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Trump knew of hush money before denial. TRANSCRIPT: 05/04/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Matt Apuzzo, Amber Phillips, Josh Gerstein, Eric Swalwell, Mike Pesca

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 4, 2018 Guest: Matt Apuzzo, Amber Phillips, Josh Gerstein, Eric Swalwell, Mike Pesca

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Breaking tonight from "The New York Times" -- Donald Trump knew about Michael Cohen`s payment to Stormy Daniels well before his denial last month on Air Force One. One of the reporters who broke the story is standing by with details.

Plus, new from "The Wall Street Journal" tonight, Michael Cohen secured access to as much as $774,000 during the Trump presidential campaign. All of it revealed just hours after the President said Rudy Giuliani would get his facts straight.

THE 11TH HOUR on a Friday night begins now.

Good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams. Day 470 of the Trump administration.

And we have breaking news from "The New York Times" about when Trump had knowledge of the six-figure hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. One of the authors of that story, Matt Apuzzo, will join us in just a moment.

He and his colleagues writing tonight, "President Trump knew about a six- figure payment that Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April, according to two people familiar with the arrangement. It was not immediately clear when Mr. Trump learned of the payment, which Mr. Cohen made in October 2016 at a time when news media outlets were poised to pay her for her story about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump in 2006. But three people close to the matter said that Mr. Trump knew that Mr. Cohen had succeeded in keeping the allegations from becoming public at the time the President denied it."

The President has spent the last several hours speaking out, in particular going into damage control mode trying to clean up comments that Rudy Giuliani made this week about Trump reimbursing Michael Cohen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ll tell you what, Rudy is a great guy, but he just started a day ago. But he really has his heart into it. He`s working hard. He`s learning the subject matter, and he`s going to be issuing a statement too. But he is a great guy.

He knows it`s a witch hunt. That`s what he knows. He`ll get his facts straight.

I will tell you this. When Rudy made the statements -- Rudy`s great, but Rudy had just started and he wasn`t totally familiar with every -- you know, with everything. And Rudy -- we love Rudy. He`s a special guy. What he really understands is that this is a witch hunt. When he made certain statements, he just started yesterday, so that`s it.


KORNACKI: And just in case you need a refresher about what set all of this off in the first place, here is what Giuliani said on Fox News earlier this week about that payment.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000? I mean which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.

HANNITY: So they funneled it through a law firm.

GIULIANI: Funneled through a law firm, and the President repaid it.

HANNITY: Oh, I didn`t know. He did?


HANNITY: But do you know the President didn`t know about this? I believe that`s what Michael had said.

GIULIANI: He didn`t know about the specifics of it as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this.

Imagine if that came out on October 15th, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton.

DOOCY: So to make it go away, they made this --

GIULIANI: Cohen didn`t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.


KORNACKI: Now, today Giuliani issued this statement to "clarify his views." It reads in part, "There is no campaign violation. The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President`s family. It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not. My references to timing were not describing my understanding of the President`s knowledge, but instead my understanding of these matters."

Just last night, Stormy Daniels` lawyer said he has proof that this was about the campaign. Giuliani`s statement does not address his assertion that Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the hush money payment. In Trump`s Twitter account yesterday featured a detailed explanation of how he repaid Cohen.

Today, the President was asked about his inconsistent narrative concerning Daniels.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, why did you change your story on Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: We`re not changing any stories. All I`m telling you is that this country is right now running so smooth. And to be bringing up that kind of crap, and to be bringing up witch hunts all the time, that`s all you want to talk about. You`re going to say --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said on network you didn`t know about payment.

TRUMP: -- excuse me. Excuse me. No, but you have to -- excuse me. You take a look at what I said. You go back and take a look. You`ll see what I said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said no when I asked you if you knew about the payment --

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. You go take a look at what we said.


KORNACKI: Speaking of taking a look, here is what the President said on Air Force One back on April 5th, which "The New York Times" referred to in its report tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No, no. What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: You`ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you`ll have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don`t know.


KORNACKI: Meanwhile, there is new reporting tonight from "The Wall Street Journal" about Michael Cohen and how he obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars during the election. The "Journal" reports that public records show that Cohen "gained access to as much as $774,000 through two financial transactions during the 2016 presidential campaign as he sought to fix problems for his boss. Those transactions could factor into a broad investigation of Mr. Cohen`s business affairs being conducted by Manhattan federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who are examining whether Mr. Cohen violated any laws in his efforts hose raise cash and conceal negative information about Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter. Those include transactions tied to his credit line and his ownership of real estate and taxi medallions, the people said."

