Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 1, 2018 Guest: Robert Costa, Joyce Vance, Matthew Nussbaum
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Brian has more on the possibility of Robert Mueller issuing a subpoena for President Trump in "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS," which starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight in "The Washington Post." Robert Mueller threatened to subpoena Donald Trump back in March to appear before a grand jury. Robert Costa broke this story. He`s standing by to talk with us.
Plus, Mueller`s boss, Rod Rosenstein, warns the GOP today the Department of Justice will not be extorted.
And the doctor who promised Trump would be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency tells NBC News the President dictated that letter. And he tells the story of how Trump`s guys came in and seized the President`s medical records. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.
Well, good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Not going to lie, we have a lot again tonight. Day 467 of the Trump administration, and tonight`s breaking news comes from "The Washington Post."
Robert costa, who`s standing by to join us in a bit, and his colleague, Carol Leonnig, report that Robert Mueller has raised the possibility of a presidential subpoena with Trump`s legal team. That gets your attention.
Costa and Leonnig write, "In a tense meeting in early March with the special counsel, President Trump`s lawyers insisted he had no obligation to talk with federal investigators probing Russia`s interference in the 2016 Presidential campaign. But special counsel Robert Mueller responded that he had another option if Trump declined. He could issue a subpoena for the President to appear before a grand jury, according to four people familiar with the encounter."
"Mueller`s warning, the first time he is known to have mentioned a possible subpoena to Trump`s legal team spurred a sharp retort from John Dowd, then the President`s lead lawyer. This isn`t some game, Dowd said, according to two people with knowledge of his comments. You are screwing with the work of the President of the United States."
"In the wake of the testy March 5th meeting, Mueller`s team agreed to provide the President`s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects that prosecutors wished to discuss with the President. With those details in hand, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions that the team believed the President would be asked, according to three of the four people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly."
"New York Times" broke the story of the existence of this list late last night. We covered it on this broadcast. This new reporting from "The Washington Post" adds more insight into how it was created.
"The Post" article also has more on the discussions, shall we call them, between Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Robert Mueller. "Last week, Giuliani met with Mueller to reopen negotiates over a presidential interview. Giuliani convened the ongoing -- conveyed, sorry, the ongoing resistance of Trump and his advisers to a sit-down but did not rule out the possibility. Still," the Post says here, "Trump remains strongly opposed to granting Mueller an interview, resistance fueled largely by the raids last month on the office and residences of his personal attorney, Michael Cohen." That is new.
So far Trump has publicly, at least, seemed willing to speak with Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of those events?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One hundred percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?
TRUMP: I`m looking forward to it actually.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?
TRUMP: Thank you. Sure. I would like to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Also tonight, the special counsel now says he needs more time with cooperating witness Michael Flynn, the former Trump National Security Adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the Feds. In a joint filing, Mueller`s team and Flynn`s defense attorneys, I`ll get it out, have asked a federal judge to give them another 60 days before they schedule Flynn`s sentencing. They`re basing that request on "the status of the special counsel`s investigation."
Now, importantly, earlier on this network, two experienced former prosecutors said this is an indication the investigation isn`t wrapping up anytime soon and that Flynn`s cooperation appears to have been vital.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s been fruitful, and they want more stuff, and they need more time.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is not good news for Donald Trump. What they are looking to do is bring a major indictment in which Flynn is going to be one of the star witnesses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, that as they say gets your attention. And let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Tuesday night. One of the two reporters who broke tonight`s big story, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of Washington Week on PBS in his spare time. Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter, and Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.
All right, Robert, you get to go first. Set the scene. March 5th. The principals, the dynamics, the backdrop and what ended up happening.
ROBERT COSTA, MODERATOR, PBS "WASHINGTON WEEK": What a scene. And Mr. Mueller, someone who is known to be so careful with his words, has a meeting with the President`s legal team and they`re having negotiations, tense negotiations about a potential Presidential interview. And as the President`s lawyers continue to balk at the suggestion and say they need to have more information, Mr. Mueller brings up the possibility of a subpoena. And that gets the President`s then lead lawyer, John Dowd, to snap back, "You`re messing around with the President of the United States." That led to the Mueller team to provide information to the President`s lawyers about the areas of interest of the probe, which then led Mr. Sekulow, the President`s current attorney, to compile a list of potential questions that the legal team views as things that Mueller could ask.
