Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 3, 2018
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, Rudy Giuliani blows up the Trump legal strategy where hush money paid to a porn star is concerned. Then the President doubles down tonight how it changes the investigation.
Also tonight, a White House press secretary with nothing left to say amid new strategy each day on the fly inside a White House under investigation and in the dark as to what the boss will do next. And what the attorney for Stormy Daniels has to stay tonight about that payment from Michael Cohen.
"The 11th Hour" begins now.
Well, good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 469 of the Trump administration, and there are new indications that efforts by President Trump`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to reshape the narrative about his dealings with Stormy Daniels may be putting the President in further legal jeopardy. We`re learning this from a piece out tonight in "The Washington Post" co-authored by Carol Leonnig, who joins us in just a moment.
She and her colleagues write, "Giuliani`s media blitz to convince the public that neither Donald Trump nor his lawyer had violated the law by paying a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair might have backfired, giving investigators new leads to chase and new evidence of potential crimes, legal analysts said. Giuliani made statements that speak to Trump and lawyer Michael Cohen`s intent, an important aspect of some crimes, and he made assertions that investigators can now check against what they have already learned from documents and witnesses. His comments to media outlets underscore a growing tension for the White House. The FBI investigation of Cohen presents a legal problem for the President that his own lawyer might have exacerbated."
Today, the President acknowledged for the first time that he did reimburse his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for that $130,000 pay-off to Stormy Daniels, which was made days before the 2016 election. The revelation comes after Giuliani first made it known on T.V. last night that the President did repay the hush money. Trump`s admission came this morning in the following messages on Twitter, and notable is this. Using language strangely unlike anything we have come to expect from the President, but an enthusiastic use of commas.
"Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties known as a non-disclosure agreement or NDA. These agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case, it is in full force and effect and will be used in capital "a" arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford/Daniels. The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role, R-O-L-L, in this transaction."
Now shortly after that explanation, Rudy Giuliani was back on television offering more information, including how much the President knew about the matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: He didn`t know the details of this until we knew the details of it, which is a couple weeks ago, maybe not even a couple, maybe between 10days ago. If we had to defend this as not being a campaign contribution, I think we can do this. This was for personal reasons. The President had been hurt personally, not politically, personally so much, and the First Lady by some of the false allegations. That one more false allegation six years old. But it wasn`t for the campaign, it was to save not their marriage as much as their reputation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Minutes later, Giuliani seemed to suggest the hush agreement was about the campaign after all.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: Imagine if that came out on October 15th, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton --
STEVE DOOCY, FOX NEWS HOST: So to make it go away, they made this --
GIULIANI: Cohen didn`t even ask. Cohen didn`t ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: After all of that, the White House struggled to respond to questions today about the payment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZEKE MILLER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Can you explain why the President, when he spoke -- when answered questions to reporters a few weeks ago about the $130,000 payment from Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels, why the President was not truthful with the American people and with the people in this room?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As mayor Giuliani stated, and I`ll refer you back to his comments, this was information that the President didn`t know at the time but eventually learned.
ZEKE: The President did talk about monthly retainers in his tweet, and then Rudy Giuliani said that the President only knew about this 10 days to two weeks ago. How can you only be aware of something 10 days to two weeks ago, but at the same time be in the process of paying monthly retainers that apparently covered this reimbursement to Michael Cohen?
SANDERS: Again, I can`t get into the details of the ongoing litigation. I`d refer you back to the President`s outside counsel.
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY MAIL": When did you specifically know that the President repaid Mr. Cohen for the $130,000? You personally.
SANDERS: The first awareness I had was during the interview last night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tonight on this network, in the previous hour in fact with Lawrence O`Donnell, Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, broke some news when he weighed in on all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: There were extensive communications between Michael Cohen and Keith Davidson in October of 2016 relating to the timing of this payment and the need for the payment to be made prior to the election. Extensive communications relating to the need for the payment to be made when it was made and as it related to potential influence on the election, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: If he`s right, that`s trouble. Michael Avenatti is referring there to Keith Davidson. He was Stormy Daniels` lawyer in 2016.
