Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: June 29, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Guy Lewis, Jill Wine-Banks, Josh Gerstein, Tom Goldstein, Jenna Johnson, Matthew Nussbaum
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, new reporting that Rod Rosenstein felt used by the Trump White House in the aftermath of the Comey firing. "The New York Times" reporter who broke the story standing by with us with detail.
Plus, Mike Flynn apparently still of use to Robert Mueller. Also new developments on Paul Manafort`s legal case.
And the President treating his upcoming court selection like a premiere, dropping hints today and revealing the date of the unveiling of his nominee. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Friday night.
As we come to the end of another week, good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. Day 526 of the Trump Administration, and the President tonight says he will announce his choice for the Supreme Court next month.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`ll be announcing it the Monday after July 4th. I`ll be announcing it on the Ninth.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We will have more on the President`s list of nominees just ahead, but we begin with the war between the Trump White House and the Department of Justice, specifically the President`s own Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the special counsel`s Russia investigation.
The President and his allies in Congress have been hammering Rosenstein over this Mueller inquiry, and the House has given the Deputy Attorney General until July 6th to turn over some sensitive documents related to that investigation.
Some House Republicans have floated the threat of holding Rosenstein in contempt of Congress, a potential first step to his possible impeachment, if he doesn`t comply with this request. This afternoon, Trump was asked about that.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think the whole thing is going to work out. I think that he`ll give what is necessary. I really believe it`s going to work out very easily between Rod and between the rest of the group. I think they`ll get what they need.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We should explain these are comments recorded by audio and not video when the President visited reporters in the back of Air Force One, flying from Andrews to North Jersey for the weekend.
You may recall Rosenstein wrote the memo, in effect, the cover story that the White House used to justify the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Here`s what Rosenstein said about that decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA MACCALLUM, "THE STORY" HOST: So with regard to the Russia investigation, do you stand by your recommendation to fire James Comey?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, UNITED STATES DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I`ve testified several times about this, and, yes, I do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tonight "The New York Times" is shedding new light on Rosenstein`s private anger over, quote, being used to rationalize Comey`s dismissal. Michael Schmidt, who is standing by to join us tonight, reports that in the days after the firing, Rosenstein said, "The experience damaged his reputation, according to four people familiar with his outbursts. He alternately defended his involvement, expressed remorse at the tumult unleashed, said the White House had manipulated him, fumed how the news media had portrayed the events and said the full story would vindicate him, said the people. According to one person with whom he spoke shortly after Mr. Comey`s firing, Mr. Rosenstein was shaken, unsteady, overwhelmed. Another person in touch with Mr. Rosenstein around that time said he sounded frantic, nervous, upset and emotionally dis-regulated."
And we do have some other news tonight about this Mueller investigation. Today, the special counsel asked the judge for another delay in the actual sentencing of the former Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. Flynn`s been working for the Feds, but this is the third time his sentencing has been put off. Also for the first time a member of Mueller`s team is speaking out publicly about the investigation into Paul Manafort, Trump`s one-time campaign chairman.
An FBI agent testified in Virginia Court today that Manafort`s personal assistant gave him access to a storage locker that contained boxes of financial documents. Josh Gerstein of Politico, who will join us in a moment, reported on another wrinkle that emerged from that FBI agent`s testimony. He writes, "A meeting last year where Associated Press reporters discussed with federal officials the news outlet`s investigation of Paul Manafort`s finances may have led the FBI to a storage locker the bureau raided."
So, a lot to talk about. The panel is standing by, but first we want to get more on the aforementioned, Michael -- from the aforementioned Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times." He is with us by telephone.
Michael, talk us through an eight-day period. What was happening in the turnaround from the Comey firing to the Mueller hiring?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): So Donald Trump wanted to send a letter to James Comey about why he was firing him, but the White House counsel did not think that was a good idea. So he brought the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General over to the White House to talk about this, and Rosenstein agreed to write a memo about the firing. That memo was later used by the White House as the basis, the explanation for why the President was firing Comey.
The interesting thing about the letter, though, was that it was about how Comey had been too mean to Hillary Clinton during the campaign and had mishandled the e-mail investigation.
