Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: June 4, 2018 Guest: Matt Apuzzo, Daniel Goldman, Robert Costa, Ashley Parker, Adam Schiff, John Harris, Nancy Benac, Christina Bellantoni
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight, the Former Trump Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, is in even hotter water. A new court filing from the Mueller team tonight alleges witness tampering.
Plus, Donald Trump`s claim that he has the absolute right to pardon himself. We`ll ask the top Democrat on House Intel whether the President is indeed above the law.
And Bill Clinton 20 years after impeachment back in the headlines for his comments about the "Me Too" movement and Monica Lewinsky.
THE 11TH HOUR on a busy Monday night begins now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. This was Day 501 of the Trump Administration. And as we come on the air tonight, we have breaking news on Robert Mueller`s Russia investigation yet again.
In a new court filing just tonight, the special counsel`s team said Former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort attempted to tamper with potential witnesses while on pretrial release. They are asking a judge to revise Manafort`s release or revoke it entirely and pick him up. According to the filing, Manafort used encrypted messaging applications to try to reach certain individuals. We`ll have much more on this story in just a moment.
But first, this roller coaster ride of a day for the President, who just after 7:30 this morning touted his 500th day in office while listing his accomplishments. A quick word on how our count differs from his. We have always included Inauguration Day as the first day of his presidency.
Then about an hour later, the President stopped the morning news in its tracks when he wrote this on Twitter. "As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to pardon myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? The appointment of the special counsel is totally unconstitutional."
President Trump`s comments come after we get a look at the secret letter the President`s legal team sent to the special counsel back in January. Secret no more that highlights their defense of the President.
In the letter obtained by "The New York Times," the President`s legal team argues the President cannot obstruct justice. "In a brash assertion of presidential power, the 20-page letter contends that the President cannot illegally obstruct any aspect of the investigation into Russia`s election meddling because the Constitution empowers him to, if he wished, terminate the inquiry or even exercise his power to pardon."
Earlier today, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, offered this advice for President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA, SENATE JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I`d hire a new lawyer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We`re also learning important details about the initial White House statement, the response to the news of that Trump Tower meeting in 2016 that contradict previous statements from Trump`s legal team and Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Now, according to this letter obtained by "The New York Times," Trump`s lawyers write "You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to "The New York Times" article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump Jr." But last summer, Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump did not dictate or draft that statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP LAWYER: The President was not -- did not draft the response. The response was -- came from Donald Trump Jr., and I`m sure in consultation his lawyer. I do want to be clear the President was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement. It came from Donald Trump Jr. So that`s what I can tell you.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn`t dictate, but, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, during today`s White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was repeatedly asked about her previous comment on the drafting of this statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JORDAN FABIAN, JOURNALIST, THE HILL: What`s the reason for that discrepancy?
SANDERS: Like you said, this is from a letter from the outside counsel, and I`d direct you to them to answer that question.
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I wonder if you could tell us the basis of your comment when you made that in August. And do you think that still stands? Is that still operative statement? Or do you retract that?
SANDERS: Once again, this is a reference back to a letter from the outside counsel.
BAKER: But in August, you said it.
SANDERS: I understand, but it`s also pertaining to a letter from the President`s outside counsel. And therefore, I can`t answer, and I would direct you to them.
JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": How can we believe what you`re saying from the podium if his lawyers are saying it`s totally inaccurate?
SANDERS: Once again, I can`t comment on a letter from the President`s outside counsel, and I`d direct you to them to answer it. John.
DAWSEY: But Sarah, the words are literally -- you said he did not dictate. The lawyer said he did. What is it? It`s either one or the other.
SANDERS: I`m not going to respond to a letter from the President`s outside counsel. We purposely walled off, and I would refer you to them for comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was Josh Dossey of "The Washington Post" doubling down there.
And earlier tonight on CNN, Giuliani dismissed the contradictions here as a simple mistake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think maybe somebody could have made a mistake? It`s a lot of mistakes.
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP LAWYER Why is it always --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of mistakes.
GIULIANI: Why is it always that somebody -- you think Jay Sekulow lied? Maybe he just got it wrong like I`ve got few things wrong at the beginning of the investigation, meaning my knowledge. This is a complex investigation.
