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Mueller focused on ex-Manafort son-in-law. TRANSCRIPT: 05/17/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Philip Rucker, Michael Schmidt, Jill Colvin, Guy Lewis, Matthew Miller, Matthew Nussbaum, Jon Meacham

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 17, 2018 Guest: Philip Rucker, Michael Schmidt, Jill Colvin, Guy Lewis, Matthew Miller, Matthew Nussbaum, Jon Meacham

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, a guilty plea from Paul Manafort`s ex-son-in-law, and Reuters reports he`ll cooperate in other investigations.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani says it looks more hopeful tonight about a sit-down between Trump and Mueller.

And there`s an interesting theory afloat as to where interview prep may take place.

And new reporting tonight from "The Washington Post," Trump joins push by allies to expose an FBI source. Phil Rucker standing by with the late breaking details as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Thursday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 483 of the Trump Administration. And as the President marks one year of the Russia investigation with a new dose of vitriol aimed at Robert Mueller and his team, there are new reports out tonight about a plea agreement between Former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort`s former son- in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, and the Justice Department.

Reuters was first to report today that Yohai has agreed to plead guilty in connection with a criminal investigation in Los Angeles and that the plea deal requires he cooperate with other investigations. Reuters puts it this way, "The guilty plea agreement, which is under seal and has not been previously reported, could add to the legal pressure on Manafort. Yohai has not been specifically told how he will be called on to cooperate, but the two people familiar with the matter say they will consider it a possibility that he`ll be asked to assist with Mueller`s prosecution of Manafort."

You may recall Paul Manafort is facing indictments brought by Mueller in federal courts in both Washington, D.C. and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The charges range from tax evasion to bank fraud. Manafort has pleaded notably not guilty. He`s slated to be tried later this year.

Jeffrey Yohai was once a Manafort business partner, was divorced from Manafort`s daughter last August. Both Reuters and NBC News are reporting Mueller has been focusing on Yohai for the past six months, and Reuters says Mueller`s team has already interviewed him.

Meanwhile, there are also developments in Robert Mueller`s fight to keep the judge in Paul Manafort`s Virginia case from tossing out some of the charges.

Today, Mueller`s team gave the judge a full, unedited version of the Justice Department memo that lays out the scope of this inquiry and what crimes he is authorized to pursue. As we mentioned, the President weighed in today on Twitter on the Russia inquiry. Here it is. "Congratulations, America. We are now into the second year of the greatest witch hunt in American history. There is still no collusion and no obstruction."

A few hours later, there was this. "Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI, "we switch to caps here, "spied on the Trump campaign with an embedded informant. If so, this is bigger than Watergate." The rest of the message seems to have come directly from this interview with Former Federal Prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, who appeared on the President`s favorite morning program.


ANDREW MCCARTHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR ANDREW: I`ve written a couple of columns in the last week or so pointing out that there`s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.


WILLIAMS: And tonight, Phil Rucker of "The Washington Post," who joins us in a moment as part of our first panel, has co-authored a piece that says the President`s message about the FBI indicates his latest effort to join supporters` attempts to discredit the investigation with a campaign to expose a top secret FBI source.

The "Post" tells it this way. "The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source`s identity is revealed, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Both "The Washington Post" and "the New York times" have reported that an FBI informant provided information in the early stages of what became the Russia investigation.

Also tonight, Rudy Giuliani appearing with Sean Hannity. He was also strong on this theme of the FBI versus Trump.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Now we know an FBI -- a spy in the Trump campaign? Mr. Mayor, sir, this is the United States.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: That`s Watergate compounded by the fact that we`re many years after Watergate, and we didn`t think this could happen. This is a far worse crime and intrusion on democracy than a non-Russian conspiracy. And who`s investigating it? I hope that this is turned over for criminal referral, and I hope for once, the Justice Department wakes up and investigate something other than, you know, empowering Mueller to do an illegitimate investigation.


WILLIAMS: So it went like that tonight on Fox News. And with that, let`s turn to our lead-off panel on a Thursday night. Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize winning "New York Times" Washington Correspondent. Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press," and the aforementioned Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning White Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post."

Phil, you were on the board latest tonight. Walk us through your reporting. I tried to watch several hours of Fox News in prime time tonight. I can confirm this is the talking point this evening.

