Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 24, 2018 Guest: Jeremy Peters
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, spotted. The President`s Chief of Staff and lawyer show up at a classified briefing with members of Congress on a confidential informant in the Russia investigation. This as the President continues to peddle his conspiracy theory about an alleged spy.
Plus, North Korea tonight says it will talk to the U.S. at any time, even after Donald Trump`s dramatic cancellation of his summit meeting with Kim Jong-un.
Today`s twin developments leaving the White House on defense and in disarray as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Thursday night.
Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. I`m Nicolle Wallace in for Brian Williams tonight. Day 490 of the Trump Administration.
Summit collapse. The President scrapped his June 12th talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Tonight, North Korea has responded. More on that story ahead.
But we begin with the classified meetings with members of Congress, Intelligence, and law enforcement officials about the FBI`s use of an informant in the Russia investigation. President Trump set the stage for those meetings with his wholly unsubstantiated allegation that a mole was planted in his campaign for political purposes. Originally only Republicans were scheduled to attend, but after furious backlash, invitations were extended to Democrats as well.
Congressman Adam Schiff, top Democrat on The House Intel Committee, made these remarks afterward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: The meetings also included White House officials. Chief of Staff John Kelly and the White House lawyer assigned to the Russia investigation, Emmet Flood. The White House said the two men made remarks at the beginning of the gathering and then left the room.
But Mark Warner, the Ranking Democrat on the Senate`s Intel Committee, tweeted this after ward, "For the record, the President`s Chief of Staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the President`s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing."
Rudy Giuliani, President Trump`s personal attorney in the Russia probe, offering his daily update on these negotiations for a sit-down interview for the President with Robert Mueller. He told Politico today, "briefings about the FBI informant could help grease the wheels for an interview," and added that the cancellation of the North Korea summit, "gives us more time to spend with the President and make a decision, maybe a final one, in the next couple weeks, whether the interview is a go or a no go."
Meanwhile, several recent reports have indicated that Mueller is closely scrutinizing longtime Trump Political Adviser Roger Stone`s role in the 2016 election.
Tonight, the "Wall Street Journal" reports newly discovered e-mails show Stone privately sought dirt on Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange during the campaign. The Journal says Stone urged a radio host named Randy Credico, who knew Assange to ask him for e-mails related to Mrs. Clinton`s alleged role in disrupting a purported Libyan peace deal in 2011.
"Any state or HRC e-mail from August 10th to August 30th, particularly on August 20th, 2011." The paper adds, "Among other matters, prosecutors have asked about Mr. Stone`s claimed contact with WikiLeaks during the campaign, according to a witness familiar with the investigation."
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Thursday night. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who has spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor. Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon. And John Heilemann, Co-author of "Game Change" and "Double Down" and Co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime. All three MSNBC Analyst. Heilemann doing double duty with me so he gets extra credit in the first question.
Take me through what you think the enduring damage may be tonight to the FBI and the Justice Department as they seek to maintain some independence from a President with complete and utter disregard for all the norms that have previously kept White Houses from doing things like sending the Chief of Staff and the President`s lawyer to a meeting like this.
JOHN HEILEMANN, "GAME CHANGE" AND "DOUBLE DOWN" CO-AUTHOR: I think there`s a short to medium range question and a long-range question. The short to medium range question it seems to me is quite clear. The President will feel as though, regardless of what was said in that meeting, the President will regard this as a victory.
He demanded something no President has ever demanded before, that no President has ever thought he had the right to demand before, that no one on either party would have ever conceived as something a President could do. And he didn`t get exactly what he wanted, but he got a lot of he wanted. He got something and he got a talking point and he got something to help him reinforce the narrative that he wants to drive in the political sphere.
So I think we`ve had over the course of days now, we`ve had discussions about whether that was something that Rod Rosenstein was right to trade in order to keep his job basically and in order to be able to protect the Mueller inquiry for a little while longer. I continue to say I don`t know the answer to that. But it was something lost? Was something given up to this President in the short and medium term? A hundred percent.
And then there`s the longer term question which again I don`t know the answer to. But I do think that when you break important precedents like this, when you do damage to institutional norms, constitutional norms of this kind, you risk other presidents of other administrations on either side of the aisle for administrations to come, decades to come, generations to come being able to point at the precedent and say, "It`s not a precedent anymore. I`m going to go ahead and do that thing."
