Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: May 29, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Jill Wine-Banks, Peter Baker
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, THE LAST WORD, HOST: "The New York Times" reporter who broke tonight`s big story about Jeff Sessions being an important witness in the obstruction of justice investigation of the President of the United States will join Brian in "The 11th Hour With Brian Williams," and that starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight, "The New York Times" reporting Trump asked his Attorney General to reverse his decision to take himself out of the Russia investigation. The confrontation between the President and Jeff Sessions now being investigated by the Special Counsel.
Also, Trump`s new attacks on the Mueller investigation, relying on outright conspiracy theories, and his lawyer says it`s working.
Plus, the Roseanne revival is gone along with its namesake. ABC cancels its number one show after Roseanne Barr`s racist outburst on Twitter. All of it on a Tuesday night as "The 11th Hour" gets under way.
On this Tuesday night, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 495 of the Trump Administration, and we`re following breaking news that comes to us from "The New York Times" tonight that President Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take back control of the Russia investigation after his decision to recuse himself, after he took himself out of the case.
Michael Schmidt reports that on Saturday on March 2017, Sessions flew to Florida because the President wasn`t taking his calls on the travel ban specifically. "When they met, Mr. Trump was ready to talk but not about the travel ban. His grievance was with Mr. Sessions. The President objected to his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Mr. Trump, who had told aides that he needed a loyalist overseeing the inquiry, berated Mr. Sessions and told him he should reverse his decision, an unusual and potentially inappropriate request. Mr. Sessions refused."
The "Times" also says that confrontation, which has not been previously reported, is being investigated, as you would imagine, by Special Counsel Robert Mueller along with Trump`s other attacks on Sessions.
So we want to talk about this before we move on to all the other news from today and tonight. We`re joined on the phone by one of the two reporters who broke this story tonight, Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times".
Michael, remind our viewers why would Mueller be interested in this story, this meeting in Florida between the President and his Attorney General?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (via telephone): For President Trump, the recusal of Sessions has been the original sin in the entire investigation. The President believes and has said that if Sessions had not recused himself, he doesn`t think Mueller would have ever been appointed. The President said he wanted someone loyal to him overseeing the investigation.
The question of loyalty is one of the issues the Special Counsel is looking at in terms of obstruction of justice. Why was the President so obsessed with having someone loyal to him run the investigation? Why did he ask Jim Comey for his loyalty? Was it simply loyalty because -- around him who were loyal to him, or was there a reason for this, and why has the President continued to go after Sessions publicly?
Why has he tried to get him to resign? What was really behind that? Was he trying to install someone more loyal to him atop the Justice Department? Those are the questions.
WILLIAMS: Michael, we observe around here from time to time as our phones get more modern, we sound more and more like Ed Murrow from London as the connections get more terrible. If you can move to a window or an open space for this next answer, I`d appreciate it.
And it hearkens back to your interview with Trump a couple days after Christmas where he said, in effect, if not a direct quote, Obama had holder to protect him, in effect to watch his back, meaning whoever described to Trump the presidential relationship with an A.G. described it a certain way. He went on to think it was a certain way and was bemoaning the fact that Sessions wasn`t that to him.
SCHMIDT: Correct. The President has really always wanted someone at the top of the Justice Department that he knew and could trust. He does not view the Attorney General as someone as much who is out there to follow the facts and follow the law as it is someone that will be loyal to him. And he has said that.
The President, in one of his eruptions last year during when he learned either about when Mueller was appointed or when Sessions had recused, said, you know, he needed an Attorney General -- to use his words, like Roy Cohn. He`s referring to his longtime personal lawyer who was sort of a fixer for him in New York City when he was a young and up and coming real estate person. And he said that`s the type of person that he envisioned at the top of the Justice Department for him.
So you can see why he maybe didn`t like Jim Comey as his Attorney General, and why he doesn`t like the idea of Rod Rosenstein, someone who he doesn`t know, running the investigation.
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, our thanks to you for phoning in to us. We really appreciate it. To our viewers, we apologize for the quality of the phone connection tonight.