WILLIAMS: It was an odd cover story and in realtime, that afternoon, that evening, as we were covering the dismissal of Comey, people were casting doubt with each word as they read it. People on this network and others. It was an odd thing to pin the dismissal of Comey on.
SCHMIDT: Correct, especially with a very high-profile Russia investigation beginning to intensify over the administration. It was certainly an odd way of explaining this, this incredibly powerful political moment for the President, which Rosenstein -- it blew back on him. He became the scapegoat, and he was widely criticized for his role in it.
And within that eight-day period, he receives a lot of pressure from the FBI and ultimately decides to appoint Mueller after learning that Trump had asked Comey to end the investigation into Mike Flynn, his former National Security Adviser. And obviously that decision probably being the biggest one to impact the President since he came into office.
WILLIAMS: Before we let you go, one more question, and that is how does Jeff Sessions figure in your story for those who haven`t had a chance to read it yet?
SCHMIDT: Well, Jeff Sessions figures well because he recused himself from the Russia investigation right after he was sworn in at the beginning of 2017. So he did not have to deal with the Russia investigation. He is shielded from it. And that`s why Rosenstein is the person that Republicans are attacking.
He is the person who oversees Mueller. He is the one that will decide whether Mueller can move forward with things, whether he can indict people, whether he can send a report to Congress. It is all in Rod Rosenstein`s hands.
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, our thanks for joining us by telephone this Friday night following your story on this subject for "The New York Times" today.
We want to turn now to our lead-off panel on a Friday evening. The aforementioned Josh Gerstein, Senior White House reporter for Politico. Jill Wine-Banks, Attorney and Former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel. And Guy Lewis is back with us, a Former U.S. Attorney who has worked with Mueller, Comey, and Rosenstein among others while at DOJ.
Guy, I`d actually like to begin with you. And will do so after we replay kind of a collection of the not so great hits from that House hearing yesterday and the various ways they came after Rod Rosenstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: You -- we talk about the Mueller investigation. It`s really the Rosenstein investigation. You appointed Mueller. You`re supervising Mueller.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: And I don`t know why you won`t give us what we`ve asked for.
ROSENSTEIN: Sir, I certainly hope that your colleagues are not under that impression. It is not accurate, sir, and--
JORDAN: It is accurate. We have caught you hiding information.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA, CHAIRMAN OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, if you allow the witness to answer.
ROSENSTEIN: Your statement that I`m personally keeping information from you, trying to conceal information--
JORDAN: You`re the boss, Mr. Rosenstein.
ROSENSTEIN: That`s correct. And my job is to make sure that we respond to your concerns. We have, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Guy Lewis, in normal times, a career prosecutor at the Justice Department, a Republican for all we know, would enjoy ample air cover from the White House. This appears to be whatever the opposite of that is. As a former Fed yourself, how does this guy, who you know, hang on?
GUY LEWIS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Brian, I got to tell you it was a tough week without question for Rod. The hearings were brutal in the sense of you really did have a career, Republican former assistant U.S. attorney, former loyal U.S. attorney, former Deputy Attorney General in the Tax Division attacked viciously by other Republicans. I mean, you remember, of course, Ronald Reagan`s old adage of the 11th Commandment, Thou shalt not attack another Republican. And of course they threw that bobble out the window and they just viciously attacked Rod.
I did watch the hearing. And I think Rod stood up. He gave it right back to him. He`s a tough guy, and I think Rod`s going to weather the storm. I really do.
WILLIAMS: All right. Well, thank you for that prediction. Jill, do you think Rosenstein is a bigger witness for the prosecution or the defense in this case, and what does all that mean for him?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL COUNSEL: I think he has done an admirable job in withstanding the attacks on him, which have been viciously personal and completely inappropriate. It`s almost unheard of for a Republican senator to attack in the way he was attacked. He`s done a wonderful job of keeping his head and answering the questions as best he could even when being cut off and not being allowed to speak.
I think that he ultimately is going to do the right thing and keep this investigation going as he has unless they continue to attack him and actually fire him. And that would lead to a huge public outcry by Republicans and Democrats. So I think he`s much more on the prosecution side and in defending Mueller and the special prosecution going forward.
