Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 7, 2018 Guest: James Carville
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, new reporting from "The Associated Press." The President frustrated with Rudy Giuliani as Rudy tells NBC News tonight the President isn`t frustrated at all.
Plus a look inside what`s reported to be a practice session for the President to prepare for Robert Mueller`s questioning.
And on the eve of election day, the President weighs in on the ex-con running for Senate in West Virginia. James Carville here to talk politics tonight. Jon Meacham is here to save the American soul. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way.
And good evening, once again, as we start a new week from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 473 of the Trump administration, and there is new reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" tonight on the possibility of an interview between President Trump and Special Counsel Mueller.
The "Journal" reports Trump`s attorneys in the Russia investigation "hope to decide whether he should testify by May 17, the one-year anniversary of the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Monday. Mr. Trump`s legal team has long been divided on whether he should agree to a sit-down interview. In an interview, Mr. Giuliani said every day we swing a little different on whether to advise Mr. Trump to talk to Mr. Mueller, through they suggested -- he suggested, rather, that recent developments in the probe have made him more leery." The "Journal" goes on to report, "in an informal four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump`s lawyers were only able to walk him through two questions given the frequent interruptions on national security matters along with Mr. Trump`s loquaciousness, one person familiar with the matter said."
Also tonight NBC News reports Rudy Giuliani has confirmed on the record that Special Counsel Mueller has rejected an offer for the President to answer written questions in lieu of a sit-down interview. Giuliani says this happened about ten days ago during his first ever meeting with Mueller. He also says the plan is to submit a counteroffer to Mueller the week after next, the details of which he did not share.
Yesterday on ABC News, Rudy Giuliani addressed the issue of a possible interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: and if he tells -- and he tells the truth, as you would advise him to do, what is the danger in answering Robert Mueller`s questions?
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: Because they`re trying to trap -- you can`t -- you couldn`t put a lawyer on the show who wants to keep his law license to tell you he should testify.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But it`s only a trap if the President doesn`t tell the truth.
GIULIANI: No, it isn`t. It`s only prosecutable if they have some built up, manipulated evidence to prove the President didn`t tell the truth.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you believe the President is telling the truth. If you believe that, if you have that conviction, you`re his attorney. Why don`t you say, "Go in, talk to Robert Mueller? Tell the truth."
GIULIANI: Because I wouldn`t be an attorney if I did that, George. I`d be living in some kind of unreal fantasy world that everybody tells the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Amid the negotiations for a Trump-Mueller sit-down, the President has kept up his attacks on Twitter this morning, sending out this message. And again, with no regard for established norms of capitalization. "The Russia witch hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found no collusion, coordination, or anything else with Russia. So now the probe says OK, what else is there? How about obstruction for a made up phony crime? There is no "O," it`s called fighting back."
And as the President tries to discredit the Russia investigation, there are new indications of ominous stress fractures, let`s call it, in his relationship with, among his newest lawyers, Rudy Giuliani. According to a new "Politico" article out just tonight, the former New York City mayor`s days long media blitz has irritated the President, who "has been griping to associates that Rudy Giuliani, his new personal attorney, has failed to shut down the Stormy Daniels hush money saga. And he has expressed frustration that Giuliani`s media appearances are raising more questions than they are answering, turning the story into a days-long drama capped by the admission Sunday that the President may have made similar payments to other women."
The question of possible payments to other women came up during that Giuliani interview yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: So did Michael Cohen make payments to other women for the President?
GIULIANI: I have no knowledge of that but I would think if it was necessary, yes. He made payments for the President, or he conducted business for the President, which means he had legal fees, monies laid out, and expenditures, which I have on my bills to my clients.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The topic then came up again today at the White House briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS: Rudy Giuliani said that if necessary, it`s possible that Michael Cohen could have paid off other women to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with the President. Is that possible? Are there other women out there who received money from the President to stay quiet?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I`m not aware of any other activity, but I would refer you to Rudy Giuliani to respond to any of those questions or anybody else on the President`s outside counsel.
VEGA: But you`ve been in his circle for a long time now. You were on the campaign. Is that anything that came across your desk?
