Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 8, 2018 Guest: Katie Rogers, Frank Figliuzzi, Sam Stein, Jill Colvin
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight, Michael Avenatti`s explosive allegations about Michael Cohen. A half million dollar payment from a company with ties to a Russian oligarch and a friend of Putin. Money that went into the same account used to pay off Stormy Daniels.
Plus, perhaps the biggest undoing of the Obama era yet, Donald Trump announces the U.S. is out of the Iran nuclear deal.
And Steve Kornacki is at the big board with tonight`s late primary election results, including the fate of the candidate who ran to the right of Donald Trump.
THE 11TH Hour on a Tuesday night begins now.
And good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 474 of this Trump administration brings new allegations that President Trump`s personal lawyer took half a million dollars from a Russian oligarch. Much more on that in just about 30 seconds.
But first we want to catch you up on tonight`s primary races across the country. If you`ve been watching, you know we`ve been keeping a close eye on that West Virginia Republican senate primary. President Trump weighed in on that contest, urging voters to choose anybody but Don Blankenship. It appears they have done just that.
NBC News has called this race for Patrick Morrisey tonight in West Virginia. Blankenship, the coal baron ex-con came in third. We have complete results from Steve Kornacki at the big board coming up a bit later on in our broadcast.
Back to our lead story. More on this bombshell news that the company Michael Cohen used to pay $130,000 to a porn star also received massive sums of money from an investment firm with ties to a Russian oligarch, who was in turn close to Vladimir Putin.
A document first released tonight by Stormy Daniels` attorney, Michael Avenatti, laid out the allegations this way. "Mr. Viktor Vekselberg and his cousin, Mr. Andrew Intrater, routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017, continuing until at least august 2017." According to the documents, those payments added up to approximately $500,000 and it "appears that these funds may have replenished the account following the payment to Ms. Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels." The documents also reveal payments from corporations like Novartis, the pharma giant, AT&T, Korea Aerospace.
Here is Michael Avenatti on this network in just the past hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: There`s no question that this has all the markings of a pay to play-type scenario. This is a President who ran on this whole candidacy of draining the swamp and how the lobbyists were going to be closed out of the process, and they weren`t going to be allowed into the White House anymore.
Meanwhile, now we find out that you have Michael Cohen, who had an office next to Donald Trump in Trump Tower for many, many years, and this guy appears to be selling access to the President of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: NBC News has also reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti`s account of these transactions. Of note, these transactions would have taken place after the election and while Trump`s ties to Russia were already under investigation.
Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, talked about what we know thus far tonight on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, FMR. U.S ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: At a minimum, it`s a very strange look for the President`s personal lawyer, knowing all these allegations, knowing that any connection certainly between folks who have ties to Putin and, you know, deposits of large amounts of money would look suspicious. Maybe there was no crime, and maybe there was nothing necessarily untoward about it. But it sure looks mighty fishy, and you shouldn`t be surprised that there may be two different offices looking at this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Critical part of that statement there at the very end. "Shouldn`t be surprised that there may be two different offices looking at this."
The company in question issued a statement late tonight reading, in part, "Columbus Nova is a management company solely owned and controlled by Americans. After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures. Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved or provided any funding for Columbus Nova`s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue. Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else other than Columbus Nova`s owners were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement." From the very effective law firm, Latham & Watkins tonight.
Here to help us make sense of all of it, our lead-off panel on a Tuesday evening, Frank Figliuzzi is back with us, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, who in past has worked for, among others, one Robert Mueller. John Heilemann, co-author of "Game Change" and "Double Down" as well as co-host and executive producer of "The Circus" on "Showtime." Sam Stein, Veteran Political Journalist, now Politics Editor for "The Daily Beast," and Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press."
All right. Frank, you`re the former Fed here. We read the statement by Latham & Watkins. We`ll let that speak for itself. What do you make of tonight`s development?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Brian, I think we`re much closer tonight to seeing what collusion looks like. I think we`re much closer to the original core of the special counsel`s purpose, which is to determine the extent to which foreign powers have influenced this campaign and influenced this presidency. And I think that Michael Cohen is much closer to criminal charges tonight, and our President is not going to sleep well this evening because it`s going to be very hard for him to assert that he did not know that Cohen had this firm setup, that money was flowing from Columbus Nova, whose biggest client is a Russian oligarch, who has written checks to the campaign, who has signed on with Columbus Nova, who`s been interviewed by the FBI at a New York airport, and we`re supposed to believe that the President knew nothing about this.