WILLIAMS: So this started -- this list started life as kind of the areas well known to Mueller and his team that they would obviously want to take the President to during an interview.
COSTA: It came -- the information from the Mueller team came from after that March 5th meeting. That meeting revealed to both sides that they weren`t going to agree on an interview, at least not yet. And you have Mueller and his prosecutors and his investigators trying to prod the President and his attorneys to agree to an interview, to not just have written responses to questions but to sit down and to explain the President`s intent on many of these decisions over the past year.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, you get two legal questions to start off. You get to tell our viewers whether it is possible whether we think in the confines of law in 2018 to successfully subpoena a President. And part two of the question, would Mueller have had to gone in there with at least the tacit approval of Rosenstein at DOJ?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It seems clear that DOJ believes that DOJ can subpoena a sitting President, and it`s extremely unlikely, Brian, that Mueller would have gone in and would have discussed the topic of a subpoena with the President`s legal team without Mueller`s -- without, rather, Rosenstein`s explicit approval for doing it. It`s the sort of significant step in a very significant case that prosecutors don`t really take without thorough consultation.
I remember an earlier attorney general who once told his U.S. attorneys that he didn`t want to hear about major steps in a case for the first time on the front page of "The New York Times," that he wanted them to be thoroughly vetted inside of the Justice Department. I don`t think that that policy has changed any.
WILLIAMS: Julia, where do we think Rudy and Mueller stand in their on again/off again talks about the confines of an actual interview?
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I`m glad you asked that question because what we`re looking at in the meeting that Robert is talking about in his great reporting is a meeting that happened March 5th. That was before the early April raids on Cohen`s apartment.
AINSLEY: That threw everything up in the air, Brian. We reported that after that the President did not want to sit down for an interview, and he brought in a new legal team. He got rid of John Dowd. He brought in Rudy Giuliani.
And what we understand now from our reporting just today is that this new legal team is still trying to sort of get a hold of all of the pieces. They`re reviewing documents. They can`t come in cold and expect to know everything that the last legal team took months to understand.
So there`s a new path here. There could be new negotiations. There could be new questions that have come up for Mueller over the last month or two. And now Giuliani will be reviewing those.
From what we understand, a lot of the concern has shifted away from exactly what Mueller wants to ask and into what might be coming out of these New York raids. If there`s new information that Cohen could have exposed to Mueller that could then be on his radar, which would be separate from the questions that we`ve seen in the last 24 hours.
WILLIAMS: And, Robert, let`s go a little bit further on Cohen and Trump. A lot of people were stunned to see the front page of "The National Enquirer," a hit piece on Cohen, knowing that the central decision in Cohen`s life here very shortly is going to be whether or not to switch teams, flip, and work for the Feds. They`re preemptively saying, in the words of people who seem to know about the derivation of this cover story, this is just a hint of what we could do to you. This is Bruno Tattaglia material here, Bob. And we knew from the President`s face when cameras came in the day of the raid, this had been like an atomic bomb going off in the West Wing.
COSTA: Love "The Godfather" references, Brian. You look at the transition. To build on Joyce`s comments, it`s so right. There`s been a transition between March, April, and now May.
Back in March, this is before the Cohen raids. The President`s talking with his attorney, Ty Cobb. The President is saying publicly he wants to do the interview with Mueller.
Ty Cobb is encouraging of the interview with Mueller. John Dowd is not. He then resigns amid those discussions. Then the Cohen raid comes, and the President moves away in April from being game, at least publicly, to doing the Mueller interview, to saying, wait, wait a minute because of all the things you just mentioned.
The Cohen raid raised a lot of red flags inside the White House. What does the federal government have in terms of materials? And that cone raid has pushed the President away from the interview, and that has really vexed the Mueller team because they need this interview at this moment.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, I had a surrogate for Donald Trump on cable television tonight say a legal battle wouldn`t be the worst thing because the American people would kind of know that it`s in the courts and proceeding at a molasses pace while the Trump presidency continued. My question to you is does it look to you now as of tonight that that is indeed where we`re headed, that maybe a subpoena, maybe that becomes a test case. Get it through the U.S. Court of Appeals. Get it before the Supreme Court perhaps before we`re all done.