SANDERS: Again, I`m not aware of anything like that. But I would refer you to the President`s outside counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And there is this new reporting tonight from Jonathan Lemire of "The Associated Press," who is standing by to talk with us. He writes that the President "is growing increasingly irritated with lawyer Rudy Giuliani`s frequently off-message media blitz, in which he has muddied the waters on hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels and made claims that could complicate the President`s standing in the special counsel`s Russia probe. Trump has begun questioning whether Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, should be sidelined from television interviews, according to two people familiar with the President`s thinking, but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions."
Giuliani is weighing in on reporting about Trump`s reaction to his interview, telling NBC News, follow us here, that "he`s not frustrated at all." And one source familiar with the President`s thinking is telling NBC News tonight "the President still has confidence in Rudy, but Rudy will need more discipline to keep the President`s confidence." Isn`t this interesting?
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for another busy Monday night as we start a new week. Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post." Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times." The aforementioned Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press." And because we need a lawyer and a damn good one, Barbara McQuade is back with us, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. All are MSNBC Analysts.
Jonathan, since we dropped your name, we know Rudy`s feelings about Trump. What are Trump`s feelings about Rudy, do we think?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": At this moment, he does appreciate --
WILLIAMS: At 11:07 Eastern --
LEMIRE: -- ask me again at 11:09. At this moment he does appreciate that the President -- that the former mayor is sort of an attack dog in the media, that he is out there. He`s grabbing headlines. He`s defending him.
WILLIAMS: That he is.
LEMIRE: He`s defending him, and he`s taking a much more aggressive tact than some of his other lawyers have done. That said, as our reporting indicates, he`s also growing frustrated. We saw those video clips there. Pretty muddled answers suggesting that the President couldn`t be trusted to tell the truth about the Russia probe if he sat down with Mueller. Suggesting there may be more women that Michael Cohen has paid off to keep quiet a la Stormy Daniels.
These are things that have not set well with the President, who certainly at this moment, again, is not suggesting that he`s going to dismiss Rudy Giuliani, but he`s growing frustrated with these stories. He doesn`t feel like he`s sort of silenced the talk about Stormy Daniels. In fact, he has sort of accelerated it. He`s poured more fuel on that fire. That he thinks that he does need to be more disciplined or he needs to perhaps come off the air for a while.
He`s also frustrated in the exchange from a previous interview with Sean Hannity, where Sean Hannity, who we also know is a Trump confidant. They speak frequently. You know he was surprised by Rudy suggesting that Trump knew about these payments and said, "Oh, they were funneled through the law firm?" And Giuliani repeated back and said, "Oh, funneled, yes." And the President, according to our reporting, got mad at both men, saying funneled, that suggests a criminal enterprise. That`s not what we`re trying to do here.
WILLIAMS: Yes, that`s not a normal word.
Peter, I have two questions for you. Number one, the Rudy factor. Since the Hannity interview, it strikes us tonight he`s been all or part of our lead story every night since. So there`s that.
And, secondly, a serious question we don`t get to see you in New York that often. By percentage, how -- you cover this White House for "The New York Times." How much of the Trump presidency do you end up covering every day, and how much of this, the moving parts, the machinations?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, it`s a great question. Look, there was talk just last summer about trying to separate these things, right? To have somebody who just dealt with these things so that the White House could get on with the business of governing the country.
We`ve got a big decision on Iran coming tomorrow. We`ve got an upcoming summit with North Korea. We`ve got the embassy moving in Jerusalem. This is in the next few days alone.
We`ve got tariffs, we`ve got U.K. visit. We`ve got all kinds of things. And instead the President of the United States and his team are focused on hush payments to a porn star. Not the way this is supposed to work. So Rudy Giuliani, rather than taking it off the front pages, has put it back on the front page every day with each succeeding statement no matter how more, you know, off-message to use your phrase, it could be.
WILLIAMS: And, Ashley, you`ve written about this. You`ve talked about it to some degree. What does this say about what could be an innate need for drama on the part of the President?
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it says that it`s inescapable. We often write about the President`s sort of preferred method of governing and managing, which is to do so in chaos. And I think what you`re seeing with the legal team right now is a microcosm of that.
There was a lot of talk when Rudy Giuliani came on. People were a little skeptical, but they were excited to have a big name, excited to have a television attack dog, and there was also excitement when the President brought Emmet Flood on. That is a well respected lawyer who is the sort of person you want in the trenches with you when you`re facing this sort of investigation. But the way the President has managed sort of not quite pitting one against the other, but plotting a strategy with Rudy Giuliani that Flood and the rest of his team didn`t know about. I talked to an outside adviser today who basically described the other lawyers as simply baffled by what`s going on.