Tonight, it`s quite possible that Mueller is looking at Cohen as an unregistered foreign agent, that he`s looking at crimes like money laundering and bank fraud, but that most importantly, it`s possible tonight that the President is being looked at as either an accessory after the fact if he knew that money was coming from Russia to Cohen, and if, in fact, it was for nefarious purposes, or that he might be looked at as a co- conspirator with Cohen.
WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, when our friend Frank speaks, I tend to listen for reasons like that. That gets your attention.
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes.
WILLIAMS: When the story broke tonight, it was just an unlikely place. The attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti, this was not in the form of a press release from the Southern District of New York, for example. And there promises to be more of these type developments.
HEILEMANN: As it happens, I was sitting with Michael Avenatti in his hotel when he sent the tweet that launched all this news coverage, and he`s a little bit -- he`s being quite cagey about the source of how he came to this knowledge. What I think we know is that over the last few days, some pieces have fallen into place. We saw "The New York Times" write about Vekselberg, a story that talked about how Robert Mueller was looking at him. We also saw "The New York Times" roughly around the same time do their big take on Michael Cohen`s businesses.
And one of the most striking things about that in addition to the kind of questionable nature of some of them and the lower range of some of them is the number of times that the word "Russia" occurred if you did a search through that story. The connections to Russians, to Russia, to Russian money, to potentially businesses that have the whiff and sometimes more than the whiff of Russian mob business, money laundering, and so on, things like the taxi medallion business in New York City, which famously has been a Mafia-controlled business for a long time. Before there were Russian mobsters, there were Italian mobsters here in the city that used it to launder money, so.
WILLIAMS: I don`t know what you`re talking about but go on.
HEILEMANN: You`re a babe in the woods on this. So now we have this, which is sort of like has brought together the Vekselberg story, which we know Mueller is looking at, and the Cohen story, which we know Mueller looked at enough that he referred it to the Southern District. And you`ve now got the crossing of the streams in some sense.
And it`s true that Stormy Daniels is a peripheral character in some ways in this story except for the fact that she received money from Michael Cohen, from this account that was set up, that looks now to all the world like a hush money -- like a slush fund for paying out all kinds of payments. There`s a lot of money flowing in and out of that one account. It may not be the only account.
And I will say as much as we`re focused on Vekselberg correctly, the interesting thing as we go forward is going to be where did the rest of that money go?
HEILEMANN: What else was Michael Cohen, who was the self-described fixer, fixing problems --
WILLIAMS: Yes, only had three clients. One of them was the President.
HEILEMANN: -- political and legal problems mostly for Donald Trump. Millions of dollars flowing in and out of a slush fund. We know $130,000 of it went to Stormy Daniels. Where did the rest of it go?
WILLIAMS: Sam, I have so many questions for you, including kind of a devil`s advocate thing. Pay to play is -- it`s kind of a white collar thing. There`s no evidence that these payments violated any laws. Let`s take the case of AT&T.
SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": Sure.
WILLIAMS: AT&T is trying like hell to merge with Time Warner.
WILLIAMS: It`s held up in the courts. They knew that Donald Trump was said to be against the merger. So they`re looking to find friends of Donald Trump, how do we get around this.
They have admitted tonight that that`s us, and the payment ledger, we made some -- we received, according to their statement, they received zero in services for their money.
WILLIAMS: But what`s wrong here?
STEIN: Well, I guess technically it`s not illegal, but it is underhanded. It is rather unethical. It is the swamp that Trump talked about.
And while John is right that it is very interesting to know where this money went once it was in the slush fund, for me, the more interesting is how do they know to put it in there in the first place? This is not some well known LLC. In fact, it was not known at all until about a month ago. Someone must have told them, "Hey, if you want to curry favor with us, go to essential consulting or whatever it`s called, LLC, that`s run by Michael Cohen."
No one`s going to Michael Cohen for real estate advice. No one is going to Michael Cohen for lobbying help.
FIGLIUZZI: Business consulting.
STEIN: Or business consulting. No offense to Michael Cohen. They`re going to Michael Cohen because he is close to the President, but someone had to direct them to this place to begin with, and who was it that directs them to that place?
WILLIAMS: How harrowing must it be to be Michael Cohen and know what the Feds have?