Moving on, though, the "Times" report comes as President Trump and his legal team are taking their very public P.R. campaign to discredit the Mueller investigation to a new level.
Earlier tonight, during a campaign-style rally in Nashville, the President repeated the claim that someone had infiltrated his 2016 campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign? Can you imagine? Can you imagine? Never in the history of our country has something taken place like took place during this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We`ll talk about that last assertion in a moment.
Since Saturday, President Trump has relentlessly attacked the Russia investigation on Twitter, among other things, calling it a witch hunt and rigged, two old classics there.
Earlier today, the President wrote, "The 13 angry Democrats, plus people who worked eight years for Obama, working on the rigged Russia witch hunt, will be meddling with the midterm elections, especially now that Republicans, stay tough, are taking the lead in polls. There was no Collusion, except by the Democrats."
Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" has new reporting on Trump adding an unofficial job title, let`s say, to his own. Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, and Philip Rucker write, "The White House communications director`s job has been vacant for exactly two months. But in practice, it has been filled since the day Hope Hicks said farewell to her unofficial replacement, President Trump himself. The President also has unofficially performed the roles of many other senior staffers in recent months, leaving the people holding those jobs to execute on his instincts and ideas. And that`s exactly how Trump likes his West Wing."
The "Post" goes on to report, "Though Trump continues to rage about Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller`s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election, the President seems satisfied for now at least with his new legal team, which includes Giuliani and Emmet T. Flood."
Rudy Giuliani has, of course, been a constant fixture on television and in print about this investigation since he was brought on last month. This Sunday was no different. Giuliani spoke openly about his public opinion battle while on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S ATTORNEY: To a large extent, remember, Dana, we`re defending here -- it is for public opinion, because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach, not impeach.
Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, are going to be informed a lot by their constituents. So our jury is the -- as it should be, is the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let us bring in the rest of our lead-off panel, shall we, on a Tuesday night with thanks for their patience. The aforementioned Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post," the aforementioned, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post." A rare visit to New York. Good evening to both of you.
Ashley, let`s back up over some stuff. Any proof of what the President was saying there in Nashville, that in the history of campaign, a campaign had never been infiltrated to this extent?
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No. To answer your question, simply no. There`s no proof. There`s no good evidence of that description of the FBI informant. But that`s sort of beside the point.
Rudy Giuliani, for instance, in talking to my colleague on that story, Josh Dawsey, just today sort of said, "Do you want to know why the President is mentioning spygate and using these terms? Because it works. Because it`s swaying public opinion." And so for this portion of the legal exercise, which is winning, you know, the P.R. campaign publicly, facts in a lot of ways are beside the point. And facts are not what is moving the public opinion, but something evocative and catchy like spygate may be.
WILLIAMS: And, Phil, indeed your reporting is that the President for now, while not ever sanguine, is rather content with the calm strategy.
PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That`s exactly right. He`s dictating the message, and what you have in the West Wing is all of these White House staffers following his orders and following -- repeating the messages that he lays out for them. And Ashley is exactly right about the legal strategy, which is really a P.R. strategy. And Rudy Giuliani`s convinced this is working. I talked to him late last week as well, and he said this is going to continue.
You`re going to keep hearing the Watergate references. You`re going to hear a linkage between President Obama and President Nixon, saying that Obama did just what Nixon did to break into the Democratic headquarters and create this reality that they think can really undermine the Mueller probe and make the public, the American people, view it in a partisan lens.
WILLIAMS: Ashley, you`ve reported, let`s use some proper titles here, that the war of the worlds environment has faded in the West Wing. Fear and loathing continues, but maybe more of a game of thrones atmosphere. Explain.
PARKER: That`s exactly right. And this is actually not the first time we have heard that show evoked to describe this West Wing. But initially it was meant to refer to the warring factions and the bloody feuds and the competing families and that is sort of somewhat gone. And when people in the President`s orbit and a number of them individually mention Game of Thrones to us unprompted, what they were referring to is more of the confusion, how sort of on that show you always need to watch the preview to catch up.