And whether or not after Trump, whether that`s before 2020, whether that`s in 2020, whether it`s in 2024, at some point there`s going to come a day after Donald Trump, and whether the institutional norm is able to regenerate on this front or not, none of us know. But it`s in more jeopardy now over the long run than it was 24 hours ago.
WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy Bash, the body of the institution has been attacked and has been weakened. But it`s been attacked and weakened on a lie, based on a lie. There is no evidence that there was a spy or a mole in the Trump campaign.
So he`s got all of these respected professionals at the Justice Department, people who have served previous Presidents, previous attorneys general, carrying out what appears to be a charade. That his Chief of Staff and his attorney in the Russia probe at the White House end of it attended. Am I missing something?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: No, Nicolle. Spygate, we hardly knew you. I mean, it turned out basically to be a bust. And so, I think, you know, we look at two things here. One is the content of this meeting, which should never have happened, because the premise of the content of the meeting was it was going to be describing elements of a human source. And so only people who cared about undermining the sanctity of human sources were interested in holding this meeting.
But structurally as you pointed out, it was also very problematic for two reasons. One, it was first designed as a GOP only meeting. Only later did Democrats kind of have to fight their way into the meeting to restore the principle of bipartisan oversight of foreign counterintelligence investigations, which we`ve always done. In my experience working up there, we`ve always had bipartisan meetings of this type.
And then finally the big, I think, institutional issue is the presence of Emmet Flood, the counsel for the President on the Russia matter, therefore no reason at all, only to send a subtle -- really not so subtle signal that the President is watching, that he is going to become the beneficiary of any information that`s shared with Congress, and that basically they are not going to respect the integrity of this investigation in any way, shape, or form.
WALLACE: So, Joyce, take me inside -- you know, even as a non-lawyer, I understood the foul that was investigating the investigators. This addition of Emmet Flood to this meeting and the White House Chief of Staff seem to be supervising the investigation into the investigators. Am I wrong on that front?
JOYCE VANCE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: No, you`re absolutely right. The best way I can think of to talk about it is to imagine that you`re a federal prosecutor and you`re investigating a Fortune 500 company. And you`re having a meeting to brief investigators or some other folks on the evidence. And all of a sudden, the CEO for this company doesn`t show up, but his lawyer, his general counsel shows up accompanied by his chief executive assistant. And they act as though they`re entitled to sit in on this meeting and hear all of the evidence that you`re accumulating in the investigation that looks into their company and their boss. And it`s laughable, right?
You don`t have to have gone to law school to look at that and to say it`s ludicrous. We don`t want subjects of investigations to know the details of the investigation before it`s completed. This is really what we had here today, and it`s a travesty that the Chief Executive Officer of this country, the President, was willing to sacrifice the integrity of the justice system to try to get a leg up, to try to get a window in on an investigation that`s really looking at his conduct.
HEILEMANN: He was not only willing, he was eager. He was eager to do this. And just very quickly, I will say, you know, it was started out it was supposed to be a Republican only meeting.
There was uproar to make it bipartisan. It didn`t become fully bipartisan because we had two separate meetings, right? But on top of that, it was almost like the President sort of said, "OK, fine, you can bring some Democrats up. And now here`s my countermove. I`m going to send my lawyer up there."
The President couldn`t even -- he was going to like get the last word in here somehow, the symbolic last word, which was, "I wanted it to be just House Republicans. OK, you Democrats are going to horn in from the Senate side. Fine. I`m going to send Emmet Flood up there just to give you the finger."
WALLACE: And Jeremy Bash, let me read you Adam Schiff`s statement on the presence of Emmet Flood at this meeting. He said, "Emmet Flood`s presence and statement at the outset of both meetings today was completely inappropriate. His presence only underscores what Rudy Giuliani said, the President`s legal team expects to use information gleaned improperly from the Justice Department or the President`s allies in Congress to their legal advantage."
Now, Emmet Flood is different from Rudy Giuliani in that he has been someone held in high regard. He was held in high regard in the Bush 43 White House. He assisted them through some legal crises, the U.S. attorney scandal and others. But he seems to be falling into this pattern of once highly regarded men and women who come into the Trump orbit and are tainted by their actions and their disregard for the norms and the boundaries between the Justice Department and the White House.