STEIN: Yes. Well, he was with Michael Avenatti when the story broke. I was in a hotel room with Michael Cohen when -- no, I was not. It`s probably petrifying.
His life is unraveling before his eyes. And it bring a truce into the surface, which is that Donald Trump`s presidency has been a virtual and actual disaster for everyone closely associated with Donald Trump. Their lives have been upended. All their business dealings have been exposed and a lot of the nefarious underbelly of it all has been brought to the surface.
WILLIAMS: Which brings us to Jill Colvin, an honest to goodness deadline journalist who is up well past her normal bedtime to talk to us tonight. Jill, two people who have been silent this evening, Trump and Giuliani. Any guess as to their status?
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Yes, we`ve heard nothing from them. And remember, this is the big day when the President is supposed to be announcing his big decision on Iran. He probably expected to return to the White House residence tonight to turn on the television to see how people were reacting to that. And once again he`s turning on the television to Michael Avenatti.
What I think is so interesting here is to kind of go back to a point you guys were making a little bit ago, is this idea that, you know, this is a President who came in here saying he was going to drain the swamp, and yet you see person after person who really seems to be trying to profit off of the Trump presidency. You`ve got the President`s children, who have certainly benefited, running the Trump brands because of the Trump presidency. You`ve got other folks around, you know, like his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who have tried to use their connections to the White House and the President, their understanding of what makes the President tick, how he thinks, to enrich themselves.
WILLIAMS: Frank Figliuzzi, this oligarch we`re talking about tonight is one of the two oligarchs, I think "The New York Times" had this story as a clean kill, stopped by the Feds coming into the New York area at the airport. The Feds had enough reason to be suspicious, they apparently copied and imaged their electronics digitally to get everything they had, laptops, phones, and what have you. So let`s just say they already had eyes on this oligarch.
FIGLIUZZI: Let`s just say it because it`s probably correct. And here`s how this works. First of all, you don`t stop people at airports, question them, seize their electronics, and make mirror images of them without reason to do so, number one.
Number two, let`s understand and not forget that the oligarchs have been used as cutouts for the Russian intelligence service in this very investigation. Remember the social media propaganda case, the indictments of 13 individuals by Bob Mueller. Who were those people? They were rich, wealthy friends of Putin who were bankrolling this whole propaganda machine that infected our social media.
So this is par for the course. This is an M.O. that`s used by Putin to fund and to help whatever he needs to do in the U.S. campaign and elections. And we may be seeing that play out with this oligarch.
WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, back up to something we mentioned at the top of the broadcast. The backdrop here remains, is Donald Trump going to talk to Robert Mueller?
HEILEMANN: Yes, it`s -- I mean it remains a huge question. I mean, one of the things Rudy Giuliani, amid all of the madness and mistakes he`s made, the thing that he said that I believe is true when he talked to Stephanopoulos the other day was that most sane, cautious, discreet lawyers in America, if you hired the best ones, if you hired the 100 best white shoe defense attorneys in the country, probably 100 of them would say that it would be a mistake for Donald Trump to sit down with Robert Mueller. But people who care about our democracy think the President should be accountable and that he should go sit down with Robert Mueller.
I think we all believe that when he swore that oath of office, that he kind of -- that that put him in a place where when questions like this arose, he should go and be able to tell the truth. But given his history, his inability, his consistent relentless inability to tell the truth on a consistent basis, it`s not a perjury trap. It`s just if you are looking at your client and see the way this client has behaved over the course of the last couple years, you`d say that guy`s going to get himself in more trouble by going into that room.
So I don`t know whether he`s going to end up talking to Bob Mueller. My guess is that the answer to that is no in the end because I think Donald Trump has a lot of bravado. But he`s not quite as dumb as some people think he is, and I think he recognizes that the jeopardy for him would be high.
And as Frank says, as this story is unfolding, it is clear that the legal jeopardy for Donald Trump is getting greater by the day. And, you know, you look at the ways in which on both the obstruction front that we`ve seen already and now on the collusion front which now suddenly has all this new life, not that it was ever gone away, but we`re starting to see just a little bit of it. And someone I know who knows Michael Cohen very well and also has known Donald Trump for 30 years called me on the phone tonight and said, this is as weird as this is, as macabre, as bizarre as this story is, it is a small sliver of what we`re going to see over the next six to nine months in terms of understanding the scope of what is certainly a large financial international conspiracy crime. And if that`s true, Donald Trump`s in a lot of trouble.
