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IG releases report on Clinton probe. TRANSCRIPT: 06/14/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Schmidt, Jill Colvin, Jeremy Peters, Joyce Vance, Anita Kumar, Eli Stokols

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: June 14, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Jill Colvin, Jeremy Peters, Joyce Vance, Anita Kumar, Eli Stokols

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, James Comey is called out for insubordination in his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. But the DOJ inspector general also found no political bias in the FBI`s conclusion.

Plus legal trouble for the President as his home state attorney general files a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation. And now the President`s vowing not to settle the case.

And could this possibly be Paul Manafort`s last night of freedom? He`s due in court tomorrow on a witness tampering charge and could have his bail revoked.

"The 11th Hour" on a Thursday night begins now.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 511 of the Trump Administration brings something the President and his allies have been clamoring for, and that is the report from the Justice Department`s own inspector general on the FBI`s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

The DOJ has ended its internal review of that whole fracas. While it finds no evidence of political bias in the FBI`s prosecutorial decisions, it is particularly critical of Former FBI Director James Comey`s handling of the case.

Here is a reminder of what Comey said -- this is back in July 2016 at that news conference about the investigation.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.


WILLIAMS: Now, according to this I.G. report, Comey`s decision to make that announcement without consulting then Attorney General Loretta Lynch was "extraordinary and insubordinate." It also says Comey "made a serious error of judgment when he sent a letter to Congress reopening the investigation of Clinton`s e-mails just days before the presidential election." But despite those findings, it also noted, "We found no evidence that Comey`s public statement announcing the FBI`s decision to close the investigation was a result of bias or an effort to influence the election."

The report also reveals new text messages from two of the FBI agents involved in the investigation. You perhaps have heard their story before. Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, who have been targets of Trump and his supporters as they have sought to discredit federal law enforcement. One exchange between these two shows "Page asked Strzok, Trump`s never, ever going to become President, right? Right?" Today`s report reveals "Strzok replied, no, no, he won`t. We`ll stop it."

The report notes that message casts a cloud over the FBI but also stresses this. "Our review did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions we reviewed."

James Comey had an instant reaction ready in the form of an opinion piece posted on "The New York Times" website just after the I.G. report came out. "I do not agree with all of the inspector general`s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute his professionalism. In 2016, my team faced an extraordinary situation, something I thought of as a 500-year flood, offering no good choices and presenting some of the hardest decisions I ever had to make."

Well, tonight the President`s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had this to say about the report`s findings. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We now have an investigation that, in the words of President Donald Trump, from the very beginning, has been a fix, a frame-up, and a witch hunt. It was led by Peter Strzok, who, it is disgraceful, and even for the present director of the FBI to have him there tomorrow would be disgraceful. And tomorrow Mueller should suspend his investigation, and he should go see Rod Rosenstein, who created him, and the Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General Sessions, who should now step up big-time to save his Department, should suspend that investigation, throw out all the people that have been involved in the phony Trump investigation, and bring in honest FBI agents from the New York office.

Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions have a chance to redeem themselves, and that chance comes about tomorrow. It doesn`t go beyond tomorrow. Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended, and honest people should be brought in, impartial people to investigate these people like Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week.


WILLIAMS: So that happened on live television tonight. The President`s eldest son also weighed in tonight on Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Real America sees what`s going on here. These lawyers at the top were trying to influence an election and then undermine a presidency.

I look at James Comey. It`s like the liberal version of the sorority sister. Like it`s pretty ridiculous at this point. And when I see what`s going on, I think I see what everyone else in America is seeing, and they should be disgusted.


WILLIAMS: Now, a separate track. While all that was unfolding, the President was hit with more legal trouble today, this time involving his personal charity. A lawsuit filed today here in New York by the New York state attorney general against the President and his three oldest children is alleging the Trump Foundation engaged in "a pattern of persistent illegal conduct occurring over more than a decade that includes extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump`s personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for nonprofit foundations."