The first week or so, I got a few things wrong. And then it was clarified in a letter, and that`s the final position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah Sanders is up there and says he had nothing to do with the writing of that. Well, how did she get that wrong? So Sekulow was wrong. She was wrong. How do these people not know?
GIULIANI: I have no idea how they got it wrong, but they got it wrong. I don`t think either one of them is ever going to deliberately lie. And, you know, I know the President isn`t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That`s how that went. Ashley Parker of "The Washington Post" writes a piece under this tittle tonight, In the Trump Administration, the truth comes out after vigorous denials. "The admission that Trump dictated his son`s statement is the latest example of where on a number of key issues, especially pegged to Mueller`s ongoing Russia probe and Trump`s legal difficulties, the White House and the President`s lawyers have offered contradicting stories and whipsaw about-faces, often revealing the truth only weeks later, when confronted with their inconsistencies."
So much to talk about with our lead-off panel on a Monday night. Matt Apuzzo, Pulitzer Prize-winning Reporter for "The New York Times." The aforementioned Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post." Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS. And Daniel Goldman is back with us here in New York, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Well, Matt, this is your beat. I think Reuters came out with this story first tonight. You have since written and reported about it. Tell us what you`ve learned, what we should know about this court filing tonight about Paul Manafort and what he is alleged to have been up to on the witness tampering front.
MATT APUZZO, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES": Just when you think you can, you know, put the news down for a minute, right? What happened was Bob Mueller`s team filed a motion tonight and asked the judge for basically an emergency hearing to either revoke Paul Manafort`s bond or basically rewrite and tighten the restrictions on him. They said that he has been, over the last several months, trying to get in contact with a pair of public relations officials who could, in turn, get in touch with some former European lawmakers who were doing lobbying work for Paul Manafort.
You know, it`s a little bit complicated, but in a nutshell what the government is saying, what Mueller`s team is saying is Paul Manafort was trying to line up the witnesses` stories and trying to say, "There was no domestic lobbying being done here." When we talked about lobbying, we were talking about foreign lobbying. And what they found was they found WhatsApp messages and phone calls between Manafort and these public relations people and an intermediary in these public relations people that spell it out. And the government has outlined a chart of all these contacts, and if it goes -- if this goes sideways for Paul Manafort, he could find himself in jail waiting for trial.
WILLIAMS: Counselor, I have so many questions for you. I started asking them before we were on the air. So forgive me if this feels like rapid fire.
First of all, isn`t it on the finite list of things not to do, if you`re at home with an ankle bracelet, if you`re at home pending trial, to not get in touch with potential witnesses in your case?
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It`s rule number one. You don`t get in touch with potential witnesses. You don`t talk to them because you could be either -- your bail could be revoked for witness tampering. You could be charged with witness tampering, and the evidence of your witness tampering can be admitted into trial on the other charges.
WILLIAMS: So if a judge wakes up in a certain mood tomorrow, goes to work at the Barrett Prettyman courthouse in Washington, there`s a chance the FBI swoops in and picks up Paul Manafort at his residence tomorrow and he`s going to be taken to the federal Holiday Inn?
GOLDMAN: I think that`s unlikely. I think what will likely happen is the judge will call for a hearing, and they will go in, that Manafort`s lawyers will have an opportunity to respond to these assertions by the government. And they will go in before the judge and argue. The risk that the government takes is that they got this information likely from those public relations officials who are also witnesses in this case.
WILLIAMS: That`s what I was going to ask you. Is there any evidence of surveillance, does this strike you?
GOLDMAN: No. I think they`re cooperating -- almost certainly they`re cooperating with the special counsel`s investigation as witnesses in the upcoming trials against Paul Manafort and likely in some of the prep work that they`re doing, they disclosed to the government that, "Hey, I got these texts about him trying to tell me to change my story. I felt like he was trying to ask me to suborn perjury. You should know this."
They then would investigate that a little bit more, and when they felt comfortable going before the judge to ask for bail revocation, that`s when they would file this motion. But it will likely end up in court. The risk they run is that those witnesses may be asked to testify if the judge doesn`t just accept the government`s representation, and then the defense lawyers get a first crack at cross-examination before the trial.
WILLIAMS: Isn`t this also a version of tightening the screws using a power drill now? It just got even tougher for Manafort.