BASH: Yes, and I know Emmet Flood. I worked with him when I was chief counsel. And as you noted, he was White House counsel. And we interacted many times. And I do respect his intellect, but I have to say his judgment was way off here because not only is it like the Fortune 500 CEO that Joyce referenced, not only is it like potentially a Mafia boss trying to barge their way into an investigation of their conduct, but this is the President of the United States and his White House counsel.
They are doing this under the color of law. They are doing this under the theory that they have the right, the authority under their office to do this when that is a misuse of their authority. That is a misuse of their office, and that is a much higher violation of our norms than anything we`ve ever seen.
WALLACE: All right. Since you`re fired up, Jeremy, I`m going to stay with you here. Let me ask you to respond to the second part of that, which is Rudy Giuliani telegraphing what he hopes to do with the information they learn, that the President`s legal team expects to use information gleaned improperly from the Justice Department or the President`s allies in Congress to their legal advantage. Adam Schiff isn`t making that up. That`s what Rudy Giuliani has said he wanted.
BASH: Yes, and that`s totally ridiculous because of course during an investigation, you would never show the target or the subject of your investigation the evidence you have. There is a stage later on during trial, during discovery, when you will reveal to a defendant, a criminal defendant, information that you have about the case as Joyce and others who have prosecutes these cases can explain in detail. But never, never in an investigative stage, would you invite the subject in and say, here`s what we`ve got.
WALLACE: And, Joyce, you tweeted just that. I want to ask you the question I started the show with with John Heilemann. What was lost today? And what is the hope for, you know, somebody like Bob Mueller who`s keeping his head down and doing his work getting the last word when we just see boundary after boundary crossed, when people who are concerned about Donald Trump`s conduct don`t see a lot of evidence of any checks on anything that he`s doing, on any of the obliterated norms, on any of the trespassing and trampling on the way things are supposed to be when you`re under investigation by the Justice Department, a Counterintelligence investigation, even more serious in that serious national security questions. What was lost today, and what is the hope for regaining it or salvaging it through the Mueller investigation or any other avenue?
VANCE: So I`m getting even more depressed listening to you recite the litany.
WALLACE: No, no, you`re supposed to bring us back up.
VANCE: But here`s the real conundrum that we face, and Jeremy knows this too from the administration that we served in together and earlier ones. The criminal justice system in this country largely is able to work because people trust it. And when citizens, when people who are litigants, criminal defendants, victims in the system, when they no longer believe that they can trust that we have a system where no man is above the rule of law and every man is treated fairly in the courts, then the system erodes along with the confidence of people in it.
We`re fortunate that we have Bob Mueller running the special counsel investigation. That was a very wise choice that Rod Rosenstein made because Mueller -- and it`s important to remember that Mueller is a Republican, a career Republican. But he served under Republican and Democratic Presidents. He was that highly thought of. His integrity has always been unquestioned.
Mueller`s doing what prosecutors do. Prosecutors don`t try their case in the public. They don`t respond to baiting from criminal defendants or from other people who try to call them out whether it`s to impugn their integrity or to say that their evidence is nonexistent. Prosecutors just slog straight on until they`re ready to indict or not, and then they air their evidence in court rather than in the court of public opinion.
Trump is running a public relations strategy, and that`s all that this is. Hopefully Mueller can restore people`s confidence in the criminal justice system.
HEILEMANN: I`ll tell you this. Jeremy and Joyce know a lot more about the law than me and they have seen a lot more prosecutor`s work. You and I were talking about something else. I`ve written about a lot of defendants so to speak, people who have done things that are wrong in the realm of politics and sometimes in the realm of law.
What I`ve seen over the course of the last four days, as I say sayonara to television for this week at least. What I`ve seen over the last four days is a lot of panic. And I think when you look at -- when we look back on the President`s behavior this week, when you listen to Rudy Giuliani`s jibering basically all week long saying, usually contradictory things, not making any sense, saying things he clearly can`t mean to have said because they make him look an idiot.
When you look at Roger Stone on the Circus a couple weeks ago freaking out in an interview with me, apparently knowing that some of this information that we`re now reading about what`s coming and understanding the jeopardy he`s in. When we see Michael Cohen`s taxi partner decided to flip on him and getting the deal of a lifetime for apparently some very -- for what must be incredibly incriminating information for him to have got the kind of bargain that he got. When you see the net closing in and then you see the behavior of the people around whom the net seems to be closing, the panic of it, the flailing, I don`t know if that`s a cause for hope or not, but it`s a different way to look at this week.
