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Votes being counted in eight states. TRANSCRIPT: 06/05/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Crowley, Joyce Vance, Eli Stokols, Anita Kumar, Jason Johnson, Charlie Sykes

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: June 5, 2018 Guest: Michael Crowley, Joyce Vance, Eli Stokols, Anita Kumar, Jason Johnson, Charlie Sykes

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight, election returns. This is the biggest primary before the midterms. The polls now closed in California, the last of eight states voting today. Steve Kornacki standing by at the big board with the late numbers. Plus, the President comes in after his Attorney General again. Another attack on Jeff Sessions today, and the A.P. reports the President and others have stopped saying Sessions` name out loud in the West Wing.

And the Trump communications staffer who joked about Senator John McCain`s fight with terminal cancer is out of her job tonight.

THE 11TH HOUR on a Tuesday election night begins now.

And good evening, once again, from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. We are following a number of important developments in the Mueller- Russia investigation tonight.

But first, it is the busiest primary day of the year so far. In fact, as we said at the top of the broadcast, it`s the largest primary election night until we get to the midterm elections in November. Polls have just closed in California. Results are still coming in from seven other states across the country. Voters in Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota all went to the polls to decide which candidates will square off in those midterms November 6th.

For the very latest, Steve Kornacki manning the big board for us tonight. Hey, Steve?

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. Yes, here it is, the biggest day, the biggest state, and the biggest stakes in this state. California. Let`s put this in perspective what we`re about to see happen.

Nationally, you know the number. Twenty-three. That`s what Democrats need to take back the House. Twenty-three pickups. And they got what they think are seven very ripe targets in California. All of these, Republican- held seats. All of these, districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

So the question tonight in most of these districts, in four of them, the question is simply how`s the Democrat going to do? This open primary in California. The Democrat, Republican, they`re on the same ballot. Every voter is getting that ballot. We`ll get a test of how the Democrats are doing in those.

But the more critical question, the one that we`re going to start to get answers to right now is here in the 39th district, in the 49th, and in the 48th. Because of this top two system in California, parties don`t matter. They`re all on the same ballot. Only two advance.

Is there a chance Democrats will get locked out? Do they have too many candidates? Is the vote spread too thin on the Democratic side? Do Republicans claim those top two spots, and do Democrats miss critical opportunities to chip away at that 23?

Remember those numbers tonight. Thirty-nine, 48, 49. We are going to be looking closely at these districts, and let`s begin. The polls just closed. Let`s see if any results are in. I doubt we`re going to get anything right away.

But just to put this in some perspective, again, this is the 39th district. Republican is retiring, Ed Royce. It is an open seat. These are only three. There are a bunch of names on the ballot.

When we start getting votes, these things are going to start moving around. The question again for Democrats, they want blueprint in one of these top two. We`re going to be looking at the 39th. We`re going to be looking at the 48th.

There is a Republican incumbent here, Dana Rohrabacher. He is very controversial, especially because of his views on Russia. It has caused a fissure in the Republican Party in California.

This is Scott Bow. He`s running against Rohrabacher. The fear of Democrats is that these two Republicans will essentially go 50/50 with the Republican vote in a district where there are a lot of Republicans and that that could squeeze the Democrats out, that the Democratic vote would then be too spread out. We`re watching that one.

And we see the 49th district, again, open seat. Darrell Issa. You know the name. Not running again. This is his district. San Diego County. Little bit of Orange County.

And, again, the question here, very spread out. Both parties spread out here. I have to say, we talk about Democrats being locked out potentially. Not out of the realm of possibility. Funny things happen in this era.

The Republicans get locked out of one of these districts. The 49th, there would be an outside shot of that. So again, numbers should start coming in in the next few minutes. This is the story we`re keeping an eye on.

Democrats have seven ripe, juicy targets they think in California. But first, can they make the ballot in all of them?

WILLIAMS: And we remind everybody seven other states in addition to California. There is nothing quite like an election night around here.

Our thanks to Steve Kornacki. We ask only that you not stray from the big board as we`re going to be going back to you with results as they come in throughout the broadcast.

Checking in on other news tonight, Day 502 this was of the Trump administration. And President Trump wasted no time again today lashing out at his own attorney general over his recusal from the Russia investigation.

President Trump wrote on Twitter, "The Russian witch hunt hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn`t tell me he was going to recuse himself. I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted. So many lives ruined. And Sessions knew better than most that there was no collusion."

To say that our President cannot let this go would be an understatement. The attacks now come so frequently, it almost normalizes this still new notion of an American President regularly eviscerating his own Attorney General. And Jonathan Lemire of "The Associated Press" reports the President`s anger toward Jeff Sessions has hit a whole new level.


JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": He is so mad at Jeff Sessions still that he is actually in recent weeks in our report, he has stopped using Sessions` name. He won`t say it. And so, therefore, senior aides around him in the West Wing have copied that. They just go him, or that guy, or the Attorney General.