PARKER: It`s a little confusing and how everyone is sort of just at the end of the day a little unclear about where things stand in fighting for their own individual survival. And that is sort of the moment we have shifted to now.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, I want to share with you a collection of clips we have put together from Rudolf Giuliani this weekend. It sure appears he was sent out with the instruction to use the word "rigged." Here it is. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: This is a rigged. I mean, you`ve got 13 Democrats. You`ve got a focus on things that didn`t happen. No Russia collusion. No obstruction. Just defending yourself.
BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: What`s wrong with the government trying to figure out what Russia was up to?
GIULIANI: Nothing wrong with the government doing that. Everything wrong with the government spying on a candidate of the opposition party. That`s a Watergate, a spygate. I mean -- and without any warning to him.
And now, to compound that, to make it into a criminal investigation, Bill, that`s why this is a rigged investigation.
We`re more convinced as we see it that this is a rigged investigation. Now we have this whole new spygate thing thrown on top of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Now, Philip, where would he get talking points like, "Oh, I don`t know, spygate and rigged?"
RUCKER: Maybe from the guy who at the end of his campaign in 2016 called that election rigged. This is straight out of Donald Trump`s playbook. And what I think he`s trying to do is prepare people to discount whatever Mueller ends up finding if there`s a report detailing examples of obstruction of justice, if there are further indictments.
The half of America that is with Donald Trump is going to view that as rigged, as unfair, as not appropriate, as too partisan, as a political witch hunt to use another one of President Trump`s phrases. And I think this is strategically what he`s trying to do to discount it the same way when the polls were showing in October of 2016 Hillary Clinton was leading Donald Trump, Trump was at rally after rally after rally saying the election`s going to be rigged. The results might be rigged. You don`t know what to believe if it turns out that I`m not going to win, and he`s preparing people to discount the results.
WILLIAMS: We didn`t know it then, but it was one of the first attacks on our systems and institutions that --
RUCKER: On our democracy.
WILLIAMS: -- there are way, that`s right.
RUCKER: Yes, yes.
WILLIAMS: Ashley, you and I have talked about this before. The President feels he does better when he`s playing the victim. And this current strategy is fine until it isn`t. What I mean is it`s Giuliani on television because there`s no one for the Mueller effort.
They don`t leak. They don`t speak until they do. And it reminds you of the kind of terrible swift sword and the imbalance of power the government suddenly when they rise up and release another tranche of indictments or subpoenas, they get the power back.
PARKER: That`s exactly right. So what you`re seeing now is Rudy Giuliani is basically the President`s television aide, and it doesn`t matter that he`s a wildly unreliable narrator. He gives interviews where he says wildly contradicting things. He says in one interview, "I talked to the President every day." In another interview, he says, "I haven`t talked to him for several weeks."
The problem is, as you point out, Mueller`s team is silent. So he is now the only voice of authority, and that has given him perhaps more power than those differing narratives perhaps deserve. But when Mueller`s team does come out -- and it`s unclear when, and if and when they real a report, I do think you will then have sort of finely dueling narratives and this P.R. strategy may potentially, even though they are priming the ground, and that`s what they`re doing, be less successful against a conclusive, thorough report by an impeccable team.
WILLIAMS: And that moment, Phil, you`ve said that`s when you worry that Trump is capable of doing something very big, very risky.
RUCKER: That`s right. But I do think that for the moment now, Rudy Giuliani is probably the best insurance policy for Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller because I think for now, Trump thinks he`s winning, and he thinks he`s got the upper hand over Mueller and over the Justice Department. And as long as he has his person out there fighting for him, sources in the White House say they don`t -- they`re not as worried that Trump`s going to pull the trigger and do something catastrophic like firing people at the Justice Department.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers, we always say this. We hope this show has launched a lot of subscriptions to the great newspapers of our time. And as byline duos go, Parker Rucker, Rucker Parker, you can`t go wrong when you see either or both names. And we seldom if ever get to see them both here in New York. And I was asking earlier today what are they both doing in New York? Ah, it`s the luncheon tomorrow for Pulitzer winners.
We couldn`t be prouder to know, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker. And we brag all the time that you`re part of our broadcast. Thank you both.
RUCKER: Thank you, Brian.
