Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 22, 2018 Guest: Kimberly Atkins, Robert Costa, Jill Wine-Banks, Frank Figliuzzi
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight. Michael Cohen`s business partner facing decades in prison takes a deal and agrees to cooperate with investigators. And that has turned up the heat on the President`s longtime personal lawyer and fixer.
Plus, the Homeland Security Secretary, the woman in charge of election security, says she`s not aware Russia wanted to help Trump win in 2016.
Speaking of elections, we have primary results tonight. And we may or may not have a summit with North Korea. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Tuesday night.
And good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 488 of the Trump Administration. And as the President continues to try to battle the growing threat from the Russia investigation, there`s breaking news that could mean big new problems for him and a man once close to him.
"The New York Times" first broke this story, now confirmed by NBC News tonight, that a business partner of longtime Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has agreed to a deal and will corporate with prosecutors. Evgeny Freidman pleaded guilty today to stealing about $5 million in taxi fees from New York State. This will likely significantly ratchet up the pressure on Cohen and more importantly on Donald Trump.
As "The Times" tells it, "Mr. Trump`s lawyers have been resigned to the strong possibility that the investigation of Mr. Cohen`s businesses could lead him to cooperate with federal prosecutors. That likelihood could become greater with a business partner of Mr. Cohen cooperating with law enforcement."
Remember, it was just last month when federal agents raided Cohen`s home and offices, an event that threw Cohen into jeopardy and became a huge trigger for the President. Well, tonight, there`s also news about those talks with Robert Mueller, about a potential interview with Donald Trump.
"The Wall Street Journal" reports Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he remains opposed to the interview. "Journal" reports, "Mr. Giuliani said were the President to testify he could talk himself into becoming a target." The President is keeping his focus on what his supporters say was an effort to spy on his presidential campaign. He seemed to announce the results of the DOJ inquiry that he demanded before it even got under way.
He said this tonight. "If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn`t a spy put there by the previous administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered many times higher than normal? Follow the money. The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported collusion with Russia because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win. Just like they did to Bernie Sanders who got duped."
And this was the President from earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country. That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen, and it would be very illegal aside from everything else. It would make probably every political event ever look like small potatoes. But if they had spies in my campaign, during my campaign for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just moments later, he was asked about the status of his Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was of course in overall charge of the Russia investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have confidence in Rod Rosenstein?
TRUMP: What`s your next question, please?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m a reporter --
TRUMP: Excuse me, I have the President of South Korea here, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I have a question --
TRUMP: He doesn`t want to hear these questions, if you don`t mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That`s about how that went. The White House says the meeting to review highly classified documents about a confidential FBI source who helped the investigation into the Trump campaign will take place on Thursday. The two Republican lawmakers, House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, will join FBI Director Chris Wray, DNI Dan Coats and DOJ Official Ed O`Callahan. No Democrats invited, something they instantly noticed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, MINORITY LEADER: This should be a fair process. It should be bipartisan. So for every Republican at the table, there should be the Democratic counterpart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, over in the House, Trump`s Republican allies are reupping their push to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a second special counsel. Louie Gohmert of Texas, not only brought a picture of him having the President`s ear, he more or less blurted out his group`s own strategy out loud and in public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: I told President Trump, "Look, nobody needs firing more than Robert Mueller but you can`t be the one to fire him because we got some weak-kneed Republicans out there who will say they`ll come after you if you fire the guy that needs firing. But you can appoint a special counsel and that`s what we need then, it`s what we needed now, and like any good idea, it just takes a while for it to catch on."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, there you have it. And let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Tuesday night. Kimberly Atkins, Chief Washington Reporter for "The Boston Herald." Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," also Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS. And Attorney Jill Wine-Banks, Former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Kim, I come to you in your dual capacity as lawyer and reporter. Let`s talk about what happened to Cohen`s business partner. How big a deal is this, both politically and legally for Trump and Cohen?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, "THE BOSTON HERALD": Potentially it could be big. I mean, looking at Michael Cohen, what this means is the same tactic that we have seen happening in this investigation out of the Southern District of New York, is happening -- that we see happen in the Mueller investigation. They go after other witnesses, encourage them to cooperate, and in this case you have his business partner who is cooperating, being offered significant -- being offered a potential sentence that is much smaller than what he could be facing.