This complaint included new details about the Trump Foundation. Among them, that its board has not met in 19 years and that its official treasurer was an employee of the President`s private business, who did not even know he was on the Foundation`s board. Also according to the complaint, the Foundation coordinated illegally with the Trump campaign on a fund-raiser for veterans in 2016, just days before the Iowa caucuses where the candidate announced a donation of his own.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump, another great builder in New York, now a politician, I can`t stand this. A politician? I don`t want to be called a politician. All talk, no action. I refuse to be called a politician. Donald Trump gave $1 million, OK?


WILLIAMS: Trump posted this message today in reaction to this lawsuit, and we quote. "The sleazy New York Democrats and their now disgraced and run out of town Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000. I won`t settle the case. Schneiderman, who ran the Clinton campaign in New York, never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case, which lingered in their office for almost two years. Now he resigned his office in disgrace, and his disciples brought it when we could not settle."

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Thursday night, shall we? Michael Schmidt is here with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times." Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press. And Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for "The New York Times."

Mr. Schmidt, home field advantage goes to you. You also did happen to break the Clinton e-mail story back in the day. So what is your takeaway? I know it`s a big question. It was 500 pages after all from today`s I.G. Report.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": There`s all sorts of stuff in there about all different parts of this investigation. It`s the biggest thing it comes back to Comey. Comey is the chief witness against the President in an obstruction investigation. How does this change our understanding of Comey?

Well, if you didn`t like Comey`s judgment before today, you`re not going to like it after today. There`s not a lot of facts that move that in any direction. The story is pretty much the same. What is good for Mueller and for Comey, if Mueller is banking on Comey, is that there`s nothing in there that raises questions about Comey`s truthfulness.

People say Comey has bad judgment. He made all these mistakes. He thought he could maneuver things that he obviously couldn`t. But there are not things about lies. There are not things about his credibility. Maybe you don`t want him in that position again, but you don`t think he`s a liar if you look at that document.

WILLIAMS: I also heard it argued today if you`re looking to prove political bias among individual actors, there`s proof in there. If you`re looking for proof that Comey may have cost Hillary Clinton the election, there`s proof of that in there. There`s even a line about Comey not knowing who Former Congressman Weiner was married to.

SCHMIDT: Yes. Look, the good thing for Trump is that in 500 pages, especially if you have someone like Rudy Giuliani out there, you will be able to find things to continue to throw at the wall. Rudy has thrown an enormous amount of things at this investigation. One of them, direct attacks on Comey.

Rudy believes that if it`s Trump versus Comey, that is a good thing for them and that they could win that argument. If they were in the House of Representatives in impeachment proceedings, that that is a good argument for them. This gives him 500 pages of fodder.

WILLIAMS: Interesting last point there from Mr. Schmidt.

Now, Jill, about that 18-acre complex you cover, also known as the White House, we have been amazed not to tempt the gods here, but we`ve been amazed the President has not been on Twitter on this subject. What do you know about how it was received and who did the back briefing, say, inside the White House?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, I think it`s very notable the fact that the President has not weighed in on this since he was briefed by Rod Rosenstein earlier today. Rod came to the White House. He was there for about two hours today. We understand that he first debriefed the President. Then he gave a separate briefing to the Vice President. But it was only before that visit that the President was tweeting.

Now, the response from the White House from the Republican National Committee, from Republicans who are close to the President, has been trying to take as much as they can from this and try to spin it as beneficially as they can. And so there`s a lot of reference to Comey here. Everything from the way he handled the investigation into his use of a Gmail account, which I think was particularly surprising to folks, as well as really focusing in on these new text messages from Strzok to Page, their conversations. New e-mails or text messages that we hadn`t seen before, and trying to suggest that this means that there was this fundamental, systemic bias in the Department of Justice against him.

But look at all the things that this report doesn`t say. The President had claimed for, I guess, years at this point that Comey had mishandled the e- mail investigation, that there was some type of misconduct there and if only the I.G. looked at this, they would discover that there was new material in there that was worthy of charging Clinton. That`s not in this document. The document says very specifically that although there were these, you know, agent who`s may have done thing that cast a cloud in the words of the I.G. over the Department, that the investigation was pretty much done properly.