President Trump also had a lot to say about the other huge legal issue looming over his administration, the Russia investigation and whether he`ll agree to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Rudy Giuliani has been negotiating with Mueller about that potential interview.

Last night, Giuliani wouldn`t say whether Trump wanted to do it, telling NBC News, "On the advice of his counsel, he is keeping a closed mouth and an open mind." Well, today Donald Trump decided to open his mouth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you changed your mind at all about being willing to sit with Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Well, the problem with sitting is this, you have a group of investigators, and they say that I am not a target. And I`m not a target.

I would love to speak. I would love to. Nobody wants to speak more than me, in fact, against my lawyers, because most lawyers, they never speak on anything. I would love to speak because we`ve done nothing wrong.

There was no collusion with the Russians. There was nothing. There was no obstruction.

But I have to find that we`re going to be treated fairly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you sure --

TRUMP: Wait, wait. I have to find that we`re going to be treated fairly. If I thought it was fair, I would override my lawyers.


KORNACKI: Four reporters shared that byline on tonight`s breaking "New York Times" report. One of them is two-time Pulitzer winner Matt Apuzzo. He`s kind enough to join us by phone. Now, Matt, thank you for taking a few minutes.

And let me just be make sure I`m very clear in this for viewers. At the top of the show, you are reporting that prior to that scene there on Air Force One we just showed from last month, from April, that before that, Donald Trump knew about the $130,000 payment. He knew specifically it was going to Stormy Daniels, and he knew the reason it was going to her, is that correct?

MATT APUZZO, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Correct. And, look, when you line up the timeline, that is what everybody assumed had been the case frankly when "The Wall Street Journal" first reported about these payments. You know, I believe it was all the way back in January.

You know, the fact that he knew about it was never really in question until he came out publicly and said, I had no idea, which really raised more questions than it did answers because how can you enter into a legal settlement, how can you enter into a binding settlement and a nondisclosure arrangement and have your lawyer make cash payments to somebody without your knowledge of it? So I mean by saying that, both the President and then subsequently Rudy Giuliani only muddied the waters. So, you know, by our reporting here tonight, well, certainly I feel like it eventually devoid (ph) it almost just sort of takes us back, you know, a couple of weeks to where we knew -- to where we were before the President went out and said, "I had no idea."

KORNACKI: Well, so that window of time now between October 2016, the end of the campaign when this deal was sealed, and Donald Trump in that April denial from Donald Trump we just showed, do we know with any specificity in there when he did find out?

APUZZO: So what we don`t know is like we don`t have a date for when he knew. Certainly we know that the payment was made in late October. The settlement was agreed in late October, and certainly by any reading on the rules of legal ethics, Michael Cohen, the President`s personal lawyer, would not have been able to ethically enter into a settlement that the President had no idea about and certainly advancing payments on behalf of a client is not something that is normally allowed.

So we don`t have a date that it was set on, but everybody we`re talking to tonight is saying, "Look, you know, mea culpa. Like we`re trying to set the -- we`re trying to get the timeline straight. We`re trying to smooth this over. It`s been a tumultuous 48 hours at the White House and in this duly reconstituted legal team that really debuted in quite a chaotic fashion.

KORNACKI: All right. Thank you, Matt Apuzzo. Again, one of the reporters on that "New York Times" story that`s breaking tonight that we`re making our show with Matt. Thank you for taking a few minutes in joining us. Appreciate that.

APUZZO: Thanks.

KORNACKI: And now to our lead-off panel for this Friday night, Josh Gerstein is a Reporter for Politico, covering the White House. Amber Phillips, a Political Reporter for "The Fix" at "The Washington Post," and Danny Cevallos, a veteran Criminal Defense Attorney and MSNBC Legal Analyst.

Let me start with the lawyer first because I want to get to the legal significance, if there is any, of what "The New York Times" is reporting tonight. So you have Matt Apuzzo there saying that basically everybody kind of always assumed this. Trump threw a curveball with in his comments in the last few weeks but this takes us back to what we`ve always assumed. That`s court of public opinion. In terms of the court of law, does this reporting tonight from "The New York Times" do anything significantly?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It does in the sense that now you have Trump knowing that there was a payment made. At least it appears that way now. And if he did know, to what degree does he have the requisite intent under potential campaign finance law? But that really is a smaller part of the potential issues that are raised. For Michael Cohen, there are a number of attorney ethics issues involved.

You know, I have to say that this is the kind of situation that if Michael Cohen was not acting as an attorney, if instead he was just a consultant, there would have been many fewer layers for Trump and Cohen to worry about because it`s by virtue of saying that he was providing legal services that you have an entire new body of professional responsibility law or rules, I should say, that apply to any kind of legal services. Then you have tax issues. What were the tax implications of these payments?