WILLIAMS: Yes, he would appear to be. And, Sam, how often do you reflect on the fact that the triad we`re talking about here is Trump, Giuliani, and someone who was not in the American lexicon or discussion six months ago, Avenatti.
STEIN: Yes, a fixture of cable news at this point. I couldn`t agree more with you. I think about the likelihood that Trump will not talk. Two reasons. One, an amazing anecdote in "The Wall Street Journal" about what was essentially a mock interview that they ran where he could not get through two questions.
STEIN: And that is troubling enough.
WILLIAMS: Because of loquaciousness.
HEILEMANN: It was like his early debate prep sessions, stay in the truth.
STEIN: The other thing is something that`s gone relatively unnoticed, but we`re about to be -- we`re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the last time Donald Trump has done an interview on T.V. with a non-friendly news source, anchor, or outlet. That was, of course, on NBC with Lester Holt. That`s been a year since he`s actually allowed himself to be questioned in a sustained fashion on T.V. by a journalist. And that is a remarkable amount of time to hide yourself essentially from a public grilling.
And it suggests to me, as you pointed out, that he`s not stupid about this. He knows that he can get in trouble. He knows that he will say things like he did to Lester where he talked about why he fired James Comey, and he doesn`t want to make more problems for him going forward.
WILLIAMS: So, Jill, tomorrow`s briefing, is it just going to be fusillade of questions from you guys and continued deflections from the podium?
COLVIN: Why would it be any different than it is every other day? But I do think that there are so many questions raised by this document, not only about the Russia collusion stuff, about this oligarch, exactly what he was doing, how this money was working, but also questions to companies like AT&T. This is AT&T.
COLVIN: This is one of the biggest companies in America, and you have them deciding to pay these shady payments, funneling it through the same account that Michael Cohen used to pay off Stormy Daniels. What on earth was AT&T thinking? What are these other companies thinking?
And also keep in mind that these are companies that are not only very big players, but also many of whom have business in front of the United States government. What were they trying to do here? I think that`s what`s going to dominate the conversation tomorrow.
WILLIAMS: Frank, last word.
FIGLIUZZI: Yes. So, Brian, we`re talking a lot about Russians, but as has just been pointed out, we`ve got possible public corruption charges here. If Mueller finds a quid pro quo for AT&T and Novartis, if they were promised some kind of official act by the White House, you`ve got a public corruption charge against the President.
WILLIAMS: A chilling word to end our first segment on tonight with our thanks to Frank Figliuzzi, to John Heilemann, to Sam Stein, to Jill Colvin. Really appreciate the four of you coming out and joining us tonight to kick off this conversation. Important evening.
Coming up for us, speaking of which, live results just in from four different states tonight. Steve Kornacki at the big board with the incoming numbers from primary night.
And later, the eye-opening testimony heard one year ago today. The warning to the White House in the early days of the Trump administration had to do with Russia. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Tuesday evening.
WILLIAMS: As we said, if you`ve been watching tonight, then you know primary night. We`re watching key races in West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina. But the one that`s got everybody`s attention and has for some time, the Republican Senate primary in West Virginia. Crucially, NBC News is projecting Attorney General Patrick Morrisey the winner of that race.
The candidate who the GOP feared might win, the former coal baron Don Blankenship, convicted for his role in that deadly mine explosion in 2010, he conceded about an hour ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON BLANKENSHIP (R), FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENATE CANDIDATE: My advisers tell me that it`s time to concede, so we`re conceding the election. The only thing I can tell you is I did what I could do to try to help the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It was just yesterday the President urged voters on Twitter not to support Blankenship but to vote for one of his opponents. Now Patrick Morrisey will go up against the incumbent Senator Joe Manchin, who is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate even though, as Democrats go, he`s a conservative and sometimes votes with the Republicans.
For much more on all the key races, there`s only one man we want to hear from tonight. That`s Steve Kornacki. He`s at the big board.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Hey, Brian. Yes. I mean, look, this was set up potentially as the mother of all body blows to the Republican establishment. You had the Republican establishment sounding the alarm about Blankenship, saying their polls showed him surging in the final days of this race.
Well, they held the election day. Didn`t happen. Maybe that surge wasn`t necessarily all that it was cracked up to be.