VANCE: It could possibly play out in that kind of a long, you know, dreary legal proceeding. But one fact we should not lose sight of here is this is a tough choice for the President and his legal team. If they decide not to accept Mueller`s kind invitation for a voluntary interview and go the grand jury subpoena route, that means the President, under oath, in front of a grand jury, without -- well, he won`t have his legal counsel in there with him.
He can leave the grand jury room to ask questions, but he`s in there alone with two probably very skillful examiners, Robert Mueller and Andrew Weissmann, who both can create a rapport with the witness. If they agree to the voluntary interview, then the President is sitting with folks on Mueller`s team with his lawyers sitting alongside him. Although both courses are risky, given that one or the other is likely to occur, that voluntary interview may be the better choice and may mean that we won`t see a long, drawn out legal struggle here.
WILLIAMS: I think calling Mueller and Weissmann good interrogators is perhaps polite understatement.
Bob, I`m going to do a two-pronged attack, you and then Julia on this next question. And that is you`ve reported this week on these memoranda, articles of impeachment to be potentially rolled out against Rod Rosenstein by some conservative Republicans in the House. Tell us the background and at the end of that, I`m going to show folks what Rosenstein said about this on his own behalf today.
COSTA: I don`t want to spoil it, but he fought back against these House Freedom Caucus members who were coming right at him. It`s an inside baseball congressional issue in a sense, don`t have time to get into it all. But there`s a battle over documents, about whether the Department of Justice is providing Congress with enough documents related to the Russia probe and a few other federal investigations.
Mark Meadows, the Republican from North Carolina congressman, he`s very fed up with Rosenstein. And remember, Meadows matters because he`s a close ally of President Trump. They speak near daily some weeks. And to have Meadows leading this crusade in the House against Rosenstein over documents, but really the bigger cloud over this whole discussion is the Mueller probe because Rosenstein oversees that.
WILLIAMS: So let`s set the scene. I don`t want to steal our own thunder. We have a whole segment on Rosenstein later. But he appeared today at the Nuwseum in Washington, D.C.
He`s a Harvard educated lawyer, a lawyer who`s worked for three different presidents. He`s been U.S. attorney in one of the tougher postings in this country up in Baltimore, and he was talking about the attacks on him. He was asked about this possible case of impeachment. Here`s his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I can tell you there have been people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time, and I think they should understand by now, the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Julia, not a shrinking violet. Do you think, like a good police officer, he had backup prior to making that pronouncement, or does he have, as lawyers say, reason to believe that there are people with his back at DOJ down the road?
AINSLEY: Well, I mean I think, you know, he hit it on the head. He`s been threatened publicly and privately. I`ve spoken to people who are close to Rosenstein. Obviously we know the public threats. It`s come from the tweets of our President.
AINSLEY: But there have also been people privately. There are people that could send him, you know, mean e-mails, they could be threatening him, threatening his family. But he`s someone who has said, "Here I stand." It`s that Martin Luther quote that wherever the political chips will fall, here I stand.
But it`s sort of this interesting way he`s having it both ways right now because he is giving Congress a lot of documents that a lot of people would have expected a deputy attorney general to withhold, saying that these were private and shouldn`t be turned over to Congress, expecting them to fight those battles. But at the same time, he does something like agreeing to fire Jim Comey, something that the President would have wanted, you know, while at the same time giving more scope to Mueller, presumably allowing him to make that subpoena claim. So he seems to be someone who wants to hold on to his job and is trying to kind of play both sides. But what`s coming to a point and he`s drawing a line in the sand, saying, "I`ve given you everything to these conservatives in Congress, but you can`t just extort me. You can`t start drafting impeachment when I`ve been fully cooperative."
So I thought we saw a Rosenstein today with more of a backbone than we`ve seen in a long time. He`s actually responding to reporters` questions. As reporters who have been in those audiences, I wish he would have given that response a long time ago.
WILLIAMS: And that was the best explanation of what we witnessed today that I`ve heard all day. Our thanks tonight to Robert Costa fresh off his page one victory, Julia Ainsley, and Joyce Vance. Really appreciate it, guys, for coming on tonight.
Coming up, remember the doctor with the, shall we say, memorable hair who said Trump would be the healthiest individual ever, yes, him, ever elected to the presidency. The same doctor who said he gave Trump medication for hair loss. That doctor says Trump`s guys blew in the door and raided his office looking for the President`s medical records. That`s one story.