If Donald Trump knew about them at the time, I think I see what Trump`s trying to do. I think his view the world is this and Giuliani`s view is this. "We retreat back. We concede that -- we stay away from campaign finance law. We say there was a big pool of money."

"Michael Cohen did whatever he wanted with it. I saw no evil. I heard no evil. That`s it."

KORNACKI: Amber Phillips, in terms of Rudy Giuliani, then, in that statement he issued today trying to clarify, he says, some of the comments he made earlier this week on Fox News, what are the open questions that remain after this attempt at a clarification?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. Well, you`re absolutely right. I think in the intro, you put clarification or tried to clarify in quotes. When he put that statement out and the President sort of led up into it by suggesting Giuliani got his facts wrong and there would be some big change in the substance of what Giuliani said earlier in the week about this payment, nothing changed in terms of the substance.

The open question is still we know that Donald Trump knew about this payment and paid it. The open question is still whether that had any intent to help him win the campaign. Just because Giuliani goes out there and the President goes out there and says, "This had nothing to do with the campaign, you know, I wanted to protect my wife and my family from these lies," doesn`t mean that`s true. That`s of course is still for the courts to decide. And Giuliani nor the President didn`t clear that up today.

KORNACKI: Yes, it`s interesting, Josh. This is proceedings sort of on two parallel tracks here, one legal, one political. You`ve got the question here of, you know, does the story politically actually surprise many Americans just given all of the scandals about Donald Trump, not just in the campaign, but really in his entire public career? Does this do anything politically to change opinions of Donald Trump? And then you`ve got the legal question here too of does this turn into something more than just a potential campaign finance violation?

JOSH GERSTEIN, REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. I don`t think it does probably change many minds on the political front in terms of what people think of the President. But I think folks should also keep in mind that there are other shoes to drop here on the legal front, especially with this issue of Michael Cohen`s records, his e-mails, his electronic files from his office being gone through by prosecutors. That`s part of this whole dynamic the White House legal team has been trying to get ahead of here.

Those records are being turned over now to Cohen`s legal team. They`re going through them, and they`re learning what prosecutors know or are about to learn about this Stormy Daniels payment, and it`s very important that what the White House and the President say publicly not be immediately contradicted by records that are either in the hands of prosecutors or about to be in their hands. And I think when you see them scurrying quite quickly to fix up this mess that took place in the last 48 hours, that`s part of what`s going on.

KORNACKI: We`re talking so much here about what Donald Trump knew, when he knew it about this payment. The other party to that payment from the Trump side, of course, Michael Cohen, who actually made the payment to Stormy Daniels in 2016, Donny Deutsch from Morning Joe fame actually caught up with Michael Cohen, Donald Trump`s attorney, earlier this week. He had this to say about that encounter.


DONNY DEUTSCH, BRANDING AND MARKETING EXPERT: I spoke with Michael Cohen yesterday, and his quote about Giuliani is that he doesn`t know what he`s talking about. He also said that, "Look, there are two people that know exactly what happened, myself and the President, and you`ll be hearing my side of the story." And he was obviously very frustrated at what had come out yesterday.


KORNACKI: That sounds, Danny, like an ominous sign if you`re on Donald Trump`s side of this thing.

CEVALLOS: It does. I was actually on that same segment when I heard that the first -- the clause that I seized upon was "we will hear Michael Cohen`s side of the story." Who will actually hear that side of the story, will it be federal investigators, will it be a trial? Why does Michael Cohen believe if he`s telling Donny Deutsch this that he`s going to have the opportunity to tell his side of the story?

Because I can tell you, when we won`t hear it and that`s in the near future because he`s getting any kind of good advice, Michael Cohen, and you have not heard a word from Michael Cohen in sometime. He`s clearly following his counsels` advice and doing the prudent thing, which is keep quiet. So the notion that we might hear from him is an ominous one in deed if you are Trump.

KORNACKI: Amber, let`s talk about the politics of this for a minute because as this story has sort of taken center stage in American media political closer life, whatever you want call it, something funny has happened with the President`s approval rating. We can put this up on the screen. Now with Donald Trump, these things are all relative. But this -- what you see right there for Donald Trump is his average approval rating has climb over the last several weeks, 44%.

Now by historical standard that`s not much to write home about. By Donald Trump`s standards, that`s the highest he`s been in more than a year. So for Donald Trump actually as this story has swirled in the last few weeks, his numbers have climbed a little bit.

Amber, I have to say it did make me think back a little bit 20 years ago to 1998 and Bill Clinton where you had the legal story swirling of Bill Clinton. Did he perjure himself? Did he suborn perjury on this issue of an affair with Monica Lewinsky? And as that legal investigation overtook everything, politically his stock actually rose. Is there a chance that on some maybe smaller scale, that`s happening here?