WILLIAMS: Now over to Mr. Peters, who along with Mr. Schmidt is among the stars of the new Showtime documentary series called the Fourth Estate, four parts on a year in the life of "The New York Times. I had to get that in, no one asked.

Mr. Peters, among the conservatives with whom you spend way too much of your time in your business life, how much of this gives them air cover, to quote from our conversation with Michael, for whatever it is they want to prove?

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don`t think it was as exonerating -- or as damning, rather, as they hoped it would be, Brian, because you have a lot of them now saying, especially on Capitol Hill, release the full report because of course this report was changed as the process went on. It was edited down. They want to see the full report. So this wasn`t enough for them.

But I think really it never was going to be enough. It was never going to be enough for the Democrats either. Anybody who has an opinion on this report politically speaking had already made up their mind before it came out. And I think that speaks to a rather unfortunate truth about our politics right now, is that there really is no such thing as objectivity and independence. It is whatever side of the aisle, whatever side of Donald Trump, rather, you find yourself on, you are going to more likely than not believe the facts that your side is promoting. And I think that you saw that today on both sides of this.

But I think with Donald Trump, what is -- the turf that he is most comfortable fighting on is when he is telling people, look, there is a systematic effort to undo me, to undo this presidency by people who felt that I was illegitimately elected. And this report has a lot of evidence that there were people who certainly were biased against him. And as one person told me today, when we are in a situation when people think that the system is out to disenfranchise them, that is a horrible place to be in as a country.

Now, of course, that`s not what this report said. This report said that despite the bias that was clearly expressed by these two FBI agents, there was no evidence that that bias led them to use the levers of government, to use the power of the FBI to change the outcome of the election. But that`s not what Donald Trump is going to say, I imagine, when he eventually weighs in on this.

WILLIAMS: Yes. There`s enough confirmation bias for any side in this.

Michael, this was not a good day for the FBI. You have covered the FBI for some time. What`s your view on the likelihood that they will be able to pivot from this and recover from this?

SCHMIDT: Well, they have faced issues like this before. They have faced nasty inspector general`s reports that raised questions about this. The question is, is that, look, they have a new director. Comey is long gone. The top leadership of the FBI has been cleaned out.

They know they`re under the microscope here, and they also have a benefit where they are not really running the Mueller investigation. There are FBI agents working, but they`re working for Mueller. So that`s sort of off to the side. So they can get back to the things that they need to do to re- establish their credibility.

You know, even Comey today pointing out that he thought that this was a good thing for the FBI, enabling them to try and move past this. But at the end of the day, until, you know, the country feels better about the 2016 election, the FBI will continue to be a target of criticism. And I don`t think that the country has come to terms with the election yet.

WILLIAMS: Jill, how big were the ripples in the Trump pond today about this New York state attorney general lawsuit who, depending on who you talk to today, people thought this could be a kind of sneaky big deal?

COLVIN: Yes, I mean it was very much overshadowed by all the anticipation over the I.G. report that folks kind of didn`t have a chance I think to kind of catch their breaths and really process what this investigation of this lawsuit found. Of course this isn`t the first time that the New York Attorney General`s office has investigated the President. It was originally for his Trump University, that program that he ran that was -- the A.G. accused him basically of being a scam. But these are really interesting allegations, some of it which has been reported previously. But the fact that -- I mean, it really looks like from these documents that the President used his charitable foundation as sort of a political tool for his campaign.

And I remember covering that event he did, that fund-raiser for veterans when he chose not to participate in the Iowa debate. And it was really, I mean, just a kind of political set piece that he had done where he was using his foundation money that he didn`t provide -- I mean this was money that was coming from other folks that he was then using and being able to take credit for giving to other people. And so I think we`ll have to see at this point, you know, the President tweeted that he intends to not settle, but we`ve also seen the President say that before and not actually follow through with it. So we`ll have to see what happens.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Jeremy, a natural extension of the point you were making earlier is this puts -- this entire week, everything from what North Korea is doing with video of our President to the charges, to whatever may happen in a courtroom tomorrow, puts the President back in the siege mentality. More importantly, it alerts his base to that.