GOLDMAN: Yes, and it continues to get tougher for Paul Manafort. A lot of people wonder why he is not cooperating, and I think one thing to consider is that somebody who is willing to tamper with witnesses is not rationally thinking enough to understand that cooperating is perhaps his best end game here.
WILLIAMS: Wow, well put. Robert Costa, we`re coming to you next, and that is this was almost two days in the life of the Trump Administration. Number one, the first half of the day was taken up with this legal question. Can the President self-pardon, and wouldn`t that, by extension, truly put him above the reach of any of the laws in our nation where no one is supposed to be above the law? Number two, this Manafort example tonight, what are you hearing from those, as we say, around the President?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": All the stories are interconnected. Working with my colleagues today at the "Post," we reported on the President asserting all of this executive power, talked To Mayor Giuliani. He did the same in interviews with "The Washington Post," talking about how the President could pardon himself, may not have to do an interview. At the same time, Brian, you have this President`s legal team working on preparing for a possible subpoena battle, looking at what an interview would look like and, at the same time, being very concerned about a report about the President`s conduct dealing with obstruction of justice. And that seems to be the onus of this probe at this moment.
Of course there`s the Russia collusion aspect, and that whole part of the investigation. But when you look at Mr. Manafort`s actions and the focus on the President`s conduct, it`s all about how people involved in this orbit have interacted with this investigation.
WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, Paul Manafort has never been any match for your keyboard, and you of course have done it again. Let me know your thinking about the Trump-Manafort relationship, and I ask because President Trump went there again this weekend, trying to trot out that he was with the campaign for a very short period of time. The guy had business cards printed that said he was chairman of the Trump Presidential effort.
ASHLEY PARKER; WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, it`s a little bit of revisionist history the way the President wants to sort of wipe Paul Manafort and his fairly long-standing relationship with him just even socially in New York, living in the same building, I believe, sort of from the public record now. It is true that Paul Manafort did not start the campaign at the beginning, but he was there for a crucial period of time. And sort of everything we`re seeing with Paul Manafort, if you talk to people close to the President, on the one hand they say what Mueller is looking into, at least what we know, has very little currently publicly to do with the campaign. It`s sort of bad decisions and bad behavior that well pre-dates the campaign.
The other issue, of course, however, is that it undercuts this idea that President Trump has said he always surrounds himself with, you know, the absolute best people. And there is some concern that as sort of this pressure gets increasingly applied to Mr. Manafort, that, you know, this one person who so far has not really been cooperating with the probe may suddenly flip.
WILLIAMS: And, Ashley, I have to ask you about the Trump presidency. We always try to touch on this, and I mean this absolutely seriously. It seems to be taking place in the kind of mini environments that are the Cabinet Departments, but where the kind of central thrust thematically of the Trump White House is concerned, what do you sense day to day, or here we are starting a new week?
PARKER: Well, I think if you look at pardons, all this attention to pardons and the President saying he has the absolute ability to pardon anyone, even himself, it`s a really window into where the President is right now and how he feels about the presidency. He came into the job expecting sort of the Oval Office and the presidency to be more like a monarchy, and he`s a little frustrated to find out that it`s not that at all. And so when he feels like he`s spiraling out of control, these pardons are -- and, again, reasonable people and legal scholars can quibble over if he does, in fact, have the ability to pardon himself.
But pardons generally are one of the few areas where he does have quite a bit of authority. He can decide he wants to pardon, you know, Rod Blagojevich or Martha Stewart and he can sort of almost snap his fingers and make it happen. And so it`s one area you are seeing him asserting the control that he has always wanted to have and has been frustrated to find that he doesn`t always have.
WILLIAMS: And, Daniel, to Ashley`s point, the President arrives in office and had turns out the one awesome power he has is these pardons. He can be forgiven for thinking the rest of the job perhaps was going to be that awesome and without any friction.
You`re the lawyer here. This notion of self-pardoning, I`m just a layperson, seems to me would put the President above the law. So when he jokingly uses an example of shooting somebody on Fifth Avenue that would put him out of the reach of a murder charge.
GOLDMAN: I don`t think you need to be a lawyer to figure out that this does not add up. There`s a fundamental tenet of our democracy, which is that no person can be the judge of his own case. And therefore, that is what really runs through the Constitution and that will ultimately be the sort of saving grace for our nation if someone like President Trump were to actually try to pardon himself.