Then later, it`s the question the President apparently asks all visitors these days. How do they think the midterm elections will go? Get the drummers back on the job. There they are. Steve Kornacki at the big board with a reality check on 2018.
THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Tuesday night.
WILLIAMS: The President`s longtime doctor, his personal physician here in New York, Dr. Harold Bornstein, tells NBC News that in February 2017, Trump`s personal bodyguard and a Trump Organization lawyer showed up at his office just after 7:00 a.m., took all the President`s medical records. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, the doctor describes this incident as a raid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly were they looking for?
DR. HAROLD BORNSTEIN, DONALD TRUMP`S FORMER PERSONAL PHYSICIAN: Well, all the medical records, his pictures, anything they could find. They must have been here for 25 to 30 minutes. It created a lot of chaos. I feel raped. That`s how I feel. Raped, frightened, and sad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Bornstein believes he is the victim of a theft here and that the crime was committed in his office. He believes the records were raided because he publicly mentioned, as "The New York Times" reported in its headline at the time, that he prescribed Propecia to the President to promote hair growth. It did raise ethics questions at the time, and apparently really angered the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORNSTEIN: I couldn`t believe anybody was making a big deal about a drug that`s to grow his hair, which seemed to be so important. And it certainly is not a breach of medical trust to tell somebody they take Propecia to grow their hair. What`s the matter with that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: They even took pictures of Donald Trump off the wall in his office, took them with them. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders addressed the story of the doctor`s office raid in today`s White House Press Briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Keith Schiller, who was a White House employee at the time, go and take medical records from the President`s personal doctor last year?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As is standard operating procedure for a new President, the White House Medical Unit took possession of the President`s medical records.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was characterized as a raid. Is that your understanding of what happened? The doctor seemed to be pretty upset about it.
SANDERS: No, that is not my understanding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You may recall it was this Dr. Bornstein who publicly issued a letter December of 2015 in which he said candidate Trump`s recent lab results were "astonishingly excellent." The letter went on to draw a conclusion that was both nowhere close to the truth and impossible for Dr. Bornstein to assess. It was this portion that got the most attention. "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."
Now, over two years later, Dr. Bornstein told CNN tonight candidate Trump dictated that letter over the phone himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORNSTEIN: I will also tell you that that letter that showed up in the "Times" about his health, he wrote himself. You know that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BORNSTEIN: He wrote it himself. And me, from where I come from, the end of it was just black humor. It wasn`t meant to be a serious comment. I guess people don`t have that sense of humor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
BORNSTEIN: But I get that sense of humor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And make no mistake, this is a man`s life work and practice. This is a drama, not the comedy it appears to be to so many people. For more we`re joined tonight by Matthew Nussbaum, White House Reporter for Politico, and Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press and an MSNBC Political Analyst.
Man, Matt, I just need to hear you out on this. What strikes you about this story and the White House saying that, you know, standard operating procedure? It can`t be to enter an office like this and seize records.
MATTHEW NUSSBAUM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. We`re almost beyond parity here, and the saga of Donald Trump`s run and his presidency have brought a lot of interesting and sort of eccentric characters into American life. But Dr. Bornstein does seem to sort of stand in his own category in all of this. Of course it is not standard operating procedure to send a lawyer and bodyguard from your private organization to your personal physician`s office shortly after 7:00 a.m., announced -- unannounced, excuse me, to seize records and take pictures off the wall. The idea that that`s somehow standard is beyond the pale.
If there are any lessons to be drawn from this beyond just the bizarreness of it all, I think it is sort of the worthlessness of Donald Trump`s loyalty. Here`s a guy who has been his doctor for 35 years or so, and then he says something to the "Times" about hair growth medicine, and Trump abandons him, says, you`re out as Bornstein said later in that interview, has his office raided, takes the records, all of that. I think if Michael Cohen is watching this, he should be aware that Donald Trump, while he demands extreme loyalty from everyone around him, is not showing that in return.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, a couple points here. A source with intimate knowledge of the President tells me he has extolled the virtues of Propecia to friends for years. So it`s not the taking of the medication he objects to apparently.