PHILLIPS: Yes. It`s certainly possible. And I believe after the impeachment proceedings in the House, Clinton`s poll numbers went up to the highest he had been at that moment in his presidency. The economy is also doing really well.

Donald Trump, you know, is kind of illustrating this tug and pull of his talking about or his highlighting the Russia investigation versus some of the accomplishments happening under his administration helping him or hurting him. When he went to Dallas today and talked to some of his supporters, he spent one or two -- a couple lines talking about the tax bill and the unemployment rate, but spent the chunk of his time in the headlines we all wrote from that was him talking about the Russia investigation and literally pulling out sheets of paper and reading them from the news just to sort of proclaim his innocence and continue to say this is a witch hunt.

We know from polls that his supporters support him on that. We also know that support is declining, though still a majority of Americans think that the Mueller investigation should continue. But support is kind of declining for that, too. It`s to be determined if Trump`s, you know, very consistent claims that this is a witch hunt helps or hurts him. But at the same time, he`s talking about that stuff in the absence of being able to brag about some of these economic accomplishments.

KORNACKI: And, Josh, every day in the Trump era is a busy day in the newsroom, but a particularly busy Friday night. I do want to get to you on one other piece of potentially big news today. You were in a courtroom in Virginia where Paul Manafort is trying to get those bank fraud charges tossed out against him, and a federal judge who is hearing that case today didn`t issue a ruling, but he made some comments about the Mueller investigation that had the President bragging in Dallas today. Tell us what happened in that courtroom and what it could mean potentially.

GERSTEIN: Well, the judge gave Manafort`s prosecutors a real grilling about their authority to pursue this case. You have to remember there`s two cases pending against Manafort, and the one that`s in Virginia has to do with bank and tax fraud charges, basically allegations that he didn`t pay all his taxes and that he lied on getting some loans. And the judge really went after the prosecutors in terms of what was the connection to Russia, to the central mandate of the Mueller investigation?

He talked about what`s the budget of the special counsel`s office? Is it $10 million a year? He said, "Is the real purpose here to get the President, to try to get Manafort to sing?" And the judge said, "Hopefully if he does sing, he won`t compose," meaning that he won`t just fabricate things to try to get on the good side of the prosecutors.

So it was a pretty tough morning for the prosecutors. But I will say that my sense was that while the judge raked him over the coals, that he may eventually come around and say, "Look, these are not really issues that he`s going to decide in the context of this case and he may let the case go forward despite whatever concerns he has about Mueller`s appointment and how this case fits into that."

KORNACKI: Well, he has certainly succeeded in introducing a little bit more suspense into those proceedings. We will be following closely what happens next there. Josh Gerstein, Amber Phillips, Danny Cevallos, thank you all for joining us.

And still ahead tonight, we`re going to get reaction to all of this from a member of the House Intel Committee. Congressman Eric Swalwell standing by.

Plus, the President serves up red meat to the crowd at the NRA convention in Dallas. And Trump says that he and John Kelly have a fantastic relationship. Does anyone believe that, though?

"The 11th Hour," it is just getting started on a busy Friday night.



TRUMP: All we hear about is this phony Russia witch-hunt. That`s all we hear about. So just when I`m walking on the stage, a highly respected judge in Virginia made statements. It says -- "Wall Street Journal." It says, "A judge questions Mueller`s authority to prosecute Manafort."

Now, Paul Manafort`s a nice guy, but, you know, he worked for me for a very short period of time. Literally for like, what, a couple of months? Little period of time.


KORNACKI: That was some of President Trump`s speech to the NRA this afternoon in Dallas. The President is using those comments from a judge who questioned Mueller`s authority to prosecute Manafort to slam the Russia investigation as a witch hunt. As we reported, President Trump said today that he would love to be interviewed by Mueller, but only if he`s treated fairly. The President saying, "If I thought it was fair, I would override my lawyers.

Meanwhile, we are also following new reporting from "The New York Times" tonight that says that President Trump knew about the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels several months before he denied knowledge of it on air Force One.

Joined now by Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California, sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, let me ask you about this reporting from "The New York Times" tonight about the President and when he knew about the nature of this Stormy Daniels payment. Let me ask you this way. Do you see the significance of that as a political story in terms of what the President said publicly and what that says about the President`s word, or do you see the significance there more as a legal thing?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good evening, Steve. And first, let me just say my heart is with the people of Hawaii this evening who are undergoing an earthquake and a volcano. I hope we show them the same aloha spirit of care and love that they would show all of us.