I think the much bigger and more realistic risk is that he does try to pardon either co-conspirators or family members and that he uses his pardon power for what many would perceive to be improper personal purposes. And that`s going to be a tougher question that most likely the Congress would have to deal with or perhaps Robert Mueller depending on his view of the law.
WILLIAMS: Matt, about the "Times" exclusive this weekend, about this once secret legal memorandum, a lot of legal experts were surprised at the reasoning in it. A lot of civilians were surprised that we have this latest version of events on just the Donald Trump Jr. statement from a traveling Air Force One coming back from a summit.
APUZZO: Yes. And the argument that I think is the real heart of this is, and you touched on it, Brian, at the top of the show, is that the President can`t possibly obstruct justice because the power of the Justice Department and the power of these investigators is all derived from the executive, and the President is the executive. So how could he obstruct himself? And it`s a remarkable argument. It`s a novel argument.
And frankly, it`s one that has been building for 16 years, in post -- the two post-9/11 presidencies have asserted more and more executive power and had carved out greater authority for themselves. And this sort of unitary theory of the executive branch has really become codified in the thinking of the West Wing. And I`m not sure it matters who is in power these days. And that seems to be the go-to theory.
I don`t know where the limit of this is. Our reading of -- a plain text reading of the memo would suggest that the President can never, ever do anything to obstruct justice. I mean, can he offer to pay the FBI director a million dollars to shut off an investigation? I mean, I don`t know where the limitations on this are.
WILLIAMS: And, Bob Costa, a simple question for you. Is this White House, in your view, playing offense or defense right now?
COSTA: They`re playing both, because publicly, you see them playing offense. They`re trying to question the credibility of the Mueller investigation, but inside of this White House with Emmet Flood now they`re trying to come up with a strategy for a potential subpoena battle, how does the presidency respond? Giuliani and his associates working privately with the Mueller team to talk through with the parameters of a possible interview.
You see them playing defense where it really matters. What happens with a subpoena with an interview? But, of course, when it comes to the public war, the weapons are out.
WILLIAMS: I know there are other shows on television tonight. I can say with certainty no one had a panel this good to start off their conversation like we did.
Matt Apuzzo, Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Dan Goldman, my thanks to all of you for showing up and helping us out on a Monday night.
And coming up as we approach our first break, more on Mueller`s late court filing tonight against Manafort, more on the President`s claim about his own pardoning power.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on House Intel is here with us in New York. He`ll join us in the studio to weigh in on all of it.
And then later, President Trump takes a break from the Special Counsel to once again ramp up the culture war on the sidelines at NFL games.
THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Monday night.
WILLIAMS: The President`s contention that he can pardon himself set off a lot of alarm bells and it went off like something of an incendiary device on social media. The reaction included this from California Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who reminded us we`ve been here before though in a different context. "President Nixon asked the Department of Justice if he could pardon himself, they said, "No, and no one maybe the judge in their own case. He resigned three days later. In case you want to follow the Nixon model that would be Thursday."
Congressman Adam Schiff, the lead Democrat on House Intel is with us here in our New York studios tonight. Welcome. Thank you for coming in.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: I feel like we were going to start there, but we`ve had news break on your way to a television studio tonight. So let`s back up with Paul Manafort.
This is an allegation that he`s witness tampering. What would that have to say about his mindset? He`s in effect out on bail pending trial.
SCHIFF: Well, it says a lot. It says, for one thing that he is terrified of the exposure that he`s facing in terms of the charges against him and willing to engage in such a reckless act as to try to compound his problems. It also says to me that he must not be certain that he`s going to get a pardon after all, and maybe he hears the President diminish his role in the campaign. Well, he was there for a short time. And maybe he`s taking that to mean the President is going to want to be arms length.
But at the same time, of course, you`ve got the President sending completely different signals that he can pardon anybody he wants. He can pardon himself. There`s no limit to the mischief that he can commit with the pardon. But I think it`s a sign of desperation on Manafort`s part.
WILLIAMS: I am guessing with some knowledge you did better than average in law school, went on to be a federal prosecutor among your other job titles. Talk about self-pardoning vis-a-vis our discussion in the last segment, it really would place one person above all known laws for the rest of us.