PARKER: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Appreciate it.
Coming up for us, legal reaction to tonight`s new report on Jeff Sessions and the Mueller investigation.
And later, President Trump once praised Roseanne and her ratings. Eighteen million viewers on a single night. So what now with all of that? All part of "The 11th Hour" on a Tuesday night. Back to work night, just getting under way.
WILLIAMS: We are back, and as President Trump spent his holiday weekend lambasting the Russia investigation on Twitter, there`s still a lot of speculation about a possible sit-down with Mueller, the Special Counsel. "The Washington Post" reports today that it comes down to access to classified documents about an FBI informant who made contact with the Trump campaign. What the President keeps calling a spy or an infiltrator.
Well, according to the "Post," Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani`s latest demand further ratcheted up the pressure that Trump and his lawyers are trying to place on Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III`s team as his investigation into alleged coordination between Trump`s campaign and Russia reaches a key juncture.
As for what an interview would consist of, there are reports that Mueller`s team may limit questions to just two topics or areas. Here`s what Giuliani had to say about that on CNN this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: And if all the -- everything can be worked out, then they would probably limit it to collusion and obstruction. The collusion part, we`re pretty comfortable with because there has been none. The obstruction part, I`m not as comfortable with. I`m not.
The President`s fine with it. He`s innocent. I`m not comfortable because it`s a matter of interpretation, not just hard and fast true, not true.
So if you interpret his comment about firing Mueller -- firing, sorry, Comey, no discussion of firing Mueller by the way. If you interpret that as obstructing the investigation as opposed to removing a guy who was doing a bad job on the recommendation in part of Rosenstein, but you see it as obstructing the investigation, then you did say it`s obstruction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: A lot to talk about there. And let`s do that. Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times" back with us tonight. Also back with us tonight, Jill Wine-Banks, Attorney and Former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel.
Jill, watching that kind of slack-jawed, if they regard as a victory that they`ve got Mueller to limit to two categories the questions for them, collusion and obstruction, that`s like saying you got a tornado to agree to death and destruction only. What does that mean?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FMR. ASST. WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think you were right when you said in the beginning that this has all come down to a lot of P.R. and you have an unanswered accusations from Giuliani that Mueller cannot and must not answer because he`s acting appropriately. So Giuliani can say whatever he wants, and then he can say, and see how unfair it was. They didn`t want to agree to that. They said they would, and then they wouldn`t. I don`t believe they`re going to agree to limit it to two things.
But also in Giuliani`s statement, he actually basically admitted that there`s a good case for obstruction. He said, "Oh, I`m fine with collusion because there`s no collusion." But obstruction, that`s a matter of interpretation. And it isn`t. Facts are a funny thing.
The truth and the facts will come out, and I don`t think it`s going to show that it`s a matter of interpretation, but of guilt. There is enough evidence that has become public, and that`s without what Mueller knows that none of us knows, that could show that there is a really strong case for obstruction.
WILLIAMS: And, Jill, will that include this "New York Times" story tonight? We talked to Mike Schmidt about it, that Trump says to his Attorney General, "Can you unrecuse yourself, please, and get involved in this Russia thing."
WINE-BANKS: That`s just one more example of the obstruction. There are so many incidents of obstruction. But, yes, I would say that this additional meeting, this additional request direct at Mar-a-Lago when the President wouldn`t even talk to his Attorney General about serious legal issues until he had it out with him about, "You should undo it," his Attorney General cannot undo the recusal because the recusal was absolutely mandated.
First of all, the Attorney General is a possible witness in connection with the firing of Comey. Second of all, he was involved in the campaign and the transition. And third of all, he had many meetings with Russians, and he was at least a little bit unclear, if not lying about it, in his Congressional testimony. So he is himself a possible witness and a possible subject.