WILLIAMS: An incredible detail from Jonathan Lemire, who reports the President`s animosity towards Sessions is now permeating most things in his path.

"On Thursday, Trump was on Air Force One returning from a trip to Texas, reveling in both a successful day of fund-raising and the heads-up he had received from Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow that the next day`s jobs report would be positive," as we learned from the President`s Twitter feed the next morning. "But when an aide mentioned Sessions, Trump abruptly ended the conversation and unmuted the television in his office broadcasting Fox News, dismissing the staffer to resume watching cable, according to a person familiar with the exchange."

We are tonight also tracking new developments on Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, his mounting legal problems in the Russia investigation. Earlier today, a judge scheduled a June 15 hearing on whether to revoke Manafort`s bail after prosecutors alleged he tried to tamper with potential witnesses while on pretrial release.

NBC News reporting it this way. "According to Monday`s FBI affidavit, two people who were part of a broader effort to lobby on behalf of Ukraine told investigators that Manafort, while on bail, contacted them in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence.

A spokesperson for Manafort released a statement today that said, "Mr. Manafort is innocent and nothing about this latest allegation changes our defense. We will do our talking in court."

Also new today, "Washington Post" reporting that President Trump has become "fixated on pardons." "A White House official this week said Trump is obsessed with pardons, describing them as the President`s new favorite thing to talk about. He may sign a dozen or more in the next two months, this person added." A lot to talk about.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for exactly that on a Tuesday night. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor. Michael Crowley, National Security Editor for Politico. And John Heilemann back with us in New York, Author of "Game Change" and "Double Down," Co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime in addition to being a contributor around these parts.

John, take it wherever you wish. Sessions, pardons, Manafort. What are we witnessing right now?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Just another day at the hallucinatory (ph) ranch, Brian. It`s like, you know, you just said almost normalize. We got to keep fighting to let any of this seem normal or be normal because it`s not.

WILLIAMS: It`s almost a daily basis.

HEILEMANN: It`s a one -- it`s more than a daily basis. A fusillade of craziness in things that we never thought we`d see. There are a couple of big important things here. The tweet about Jeff Sessions this morning, I`ll say I was on Morning Joe, and it has become so common that we didn`t really pause to let it sink in.


HEILEMANN: That the President was essentially contradicting what his lawyers had said in those documents that we saw in "The New York Times" this weekend where they said, "No, Donald Trump always knew there was going to be a Russia investigation." He always knew it was going to go on. He did not fire James Comey in order to end the Russia investigation. Here he`s contradicting it flatly in addition to saying the Russian witch hunt hoax, which is a word -- there`s a phrase that no editor of yours or mine would ever allow in a piece of copy that we wrote.

WILLIAMS: Well, at least it`s in capital letters.

HEILEMANN: You know, so I think that`s pretty important. And the other thing I think is the Manafort situation, which is super important. And look, I mean, you have to be pretty crooked to be committing crimes when you know you are under observation and under indictment. To go out and commit additional crimes while you`re under indictment.

WILLIAMS: They recommend against that.

HEILEMANN: Again, we`ve heard on this network all night from experienced attorneys who say Paul Manafort has good lawyers, expensive lawyers, who have said to him, "There are bunch of things you`re not going to do. This is one of them." And to have increased his legal peril, given Robert Mueller even more of an upper hand than he already has in terms of leverage to try to get Manafort to flip on Donald Trump, it`s a huge development, and also I`ll borrow from one of my co-panelists today on Nicolle`s show, who noted -- maybe Nicolle, that it does sort of betray the notion this is not a man who is convinced he`s going to get a pardon to go to your third topic. Because if you`re convinced you`re going to get a pardon, why engage in witness tampering?

WILLIAMS: Yes, that`s a serious offense.

Hey, Michael, other than the sheer almost daily, as we`ve noted, release of steam on the Sessions issue, is there any case to be made by anyone around this President that this continued attack on his A.G. while they`re all under investigation is a good idea?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR, POLITICO: Well, first of all, Brian, I justify want to point out that if he`s not saying Sessions` name anymore, that may actually be an improvement, because several weeks ago what we heard was that he was referring to Jeff Sessions as Mr. Magoo.


CROWLEY: So if I had the choice of being called Mr. Magoo or just being referred to with a pronoun, I think I would take the latter. In that sense, things are looking up for Jeff Sessions right now.

To your question, I don`t see the gain for the President. You know, he can call this a witch hunt. He can call it a hoax. He can say no collusion. He does it several times a day. Fine. His base loves that.

I don`t see the profit in attacking Jeff Sessions who, you know, is actually a big hero for the conservative base. He`s also got a lot of old friends on Capitol Hill, in the Senate, people like Mitch McConnell don`t like hearing the President talk that way. And again, to that point of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill, you know, they may basically be with Trump when it comes to the Russia investigation. They want to have his back.