WILLIAMS: Josh, I got to say just looking at him, I hope the guy has a supportive family and a hobby because he is under as much pressure as any public official right now that we`ve seen.
And, Josh, because you`ve been around a while, when you read about in Mike Schmidt`s story the genuine despair, that list of modifiers and emotions we used at the top of the broadcast, how does that strike you?
JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I know that a lot of Rosenstein`s friends were mystified by the situation that he found himself in, in May of last year. He`s a veteran bureaucratic operator in the Justice Department on nearly three decades. So this is not somebody wet behind the ears, unfamiliar with the interaction between the White House and the Justice Department and how to manage it. And so they are ended up being two camps.
A number of people thought that Rosenstein had just made a serious error in judgment in how to handle this situation. And some others thought he had made some kind of deal that it was some effort to ingratiate himself by writing this letter for the White House and to ingratiate himself with the new White House for reasons that are not entirely clear. And now, I think in part as a result of that one week or so in May, he finds himself really in a Faustian bargains here that has caused all this trouble between him and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
WILLIAMS: And, Josh, let`s talk Manafort for a second. I want to take some liberties and describe his last two court appearances this way, the one before this was Mueller`s being mean to me, and I don`t think he should be able to. And today`s was basically, please let me out of jail before my trial even though he was just put in the slammer before his trial for cause.
You were there for the proceeding. What else did you vacuum up?
GERSTEN: Well, one person who wasn`t there for the proceeding was Paul Manafort, who decided to stay in his jail cell about two hours South of Washington, D.C. because he didn`t want to make the four-hour trip back and forth.
But as you say, the most interesting part today was this indication that it`s possible that a key step in this investigation by the FBI was actually triggered by a meeting between the Associated Press and some senior officials at the Justice Department. Folks on Capitol Hill have been looking into this for some time because they thought maybe this meeting signified that there were leaks from the Justice Department to the Associated Press, and it does seem like some questions or statements the A.P. made at this meeting may have at least accelerated the process by which investigators found this storage locker with a lot of financial records.
But I do think it was probably overall, though, a disappointing hearing for Manafort`s team because the judge basically refused to get into this issue of leaks, of unauthorized disclosures of information. They had hoped maybe they`d see someone like Mueller`s top deputy, Andrew Weissman, on the stand. That didn`t happen, and the judge made clear it ain`t going to happen before this first trial for Manafort, which is now, believe it or not, less than four weeks away.
WILLIAMS: Let`s assume the A.P. is going to have an internal investigation into this. And, Jill, how much hyperventilating should we do over this? It has the whiff that it could have been perhaps a mistake or done in error, that it could have been rather benign. Do you think this is a distraction or the real deal?
WINE-BANKS: I think it`s a distraction because what seems to have happened is that they called for confirmation, not having any idea that the FBI didn`t already know this. And that`s something that happens in investigative reporting. So, I don`t think it`s a big deal, and I think, by the way, going back to Manafort not showing up today, it may have been in part his way of saying, it`s so inconvenient for me to participate in my defense when I`m so far away, that I can`t even come to the court to help my attorneys.
But that`s a false premise because when it comes time for actual trial preparation, he can be moved to the D.C. courthouse and to the D.C. jail or the Virginia jail very near so that he can work with his attorneys, and it won`t be a two-hour drive. So if that was his thinking, I don`t think it will be successful, and I think that that kind of motion where there is evidence of his witness tampering is likely to fail, but they -- he will not get out of jail on this motion.
WILLIAMS: And, Guy, help us understand this development in the Mike Flynn story. For a third time now they`ve put off his sentencing. As they say in the movies, does this mean his memory is improving? Does this mean there`s new tranches of evidence for him to react to, or is just, this just a kind of cagey procedural move by Mueller, et al.?
LEWIS: So, Brian, as a prosecutor, you kept this case, this sword, hanging over the witness`s head. You wanted to delay and delay and delay until you got the full and complete benefit of your bargain. And of course their bargain is that he cooperate fully and completely, testify in grand juries, testify in trial, basically do almost anything that the prosecution needs him to do consistent with the agreement.
So what it tells me, and I think this is significant, is that there is -- there are more cases coming down the pike. I think you`re going to see some additional indictments come out, and I think he is a cooperator in those cases.