The institutions and norms have been harmed. There`s no doubt about it.
HEILEMANN: But in the long narrative of this, I think this is one of these weeks where we will look back on this through a slightly different prism, and see some of the key dramatis persona in a state of ever increasing panic and hysteria.
WALLACE: All right, the Hill is frozen over, you`re now my human first act. Thank you for that, Heilemann. Joyce Vance, Jeremy Bash, John Heilemann, thank you so much for starting us off.
Coming up, James Comey once joked the President`s obsession with him is like a breakup, Trump just can`t get over. Today the President was at it again calling Comey a rotten apple.
And speaking of breakups, Trump dumps his summit with Kim Jong-un before the dictator could cancel on him first. We talked to someone who`s negotiating with North Korea before and prevail. The 11th Hour just getting started on a Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think a thing that I`ve done for the country, the firing of James Comey, is going to go down as a very good thing. FBI is great. I know so many people in the FBI. The FBI is a fantastic institution but some of the people at the top were rotten apples. James Comey was one of them. I`ve done a great service for this country by getting rid of him by firing him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: We`ll see. That was President Trump today firing another shot in his fight to discredit the Russia investigation. And in his seemingly never ending war against the FBI director he fired.
Republican Strategist Steve Schmidt characterized the President`s actions this way to us earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: What`s increasingly clear whether the target is James Comey, whether it`s Director Mueller, the Special Counsel, the reality is, is this President will burn everything to the ground to protect himself, to protect himself from this investigation moving closer to the Oval office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Joining us now, Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for "The New York Times," and Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter. It`s a pleasure to have you both.
Do you agree with that? He`s going to burn everything to the ground that threatens him?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I will say that --
WALLACE: He is making some progress.
ALLEN: Steve, as usual, has totally understated. But, I think, you know, it`s interesting, I spoke to some veterans of the Watergate era this week about these issues. Richard Ben-Veniste who worked in the Special Counsel`s Office back then, and John Dean, who was the White House counsel of President Nixon. And both of them said that there`s a real concern here that the President is weaponizing the tools of government to undermine the Mueller investigation for his own benefit.
And then, you know, Dean actually said there are echoes of Watergate here. You know, I think there`s a lot of deep, deep concern among institutionalists, and that I don`t mean this in an establishment way.
ALLEN: I just mean people who care about the institutions of our government, about what`s going on with President Trump right now.
WALLACE: I`ve heard some of their analysis. I mean where are they today? You know, if you`ve talked to them this week, where do they think the President has delivered us with this fake scandal, this manufactured tale of a spy, which was never true?
There was a Counterintelligence investigation underway because there were people in the Trump campaign who were so close to Russians that they were under surveillance ostensibly to protect the company, to protect the campaign and they kept that secret. So there was absolutely no political overlay.
What is their level of concern with the latest twists and turns in all this?
ALLEN: Well, I think there`s a lot of concern. It`s interesting because each individual act may be legal in and of itself, you know, you can look at it as a lawyer would, and they`re both lawyers. You can look at it and say this particular act may be legal, but it also could be part of a chain of obstruction of justice later. And so regardless of the legality, I think the disruption of norms here is of enormous concern to people who have watched our government teeter on the brink of crisis before.
WALLACE: And obstruction of justice is the thing that even the President`s allies worry, he may have stumbled into inadvertently with his M.O. that when he -- as a businessman, he was not a by the book kind of guy, shall we say. And the defense of Donald Trump from his pals goes like this. He was too loose-lipped and unorganized to have colluded with the Russians, but on obstruction, yes, he could have some exposure. Do you think that`s behind the character assassination of Jim Comey?
JEREMY PETERS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that there`s been a brewing effort for a long time now, one that we haven`t seen because it hasn`t come to fruition until now to push Rosenstein out to discredit the investigation and the investigators even more so than was happening earlier on in the process when Trump was trashing Comey on a daily basis and threatening to fire Jeff Sessions, yes. So this has been, I know from talking to people close to the situation, a long time coming. The guardrails have finally come off--
PETERS: --now that Rudy Giuliani is there, now that Dowd is gone, now that Cobb is gone. And the attitude of cooperation is totally out the window. So this is what you`re seeing. You`re seeing this kind of, this is pent up aggression finally unleashed. And--
WALLACE: Let me ask you about the -- I mean are you surprised, you talk about no guard rails.