I think when it starts to get personal with a guy that they know well, they think is honorable, they hate to see him treated that way. It just sort of burns needless capital for the President.

So I think to me, I just see it as an example of a President who`s not thinking entirely clearly or rationally. He can`t restrain his impulses. And when it comes to the Russia investigation, he just kind of blows a gasket and doesn`t know what he`s doing and doesn`t think it through.

WILLIAMS: Joyce, we`ve been wanting to talk to you since we read this court filing on Mr. Manafort. It`s one thing for us lay people to go through it, and certainly parts of it really read like a clear and present danger. It`s active wording. How did it read to you? What did you take away from this?

JOYCE VANCE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: It`s a really interesting pleading, Brian. On the technical legal side of things, one of the conditions of Paul Manafort`s release is that he not commit another federal crime. So now the government has brought before the judge probable cause to believe he`s tampered with a witness, and that`s a good reason to revoke his bond. In the two or three times I had this happen in my career, everyone on the prosecution team got incredibly angry and immediately went to the judge, asking that the defendant be taken into custody pending trial because the worst-case situation is a defendant who`s out trying to influence witnesses and avoid the fair trial that the people of the United States are entitled to in these cases. So that`s likely the reaction here.

What`s incredibly interesting is that Manafort would have done this no doubt despite the advice of counsel, who would have cautioned him against doing anything like this. And the question is why did he do it? What did he think he had to benefit from, or what was so dangerous that he wanted to steer these witnesses away from discussing it candidly in his trial?

WILLIAMS: Yes, questions I guess we`ll have to wait to get an answer for.

Hey, John, I want to play you -- you were present for the next quote during our 4:00 p.m. broadcast. We`ve already seen a highlight reel of you once. This is Harry Lipman, Former U.S. Attorney, talking about Manafort`s next appearance in court.


HARRY LIPMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Prosecutors hate this. Judges hate this, and he`s going to have to bring his toothbrush to court on Friday because the statute says if they find that this happened, there`s a presumption that no circumstances exist that will get him safely there for trial. So there`s the real prospect that he now goes to jail.


WILLIAMS: That really gets your attention.

HEILEMANN: It does. Bring your toothbrush.

WILLIAMS: Yes. He`s out on bail to use a phrase from all the cop shows. But if that`s true, on his hearing date, he`s got to bring some essentials because he`ll then go into custody and remain there until trial.

HEILEMANN: Bring a toothbrush and a big bag of beef jerky, I guess, because you`re going to be there for a while. Look, he`s a 70-year-old man --


HEILEMANN: -- who is already facing the charges that are previously brought against him, more than 20 years in prison if you`re convicted on all of them. And now he`s looking at -- I mean, well into the -- past where he lets go of this mortal coil. I find it, you know, I just -- I agree, I said it on the show and I`ll say it again. I agree with Harry. Yes, prosecutors hate this kind of behavior.

And in this case, I think they hate it and then they love it because he`s caught. And once he`s caught, if this is a game about leverage -- and Bob Mueller is trying to figure out who are the highest value targets. Who are the people who know the most about what Donald Trump may have done wrong?

You think about Jared Kushner. You think about Paul Manafort. You think about Michael Cohen, who is now being dealt with mostly in the Southern District of New York, but that can be part of this case also. Those are the guys who have been with Trump even though Manafort, as Trump points out over and over again, is only part of the campaign starting in the spring of 2016, Donald Trump has known Paul Manafort for 30 years.

Paul Manafort and Roger Stone --

WILLIAMS: He had an apartment in his building.

HEILEMANN: -- and apartment in the building, but he was also Roger Stone`s partner. Roger Stone was Donald Trump`s political Svengali going back into the 1980s. He`s known Paul Manafort forever. He knows what Manafort`s businesses involve. They have run in the same circles.

This is a guy who knows things about Donald Trump`s connections to Russian money, Russian money laundering potentially, and other bad behavior that long pre-dates the 2016 campaign, but that clearly, if you think about the scope of what Mueller is now doing, is all within Mueller`s sights. And so when Manafort makes a mistake like this for whatever reason, it just gives, as I said before, Mueller that much more leverage over Manafort to be able to try to make the kind of deal that`s going to get him the kind of information that he wants if such information exists about the President of the United States.

WILLIAMS: It`s a titanic tightening of the screw. And I`ll remind you the President says Manafort was only around for a very short period of time.


WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael, this use of pardons, "The Washington Post" reporting on the word "fixated." Do you buy into the argument that this may be how Trump viewed everything about the presidency, that it would all feel like pardons?

CROWLEY: Yes. You know, Brian, it makes -- it`s so consistent with our understanding of Trump`s mind set and his approach to the presidency, which first of all I think constantly goes back to the Trump Organization where Trump was a CEO. Everyone was loyal to him. His word went. There was basically no challenge to him, certainly no checks and balances.