Keith Schiller went into that office with the title head of Oval Office operations, something we were unfamiliar with, we watchers of the presidency. He`s retired Navy, retired NYPD, and the body man, the bodyguard for Donald Trump, who made the move to Washington, has since retired in Florida. Talk about the optics of any and all of this.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": That`s right. Well, on one hand, it is Dr. Bornstein is sort of the return of a beloved supporting character from an early season of the Trump --
LEMIRE: -- but there is a little bit more to that. First of all, this is yet another claim of -- this is another doctor who has made claims about the President`s health that appear to be pretty discredited. It is outrageous to suggest that he is, as you indicated, that Donald Trump is the healthiest person, unequivocally, the healthiest person ever to hold the office. This doctor would have no way of making that judgment.
Of course a lot of questions have been raised about Dr. Ronny Jackson for also making similarly inflated claims, the belief is, about this President`s health from the White House podium a few months ago. But there`s also more than that. This is a sign again of sort of heavy-handed tactics used by Trump and his crew.
There`s some dispute about who these records belong to. The suggestion is that usually the sense is they belong to the physician but a patient can request copies. That`s normally the procedure in most states.
LEMIRE: Here, though, they use this sort of early hour raid, you know, with a threatening -- you know, two hulking men apparently and a lawyer sort of remind people of the same tactics the President has used, Michael Cohen used perhaps on the President`s behalf with other cases, threats made to reporters, threats made to women, threats made to Stormy Daniels. And that`s sort of evoking this again. This idea that this is a President who perhaps uses unsavory tactics to get what he wants.
WILLIAMS: Yes. I`m also told that the doctor wasn`t yet in that day. It was a receptionist and apparently a lone patient there in the office.
And, Matt, I have heard already speculation tonight. It`s the superlatives that Ronny Jackson used in that now famous briefing from the White House press room that have people thinking back and asking, "Well, go ahead and ask the question. I don`t think we have an answer." Could it be that the President having gotten to his family doctor dictated the statement released to the public about the health of candidate Trump, could it be that the President was able to get to a Walter Reed physician and kind of dictate how to talk about my health in public?
NUSSBAUM: It certainly raises that question. I mean we know that Donald Trump likes to use that kind of language. Everything has to be the most extreme, the most grandiose.
I think a few weeks ago the idea that Dr. Ronny Jackson would have, you know, kowtowed to that would have been questioned. But obviously what we`ve learned in recent weeks about some of these questions about Dr. Jackson I think certainly make that a legitimate query. Of course I think anyone who read that letter from Dr. Bornstein is not at all surprised that the President had some hand in, you know, calling himself the healthiest of all time. That is a very Trumpian statement.
WILLIAMS: And that picture we`re showing right now, that`s no longer in the doctor`s office. They took that too. They took it off the wall.
Jonathan, to go back to the West Wing for just a moment, it was just yesterday the Kelly story was broken by NBC News. The quotes attributed to him about the President, and a lot of us thought in the moment, you know, to quote a great film, "Paulie won`t be seeing him no more." We didn`t think John Kelly would last long. Do you have any updated reporting on the relationship between these two men?
LEMIRE: Some. We, the "A.P." have matched some of the NBC reporting in terms of what some of the derogatory terms that Chief of Staff Kelly has used to describe President Trump to others in the West Wing. We know that the President has floated the idea to people around him perhaps of moving Kelly to the Veterans Affairs Department. Now the position is now vacated because Dr. Ronny Jackson won`t be getting that that post.
LEMIRE: His nomination is withdrawn. People close to Kelly have said he won`t accept that, Sarah Sanders from the podium today said also this is a non-starter.
Let`s be clear, the President often floats job ideas to people without following through. Kelly still has a position in the White House tonight. People around him have suggested that there is still a relationship there. That it`s perhaps not irrevocably broken. There`s no question. The President`s frustration with Kelly have grown considerably in recent weeks and months from his handling of the Rob Porter affair to Kelly suggestion on Fox News, that Trump was going to flip-flop on the way, which is his signature campaign, issue something that still bothers the President nearly four months after Kelly said it.
There`s certain -- this chief of staff`s influence in the West Wing has diminished considerably. The reporting last day or two probably will only shrink it further. As one person in the West Wing has told me in the last 24 hours, you know, Kelly`s days are numbered. It`s not a question of if, it`s a question of when.
WILLIAMS: Two bylines for our viewers to look for, two guys who do a great job of covering this White House, Matthew Nussbaum and Jonathan Lemire, thanks.