As to your question, you know, I don`t think most Americans care what the President did in his private life, but it does show that he`s willing to operate in such a shadowy way and that it does look like, you know, this payment occurred during the election. And this may shed light on other activities he was doing as it related to Russia. That`s really what I care most about.

A foreign adversary attacks our democracy. There are a lot of questions about what the President, his family, his campaign, and people in his businesses were doing with the Russians. So if he`s willing to lie to the American people about what he did with this payoff, I think we can assume that he may be lying to us about what happened with the Russians prior and after the election.

KORNACKI: Let me get your reaction, too, to the other news we were talking about last segment and that is the judge -- one of the judges in the Manafort case in Virginia today, in federal court, hearing Manafort and his request to have those charges tossed. He cast a lot of skepticism toward the Mueller investigation, basically saying that he thought Mueller`s team was using Manafort, wasn`t really interested in Manafort and crimes there, but was using Manafort as a way to try to get the President on impeachment or something else.

Now, he didn`t issue a ruling. Still plenty of suspense about where this is going. But I`m curious about your reaction to that because certainly today the President is claiming this represents some form of vindication for him.

SWALWELL: Yes. You know, Steve, I`ve been a prosecutor before. I`ve felt the heat from a judge. The government`s got to prove its case. And you know, that`s the job of the judge and ultimately a jury to make sure that they can prove each part beyond a reasonable doubt.

But this case, as I see it, is bigger than Paul Manafort. It`s obtained more than -- I think almost half a dozen guilty pleas, including the President`s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. And so of course they have to prove the case. They`re not above the law. And, you know, I expect that the judge, you know, will rule, you know, according to the law.

But I see that there`s a lot of evidence relating to Paul Manafort and whether the President had knowledge or candidate Trump had knowledge of Paul Manafort`s dealings with the Russians and whether that made him more qualified for the job because there`s so many people who were on the team who had prior relationships with the Russians that would have been disqualifying in most campaigns, but it looks like to this candidate that helped them get the job.

KORNACKI: The President today talked about a lot of subjects in Dallas but, again, the setting for this was the convention for the NRA, the National Rifle Association. He did talk a little bit about guns. You made news this week on the subject of guns.

I want to read from an op-ed that you wrote in that appeared in "USA Today." The head like, "Ban assault weapons, buy them back, go after resisters." This is your call, not just to have a buyback. Here, it says, "Reinstating the federal assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 would prohibit manufacture and sales, but it would not affect weapons already possessed."

You`re talking that "This would leave millions of assault weapons in our communities for decades to come. Instead, we should ban possession of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons. We should buyback such weapons from all who choose to abide by the law, and we should criminally prosecute any who choose to defy it by keeping their weapons. The ban would not apply to law enforcement agencies or shooting clubs."

That piece there, though, about criminally prosecuting those who would defy this ban, members of your party, leaders of your party for years have taken pains to tell gun owners that confiscation is not on the agenda. What would you say to those who say you`re trying to put it on the agenda?

SWALWELL: Yes, I`d say that a child`s right to learn without fear and to come home after school and to live is greater than any other right. I don`t accept the premise that an assault weapon is covered by the Second Amendment, and I`m convinced that if we are truly going to make our community safer, we should get these weapons off the street. And I want to compensate folks for doing that or allow them to use their weapons at a hunting club or a shooting range. But if we leave 15 million assault weapons on the street and we continue to do nothing, we should expect more mass shootings, and I just don`t think we should accept that. I think we should go big on this issue and even invest in getting the guns off the streets.

KORNACKI: All right. Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat from California, thanks for the time.

SWALWELL: My pleasure, Steve.

KORNACKI: And coming up, for a certain type of Democrat, the best thing they might have going for them right now is actually Donald Trump. We`re going to explain that at the big board when "The 11th Hour" continues.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE United States: Think about it. You win. You have this great win. Now you take a breath. You relax. All of a sudden, two years is up. They`re fighting like hell, and you`re complacent. We cannot get complacent. We have to win the midterms.


KORNACKI: That was the president today in Dallas talking about the midterms there. You heard it there. Of course, the White House party usually has a tough time in midterms. Donald Trump says Republicans got to win. Well, guess what, folks. That means it is time. The midterms, they really are upon us. The general election is in November, but the candidates who are on the ballot in November, they`re starting to pick them now in primary day, a big one is coming up this Tuesday.

There`s primaries in four different states, but we want to use the upcoming Tuesday primaries to focus on a very particular type of Democrat, the most endangered, the most vulnerable, the most at-risk Democrat on the ballot in 2018. I want to talk about why they`re in danger and what Tuesday means for them.