He could be facing 25 years for each count, owing millions of dollars in back taxes. All of that is being reduced, which says to me that he has some information that prosecutors would be interested in regarding Michael Cohen. That subsequently puts more pressure on Michael Cohen to cooperate to reduce his potential legal exposure and talk about whatever he knows that could aid the Mueller investigation. It also, since this is outside of the jurisdiction of the Mueller investigation, it really could take away some potential incentive that the President may have to continue to dangle the possibility of a pardon in front of Michael Cohen because he may not necessarily be able to pardon every charge that he could face.
So it definitely is more complex now. We don`t know exactly what these prosecutors know and whether it does impact the Mueller investigation. But it made it a lot more interesting.
WILLIAMS: Bob, we have talked about the imbalance, at least in public, between the President`s team, Rudy Giuliani owning all the sound bites, taking up all the oxygen in the room. The prosecutors, the investigators have not spoken publicly. But today, a reminder that any seemingly minor move by them just flips the balance of power once again. And I assume you`ve been talking to Trump allies. How did they take today`s development?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": As Kim was saying, she`s spot on, that this whole case for Michael Cohen has been delegated by Robert Mueller to the Southern District of New York. And there is a limit of options for the President`s personal legal team as they think through fighting the Mueller investigation, publicly questioning its credibility, because the Cohen case is out there on an island. And they`re worried about Cohen cooperating. You do hear private concerns from my sources about what Cohen could say if he begins to cooperate, should he be indicted at some point.
These incremental developments are important because the White House but also the President`s legal team just are not always sure about what`s going to happen around the corner. Because, as you say, the federal investigators are so quiet about their operation.
WILLIAMS: And Jill, in your role as a veteran of the law, what did today`s news on a Michael Cohen business associate signal to you?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FMR. ASST.WATERGATE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Well, it is the traditional way of investigating. You start at the bottom and try to put pressure for someone to flip and talk about someone higher up. And then you hope that that person will similarly flip until you get to the head of the crime organization. And that`s what`s happening here.
You have Cohen`s business partner, who will testify against Cohen. And that means that Cohen, by the way, could be subject to state crimes as well as federal crimes and those cannot be pardoned by the President. He cannot be protected by the President in such case. And so he will have even more reason to cooperate in the federal case.
The cooperation here for his partner is both in federal and state cases. So it`s a very, very important thing. I think it`s actually even -- as important as it is, it`s not as important as the fact that there is going to be a meeting where information will be revealed only to Republicans. That`s an outrage that we should really be focusing on, and that the President should not be allowed to get away with and Congress shouldn`t be allowed to get away with. There shouldn`t be a meeting at all.
This information is confidential for a reason. As you`ve noted, the prosecutors are keeping quiet because that`s what they`re supposed to do in order to complete a fair investigation. So having it revealed at all is bad. But to reveal it to one side is really outrageous.
WILLIAMS: Well, they`re watching, one would trust they`re watching all of it. And Kim, let`s repeat for the record, not a shred of evidence that there was a spy implanted in the Trump campaign or two spies or as some have suggested, a spy ring. But that didn`t stop Donald Trump, as we showed, from going onto social media tonight.
ATKINS: Yes. I mean, that`s the strategy of the President, is to discredit anything that could possibly be harmful to him and his administration. He sees this investigation as harmful to him. And he is doing everything he can in political messaging. And this is messaging to his supporters, to Republicans, that there is something nefarious happening here. Of course, as you said, there is not.
The use of informants is very commonplace in federal investigations. And an informant is not a spy. But if you look at the polling in recent weeks, the President`s constant attack on the Mueller investigation in his messaging is resonating not just with his base but with Republicans in general. There is a souring of Robert Mueller and this investigation among Republicans as the midterms approach. I think that`s why you see, as Jill pointed out, Republicans willing to sit down and not invite Democrats to a meeting like that.