WALLACE: I mean, Emmet Flood is an establishment Republican attorney. Are you surprised that someone like Emmet Flood doesn`t have the power or the moxie or the instinct to walk into the President`s office and say, "Hey, lighten up on the Comey trashing. He is an essential witness in the Mueller investigation, into you and obstruction of justice."
PETERS: But ultimately the President is his own chief communications officer, chief strategist, chief legal counsel, and this is just how he`s going to behave. There is nothing any adviser can do to stop the President from behaving the way he is. And that`s why so many of them have quit.
You know, going back to what John was saying earlier about the institutions being trashed here, President Trump will stop at nothing to discredit the institutions that are meant to keep leaders honest. That includes not only law enforcement but Congress and their investigative power, the media most especially, which he`s come at us --
WALLACE: Guns ablazing.
PETERS: -- incredible venom and dishonesty.
PETERS: And you know what other institution is in real peril here? The Republican Party because they have sat by complicit in all of this, most of them. Not all of them, but most of them.
WALLACE: Everyone who is not retiring unless I`m missing anybody. You guys have depressed me even further, but I love it. Jeremy Peters and Jonathan Allen, thank you so much.
Coming up, the summit with North Korea, is it off, or is it on? We`ll try to decode Donald Trump`s mixed messages today when "The 11th Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Based on the recent statement of North Korea, I have decided to terminate the planned summit in Singapore on June 12th. While many things can happen and a great opportunity lies ahead potentially, I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and, indeed, a setback for the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: President Trump has officially canceled the highly anticipated June 12th summit between the United States and North Korea. In a letter to Kim Jong-un, Trump blamed the cancellation on tremendous anger and open hostility in a recent statement from North Korea but left the door open to a future summit.
Meanwhile tonight, we`ve seen a huge shift in tone from North Korea. The country`s vice foreign minister said through state media that the North is ready to talk to the U.S. at any time. Here to talk more about it, Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and he has successfully negotiated the release of Americans held in North Korea. Thank you so much for being with us.
BILL RICHARDSON, FMR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Thank you, Nicolle.
WALLACE: So obviously you know the nature of the North Korean regime better than anybody, and no matter who the American president is, we root for the home team. But former CIA Director John Brennan said to me about a week ago that he was worried that the president was setting himself up to be duped by Kim Jong-un. Do you think the president got outmaneuvered?
RICHARDSON: Well, clearly this is part of the president`s negotiating strategy. You know, when he doesn`t like something, he opts out like with the Paris climate talks, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran issue. And now I think he felt that maybe he was being outmaneuvered, so the best thing to do is get out.
But I do think the North Koreans overplayed their hands, although I can tell you I`ve dealt with them. This is typical. They bluster. They flex their muscles. They don`t show up at meetings. They insult. They insulted the vice president.
So, what you have is because they don`t think like we do. They think in their little own cocoon, and I don`t know if the president`s people have experience dealing with them. Obviously I think there have been some mistakes because too many of the administration people are speaking with different voices.
I think Secretary Pompeo, he`s been there twice. He established an intelligence channel with the North Koreans. He should be speaking out. He should be the only one. But then you`ve got the vice president. You`ve got John Bolton talking about the Libya model where Gadhafi ended up dad after they put his nuclear weapons out. I`m sure Kim Jong-un got a little nervous about that.
So, you know, this is a setback. This is not good. But the door is open. I think the North Koreans, Kim Kye Gwan, is the one that mentioned the statement you just referred to, he`s a senior guy. He`s been their nuclear negotiator.
So maybe down the road when both sides have more realistic expectations about what a summit can produce, it will take place. That`s my hope. Otherwise, this is a bad omen, a bad sign. More tension in the peninsula. The South Korean president ends up looking bad. China is strengthened because they probably, you know, are messing around with the North Koreans and us. So, you know, hopefully it will be put back together. But this is a setback.
WALLACE: You put your finger on something that NBC and "The Washington Post" and multiple news organizations have reported out tonight, sort of the different stakeholders on the American side. And we have some reporting at NBC News that new secretary of state Pompeo was frustrated with John Bolton, that the president was frustrated with the comments you just referenced about the Libya model made by his vice president, Mike Pence.
Can you talk about the perils of operating in such delicate and potentially consequential parts of the world like North Korea with a team that is led by a commander in chief who isn`t disciplined himself? How do you get the national security team to sing off a single song sheet when the guy at the top is incapable of it?