This is the President`s management style. This is what he seems to prefer. He`s stated that publicly and articulated it, and it also seems to be an almost instinctual urge, but you are seeing the downsides of that right now with his legal team.
WILLIAMS: Barbara, on that point Ashley just made, I want to show a tweet from someone we all know and a colleague of Peter`s, Maggie Haberman, tonight kind of put it very succinctly. "One person close to the White House sums up Trump`s legal strategy right now as two teams. There`s the Trump-Rudy team, and then there`s the lawyers." Elegant turn of phrase there. But do you imagine right about now Emmet Flood is really happy he moved all his stuff across town from his partnership in Williams & Connolly to a small office in the West Wing?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I imagine he`s quite frustrated to see Rudy Giuliani out on television after he, himself, says he`s only about halfway through learning the facts of the case. I mean, you know, lawyer should be out doing that, and there can be some very significant consequences of Rudy Giuliani, as Trump`s attorney, making these statements on his behalf. Those are statements that are binding on the party on whose behalf you`re making them.
So, you know, he`s not just some, you know, friend of President Trump or pundit who is opining about issues. He is his lawful attorney representing him and making these statements. So some very serious consequences there. So imagine that Emmet Flood and others are very frustrated.
I think this is a consequence of President Trump being his own communications director and not having a comprehensive strategy where everyone`s on the same page. And my guess is that Emmet Flood would ask Rudy Giuliani to either stop talking or at least learn the facts before you do talk.
WILLIAMS: And you`re so right to make that point. He is playing with House money during all these media appearances, or more appropriately, White House. And, Barbara, one more thing. I want to run Rudy Giuliani on the subject of the President potentially taking the Fifth and then get your opinion coming out of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident the President will not take the Fifth in this case?
GIULIANI: How can I ever be confident of that? When I`m facing a situation with the President and all the other lawyers are, in which every lawyer in America thinks he`d be a fool to testify, I`ve got a client who wants to testify, please, don`t -- he said it yesterday.
And, you know, Jay and I said to ourselves, my goodness, you know, I hope we get a chance to tell him the risk that he`s taking.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what happens if Robert Mueller subpoenas the President? Will you comply?
GIULIANI: Well, we don`t have to. He`s the president of the United States. We can assert the same privilege as other president`s have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Barbara, what do you make of that?
MCQUADE: Well, you know, essentially what he`s saying is that President Trump would be a fool to testify in front of Robert Mueller. You know, his choices are to tell the truth, number one. And he seems to be suggesting that he`s not capable of doing that because that would incriminate him of a crime. And so he would consider asserting the Fifth Amendment, which means, you know, it`s a right that all citizens have to protect themselves from incriminating themselves. But it means that if he were to tell the truth, that means he would have to confess to crimes, and that would be the reason that you would invoke the Fifth Amendment.
So it sort of sounds like he`s saying he either has to confess to crimes or lie and that would be an untenable situation. It seems telling the truth is not an option that would save him from incriminating himself.
WILLIAMS: And that`s why we thought we need a lawyer present for tonight`s conversation. Jonathan, you`ve already talked about this President, his consumption of cable news, which is apparently undiminished. That will be a repeating circle, though. If he`s calling Sean Hannity to trouble him about something he said on the air, there`s the on -- all the issues Peter Baker just mentioned, there is the ongoing matter of the presidency at hand.
LEMIRE: There is. But this President -- it`s a cycle. He says something. Cable covers it. He responds whether by Twitter or even by making policy to how cable covered his statement and so on and so on and so on.
It is a very reactionary President, and he does seem consumed by these daily dramas that sort of moves the needle. He always has to be the center of attention as opposed to the very weighty decisions, matters of policy, international affairs that he now has to get to. I mean it can`t be overstated how important his decisions about what the U.S. will do with the Iran deal. That is a significant thing, you know, but that is not what this President often thinks about. That he is more consumed than -- you know, every night or most nights he goes back to the White House residence, call his circle of informal advisers often to get their opinions, not necessarily about the policy but how things are playing in the media. And that informs what he then wakes up the next morning and starts tweeting about.
WILLIAMS: So, Peter, on something as important and potentially as important to the republic as a Mueller interview, you really won`t know until you know because we`ve heard the boss`s attorney, and it`s going to come down to whether the boss is feeling it or not.