Now, there is also news tonight about the federal criminal investigation of Michael Cohen taking place here in New York. NBC News reports his phone lines are being monitored. The network corrected its reporting of earlier today to say it`s being done to compile a log of phone numbers involved but not the actual conversations.
The NBC News reporting goes on to say, "It is not clear how long the monitoring of phone calls has been authorized, but NBC News has learned it was in place in the weeks leading up to the raids on Cohen`s offices, hotel room, and home in early April, according to one person with direct knowledge."
Well, for more, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a busy Thursday night. We always say busy before the night of the week like it`s going to get any different. The aforementioned Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist of "The Washington Post," Kimberly Atkins, Chief Washington Reporter for "The Boston Herald, and Clint Watts, Former FBI Special Agent, importantly on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. More on why that`s germane in a moment. All three thankfully are MSNBC Analysts.
Carol, I`d like to begin with you. Starting with Rudy`s remarks 20 -- what, six hours ago and continuing tonight with this assertion by Mr. Avenatti. How have the President`s legal fortunes sunk?
CAROL LEONNIG, POLITICAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it`s a mixed bag honestly, Brian. On the one hand, Rudy has provided some hint of intent and suggested it, although he`s the lawyer, he`s not the President. And so Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, doesn`t get everything he wants out of Mr. Giuliani`s comments on "Fox & Friends" or to our great reporter, Bob Costa at "The Washington Post." But he does give some intent about what the President was seeking to do and agreeing to pay or repay payments to Stormy Daniels to shut down allegations she was making of an affair with him while he was running for President, and intent in terms of trying to fire Mr. Comey, the Former FBI Director.
I think the reason this is a mixed bag honestly is because on the one hand, it doesn`t look so great. On the other hand, investigators no doubt have a lot of this information already. And so when Giuliani came on Fox and said, "Look, the President repaid Michael Cohen," that is something I would gainsay that investigators already have in their bag of tricks.
WILLIAMS: Yes, it`s been true about this whole investigation. It may be new to us, but it`s usually months old to Mr. Mueller, et al. So, Kim, another way to ask the question, have the President and Rudy Giuliani advanced their cause, even if their own minds, over these past 24 hours?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, "THE BOSTON HERALD: I think perhaps they have politically. I mean clearly Rudy Giuliani has taken on a different role even than a few days ago when he was brought on. Remember, he was brought on, they said, to sort of be a negotiator with Robert Mueller, trying to limit the contours of any interview, trying to speed up the end of the investigation and really acting in a legal role.
He sort of transformed and become a spokesman in a political way much the way he was during the campaign. And that includes doing things that not only go against the investigation. For example, confirming essentially Jim Comey`s assertion that the President wanted him to publically say that he wasn`t under investigation and that was a factor in him being fired.
Going on television today and saying that the Justice Department needs to investigate those who were the FBI agents who were investigating Michael Cohen, which is really extraordinary thing to say. So I feel like he has gone into this become the President`s mouthpiece in a way and really riling against this investigation in a very full trotted way, whether it could bring legal problems or not.
WILLIAMS: Clint Watts, how many years did you spend with the FBI?
CLINT WATTS, FORMER SPECIAL AGENT: 2003 and 2003 as an agent and then came back again as a special advisor for Counterterrorism for about three more years, three to four more.
WILLIAMS: I asked that because I`m going to play you something Rudy Giuliani said last night about FBI agents. Well talk about this on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI: The only possible violation there would be, was it a campaign-finance violation. Which usually results in a fine, by the way, not this big stormtroopers coming in and breaking down his apartment and breaking down his office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That got a lot of attention today.
WATTS: It did.
WILLIAMS: I`m wondering how it felt to you.
WATTS: It`s hard to imagine because, you know, Rudy Giuliani was the inspiration after 9/11. You know, this is when we`re talking about let`s get NYPD, FBI together.
WILLIAMS: Joint Terrorism Task Force.
WATTS: Joint Terrorism Task Force. I was at the FBI Academy on the first anniversary of 9/11. I remember the talk in New York City. You know, President Bush being there. And to see the mayor of New York talk about the FBI agents being stormtroopers that are kicking in doors, relating them to Nazis, it`s just unfathomable. I could not have imagined this, you know, 15, 16 years after 9/11.