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, Brian. Look, there`s been a campaign bubbling up on the right, on cable news, on Fox, on a lot of conservative media outlets, and it was given new life this morning by President Trump with that tweet that you mentioned. This is an effort to try to undercut the Mueller investigation by exposing the role of this FBI informant and perhaps exposing this person`s identity. There`s a belief within Trump`s orbit from people my colleagues and I spoke to today that if that role is detailed publicly, if the identity of this source is disclosed publicly, that that could help build the foundation for removing Mueller, for rendering the special counsel`s investigation to be irresponsible and really ending this investigation. They`ve been looking for some cause, some reason to go after Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, to go after Mueller, to really make it clear to the public that this probe has gone too far. And they feel like this is potentially that reason.

WILLIAMS: Phil, this is just a lay question. It may go beyond your scope, but can you imagine another case where we would rip off the identity and expose the identity of a civil servant working in an investigative capacity, undercover for a reason -- allegedly for the greater good?

RUCKER: This is highly unusual. And it`s worth pointing out that Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, who was appointed -- nominated, rather, to that position by President Trump. He`s an appointee of this administration.

He testified in the Senate earlier this week to the importance of keeping these human sources secret, that it`s not only this person`s identity, but there are other lives at stake. There are U.S. Intelligence relationships with partners around the world that are at stake. There are sources` contacts are in jeopardy as well.

And it`s also worth pointing out that this source, as far as we know, is a U.S. citizen who has been working with the FBI and the CIA for many, many years on a number of different investigations. It`s not somebody who just kind of fell into their lap, walked in the front door as part of this Trump campaign operation, but is a source with longstanding credentials in our U.S. Intelligence Community.

WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, I was remembering yesterday every Trump rally ends with "you can`t always get what you want" by the rolling stones. So I found it poignant in your reporting that you co-authored yesterday to learn that this operation was given a jumping jack flash lyric, Crossfire Hurricane. Having established that and as the co-author of this piece of journalism yesterday that got us on this track, go back in the formative stations of, again, what became the Russia investigation, your knowledge of what this source, what this informant, what this person was up to.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it was very early on in the investigation. This is the summer of 2016. The FBI is trying to figure out what they have, what`s going on. Very quickly, they can determine they`re not going to solve this case by the election day. And they essentially take sort of a reserved approach to it.

They do not take overt measures. They don`t go out and execute search warrants. They don`t issue subpoenas. They sort of work around the edges. It would make sense for them to talk to a confidential informant in that type of situation. That is what they do. That is sort of their bread and butter.

It is now being demonized, but it sort of makes sense because the Trump folks have thrown a lot of stuff at the wall on Mueller. Not a lot of it has stuck except on the FBI. That`s where they`ve had their most success, whether it`s on the text messages between the lead agent and the lawyer that worked at the FBI that came out, that showed this anti-Trump bias or questions that they were able to raise about the deputy FBI -- Former FBI Director Andrew McCabe. That`s where the success is. That`s where they`ve really cut to the bone because it`s pretty hard to do it on Mueller.

People find it very hard to go after his credibility, and the FBI, given all of the different roles that it has had in the 2016 election, whether it was Hillary, whether it was Trump, there`s a lot to pull on. And it has, as we were saying, Crossfire Hurricane, my colleagues pointed out in the piece, it has ripped the shingles off the FBI.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. And, Jill, to the point Michael just made, what has worked in "for the right in the past," does their choice to zone in on this talking point tonight, effective tonight, does that speak to you of confidence or a desire to grab a hold of the next shiny object?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, look, I mean this is convenient timing for them. Rudy Giuliani has been saying for the last couple of weeks that he wanted to really highlight this is Thursday. This is the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe, and they were looking for things to be able to kind of make a big deal of this and to try to drive home to the American people that this is a hoax, that this is a witch hunt just like the President was saying this morning. So this is a convenient thing for them to grab on.

But I agree with what Michael was saying earlier, with the idea that they really have been kind of throwing things against the wall here, trying to find areas where they can go after this team, you know, accusing them of being biased, accusing them of all being Democrats despite the fact that that isn`t accurate. And you`ve kind of seen this pattern of what they`re trying to do here.

WILLIAMS: And, Phil, a not surprising point to the existence still of camps. There are folks trying to keep the presidency on the rails. There are folks like Steve Bannon, who`s kind of back in the loop by phone at least, Mark Meadows on the Hill, who are feeding this.