And in the presidency, it`s the same thing. This is an ultimate fiat power he has. He basically waves a magic wand and absolves people, sort of like the inversion of condemning people to death, which I suppose fortunately he`s not able to do. I don`t want to imagine what he might do with that power. But no one can challenge him.

His staff can complain, but Congress can`t tell him he can`t do it. The deep state can`t stop him from doing it. It`s almost a regal power. And I think he loves that, that fiat.

I will say, Brian, I`ve been skeptical about this theory that some of these pardons are meant to send signals to potential Russia investigation witnesses. And then I read this "Washington Post" story tonight with this remarkable quote from Newt Gingrich essentially saying just that, saying that these pardons should be seen as a message to potential Mueller witnesses, saying that help is on the way and Trump is willing to wave the magic pardon wand. I was kind of gob smacked that Newt Gingrich would say that. Newt Gingrich talks to the President.

I don`t know if that is what the President thinks, but I recommend people look up that story because it did change the way I thought about this. Initially, I just thought Trump liked the power for what it was. I think that`s true, but it does makes me wonder what else is going on here.

WILLIAMS: Sometimes refreshing to see people getting more direct these days. So, Joyce, the power to pardon indeed goes back to the king`s England. As you and I have discussed on this broadcast, it`s one of the fearsome powers we grant our President, and it only bumps up against the law if they are dangled or sold, but no laws are broken if Scorsese-style, you`re trying to send a message.

VANCE: You know, that`s true, but it`s also not true. There`s no doubt that the President`s pardon power is exceptionally broad. By the same token, something that we`ve talked about is the fact that a President can do something that he`s legally entitled to do. But he can do it in a manner that might constitute another crime. And the best example is Rod Blagojevich, who surfaced in the last week as a news item, right?


VANCE: He had the ability to appoint a new senator to replace Barack Obama, but what made it a crime was taking a bribe. Similarly, if Trump issues a pardon with the corrupt intent to remove a witness that Mueller needs access to, that could become part of obstruction. It could be part of a conspiracy to obstruct. And it could really be his fatal downfall at the end of all of this.

WILLIAMS: The essential Joyce Vance along with the equally essential Michael Crowley and John Heilemann. Our great thanks for starting off our conversation on this Tuesday night.

Coming up for us, another White House staffer has lost her job tonight. This time it`s the aide who made that crude remark about John McCain`s terminal cancer. The latest on what finally led to her departure. Spoiler, it wasn`t the comment about john McCain.

And later, the White House doubles down on its decision to disinvite the Super Bowl champs, saying the Philadelphia Eagles abandoned their fans. You don`t have to be an Eagles fan to know that would not go over well in Philadelphia.

THE 11TH HOUR just getting started even though our music gave up there for a moment, on a Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back. The White House aide who made a crude and morbid joke about Senator John McCain`s health no longer works for the President. It`s been nearly a month since the Hill publication first reported Kelly Sadler`s remarks that John McCain`s vote on CIA director nominee "doesn`t matter because he`s dying anyway." McCain, of course, is being treated for a malignant brain tumor. To date, neither Sadler nor the White House have publicly apologized for it.

A statement today read simply, "Kelly Sadler is no longer employed within the executive office of the President." More on that definition in a moment.

Her offensive comments may not even be the reason for her dismissal. "The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that, "An official said the departure was not spurred by her McCain comments but, instead, was fueled largely by an internal dispute with White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp. There are reports that Sadler blamed Schlapp for leaking her comment to the press while both women were standing before the President.

As "The New York Times" describes tonight, "Tensions between the two had reached a point where Ms. Sadler and Ms. Schlapp were unable to be in the same room together." That`s a problem.

Back with us tonight, two of our longtime contributors. Eli Stokols, who we are so happy to say is now a White House Reporter for "The Los Angeles Times." And Anita Kumar, who remains White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Welcome, gang.

And, Eli, what does this episode either reveal or reaffirm to you about the operations of the Trump White House?

ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, that reporting is right, that this is not about what she said, and it`s never been about what she said. From the moment that comment was reported, the White House response was the problem is leaking. It`s leaking, and we need to clean that up. And now you have this internal personnel dispute, and it`s led to Kelly Sadler being let go from that position.

We don`t know if she`s going to stay in the administration in some capacity. But there has been no further explanation from this White House about any of this. It`s just that she`s not working here, and it has nothing to do with that callous remark that she made about John McCain.

There was never really a thought that she might apologize because, you know, culture starts at the top, and this is a President who has been saying, you know, things about John McCain that struck a lot of people as off for three years, ever since the remark about liking people who don`t get captured. And he`s never apologized. There was never really much thought that there would be a public apology on this, and there`s no indication that that has anything to do with the personnel decision made today.