SCHIFF: It would. I would never claim to be a constitutional scholar, but I studded under a very good one, Larry Tribe. And I think the reality is you don`t interpret one section of the Constitution as in such a way that would render moot other parts of the Constitution. You can`t faithfully execute the laws if you`re also using the pardon power to obstruct justice.
If we consider that power absolute, it would mean the President could order all kinds of people to violate the law and then simply pardon them. He could commit any kind of violations of law and simply say, "It`s my Justice Department. You can`t indict me. You can`t prosecute me. You can`t touch me." That cannot be the case.
The Constitution`s not a suicide pact in any respect. We don`t have a monarchy. And this absolutist construction is just dead wrong.
WILLIAMS: Before Frost/Nixon was a film, it was an actual thing. It was David Frost, the British journalist, Richard M. Nixon, the former president. I want to show you a clip vis-a-vis what you put out on social media. We`ll talk when about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FROST, BRITISH JOURNALIST: So what in a sense you`re saying is that there are certain situations where the president can decide that it`s in the best interests of the nation or something and do something illegal?
RICHARD NIXON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So you`re saying, same mindset at work, different circumstances today from 1977.
SCHIFF: Absolutely. In that statement, President Nixon is saying effectively, "I am the law." Donald Trump has said, "This is my Justice Department, not the Justice Department of the American people. It`s mine. And I have the right to my own attorney general who does my bidding, who has my back, who`s looking out for my interests, not the interests of the country." That is not the system we have.
It was wrong during Nixon`s time. It`s wrong now. In many respects, this President`s abuse of office`s disregard of our system of checks and balances goes well beyond anything Nixon said, and it ought to alarm every American.
WILLAIMS: I`m going to close with a customer service question because we`re all your customers. We have this House Intelligence Committee. What if tomorrow God forbid, terrorism brings the subject of real intelligence front and center?
We have watched how the committee has dealt with this matter. I would compare it to children, but that could diminish our children. Are the Democrats blameless in the mess that I think you would agree the Intelligence Committee has become?
SCHIFF: Well, the problem we`ve had with our committee has been our chairman, and I think it`s really confined --
WILLIAMS: Devin Nunes.
SCHIFF: -- confined to our chairman. When you`ve got someone who is the leader of your committee who is going off on midnight runs to undisclosed locations to get secret evidence and then you learn that that secret evidence he got from the White House, it makes a mockery of the committee. We had to deal with that as Democrats.
We couldn`t ignore it. We couldn`t look the other way. We couldn`t participate in an investigation that was really a whitewash. So we were left with no choice.
Now, we tried to be responsible. We`re doing our best to continue the investigation within our ability to do so without the Republicans. And we`re trying to defend our institutions as they`re being attacked in the service of the President. That`s what the country ought to expect us to do.
And I know it`s easier, frankly, to believe, well, both sides are inevitably responsible for any conflict. But sometimes, one side really is responsible. And here with our chairman, I think the responsibility is pretty clear.
WILLIAMS: Long way from home in our studio here tonight. Our thanks to Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and the ranking Democrat on the Committee. Thank you so much, Congressman.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Another break for us. And coming up, a bad outing on a sensitive topic for a new author trying to sell a book he co-authored, his name is Bill Clinton.
The story when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: The question of the day may be this one. Who thought it was a good idea to put Bill Clinton on a book tour at this moment in time? The former president has co-written a book with the prolific novelist James Patterson there with him today.
The book is about a fictional president, and NBC`s Craig Melvin talked with both authors about the book before the interview took a turn to the overarching topic of "Me Too" and the president`s own scandal and the question of an apology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like the "Me Too" movement. It`s way overdue. I think that it doesn`t mean I agree with everything. I still have some questions about some of the decisions which have been made.
CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: One of the things that this Me Too era has done is that it`s forced a lot of women to speak out. One of those women is Monica Lewinsky. Looking back on what happened and through the lens of Me Too now, do you think differently or feel more responsibility?
CLINTON: No. I felt terrible then, and I came to grips with it.
MELVIN: Did you ever apologize to her?
CLINTON: No, yes. And nobody believes that I got out of that for free. I left the White House $16 million in debt. I had a sexual harassment policy when I was governor in the `80s. I had two women chiefs of staff when I was governor.