Coming up, is Donald Trump right to be as optimistic as he is about GOP chances come November? Steve Kornacki at the big board with the numbers when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We got to win the House, and you know what, we`re going to win anyway. But we`re going to win the House. We`re going to win the House.
Now, historically when you win the presidency, the person that wins, the party that wins does poorly in what they call the midterms. We got to go out, and we got to fight like hell, and we`ve got to win the House, and we`ve got to win the Senate. And I think we`re going to do great in the Senate, and I think we`re going to do great in the House because the economy is so good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about expectations management here. At that campaign-style rally over the weekend in Michigan, President Trump expressed confidence about the outcome of the midterms as you heard him there, favoring the GOP despite White House controversies and several special election losses and disappointments.
The New York Times reports the President`s, quote, "privately rejecting the growing consensus among the Republican leaders that they may lose the House and possibly the Senate in November, leaving party officials and the President`s advisers nervous that he does not grasp the gravity of the threat they face in the midterm elections. Congressional and party leaders and even some Trump aides are concerned that the President`s boundless self-assurance about politics will cause him to ignore or undermine their midterm strategy."
We thought the best way to cover this was with our best guy at his best board. So Steve Kornacki`s at the big board tonight with a look at what that will tell us about what`s coming up. Hey, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. Yes, the Republicans getting nervous. They`re nervous about their prospects. They`re nervous about, they say the President maybe doesn`t see what they`re seeing. We want to take you through what we think is sort of at the heart of this disconnect.
So, first of all Republicans like Paul Ryan, like Mitch McConnell, the establishment, what is it exactly that they`re seeing right now when they look at the midterms? One thing they`re looking at is, they`re looking at a low approval rating for Donald Trump. We know this. We know he`s at 42 percent. He`s been around there for a while. That is the hit zone historically for a president in a midterm to lose a lot of seats.
Look, Trump 42. That mid-40s, high 30s, that has translated into mega losses in the past. Again, remember the number this year, 23. That`s all Republicans can afford to lose. Certainly historically he`s already in the hit zone.
What else do Republicans see? You mentioned it there, the special election results. Look at this, five times now since Trump has become president. We`ve had special elections for the House, for Congress here, and Democrats have shaved at least 15 points off the Trump margin in these districts. They haven`t always won them, but they`ve gotten a lot closer than these districts were in `16. That kind of movement if you see it nationally, boy that is a sign of away, that`s something else that Republicans are seeing also.
Also just that question of the generic belt. You ask folks in the poll, which party would you rather see? Which party you want to vote for in the race for Congress? This vote, Democrats are up seven right now on average. That`s right where Democrats would want to be.
So those are the sorts of things that Republican leaders are seeing. We said what`s at the heart of this disconnect? What is Trump seeing that is different than all of this maybe? I think it might be something along these lines.
All of these headlines right here are from the stretch run of the 2016 presidential campaign. Think about this for a minute. He was behind Hillary Clinton when it came to money. He was doing terribly in the polls, the most unpopular candidate. Remember this? His poll numbers collapsing, remember that? Supposedly his own party, conservatives were turning against him. His campaign was in disarray. He didn`t have the infrastructure. He didn`t have the leadership. He didn`t have the management.
The ground game, he was being told all of these things. He was being told a month before Election Day to drop out of the race by his own party. So I think Donald Trump still sees that, and he sees this. He sees the fact that he`s President, that he won after all of that, that he seemed to break all of the established rules of American politics and still win an election. That is a hard thing for Republicans to break through now.
Some of the same Republicans who came to him in that 2016 campaign and said, "You can`t win. You should drop out. Let`s get Pence in there." Those are the same Republicans trying to get through to him now and communicate all of those things I did at the start of this segment, and this is probably prominently in his mind when he hears that, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And that, that segment should be required viewing at RNC headquarters and DNC headquarters. Steve, can`t thank you enough. A reminder, we`ve got primaries coming up a week from tonight. So, Steve will be back with live coverage at that very same big board.
For now, Steve`s going to stay with us. We`re going to fit a break in. Our discussion coming back on the other side.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. Let`s pick up on our last conversation. New reports today, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are teaming up to raise money for House Republicans ahead of the midterm elections. They`ve scheduled eight events thus far. The President doesn`t have any on his schedule, but that of course will change.