What was the problem for Blankenship? I mean, in a word, everything. You cannot look at this map of West Virginia and find a natural base of support for him. He really wasn`t running first anywhere except that`s his home county down there, Mingo County.
What he ended up with here was really a two-way race as things shook out. It was a north-south divide. Evan Jenkins from coal country down in the south, the Congressman there going to finish second. Not enough.
Patrick Morrisey. That`s the name to remember for the fall. He`s going to be the Republican nominee against Joe Manchin.
Patrick Morrisey, an interesting story by the way. He began his political career not in West Virginia but in New Jersey. He ran for Congress there in 2000. Got to think those old campaign ads in New Jersey might make an appearance and some Democratic ads this fall.
But Morrisey will try to take out Joe Manchin in a state that voted for Trump by 42 points in 2016. So Republican establishment certainly breathing a sigh of relief, they didn`t get Blankenship.
Other things quickly we can show you from primary night. There was a big surprise, not where we thought it would be, but there was a big one tonight. Senate race in Ohio, this wasn`t the surprise. Jim Renacci, Congressman, he will oppose Sherrod Brown, Democratic Senator this fall. Again, another Trump state.
Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown. This is his opponent. This is the opponent the Republican establishment wanted.
In Indiana, this is Mike Braun. He ran as a bit of an outsider against two Republican congressmen. He wins the Senate nomination. He will face Democrat Joe Donnelly, another Democratic senator from a Trump state. This is a state Trump won by almost 20 points. So again, this really a top, maybe the top target for Republicans this fall.
I said there was a surprise, though. It is this. A Republican member of Congress has gone down to defeat tonight. It was in North Carolina. The Ninth Congressional District.
Where is this? This is the Charlotte area. Bob Pittenger, a three-termer. This was a rematch.
Mark Harris is pastor, a Baptist preacher from Charlotte. He had run against Pittenger a couple years ago, nearly beat him then. Tonight he`s knocked him off. Pittenger has conceded this race.
This is interesting because this is a district where Donald Trump won 54% of the vote in 2016. You talk about fringe targets for Democrats. If they get a wave here. They`ve now got a resurgent Republican nominee who knocked off an incumbent.
Democrats like their candidate. If they get a wave this year, we`ve been talking about that, this becomes a district that could, could potentially move into play because of what happened tonight, Lawrence -- Brian, I`m sorry. That`s awful.
WILLIAMS: It`s all right. Breaking news night. Making notes to ask you about all these congressional districts when we do this for real in November. Steve Kornacki at the big board. Steve, thanks.
WILLIAMS: Morgan Radford is our Correspondent at Don Blankenship`s headquarters in Charleston, West Virginia tonight. Morgan, I watched your interview with Blankenship from earlier today. He looked you right in the eye. He was confident that they may have this in the bag tonight. How about third place?
MORGAN RADFORD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brian, he not only told me that he was confident he was going to win, he said, I absolutely will win. Tonight as you can see, the room has cleared out, and this is after Don Blankenship has conceded.
And the question now becomes what is next for the people of West Virginia? As for him, he tells me, "One, I`m too old to run again." He says, "Two, I`m not going to run as a third-party candidate." And he also says, "I`m still upset at my opponent, Patrick Morrisey," and he says he`s even considering running campaign ads against him because in some cases he considers him to be worse than the Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. But he also said he`s particularly still upset with whom he called the swamp captain, Mitch McConnell.
I want to show you a tweet the senator`s team put up just after Blankenship conceded, and in this tweet you can see where Mitch McConnell is posed there as Pablo Escobar from the narco series of Netflix. Of course this is a play, a riff, rather, on the cocaine Mitch label that Blankenship gave him. But when I asked him if he had any regrets about the way he ran his campaign, take a listen to what he told me tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RADFORD: What do you think happened?
BLANKENSHIP: Well, I don`t have any idea really what happened. You know, I think that Trump could have been a big factor. I mean he`s 84% positive among the Republican Party.
RADFORD: Is there anything you would have done differently?
BLANKENSHIP: No, there`s nothing I could have done differently. When you`re trying to unseat the establishment, you know, it`s difficult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADFORD: Well, of course Blankenship`s supporters are upset tonight. Those who did not want to see him win are rejoicing and they feel relief. There`s one category of people who tell me this was all from the beginning a race to the bottom. They said they`d never seen the type of indignity and the lack of civility that they saw in this primary election.