RICHARDSON: Well, that`s the problem. The president shoots from the hip. He tweets. He goes off on press conferences. And then you`ve got, you know, probably competing advisers competing for his ear. You`ve got the secretary of state, who has actually met Kim Jong-un twice. He`s been there. He`s negotiated. He established the intelligence channel. Then you`ve got John Bolton who, you know, purportedly has been very skeptical of these negotiations for a long time.
But the fact that they both publicly said, well, that Pompeo has said, we can negotiate with this guy, but then he`s contradicted even by the vice president, talking about the Libya model. And then John Bolton. And then the North Koreans react. You know, I`m not defending the North Koreans, but here they release three Americans about a week ago. They detonated the nuclear site. I think this morning they destroyed it. They think that they`re reaching out in a positive way.
And then they`re saying, well, what about the U.S.? What are you guys doing? Well, you`re talking about the Libya model. You`re saying we`re coming to the negotiating table because of pressure, and that`s because we have too many different voices.
In fact, Nicolle, the president himself has probably been the most restrained than his team, including especially with Pompeo. He and Pompeo. And then the rest of the administration is making more bellicose statements. So the North Koreans are saying, well, you know, what is -- what gives here?
And I think the fact that they`ve said -- I mean the most recent statement by Kim Kye Gwan, the nuclear negotiator, all right, we`re ready to talk, means that they know they probably overplayed their hand too. But this is how they are. This is -- they don`t think like we do. They don`t operate like we do. I`ve been there, negotiated releases of prisoners. They keep you waiting for a week. They keep you in a safehouse there, not talking to you, frustrating you. That`s how they are. And that`s what they did to the president. But I think they overplayed their hand.
WALLACE: Bill Richardson, we`re so grateful to have your insights on a night like tonight. Thank you for spending some time with you.
RICHARDSON: Thank you.
WALLACE: As we just mentioned, we have an inside look tonight at exactly how the summit with North Korea fell apart. NBC News reports, "It happened less than 12 hours since Trump and his team began grappling intensely with the prospects for shelving what would have been an historic meeting between the two heads of state. But the president, fearing the North Koreans might beat him to the punch, wanted to be the first one to cancel multiple officials told NBC News. There was no hint of this yesterday, a person briefed on the summit preparations said, calling Trump`s decision high risk, high reward."
For more, let`s bring in Jackie Calmes, White House Editor for "The Los Angeles Times," and Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times".
Jackie, let me start with you. You broadened the lens for us and shared some thoughts about how the president miscalculated by telegraphing just how vital this potential achievement was to him politically, personally, to his ego in terms of a peace prize. Can I put to you the same question I put to the ambassador? Is it possible as Director Brennan said that the president has been duped?
JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE EDITOR: It`s certainly possible. I think maybe less than duped, he`s just been -- he took the bait. He wanted something so badly. I sort of think of him as the instant gratification president, which goes hand and hand with his being the reality TV president. And he was so enamored of doing something that, as he`s said several times, many times, that no other sitting president has done, which is to sit down with one of the rulers of North Korea.
Well, any president could have had the meeting. It`s what comes out of the meeting that`s important. And those meetings, you don`t go -- you know, we can stipulate, you know, as critical as we may be of President Trump and how this is playing out, we`ll stipulate that North Korea bears a lot of blame. But this is how they roll. They`re duplicitous, they`re erratic, they`re untrustworthy. But that`s all the more reason that President Trump should have been more careful than he was in going into this in the first lace, with just abruptly accepting the invitation to a summit in March on the say-so of South Korean emissaries without any spade work by his own American diplomats. And so, so less than being duped, he simply bumbled into this and maybe out of it.
WALLACE: Peter, Jackie brings us back to an important moment when the president sort of brought all this into public view, it was without the -- I don`t want to call it hand-holding, but it was without careful coordination with his then-security adviser H.R. McMaster.
There`s reporting today in multiple news organizations that there was some disconnect among the national security team. What are the prospects at this moment for getting this back on track, and do you believe that to be the goal?
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it`s a great question. Look, I think one thing we`ve learned with this president is nothing is permanent. Nothing is final. The fact that the summit is off today doesn`t mean it won`t be back on tomorrow or some later date.