Women were overrepresented in the attorney general`s office in the `70s for their percentage in the bar. I`ve had nothing but women leaders in my office since I left. You are giving one side and omitting facts.
MELVIN: Mr. President, I`m not trying to present a side.
CLINTON: No, no. You asked me if I agreed. The answer is, no, I don`t.
MELVIN: And I asked if you ever apologized and you said you have.
CLINTON: I have.
MELVIN: You`ve apologized to her.
CLINTON: I apologized to everybody in the world.
MELVIN: But you didn`t apologize to her?
CLINTON: I have not talked to her.
MELVIN: Do you feel like you owe her an apology?
CLINTON: No, I do -- I do not -- I never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That`s very different. The apology was public. I dealt with it 20 years ago plus, and the American people, two-thirds of them, stayed with me. And I`ve tried to do a good job since then with my life and with my work. That`s all I have to say to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about what we just saw, and here to do that, two veterans who covered the Clinton White House and lived to tell the tale. In fact, they`re both still in the game. John Harris, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Politico and Nancy Benac, White House News editor for the Associated Press.
Nancy, I hope someone told you I came across our high school picture. How as children we were allowed to fly around on air force one, there the two of us are. You were always the most courteous seat mate, but we did some digging. That was a flight on Valentine`s Day to California and back in 1995.
Anyway, Nancy, it`s great to see you, great to have you on. Bill Clinton tonight had an evening book event. He tried to clean up his language and made some -- made some points a little more artfully. But what about this, Nancy, was a kind of a trigger for you? What about it could you see vintage Bill Clinton in?
NANCY BENAC, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, WHITE HOUSE NEWS EDITOR: Well, you know, it`s funny. Bill Clinton was always known for his spot-on political instincts and his ability to talk his way out of trouble, and those gifts just failed him in this interview.
He was defensive. He was combative. He was really out of step with the "Me Too" movement and was lacking in contrition, which was a problem back in 1998 when this first happened. It took him a while to come around to contrition then too.
WILLIAMS: John, you and I used to talk about this president for hours on long trips as we were both thrown together covering him. You detected, I note, still some anger in Bill Clinton today.
JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Bill Clinton never thought the sex scandal and the impeachment that followed was on the level. He didn`t think it was really about law. He even didn`t think it was really about sex. He thought it was about power and republicans using their power against him.
And he obviously still believes that. In the current "Me Too" environment, we say it is about power but a different kind of power, the power that men in positions of influence too often use abusively against women.
He`s still viewing it through an old prism, I would say, but one that he deeply believes. Give him credit for sincerity. I think you saw the real Bill Clinton there. He`s still pretty angry, I think somewhat at himself, but even more at a political system he says is not on the level.
WILLIAMS: Nancy, it is a curious decision. First of all, the fact that he`s co-authored this book. Second, that in keeping with what other authors do, they`re sending him out on the road to do these interviews knowing that now the questions, if anything, are going to increase about this.
It doesn`t bode well for his future in the midterms, I`m guessing -- correct me if I`m wrong -- as a kind of a surrogate campaigner for the Democrats.
BENAC: Exactly. You know, Democrats already were keeping their distance to some extent just because of the issues that could come up with him. And an interview like this is just going to reinforce those instincts and cause them to keep him at even greater distance than they already would have otherwise, which is a shame because when you have a popular former president, he can be a huge asset for Democrats. And in this case, that`s just not going to -- not going to work for them.
WILLIAMS: John, when you look at the time line of the modern era presidency, Jimmy Carter`s good works post-president have almost reached critical mass and overshadowed his presidency for good or ill. And I think in some way, that was Bill Clinton`s goal, to put his -- get his hands into the work, travel the world, do the Clinton Foundation, try to eradicate disease. But you feel today was a setback. Today was a damaging episode for him.
HARRIS: Well, reputations go back and forth on the pendulum, and I think what you described as Bill Clinton`s goal to be seen as a statesman of the world, almost above politics, at times in his post-presidency, he`s attained that.
But of course life is full of surprises. I think to our surprise, a lot of these 1990s issues have come back and seem suddenly very current and relevant again. I would say, Brian, one thing that I imagine Bill Clinton is thinking this whole business about apologies saying wait, a minute. That`s a Democratic thing to do, to apologize yourself and lash yourself.