It`s giving -- the President is giving them cover ahead of a very tough midterm election. What we have to see is how far they go, will they back calls, as you pointed out, for a special counsel or more direct attacks on Robert Mueller? Or will they just be happy to meet with the President and go along with the things that he`s calling for in the interim?
WILLIAMS: Bob, some headline writers on television and in your business have put this as investigating the investigators. This may be impossible for you to answer, but does the White House get how that looks, do they get the heft and the magnitude of something like this
COSTA: They hear the calls from the lawmakers to have a special counsel investigate the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel within the DOJ. But what`s really important to follow here are how so many players inside of the administration are trying to contain the situation. They may not be successful at containing it. But you have the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is not moving to appoint another special counsel to oversee the DOJ.
He`s relying on the Inspector General inside of the Department of Justice to come up with a report on the DOJ`s conduct. You have John Kelly, the Chief of Staff, trying to set up a meeting with these lawmakers to assure them about their concerns and have some more communication about the surveillance process, about the origin of this Russia probe. And you have Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who oversees the Mueller investigation, also trying to work with lawmakers while also protecting the process of a Counterintelligence operation, all amid an ongoing investigation. It`s an uneasy situation for all of these players. But they`re dealing with a President who is combative as ever.
WILLIAMS: And Bob, let`s say on behalf of the press corps, the President tried to bat away the questions about Rosenstein in the Oval Office today, we would love to ask on the questions about visiting dignitaries but we get no other access, no other kids of news conferences with the President, so everything must be asked. Having said that, what did you make of his lack of an answer on the question, "Do you have confidence in Rosenstein?"
COSTA: He didn`t give an answer about Rosenstein, and that`s telling because he`s not expressing confidence at a moment where he could express confidence. And the lawmakers who are close to the President like Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Republican Congressman Chairman Nunes of California in the Intelligence Committee, they`re very unhappy with Rosenstein. The President knows it.
The President based on my reporting fumes at times about Rosenstein and about Sessions and how this probe continues to go on and on. But the President has not had a formal news conference in quite some time, many months. These open pool sprays, it`s an insider term, but these pool sprays, that`s what they`re doing, and that allows the President to control the question and answer more than he would in that kind of traditional news conference setting.
WILLIAMS: Derivation of the phrase pool spray for our lay audience, the press pool is the tight group of correspondents and camera crews who cover the White House every day and it`s a spraying motion of the room when you enter with cameras so you can get a shot of all involved, lest someone come away with the wrong definition.
Hey, Jill, I want to play for you a piece of an interview with Lesley Stahl. This is Lesley Stahl talking about when she first went over to interview Donald Trump in Trump Tower. This is December 2016, after he won the election, something he told her then. We`ll discuss it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLEY STAHL, "60 MINUTES" CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: At one point, he started to attack the press. And I said, "You know, that is getting tired. Why are you doing this, you`re doing it over and over? And it`s boring and it`s time to end that, you know, you`ve won the nomination. And why do you keep hammering at this?" And he said, "You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Lesley Stahl, as said to Judy Woodruff, two giants of the television news business. Jill, the question to you becomes, you`re always appropriately talking about the focus of the Feds. How Mueller, while not a monastic environment totally, something close, they all keep their head down and do their work. Are they likely to see, are they likely to react to a remark like that?
WINE-BANKS: I don`t think they will react at all to that. I think he`s also doing it, Donald Trump is doing it because it`s been effective. You noted that. His people believe this. He is chipping away at the First Amendment, at the freedom of the press. He`s chipping away at the Department of Justice and the FBI as well. And it`s having an impact.
We have three branches of government that must be sacrosanct and we have to protect them. And that`s what`s happening here, is he`s being effective. And by being quiet, as is appropriate for the prosecutor, he`s not defending himself. Someone has to get out there and start defending in a very effective way what is going on and how accurate the facts are that are coming out of the investigation.