PETERS: Oh, absolutely. And if I could sum up the mindset of the people who are the most ardent supporters of Donald Trump right now, it would be this, Brian. Look at this report. Look what it says.

They tried so hard to stop him from becoming President. They tried to rig an investigation. They hid evidence. They almost got him, and guess what? They`re trying again, and we have to stop them. That is going to be the message coming from the White House.

You heard it tonight from Rudy Giuliani saying that the Mueller investigation needs to be effectively shut down. That is where they are going with this, and this report is their ammunition. Whether or not that works, I don`t know.

I think there`s a lot of noise out there right now, Brian, and this report, to most people -- most people in this country right now are not paying attention to this. They`re not worried about the inspector general of the Department of Justice. So I think it`s really an open question as to what the ultimate effect of this is.

WILLIAMS: To Michael Schmidt, to Jill Colvin, to Jeremy Peters, our thanks for starting off our conversation on a Thursday night.

As we approach our first break tonight coming up, veteran prosecutors have advised Paul Manafort to pack a toothbrush for his court appearance tomorrow. A look at what could be a very big day for this Mueller investigation.

And later, a moment the President might like to have back because it`s now being rerun on North Korean state T.V..

"The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back. By this time tomorrow night, Former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort could be behind bars. It is also possible he will never regain his freedom.

Tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., Manafort is due in court to be arraigned on those additional charges related to attempted witness tampering that the special counsel filed last week. The judge is also due to decide whether to revise or revoke his bail entirely. Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty to multiple criminal charges against him including tax evasion and bank fraud.

Here to talk more about all of it, Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a Federal Prosecutor. And we`ve asked Michael Schmidt of "The New York Times" to stick around and help us out as well.

Joyce, I know you don`t love predictions, but what do you think is going to happen to Paul Manafort tomorrow?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think the odds are pretty good that he`ll find himself in custody pending trial. Judges don`t like defendants who try to tamper with witnesses. The evidence in this situation is particularly good, much better evidence than a judge usually has to consider in this sort of a setting. In fact, the prosecution has already gone ahead and indicted him. So I think he will find himself in custody at the end of the hearing.

WILLIAMS: And, Joyce, it`s not being melodramatic, is it, to say that this could be his last bit of freedom? If he is put away tomorrow and, say, convicted, does not agree to cooperate, this is big federal time he`s looking at with what he`s been charged with, correct?

VANCE: He is. You know, federal sentencing is a little bit difficult when you look at it from the outside because there are sentences that are established in the statutes themselves, and they can be quite long, 20, 30 years, sometimes up to life. But in reality, federal sentencing is based on a formula called the guidelines, and that`s a calculation that`s based on your conduct in the offense and your prior criminal history. So Manafort, who has no prior criminal history, will be looking at lower sentences than those statutes but likely still enough to keep him in prison for the rest of his life if he was convicted on all of these charges in both cases.

WILLIAMS: Michael, I`m fascinated to know if you know why he has not agreed to cooperate. I`m also fascinated to know how big a deal Paul Manafort is, writ large, to the Mueller investigation.

SCHMIDT: That`s the thing about Manafort that we`ve struggled to understand. Is he completely innocent and he thinks he just wants to take this to the end? Does he not have anything to offer? He`s not someone that was in Trump world forever. It`s not like Michael Cohen, who was around for ten years.

WILLIAMS: The President always says he was with us for a very short period of time.

SCHMIDT: The President is exaggerating that. He was around for a crucial period of time in the campaign. He was there for the Trump Tower meeting when the President`s son meets with Russians offering dirt. So he has some insight into that. But besides that, doesn`t have a huge footprint in the campaign. So maybe there`s not a lot there.

The other thing, as we reported earlier this year, is that the President`s lawyer, John Dowd, had discussions with Flynn`s lawyers, Michael Flynn, Former National Security Adviser, and Manafort`s lawyers about a pardon.