The president clearly was signaling that today both in his comments and his letter. He clearly still thinks this is a possibility, and you can see him, you know, coming around to finding a way to put it back on the schedule at some point.
The trick is putting it back on the schedule is going to be harder than putting it on in the first place because he`s going to have to explain what would actually convince him to change his mind again. It would look bad to simply say, sure, let`s give it another try if he didn`t get something more reassuring than that.
And as Jackie just said, as Ambassador Richardson just said, the North Koreans are mercurial. They`re unpredictable. They`re frustrating and aggravating. It`s hard to imagine what they could give him as a reassurance. It`s a very tenuous moment, and it`s hard to see where it goes next.
WALLACE: All right. We are going to help us try to get to the bottom of that. Neither of you are going anywhere. We have to sneak in a quick break, but we`ll all be right back. "The 11th Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: On what day is it finally going to reveal itself to everybody in Washington there is no strategy? He doesn`t know anything about anything. He is unread. He is unstudied. He is unprepared. He knows not the first thing about the threat, the history that the North Korean regime provides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: That was our friend Steve Schmidt earlier this afternoon on our hour. Jackie and Peter are still with us. Peter Baker, talk about the challenge that folks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and Secretary Mattis have in navigating parts of the world that really do require a little bit more context, a little bit more knowledge of the history of the leaders that came before. How do they navigate around that in this White House?
BAKER: Yes, no, it`s a great question. Look, most of these people have not had the kind of experience dealing with North Korea that Ambassador Richardson has had, that ambassador Chris Hill had under Bush, that a number of others have had. John Bolton has known it from his perch as a U.N. ambassador and certainly played a role in the Bush Administration, and that actually soured him on the idea of negotiations with North Korea. He came away with his experiences thinking that the North Koreans are not genuine. You can`t trust them, when they`re going to simply string you along with false promises and try to cheat behind your back.
So he came into this experience as the national security adviser for President Trump pretty jaundiced about the whole thing. He didn`t believe much this diplomatic outreach was going to go anywhere in the first place. He in fact said before becoming national security adviser that the only negotiation President Trump should have should be discussing the logistics of how North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, puts it on a boat basically to send to the United States.
So, you know, he was not open to the idea that this is really going to be a success to begin with. And no doubt he`s told the president, see, this is what you get when you try to deal with them.
WALLACE: And let me bring you back to the point that you started to make earlier, Jackie. The idea that he wanted this so badly and that hurt him strategically, is that toothpaste that can ever go back into the tube? I mean can you step back? Can you change your posture and act like a less eager, you know, high school girl, or has he already shown his hand? Has he already revealed that his entire midterm strategy hinged on presenting himself to the country as a great deal maker and letting the Republicans in the House and Senate ride his coattails? I mean how do you put back in the tube all of the strategic things he gave away by telegraphing his almost desperation for a peace prize and a deal?
CALMES: Well, I don`t think he can anymore, not just because of this but because he`s now got 15, 16 months behind him, and we`ve seen too many times that his sort of being unpredictable and his making his diplomacy personal. It`s all about him and Kim. You saw in his letter today talking about the wonderful dialogue he thought they were just starting to have, and maybe they could, you know, get it on again. I know it`s cable, but I better be careful.
WALLACE: The only high school girl i was talking about was me. Too high schoolgirls everywhere, I got your back.
CALMES: I just think it`s really hard. The worst part is, you know, Kim Jong-un has won just by the fact that this summit was agreed to at all. It didn`t even have to come off for Kim to have won. And he`s gotten the ultimate diplomatic recognition from the president of the United States. And you don`t bestow that just easily. And Trump was too easy. And the second thing Kim has won is that by his agreeing to this diplomacy with President Trump and the fact that Trump himself was the one that pulled the plug on the summit has relieved the pressure that China was bringing to bear on North Korea. China is North Korea`s most important and only patron to speak of, and some of that pressure is now going to be lifted. And also Japan and South Korea just come out of this, with, you know, their heads have exploded the way they`ve been treated by president Trump in all of this. They`ve been embarrassed in their countries. You can`t undo that. You can`t unsee that.
WALLACE: You remind us of something we haven`t mentioned yet. They were all cut unaware and allegedly learned about this in the press. Jackie and Peter, two of the best of the best. Thank you for staying up with us.