RUCKER: That`s right. Our reporting and a lot of this is from my colleague, Bob Costa, a friend of the show, is that Congressman Mark Meadows has been talking to the President a lot, three, four, five times a week on the phone about this very matter, trying to get him excited about this issue about the stalemate in Congress right now between the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and the Justice Department. Nunes is seeking documents, records about the early stage of the probe. The Justice Department is withholding it for now.

And there`s a bit of tension within the West Wing. Chief of Staff John Kelly, White House Counsel Don McGahn, they`re urging some restraint here, and they feel like Meadows is not always the best influence on President Trump in terms of sort of encouraging the President to bang the drums and get out there. Bannon, meanwhile, is here in his townhouse on Capitol Hill right in the shot behind me. He`s not, you know, going into the White House very often, but he certainly is helping corral these outside allies, trying to get them -- trying to strategize with them about how to make this approach, how to wage this campaign, how to get the President on their side and ultimately, I think, how to force the hands of the Justice Department.

WILLIAMS: Michael, the cable news coverage escalated quickly this afternoon when word broke that the former Manafort son-in-law was cooperating. I heard people say that this was -- this has been secret for months, ergo he might have been wearing a wire to record his former father- in-law this whole time. We know nothing of the sort. But tell me what happens when you mention the name Bannon -- when you mention the name Manafort in the Trump West Wing. Remind us of all that he could do.

SCHMIDT: Well, the thing about Manafort has been how much he`s been willing to fight here. You`ve had Flynn plead. You`ve had Manafort`s Former Deputy, Rick Gates, plead. But Manafort has held out.

And the question is, does Manafort have something to offer the government about the campaign, or does he not have anything to offer? Why is it that he`s unwilling to plea? He says, "Look, I`ve done nothing wrong here. This is part of the witch hunt. They`re looking at things that they never wanted to investigate. They`re just trying to put leverage against me."

In many cases on the stuff that they`re looking at with his work in the Ukraine, it`s documents. And that`s usually a pretty good case for the government.


SCHMIDT: So the larger thing that people in Trump world wonder is, what is it that`s holding Manafort up? Why is it that he`s unwilling to do like Gates did and cooperate in that fashion? And we still don`t know that. And he`s taken a very aggressive approach, particularly on filing these motions, trying to get the government sort of in the same way that Devin Nunes is to cough up more documents about the investigation, to reveal more, to give them more stuff to go after Mueller on.

WILLIAMS: And let`s speak English here on two counts. Number one, there`s speculation about a pardon. And, number two, he`s not a young man. And if they nick him on even most of the charges, he dies in prison.

SCHMIDT: As we reported earlier, the President`s lawyer at the time, John Dowd, had discussions with lawyers for Flynn and Manafort about a pardon last year. These were discussions in which it was broached. So the question is, is that OK in terms of obstruction of justice? Can the President use his power of pardon to extend it to folks that are under investigation in something that is related to him? And is this something that sticks in Manafort`s head as he tries to figure out how to move forward?

WILLIAMS: Hey, Jill, we are still -- we American people, not used to hearing sarcasm from the American President as we did today. We read the words from his Twitter account. Congratulations, America. It was not, it turns out, about the President`s council on physical fitness or anything of the sort. But it was a kind of trolling the Mueller effort and reminding especially everyone in his base that this continues -- this cloud continues.

COLVIN: Yes, absolutely. It was a series of three kind of extraordinary tweets from him. But this is really -- you know, the President`s in an interesting position right now because on one hand, he very much feels under siege. You see the rage. You see the frustration coming through in those morning tweets, in the conversations that he is having with people inside and outside the building.

I mean he brings up this investigation constantly. Giuliani last night described it as kind of a rock on the President`s back. He talks about it as this cloud that`s haunting his presidency. On the other hand, you also have news from Rudy Giuliani at least, him saying that Mueller`s team has assured them that they believe that the President cannot actually be indicted. And so you`ve got kind of these two realms of quite good news for the President, but also a President who is raging.

You know, he was supposed to do a press conference today with the secretary general of NATO, and they decided to call that off at the last minute. A source told me that the President was just feeling like he was being too -- there was so much against him right now, he felt like his deputy press secretary had been badly attacked when he came out in front of the press on Monday, and that he just didn`t feel like he wanted to be battered anymore. So you have a President who has some good news here but just still feeling under attack.