He cannot, without violating the conflict of interest rules and the rules of the Department of Justice, ever oversee that investigation. And it would do no good for the President for him to do it unless the President assumes that Jeff Sessions would do something to favor him in a way that Rosenstein wouldn`t. And we can`t assume that anyone is willing to violate the law for the President and to fudge the results of the investigation.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, it`s your newspaper`s reporting tonight, and we have -- you and I have talked about this. We`ve watched this relationship with Sessions play out publicly, a first of its kind in the history of the modern or any other kind of presidency. Do we think that as of tonight, Sessions is back to what passes for safe?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think that the President, like a cat that touches a hot stove, recognized after the firing of Jim Comey last year that there was a real cost, political at the very least, to taking that sort of action. And I think that his lawyers have told him that again and again and again, that if he were to fire Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein or try to get Robert Mueller fired, that there was a particular price to be paid. And if he was going to do it, he had to be willing to take that price.
He hasn`t been willing to take that price so far, for the very reason we just talked about, Jill talked about, in that he`s the head of the executive branch. His power and authority to determine who serves under him, including the Attorney General, there is no specific thing in the Constitution that says that he cannot fire an attorney general he considers to be disloyal to him. But, you know, as Rudy Giuliani said in that clip you showed, could it be interpreted as a corrupt use of his power? Could it be interpreted as, you know, using his power to shield himself as opposed to some, you know, more neutral purpose in and that`s where the Special Counsel clearly seems to be focusing his intention.
WILLIAMS: Peter, another thing you and I have talked about are the two parallel universes we`re living in right now. I watched the President tonight in Nashville. I made a list. He talked about his hands. He talked about his electoral victory again. He talked about how Mexico is still going to pay the wall, and they`re going to enjoy it to add a direct quote.
He said Nancy Pelosi loves MS-13, and he again talked about campaign infiltration. And we`re all apparently getting new airports thanks to infrastructure. So that`s that, and that`s his conversation with his base.
Tell the good folks watching tonight why you wrote about the Clinton years as a valuable reminder of what may be to come for us.
BAKER: Yes. Well, we talk about an interview with Robert Mueller. The only time a President has agreed to or submitted to interrogation by a prosecutor who clearly was targeting him in a case where a President clearly was exposed to possible either, if not indictment, at least impeachment, was when Bill Clinton 20 years ago this summer was interviewed by Ken Starr and the other prosecutors in the Independent Counsel`s office.
Now, the cases obviously are very different in a lot of ways. President Clinton and President Trump are different kinds of Presidents. The issues that they were being accused of are very different in a lot of ways but some of the dynamics are still there, which is to say that you had a President who felt besieged by what he called unfair witch hunt. You had, you know, a political case being made at the same time a legal case was being made, and a case being made to the public that this was a partisan exercise to get the President. And therefore, illegitimate.
President Trump goes further than President Clinton ever would in that regard. President Clinton never called down the head of the FBI and told him to investigate the origins of the investigation into him. But some of the tactics, some of the, you know, surround sound does feel a little bit familiar.
The question is what lessons do we take from the 1998 experience that apply themselves to this year if, in fact, President Trump were to submit to interrogation? One thing we know is both the Special Counsel, the Independent Counsel, Ken Starr, and the President`s attorneys in that case thought that there was no question that a subpoena was enforceable against a President for testimony, that there was no issue there in which a President could resist a subpoena short of claiming the Fifth Amendment. And so in that case, they did negotiate an encounter that was for four hours.
There were some limits on the prosecutors but not the kind of limits that President Trump`s lawyers are talking about now. We`ll see whether Robert Mueller is willing to go with further limits. He has a different position because he`s a special counsel answerable to the Justice Department which is different than the Independent Counsel law that authorized Ken Stars and that`s seems latched.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to the Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times" tonight and a Veteran of the Law. Peter Baker, Jill Wine- Banks, two of our favorites always. Thank you both so much.
And coming up for us, President Trump once said the sitcom "Roseanne" was "about us," meaning his followers. So what happens now? Back with that when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Look at Roseanne. I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings. They were unbelievable, over 18 million people and it was about us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: That was President Trump just two months ago praising the revival of Roseanne Barr Show on ABC. Well, today ABC fired Roseanne. By doing so, they killed their highest rated television show.
It came after Roseanne, of course, wrote a racist slur on Twitter about former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Quote, "Muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby equals Valerie Jarrett." Roseanne apologized and deleted the tweet, but that wasn`t enough to stop what was coming, and it took the network just over 11 hours to kill the newest and very successful incarnation of Roseanne`s show.