WILLIAMS: Wow, really interesting analysis. Great work tonight, gang. We advanced the ball on all these stories. I thank Josh Gerstein, Jill Wine- Banks, Guy Lewis. Really appreciate you joining us on a Friday night.
And coming up for us, the foremost expert on the Supreme Court shares his very best information on the judges who very well may be on the President`s short list for this nomination.
And later on this evening, new reporting on what may be going on inside North Korea despite what the President believes they both agreed to.
"The 11th Hour" on a pre-holiday week Friday night just getting started.
WILLIAMS: En route to his golf resort in Northern Jersey, the President spoke with reporters on Air Force One. Again, audio but not video was allowed of his comments, and he was asked to comment on filling this Kennedy vacancy on the Supreme Court. He said he`ll make his choice public on July 9, and he talked about his list of judicial candidates.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have great people, you know. We have 25 very outstanding people. Look, I like them all, but I`ve got down to about five.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you looking for somebody who would overturn Roe v. Wade?
TRUMP: Well, you know, it`s a great group of intellectual talent, but we really -- you know, they are generally conservative. I`m not going to ask them that question by the way. That`s not a question I`ll be asking. But it is a group of very highly talented, very brilliant, mostly conservative judges.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President said there are two women among the five names on his list, and we want to talk about the list with one of the leading living experts on the Supreme Court. Tom Goldstein, and we`re so happy to have him, has been of counsel if over 100 cases before the court, importantly, he has personally argued 41 cases before the court. How many have you argued?
There are only three people in the modern era who have argued more. In his spare time, he is the Publisher of SCOTUSblog about the court and has taught at Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. Thanks for coming up from D.C. on a Friday night.
TOM GOLDSTEIN, PUBLISHER, SCOTUSBLOG: Thanks for having me.
WILLIAMS: What allows the President -- before we get to the list, what allows the President to say, I`m not going to ask them about Roe? Isn`t the fact these have all been vetted to within an inch of their lives by the federalist society?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, the President did something very clever and that is he turned to conservatives true rock-red conservatives who are concerned about the courts ahead of time and said, "You give me the candidates to start with." And so these are really well-known commodities going into the process. A lot is known about them including with respect to how they`d deal with these constitutional issues before he ever asks to talk to them.
WILLIAMS: And another question before we get into our lightning round of the names. The President`s sister is not just a federal judge, a senior federal judge. We never hear about that, and it doesn`t seem to be the source of a lot of family conversation. Will she play at all a role in this process?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, it was said that she played a role last time. One of the candidates that we`ll talk about served with her, and so was known to her, and she might have passed along the recommendation. But it is really interesting that he doesn`t seem to be turning in that direction.
His family very important to him for advice, but apparently not in this context. Specifically it`s these outside groups that are the most important.
WILLIAMS: All right. So all your brainpower and bona fides that I ran through in introducing you to the audience, that goes into your best guess list of what he`s holding in his hand, starting with Brett Kavanaugh of Maryland U. S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit.
GOLDSTEIN: Probably our number one candidate. He was a deputy to Kenneth Starr. He`s on the second most important Court of Appeals in the country. Very well known commodity. Probably the inside Washington candidate, which is actually quite important when you talk about these different groups. He has been involved in a lot of environmental regulation cases.
A question was raised about him originally, and he wasn`t on the President`s first list because he was presented with a challenge to Obamacare, and he didn`t vote to strike it down. He voted for the proposition that the courts can`t get involved at all. But since then, his stock has really risen, and I think he`s probably, if you ask who`s the leading candidate, it`s Judge Kavanaugh.
WILLIAMS: Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" tweeted tonight that the President`s interested mostly in candidates from Harvard or Yale. He`s a Yalie all the way, so that would be interesting.
GOLDSTEIN: And he`s got one other characteristic too and that is he`s a former clerk to Justice Kennedy. And I do think we had the sense that there were some back channel suggestions to Justice Kennedy, and we`ll talk about another one of his former clerks, might well replace him to give him a sense of continuity and his legacy was safe.
WILLIAMS: The next name is highly interesting. Among her biographical details, she`s the mother of seven --
WILLIAMS: And she got into quite a well-publicized conversation about being a religious catholic with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Her name is Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana U.S. Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit.