WILLIAMS: Three great practitioners in long form and short form journalism, the skill set you need to survive in 2018. We`re thanking Michael Schmidt, Jill Colvin, Philip Rucker. Thank you, the three of you, so much for starting off our conversation tonight.

Coming up, the Giuliani media tour continues. We look at the likelihood of the three Is, interviews, indictments, impeachment.

And later, one week after a White House staffer`s morbid remark about Senator John McCain, new reporting tonight on changes perhaps inside the White House. They`re apparently looking to fire the person who leaked it as opposed to the person who said it. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.


WILLIAMS: There is no sign Rudy Giuliani is giving up anytime soon on his current media tour. The President`s lead lawyer in the Russia investigation made multiple television appearances today and called NBC News to discuss the Russia investigation. Among the highlights, Giuliani seems more optimistic today about the chances of a presidential interview. He spoke about narrowing the scope of said possible questions tonight on Fox News.


GIULIANI: The President has a great desire to come forward and tell the truth if he gets a fair hearing. Our job is to make sure he gets a fair hearing, meaning Jay Sekulow and the Raskin people, Jane and Marty, and me. Our job is to make sure that he gets a fair hearing from Mueller.

Now, we`re not convinced that he will, but we had the first hopeful communication with them last night, what I think is a result of our saying we put in five letters to them, never gotten a response. We finally did. And I don`t want to dismiss it because I think it was a good faith attempt to really narrow the focus quite dramatically of the questioning.


WILLIAMS: More on that later. Giuliani also spoke to the PBS News hour about a possible interview earlier tonight. He said, "It would be going a little too far to say he`s going to sit down, but it looks more hopeful than it did a day or so ago."

And as we mentioned here last night, Giuliani told NBC News that Mueller`s office acknowledged to Trump`s team that they can`t indict a sitting president. Earlier today, Giuliani provided some more detail on that interaction during a different interview on Fox News.


GIULIANI: It came up this way. We -- I asked him specifically if they realized or acknowledged they didn`t have the power to indict, both under the Justice Department memo, which gives them their power in essence, confines their power, and under the Constitution. And he says, well, he -- he wouldn`t answer. And one of his assistants said they acknowledged they had to be bound by Justice Department policies. And then the next day or the day after, they clarified it for Jay Sekulow, who was with me at the meeting, that they didn`t have the power to indict, that what they would eventually do is write a memorandum and give it to the Deputy Attorney General, Rosenstein.


WILLIAMS: Still with us for more, we welcome back to the broadcast Guy Lewis, a Former U.S. Attorney who also worked with Robert Mueller, James Comey, and Rod Rosenstein among others while at the Justice Department. Also here with us in New York tonight, Matthew Miller, Former Chief Spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

Counselor, I`ve looked around the room. You`re the only former U.S. attorney here. So I`ve got to ask you what about what he just said. Can a President be indicted?

GUY LEWIS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think the Justice Department has come out after the Nixon matter, Brian, and then after the Clinton matter and decided through their office of legal counsel, which no disrespect to them, but they`re eggheads. The smartest people in the Justice Department --

WILLIAMS: Yes, the egg heads you want to be in that job. Yes.

LEWIS: Exactly. And they both have come out and said the same thing. That they don`t think that a sitting President can be indicted by a special counsel. And I think that is right. I think that`s correct. And I think that`s also huge in terms of Giuliani and, frankly, the President now being able to decide whether or not the President is going to sit down for this final interview with the special counsel.

WILLIAMS: Matt, I heard the gentleman who wrote the regs regarding special counsel today seemed to put it a little differently.

MATTHEW MILLER, FMR. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF SPOKESMAN: Yes. Neal Katyal who wrote those regulations back in the Clinton administration, he has a theory that because of the way the regulations are written, the only way for Robert Mueller to force the report to be delivered to Congress is to propose some action that is overruled by the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. What that action could be would be to propose an indictment of the President. If the Deputy Attorney General rejected that proposition, he would then write a report that would be automatically delivered to both the Majority and the Minority in Congress.