WILLIAMS: In part because of his leadership, because there is a Joint Terrorism Task Force, out back here on what is normally the skating rink, there is a huge office party taking place, an outside firm being watched over by members of the Joint Terrorism NYPD Task Force with automatic weapons.
WATTS: Yes. It`s a stunning turn that, you know, not only has the President -- you know, he`s gone after democratic institutions, particularly the Department of Justice, but now you have every extension essentially of his team that is going after some part. You have the GOP and Congress going after Rod Rosenstein. You have Giuliani now going after the FBI. You`ve had the President make threats against both, and all of them put pressure on Attorney General Sessions.
It`s an unprecedented time, and this is really what we tend to think of in third-world dictatorships, this kind of pressure on institutions, as if they are a tool to go after your political adversaries. It`s a really troubling time, but it`s also an opportunity. We could see our institutions really rise up and solidify themselves. And so I think for both Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, it could be a moment of truth here in the coming weeks if they continue to buffer against that while the investigations move forward.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I`m with you. I think there will be ample opportunities for profiles in courage as we get along here, maybe for all the wrong reasons.
Hey, Carol, I need some more context from you. At this time last night we were talking about Emmet Flood, brand-new, highly regarded, white-shoe D.C. lawyer, partner in Williams and Connolly. Before he could even move his stapler over to his new office in the White House, Rudy Giuliani was arguing something probably different than what Mr. Flood would have advocated with Sean Hannity last night.
LEONNIG: I`m smiling so much, Brian, because I interviewed somebody who was close to the President earlier today, and his exact words to me were, "That poor bastard, Emmet Flood, look what he`s walked into. He had no idea. And it is a different role to represent the White House in this case and to represent the President.
Remember, Rudy represents the President. Emmet Flood is representing the White House. But ultimately they have to be on the same team, and Mr. Flood had no idea that this strategy was going to be rolled out in the way it was. Rudy has absolutely every authority from the President to speak on his behalf about this and has said so. But it is usually good to be working in concert, and it is striking that Rudy has stressed, back to your earlier tape that you played about the campaign. None of this came from campaign money.
LEONNIG: It doesn`t matter if it came from campaign funds or not.
WILLIAMS: That`s right.
LEONNIG: It`s about whether or not this effort was to try to shut this down so as not to embarrass the GOP nominee for the White House.
WILLIAMS: Whether it was going to affect the outcome of the election or be an attempt to, that`s absolutely right.
Hey, Kim, we always ask -- try to ask every night, how did the Trump agenda advance today? I`ll put a finer point on it. You`re there in front of the Capitol. How do you think the Republicans, House and Senate, are reacting to this week thus far?
ATKINS: I think they`re happy that it`s a break week and they don`t have to be here.
WILLIAMS: Yes. But they`re home with the customers. That`s the problem.
ATKINS: They are. They are. I mean I think it`s -- look, we have a Speaker of the House who`s leaving rather than continuously trying to explain why the top elected Republican is reacting the way that he is. And I`d like to disagree a little bit that Emmet Flood didn`t know what he was walking into. Anybody who has paid any attention to the this administration --
WILLIAMS: OK. There is that. He did go to Yale.
ATKINS: -- you know, and he knew that Rudy Giuliani would be there, and he knew that Rudy Giuliani is someone who on the campaign trail said that he didn`t think Obama loved America, and he thought that Hillary Clinton had some sort of secret health problem that the press was hiding. I mean there was a lot going on here before he walked in, and I think that he had to have known that and made his own calculation to join. But I think lawmakers are still making their own calculations, especially as the midterms loom, how they`re going to deal with this.
WILLIAMS: Rudy did memorably say to Chris Matthews that he had seen Hillary lifted on to planes.
Hey, Clint, you`re our reaction guy. I`m going to play a little bit more of Rudy Giuliani, and I need you to react to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I think I would get on my charger and go right into the -- run into their offices with a lance if they go after Ivanka. If they do do Ivanka, which I doubt they will, the whole country will turn on her. They`re going after his daughter.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: What about his son-in-law, they talked about him.