WILLIAMS: Just at least mentioning the possibility.

Hey, Joyce, let`s do some New York local news. Two fronts. Number one, there`s a Cohen deadline tomorrow. Tell our viewers what that could mean for Mr. Cohen.

And, number two, what do you make of this lawsuit on the Trump Foundation? Does it have teeth?

VANCE: So, Cohen`s got a discovery deadline tomorrow. He`s supposed to have finished his review of all of the items that were seized from him in the search and let the judge know what items he`ll be asserting a privilege in. The privilege would mean that prosecutors working on the case in Southern District of New York wouldn`t be able to take a look at those items. We`ll have to see how that hearing goes. There have been rumors all week that there may be an indictment coming in the not too distant future for Mr. Cohen. So that could be a very serious development when it takes place.

And then on this same time line, it`s just incredible how much activity is going on all at once here, all surrounding a sitting President of the United States. We`ve got the attorney general in the state of New York who has filed a civil action aimed at the Trump Foundation. But much of the information contained in this civil complaint also has criminal implications, and the attorney general has referred the case to the IRS, federal tax, and also to the Federal Election Commission for criminal referrals. So there`s a lot of activity, none of it very good for the President today.

WILLIAMS: It`s a lot. It`s the reason we ask for quality guests like our two guests in this segment, Joyce Vance and Michael Schmidt. Our thanks to the two of you for helping us understand it all.

And coming up for us, two administration officials turn to scripture when talking about the Trump administration`s policy at our southern border. More on that when we continue.



JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution. Bringing children with you doesn`t guarantee you won`t get prosecuted. Cannot be. And I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.


WILLIAMS: Attorney General Jeff Sessions there citing the Bible today as justification for a Trump policy separating parents and children who enter the country illegally. At today`s White House briefing, things got intense when Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked repeatedly about Sessions` comments and the policy change.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible. However, this -- hold on, Jim, if you`ll let me finish. Again, I`m not going to comment on the attorney`s specific comments that I haven`t seen.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You just said it`s in the Bible to follow the law.

SANDERS: That`s not what I said. And I know it`s hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess, and please don`t take my words out of context. But the separation of illegal alien families is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close, and these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade. And the president is simply enforcing them.

BRIAN KAREM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Don`t you have any empathy? Come on, Sarah, you`re a parent. Don`t you have any empathy for what these people are going through? They have less than you do.

SANDERS: Brian, guys, settle down.

KAREM: Sarah, come on, seriously. Seriously.

SANDERS: I`m trying to be serious but I`m not going to have you talk out of turn.

KAREM: These people have nothing.

SANDERS: Hey, Brian, I know you want to get some more TV time, but that`s not what this is about.

KAREM: It`s not about that. It`s about you answering the question, Sarah.


WILLIAMS: As of tonight, there are over 11,000 migrant children in U.S. custody. That is up sharply in just the last few weeks. Let`s talk about it with our next two guests here tonight. Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, and Eli Stokols, White House reporter for "The Los Angeles Times" who was in the briefing today.

Anita, there is this effort to act as if this separation of adults and children is somehow enshrined in law. What is going on here, and isn`t it true this would be reversible tomorrow morning if they wished?

ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure. I mean the administration has really struggled for the last few weeks to come up with the reason for this. You know, you heard what the attorney general said today and what Sarah Sanders said today. They`ve had different reasons for this. I mean if they want to do it, then they should stick by it and say what the actual reason is.

But, yes, you are correct. You know, this is the same laws on the books that the Obama administration had. They handled it differently. They didn`t do it this way. And what the administration is basically saying is that people that cross the border illegally should be prosecuted, and they`re going to do that. Now, the Obama administration didn`t always do that.

So if that`s the law they`re talking about, yes, I guess there is one. But they don`t have to do it this way, and it hasn`t been done this way before. They could change that policy tomorrow. It`s also true that Congress could act and force them to stop this. And so there`s bill -- there`s no stand- alone bill, I don`t think, in Congress, but they are talking about a compromise in this big immigration package that they`re looking at. But that package is probably not going to pass.