Coming up, what political figure does historian Jon Meacham think Donald Trump is most like. Hint -- he and Donald Trump were both advised by Roy Cohn. The answer is next. "The 11th Hour" back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don`t think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it`s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn`t be playing. You shouldn`t be there. Maybe you shouldn`t be in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: That was the president of the United States this morning condemning peaceful silent protests by members of the NFL players, suggesting that maybe they shouldn`t be in this country at all. Here`s what Jim Messina, a former Obama campaign manager, said to me about those comments this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM MESSINA, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: This is the moment he became Senator Joseph McCarthy. Literally saying, you can`t be in my country if you don`t do it the way I want you to do it. It is the craziest thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Here to talk about whether it`s all that crazy at all, Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian. His brand new book is "The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels." How is that battle going, my friend? Who is winning?
JON MEACHAM, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR AND HISTORIAN: It is a pitched and difficult battle. But we`re going to win the war. We`re going to win the war. We always do.
WALLACE: Who won this battle, Meacham, did this battle go to Donald Trump, who seems to have successfully intimidated the NFL owners into banning peaceful silent protests on football fields?
MEACHAM: We`re not covering ourselves in glory right now. By any means. What has to happen is conversations like this and we have to keep reminding ourselves that the country`s always gotten stronger the more we`ve embraced diversity. And that`s not a partisan point, it`s not a liberal establishment point. It`s simply the case. That as we`ve become a country that more generously interpreted the Jeffersonian argument that we`re all created equal, we`ve grown stronger.
Conservatives should appreciate that, because it`s historically true. And it is based on strength in our relative position in the world. And liberals should appreciate it, because it answers the great impulse of the ages, which is, if you want to guarantee fair play for yourself, you have to guarantee it for others, as well.
WALLACE: Let me ask you to pick up on Jim Messina`s comment about Joseph McCarthy. Do you see parallels between McCarthyism and Trumpism?
MEACHAM: Oh, I think it`s the most -- it`s the clearest analogy we have. McCarthy was never president, but it took four years, McCarthy, Roy Cohn, who is also Trump`s lawyer, actually said that McCarthy bought anti anti- communism the way other people might buy a car. It was brought this as an issue and he`s a junior senator from Wisconsin, it`s a little bit like the birther conspiracy, if you want to place this analogy exactly out.
Trump rode that to prominence, McCarthy rode anti-communism to prominence. They both dominated the political culture of their time. There were early voices, far too lonely, making the case against them.
One of the things that many members of Congress and members of the Senate are going to have to ask themselves down the years is, why weren`t they Margaret Chase Smith, the Republican senator from Maine, who stood up in 1950 and said that this, as President Bush would say in a different context, this will not stand. Giving a speech called the Declaration of Conscience. She got -- only got six senators to join her in that, in 1950, by 1954, the Senate would central (ph) McCarthy.
But it took four years. And McCarthy understood the media of the age. He understood how to manipulate wire service reporters to get headlines. He would announce things right before deadlines so they couldn`t check them. There were huge debates in the newsrooms of America about, do you simply report something that a United States senator says, even if it is self- evidently not true? So, yes, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said, mystery may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
WALLACE: He did just say something that caught my ears. Six senators -- we don`t have five, four, three, two -- we have one standing up to Trumpism, one or two, Jeff Flake, John McCain, I can`t think of anymore. I mean we have worse off in the fight against Trumpism, aren`t we?
MEACHAM: We are, but it is early. If I`m right, that this is the cycle, that it does take longer than many of us think it should or hope it would, McCarthyism took 48 months to die out. Watergate took 26 months, from the time of the break-in from Nixson`s resignation. And when people talk about the great moment where Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott went down and told Nixon he had to go, that was August 7th. That was after the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to hand over the tapes, it was after the smoking gun tape where Nixon was actually heard orchestrating the coverup, so, let`s not sentimentalize the past. These are politicians, they`re imperfect, they`re flawed. And what we have to do, it seems to me, is create a climate of opinion that because politicians far more often mirror what`s out there as opposed to molding it, if we can get opinion where it needs to be, and they start to mirror it, then our long national nightmare may be coming to a close.
WALLACE: John Meachum screaming at the top of his lungs that might better angels. I needed that. Thank you. A quick break for us. More of "The 11th Hour" after this.
WALLACE: That`s our broadcast for tonight. Thank you so much for staying up with us. I`ll see you back here tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. I`m Nicolle Wallace in for Brian Williams. Good night from all of us at 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
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.