GIULIANI: I guess -- Jared is a fine man, you know that. But men are, you know, disposable. But a fine woman like Ivanka, come on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President chose to put on his staff his daughter and son-in- law. They are in the West Wing. Few people are closer to the President. Measure that against what you just heard.
WATTS: Yes. This is why we don`t put our family members in work roles that, you know, serve the President. He put them there, so if they don`t behave in legal ways, if they`re not following and protecting the U.S. constitution and pursuing it to the best of their interests, if they`re committing crimes, then they`re vulnerable just like anybody else would be. So to hear Rudy Giuliani say, "Oh, you can`t do this because, oh, it`s someone`s kids," that`s called nepotism, and that`s why we don`t -- you know, we didn`t want to see this occur in our own administrations when we were moving forward.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers, it`s just a slice of where we stand on a Thursday night. Carol Leonnig, Kimberly Atkins, Clint Watts, three of our favorites. Thank you all so much for being part of our conversation.
Coming up for us, Rudy Giuliani claimed a President can`t be subpoenaed last night. Is that true? He says our framers didn`t want our Presidents distracted. Is that true? We`ll ask a former Watergate prosecutor.
And later, to borrow Bush 41`s gift to our phraseology lexicon, who`s in the loop inside the West Wing these days?
"The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.
GIULIANI: Hillary Clinton is for open borders. She is in favor of even taking Syrian refugees even though the Islamic state has told us they`re going to put their operatives in with the Syrian refugees, operatives who are terrorists, who are going to come to Western Europe and come here and kill us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Many people have noted that Rudolph Giuliani has, how do we say this, changed since the days when he earned the title America`s mayor here in New York in the aftermath of 9/11. People who go way back with him have been struck by his turn toward the authoritarian, his willingness to say things he never would have dreamed of saying as a law and order Republican of old, like referring to the FBI as stormtroopers.
He`s back in the news tonight for blowing up the Trump legal strategy on Stormy Daniels just last night. But during that same appearance with Sean Hannity, Giuliani seemingly used his live television opportunity to publicly negotiate with Mueller on what it would take to get Donald Trump to agree to an interview. Along the way, he engaged in some creative constitutional law, which we`ll talk about in just a moment, beginning with his pronouncement on Presidents and subpoenas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: If they issue a subpoena, that will be unprecedented in the sense that it`s pretty clear that a President can`t be subpoenaed to a criminal proceeding about him. We have the real-life circumstance going on that the founding fathers thought about, which is a president cannot be distracted by a criminal investigation. You can always prosecute them after.
If Mueller said to me tomorrow, "Bring him in, two hours like you want, no questions that you don`t want," and we`re pretty much ready to clear him. I could not go to the President of the United States and say, "Take two days off to get ready for that and screw the whole thing with North Korea." He is going to negotiate, I believe, a non-nuclear situation on the Korea peninsula.
HANNITY: Nobody thought about it.
GIULIANI: All right. And you`re going to interfere with that? That`s why the Founding Fathers created this immunity from prosecution and subpoena. Now, if it`s a civil case, Clinton submitted because it was a civil case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So much to react to there, so little time. But we have the perfect attorney to do it. Jill Wine-Banks, Attorney and Former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel. Also thankfully an MSNBC Legal Analyst.
Jill, let`s take them in order. Can presidents be subpoenaed, and we have looked in vain for the "shall not distract the president clause" in the constitution, and we haven`t, darn it all, been able to find it. Do you know of it?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FMR. ASST. WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Gosh darn, no. It doesn`t exist. Rudy Giuliani is making up precedent. He says it`s unprecedented.
What is U.S. v. Nixon? The case in Watergate when the president was subpoenaed for his documents, and the Supreme Court said in absolutely unmistakable language that that was enforceable. He had to produce them. That`s what led to the smoking gun tape, the one that forced him to resign rather than be convicted in the Senate after articles of impeachment in the House. So, yes, the President can be subpoenaed in a criminal case involving his own conduct.