WILLIAMS: Anita, you already know this. But just for our viewers, there is every possibility she could be employed by the administration writ large tomorrow morning. And the administration is a big place.

The executive office of the President is kind of the President`s payroll. But traditionally the White House old executive office billion have been populated by people called detailees, who are technically employees of Cabinet agencies but are detailed to the White House to work there. So, again, federal bureaucracy is a vast place. All it said was she`s leaving the executive office.

But, Anita, the question to you is since we are still talking about what she said, this again lacks any real finality that, say, an apology would bring.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: Right. I mean, you know, this was a month ago and this went on for days if you`ll remember. Days and days where, you know, all that was going on in the White House, they were getting questioned and questioned about this, what she was going to do. Is she going to be, you know, re reprimanded? You know, is there going to be a public apology? Finally it has died down.

And, you know, for whatever reason here we are month later, they`ve chosen for her to leave. So we`re going to have days of questions again. As you mentioned, they only put out a brief statement but didn`t really explain much else. And I`m sure they`re not going to. That`s not their thing.

They`re not going to explain much else, but they`re going to get a lot of questions so this is going to continue on.

WILLIAMS: Just a reminder to our viewers. This is primary night after all. We haven`t done this for a while, but we have a projected winner. Dianne Feinstein, the victor of the California senate primary, just in to us. We wanted to pass that along before our next update with Steve Kornacki.

Eli, back to present day. I want to play for you an exchange that took place in the briefing room. Josh Dawsey of the "Washington Post," former colleague of yours with Sarah Huckabee Sanders today. We`ll talk about it on the other side.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Do you think your statement in August was accurate? Your statement, not his. Was your statement accurate or inaccurate?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, I know you want to get me into a back and forth with you on this conversation.

DAWSEY: No, not a back and forth. You said something. We just want to know if it was accurate or not. Was the statement accurate?

SANDERS: Look, I know your goal is to engage me in a conversation about matters dealing with the outside counsel, and I`m not going to do that today.

DAWSEY: But, Sarah, not abut the outside counsel. You said something from the podium. Was it accurate or not? That`s all we want to know.

SANDERS: Again, I work day in, day out, and I believe, frankly, with the majority of you here in the room, I think you all know I`m an honest person who works extremely hard to provide you with accurate information at all times. I`m going to continue to do that, but I`m not going to engage on matters that deal with the outside counsel.


WILLIAMS: Dawsey versus Sanders. I have to say Jim Acosta on CNN tonight said this. "It seems like we`re coming to the end of her days at this White House." That surprised me to hear from Jim. Do you concur with his opinion, and what about general credibility these days from the podium?

STOKOLS: I don`t have any reporting to suggest that the President himself is upset with the job that Sarah Sanders is doing at the podium or that a change is imminent. My impression from being around the President, talking to people in the West Wing is that he`s fairly happy or happier with the staff overall compared to maybe how he felt a few months ago with certain Cabinet members and West Wing staff.

I will say on this issue, this is the second day that Josh Dawsey put that question to Sarah Sanders and others in the briefing room have as well. And I think people who watch those briefings can step back and objectively take away that she cannot answer a simple question about whether a statement that she made months ago that has since been contradicted by the President`s outside attorneys is accurate, whether or not this taxpayer funded spokesperson who speaks for the president at the White House is telling the truth.

That`s an essential question about her credibility. And yet because we`re living through this era in which the president is engaged in a war on the press and a war many say on truth, the truth has become so tribalized that a lot of people see her response, and they watch for that. They like her hitting back at Josh Dossey and April Ryan. And this is all increasingly subjective, the takeaways from that briefing.

But I do think at the end of the day when you go into that briefing room and you see the briefings getting shorter and shorter, you can take away from that that this is a White House and a press shop that is not delighted with the fact set that they face every day. And she does her best to dissemble and to deflect, but I think that takes a toll eventually as well. And they know that even though the public posture is to turn everything around and attack the press.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, BLOOMBERG ANCHOR: And, Anita, this is hardly the first time she`s been called upon to trot out a new version of the truth.

ANITA KUMAR, ?WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ?THE MCCLATCHY COMPANY: Right. Well, actually, this has been happening since day one of the Trump administration, from back when Sean Spicer, her predecessor, was talking about the record crowds at the inauguration.

But, you know, recently with Sarah Sanders, this has just came up, again, a couple weeks ago with the payment. Did the president know about the payment to Stormy Daniels? She had said repeatedly that he didn`t know. And then suddenly he says he did know. He tells reporters he did know. And so she was asked the same question.

Let`s be clear here. She can answer if she wants to answer. She can answer if the President wants her to answer. But they`re choosing this as their tactic. Their tactic is sort of an illogical one. She can`t really answer, you know, she`s choosing not to say whether something`s truthful or not. So they`ve decided this is the best strategy going forward, and I totally agree with Eli.

