through the roof, it`s out of control. By the way, just so you understand, it`s a dead program.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tends to be on the dark side, there is that special term that the president reserves to express a special kind of disdain. He seldom, if ever, mentions Obamacare without mentioning that it`s dead, at least dead to him. He played the death card, again, this morning with his tweet about this weekend`s White House correspondents dinner calling it "dead as we know it".
Our friends at Axios have taken a look at President Trump`s Twitter feed and found there`s a long list of things he had said were either dead or dying. Like DACA, which he blamed on the Democrats, also attorney client privilege, Ohio steel and coal, registered voters. Then there is tweets about the media were all in there, he has called CNN a, wait for it, dead network, the "New York Times" a dying newspaper, the Wall Street Journal a dying Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair Magazine, way down, big trouble, dead. He`s called "The View" a dead show. He said "Alec Baldwin`s dying mediocre career was saved by his terrible impersonation of me on SNL."
And to be fair, as Axios tried their darndest to be, the president has also used the word in a fact-based context like when he tweeted, "Fidel Castro is dead."
Another break for us, coming up, sometimes a tree is just a tree but at the White House today for a while, that was up for interpretation. We`ll explain when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, the case of the disappearing French sapling. Perhaps you saw the event, French President Macron had just arrived at the White House, the gift he brought with him was a tree, a baby oaktree from hallowed ground Belleau Wood in France. The scene of so much spilled blood and treasure by U.S. forces, upwards of 2,000 American soldiers died in just that one extended battle in World War I.
Using ceremonial shovels, both presidents, and let`s face it, neither man a veteran of manual labor, especially. Both presidents in "planted the tree". That was last week. Then some sharp-eyed members of the White House press corps, are there any other kind, noticed it missing, replaced by a slightly faded patch of lawn. The answer is clinical and not sinister. The tree is in quarantine, allowing it to be planted that day at all was just a courtesy extended to the French because any tree arriving from overseas could contain parasites that are not found here and are fatal to our stuff and such a thing could jeopardize any and all of the plantings on the beautiful 18 acres of White House ground.
The larger lesson, which may apply to all living things that the White House all is not always as it seems.
That`s our broadcast on a Monday night as we start off a new week. Thank you so 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