And as has been noted, there is no spy that was implanted, that an informant is part of a normal investigation, and we need people to understand that what Donald Trump is saying has absolutely no factual predicate. It is something he has made up. And he attacks the press, exactly as he told Lesley Stahl, in order that no one will believe him. So if the I.G. does the investigation that he`s calling for, when the I.G. says there was nothing there, there was no one implanted, this was a legitimate investigation, the supporters of Donald Trump will reject that, even though they accepted the I.G.`s report when he had negative things to say about Mr. McCabe.
So it`s not fair. I don`t know where the fairness is in this. But it`s working, and Donald Trump is going to keep on doing it as long as it works. And until the Democrats and the press stand up and rebut what he is saying.
WILLIAMS: Our opening panel of three contains two lawyers and two journalists. We`ll let the viewers work out the math on how we reached that conclusion. With our thanks to Kimberly Atkins, to Robert Costa, to Jill Wine-Banks. Appreciate you all very much for coming on tonight.
And coming up, a Cabinet secretary today says she wasn`t aware of the Intel Community`s biggest finding on election security. The problem is election security is part of her job.
And later, it`s election night in Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, which of course means Steve Kornacki at the big board with tonight`s returns as we get under way for "The 11th Hour."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary, to that point, do you have any reason to doubt the January 2017 Intelligence Community assessment that said it was Vladimir Putin who tried to meddle in this election to help President Trump win?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I do not believe I`ve seen that conclusion. What I do --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The January 2017 assessment?
NIELSEN: -- that the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I`m not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: OK. Just to repeat what you just saw there, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said today she`s not aware of a major intelligence community assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election we had with the goal of helping President Trump. Upon hearing that, Paul Begala was among those who pounced, accusing Nielsen of being either uninformed or fudging to curry favor with the President or willfully blind to the ongoing foreign threat that she was sworn to defend the USA from.
Her remarks were striking. And it wasn`t surprising when a spokesperson quickly tried to clean it up. "The Secretary has previously reviewed the Intelligence Community`s assessment and agrees with it, as she stated today and previously."
Just for review, that January 2017 assessment, on the web for all to read, it says, "Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments." But after Nielsen`s comments today, the damage was done and lifelong Republican David Frum went on CNN with a frontal attack on the women who was charged, after all, with keeping all of us safe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: For her to say this is a confession of disengagement from one of her prime responsibilities. And we know why she`s doing it. Secretary Nielsen is one of the more professional members of President Trump`s Cabinet. And for that reason she`s been subject to his abuse and bullying and tirades.
She nearly quit, we reported, just a few weeks ago. It`s been made clear, the price of keeping her job is surrendering her independence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: A lot to react to there. And here to talk about it, Frank Figliuzzi, Former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence joined by another veteran of ours, Mieke Eoyang, an Attorney, Former Staffer for House Intelligence and Armed Services.
Frank, there`s no good comparison, so I`ll put it bluntly. In normal times, how would our nation be reacting to the knowledge that we have been under and remain under constant electronic threat, especially to our ongoing and rolling elections?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR FBI ASST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Well, I think under normal circumstances, Brian, as you say, we would be coming together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the security of the midterm elections. But when we hear this play out as we`re hearing today, that the Secretary of Homeland Security is either ignorant of Intelligence that`s been widely accepted throughout the Intelligence Community, or, second choice, she is corrupting the Intelligence process deliberately to benefit and protect the President and/or her own job, that Americans need to be concerned about what their state and local systems are doing to protect the midterm elections. That`s only those two choices.
She`s corrupting the intelligence process or she`s ignorant. Both of those are bad. Both of those should concern every American and the rest of the Intelligence Community should come together, call her out, and ensure she has all the facts she needs to protect the midterm elections.
WILLIAMS: Mieke, our friend Frank has been around the block on this area a time or two. Let`s take for the purpose of this conversation his two choices. Is there a chance the Secretary does not believe the findings of the Intelligence Community?
MIEKE EOYANG, FMR. HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFERS: Well, she said at the end of that statement that she has no reason to doubt particular Intelligence assessments. She`s viewed as one of the more professional members of the Trump National Security Cabinet. So it`s I think entirely likely that David Frum`s choice of her trying to preserve her job, knowing that the President is watching, that she can`t say certain things on television, is more likely. And it`s really a shame when you have National Security officials who can`t speak the truth in a way that the President can hear it about serious threats to the nation.