They`ve decided that the strategy is to turn it back on the media. The media is asking these questions. I believe one of her comments there earlier today was that she -- she is more credible or truthful than the media is. I mean, so she`s really -- that was some strong language today, stronger than usual. She`s definitely decided that`s her strategy.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our two very credible guests, Eli Stokols and Anita Kumar, two of the faces we look for at that White House briefing during live coverage of it. Thank you both very much.

And coming up, we go back to Steve Kornacki, back to the big board after you saw we`re getting our first real results from California. That and more when we come right back.


WILLIAMS: We`re back. Another Tuesday night, primary night. Again, this is the biggest until we`re back in this studio for the midterms in November. California, still the big ticket item tonight, but results coming in from the seven other states. Steve Kornacki remains at the big board. Steve?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, yes. We got numbers coming in, Brian. And remember, the question here, Democrats had coming into the night is, these ripe targets they have in these House races in California. Are they going to get locked out of the ballot in the fall?

Here we have numbers coming in. The 48th district, Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, Republican incumbent, these are the numbers right now. Remember, the top two regardless of party will advance to November. Rohrabacher, the incumbent, out in front. And here is what worries Democrats.

They have a candidate here, Hans Keirstead, running at 19 percent, right behind him less than 400 votes behind. This is Scott Baugh, a Republican. Now, there was a big split in the Republican Party. You know, Rohrabacher, he`s been friendly towards Russia, made positive comments about Putin. There`s a big split there.

And this was the fear of Democrats. If too many Republican votes are split between these two and the Democrats aren`t united, is there a chance Baugh can get up there? So right now, he is very close to that second-place spot. The other dynamic, you remember, Keirstead started out as sort of the favored Democrats in the state party endorsed him. Late in this campaign, Harley Rouda, the National Party has done some stuff on his behalf.

And you can see, look at that, very close to two of them. It is allowing a potential scenario here. We`re going to follow this, a lot of votes starting to come in. This is one that`s scaring Democrats. Let`s look at the 39th district here again. This is now, a lot of this is Orange County. It spans some other counties.

Now, the good news for Republicans in this district is they got their candidate out in front. The question, though, is could they get second place here? You see right now, you have one Democrats and no Democrats right behind him.

This is Gil Cisneros. The National Party is behind him. He`s a lottery winner. Spent a lot of money on his own campaign. He`s a Democrat. This is what they want to see although, you know, a little close there behind him.

Let`s look at the 49th district right now. Darrell Issa, retiring Republican, I got to call out myself, retiring Republican, another lockout fear for Democrats. This one, though, the best news for Democrats on the board right now. You have Diane Harkey, Republican, she`s jumped out in front. Can we show -- I don`t think we can show it, but it`s not just these two.

You go the next few names in line here, all Democrats, so Democrats here. The idea of two Republicans sneaking up, this is kind of good news for Democrats that a Republican`s run out in front this much. It means there`s not as many Republican votes to distribute widely. So the lockout fear for Democrats, these early returns in 49, this is positive for them.

But there is also an early -- we`ll call this a potential surprise. We said there were three districts here where Democrats had to worry about a lockout. We didn`t mention one in the early returns here, are telling an interesting story.

This is the 10th district. This is the Central Valley. This is Jeff Denham, Republican incumbent. This is Ted Howze, this is a pro-Trump Republican, sort of a grassroots style candidate. And you can see right here, the Democratic vote, you can`t see the other screen here. There are a bunch of Democratic candidates in this race. This is sort of a venture capital guy.

Josh Harder is his name. He`s funded his own campaign. There are a bunch of other Democrats. They`re running 15, 12, 9, 8. And you see right here. Denham is out in front. There are enough Republicans who go to sort of this insurgent candidate, this could be -- we weren`t talking about it earlier, but this is one I think that Democrats might be a little concern about right now.

We do not have -- there`s two counties that make up this district, San Joaquin County. We don`t have results from San Joaquin, that`s a little more Democratic. So there is a chance there as more of the district reports for that to change for Democrats.

But, again, the good news for Democrats in the 49th suddenly worrying about the 10th, a barn burner in the 48th, and it looks, you know, Republicans are getting first place right now in the 39th. But Democrats with second place there.

Just quickly, the other question here is would Republicans be locked out of the governor`s race in California? Their candidate, John Cox, right now second. But, remember a lot of the votes that have come in right now are from Republican parts of the state. The question is what`s going to happen here when you start getting L.A. County, more of those areas. A little volatility there, but certainly early on, Republicans think it`s important.

They don`t think they can win necessarily the governor`s race in California this year, a very blue state. But they think if they have a candidate on the ballot, sort of at the top of the ticket, that could help them in those races. Democrats certainly wanted to shut out Republicans there.

So that is the story in California. We can also just show you quickly, there is other news tonight. I want to get to the election in Montana because this is a Senate race to keep an eye on. Let me see if I can get in there. I`m having trouble getting in there.