The network`s Entertainment President Channing Dungey issued a statement calling Roseanne`s comments, quote, "abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values." Valerie Jarrett, the target of the racism, responded earlier today during a town hall meeting here on this network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I`m fine. I`m worried about all the people out there who don`t have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense. The person who is walking down a street minding their own business, and they see somebody cling to their purse or want to cross the street, or every black parent I know, who has a boy who has to sit down and have a conversation, the talk as we call it.
Bob Iger, who is the CEO of Disney, called me before the announcement. He apologized. He said that he had zero tolerance for that sort of racist, bigoted comment, and he wanted me to know before he made it public that he was canceling the show. And so, I appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And that is what taking the high road sounds like. Roseanne Barr`s political views are not a secret. In the same Twitter fuselage, she went after Chelsea Clinton and called George Soros a nazi. Prior to this incident, the current president has considered her as something of a kindred spirit.
Trump`s own public remarks going back to the campaign represent a huge change in the kind of language we are used to hearing in public, certainly the kind of language we`re used to hearing from the top.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they`re not sending their best. They`re bringing drugs. They`re bringing crime. They`re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country`s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.
You know what -- look at my African-American over here. Look at him. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me. Wouldn`t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He`s fired. He`s fired.
You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about all of it, shall we? Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning Columnist for the Washington Post, a lot of that going on around here tonight, and Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times` Editorial Board. Thank you both for being here.
Eugene, in the time you and I have been partnered up covering politics on this network. We have watched this steady decline in our public discourse. It`s kind of been remarkable.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It has been remarkable. I mean, you know, is this bottom? I fear not. But the things that get said in what passes for our political discourse now are just mind-blowing. They are absolutely mind-blowing. And they reflect, I think -- it`s a perilous thing for the country.
I mean, this is a diverse country, and we are held together by creed and by common experience and by things other than skin color and, you know, ancient national heritage and that sort of thing. I mean, we are a creedal nation. And that requires a certain amount of respect and a certain amount of tolerance. And when that is gone, you have to worry about the fabric. You really have to worry about it.
WILLIAMS: We`re left to hope that we have that in our own lives and can affect just our own circle as best we can. Mara, were you surprised at the speed with which today happened? This was a major television network, a big lumbering company as they all are.
MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I was surprised but I also have to say that there was something special about what happened, what ABC did. And I think it`s a big deal. I think they deserve a lot of credit for it. I think that so much of what`s going on in the political realm that`s toxic has actually started to pervade everyday life and the culture and the fabric as you guys said, of the country.
And it becomes even more important for not just political institutions but also cultural institutions to play their role in shaping culture and in drawing a line, and saying this is acceptable. This is not. And we`re going to respect one another. And ABC did that today. And I just -- I also want to say that even though what Roseanne Barr did was absolutely abhorrent, and I do believe that people should be treated like adults, and there hasn`t been enough of that in political discourse frankly.
It`s also, I hope, a moment not to vilify her and her fans, and even Trump`s base. Even though some of the things they`re saying are abhorrent, I think it`s a moment for both accountability, but also the offer of redemption and hopefully, as Valerie Jarrett said, a teachable moment.
I mean, you can`t force someone to come to the table. But, you know, we have to live with one another in this country. So there also has to be an opportunity to say, let me explain why this is really wrong and offensive and hurtful, and hopefully we can have that conversation. I`m afraid we`re not there yet. But that is where we need to go. We can`t just cast off large swaths of American society.
WILLIAMS: And, Gene, tomorrow`s point, the words were Roseanne`s and Roseanne`s own, and she owns them now at great consequence and peril. Did you expect the president to mention it tonight in Tennessee? Should he have?
ROBINSON: I actually did not expect him to mention it in Tennessee. I think he saw the swift reaction to what Roseanne Barr had said, and President Trump has excellent political instincts. I think he wasn`t going to go out on that limb because that limb was already broken.