WILLIAMS: Mieke, it is a shame. Is it also dangerous?
EOYANG: It is dangerous in the sense that if she is giving public guidance in one setting and private guidance in another, that`s confusing for allies. It`s confusing for state and local officials. It undercuts the integrity and the trust in our Intelligence Community`s assessments. I think overall it does more harm than good.
WILLIAMS: Frank, I`m speaking to you from the studio where we anchored the last presidential election. This is the studio where we`re going to anchor the midterms and the next presidential election. And so in that context, is there any way for viewers watching us tonight who are now uneasy and worried about the sanctity of our elections, is there any way you can assure anyone that quiet things have been done, perhaps out of public view, behind the scenes, to fortify our system of elections?
FIGLIUZZI: We do know that the Department of Homeland Security has indeed been working with various states and offered briefings but -- so that`s good news, and the states are listening. That`s all good. The not so good news is that the Department of Homeland Security has chosen a posture to say it`s up to the state and local legislators, our voters, and state systems, state legislators to figure this out and ensure the security of the election.
So I don`t see the degree of federal intervention and help that is probably needed to do this, to include possibly funding. And what concerns me is that it only takes a few key states to be hacked and/or corrupted, and it doesn`t have to be to change the vote. Think of the scenario where you show up to vote at your usually polling place and you`re told we don`t have you on the list, you`re voting across town, and complete confusion occurs in a couple of key states. And we`ve got a problem.
WILLIAMS: Mieke, I was worried Frank wouldn`t be able to reassure us. However, people old enough remember, Mieke, the officials going in the next administration going T.V., yes, to say the things the boss wanted to see them saying on T.V. And it happened in various ways under Carter and both Bushes and so on. We haven`t seen it to this degree.
It`s been said Fox has an entire morning news program, much of which is aimed at one viewer. People have bought commercial time in Washington aiming it at one viewer. Is this a dangerous trend to you?
EOYANG: I think it is. It`s not just the President`s viewing habits. It`s also his Twitter habits, and people who are getting information in front of him by activating networks of trolls, of putting bots, you know, putting particular messages in front of the President, putting specific messages in front of the President on television.
This is a President who is actually paying more attention to what is created by other sources than he`s listening to his own intelligence analysts and the professionals in the government who have been doing this to protect the nation for their entire careers. It`s really troubling because in some of these cases we don`t know who is trying to influence the President, we don`t know what their motivations are. And he doesn`t even know if that information is true, and you see this in some of the things he`s retweeting and repeating to people over and over again.
WILLIAMS: Two of our pros, our thanks as always, Frank Figliuzzi and Mieke Eoyang, appreciate it very much.
And coming up for us, President Trump says there`s a "substantial chance" the summit with North Korea won`t happen. But he also says it might. The summit is supposed to be three weeks away. Our latest coverage on the chances, when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We are back. And let`s get to the central question about the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Will it happen at all? This is a serious question. See if you can tell from the president`s answer today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The big topic will be Singapore and the meeting, see what happens. Whether or not it happens. If it does, that will be great. It will be a great thing for North Korea. And if it doesn`t, that`s OK too. Whatever it is, it is.
Well, we`re moving along and we`ll see what happens. There are certain conditions that we want. And I think we`ll get those conditions. And if we don`t, we don`t have the meeting.
And frankly it has a chance to be a great, great meeting for North Korea and a great meeting for the world. If it doesn`t happen, maybe it will happen later. Maybe it will happen at a different time. But we will see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Those comments came of course while the president of South Korea was in the Oval Office. Despite rare and open praise for the North Korean leader from our American president, the summit has been on shaky ground since about last week when the North threatened to pull out entirely. Everyone views denuclearization as the tough part here.