WILLIAMS: Eli, this also includes cases where people are presenting themselves for asylum and have broken no law. Everyone reminded us today there are many bible passages about perhaps loving these kids as we would our own children. The bible, you have to admit, was an interesting way to go.

ELI STOKOLS, LOST ANGELES TIMES, WHY REPORTER: Certainly, and I think, you know, it`s been pointed out today that this particular passage that the attorney general cited has been used a couple other times in American history, once in opposition of the American revolution going way back, and also in the run-up to the civil war in defense of slavery. It hasn`t really been used too much since, but Jeff Sessions dusted it off here today.

And as Anita said it`s in defense of a policy that they are having a hard time defending even though enforcing immigration laws more strictly is something this president campaigned on. And as Sarah will sometimes point out, this is nothing new. This is not a policy change for the president. They`re just closing the loopholes that they say Democrats left open. So they`re sort of acknowledging it there.

And then another thing that struck me in the briefing was the disingenuousness of blaming this all on Democrats. You remember when the president got rid of DACA with an executive order, he said, you know, if only Democrats would come to the table, maybe we could bring it back. But he wanted to exact some ransom for it, and really he`s doing the same thing with this here, with these families.

You`re seeing really wrenching images and heartbreaking stories about these families. And the line from the White House has been, this is horrible. We really wish it weren`t this way, but Democrats have to come to the table and give us something. Never mind the fact that Republicans control both the House and the Senate, and there are a couple immigration bills supposedly getting votes in the House soon. But nobody who follows that expects either one of them to pass. They see that really as a gimmick for the speaker to avoid the discharge petition staring him in the face.

WILLIAMS: Anita, we see and hear the anger rising on this issue. Isn`t this as valid a test as any other to see if Congress is capable of doing anything at all?

KUMAR: I`m smiling because it never works very well when people rely on Congress to do something. They have such a hard time with so many different factions in each party that it`s very hard for them to do something. Obviously, immigration is one of those really tough issues that they haven`t been able to solve for decades now, right? So I mean it -- they could do something. The chance of them doing it is very unlikely.

Now, I mentioned before they could, if they really wanted to and, you know, the speaker mentioned today that he does not approve of this policy of separating children from their parents. They could come up with a bill, a stand-alone bill on just this issue. But by choosing to wrap it up in a huge bill that is not expected to pass the House, will not go to the Senate, you know, it means they`re not really taking this on, and they`re not really doing anything about it.

WILLIAMS: Eli, a lot of people say they don`t recognize the America that is on the news from this converted Walmart that`s now a dormitory for young kids who are allowed outside two hours a day. A lot of veteran journalists say at the same time, they don`t recognize the briefing room where the environment has turned so decidedly toxic.

STOKOLS: Yes, there are a couple different things there. Obviously the environment, what we saw in the briefing room today not exactly new. We`ve seen that kind of acrimonious exchange before. I think stepping back from a lot of -- there have been a lot of situations in the first 18 months or so of this presidency where people have been shocked by the lack of moral leadership coming from the White House because that`s something that has been a staple of the presidency up until now.

We saw that after the Charlottesville situation. We`ve seen that with the way the president attacks various institutions whether it`s the judicial system or the media. And we`ve certainly seen that in the way the president seems to praise people in more authoritarian regimes. Doesn`t seem to have a ton of empathy for people. There are a lot of things that strike people as just different coming from a president, and yet this is a president whose approval ratings are actually up a little bit. They`re up into the low 40s now, and you just have to step back.

People often say, you know, this is not who we are as a country. But if this is who this president is and the president still enjoys higher approval ratings than he`s had for the most part, you have to step back and say this is who a significant portion of the country supports, whether there`s moral leadership coming from the Oval Office or not.

WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, Anita Kumar, thank you both very much for coming on the broadcast and explaining this issue for us tonight.