They said it made them embarrassed to be West Virginians and to have the national level come and watch their state duke it out on this level in a way that they felt was very dirty. But then there was a second group of people who said this was very personal. These were people who either survived that mine explosion that sent Blankenship to prison for a year, and they also said they knew people who died in that mine explosion, and they said this was personal, and he had blood on his hands. So the question now becomes how big of a grip on this state will senator Joe Manchin have in November, and what will the people of West Virginia do about it?
WILLIAMS: Yes, they get to decide what kind of campaign they want in the general election. Morgan Radford has been on story for sometime for us down in West Virginia. Morgan, thank you very much.
Coming up, what tonight`s results mean for the president and his party when we continue.
WILLIAMS: We are back. We just got all the numbers from Steve Kornacki at the big board. It`s time to ask what just happened in primary politics tonight, and what we`ve just witnessed. And with us to talk about all of it, Katie Rogers, White House correspondent for "The New York Times," and Charlie Sykes, longtime conservative radio host, he`s now contributing editor and podcast host for the Weekly Standard. Also happens to be the author of the book with the greatest title of the past year "How The Right Lost Its Mind." Charlie is also an MSNBC contributor.
So, Katie, if you had to write the lead-all for tonight in politics, what`s the message of tonight? Voters are voting on local races, their own congressional districts, but had they pooled their votes and sent a message to Washington, what would it have been?
KATIE ROGERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think first of all, I think that this primary has been sort of notable in these states because of how diluted the Republican Party has appeared. There`s been a lot of squabbling and infighting leading up to these primaries and a lot of that is because President Trump had to be urged by the Senate majority leader to say anything in the case of West Virginia. Some of it is him hanging back because he has not historically been reliable to sort of deliver on a candidate he`s either endorsed or spoken about.
WILLIAMS: Charlie, presuming you agree that Donald Trump is a symptom of the current populism and not the cause, what was the message of tonight to the Republican Conservative Movement?
CHARLIE SYKES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD CONTRBUTING EDITOR: Well, I think two things. Number one, obviously the Republican Party dodged a bullet with Blankenship going down. I mean he would have been a Roy Moore-level disaster for the Republican Party.
But I think as you look across all of these primaries, you really get an indication of just how thoroughly Trumpified the Republican Party is right now. But they have a problem dealing with some of the forces that they have been -- that they have released. As you see in West Virginia, as you saw in Alabama.
But I`m really struck by the fact that, you know, even with all of the problems that Donald Trump has, all the problems looming on the horizon for him, within the Republican Party, every one of these primaries is a contest who is the most Trump-like, who can bend the knee the most, you know, significantly to Donald Trump. There`s almost no opposition or even skepticism about Trump in any of these primaries, which is an indication of what`s happened to the republican base.
WILLIAMS: Now, Katie, the question becomes if you listen to the coverage of our lead story tonight, it was grave and morose at times. If this thing goes south and we become mired even more than we are in investigations and hearings, do you think that eagerness, that willingness to attach themselves to Donald Trump is situational?
ROGERS: Well, I think as your previous guest pointed out, or maybe it was actually Blankenship pointed out when I was listening to him on the feed a moment ago, Donald Trump enjoys a really high popularity rating among Republicans. I think that there will still be a lot of bending the knee as Charlie pointed out. I think that, you know, people are going to vote down ballot.
I spoke to a Republican chairman in Elkhart County, Indiana where President Trump will visit on Thursday. They are tired of Joe Donnelly. They want an actual Republican in that seat, and they will do whatever it takes to get him there.
WILLIAMS: And, Katie, let the record show you were indeed quoting Don Blankenship, who cited 84% support of Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: No, that`s OK. You got to quote somebody. 84% Trump support in the base. So, Charlie, a version of the same question. You have personally learned how opportunistic, say, the Wisconsin based speaker of the house can be in politics. Politics is an opportunistic business. Do you see this as kind of situational or transactional?
SYKES: Well, it is transactional. And that`s the interchange here. You know, we found out during the campaign how tribal American politics has become, you know, and how cult personality driven it is often become. But we`ve also seeing how transactional to use your word.
You know, that bargain that they`re making, but look, we`re going to overlook all that stuff. We then think about of all the stuff that they have swallowed, think of all of the things they`ve rationalized and enabled in order to get what they want. Has that changed? Will any of this change it? There`s nothing that`s really going to break that tribal cult of personality loyalty, but to kind of wonder about the Washington folk who are just making a deal and they`re going to stick with him long enough as they`re going to get something out of that deal.