Jeremy Bash reminded us just last night, agreeing to a summit is a concession by the U.S. in and of itself. Career diplomat Chris Hill today said the president was caught doing a dance in the end zone while the ball was really still on the 20-yard line. Despite the early celebration, the summit is in trouble. Today, the president appeared to blame China for the breakdown in negotiations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will say I`m a little disappointed because when Kim Jong-un had the meeting with President Xi in China, the second meeting, the first meeting we knew about, the second meeting, I think there was a little change in attitude from Kim Jong-un. So I don`t like that. I don`t like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We have two distinguished guests with us to talk about this tonight, Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow for the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She`s is also a former senior analyst at CIA, was in charge of this region while on the White House National Security Council. And we welcome to the broadcast tonight Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former National and Security Council director for Asian Affairs. He also happens to be the author of "The Impossible State: North Korea Past and Future".
Welcome to you both. Victor, by way of welcoming you, let me ask you, where do you put the odds that when we reach that day, this summit will happen?
VICTOR CHA, KOREAN CHAIR, CENTER OF STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, Brian, I think right now the odds are pretty good that it will happen, in no small part because I think the president really wants this meeting. I think up until last week, he thought this would be a pretty easy meeting.
You just put a little pressure on North Korea, a little economic pressure, and that they would cave. But I think he`s finding that it`s not going to be that easy. For Sue and I, both who worked on this issue, you know, when we saw the North Korean statements last week, we knew that this is the North Korea that we know and that President Trump`s going to have to deal with a few more bumps in the road before we get to June 12th and Singapore.
WILLIAMS: And, Sue, it appears there are more bumps tonight. I want to read this from "The Washington Post" and ask you if this is the North Korea you know. "The North Koreans have sent signals to U.S. officials that Kim is skittish about logistical concerns, including ensuring that his plane would be able to access enough fuel for the 6,000-mile round trip flight and safeguarding his security while on the ground in Singapore."
"Among other things, Kim purportedly is concerned that a trip so far from home, imagine this, could expose him to a military coup or other internal attempts to unseat him." In your view, are these sincere fears, or is this something else?
SUE MI TERRY, FORMER NORTH KOREA ANALYST FOR THE CIA: I mean it could be an excuse. But it is true that North Korea does not have a plane -- I mean, they never have flown, no North Korean leader has flown as far as Singapore. And we know this is why maybe Switzerland and Sweden was ruled out, because it`s too far.
So there is no track record. Kim Jong-il never flown -- has never flown, Kim Il-sung has never flown. So that`s true. And -- but Kim Jong-un has agreed to the summit in Singapore which means he was pretty confident that he was going to be away for a few days. So I`m not sure about this coup reporting that he`s now citing. I mean he has known about that possibility before he agreed to meeting with President Trump in Singapore.
WILLIAMS: Victor, every time we rank them among the family of nations, we hear something like that, they don`t have the hardware, the expertise, they haven`t flown this far, in the jet age, ever, period, which is incredible.
Let me get your expertise, if I gave you 60 seconds to sit down in the Oval Office with this president, what would your advice be going in to meet with this cagey opponent?
CHA: Well, I guess I`d say a couple of things. The first is that there are very clear differences in definitions of denuclearization. But the only two people who can close that gap are the president and the leader of North Korea. And then the second thing I would say is as you try to get him to move to your definition of denuclearization, you can`t give away too much. You can`t start giving away our alliance equities with Korea or with Japan, things that might put China in a stronger position in the region.
It`s really not that difficult in that sense. Those are sort of the key -- the sort of key tenants that one has to follow in such a meeting. But we won`t know what this meeting will bring because these two leaders are not easily scriptable.
WILLIAMS: When you say alliance equities, briefly, do you mean like a promise to draw down U.S. troops?
CHA: Yes. There`s been a lot of talk and rumbling in Washington about possible plans to draw down troops, possibly putting that on the table for negotiation. I think both Sue and I agree that that would be a real mistake especially since you don`t know at all what you`re getting on the nuclear side in terms of things that would make the United States more secure, while giving up troops which would make us less secure.
WILLIAMS: And, Sue, you`re getting the last word. What`s the danger of advertising this too much about denuclearization?