BAKER: Yes, it`s absolutely one person`s decision, not the lawyers. And the other thing that`s interesting about this, it`s not just this question of the Fifth Amendment. What you heard Rudy Giuliani there assert is that because the President is the President, he doesn`t have to comply with a subpoena if Robert Mueller were to issue one. Now, that`s an untested theory.
WILLIAMS: That`s right.
BAKER: In the Clinton case in 1998 when we were talking about whether he lied under oath and obstructed justice in the Paula Jones lawsuit about Monica Lewinsky, Ken Starr did issue a subpoena for the President`s testimony. Clinton`s team did not challenge that in court. They didn`t say that Ken Starr didn`t have that power. What they did was negotiate and say, "OK, if you lift that subpoena, we will give you voluntary testimony if these conditions are met," and that`s what happened.
The subpoena was lifted. No court has tested this. But what the Clinton team concluded was the Nixon case, the 8-0 case, and the tapes back in Watergate in effect provides precedent that means that if a court can compel a President to provide tapes, they can compel a President to provide testimony and that there`s no reason for them -- no ability for them to resist such dispute.
WILLIAMS: And does he want to be the first President to test out that new area of law?
Hey, Ashley, just one more question on Rudy. What`s been your reporting regarding how big or small his constituency is in that building other than the residence portion of that building?
PARKER: Well, first to be clear, the only portion that really matters is the residence portion.
WILLIAMS: Yes, thank you for the reminder.
PARKER: So stipulated. But among the President`s aides and some people that advisers and friends he calls late at night, the constituency is not particularly high. There were skepticism when he went in but they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say, "He might be a good attack dog on T.V. He can perform that role, and that certainly scratches an important itch for the President. And maybe if he`s doing it, the President won`t be doing it himself."
But there`s a growing sense that he is just complicating things, not just on the legal front although certainly there. But we`ve also seen him weigh in on sort of policy and governing issues like regime change in Iran or what`s going on with the detainees in North Korea, which are areas that he is absolutely not qualified to speak on as the President`s lawyer and that White House aides and the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have to clean up and account for, and it`s just a huge, tremendous hassle for them. And they`re not happy.
WILLIAMS: And, Barbara, one more legal question that draws from the news of tonight. Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of the State of New York, has resigned. It came three hours after the New Yorker dropped a story citing four women, some terrible cases of alleged abuse.
The reason I ask you is Schneiderman was said to be kind of loading up ancillary and companion cases so there would be an outlet. Let`s say in the event of pardons, that New York could proceed on its own against some of the principals, Schneiderman having already prosecuted Trump University. Do you think this will have a practical impact on any case going forward?
MCQUADE: No, I really don`t. I mean, I think this will probably rock that office for some time, especially since Eric Schneiderman was such a strong advocate in favor of women`s rights, having sued Harvey Weinstein on behalf of some of his victims. And so I think it will send some shock waves through the office in the short term. It may have to address some things with the culture of that office. But, you know, these cases are brought by the career professionals who work in these offices.
The attorney general`s office of the State of New York is much bigger than any one person. He will be replaced at some point. There will be probably be an acting attorney general for some time, and the worker bees, the lawyers who work on those cases, will continue pressing forward with their work.
WILLIAMS: We`re so thankful to be able to talk to all four of you as we start off this new work week. Ashley Parker, Peter Baker, Jonathan Lemire, Barbara McQuade, our thanks.
And coming up for us, President Trump weighs in on a race in West Virginia as an ex-con is in the running for the Republican nomination.
And later, while you`d be forgiven for fearing that all of our better angels have long since flown away, Jon Meacham is here with us tonight with a reminder that they`re indeed still around.
"The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Monday evening.
WILLIAMS: President Trump is jumping into a heated Republican primary battle for Senate in West Virginia, where voters will head to the polls in just hours. The President is warning voters to stay away from Don Blankenship, former coal executive who served prison time for his role in a deadly mine explosion. It was known, you may remember it, as the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. It killed 29 men where they worked.
Well, President Trump wrote on Twitter today" Don Blankenship currently running for Senate can`t win the general election in your state, no way. Remember Alabama. Vote Rep. Jenkins or A.G. Morrisey." If Blankenship wins, many Republicans worry that Senator Joe Manchin will keep his seat come fall. While Manchin sometimes votes on the other side, he`s still got a "d" after his name. And "The Weekly Standard" reports internal campaign polling is showing Blankenship narrowly leading the Republican pack. This as "The New York Times" reports Trump got involved after a request from the Senate majority leader.