The New York Times points out the growing challenge here, writing, quote, "the disconnect between the president, a political novice, whose confidence in his instincts was grandly rewarded in 2016," we`re talking to you, Steve Kornacki, "and more traditional party leaders demonstrates the depth of the Republicans` challenges in his what is likely to be a punishing campaign year."
Well, here to talk about it, Charlie Sykes, longtime Conservative Radio Host, who is these days Contributing Editor and podcast host for the Weekly Standard. Also happens to be author of the book "How the Right Lost Its Mind". He is an author and an MSNBC Contributor to boot. Also back with us here in the studio in New York, our friend Steve Kornacki.
So, Charlie, I`m going to put a graphic up on the screen, proving the long- held theory on the part of so many in Washington that the secret weapon for the Republican Party is named Nancy Pelosi. She represents a Congressional district in San Francisco. This is a quote from her this week. "We will win. I will run for speaker."
If that quote is turned into a hand bill and to, sent via direct mail, to every Republican registered voter in this country, you`d be amazed how much money they will raise. I`m not sure the Democrats have, on top of all the good she does in her party as leader, I`m not sure the Democrats have ever come to grips with the toxicity that name conjures in the rest of the country. And it`s Tom Perez`s mistake to make, I guess.
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, you`re absolutely right. I mean, this is what every Republican wants to run against. They want to have something to fix that, you know, run against Hillary Clinton, run against Nancy Pelosi. So that helps them frame their message. You know, because one of the big questions of course in this campaign is going to be, you know, will voters be voting for or against, you know, the Republican governor, the Republican senator, or is this all going to be a referendum on Donald Trump? Well, a lot of Republicans would rather have it be a referendum on Nancy Pelosi.
WILLIAMS: Of the two parties, Charlie, when the call goes out, we need everybody back at the clubhouse. We need all hands, would you say the Republican Party is better at that, letting bygones be bygones? Have they become really able to overlook a lot more than the Democrats?
SYKES: Yes. Well, obviously they have. But on the other hand, they have a real significant problem this year because they have been, particularly in the congressional polls that I`ve heard about, are hemorrhaging support among suburban women. And there`s real concern about this. So here`s the big wild card.
If Donald Trump comes into their state and campaigns with them, does that help them or hurt them? Does that get the band back together, or does that become a big distraction? And yesterday, I actually interviewed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker about this, about, you know, are you likely to campaign with Donald Trump? And he sort of reluctantly said, "Well, if he`s here for one of the other candidates, I`d be happy to be with him."
But, you know, for Walker, he`s got to figure out, you know, is the election, would it be about him, or is it going to be about Trump, and what does Trump`s presidency inject into this campaign? I mean, Donald Trump may be Teflon, but all these are Republicans are Velcro.
You know, Donald Trump can get away with stuff that they can`t get away with. And so this injects a huge uncertainty for a lot of these Republicans in a midterm election because Donald Trump`s not on the ballot. They`re the ones on the ballot.
WILLIAMS: Steve Kornacki, among the qualities your co-workers love about you, you never do opinions. You do analysis of the numbers, never opinions. So having laid that out as a predicate, looking at the numbers, can a guy like you say to the Democrats, here`s some sloganeering that the numbers are telling us is a gulf you could fill. Here, Republican Party, is some sloganeering you might try based on what I`m seeing state to state.
KORNACKI: I think from the Republican standpoint, the challenge is what Charlie just said. It`s not a normal election in terms of like a presidential election where Trump could run against Hillary Clinton. He`s got a foil and ultimately people have to make a choice. One of the things that`s kind of unfair to the governing party in midterm elections is voters seem to like the idea of a check, and the opposition party becomes a check.
And it`s like, well, we`re still going to have this person as president but all things being equal. I`d like to have some adult supervision. That seems to be a winning message in the past. When you look at the few times in history when the governing party has been able to defy that, here`s an example. Go back to 1998, 20 years ago. Bill Clinton and the Democrats gained seats in a midterm election.
How did they do that? They got Republicans to push impeachment. And impeachment, it was unpopular sort of broadly, the idea of impeaching Bill Clinton in `98, but it really fired up the Democratic base. The Democratic base suddenly said, we need to turn out in this election because we`ve got to stop the Republicans from overturning an election. That`s how they viewed impeachment. When I look at some of the rhetoric from republicans right now, they are trying to bait democrats into impeachment rhetoric.