So, here`s what I`m talking about. The United States Senate, Democrats actually think they have a potential path to get the majority there if there`s a wave this year. The biggest obstacle they have, though, right here. You`re looking at it. There are 10, count them 10 Democratic senators who come from Trump states, states that went for Trump in 2016. From Nelson in Florida all the way out there to Tester in Montana, these 10 Democrats are up in states that Trump won, hostile states politically.

Can they survive there? That`s a big question for Democrats trying to get that majority in Tuesday is going to take the action to two states that are particularly key, Indiana, West Virginia Mansion. Down to the (ph) two Democrats trying to hold on in states that we say these are Trump states. This is the mother of all Trump states. In West Virginia, Joe Manchin. Donald Trump won this state by 42 points in 2016. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, has got to get those same voters to reelect him, a Democrat to the Senate this November. That is the biggest pro-Trump state in the country. Manchin is trying to hang on there. Republicans are going to pick a candidate to oppose him on Tuesday. That`s the one with Don Blankenship, the former coal mining executive and went to jail because of safety violations there. That`s on Tuesday.

Also Indiana, Republican primary there. Who is going to challenge Joe Donnelly again? This was basically a 20-point Trump state in 2016, those same voters. Donnelley has got to convince a lot of them to reelect him in 2018. So that is a tall order for Donnelley and for Manchin.

But, what is the one thing that Democrats like this might have going for them in 2018? This is kind of weird, but the answer is Donald Trump, because this pattern, history tells us this. Senators like Donnelley and Manchin, who are in hostile states and midterms, voting for a president of the other party, there`s something about the nature of midterm elections, those voters are a lot more willing in that climate to reelect them. Check this out.

Go back a generation. Go back to `94. Senators in the same position, Manchin and Donnelley are in this year. This is the won-loss record. They were all in hostile states, they`re all in states that a president of the other party just carried. Won, won, won, won, won. Add these all together. We get 21 victories, 21 of those senators since `94 survived. Only three lost, a 21 and 3 record. So that`s the silver lining for Democrats. You`re having Donald Trump as president. Maybe those voters in West Virginia a little more willing to vote for a Democrat for the Senate. Maybe the same in Indiana than say if Hillary Clinton were president.

And by the way, the exceptions here, the only ones who lost, those were years when the president was very popular. Bush, a year of 9/11 in `02, he was over 60%. Clinton in `98, we just talked about it, the impeachment backlash. Trump, of course, he`s in the 40s right now. So it`s one of the ironies of politics. For the Democratic Party, it was a devastating day when Donald Trump got elected president. For Joe Donnelly -- right, for Donnelly, for Manchin, for all these other Democrats who are up, that election of Donald Trump in 2016 might be the thing that saves them in 2018.

Keep that in mind as this play out. And a reminder, of course, going to be back here. I will be here for a full primary coverage this Tuesday night, all night long here on MSNBC. Going to try to make a fun event out of this. So join me if you like elections, if you like numbers, if you like some excitement.

And coming up, from Kanye West to John, carried a nuclear war, Donald Trump covered a lot of ground during that speech in front of the NRA. The 11th Hour back after this.



TRUMP: I want to thank all of you, the true American patriots of the NRA who defend our rights, our liberty, and our great American flag. Your second amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I`m your president.


KORNACKI: Donald Trump there again at the NRA convention in Dallas today where he covered a wide range of topics from the expected to the very unexpected.


TRUMP: African-American unemployment has reached another all-time in history record low. Kanye West must have some power because you probably saw I doubled my African American poll numbers. Remember they said there`s no way -- electoral college. There`s no way to 270 for me. There is no way to 270. And they were right. But 306 was OK.

We`re really doing well with North Korea. You know what gets you nuclear war? Weakness gets you nuclear war. John Kerry. Not the best negotiator we`ve ever seen. He never walked away from the table except to be in that bicycle race where he fell and broke his leg. Pretty (ph) strong, and we`re going to take people into our country, but they`re going to come in based on merit, not based on picking somebody out of a bin.


KORNACKI: And with us tonight, Jonathan Allen, NBC News national political reporter. His book, "Shattered, Inside Hillary Clinton`s Doomed Campaign", is available now in paper back. And here with me in New York, Mike Pesca, author and host of the Slate podcast, "The Gist". Thanks to both of you for being with us.

And Jonathan, just in terms of the content and the message of this speech today, it is to a gun rights group, the NRA. So many other topics covered. Did anything surprise you about the message the president brought to Dallas there today?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS: I think we`ve become very accustomed to the president giving long and eclectic speeches. I actually thought there was a theme here, though. He`s standing in front of the NRA after the Parkland shooting, after all the discussion, after he raised some eyebrows with what sounded to gun rights owners like some happy talk about possible gun control legislation and the big White House, you know, sort of to-do with all the senators in his office.