"Mr. Trump`s decision to speak out on the race came after Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whom Mr. Blankenship has targeted in a deeply personal manner, urged the President in a telephone call on Sunday to weigh in against the controversial former coal executive. Well, earlier today Blankenship responded to the President`s tweet at a town hall meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA, SENATE CANDIDATE: We all really like President Trump`s policies, but we know that he doesn`t get things right. I mean he recommended that people vote for a guy that was basically accused of pedophilia in Alabama. It`s really sad that the pressure on the President and the misinformation and the untruths that he`s been given would cause him to suggest that you vote for two guys that have failed you because I will not fail you if --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In a statement, Blankenship said, "Tomorrow West Virginia will send the swamp a message no one, and I mean no one, will tell us how to vote. As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump, and this morning proves it."
Well, let`s talk about it with none other than James Carville, Veteran Democratic Strategist who worked for multiple political campaigns, including both Bill and Hillary Clinton. James, there`s got to be some fantastic Southern Louisiana expression for when you don`t get the candidate you want but you get the candidate you might deserve.
JAMES CARVILLE, VETERAN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it kind of -- some headline is going to be ex-con opposed by future con. Ex-con really pretty funny. You know, as Donald Rumsfeld said you go to war with the bomb you`ve got. And the Republican Party has got to go to wall with the candidate they get. But I do think they were traumatized by the experience in Alabama. That was a pretty traumatic experience for the Republican Party.
Probably his late intervention will probably stop Blankenship from getting the nomination. But, you know, that count of votes, it`s a unique, you know, there are only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary In West Virginia, which prohibits a lot of registered Democrats who would be sympathetic with Trump jumping in that primary. So we`ve got to wait and see.
WILLIAMS: Now, James, there`s a theory afoot that the Democrats can indeed still find 15 ways from Sunday to screw up the blue wave during the midterm elections. That Pelosi has to stop talking about being speaker, and they`ve got to stop talking about impeachment. Where do you put their chances to actually put forward a colossal challenge?
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, look, I don`t know it`s going to be a blue year. Whether it`s a powder blue year or navy blue year is to be determined. The Democrats at winning elections and the special elections, they`re not talking about impeachment. They`re talking about health care. They`re talking about infrastructure. They`re talking about things like that.
And I`m in touch with a lot of these Democratic campaigns that are coming up in 2018, and that`s not the conversation that they`re having. You go out in the Conor Lamb campaign or Doug Jones or Ralph Northam, or the campaign out in Arizona, there`s very little talk about that. The impeachment is more of a talk that`s coming out of Democrats from Washington and some Democratic donors. But Democratic candidates who are successful, this is not high on their agenda. Health care is really high.
WILLIAMS: James, how does this Trump situation end in your view? When people ask you that, how do you answer? How does this end?
CARVILLE: Well, I think one day he`s just going to leave. It just -- you don`t see -- it`s really unique. I mean I went through a similar thing, and I had a role, I guess, people would call me an attack dog during the Clinton thing. But I was not one of the lawyers.
It`s really unprecedented when you see one of the President`s lawyers, which is an entirely different status than a President`s political supporter, going on television. After one of his experiences, Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels who has, you know, done really well, said he thought it was a hoax that Giuliani really wasn`t saying what he was saying. It`s very, very unprecedented, and it`s very weird.
And I know Emmet Flood slightly but I know people that tell me that, you know, he`s a terrific lawyer. That guy must be beating his head against the wall right now as to what`s going on. It`s a very strange situation that a President`s lawyer would be going out and saying the things that Rudy Giuliani is saying. It`s odd, very odd.
WILLIAMS: So perhaps Trump finishes his term, but Rudy doesn`t finish his?
CARVILLE: I don`t think Rudy doesn`t have very long to go in that position based on the reporting at A.P. These are very good reporters. I don`t think that he gets (INAUDIBLE). He`s probably on a short leash.
I don`t know what`s going to happen with the President because they keep running through these guys, and then there`s mooch and somebody else, and now they end up with Giuliani. Who knows who the next one is going to be? But, you know, it will be entertaining for a lot of us, and it will be quite a ride between now and the time this ends.