And, you know, the interesting thing -- what do you do with Roseanne? I mean, this is not the first time she has said something like this. She compared Susan Rice to an ape in 2013. I mean, this is a constant thing. So it`s not as, you know, I mean I`m all for, you know, we should attempt to reconcile and bring everyone in.
But she has very defiantly been on the outs in terms of what I think most people consider acceptable racial dialogue. She says racist stuff all the time.
GAY: I agree. I mean -- and again, this is a moment for accountability.
GAY: And this is the accountability. And I think that was the right, that was absolutely the right thing. I guess what I`m saying is I think the country has become so tribal that unfortunately -- and I`m not quite sure how you deal with this, but there are those in Mr. Trump`s base who feel that any attack on Mr. Trump is an attack on them personally.
GAY: And so, I just think there`s a way to hold folks accountable without vilifying them. And, you know, just moving beyond Roseanne Barr for a moment and taking this conversation into, you know, well, what do you do with the rest of the president`s base that`s shouting "lock her up" at a rally? I mean, you know, so --
ROBINSON: Yes. You know, the thing is President Trump`s base, like any large group of Americans is diverse and has -- so, you know, it is possible, I think, for him and others perhaps to lead them to a place where they consider themselves invested in Roseanne Barr future if he chooses to do that. But I don`t think that`s necessarily where they would go in and of themselves. So I don`t think by any means they`re irredeemable. I just think some are.
WILLIAMS: This also strikes me sitting here, you both have huge platforms on which to write and comment about this in the days to come. This will be interesting. Thank you both for coming and talking about this with us --
ROBINSON: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: -- tonight, Eugene Robinson and Mara Gay.
Coming up, according to a new NBC News report, North Korea is not -- is a "no" on denuclearization but a potential "yes" to bringing a Western name to Pyongyang. We`ll talk about it with one of the great experts in the region right after this.
WILLIAMS: A new report by the CIA described to NBC News by three officials concludes North Korea, as everybody suspected and common sense dictated, has no intention to give up its nuclear weapons anytime soon. This official assessment comes at a damaging time.
All signs from the White House point to a June 12 summit being back on, even after that kind of sad letter from Trump to Kim Jong-un, which was just last week. While it says denuclearization is not a realistic objective, NBC News does add this about this intelligence assessment. Quote, "In an odd twist, a list of potential concessions by North Korea in the CIA analysis included the possibility that Kim Jong-un may consider offering to open a Western hamburger franchise in Pyongyang as a show of good will ," according to three national security officials.
It suggests Kim is interested in a peaceful gesture to an American president whose love of fast-food burgers is well-known and who, during the 2016 campaign, had said he wanted to talk nukes over a burger with the North Korean leader. Now, for more we welcome back one of the foremost experts on the Korean peninsula, Victor Cha, Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former National Security Council Director for Asian Affairs. He also happens to be the Author of "The Impossible State, North Korea, Past and Future."
Victor, this is not an unserious piece of reporting. This actually happened. Can it be that their view is so transactional as to say removing our nuclear weapons is a non-starter, but we love us some Wendy`s over here, and maybe we can talk about that?
VICTOR CHA, KOREA CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, you know, this reports are interesting. This wouldn`t be the first time that the North Koreans have raised issues like this. I remember a few years ago, they talked about bringing fried chicken franchises and Coca- cola to North Korea as a way to show their interest in reform and opening.
But as you said and as the CIA report said, that really doesn`t give us any window on their intentions to denuclearize, to give up all of their nuclear weapons and to stop their ballistic missile program.
WILLIAMS: As a veteran of the region, can you believe that when things got tough in the past few days, the leaders of North and South met again? Do you think the world is a safer place because this relationship appears to be warming? They are each other`s go-to guy.
CHA: Well, it is interesting that the South Korean government, which is a progressive government, the first one in ten years, progressive in South Korea means that they`re interested in engagement with North Korea. It doesn`t mean that they`re pro-choice or pro-gay marriage. It means they`re interested in engagement with North Korea. And they have been very aggressive and creative in using the Olympics, which they hosted last winter, and other floor to try to build this relationship with North Korea.