They`re looking at their base. They`re looking at the challenge Charlie just said of trying to get Republicans to turn out. They would love to get Democrats talking about -- they would love to get some of the more liberal candidates out there to start saying it. The Democratic base to get excited, to start demanding it for more moderate members and then to be able to tell Republicans, look, you may not be crazy about the way things are going but if these guys get power, they`re going to overturn the election.
It is tough Democrats from the leadership standpoint have been very resistant to that but that`s what republicans would like them to do.
WILLIAMS: And Trump already slip that, mentioned in his last speech. Charlie, I`m going to give you the last word. We have seconds left. Is there a bumper sticker that you could distribute to all the Republican campaigns about to be run? Anything synopsis-able that you would like to see them run on?
SYKES: Well, it would be something along the lines of the economy stupid. But what Steve just said is absolutely right. This is one -- bell is the one red flag to say, look, if you don`t turn out, they`re going to take away your president. These guys are going to come back, and it`s going to be Nancy Pelosi and impeachment. That`s what they`re going to say.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you. Charlie Sykes, Steve Kornacki, our broadcast continues right after this break.
WILLIAMS: In normal times, most Americans, not even a fraction of Americans, could name the deputy attorney general. These days, the opposite is pretty much true, where Rod Rosenstein is concerned.
In this era of Trump, he`s well-known thrust into the spotlight when his boss, the attorney general, pulled himself out of all things Russia related and that`s a lot these days. Now, some Republicans, as we mentioned, in Congress, are trolling Rosenstein with the idea of possible impeaching him.
Today, Rosenstein slammed those threats, saying the Justice Department is, quote, not going to be exhorted. And last month, President wrote on twitter, "Mueller is most conflicted of all, except Rosenstein, who signed FISA and Comey letter. No collusion, so they go crazy."
But today at an event at the Newseum in Washington as we said, in celebration of Law Day, Rosenstein appeared perfectly at ease with his current situation, and the questioning of Rosenstein got under way with a critical question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD COLLINS, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON SCHOOL OF LAW FIRST AMENDMENT SCHOLAR: I`d like to begin with a question that`s on everybody`s mind.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Uh-oh.
COLLINS: And I would appreciate a clear and direct answer, to set the record straight. How do you pronounce your last name? Is it Rosenstein or Rosenstein?
ROSENSTEIN: So there`s no right answer to that question. My family, my father pronounces it stein, that`s so I pronounce it. But I actually have relatives that pronounce it stein, so I`ll answer either one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Glad we got that out of the way. Rosenstein we`ll go with also told a story about a question his daughter asked when his family found out he was becoming deputy attorney general.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSENSTEIN: My younger daughter was 14 at the time when she heard I was going to become deputy. She asked me a very important question. She said, dad, does this mean you`ll get your picture in the paper? And I said, no. So, it was quite unexpected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That whole staying out of the papers thing is going real well. We compiled just a rough sample of the headlines involving Rod Rosenstein from just today`s news coverage. So, as they say, so much for that.
Another break for us, and coming up, why some striking pictures from a decade ago are back in the news right now tonight.
WILLIAMS: In our final moments, the last thing before we go tonight, if it`s been a few years since you`ve seen it, if you`ve never seen it before, it is a stunning piece of video. From December of 2008 in Iraq, here it is, as it was covered on television a decade ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: A man named Muntadhar al-Zaidi got up at a press conference and said in Arabic, "This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog. This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq." And then he threw both of his size ten shoes at the president of the united states, who, in the moment, proved himself to be remarkably agile in avoiding them, as was the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki as a deflector.
We later learned the shoe thrower was an Iraqi journalist. He assumed he`d be shot and killed on site for what he did. Instead, he was tackled by security forces, sent to prison for nine months, then the darndest thing happened. He became something of a folk hero.
His image was on t-shirts and posters, by the time of his release from prison, when he reportedly received a new home and a car. Fast forward to present day, we learned today he`s running for a seat in the Iraqi parliament, roughly equivalent to our House of Representatives.
At that news conference a decade ago, President Bush said there was still more work to be done in Iraq. Well, he was right about that. And now, his one-time attacker apparently wants to be part of that effort.
That is our broadcast for this Tuesday night, thank you so much for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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