WILLIAMS: I want to (INAUDIBLE) to end on. Our thanks for Katie Rogers and Charlie Sykes for being part of our rapid reaction team tonight as the numbers have just come in from the primary elections.
Coming up for us, what will the world do now that the U.S. wants out of the Iran deal? Some answers when "The 11th" continues.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact is this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn`t bring calm. It didn`t bring peace, and it never will. I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
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WILLIAMS: That was the president this afternoon announcing, as you heard, the U.S. is pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. It was a move widely anticipated after the president`s frequent criticism. But it`s a decision that has U.S. allies on edge and a lot of people wondering what it means for the global credibility of the U.S. going forward.
This was interesting. Former CIA director John Brennan, who also happens to be an analyst around here, wrote this on Twitter today. "Today Donald Trump simultaneously lied about the Iranian nuclear deal, undermined global confidence in U.S. commitments, alienated our closest allies, strengthened Iranian hawks, and gave North Korea more reason to keep its nukes. This madness is a danger to our national security."
President Obama took the rare step of issuing a public statement today, calling the decision misguided and a serious mistake. He wrote in part, "In a democracy there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America`s credibility and puts us at odds with the world`s major powers."
Here to talk about it, Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and MSNBC international affairs analyst, and now it can be said, author. His new book is called "From Cold War to Hot Peace." You can say that again. American ambassador in Putin`s Russia.
And Ambassador, we should start, obviously, with the Iran deal. There was TPP. There was the Paris Agreement. Both significant pull-outs on our part, but now there`s this.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Yes. It`s as if the Trump policy and foreign policy -- we can call it the withdrawal doctrine, right? That`s mostly what he does is withdraws. I agree completely with both of my two former colleagues that you just quoted there. There`s no national interest being advanced for the United States for pulling out of this. And he didn`t answer it. The president didn`t answer it in his remarks today. Are we better off? Are we more secure today than we were yesterday? The answer to that is no. Does he have a plan for what to do next? I hope so. I fear not.
WILLIAMS: Diplomacy as no one needs to tell a career diplomat is an imperfect science, and I said to General McCaffrey last night, is it possible that a flawed deal kept the world safer? You write in your book that it`s very clear this is the best we were all going to get.
MCFAUL: Yes, yes. It`s like any deal. A deal is an offer, and you got to decide are we better off taking the deal? Whether you`re buying a house, any deal, you think of it as a transaction. You get to the end of the negotiation, and you say, are we better off with the deal or not? This one got rid of Iran`s nuclear program. And people keep saying temporarily. 10 to 15 years, Brian. That`s temporarily? A lot can happen in 10 to 15 years whereas today we don`t know what Iran will do next.
And as you alluded to in your remarks, we`ve alienated every country in the world. What`s the one policy we could do that would bring together our NATO allies and China and Russia? It was this decision. I really think it`s a tragic mistake.
WILLIAMS: Because you`re what passes for an old Russia hand these days in this country, it would be malpractice not to ask you about our lead story tonight.
WILLIAMS: Especially this oligarch in the news.
MCFAUL: Yes. Yes. I know Mr. Deripaska, or at least I should say I used to know Mr. Deripaska when I was ambassador. I`m banned from traveling to Russia now, so I haven`t seen him since then. It`s a strange story. I don`t understand it, and it`s a strange American story too as you were just talking about earlier because big American companies were involved here too.
It seems to me that they`re all looking for influence and most certainly Russians close to Putin and ones not so close to Putin. By the way, Mr. Deripaska, compared to other oligarchs, he`s not close to Putin. He`s had his people arrested by Putin not too long ago. But maybe this is his way to try to gain favor, to try to show he has some ability to do business here in New York City. He calms here often. He has family here. But there`s a lot more to this story that`s going to come.
WILLIAMS: We`re talking Deripaska. Vekselberg.
MCFAUL: Oh, I`m sorry. Deripaska is coming too. Viktor Vekselberg.
WILLIAMS: It`s Vekselberg who has a daughter here in New York.
MCFAUL: He does.
MCFAUL: He does. And he has business interests here. He has business interests in the country, many places.