WILLIAMS: Final ten seconds. Prediction on LSU football this coming season.
CARVILLE: That we lose three games and beat Alabama.
WILLIAMS: All right. We`ll take that. We`ll have you back on.
CARVILLE: I`ll take that.
WILLIAMS: We`ll talk about that. Next time we`ll talk about how the saints did in the draft.
CARVILLE: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: James Carville.
CARVILLE: You bet, appreciate.
WILLIAMS: Always a pleasure. Thank you very much for being with us.
CARVILLE: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up here with us, a retired four-star U.S. Army general on a high-stakes announcement by the President tomorrow afternoon when we come right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iran deal made by the previous administration is one of the worst deals I have ever witnessed, and I`ve witnessed some beauties.
You look at this new deal with Iran. It`s disgusting.
I`m not going to be a John Kerry who makes that horrible Iran deal. Horrible. One of the worst deals -- I mean how do you make a deal like that?
This was a deal at the highest level of incompetence.
I mean people know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. It should have never, ever been made. We could have made a good deal or a reasonable deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So let`s put him down as a no. President Trump appears to be ready to pull the plug on the Iran nuclear deal. The deadline to recertify the U.S. commitment to it is Saturday, but Trump said this today, "I will be announcing my decision on the Iran deal tomorrow from the White House, 2:00 p.m."
We only wanted one guy to be here with us to talk about this, and he is here. Retired four-star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, decorated combat veteran Vietnam, former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf, vast experience in the Middle East, also, former U.S. drug czar for good measure. He is, thankfully, an MSNBC military analyst.
General, I don`t pretend to know the details or contours of this deal, and I`m guessing most people watching tonight don`t either. Give us what we should know about the Iran deal in your view.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET), U.S. ARMY: Well, I think you`d start with you can`t withdraw from the deal without encountering huge problems. You got to go with Secretary Jim Mattis, who has a good grasp of all the issues. He says we`ll never get the economic sanctions re-imposed by the Europeans. The Russians and Chinese will block any potential movement in the larger community.
The Iranians would probably not suffer economic consequences of any significance, and they would likely to be race to a breakout and have a nuclear device, which might also, I might add, impel the Saudis and the Sunni Muslim community to get their bomb to counter the Persian bomb.
Having said that, I personally believe it wasn`t a very good accord. The Israelis opposed it. The Saudis opposed it. When you look out 15 years, it really didn`t achieve any finality to it. It didn`t affect the Iranians` massive involvement in terrorism throughout the Middle East. It didn`t affect their missile development program, which is obviously a key part of a credible nuclear strike capability. So we`ve got sort of a shaky situation, and I think he`s going to pull us out, and it`s going to be real trouble in the coming year.
WILLIAMS: I was going to say it`s possible that bad deals keep the world safer, and there`s got to be a reason that the leaders of France and Germany have come here and the British foreign secretary has come out and said, please, Mr. President, keep this together.
MCCAFFREY: Sure. I think the Iranians, by the way, are pretty cagey people. In the short run, they`ll probably try and break up the consensus in the European Union among our NATO allies. So this may not get us very far. I`m not sure if they`re as smart as I think they are, they`ll actually immediately restart their nuclear program. They`ll probably wait and see if they can achieve through political means what they need to do. But they`ve already gotten the money. I mean count it as a $400 billion infusion of cash. That can`t be brought back. So, again, as Mattis says, we`ve got to stick with the deal.
WILLIAMS: I want to read you the definition of strange bedfellows on the subject of Gina Haspel, the president`s nominee to run the CIA. Here`s what the president said on Twitter today. "My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on terrorists. Think of that. In these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman who Democrats want out because she`s too tough on terror. Win Gina."
And we -- the next one I want to read is John Brennan, former CIA director, who has filleted this president on other matters, but listen to this. "Senators, show that you put country above politics. Gina Haspel is a competent, experienced, and highly qualified intelligence professional. Ask her tough questions. Listen to her answers, and then decide. But don`t penalize her for previous policy decisions or because Donald Trump picked her."
General, not only have you given your life to service to this country, much of it in uniform. You`ve had children of your own on foreign battlefields who you not would have not wanted tortured under the flag of another country. You`ve never believed in it. Torture is at the basis, a former policy of ours is at the basis of the disconnect here.