And, you know, with the theme I saw emerging here with the NRA feeling, as he said, under siege is him sending a message of how hard he`s going to fight for his loyalists and how much he relishes the battle against his enemies and their enemies. So whether you`re talking about Kanye West, this guy that now loves President Trump. Trump loves him back as we hear. You talk about Senator Tester, you know, who went after Ronny Jackson. Trump now defending Jackson by going after Tester.

You know, you see this theme sort of emerging in what he`s saying. And of course, more than anybody else, Paul Manafort, who he fired from his campaign but is now praising even as Manafort faces the greatest political test -- I mean, the greatest legal test of anybody in politics in recent memory.

KORNACKI: Mike, I wonder if this is a way here to understand sort of the nature of Trump`s support because it`s interesting to me. The normal Republican politician who goes to the NRA convention hits every item on the NRA check list about guns, about background checks, all of these issues, gets a very, I`m sure, polite reception from the crowd. And yet Trump goes in there and he`s riffing on names in the news and he`s throwing out insults at people --


KORNACKI: -- and probably forged a closer bond with that audience than Ted Cruz, for instance, would have.

PESCA: Well -- and he did have some stats loaded in his teleprompter. John Lott, who`s the NRA`s favorite criminology stat about mass shootings that`s probably wrong. And he talked about knife crimes in London. But, you know, this is where the NRA is. This is who Trump is. He`s not going to change everyone (ph). But the NRA has changed a little bit, too. I mean, Dana Loesch, their spokesman, they`re pretty much culture warriors that happen to own guns. And they`re talking about our assault on liberties and they`re always talking about how the media is against us. These are themes that Trump is talking about, too.

So there`s been a convergence of the NRA and Trump. And I got to say, I mean, I think -- I don`t know how Kanye West will play with the NRA. I think Killer Mike is probably more than a rapper du jour, but I do think that he just instinctively knows where the red meat is. It`s also the only thing he can say. He hits those familiar talking points. The election. It`s been, what, 560-how many days since the election, so he`s always going to go to that, and they get it on a gut level. They don`t need to hear anything about trigger locks or anything really in depth about gun policy. They just know that he stands with them, and he`s fine with that.

KORNACKI: Yes, and it is, Jonathan, that Mike is making an interesting point there. In the old days, the NRA was sort of understood as there were Democrats, and there still are, but there were a lot more Democrats, I think, who sought that NRA seal, and Republicans, and really, yes, it was Trump`s speech but, you know, this could have been any group that Trump was speaking in front of today, a Republican base group.

ALLEN: That`s absolutely right, Steve. It used to be that the membership of the NRA was bipartisan and, you know, unified ideologically by guns, but that`s not really the case anymore. I mean, certainly, some members of the NRA are Democrats, but at the leadership level, at the events you go to when you talk -- when go to the Conservative Political Action Committee and, you know, the NRA folks are there, this is a group that is entirely Republican at this point and has merged, you know, as was being said a minute ago, has essentially merged as a piece of the culture war.

PESCA: By the way, speaking of Democrats in the NRA, I guarantee you John Tester has shot more guns in his life than Trump has even shot off his (INAUDIBLE).

KORNACKI: And we mentioned Joe Manchin earlier. It was Joe Manchin in a campaign ad, one of the last times he was running who shot a copy of the cap and trade bill cursing (ph) Obama. So, I think he might still go for that NRA seal of approval.

Jonathan and Mike are sticking with us.

And coming up, if you believe the president and his chief of staff, things are going great between them. The 11th Hour back after this.


KORNACKI: President Trump`s relationship with his chief of staff John Kelly appeared to be on the rocks this week, after an NBC News report cited four officials saying that Kelly had called Trump an idiot, in a "New York Times" report that Kelly was eyeing the exits. But on their way to Texas this morning, Trump and Kelly made a point of praising one another.


TRUMP: I want to just tell you something. General Kelly is doing a fantastic job. There has been such false reporting about our relationship. We have a great relationship. He`s doing a great job as chief of staff. I could not be more happy. So I want to tell you that. The "New York Times" has falsely reported. They`ve said things that are absolutely false. So, I just want to tell you that. And General, you may have something to say.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I would just say it`s an absolute privilege to work for a president that has gotten the economy going. We`re about to have a breakthrough, I believe, on North Korea. The jobs report today. I mean, everything is going phenomenally well, attacking the opioid crisis. It`s nothing less than brilliant what`s been accomplished in 15 months, I believe.