GOLDSTEIN: Yes. She`s a former professor at Notre Dame Law School. The one thing about her is that she just doesn`t have a ton of legal experience. She`s deeply respected, well-known, but you haven`t seen her decide a lot of cases.
WILLIAMS: Only been on the bench a few months.
GOLDSTEIN: Exactly. She`s a Trump appointee. She`s younger than 50, which is actually a regarded as good thing. But it might be the case that she ends up needing a little more seasoning before they have enough confidence to say she`s the one, but she`s a rising star. No question.
WILLIAMS: A federal judge to Mitch McConnell, Amul Thapar of Kentucky U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit.
GOLDSTEIN: Yes. And that`s probably helped him, no doubt, given Senator McConnell`s important role in all of this process. Again, someone who doesn`t have a lot of Court of Appeals experience. He was a district judge, recently elevated. He was interviewed the last time around, so he`s clearly a serious candidate.
The second Asian-American, Indian-American judge on the U.S. Courts of Appeal. So a significant jurist, but hasn`t had a lot to say on a lot of very hot button issues so far. Again, might raise too many questions for having that confidence that he might not drift to the left.
WILLIAMS: But again, he would of course be a first on the court in terms of Southern Asians.
Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania. This is the man known as the favorite of the President`s sister, the senior federal judge.
WILLIAMS: Talk about him.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, he came in second last time, and it will be interesting to see whether or not President Trump thinks, "Hey, that`s the guy who I thought was great last time, or he wasn`t good enough for me last time. Deeply respected. Has been involved in a number of cases involving gun rights, for example, which is a very significant issue and has tended to rule in favor of those rights. A very soft-spoken guy, so he has not been involved in a lot of other ideological disputes, but he does have the advantage that he is certainly known to the President going in.
WILLIAMS: The next one is Raymond Kethledge Of Michigan U.S. Court Of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Heard his name a little bit more today.
GOLDSTEIN: Yes. Another Kennedy -- former Kennedy clerk 20 years ago. So he`s been on the U.S. Court of Appeals for a longer time. He has a little bit more seasoning, not quite as long as Judge Kavanaugh but enough for them to get a real sense of him.
And we have several of these judges who are out of Michigan from in the Sixth Circuit from the heartland of the country, and the President last time seemed very interested in that. We didn`t get a lot of inside the beltway action.
WILLIAMS: The woman who could be the second woman on the President`s list that he`s talking about, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Court Of Appeal Sixth Circuit.
GOLDSTEIN: Another recent transplant to the Court of Appeals. She came off of the state Supreme Court. So she hasn`t been for very long but has been regarded particularly in academic circles for a long time -- for quite a while as someone who is a very, very solid conservative. If the President is interested in somebody who is a little bit not just 40 six years old but has more judicial experience, he might go for Larsen.
WILLIAMS: Your wild card, William H. Pryor Jr., Alabama, the 11th Circuit, is known for one thing and that is his resistance to Roe v. Wade.
GOLDSTEIN: Oft stated and strongly stated. So if the President decides I really need for movement conservatives, evangelicals to get out there and support me, get to the polls, support this nominee. If you want the nuclear option, it`s Bill Pryor. Deeply respected intellect, but he is the one person who could throw into question some of the support of the centrist Republican senators who do express some concern about Roe v. Wade. But he would really, really, really create an all-out war and maybe a distraction from other things in politics.
WILLIAMS: Please keep in close touch with us between now and July.
GOLDSTEIN: Thanks for having me.
WILLIAMS: I really so appreciate you being able to do this and run through the list.
GOLDSTEIN: No, it`s a pleasure. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Tom Goldstein, our thanks for showing up on a Friday night.