WILLIAMS: Because I was surprising to read this portion from your book, you`re a guy who doesn`t scare easily. This will inform our viewers as to the presence that Putin is personally. I read from your book. "In May 2012, I accompanied my former boss at the White House, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, to his meeting with president-elect Putin. Putin listened politely to Tom`s arguments for continued cooperation. At some point in their dialogue, however, he turned away from Tom to stare intensely at me with his steely blue eyes and stern scowl to accuse me of purposely seeking to ruin U.S.-Russia relations. Putin seemed genuinely angry with me. I was genuinely alarmed. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and sweat covered my brow as I endured this tongue-lashing from one of the most powerful people in the world." He is not an amateur. He is a trained professional. If he had the capacity to do that to you, lord knows his capacity in other areas.
MCFAUL: Well, first of all, I`d love you to read my book on the audio. That was fantastic, Brian. I`m looking for somebody to do it if you`re looking for a side job. It was a harrowing moment. He was doing it on purpose to put pressure on me. And during that time just to remind you, people forget. He had this theory that we were trying to overthrow him. There were big demonstrations.
MCFAUL: And he thought that President Obama sent me to Russia to foment revolution against him, and he was putting me on notice, we`re going to push back on you.
WILLIAMS: This is the book, "From Cold War to Hot Peace." This is the man, an American ambassador in Putin`s Russia. He`s back. In fact, he can`t go back there now, but maybe that`s temporary. Michael McFaul, thank you very much.
MCFAUL: So great to be here tonight.
WILLIAMS: Always a pleasure.
Coming up, it may seem like an eternity ago, but one year ago today, a woman named Sally Yates walked into a hearing room in Washington. We`re back with that after this.
WILLIAMS: Let`s go back, shall we, an entire year, a year ago today, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates who was fired just weeks into the Trump presidency, she was a headliner at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing and in the course of one day in America, went from being a little known career prosecutor to near household name status.
It was testimony about Russia interference in the 2016 election. Yates methodically described a series of meetings days after Trump was sworn in where she warned the White House Counsel Don McGahn that the national security adviser Michael Flynn had engaged in what she called problematic conduct, and then some. "The Washington Post" had reported shortly before these meetings that Flynn had spoken with the Russian ambassador several times, but publicly denied it.
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SALLY YATES, FIRED ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We began our meeting telling him that there had been press accounts of statements from the vice president and others, that related conduct that Mr. Flynn had been involved in that we knew not to be the truth.
The first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself. Secondly, we told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn`t true.
And additionally, that we weren`t the only ones that knew all of this. That the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.
And then, importantly, that every time this lie was repeated and the misrepresentations were getting more and more specific as they were coming out, every time that happened, it increased the compromise and, to state the obvious, you don`t want your national security adviser come compromise with the Russians.
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WILLIAMS: It was just in December, Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, said in a statement he had agreed to cooperation with the special counsel`s ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" tells us today Sally Yates is returning to her old law firm in Atlanta, after 27 years at DOJ, leaving the life she knew and loved in public service for a new life, perhaps, in the private sector.
Another break for us, and coming up, the scolding from the White House aimed at some of our fellow citizens. More on that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is this. It was intended to be an island of tranquility, a respite from what we cover every night, when on Monday, the first lady, Melania Trump held an event of her own. And while the president was in attendance this was designed to be a rollout of her agenda, a public campaign under the two-word banner of "Be Best." It`s a message for children to be their best selves in three specific areas, avoid opioid abuse, maintaining proper mental health and avoiding the pressures of social media.
And yes, any time the first lady talks about social media, all eyes turn to her husband, who despite being president regularly trolls individuals and entities on Twitter, that includes attacks on American institutions and personal attacks on American citizens.
And on the subject of online health, there were immediate howls when people figured out the Trump White House had handed out reprinted versions of a pamphlet produced by the Obama Administration originally, even though there was apparently no effort made to hide that fact. And after the hubbub on social media, that`s when the first lady`s office went on the attack against what they called the opposition media.
Now, we hear that kind of phrase in other countries overseas that aren`t at all like our country. And this is part of the aforementioned attack on American institutions. As JFK is famous for having said publicly, the news business is the only business enshrined and protected by the constitution. Journalists are not enemies of the people, they`re not the opposition, they come from the ranks of the American people. They`re as much apart of the American fabric as the president and first lady and all the people who serve them on their staffs who are paid with taxpayer dollars.
That`s our broadcast tonight. Thank you so much very, as always, for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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