I don`t know that I think that`s a likely scenario. That doesn`t seem to me, based on what I know about Bob Mueller and based on the time I spent working with him the way he`d approach this. I think if he`s told by the Deputy Attorney General that it`s not within his power to indict the President, he`s likely to respect that. And I think would make a case to Rod Rosenstein that there`s a report he ought to write, and that ought to be delivered to the Congress without kind of, you know, this forcing mechanism.

WILLIAMS: Guy, we`re so happy to have a high-class lawyer here with us. I`m going to play another clip, and, yes, we`re running the risk of airing more Fox News tonight than Fox News has aired. But this is Giuliani with Laura Ingraham from last night talking about dirt that comes into campaigns from even foreign sources potentially.


GIULIANI: When I ran against them, they were looking for dirt on me every day. I mean that`s what you do. Maybe you shouldn`t, but you do it. Nothing illegal about that. And even if it comes from a Russian or a German or an American, it doesn`t matter.

And they never used it is the main thing. Never used it. They rejected it. If there was collusion with the Russians, they would have used it.


WILLIAMS: So, Counselor, is he right there when he says it doesn`t matter if it comes in from a German or a Russian or what have you?

LEWIS: Well, I`m not sure I`d agree with the former mayor on that particular point. Look, he is a very experienced lawyer, and he was brought in, I think, as you said in your last segment, the President wants more effective T.V. lawyers.


LEWIS: And certainly him being on T.V. over and over and over again spreading the message, preaching the gospel of Trump, certainly tells us that he`s fulfilling his role. But at some point, they`ve got to sit down and sift through the actual evidence, and that`s what Bob Mueller`s doing. I find it so fascinating, Brian, that if we sat here and said, well, we recognize if we hear it on T.V. Giuliani`s voice, but I wonder how many people would recognize Bob Mueller`s voice.

WILLIAMS: We`ve done segments on that very thing. We`ve run compilations of his public comments. They`re not numerous because he`s the most discussed American who the fewest Americans have heard talking.

LEWIS: Bob is like the RoboCop of the Criminal Division right now. He`s a former U.S. attorney. He`s a former Marine who served in Vietnam. He`s a former chief of the Criminal Division. He was the chief of the Criminal Division when we tried Noriega down in Miami.

That guy is like those old World War II movies when you see him say, "Well, look, we`ve got to send in a Marine to take the Hill. That`s Bob Mueller. And I really respect him because you don`t see him out there having press conferences. You don`t see him out there doing the things I think most prosecutors would say, "Hey, that`s just not really the way to handle it."

WILLIAMS: Wow, thank you for that. Matt, to back up from other news from today, how dangerous potentially is a former son-in-law to Paul Manafort? What could he know?

MILLER: Incredibly dangerous because they had been in business together buying houses in the real estate business. It`s one more potential witness against Paul Manafort in another area. Already you have Rick Gates, who was his partner in his international consulting business, who`s prepared to testify against him about all of their actions in Ukraine and potentially other countries. It just adds one more, you know, kind of heavy weight on Paul Manafort`s shoulders.

He`s looking at years and years in jail, and he really only has two ways out of it. One is to cooperate with the special counsel, and it wouldn`t just be cooperation. He`s actually have to have something valuable to give up about the President or someone else more senior than him like maybe Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr., or he has to hope and wait for a pardon. Those are his only options because the weight of the evidence against him is pretty serious.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it`s not looking good. Counselor, I`m going to give you the last word after reading this to you about how they intend to perhaps prep the President for sitting down with Mueller. This is from Politico.

"The planning meetings, to be held during off hours at the White House and perhaps over games of golf at Trump`s private courses, Giuliani said, will mirror Trump`s 2016 debate preparation in which aides briefed an impatient President in several brief sessions over many weeks. Giuliani said the briefings would likely begin after Trump returns from that June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if a Mueller interview is agreed to." And that`s what I want to get you on.

I don`t know if you do predictions. Do you think Mueller and the President ever sit down as close as you and I are sitting here tonight?

LEWIS: They better. They better. And they better do it for more than a golf game or two because they`re walking into a hostile environment, Brian.

I mean they will -- Mueller and his team will be respectful. They will be professional. But they will be loaded for bear. They`ll have the e-mails. They`ll have the documents. They`ll have the questions and the answers. And you just can`t go in there and sort of dictate the terms of an interview with a set of really aggressive professional prosecutors. I`ve never had it. I`ve done it for a long time. It never happens that way. And so they need to be prepared. And the president -- Mr. President, you need to prepare for this like no other. This isn`t a debate. This is the real deal.