WILLIAMS: I`m not being argumentative. I will say that in the hour after Giuliani made those comments last night on Lawrence O`Donnell`s program, the point was made Richard Nixon was running the Vietnam War during all of his legal troubles, some of which were caused by you and, secondly, no one has factored in the distraction of this President on an average day. And I say not with humor, "Fox & Friends" for a couple hours every morning.
WINE-BANKS: Well, I would say that`s a very legitimate thing. There is, of course, no excuse for he can`t be distracted. The founders didn`t think about that. They didn`t write it. But this President spends an untold number of hours watching television. He spends an untold number of hours playing golf.
If has time for Twitter, golf and television and calling in to "Fox & Friends" whenever he wants in his pajamas, then he has time to prepare his defense. And if the President can be brought before a civil court, which is far less important than defending in a criminal case, then he certainly can be called upon to defend in a criminal case. And we know that Bill Clinton, the court said, could have a civil case proceed against him while he was President. So this just makes no sense. This is just made up, false information. And Rudy Giuliani should know better.
WILLIAMS: As we mentioned, Mr. Avenatti made news with Lawrence tonight. I want to play a little bit more of that just to have you explain to all of us lay people why it`s significant. So here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AVENATTI: There were extensive discussions in October of 2016 when this was being negotiated relating to the fact that the payment had to be made prior to or well in advance of the presidential election, the 2016 presidential election. So this whole idea that the payment had nothing to do with the timing associated with the election or happened to just be a coincidence is completely bogus. Everybody and their brother knew that it had everything to do with the election. It had everything to do with making sure nothing was disclosed prior to the election. It had everything to do with the payment and the receipt of the money prior to the election, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: OK, Counselor, why is that important?
WINE-BANKS: It`s important for two reasons. One, there`s been some talk that, "Oh, this was just done to protect Melania. Poor Melania had to be protected." That totally undercuts it because it shows that the reason that it was done was to protect the President from it coming out before the election.
He didn`t want this information to be in the voters` hands and minds when they pulled the levers for the election. And so it also goes to the intent of the payment. If the payment was to influence the election, which that seems to clearly suggest that it is, then it is a campaign violation and not something personal.
WILLIAMS: Jill Wine-Banks, it`s always a pleasure to have you on. We had a special need for you to define some of these terms tonight. Thank you. Appreciate it always.
WINE-BANKS: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up when we continue, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she gives the best information she has. But in this White House, the problem is the truth is often elusive. We`ll have that when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As Mayor Giuliani stated, this wasn`t something that was initially known but later learned. And, again, we give the best information possible at the time.
I give the best information that I have. Some information I am aware of, and some I`m not. When I can answer, I will. But beyond that, I really don`t have anything to add.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Only two weeks into his role as Donald Trump`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani`s revelation about Trump`s payment to a porn star surprised even staffers inside the White House. "The Washington Post" tells it this way. The episode was just the latest convulsion for a White House that perpetually navigates turbulence, careening from one crisis to another, most of them the president`s own making. And one White House official tells "The Wall Street Journal," people in the White House are a little concerned about what looks like the roller coaster ride ahead. That might be an understatement.
Here to talk about it all, Jackie Calmes, White House editor for "The Los Angeles Times," and Shannon Pettypiece, White House correspondent for Bloomberg. Welcome to you both. Thanks for coming on. And Shannon, do I understand it`s your reporting that not a single person in your one- journalist survey knew this was coming last night?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean myself, my colleagues, we have not been able to find anybody who was aware that this was coming. My reporting indicates that this was a conversation that had been between the president and Giuliani. We do not know necessarily when that conversation took place because it seems to have been very closely held.
And in this instance, I mean in some instances like the firing of McMaster or Tillerson, you could argue that a lot more people should have been brought into the loop.
In this instance, though, the point was raised to us that this was a personal matter. It was something between the president and his personal lawyer. It did not involve White House business, and that bringing it into the White House and exposing other staffers to it could have put them in some legal liability.
But of course the press secretary, who is going to have to go out and defend this issue in the morning to a gaggle of reporters who greeted her the second she showed up at work, would have been a good person to have brought in the loop at some point probably before the words came out of Rudy Giuliani`s mouth last night on Fox.