Coming up, the moment that took place away from our cameras that were covering the summit in Singapore, but it was captured by the North Koreans, who are now using it over and over to their advantage. "The 11th Hour" back after this.


WILLIAMS: A new video that shows President Trump saluting a North Korean general during the summit in Singapore is making a splash across social media. The moment happened out of sight from American media, but was recorded by North Korean media, and it`s now being used as propaganda on the only TV there is available in North Korea, and that`s State TV. Our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has more on why the video is generating so much controversy.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The salute now seen around the world. Out of range of U.S. cameras at the summit but now looping on North Korea`s State TV. The president of the United States saluting a fully uniformed North Korean general. The White House calling it a common courtesy but a clear propaganda victory for Pyongyang.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: The political optics of it were bad. This is a murderous, brutal regime. He should have just nodded his head and shaken his hand.

MITCHELL: But Donald Trump made a big deal for years afterward of President Obama bowing to the Saudi king in 2009. All this after President Trump downplayed Kim Jong-un`s notorious brutality on Fox News.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He`s a very smart guy. He`s a great negotiator, but I think we understand each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he`s still done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yes, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things.

MITCHELL: Arriving home, the president also tweeting North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. That was news to Admiral Harry Harris, the administration`s long awaited nominee to be ambassador to South Korea.

HARRY HARRIS, SOUTH KOREA AMBASSADOR NOMINEE: Senator, I think we must continue to worry about the nuclear threat.

MITCHELL: To many observers, all this flattery is alarming.

JUAN ZARATE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Does this really send a signal to the world that it`s OK to engage now with the North Koreans?

MITCHELL: Especially given the failure to win any obvious concessions from Kim Jong-un on his weapons.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.


WILLIAMS: Coming up here, we`ll talk about all of this and the president`s comments on Russia and its takeover of Crimea with the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. That`s when we continue.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you would allow Russia back into the G8 with Crimea still?

TRUMP: I would rather see Russia in the G8 as opposed to the G7. I would say the G8 is a more meaningful group than the G7, absolutely.


WILLIAMS: Last weekend at the G7 meeting in Canada, President Trump shocked his allies by saying, as you heard, he`d like Russia to rejoin the G7, make it more of a G8. Russia, of course, was kicked out of the then G8 in 2014 after it invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Now a new report from BuzzFeed reads, "Trump told G7 leaders that Crimea is Russian because everyone speaks Russian in Crimea." They add, "During the dinner, Trump also seemed to question why the G7 leaders were siding with Ukraine. The president told leaders that, quote, `Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world,` the source said." President Trump`s support for Russia`s claim to Crimea echoes Russian President Vladimir Putin`s own words as well as comments Trump made on the campaign trail in 2016.


TRUMP: He`s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He`s not going to go into Ukraine. You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it any --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s already there, isn`t he?

TRUMP: OK. Well, he`s there in a certain way. But I`m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you`re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he`s going -- he takes Crimea. He`s sort of, I mean --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I`m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I`ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.


WILLIAMS: So much to talk about with Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and an MSNBC international affairs analyst. He`s also the author of the brand new book "From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin`s Russia".

Ambassador, again, there`s two fronts here. Number one, we`re not used to hearing an American president carry water for Russia rejoining the list of nations at the summit. And number two please tell us the truth about Crimea, Russia, Ukraine.

AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, yes, we`re not used to that. I can`t remember that happening. President Trump seems to forget why they were kicked out of the G8 because they annexed Crimea illegally and the entire world agreed with that. And then they invaded the Eastern Ukraine. Don`t forget, they`re also in Eastern Ukraine and he says when I get there, they`re going to be out. They`re still there. There has been no movement whatsoever during the Trump years.

And, you know, it`s just -- I don`t know how to describe it, Brian, it`s just -- obviously you cannot take an action in response to something so illegal as annexation. Remember, annexation is something we thought we got rid of after World War II and then just say, well, let`s just forget about it, let`s move on, I would like to see them here at the table. It just makes no sense to me politically and most certainly is not in the American national interest to say such things.