WILLIAMS: I know the show before us is called "The Last Word" but right there, ladies and gentlemen, that`s going to have to be the last word.

Guy Lewis, Matt Miller, gentlemen, thank you both for coming on tonight.

Coming up for us, the White House`s tonight leaking details, stay with us here, about what they`re doing to stop leakers from leaking details. Safe to say so far the plan doesn`t appear to be working. The latest report on White House leaks when we come right back.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The leaks are real. You know what they said. You saw it. And the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.


WILLIAMS: That was over a year ago. Dozens of leaks ago. Reporters normally insist on multiple sources, at least more than one. And their editors, most of whom were reporters once, usually insist on it. But this administration seems to have set a new benchmark.

We`ve now gotten used to reporting on this White House, guests of ours on this broadcast citing upwards of 20 or more sources, all people happy to talk but all people insisting for their own reasons upon remaining anonymous. Leaks out of Washington often involve private conversations like when Chief of Staff John Kelly called the president an idiot, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a moron, or when the president himself referred to African nations as you know what countries.

Most recently, the White House expressed anger over a leak that aide Kelly Sadler mocked John McCain`s failing health during an internal meeting. The Associated Press reporting tonight that Trump is demanding that whoever let the story go public be fired, according to a White House official and an outside Trump adviser. Without irony, they go on to note, neither was authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

And according to "The New York Times" tonight, "The big daily meeting that past administrations have used to keep the White House on message has been scrapped in favor of something smaller." The folks at Axios take it a bit further. "The White House," they say, "leaks so much that meetings called to bemoan leaks begin with acknowledgements the bemoaning will be leaked, which is promptly leaked."

Here to talk about it, two veterans, Matthew Nussbaum, White House reporter for Politico, and Jeremy Peters, political reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC contributor.

Jeremy, what is -- there`s usually a reason when an institution or entity leaks. There`s all kinds of products to solve it on late-night cable. But what do you think is the reason this institution is leaking?

JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: I think the reason is fairly simple, and people who work at the White House, current and former staffers, tell me this all the time. This president does not engender the kind of loyalty that other presidents have. Sarah Sanders herself said today that it is an honor and a privilege to work at the White House, and anyone who is leaking information like this information that got leaked about John McCain, should be ashamed.

But the problem is that there are a lot of people who work in this White House who don`t view it as an honor and a privilege. They are worried that they will be the next to fall victim to one of President Trump`s wildly unpredictable mood swings. They look at the way he`s belittled his attorney general on Twitter, the way he`s questioned the I.Q. of his secretary of state, and they wonder if it happens to these guys, Cabinet- level officials, I might be next.

So it`s not exactly the kind of climate that creates a lot of good will toward the guy at the top.

WILLIAMS: Matthew, as stories go, as leaks go, even given this White House, what was different to you about this McCain episode?

MATTHEW NUSSBAUM, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think what`s so interesting about this McCain incident is the level of consternation and fury it`s drawn from the White House given the nature of the leak. This leak did not endanger national security. This leak did not do anything that would hinder free-flowing debate or the exchange of ideas in the West Wing.

What this leak did was reveal bad behavior in Donald Trump`s White House and revealed behavior that, you know, in any of our places of employment and in most White Houses would be considered unacceptable but is apparently acceptable in the Trump White House. That`s what makes it so embarrassing. That`s why they seem to be so much angrier about the leak and why the president reportedly wants to have the leaker fired, rather than Ms. Sadler who made the remark that started all this drama in the first place.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, reporters are always asked, usually at social functions, how do you figure out -- how do you form a theory as to who the leakers are in a piece? And reporters have different answers. It has to do with figures of speech that may be familiar. Some reporters adhere to the rule, anyone who was quoted on the record two paragraphs above is the off-the- record source two paragraphs below. Do you have -- forget your own work, of course. Do you have any rules of the road in figuring out who leakers are in the news you read throughout the day?

PETERS: Well, I think one of the more interesting developments of covering this administration, Brian, is the way that the leaks aren`t always coming from inside the White House --


PETERS: -- but from the peripheral agencies and entities, the intelligence agencies, the national security agencies, Congress. There are plenty of people on a daily basis who have interaction with this administration and with this president who frankly are flabbergasted at what they`re seeing and what they`re hearing when they go into a meeting in the Oval Office, and they just can`t believe it. So they leak it. And I think that`s a lot of what you get in the press today.