You see Donald trump doing that? Do you see other conservative republicans apologizing for their own 1990s episodes?
I think he`s very ambivalent about this notion of seeming excessively contrite or taking the lash to himself. He fundamentally thinks that Trump is right about one thing, as you fight on, and you don`t -- you don`t accept the opposition`s premises.
WILLIAMS: John Harris is among the president`s biographers. Nancy Benac at the Associated Press, the three of us when we were children, covered then-president Bill Clinton. Hey, guys, thank you very much. We`ll have you both again on many times of course.
Coming up for us, 24 hours from now, we will be talking about election returns from a number of important primaries being held tomorrow, California among them. Our preview just hours before the polls open across this country when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Eight states are holding primaries tomorrow, but a lot of eyes will be on California where Democrats hope to make inroads in their quest to take back the house.
Democrats have targeted seven Republican districts, red districts that were won not by Trump but by Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats need to pick up a total, as you may know, of 23 seats during the midterm elections this November across the country to flip control of the House.
California has an unusual primary system that some have nicknamed long ago the jungle primary, where the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party.
Our political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald writes today, "After Tuesday`s unusual jungle primary, the GOP may not have a shot at the governor`s mansion and the U.S. Senate seat, something experts say should be a dire warning for the party nationwide.
Well, with us tonight, Christina Bellantoni among our political experts on all things west coast. She is assistant managing editor of politics for "the Los Angeles Times." And I know journalists love the rule of threes. It makes for better sentences, better graphics, better everything.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR FOR POLITICS: Good headlines.
WILLIAMS: We asked you to come up with three areas to discuss, and number one was a question you posed. Is tomorrow night going to make history or not? What does that depend on? How will we know in.
BELLANTONI: So this system was implemented in 2012, and it made history in 2016 when voters chose, in the primary, the top two vote-getters were Democrats. So for the first time ever you ha had statewide contest in the Senate race, two Democrats faced off.
This is even more history making because it`s the first time a governor`s race will do this. And it`s a big deal, whom governs California is incredibly important given our size, our importance, the huge economy that we have here, the dealings with any White House, but in particular the Trump White House.
So it`s a major issue. And because California -- the term blue state is overused, but because California is overwhelmingly Democratic at this time, it`s highly likely if it were a normal primary system, the Democratic candidate would be the next governor. The election would be over on June 6th.
But that`s not what happens here in California. So you could have two Democrats advance. Right now polls suggest that that could be Gavin Newsom, who`s the lieutenant governor, and Antonio Villaraigosa, who was the mayor of Los Angeles. Could be.
But you`ve also seen a lot of coalescing behind John Cox, a Republican businessman who has run for office a number of times, and it seems to have been consolidating the Republican vote since he was endorsed by President Trump a few weeks ago.
WILLIAMS: Things are never boring in the State of California. We`ll say that. You also want to talk about this question of turnout tomorrow.
BELLANTONI: Yes. Well, that`s one thing that we`ve looked at some early returns, and we see that even though Republicans make up 25 percent of the elector rate, 34 percent of the absentee ballots that have been returned so far, people in California have been voting for now almost a month are from Republican votes.
Now, that doesn`t mean that they chose Republicans in their ballot. That`s obviously secret. But it tells us a little bit about Republican enthusiasm, and that could see a Republican make that top two slot. But here`s where that all matters for down the line.
If Democrats have two candidates for governor and for Senate, you`re likely to see a repeat there with Senator Dianne Feinstein challenged by another Democrat in November.
That means Republicans might be less motivated to come out to the polls at all at a time when the U.S. house is on the line. Those congressional seats that you showed, you know, there`s a number of them where turnout is everything. It`s kind of a cliche, but it`s actually true.
And so if Republicans aren`t inspired to come vote for a candidate who could win a statewide office or a federal office, maybe they`re not going to vote for their congressional races either, and that could leave these republican incumbents out in the cold. I say all of that could because there`s all kinds of high jinx that could mess things up for the Democrats as well, which like you said make California a lot of fun.
WILLIAMS: Twenty-five years from now will it still be a top two system in the state of California, or will better government types get a hold of it in.