TERRY: Well, President Trump has really raised the bar. And now, we have really high expectations, because he`s already talked about North Korea possibly giving up a nuclear weapons program when we know that`s, you know, very difficult, to get to complete, verifiable, irreversible with the denuclearization of North Korea.
Also by scrapping the Iran deal, President Trump has now said that deal was not strong enough, was not tough enough. So what`s going to happen with North Korea? He now has to show up and say, you know, sign a deal that`s going to be tougher and stronger. And so again, he raised expectations very high and we`ll see what happens.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers, you`ve just heard from about the two most learned people on this subject in the free world. And we`re awfully happy to have them. We hope they`ll be of counsel to us if this meeting ever happens. To Victor Cha, to Sue Mi Terry, thank you both so very much.
Coming up in this country, it`s primary night and we have results. When we come back, we go to the big board. Steve Kornacki is there standing by with tonight`s returns from Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, when we continue.
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TRUMP: So you voted. 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016, although I`m not sure I really believe that, but you know. I don`t know who the hell wrote that line, I`m not sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That sound you can hear is a speechwriter banging his or her head against the desk somewhere in Washington. President Trump that odd moment downplaying the importance of the coming midterm elections, that was at his speech earlier tonight despite Republicans` concern that they could lose control of the House, of course.
Meanwhile, for us, results are coming in from primaries in Texas where Democrats are hoping to pick up a few seats in November. Voters also cast their ballots in Arkansas, Georgia, and Kentucky. And history has already been made in one of these tonight, our national political correspondent Steve Kornacki working late along with us back at the big board tonight.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. Yes. And let`s get you right to Texas because a couple of contests there have just gone final. This is going to set up here a number of contests in the fall that could go a long way to determining who controls the House. There are a lot of pickup opportunities on the board in Texas.
Start here in the 7th district, you`re basically talking about Houston here, you`re talking about a district that`s traditionally Republican, that flipped to Hillary Clinton by a point in 2016, but still represented by a Republican John Culberson. Democrats think this is one of their top targets in the country. And now, Democrats had a nominee, Lizzie Fletcher defeats Laura Moser. This was a race of people remember back in the preliminary. This was the runoff tonight.
In the preliminary, national Democrats were worried about Laura Moser. They attacked her. She said, hey, this is national party trying to meddle. That got into the runoff. National Democratic said, hey, you know what? Maybe we`re better backing off. They backed off and the candidate, I think, they would have referred did win tonight, so Lizzie Fletcher. That`s a race we will talk about a lot this fall.
Also Texas`s 23rd district, very big one here. You see along the southern border right there, this is Will Hurd Republican incumbent. You see the results. This is always a battleground in the presidential contest, will certainly be a battleground this fall. Again, Democrats now have a nominee, this was not a surprise, but Gina Ortiz Jones. She will take on Will Hurd in the fall.
Another one here, the 32nd district. Republican Pete Sessions, the incumbent. This is the Dallas here. Again, this is one of those suburban districts, big swing in Clinton`s direction, in the Democrats direction in the presidential race. Democrats targeting this. They will target this race with Colin Allred, former NFL player. He was a linebacker with the Tennessee Titans. He played his college ball at Baylor, sort have been of a local thing there, somewhat local at least.
So in Texas those are the stories tonight. One of the headlines, you said historic, it was in Georgia. In the Democratic race for governor, Stacey Abrams becomes the first black female nominee for governor. She won thing this overwhelmingly over Stacey Evans. Abrams was the favorite coming in today, not expected to be by this margin.
So here`s an interesting test, the theory behind the Abrams campaign, you hear so much about Democrats in the Trump era, win back Trump voters, win back Republicans, reach out to folks who have maybe given up on the Democratic party. Abrams says basically it`s about exciting Democratic constituencies, Democratic voters, nonwhite voters, young people, single women. It`s not about necessarily reaching out to Trump voters, it`s about expanding the Democratic pie. That`s the theory of her campaign. Her opponent, we`re going to find out. There`s going to be a runoff here on the Republican side, Cagle and Kemp.