WILLIAMS: And, Matthew, this of course adds to a paranoia which has been kind of an operating thesis in that West Wing you cover.

NUSSBAUM: That`s exactly right. We know the president sort of feels this paranoia about the deep state or other leakers. But to touch on what Jeremy said earlier, it is sort of a paranoia of back-stabbing in the West Wing that leads to so many of these leaks happening. Donald Trump does not engender a lot of loyalty in his staff, either to him or to each other.

So I think what leads to so many of these leaks is if you`re worried that the only way to protect your own job is to leak negative things about your colleagues or you think they`re leaking about you, so you have to fight back by leaking about them, it sort of creates this vicious cycle, and obviously that just fuels more paranoia about your colleagues, about who`s saying what about you, you know, who`s trying to back-stab who. And I think we`ve seen all that play out more publicly than we`ve ever seen in any other White House. You don`t even see this kind of thing in various congressional offices. It`s really amazing the level that this has reached in the West Wing.

WILLIAMS: Two reporters who receive more leaks via text in the course of an average day than most reporters receive in a lifetime in what we call the old days. Mathew Nussbaum, Jeremy Peters, gentlemen, as always, thank you both for joining us tonight.

And coming up for us, as the Mueller investigation marks its first birthday, we look back at the other historic anniversary that today marks. It has to do with the downfall of an American president. The celebrated author and historian Jon Meacham will be with us when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watergate. Senate hearings. Here from Washington is NBC News correspondent Garrick Utley.

GARRICK UTLEY, FORMER NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good Morning. This is the Senate caucus room in Washington, D.C., and it`s jammed this morning, jammed with spectators, newsmen, senators and their aides. And the scene adds to the sense of drama as the Senate opens what is likely to become the most serious investigation it has ever made, the investigation of the American political system and the presidency itself.


WILLIAMS: Fred Thompson there in the foreground and the use of the word newsmen. You don`t hear that much anymore. Well, today, May 17th, is a bigger than average day where presidential investigations are concerned. Forty-five years ago on this very day, the Senate Watergate hearings that would lead to the end of the Nixon presidency got under way. And of course just one year ago, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, a consensus choice at the time.

With us tonight is our friend Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author, historian, MSNBC contributor. Importantly his brand-new book is called "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels". And we`re happy to report it`s on a lot of night side tables across this country tonight.

Jon, before you even begin, I want to go to a quote from a fellow Tennessean, a man whose words, if you were of age during the Watergate hearings, most Americans were able to quote this passage from memory and are still able today. This is Senator Howard Baker, Republican of Tennessee.


FORMER SEN. HOWARD BAKER, (R) TENNESSEE, WATERGATE COMMITTEE: My primary thesis is still what did the president know, and when did he know it?


WILLIAMS: So, Jon, other than rocking a seersucker suit as so many Tennesseans have learned to do, you`re asked all the time how is this similar to Watergate? How is it unlike Watergate? There is your setup.

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR, "THE SOUL OF AMERICA": Right. Well, there`s legal time and there`s political time. And Robert Mueller, like Archibald Cox, like Leon Jaworski, is moving according to a more geological clock than the politics or the media would like it to be.

Senator Baker there, you know, the hearings opened exactly 11 months after the break-in. And it took then another 14 -- 15 months, I guess, before Nixon`s resignation. President Nixon only resigned after the Supreme Court ruled that he had to hand over the tapes. There was a tape from June 21st, 1972, that had him asking, I think, the CIA to block the FBI or maybe vice versa into the investigation of Watergate. And these things move more slowly than people tend to either hope for or remember.

And I think we`re going to see that here. This is immensely complicated. We`re not even sure exactly what all the issues are. But in point of fact, that was true of Watergate. We think of the break-in and then leading to the resignation and kind of the front-line PBS documentary storytelling way, but there were a number of what became known as the White House horrors that ultimately became part of the investigation. And so I think we are in what another figure from that era, destined to be White House Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld called a known unknown.