Coming up, the possible difference between what the President thinks he agreed to and signed with Kim Jong-un and what the Koreans appear to be up to on the ground. You see, we can see them from space. That and more when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to talk about Ukraine. We`re going to be talking about Syria. We`ll be talking about elections. And we don`t want anybody tampering with elections. We`ll be talking about world events. We`ll be talking about peace. But I think having a relationship with China, Russia, and everybody else is a good thing, not a bad thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILIAMS: Again, the president this afternoon on Air Force One talking about his July 16th meeting with Putin. Note what he said about election tampering. Just yesterday he repeated the Russian argument that they had not meddled in our 2016 presidential election. While voicing an optimistic tone about this Putin sit-down, here`s what the president had to say about the NATO meeting with our allies days earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: NATO is very interesting, and we`re going to see what happens there too. But Germany has to spend more money. Spain, France. It`s not fair what they`ve done to the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump`s last summit, as you may recall, was with Kim Jong-un, and he wrote afterwards, quote, there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong-un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future.
No specific deal actually came from that meeting, and tonight an NBC News exclusive report seems to undercut Trump`s claim in a big way. Quote, U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and that Kim Jong-un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump Administration.
This goes on to cite a U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence as saying, quote -- this is devastating -- there is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S. Well, here to talk about it tonight, Jenna Johnson, national political correspondent for "The Washington Post," and Matthew Nussbaum, White House reporter for Politico. Welcome to you both.
Jenna, the plot line from the west wing this week, as I look at all media, is emboldened president. I know you made the trip out to Fargo this week for the rally. Would you concur with that plot line?
JENNA JOHNSON, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, totally. I mean this is a president who is riding high on some victories, especially with the Supreme Court, you know, coming to the defense of his travel ban. You know, he feels like he`s had victories in primaries across the country, has been holding these summits around the world, has been just kind of doing what he always wanted to do in office but was kind of held back from doing during his first year.
He`s emboldened, and that worries a lot of people around him and in the administration and outside of the administration as he heads into more meetings on the world stage, especially in the summit with Putin in Finland.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Matthew, so many people cringe when he goes into that canard about funding and other NATO countries. It is likely to come out again at the NATO summit. There`s real concern about that NATO summit as there must be deep in the West Wing.
MATTHEW NUSSBAUM, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, we all know that one of Putin`s longest standing goals has been the weakening of NATO.
NUSSBAUM: And to have the American president, during the campaign, call NATO obsolete and since then constantly attacking our NATO allies, complaining about how much they pay for defense, that`s like a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.
And the fact that you see the president talking down about the Germans, the Spanish, the French, seeming to always assume that Angela Merkel or Macron have the worst intentions and saying at the same time saying we need to have good relationships with Russia and China and assuming that Kim Jong-un has the best of intentions going into this Putin meeting, you know, trying to build this great relationships that does seem that his priorities and his instincts about whose an ally and whose an enemy are reversed from past presidents.
WILLIAMS: Jenna, you`ve got of course conventional Americans walk ago round knowing this is the post-war alliance that has kept the world as we know it together. Just the story of Germany emerging from the ashes of World War II to now be the most prosperous economy on the continent is incredible. But there`s real worry, Jenna, that this is going to turn into kind of Canada part deux, that you`ll have the president perhaps slapping some folks around on his way out. And then he`ll be next seen sitting down with his bestie, Putin.
JOHNSON: Yes. This has been really frustrating for American allies, who have been there for the United States, who have been in lockstep with the United States for so long, with this long history. You know, I mean the president doesn`t hesitate to go after allies of the United States, and then to flash a thumbs up sitting with the leader of North Korea, to arrange a meeting with the president of Russia.
And so I mean everyone`s kind of bracing, waiting to see what happens next. I mean usually when you have these big world summits, in previous administrations, a president would go into this knowing exactly what he`s going to say and having some goals. President Trump goes into these meetings thinking a meeting is a meeting, and we`ll see where it goes.
And without having any really clear goals in mind. So those around him aren`t really sure what`s going to happen, what little thing is going to set him off, what little comment is going to, you know, spark a whole new set of legislative proposals and policies and things like that. We just don`t know what`s going to happen with this president.
WILLIAMS: Matt, we always look for you guys, all of the friends of our broadcast who come on and help us out with the stories of the day, when you`re sitting in the White House briefing room. You especially give nothing away as we watch you. I`m always wondering, are you sitting there of late, thinking it has stabilized a bit? Does it seem a little bit more normalized to you?