BELLANTONI: So we did a poll of this. Actually voters tend to like it. They appreciate having choices. The idea it was supposed to moderate candidates. The party establishment hates it and the Democratic Party is very afraid that they might get shut out of some congressional races for similar reasons.
There`s so many Democrats running in some of these congressional races that two Republicans could rise, and then they lose an opportunity to flip one of those seats. And they need a number of them to win back control of the House, so every vote is going to matter. Every race is going to matter.
WILLIAMS: Christina Bellantoni, thank you for always answering the phone when we call and going on the air when we ask. We appreciate it. That was a great explainer for tonight and of course 24 hours from now, we`ll be in the thick of this. Really appreciate you coming on.
BELLANTONI: Thank you. I hope everybody votes.
WILLIAMS: OK. That is absolutely important for us to keep stressing wherever there are primaries tomorrow.
Coming up for us, a Christian baker gets a Supreme Court win today, and yet so many questions remain unanswered after what happened today. NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams will offer an explanation when we come back.
WILLIAMS: The U.S. Supreme Court today returned with a decision in one of the most closely watched cases of this court term, as the justices sided with a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in Colorado.
But some of the biggest questions at the heart of the case remain unanswered. The victory was narrow. It turns out and this was not one of those opinions where the court speaks once and with lasting authority on a given subject or given case.
Our Justice Correspond Pete Williams has more on this from Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It`s a clear win for Jack Phillips of Denver, who said baking a cake for a same-sex couple would violate his Christian beliefs, forcing him to expressing a view through the artistry of his cakes that he opposes.
JACK PHILLIPS, COLORADO BAKER: All of my life is tied to my religious belief system, an extension of it.
WILLIAMS: When he turned down David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who wanted a cake for their wedding celebration, they sued.
DAVID MULLINS: We hope that people now know that our case wasn`t some isolated incident. This happens to people in every kind of business everyday.
WILLIAMS: Colorado said Phillips violated a state law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But today, by a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court said Phillips wins because Colorado didn`t take his religious claim seriously enough.
MICHAEL FARRIS, BAKER"S ATTORNEY: The court said that religious freedom is an important value that needs to be weighed in deciding this case. It doesn`t tip the scale one way or the other, but it puts its back on the scale.
WILLIAMS: But the ruling was a win for Phillips only and said nothing about whether flourish, photographers and other business have their religious freedom to refuse service to same-sex couples.
JAMES ESSEKS, COUPLE`S ATTORNEY: They were absolutely looking for a ruling that said that businesses like this bakery have a right to discriminate. And they didn`t get that from this court. Not even close.
WILLIAMS: Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion said those disputes must be resolve with tolerance to sincere religious believes without subject gay persons to indignities.
TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT CONTRIBUTOR: The big question about whether cakes are free speech, and whether photographers are protected in same-sex weddings was completely unanswered today to the disappointment of both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, our report tonight from our Justice Correspondent Pete Williams, reporting from Washington.
Another break for us. And coming up, another norm being undone by this White House. We`ll explain, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: Real quickly here, we wanted to let you know the first lady was seen at the White House for the first time in going on 25 days. Melania Trump attended an event with her husband. No press coverage, but it was again her first public sighting in 25 days` time.
Now the last thing before we go tonight, just another time-honored tradition that is going by the boards at the White House. Painful as it might have been for those of us who rode for shall we say a rival team to the north.
Tomorrow we`re supposed to be the Philadelphia Eagles moment in the sun, their chance to fly eagle fly. They`re moment to celebrate as a team and a city, their hard-won and hard-fought Super Bowl championship.
But then a few things got in a way, among them politics and the national anthem controversy, and after a report tonight that fewer than 10 of the actual Philadelphia Eagles planned to attend tomorrow`s White House ceremony, the President canceled on them.
White House put out a statement by the President tonight that plausibly a point read like statement from the President who made it about the anthem protest. And said the 1,000 fans are planning to attend the event deserve better.
So evidently the Eagles will be free to watch on television around 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, when Donald Trump hosts what he tonight called a different type of ceremony, one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the national anthem.
Some critical details being attributed to ESPN tonight, they`re reporting most if not all of the black players on the team were threatening to stay home. They add that the team received zero notice, no heads-up, learned their big day had been canceled when the President announced it tonight.
With that, that is our broadcast on a Monday evening as we start off a new week. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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