WILLIAMS: Shannon, I heard a White House correspondent on one of the cable networks tonight say she has lost the room. Would you put it that dramatically?
PETTYPIECE: I mean it`s a tough job, and she`s been put out there in a number of positions where either she`s not given the full information or, you know, she can`t -- it`s information she`s not free to share with us.
I do know, though, that despite what lack of information she`s able to share, I am told that she is very close to the president. He uses her increasingly as a confidant with Hope Hicks gone and increasingly seeks out her advice and counsel on things. He may not always take it, but that she is someone in the room and someone who the president is close to, even though it might not seem it`s reflected in the information.
WILLIAMS: It is for the record an awful job on the best day in the job. All right, Jackie, I want to read from your Twitter account today an important reminder that you told a lot of us, and it has to do with Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani said he would get Mueller to wrap up investigation in a week or two, joined the Trump legal team two weeks ago today. So I`ll forgo the snide question, how is that going, and ask you if this isn`t the kind of thing that makes it tough for the person behind the podium to do this on a daily basis?
JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELES TIMS WHITE HOUSE EDITOR: Well, it does. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when it comes to any questions about this Russia investigation, she just defers to the lawyers and ducks the question, you know, justifiably for the most part. But, you know, when Rudy Giuliani said that about wrapping it up within two weeks, it was laughable on its face. You know, you could question why would he even say that? Trump`s former lawyers were saying the same things, telling the president what he wanted to hear, that this was getting wrapped soon.
But at bottom what this is, is a way for them to say that -- or to continue to depict the special counsel`s probe as something that`s out of control or is exceeding its mandate. And so, you know, I don`t think Rudy Giuliani expected to wrap it up in two weeks. But, you know, now the Trump base especially is thinking, you know, that Mueller is out of control.
WILLIAMS: Well, I`m glad you mentioned the base because is anyone happier or better off in these last 24 hours since Giuliani kind of put it all out there -- are elements of base fortified more so tonight than they were last night against Mueller?
CALMES: I don`t think that there`s any change. You know, we`ve seen since election day that the Trump base is solid for him. And if you watched -- you know, you watch Fox News, and it`s all about -- you know, you would think it`s still the Clinton investigation is still ongoing.
Last night Rudy Giuliani said that the Department of Justice, Trump`s Department of Justice should be investigating her, that she should be in jail, that she`s a criminal. The only one committing crimes is the government here. And we`re talking about the Trump justice department. And it`s just the base is getting a steady diet of this every morning on "Fox & Friends" and every night on Hannity. And so they`re fortified.
WILLIAMS: You are so right to point that out. He did say last night the only entity that`s committing crimes here is the government. Jackie Calmes, Shannon Pettypiece, two of our favorites. Thank you both so much for being part of our broadcast tonight.
Coming up, where this president and the truth are concerned, is there a kind of new normal in effect? "The 11th Hour" back with that after this.
WILLIAMS: To reset here, Rudy Giuliani`s admission that Donald Trump has yet again been untruthful this time about payments to an adult film star raises deeper questions about the state of this presidency and the times in which we are living. Dan Balz of the "Washington Post" puts it this way. Does it bother anyone that President Trump has been caught lying? Does it bother anyone that this is not new? Does it bother anyone that the president has been shown to be a liar?
These questions are again front and center before the country. People will answer them differently depending on their views about Trump. Some will condemn the behavior. Some will condone it. Many no doubt will try to look away even if that has more and more difficult. The questions won`t go away. They`re part of the fabric of this presidency.
Well, let`s talk about this with our next two guests. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The Washington Post" and Rick Stengel, former undersecretary of state for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, as well as former managing editor of Time magazine. Both gentlemen are MSNBC political analysts.
Eugene, you and I talked first of all about journalism, about what a tough job the Pulitzer judges had this year. Congratulations to your newspaper.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: On the number of Pulitzers. They`re going to need more walls to hang them on.
ROBINSON: And "The New York Times" as well.
WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely. What a season to have a newspaper war. React, if you don`t mind, to those words by your friend, Dan Balz.