KORNACKI: And Jonathan Allen and Mike Pesca are back with me. And Mike, the big question here, is that a president rallying around his chief of staff or is that what they call the dreaded vote of confidence?

PESCA: Right. We can play a tape like David Shulkin, all right, David, we`d never say you`re fired to him and there`s probably tape of McMaster all those other guys. I think Kelly is like all the generals, they do it out of sense of duty. Although with Kelly, I get the sense that maybe his personal politics are aligned more with the president`s.

But I`d like to ask you and John. So I am mostly a news consumer on these issues and there is some level of the palace intrigue. I remember for months, we got the Rex was out, Rex is in stories. Is there a huge benefit? I think the stories are true, but explain to me what the huge benefit through the public is. Maybe Jon could explain this to me of, you know, constantly reporting these stories. I`m curious about it but are these the top stories that I need to know that this guy might be out?

KORNACKI: Well, let`s ask Jon Allen about that, and Jon maybe also (ph) has a way of -- this is the chief of staff we`re talking about here, so does that add significance to reporting like this?

ALLEN: It does add significance to reporting like this. I think you report these things, these tensions, these palace dramas when they`re there because sometimes they do affect policy, personnel is policy. And because, you know, the public does, I think, have some interest in what`s going on there. If it didn`t, Donald Trump wouldn`t continue to play the apprentice with all of his staff.

KORNACKI: And what about the particular role of Kelly here, because I`m curious, you know, Donald Trump, certainly other folks have been expendable to him, is there anything about what we know Kelly does there in the White House, the role he plays, whether it`s on a policy or personnel matter, that makes him in Trump`s mind potentially any less expendable?

ALLEN: The relationship status is complicated but I do think there is a degree to which he doesn`t seem expendable to Trump. And I think that`s for a couple reasons. Number one, Trump clearly respects him, he calls him General Kelly. I think he clearly respects the order or the somewhat better order that was brought to the White House under Kelly than previously under Reince Priebus.

But the other thing is, anybody who would want that job right now probably shouldn`t have it. And I think Trump, you know, understands that. There are a lot of people in the Trump orbit who have been trying to push Kelly out for a long time because they don`t have like the fact that they don`t have access to the president anymore that they used to have. And so it`s not that hard to find somebody who is a Trump insider who thinks that Kelly is about to be gone because that`s their wishful thinking.

KORNACKI: And Mike Pesca, you asked the question about the utility of this reporting, 15 seconds, do you have a new perspective now?

PESCA: Oh, I would report it. But, it does seem to me that, just as a news consumer, of all the things to pay attention to. I put this on my mental back burner and want to know the fact that say, the Qatari`s bought a $6.5 million apartment in Trump Tower. That`s disturbing.

KORNACKI: All right, Mike Pesca with the last word there. Jonathan Allen, thank you both for joining us. And also there`s this for all of you sports fans out there, Mike`s latest book is coming out later this month "Upon Further Review, The Greatest What-Ifs In Sports History". And I have a biased reason for bringing this up because one of the chapters was actually written by yours truly.

And on a related note, coming up, we`re going to look ahead to the most exciting two minutes of sports. That`s tomorrow. That`s going to happen this weekend, I should say, a preview is up next when The 11th Hour comes right back.


KORNACKI: And the last thing before we go tonight, Saturday brings us the Kentucky Derby, the 144th to be exact. The blink or you`ll miss it one and one quarter mile race, it`s known, of course, as the most exciting two minutes in sports.

The A.P. reports the trainers believe this year`s 20 horse field is one of the deepest we`ve seen. The five favorites, starting at the number seven position there, is Justify, for you racing fans. He is hoping to break what`s known as the Apollo curse, it`s very complicated. Google it if you`re interested. At the number 14, folks, there is Mendelssohn, he`s based in Ireland, five to one in the odds there. That makes him the favorite.

Magnum Moon, how about this one, is so far unbeaten this racing season, last winning the Arkansas Derby in April. He`s going to start from the number 16 post. And at the number five post, a horse named, Audible. He`s going off at six to one. He`s been a favorite of the big betting crowd. But there`s also a local, Bolt d`Oro, a Kentucky-bred big hole (ph) who have to work the outside starting from the number 11 post.

And me, I like long shots. I like a good underdog, and it is -- the horse named, Bravazo. He`s at post number 13, that`s an unlucky one, he is a real long shot sitting there at 67 to one, but I like his breeding, I like his trainer, a legend named D. Wayne Lukas. So, try not to remember I gave you that pick when he finish his dead last (ph). But Bravazo, that`s mine.

That`s our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us. Brian will be back on Monday. Good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.


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