MCCAFFREY: Look, there`s no question that that was a shameful chapter in American history, and it wasn`t just the CIA. It was also Department of Defense, where we had a policy of maltreatment, of torture of people under our control. It did us damage in the international community. It put our own troops at risk. It`s been corrected. We now have a legal opinion, certainly in DOD and also the agency, that it`s against the law.
So we shouldn`t lose sight of that. And President Trump has said he supports torture. It`s just appalling that he could make that statement and be supported by some congressmen, I might add. Having said that, Gina Haspel is the most professional possible choice to be the director of the CIA. She`s non-political. She is supported by Leon Panetta, one of my personal heroes, by General Mike Hayden, by Brennan and others. She ought to be the choice.
And by the way, if it isn`t her -- it`s like when you get rid of H.R. McMaster, I hope you`re happy with what you`ve got to replace him. So I`m not too keen on seeing a political appointee going to be director of the CIA. They ought to confirm her, they ought to make her in public, renounce any consideration of violation of law in the future. But unless we`re willing to go after the president of the United States and the attorney general and the secretary of Defense, who were all involved in that policy decision after 9/11, they got scared. They lost their judgment temporarily. We got to put that behind us, though.
WILLIAMS: Not our proudest moment. General, it`s a real treat to have you here in our New York studios. We usually have to talk to you via satellite. General Barry McCaffrey, thank you, sir, as always.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, the current and ongoing fight for the soul of America. That is the idea behind the new book by our Pulitzer Prize winning friend, Jon Meacham. He is here with us to talk about it. We`ll do that after this break.
WILLIAMS: As special counsel Robert Mueller`s Russia investigation looms over the White House, the president continued to attack the people leaving the investigation. Trump wrote on Twitter this morning, and we quote, "The 13 angry Democrats in charge of the Russia witch hunt, capitalization, is starting to find out that there is a court system in place that actually protects people from injustice. And just wait till the courts get to see your unrevealed conflicts of interest, proper name."
Here to help put everything in perspective, save spelling and punctuation, Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian. Also we`re proud to say an MSNBC contributor. And his new book, "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels" is in stores tomorrow or, more appropriately, if it`s an all-night bookstore, you`ve got like 15 minutes to wait.
Jon, you hail from the great state of Tennessee where you currently live. If people come up at a signing, in two different constituencies, I want to hear your answer to the guy who says, this country wasn`t working for me, so you`re damn right I voted for Donald Trump. And there`s more work to be done, and we`re going to break some furniture on the way, what do you say to him? And what do you say to the second person who comes up and sincerely looks in your eye and says, I`m worried about our country?
JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR, "THE SOUL OF AMERICA": What you say is that there is room in the American soul for us to disagree about the means to solve a problem. But our best moments, the moments we look back on, the moments we want to emulate, the moments we commemorate, the new deal, the breakdown, the war against Jim Crow, the Reagan era in many ways were moments in which we opened our hearts. We opened our arms wider, and we grew stronger.
This is not a partisan homily. I have voted for Democrats. I have voted for Republicans. It is a historical data point that the more prosperous we`ve been, the more open we`ve been, free trade, the free movement of people, the free movement of ideas, a free press, the stronger we become. We`re the most powerful nation in the history of the world, largest air force in the world is the United States Air Force. Do you know what the second one is? The United States Navies. We`re doing just fine. But we`re doing fine because we`ve always widened what Jefferson meant when he sat down in late June in 1776 and wrote that we`re all created equal.
WILLIAMS: You are certain -- I`ve been asked to ask this by a mutual friend. You are certain that what we`re in the middle of is not a cataclysm of democracy not fed by something unforeseen by the founders called social media that has driven us apart and splintered us? You`re convinced it`s not a cataclysm? It`s a recoverable act?
MEACHAM: Absolutely. It`s not, hey, relax, we`ve been through this before. It`s hey, let`s get to work and stay at work because we need to keep making it work. The Constitution is a human document. The Constitution was written for an hour like this. It was written to stop demagogues. It would have stunned Madison and Morris and Adams and Washington -- the idea that we didn`t have a demagogue at the highest levels until 2016. The point was we are sinful. We are driven by appetite. We are driven by ambition. We -- ambition must be made, as they said, to counteract ambition.