ROBINSON: Right. Well, I think, I love that piece that Dan did. I just read it before coming over, because we don`t -- I think we don`t ask that question often enough. I mean this is a presidency like no other presidency. This is an administration like no other. This is certainly a president like no other.
The White House daily briefing, when you went there before any other administration, you expected that what was said was true. I mean, now, you know, it could be spun. It would be presented in the best light for the administration. It would be -- but there would be some basis in fact. And when we were lied to from that podium, it was a big deal. It was a big story. There was outrage that we were not told the truth from that podium. You know, cut to today.
Every day we hear stuff from that podium. It`s not all Sarah Sanders` fault. Some of it, I think is, but it`s not all her fault.
WILLIAMS: But we`ve learned to discount it.
ROBINSON: Exactly. We don`t -- you don`t brush it past and go on. Oh, well. Lying again. Oh, well. Who knows the numbers, the statistics that come out of this administration? Do you trust them? Why if you do?
I mean it`s -- it`s insane. So that`s the question. How will people react to this? We now know he just told a bald-faced lie, one of many, but this one is documented. We know that he lied, and will the reaction be any different to this one?
WILLIAMS: We don`t know. Rick Stengel, tomorrow morning`s "Wall Street Journal" will carry the following editorial. Mr. Trump -- this is "The Wall Street Journal" repeating. Mr. Trump is compiling a record that increases the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis, say a dispute over speaking with Special Counsel Robert Mueller or a nuclear showdown with Kim Jong-un.
Mr. Trump should worry that Americans will stop believing anything he says. How much do incidents like these undermine the credibility of both the president and the presidency when it comes to more urgent matters?
Case in point, Rudolph Giuliani floated out the likelihood of a release of three American prisoners, North Korea, today. It`s already tomorrow there. We`ve seen no sign of it. Imagine what those families are going through.
RICK STENGEL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that`s awful. And let`s stipulate, gentlemen, that I`m against lying too. But Pat Moynihan had that great phrase about defining deviancy downward. Trump is defining honesty downward and in a way that we don`t even expect him to be honest. He doesn`t actually try to approximate reality the way most people do. He says whatever he thinks is in his best interest each time, and we`ve factored that in.
I mean I tweeted something out the other day when he was at the State Department, and he had this nice moment where he was introducing Pompeo. He says, I haven`t seen this much spirit in the State Department in a long time. Then he paused and said, many years. Then he added, many decades. OK.
The first is an exaggeration. The second is an overstatement. The third is just an insane fabrication. It`s like that`s the Trump way. And I thought, ha-ha, I`m so clever tweeting this. Then I saw someone -- you know, I get Trump backers and someone said, that`s just Donald being Donald. You don`t get it. And I thought to myself, well, there is a whole range that we don`t get because we get outraged at stuff that his voters just think is him making stuff up, and that`s fine.
WILLIAMS: Riffing like best musician.
ROBINSON: Part of the conflict is that it is our job as journalists to kind of have OCD about the facts, right?
WILLIAMS: I don`t know what you`re talking about.
ROBINSON: It is. And, yes, we can be a little crazy about it. But that`s part of the job. So you out there don`t have to be crazy about it. We`ll do that, right? And so that`s one reason why the reaction to Trump from journalists just on that point can be emotional because it`s our job, the facts.
WILLIAMS: Two, maybe three flummoxed veteran journalist will be right back. Both guests are staying with us after feeding a quick break back after this.
WILLIAMS: We are back and both gentlemen have kindly agreed to stick with us. Eugene Robinson and Rick Stengel. Eugene, I`m going to quote from you today, "That unpleasant odor wafting from the direction of the White House is the sour smell of panic, as president`s lies threaten to unravel, and the law closes in." Must we be that sensory or what is already a hot, rainy night in New York City?
ROBINSON: I think we must, actually. I didn`t know it was this hot.
WILLIAMS: Yes, OK.
ROBINSON: No, you know, this -- this Giuliani revelation that was sort of exploded yesterday, so, it appears that this was just Rudy and Donald got together, right? And they decided to put this out there, didn`t bother to tell the rest of the legal team, I`m sure they didn`t tell the incoming head of the White House legal team on the Russia investigation, it might have been polite to let him know. They didn`t tell anybody else in the White House. They just came out with it.