And whenever there is uncertainty with regard to the United States, remember the South Korean president was just in Washington, D.C., in the Oval Office talking with the U.S. president and did not know that 48 hours President Trump would turn off the summit before he turned it on again 24 hours later. So whenever, there`s uncertainty now on the U.S. part, the South Koreans appear to be going to the North Korean, to try to get the North Koreans, who are really the unpredictable party historically, to try to get them closer to a position where they can bring the United States and North Korea together.
So this really is role reversal, if you will, historically from what we`ve seen in the past.
WILLIAMS: We`re getting a very important visitor from North Korea. Rare trip to New York tomorrow, tell our audience the 30-second version of who this is and why he`s coming.
CHA: So this is effectively the number two guy in North Korea. He`s Kim Yong-Chol. He is actually sanctioned by the United States under Executive Order 13551. He is a sanctioned individual for terrorist activities, nuclear proliferation, and other bad things. But he is the number two man, and he is coming here presumably to meet with Secretary Pompeo.
And it wouldn`t surprise me if he also met with President Trump because Pompeo, when he was director of the CIA and made two trips to North Korea, he met with the North Korean leader. So diplomatic protocol would suggest they reciprocate the favor, but that would be some photo op, let me tell you.
WILLIAMS: Victor Cha, we`ll continue to invite you on to handle questions like this, especially if this summit happens after all. Thank you so much for being on our broadcast yet again tonight.
And coming up for us, what more we have learned from one of the greatest human tragedies of the last 12 months.
TRUMP: In Texas, and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I`ll tell you what, I think we`ve done just as good in Puerto Rico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you grade the White House response so far?
TRUMP: I would say it was a 10.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria`s devastation of Puerto Rico, President Trump was quick to praise his administration`s response. The official death toll currently stands at 64 in Puerto Rico. However, a new Harvard study found something closer to what the people of Puerto Rico already knew and would have told you themselves, that over 4,600 deaths can be connected to the hurricane and the island`s ruined infrastructure, more than 70-times the official estimate. For comparison, just over 1,800 people were killed in Katrina back in `05.
The shocking disparity casts President Trump`s comments about the known death toll, back during his visit to Puerto Rico, in something of a new light.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous, hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering. Nobody`s ever seen anything like this, what is your death count as of this moment? 17?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 16.
TRUMP: 16 people, certified, 16 people, versus in the thousands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: No one can argue that the US government response in Puerto Rico was anywhere near what it might have been if those same Americans had been in peril anywhere else on the mainland. Tonight, life remains a struggle for too many Americans in Puerto Rico. Power is not yet 100 percent back or dependable across the island. The 2018 hurricane season begins officially at the end of this week.
Another break for us, and coming up, it has happened again, leaving some to wonder how much more a beautiful American town can take, when "THE 11TH HOUR" continues.
WILLIAMS: As we end tonight`s broadcast and as we start off this new holiday-shortened work week, we ask that you spare a thought for the people of Ellicott City, Maryland. If you saw any of the pictures over the weekend, then you know, they are suffering through a catastrophe. It was a beautiful old downtown and hopefully it will be again, though, so many buildings will have to be condemned.
This past weekend, over six inches of rain fell in about two hours. The nearby Patapsco River rose 17 feet. There`s a map that shows the city in a valley surrounded by tributaries. And just like when this happened two years ago, there was no place for all of the water to go.
A local man, a national guardsman, died trying to help a fellow citizen. Store fronts are gone, roadways are gone, cars are gone. And most businesses on Main Street in the beautiful historic district have been hollowed out.
Tonight, President Trump promised the crowd at his rally in Tennessee, that new dams and infrastructure are on the way for our country, yet, he has not mentioned and as yet to mention the disaster in Ellicott City and those who lost everything. The fear is if we ever see any of that infrastructure, it will come too late for Ellicott City, Maryland.
Harnessing nature either for public safety and flood prevention or for energy generation is something we used to do in this country. But in the wake of a thousand-year flood in a beautiful town, tonight, it does not appear as, though, the cavalry is yet on the way.
That is our broadcast for this back-to-work Tuesday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in new york. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
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.