And so what I suspect our mutual friend would then say would be, well, that`s fine, but the president doesn`t respect the rule of law, and Congress is a bunch of quislings. They`re not standing up to him. There are four or five, six elements in the public sphere. And, remember, a republic is only as good as the sum of its parts. There`s the presidency, there`s the legislature, there`s the press, there`s the courts, and there`s the people. If you can get two or three of those forces on the right side, we`re going to be all right.
Right now I think we have to take the presidency off the table. Congress is on the edge of the table and about to fall off. But the press is doing a great job. The courts, the rule of law, have been doing what they can do. And the people, we`re seeing remarkable activism whether it`s guns in Florida or women marching. Our best moments have come when those voices of protest have actually reached the mainstream and widened the definition of what it is to be an American.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers, Jon Meacham has never written a clunky or bad sentence, and that`s a streak he continues through this new book. Fantastic reading. It`s a pleasure to have you on your tour of the nation`s media. Good luck out there. It`s getting rough these days.
MEACHAM: I hear that.
WILLIAMS: Thanks, Jon. The book is out tomorrow. Again, "Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels". Get in line now at your favorite bookseller because you don`t know what the crowds are going to do first thing in the morning.
Coming up, it`s not just all about West Virginia tomorrow. A look ahead at the other important races we`ll be watching at this very hour tomorrow night on "The 11th Hour".
WILLIAMS: As we mentioned, tomorrow, primary day in West Virginia, but there are also races in Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina we`re going to be watching and covering all of it tomorrow night. One of the notable recurring themes in this primary season, we`ve already talked about it this evening, the Republicans attempting to out-trump each other, in effect.
In the Indiana Senate race, there`s a three-way Republican contest to unseat the incumbent Democrat, Senator Joe Donnelly. Trump won Indiana by 19 points. That`s important and that makes Donnelly seat one to watch. Running on the Republican side, current U.S. Congressman Todd Rokita, his recent add uses trump language, calling Mueller`s investigation a witch hunt and has worn -- he has worn a make America great again hat in his campaign videos.
Also running, Congressman Luke Messer, who`s part of the group of Republicans pushing the president`s nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize for his progress with North Korea and businessman Mike Braun, who credits Trump for his decision to run for the Senate.
In Ohio, two Republicans are competing to face the incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown. Mike Gibbons, the first of them, an investment banker who also has zero political experience and current Congressman Jim Renacci. Renacci. Sorry. Apologies. Who was recently endorsed by Trump. We`re also looking at the Ohio governor`s race and who will succeed the term limited Republican Governor John Kasich.
In the running is Democrat Rich Cordray, former head of the Consumer Financial National Protection Bureau under President Obama. He also has the support of Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren. He is facing some familiar names here. Facing Dennis Kucinich, the former Cleveland mayor and former congressman who has the support of some from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.
Republican candidates for governor of Ohio, current state Attorney General Mike DeWine, also happens to be a former congressman and U.S. senator and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor. That gives you some of what you`re going to see next tomorrow night with Steve Kornacki on the big board for our full primary coverage tomorrow evening, all day, all night long, right here on MSNBC.
Coming up, when we come back, some desperate hours in a beautiful place. That`s when we continue.
WILLIAMS: So the last thing before we go here tonight is that way Mother Nature employs, from time to time, to remind us exactly how insignificant we all are. These are tough times in the 50th state. A beautiful place under tremendous stress as the Kilauea volcano has chosen to wake up and get angry, and there is nothing any of us can do about it.
Aerial photos from the big island show the ground is just opening up in some places, and orange lava is coming out. Pictures from ground level, look at this, show lava approaching a gate and opening the gate as it continues its relentless flow. It`s eating up blacktop, parked cars in its way, close to 30 homes so far. The big island has been shaken by hundreds of earthquakes as Kilauea has rumbled to life, including one big shaker registering a 6.9.
The gases being released are toxic. Sulfur dioxide can kill you, and this eruption is reshaping parts of the island. The old cone atop the volcano has collapsed into a much larger crater and we don`t know for how much longer. Kilauea`s been oozing continually since 1983. It`s just one of five volcanoes on the big island alone, so-called fire fountains of magma have shot over 200 feet in the air.
It`s important to remember volcanoes gave us Hawaii. It`s also important to remember those who have lost everything this week and while we can`t stop what`s happening, we can hope that everyone gets out of the way until Mother Nature decides that`s enough of a show for now.
That`s our broadcast for a Monday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END