WILLIAMS: Jon, I was thinking of you today as you and I tend to reminisce about past presidents, about the tone of this president when we saw that tweet today that started, congratulations, America. It didn`t go on to wish anyone congratulations. In fact, it was very dark, very negative, and sarcastic. And that, to me -- that`s a first for us as American people getting our arms around the fact that it may not be in the usual scope of the presidency that we hear from the president.

MEACHAM: No. It`s almost as though we have the president`s defense lawyer is the president. And, you know, he operates in sort of a fascinating genre, which is a New York media genre. It`s straight out of Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy`s chief counsel`s playbook, which is you just fight all the time. If you take a punch, you hit back twice as hard. That`s certainly what Mayor Giuliani`s doing out there.

They`re fighting a war on cable and in social media to get the base girded for battle. I think that`s almost -- I would bet a lot of money that that`s what they`re doing. They are pre-trying to delegitimize whatever Director Mueller may come up with.

And remember, there are also two tracks here. There`s the criminal justice track that you`ve been discussing, and then there`s the political track. Gerald Ford once said, high crime and misdemeanors is whatever a majority of House and Senate decide it is at any given moment. And so I hear a lot, I`m sure you do too, people who are despairing right now saying, well, you know, Congress isn`t standing up.

Congress, I think, ultimately will, but it does take a long time. You know, the fabled moment where Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott and John Rhodes go down to the White House to tell Nixon he doesn`t have the support anymore, that was August 7th, 1974, 26 months in. And so, I sometimes think of Congress as kind of the road runner and the coyote. You know, right before he goes off the cliff, I think, they`ll step in and I think we ought to hope for that.

WILLIAMS: I was thinking of Ike, he fought a war but he never had to face down a war on cable TV. John Meacham, it`s always a pleasure, please come back at your soonest available possibility. Appreciate it.

Another break for us. We`re back with more right after this.


WILLIAMS: Hey, just for a moment here. If you`ve been with us for all or part of this journey, then you know it`s been something of an eventful slay ride since the day, a year ago Mueller was appointed. And our friends at deadline White House decided to compile this reminder of what it`s been like and how we covered it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After serving as the deputy attorney general for 22 days, the Deputy Rod Rosenstein today took himself out of overseeing the Russia investigation, turning that over to Robert Mueller.

WILLIAMS: Good evening once again from our headquarters here in New York this was day 118 of the Trump administration and we now have a special counsel to head the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch-hunt and there is no collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you believe you were fired?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I take the president at his word that I was fired because of the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president`s son, Donald Trump Jr., is now admitting he was promised dirt about Hillary Clinton last summer before agreeing to meet with a Russian lawyer with suspected ties to the Kremlin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not include with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In just the last couple of minutes, a spokesperson for Paul Manafort confirming an FBI raid at one of Manafort`s home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his top lieutenant Rick Gates were indicted on 12 criminal charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minutes after the indictments were announced we learned that a little known campaign aide named George Papadopoulos had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about (INAUDIBLE) to collude with Russian representatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ex-national security advisor Michael Flynn, guess what he`s doing today? Pleading in the Mueller case.

TRUMP: Just so you understand, there`s been no collusion. There`s been no crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Special counsel Robert Mueller has obtained another guilty plea, this one from former Trump deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to interrupt you with some breaking news now from the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has just fired Andrew McCabe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI today raided the office of the lawyer to the president of the United States.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY: There was no good reason for this investigation. There never was a good reason for it in the first place. This was engineered by Comey.



WILLIAMS: Before we go tonight a reminder to think about our fellow Americans on the big island of Hawaii. And while it`s true that during good times they get to live on the big island of Hawaii. These are not good times. Kilauea erupted last night as millions on the mainland slept and while the column of ash and steam has reached 5 miles up, 35,000 feet, give or take, more than high enough to divert air travel. We don`t know yet if it was the big one or another in a series of slow rolling releases and eruptions.

Many people have left, many people remain and have decided to take their chances. They have watched holes and seams open up in their neighborhood, saying nothing of the spectacle of the lava spewing sky work in their backyards. The sound of it is deafening. Listen to this interview between NBC`s Miguel Almaguer and a homeowner near one of the tributaries of Kilauea.


MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Mark Clawson lives among the lobbing lava bobs.

What it`s like to see that?

MARK CLAWSON: You kind of get used to it, but frankly, it was a little unnerving.


WILLIAMS: You bet just slice of life for those living in a place where --


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