NUSSBAUM: I really don`t think so. I think like Jenna was saying earlier, the president is only more emboldened. I think he`s more confident in his own abilities and is more confident relying on people who think more like him. John Bolton is now the national security adviser. Stephen Miller`s role in immigration seems only to be growing. And we saw the way the president went into this North Korea meeting, thinking just through force of personality he could really accomplish something.
And as we started off this segment with that report, it didn`t work out, and it seems like he`s getting deceived. So while things might appear more stable to the president and while he might think that he`s really getting a grasp of the job, I think things are just as unstable as ever, which is especially concerning going into this Putin meeting.
WILLIAMS: Two working journalists working to cover this administration and working late for us tonight, I note. Jenna Johnson, Matt Nussbaum, thank you both for coming on our broadcast tonight. We really appreciate it.
And coming up for us, what`s the chance this president has already changed American life for decades to come or perhaps forever? We`re going to talk to presidential historian Michael Beschloss about what feels like a consequential moment for our country right now when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. There is a bracing new essay on the website Slate by the writer Lily Lufburow, and if the headline doesn`t get your attention, the America We Thought We Knew Is Gone, well, then, the body of the piece is designed to get our attention. It`s an attempt to say this is no ordinary time. This period in our history is different. And, further, it`s dangerous.
About the retirement of Justice Kennedy, the author writes, quote, a corrupt but weak president. This has been my comfort, his weakness, has been given a gift that will make him strong. Then she goes on. The country we thought we shared is changing faster than anyone expected. The party ruling our country has demonstrated there is no principle it will respect, no norm it will endure. Later she says, I am said, above all, because the damage being done now no longer feels like it can be stemmed, let alone reversed, with a single election. This will last decades.
And, finally, the point of no return polarization that pundits still feebly warn against is already here. It is sad. It is true. We thought this moment called for our friendly author and presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, who has studied and written about good times and bad, heroes and villains in this country over the many years. Michael, first off, your reaction to that wording and just how bad is it what we`re witnessing right now?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think what was written sort of suggests that American democracy is sort of static and all the objections that were raised to the period that we`ve lived through during the last 16 years, nothing there that elections will not cure.
You know, there are some people who think of, you know, Donald Trump as this -- people have been saying this week the most powerful president in modern times. This is a guy, yes, he does have 90% of his shrinking party. He`s got very obedient Republicans in Congress. He`s getting probably a Supreme Court choice, who will be very conservative and will change the balance.
But, you know, if key policies fail or if the Mueller investigation comes in with very bad news, a lot of this could change in an instant, and we could be talking about this, Brian, in six months and wonder why people were saying he was so powerful.
WILLIAMS: So what do you say to people who say, all that may be true except the part about the Supreme Court. If this president fills this vacancy, perhaps is handed one more, these are jurists and you know the federalist list is mostly about people in their late 40s, early 50s.
BESCHLOSS: For sure.
WILLIAMS: Who will be able to put their print on 40, 50 years of American jurisprudence.
BESCHLOSS: Right. That`s exactly right. But, you know, I know that you`re a student of the Supreme Court too, Brian, and you know how many justices in history were appointed because they were thought to be almost robotically people of a certain partisan stripe or ideological stripe and turned out to be a big surprise. Brian White under John Kennedy, he thought this was a great liberal who supported him in the campaign of 1960. Democratic presidents were surprised that he turned so conservative, other later obvious examples. Not predicting that, but life is sort of funny sometimes.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I`m thinking of Earl Warren and Mr. Justice Brennan, the latter of whom I named his biggest mistake in office, though in the commercial break I asked Tom Goldstein if that kind of thing is possible today. And he was a skeptic. He said you look at this list of 25 from the federalist society. They have been vetted to within an inch of their lives. There`s no chance, in his view, any whiff of moderation could emerge.
BESCHLOSS: In the near future. But if we`re talking about someone being on the court for 30 or 40 years, what kind of issues are they going to be dealing with 20 or 30 years from now? A lot of things that we can`t even foresee that probably won`t fit into the liberal/conservative split of 2018.
WILLIAMS: So when we talk about the destruction of norms, your argument for folks in the middle, folks on the left is they`re called norms for a reason, and they could come roaring back into American society. We could look back at this as an aberration.