Here it is, the Senate race for Montana. Right here is going to be -- the winner is going to be Jon Tester`s opponent. Jon Tester, Democrats, running in a state that Donald Trump carried by 21 points. You have a barn burner here.

This is Judge Russell Fagg. His base has sort of come in around billings. This is the state auditor, Matt Rosen Dale. So again, this is won Tester is in that potentially vulnerable for Democrats category. He`s looked a little stronger than some of the other Democrats from Trump states but he`s going to learn his opponent in this race here. So we still got a close one here in Montana on the Senate side. And, Brian, we got some real interesting and real suspenseful contest here in the House in California.

WILLIAMS: Yes. And the other states as we come all the way east to New Jersey. Wanted to let our viewers know we`re going to get to all of it in this hour. We`re also going to bridge over the top of the next hour and keep talking about returns and results. Steve Kornacki still with us, not going anywhere, we`re going to take a quick break.

And coming up, football as it`s being used by the President as a decidedly political football. Where Eagles dare not go, the Trump White House cancels the Eagles Party, decides to celebrate America instead. That story when THE 11TH HOUR continues.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We love our country. We respect our flag, and we always proudly stand for the national anthem. We always will stand for the national anthem.


WILLIAMS: As you watch this next segment, please remember not one of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles took a knee during any of their games last season. Nonetheless, at what was supposed to be an Eagles celebration, President Trump followed through today on his promise to hold instead a ceremony where we would hear loudly and proudly played the national anthem.

This came after the President`s surprise decision last night canceling this event, hosting the Super Bowl champion, Eagles, claiming they disagreed with the custom of standing for the national anthem. This morning the White House blamed the cancellation on the football team, saying, quote, "the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans.

Eagles` safety, Malcolm Jenkins, responded to the President, quote, "it`s hard to meet people who don`t agree with you and to have tough conversations about uncomfortable race-related issues and how to make positive change. Instead, the decision was made to lie and paint the picture that these players are anti-America, anti-flag, and anti-military."

Philadelphia`s mayor, Jim Kenney, dismissed Trump`s decision in an interview today.


MAYOR JIM KENNEY (D), PHILADELPHIA: Donald Trump is meaningless to this whole process. He`s meaningless to this city and the city`s success. He tries at every chance he gets to tear cities down, and eventually he`ll be gone one way or the other, and we`ll move on.


WILLIAMS: At a briefing this afternoon, the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, repeatedly blamed the Eagles for what she called a political stunt. Our own Peter Alexander asked Sanders about the President`s seemingly inconsistent views on free speech these days.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So I guess my question is simple. So if the White House supports the Baker`s right of free speech, why doesn`t the White House support players` right to free speech?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President doesn`t think that this is an issue simply of free speech. He thinks it`s about respecting the men and women of our military. It`s about respecting our national anthem, and it`s about standing out of pride for that.


WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press write of Trump`s decision to disinvite the Eagles, quote, "It was another sign that Trump intends to continue to fan a culture war he has stoked and which he has long believed is a winning issue with his base. Trump has long fixated on the NFL national anthem controversy and was pleased when last month`s announcement of the league`s new policy returned it to the news. The president told one confidant Monday that he aimed to periodically revive the anthem issue in the months ahead, believing its return to the headlines would help Republicans as the midterm elections approached."

Let`s talk about this now. And with us to do that, Charlie Sykes, Author and longtime Conservative Radio Host, who is now Contributing Editor and Podcast Host for the Weekly Standard. We should also mention he`s from Wisconsin. I seem to remember they have a football team there. And Jason Johnson, Politics Editor at "The Root".

Jason, welcome back to the broadcast. I`d like to begin with you. My Sundays took an awful turn with a horrendous head coaching choice by my beloved New York Giants a few years ago. We`re in recovery now. But all of us who love Sundays in season have been forced to let politics enter even that day. And what do you see is happening to the process now? How far have we gotten from the reason of the protest in the first place?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THE ROOT: I think the protest, you know, Brian, the protests have always been clear. Colin Kaepernick, everyone involved has said, look, these protests are about police brutality and institutional racism. The players have said that consistently, that that is the motivation behind them taking a knee or any kind of protest that they engaged in. And the President of the United States and certain members of the right have simply refused to listen to it.

It`s not an issue of they just disagree. They`ve simply said we refuse to listen to what you`re saying is the motivation behind your protest. And the problem -- the sort of larger cultural problem, Brian, that I`ve seen with this is it turns Sundays, which used to be a fun day.

I`m a Seahawks fan, a former Eagles fan. It`s used to taken a fun day and turned it into a political wedge issue. Now, you have people who literally will shame you if you want to watch football or complain because players are doing this, and the other.

The President has taken something sacred on a Sunday and turned it into a problem so he can achieve a certain amount of points with racial invective and class warfare. And it`s shameful.