And there`s a certain sort of improvisation, which we`re used to from Trump, also there`s a certain desperation there, I think, you know, they`ve got the documents, they`re going to find this out, we have to get it out first. They probably have an idea of what else might be in those documents.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I think they do.
ROBINSON: They know there`s a lot that Mueller knows that they don`t know. It kind of --
STENGEL: can you imagine, because you`re a rational man, that there`s a strategy there? There`s no strategy. And on of the terrible mistakes that the president made is, if you`re a principal, you never hire another principal to defend you.
STENGEL: Right. I mean if you`re loose talking, play it loose guy, you don`t hire a lawyer who does the exact same thing as you. It`s really a terrible mistake.
WILLIAMS: Who, if anything, has missed the limelight from his years as mayor. I need a quick reaction from you Rick to this "Washington Post" story tonight, what people have labeled part of the death of outrage. This about Scott Pruitt at the EPA. Brand new tonight.
After taking office last year, Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit and urged aides to help him find official reasons to travel. According to four people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Pruitt enlisted well-connected friends and political allies to help make the trips happen.
STENGEL: You know, one of the things in every administration is that --
WILLIAMS: Diplomacy, right?
STENGEL: Well, the moral tone is set by the head of the administration.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That`s true.
STENGEL: I mean, you know, Obama administration, I mean he was as pure and holy as it`s possible to be. In this administration, people look at Donald Trump, and they think, he`s doing all these things, look at all the thing he`s done, I can do whatever I want. And I think in the case of Scott Pruitt, I mean he is like a one-man band in violating every ethical norm that it`s possible for cabinet office to hold.
WILLIAMS: A story a day for Scott Pruitt.
ROBINSON: That`s amazing. It`s just amazing.
WILIAMS: A lot of it led by your newspaper.
ROBISON: Right. And also what`s happening inside the EPA, I mean, you know --
WILLIAMS: And that`s the real scandal, exactly.
ROBINSON: I mean, that`s a lot of good work, or did, and it`s being sort of hollowed out.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us. Late on a hot, rainy Thursday night full of news here in New York.
STENGEL: It stopped raining, by the way.
WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson, Rick Stengel, two of our favorites, thanks.
When we come back after a break, we`ll look at where our nation stands in our world as best we can assess it at this hour.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, as a reminder of where we are, where we are tonight, in fact, where we are as a nation and as a people, and as our example, we`d like to use the front page of "The New York Times", we kind of froze it in time around 9:00 p.m. Eastern time this evening, beginning with a three-column headline. Trump acknowledges porn star payoff. Just let that roll around in your head for a moment. That`s a first for our presidency, and as headlines go, it`s a first for the newspaper affectionately known as the gray lady of journalism.
Under the subheads we go. We covered it all here tonight, Giuliani appears to veer offscript. A furor follows. Right below that is, is Trump losing control of his narrative? The off-lead, the foreign news lead, is a superbly reported story about American mothers and fathers and sons and daughters who aren`t following the Trump narrative, they don`t have the luxury of time. They`re among America`s best serving the volunteer in military in grave danger everyday. And by the way, did you know American forces are currently engaged in the Yemen war along the Saudi border.
There`s a photo essay about the moonscape that is Benghazi, six years after the deaths of those Americans at our consulate. Further down, our EPA administrator secretly bought a house with a lobbyist, but it`s just the latest bad news for Scott Pruitt, who remains on the job.
Speaking of remaining on the job, John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff said to be eyeing the exit, though candidly, this same storyline has been around for months.
There`s a story further down in the front page about a shortage of teenagers able or willing to work in the fast food industry. And then, there`s this, which may say, sadly, as much about where we are as a country as any other story on the front page.
In order to reduce overdoses, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is pushing for supervised sites where addicts can go to shoot up, again, in a supervised setting. It says New York could lead the way for other cities, though the phrase lead the way may have the same meaning it used to.
So that is our look at our nation and our world on a Thursday night. Thank you so much for being here with us, and good night from NBC News Headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END