WILLIAMS: Ambassador, as someone who has given things like protocol briefs to presidents, what do you make of the salute, our president to the heavily decorated, I guess they`re all heavily decorated North Korean general. The White House explained it as a common courtesy, is that what it is?

MCFAUL: I`ve never seen a president salute a North Koran general to state the obvious. I just think in general, all the -- over the top superlatives that we saw in Singapore was just not appropriate, including the salute by the way. Why do you need to do that? What is the national interest in doing that? That`s what I always come back to.

If there`s a gain to be made for American national security or our welfare from doing something like that, I could understand it. But as of today, I just don`t -- I don`t understand what we get out of it. You can do arms control with tyrants. Let`s be clear about that. We did that during the Cold War. We did that but we never called them our best friends, we never went out of our way to call them smart and terrific negotiators and, you know, terrific relationships that we formed after just a couple of hours with them. There was a notion that yes, we need to do the deals because it is in America`s national interest but nobody had any illusion about who the Soviets were. And I think President Trump should study that history before he has his next summit.

WILLIAMS: "The Washington Post" in the hands of Parker, Dawsey, Leonning and DeYoung, is out with their story tonight, "After arriving in Singapore on Sunday, an antsy and bored Trump urged his aides to demand that the meeting with Kim be pushed up by a day, to Monday, and had to be talked out of the altering the long planned and carefully negotiated summit date on the fly. We`re here now, the president said, why can`t we just do it?

Apparently, Ambassador, one of the reasons they gave him was it`s because it will be on television late Sunday night in the states and no one will see your crowning achievement. It does speak to his relations with norms.

MCFAUL: Well, yes and he`s obviously not thinking about the other side and what they would want to do with that summit, that`s for sure. And again, there were lots of norms that were broken and violated. You know, other ones that -- we`ve talked about before, there were no note takers for that first meeting.


MCFAUL: I used to be a note taker in some of those meetings with President Obama and Russian leaders. It`s good to have a record of what`s been said because the North Koreans are most certainly reading out the meeting a lot differently than our side has done.

You know, again, I just hope that the next time he has a meeting like this he thinks about those things. And I worry also, Brian, about other summits, right? Isn`t it curious that the Kremlin has talked about we need a summit right away with President Trump right now. Why do you think they want that? Because they want all that adulation for President Putin, that`s exactly what they want. And summits without substance are not in America`s national interest.

WILLIAMS: A man who`s been in the room where it happened, former Ambassador Michael McFaul. Ambassador, thank you as always for coming on with us. We really appreciate it.

Coming up, he may be the most controversial of all the trump appointees, he is also doing his job every day in a way that will affect the health and safety of all Americans. We`re back with that after this.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, while this and other networks have devoted and deserved at least so a lot of time and energy reporting on the 15 or more concurrent investigations in the Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator. And while just this week, he`s lost some public support from some prominent Republicans, Scott Pruitt remains the EPA administrator. And tonight`s reporting by the "New York Times" reminds us every American has a stake in this because of what he is about to do that will affect every American.

Under the headlines, Scott Pruitt under fire plans to initiate a big environmental rollback, there`s pretty much the story. Reporter Coral Davenport writes, "Scott Pruitt is expected on Friday to send President Trump a detailed legal proposal to dramatically scale back an Obama era regulation on water pollution, according to a senior EPA official familiar with the plan. It is widely expected to be one of his agency`s most significant regulatory rollback efforts. And as soon as Monday, the same official said, Mr. Pruitt is expected to publish another major change, his agency`s legal proposal to gut Barack Obama`s rule to reduce climate- warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes. That proposal risks trigging a court battle with California and raises the prospect that the American car market could be split in two with different groups of states enforcing different pollution rules."

The other two branches of government, legislative and the courts are free to weigh in here. Like the executive branch, the courts and the legislature are supposed to act in the best interest of the American people, who rich and poor, north and south, and east and west all have an equal stake in air and water.

And on that note, that is our broadcast for this Thursday evening. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC New headquarters here in New York.



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