BESCHLOSS: Yes, I think so. You know, if the norms have been shattered and everything has changed so much, why is it that Donald Trump never managed to get in a reputable poll more than about 44%, 45%? What is he tonight, Brian? About 41% in some of the major polls?
BESCHLOSS: If he were so powerful, if he were so appealing, if this was this great, you know, behemoth that`s going to be astride our political system for at least the next six years, he`d have a little bit better poll ratings, and I think his political situation would be a lot more lasting than someone who might lose at least the house this November. If he does that, for example, a lot of these very obedient Republicans in Congress now might find some horrible things about him that they`re not thinking about at the moment.
WILLIAMS: Michael, because your Twitter feed every day is both North Star and catnip to me as our audience well knows, I selected this. You tweeted out this map and said, President Eisenhower -- this was yesterday, so we`re talking about today, the anniversary, 1956 -- signed the act creating the interstate highway system called the largest public works project in history.
Now, look at that map of the country, and no matter where we have lived or grown up or traveled with our families, this became quite literally the roadmap to modern America. A big, bold public works program. Will we ever see, Michael, this kind of vision again in our time?
BESCHLOSS: oh, I think we will, and it just takes great presidential leadership. You know, how was the intercontinental railroad built? You know, how was the moon program to get to the moon by 1970 -- how did that happen? A lot of it comes from the private sector, but in the end, those moments are so dependent on great visionary presidential leadership, I think.
WILLIAMS: And then it`s frustrating to hear that the Chinese will have high-speed train routes running that they built in Africa before we ever get high-speed rail in this country.
BESCHLOSS: We`ve got to recapture that.
WILLIAMS: Michael Beschloss, what a treat to have you on as always. Thank you so much for joining us.
BESCHLOSS: Treat for me too, Brian. Be well.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Michael.
Coming up for us, the latest on this crisis at the border. Just hours before protesters across this country plan to rally for families separated under the so-called zero tolerance policy. That and more when we continue.
WILLIAMS: The trump`s presidency sparked another call for action this weekend with tens of thousands of people expect take to the streets from coast to coast and north to south an effort to end family separation as its called. Event protesting Trump immigration policies are now scheduled in all over 50 states.
Just over 2,000 children have been separated from their families in the weeks since this zero tolerance policy went into effect. At least those were the numbers were given. The federal government hasn`t updated us since Tuesday of this week. As far as the situation for these families affected, Washington Post is reporting tonight that it could be months before families are released, "The Trump administration plans to detain migrant families together in custody rather than release them according to a new court filing that suggest such detentions could last longer than the 20 days envisioned by a court settlement.
This most recent court filing will surely add an additional complications as federal officials are already -- let`s not forget -- struggling to reunite the children with their parents who are being held in facilities often hundreds of miles apart and yet within our same country.
Another break for us and coming up is another norm of the modern world under threat of fallen.
WILLIAMS: This came up earlier in conversation. There is one last thing before we go. One more note on this Friday night and quite possibly one more norm of the civilized world that may be under threat. And this is a big one.
Just as U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan have helped to keep the Pacific Rim for so many years. The presence of U.S. troops in Germany has been a constant since the end of World War II. Tonight there are nearly 35,000 Americans in uniforms in Germany and a deployment in Germany has been dependable feature for life in the U.S. Army for decades from cold war to hot and back to warm. It`s why there are so many American sons and daughters and veterans who were born in Germany.
The Russians -- going back to the Soviets have always hated the presence of U.S. troops in Germany as they hate NATO which our president famously branded as obsolete. Now comes this "Washington Post" report saying the administration is doing cost impact analysis of removing our troops from Germany. Another option is sending some of them to Poland.
The article says this effort follows Trump`s expression of interest in removing the troops made during meetings earlier this year with White House and military aides, U.S. official said. Trump was said have been taken aback by the size of the U.S. presence which includes about 35,000 active- duty troops and complained that other countries were not contributing fairly to joint security or paying enough to NATO. There is that complaint again.
The article says it could be a bargaining chip with NATO or Merkel of Germany. Let`s not forget the president go to the NATO summit in July followed by that one on one time with Putin in Helsinki.
And that for us is our broadcast tonight and for this week. Thank you so very much for being here with us, good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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