And very quickly, in Kentucky, six district Democrats have a chance to flip a House seat, congressional seat in Kentucky. This was the candidate recruited by the Democratic campaign committee in Washington. This is the woman who won, an upset. Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot. She had an ad that went viral. She talked about being a girl, wanting to be a pilot, being told no. Caught fire online, raised millions of dollars, upset the establishment and we will be talking about, Brian, certainly about this race. This is the Lexington area, University of Kentucky, big blue nation. We will be talking about Amy McGrath against Andy Barr, the Republican, certainly this fall.
WILLIAMS: Some fascinating stories out there tonight, Steve, especially in your capable hands. Thank you very much for staying late with us tonight.
And coming up for us, the dustup over an event about clean water at the EPA. Reporters were barred, reporters were angry, and the head of the EPA, is, you guessed it, in hot water once again, when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. Perhaps because Scott Pruitt is in constant trouble as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, reporters showed up to hear him talk about clean water today. But then, some members of the press were denied entry to the event. One was apparently physically removed from the building. And as a result, it all means more bad press tonight for Scott Pruitt and the EPA.
Reporters from the AP, CNN and an environmental news organization were told they couldn`t enter because space was at capacity, though press is normally able to stand in the back and there appeared to be room for that. A report from the AP provided details of the exchange. They wrote, "Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building."
According to the AP, the agency apologized for how the journalist was handled and invited her to attend the later session. When asked about it at the briefing just hours later, Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the White House refused to condemn the treatment of the reporter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you approved of how that was handled? And will anyone be speaking to the press office over there about it?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly, we`ll look into the matter. I`ve seen the reports. I know EPA has put out a statement. At this point, I`d refer you to them as we look into the incident.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there any situation, barring a security incident, in which you feel, the White House feels, it is appropriate to physically touch or physically handle a reporter?
SANDERS: I`m not going to weigh into random hypotheticals that may or may not exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Questioning by our friends Anita Kumar and Hallie Jackson there today. Criticism over this incident mounted quickly, as you can imagine. And please remember, as we tell this story, you`re paying for the EPA, and they work for you to protect you. Senator Tom Udall, Democrat from New Mexico, called on Pruitt to personally apologize. And Richard Painter, the former Bush White House Ethics lawyer put it this way, "CNN and AP reporters banned forcibly removed by guards. Just like at the Kremlin."
Another break for us. Coming up, what a lot of people are saying to the president these days, when we continue.
WILLIAMS: And last thing before we go tonight, it was something the president said today that got us to thinking.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Congress would like to see documents opened up, a lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It was that phrase there at the end, right there, about what a lot of people are saying. Our friend and professional Trump expert Eli Stokols, who we know just this week started his new job covering the White House for "The L.A. Times," calls this one of Trump`s better known tells. As Eli tells it, when Trump quotes a lot of people, he either means a few people or a person he saw on television or something plausible that he`d like to hear a lot of people saying. Be that as it may, the president sure predicates a lot on a lot of people saying things.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have to win in Iowa. You know, a lot of people say, Donald, just say do well in Iowa. I can`t do that. I really want to win.
A lot of people said, he`ll never run. Number one, he won`t want to give up his lifestyle. They`re right about that.
A lot of people are saying, well, we`ve gone up a lot, but can you go up? We`ve really had a tremendous -- I think we have a long way to go. We`ve cut regulations, we`ve passed the tax bill.
OK, I`ve heard a lot of people say we`re going to rip up the deal. It`s very tough to do when you rip a deal because I`m a deal person.
A lot of these stupid people, they say, I`m a conservative, by the way, but they say, he is not a conservative. Do you remember Jeb Bush? He is not a conservative. Who cares?
A lot of people say 800,000. Some people said yesterday, first time I heard 650. I heard 3 million.
But I built a great company and people say that.
Many people in Japan were really thrilled that I did.
But a lot of people think that if you come and you`re on the other side of -- I`m not talking about Mexico, somebody on the other side of the border.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you deserve a Nobel Prize, do you think?
TRUMP: Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The president of the United States closing out our Tuesday night. And that is our broadcast for this evening. Thank you so very 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
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