WILLIAMS: And to Charlie in a state where Sunday really is, close to a football version of a religious holiday. Yes, as issues go, this is a shiny object. This is not the summit talks that are about to go on with North Korea, it`s not the Russia investigation, it is football after all. But think of the collateral damage this week, Charlie. Football players have been accused of lacking patriotism. They`ve been accused of being anti-military.

CHARLIE SYKES, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. Well, first of all, we got to note that this is a lie, that in fact none of the players did take a knee. But this has two advantages for Donald Trump. It is a distraction and it a target to focus the grievance of his base on. This has been his playbook all along.

And he thinks about how this plays in red America. And he believes that if he pits the flag, the military, if he talks about these things against these pampered players, he`s going to win. And even if you have this collateral damage and Jason is absolutely right, by the way, Wisconsin is a very divided political state. But the one thing we all believe in, is football and the Green Bay Packers.

And, you know, Donald Trump touching this has taken his willingness to use this kind of divisive politics to score points. He`s taken it into our Sundays. But, look, this is something he thinks he can win on this issue. He thinks that culture is comfortable with the cultural war issues. He thinks that it resonates with his base, you going to see a lot more.

And by the way, memo to the NFL or anybody else who is targeted in a Donald Trump culture war. You notice that appeasement does not work. Gracious surrender does not get you what you want. He sees that as a sign of weakness and he doubles down.


WILLIAMS: Didn`t work for Joseph P. Kennedy in the years before World War II either. Hey, Jason, I want to show you something. The setup for this is brief. LeBron has spoken.


LEBRON JAMES, NBA PLAYER: I mean, I know no matter who wins this series, no one wants to invite anybody. So it won`t be Golden State or Cleveland going.


WILLIAMS: So it won`t be Golden State or Cleveland going to the White House. Here`s another norm that follows though. I mean, these White House ceremonies can be fun. It`s great for the fan base. They bring the trophy and now we know whoever wins in the NBA, sorry.

JOHNSON: Right. Well honestly, Brian, maybe JR Smith will go and forget they weren`t supposed to go to the White House this time. I mean, at the core issue here, it`s the president has demonstrated that there is nothing an American culture that he will not use to his advantage, regardless of what the consequences might be.

This is deeper than just lying about players. This is deeper than just raising sort of racial bugaboos of pampered black athletes who don`t deserve what they have. You know, there were programs in community service activities that these players were supposed to do in Washington, D.C. that got canceled. All of these things resonate when the President decides I don`t care what I do to people as long as I make try to make a political point.

And also say this, I think this is really important. What also we saw with the Eagles this year, it runs against a consistent narrative from the right that protest is somehow bad for the bottom line or for the antithesis of winning. You had politically active players on this team all season and they think still beat the New England Patriots, who are sort of a pro-Trump team if we`re taken to believe what Bill Belichick believes.

So again, that he really, really dislikes this team, not just for the racial for component, not because he thinks it`s going to help with his base, but because the Eagles represent everything that the President has tried to fight against, which is politically active black men, white men working together to solve structural issues in this country and still winning.

WILLIAMS: Jason, I know neither Charlie nor I hate that you pointed that out about the Patriots. Anyway, Charlie, last word goes to you. To your last point that this is aimed at the base and they will kind of ride along on this, this is a big calculation, for everything Jason just said, for what we`re losing, for another norm that has fallen.

SYKES: Yes. There`s a certain amount of risk, though, for Donald Trump because, as Jason pointed out, a lot of these players do give back to the community. They`re very, very popular. And so this is not just taking on, you know, any sort of random target. This is an institution that is deeply ingrained in American culture. And I do think there is an element of risk.

But in terms of the norms, we use that term over and over, and over again. You know, the willingness of this president to expand the bounds of his politics, to corrupt every aspect of American life, to pit Americans against one another in areas in which they often go to get away from these kinds of divisions. This is going to be a legacy. And unfortunately it`s going to leave a mark on our culture long after Donald Trump is gone.

WILLIAMS: Well, gentlemen, here`s hoping all three of our quarterbacks remain healthy going into this next season. I wish ours was ten years younger. I just said that publicly. Charlie Sykes, Jason Johnson, gentlemen, thank you both so much.

Another break for us and more election returns when we come right back.


WILLIAMS: Tonight`s election results reminded to us reinforce something we often pass along. And that is especially for our time shifting viewers, can you watch us any time you please by downloading the MSNBC App on your phone.

If you`re on the move tonight or any time, you can listen live to us every night on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. We are also available as a podcast, leaving no reason at all why you`d ever have to miss a single broadcast of "THE 11TH HOUR."

We want to let you know as well, we`ll be bridging the top of the next hour because of the primary election results that are coming into us, especially but not limited to those in the state of California. Eight states in all sending folks to the polls tonight. So stay with MSNBC all night long for the very latest updates on tonight`s election results.

For now that`s our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters in New York.


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