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Cohen gives first interview since April. TRANSCRIPT: 07/02/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Harry Litman, Jill Colvin, Anita Kumar, Sahil Kapur, Gordon Chang, Michael Crowley

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 2, 2018 Guest: Harry Litman, Jill Colvin, Anita Kumar, Sahil Kapur, Gordon Chang, Michael Crowley

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, Former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen says his family and his country come first, with someone close to Cohen telling "Vanity Fair" tonight this was about getting his voice heard before it`s too late.

Plus, the reality show President teases he had a very, very interesting morning. The latest reporting tonight on his Supreme Court pick, one week ahead of the announcement.

And the Secretary of State plans another trip to North Korea, but it seems Kim Jong-un isn`t living up to his bargain with Trump.

THE 11TH HOUR on a Monday night begins now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams. Day 529 of the Trump Administration, and a one-time Trump loyalist breaks his silence, posing potential new dangers to the President. Michael Cohen, Trump`s long-time personal attorney and a key player in the Trump Organization may be sending warning signals to the White House in his first major interview since the FBI raided his home and office back in April.

Federal prosecutors in New York`s Southern District are investigating Cohen for alleged violations of election law and possible financial crimes associated with his personal business dealings, including his payment of $130,000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen hasn`t been charged with any crime, but there has been speculation about whether he intends to cooperate with prosecutors. Cohen in the past said he would do what is necessary to protect Trump, including taking a bullet for him.

This weekend, he sat down with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News for an off-camera interview, and Cohen said this when asked what he would do if prosecutors offered him a deal in exchange for information on the President.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first.


VELSHI: Cohen was asked by ABC how he would respond to an attack by the President or his legal team, and he said, "I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone`s defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way." Michael Cohen also appeared to make a clear break with Trump on the topic of the Russia investigation and the President`s efforts to discredit.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: Very, very different message from Michael Cohen. He said, "I don`t agree with those who demonize or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution as well as their agents." He said, in fact, when the FBI came to his hotel suite, the regency hotel in Manhattan in April, they were very courteous, they were very professional. In fact, he said when he left, he shook their hands.

When I asked him, the President is calling the Mueller investigation a witch-hunt. He said, "I don`t like the term witch-hunt. As an American, I repudiate any foreign government`s attempt to interfere in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same.


VELSHI: Cohen`s comments did come up today at the White House press briefing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the President worried after his comments this morning that Michael Cohen is going to flip? And has he considered at all paying Michael Cohen`s legal fees?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As you know, I`m not going to answer questions on this topic and would refer you to the President`s outside counsel.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILY MAIL: Can you at least tell us whether the President watched the interview this morning and potentially how he feels about the idea that his former attorney said that he would put his wife, his son, his family and his country first, but not the President?

SANDERS: Once again, I`m not going weigh into this issue.


VELSHI: OK. Today, a judge disclosed that federal prosecutors now have more than one million of Michael Cohen`s files, which could be potential evidence in the investigation. That`s about a third of what the FBI seized in that April raid. Thousands of other documents are being examined ahead of a Thursday deadline.

Cohen has recently retained Attorney Guy Petrillo to replace his current lawyer. Petrillo is a former federal prosecutor who served as chief of the criminal division in the Southern District of New York, the division that`s looking into Cohen. Robert Mueller`s team referred the Cohen matter to that office, but significantly, Mueller`s investigators have not conducted an interview with Cohen.

His interview also raises the question whether Cohen might be trying to sign a plea to the President or signal a plea to the President for a possible pardon.

Here`s how the President responded when asked about that just a few months ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what about Michael Cohen? Are you considering a pardon for Michael Cohen?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Stupid question.


VELSHI: Stupid question.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Monday night. Jill Colvin is the White House Reporter for The Associated Press. You saw her just moments ago in that clip. Harry Litman is a former U.S. Attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President Clinton. He`s also a former Clerk for Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Anthony Kennedy.

And Daniel Goldman, with me here in studio is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. In the past, he has worked with Michael Cohen`s attorney, Guy Petrillo. Daniel has also just been named an MSNBC Legal Analyst. So welcome to the family. And in honor of that, you get the first question, Daniel.

The "Washington Post" has just published a story on this in which it writes, "Some in Trump`s orbits said the interview was a miscalculation if it was an attempt to reach out to the President, whom Cohen had served since 2007 for attention, financial support, or even a pardon that would end Cohen`s legal predicament. You and I were talking earlier. You don`t think this was orchestrated to be a message to the President at all?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: No. None of what came out in the ABC News reports seems to me to be a plea to Trump for anything. In fact, the language he was using, the comments that he made distancing himself from the use of the word witch-hunt, distancing himself from some of the allegations that Trump has made about Mueller, even going so far as the say I will not be a punching bag, that`s not an indication of somebody who is trying to cozy up through the media to Donald Trump. To me, what it was speaking, it`s cooperator speak.

He is praising the FBI. He`s talking about how he believes in the institution, he believes in the democratic process, and that he thinks the investigation should go forward. Those are the things that really came out from what we saw in that interview.

VELSHI: Harry, "Vanity Fair" writer Emily Jane Fox was just on with Rachel a while ago. Here`s what she said on why Cohen might have done this interview now.


EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: He now has a new attorney who is still a little bit camera shy, but not completely against him doing press. There is also a sense, a belief by Mr. Cohen and people in Cohen land that there is going to be an onslaught coming from people in the President`s orbit. And so there is this window of time where he felt like I`m going to try and restore my reputation before this attack.


VELSHI: Harry, what`s your sense of it? Why do this interview now?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. I think that`s exactly right. I agree 100% with Dan that this is someone making overtures for cooperation, and I take it a step further. The first point here is Guy Petrillo, as Dan says, is a total top-notch attorney. So you can put aside the normal assumptions in Trump land that maybe he is doing something just, you know, stupid. Petrillo has thought it through.

My best guess is even this interview had the blessing of the U.S. attorney`s office, and it served to kind of give Cohen a chance to vindicate himself a little bit and maybe insulate himself from the charges that are coming. And what you`ll see here after is his beginning to actually discuss things with the U.S. attorney`s office, and he`ll go dark on press, because that`s the smart thing to do, and Petrillo is a real pro.

VELSHI: Going dark on press is a big deal for Michael Cohen, by the way. This is a guy who spent a lot of his life in the limelight.

Jill, this is an interesting point. If the White House now sees Michael Cohen as someone who is increasingly in the service of the federal government, what do they do about that? What are they thinking than?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPOTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, it`s certainly a very big risk for the President. Look, it`s been months now where we`ve heard that the President has really felt as much as this Russia investigation, as much as this so-called witch-hunt has been draining attention, has been getting press attention, that what they were really concerned about even more deeply was Michael Cohen. This is somebody who has spent more than a decade with the President, who was his self-described fixer, who is the one who knows figuratively where all the bodies are buried and someone who has a potential great deal of information about the President that people might be interested in.

We`ve already seen the White House now and the President for the last couple of weeks really taking steps to try to distance themselves from Michael Cohen. It`s a strategy that we`ve seen the President use repeatedly, including with Paul Manafort, for instance, saying, "You know, oh, he only did a little bit of my legal work." But you know that this is something that the President is talking about. It was only a few weeks ago or a few months ago now where the President even tweeted about Michael Cohen.

You know, there was some talk about whether, you know, there was concern whether he might decide to flip on the President, decide to work with the FBI as it looks like he might be signaling he`s interested in doing, and you got the President tweeting, "No, I don`t think he`s that kind of guy. I don`t think it`s going to happen." Well, we`ll see now if that happen.

VELSHI: Daniel, we didn`t see in this interview with ABC the bravado. We didn`t see it, it wasn`t on camera. But what we`ve heard is not that typical Michael Cohen bravado, not that typical Michael Cohen defense of Trump, and of course no reference to this attorney-client privilege.

As Jill says, he has described himself in the past as the President lawyer. He doesn`t say that anymore. He has described -- and the President doesn`t claim him as his lawyer anymore. He has described himself as the President`s fixer.

There is no privilege with a fixer. In fact, fixers exist more on T.V. than they do, or in the movies more than they do in real life.

GOLDMAN: Right. The thing to remember about the attorney-client privilege is that it only applies if something if a conversation or a communication pertains to legal advice. And if you`re fixing problems for someone, there`s a fine line. It could be some legal advice. It could be the other things. But you do raise a good point. I mean, they have really started going in different directions.

VELSHI: And in a legal sense as well?

GOLDMAN: Absolutely.

VELSHI: They have a cooperation agreement that`s coming to an end on Thursday.

GOLDMAN: So that`s a critical, critical point. And I think that Michael Cohen has been talking about his concern for his family for a couple of months now. And that`s always a telltale sign when someone is thinking about cooperating. But this joint defense agreement, and it`s somewhat unclear as to exactly what the parameters of it are. Did it just pertain to the search warrant documents or was it a broader joint defense agreement?

The reason why that`s important and this agreement is important is it means that they are sharing attorney-client privilege information, their strategy. They`re working together. If they don`t have something like that, and they break with something like that, that means that whoever is breaking it is going off on their own route, and that almost always means cooperation.

The bottom line, Ali, is that there are a number of different signs that Michael Cohen is considering cooperating. And in my experience, when someone gets in the head space where cooperation is something that they`re thinking about, they usually cooperate. The people who don`t cooperate are the ones who are determined not to from the get-go. And we`re not seeing that with Michael Cohen. So I would expect that at some point in the relatively near future, the prosecutors have to go through all these documents, but Guy Petrillo will meet with the prosecutors, will try to understand what the case against Michael Cohen looks like, and then he`ll talk to Michael Cohen what cooperation will mean.

VELSHI: Harry, you know, there are two things that people wanted to hear out of this interview, and we heard neither of them. The one is what did Donald Trump know about the payment to Stormy Daniels? And the other one is what did Donald Trump know about that meeting in Trump Tower. In both cases, he teased that there will be response later, that he has something to say, but not now. Tell me what you read into that.

LITMAN: As I say, the first thing, the axiom one now, the new prism is Cohen`s got a really good lawyer. And he would not be -- it would be foolish, it would probably infuriate the U.S. attorney`s office, in fact, if he were somehow revealing this on national T.V. That is the kind of information he has to sit down and share with the U.S. attorney`s office. It`s going to be an exchange of information, as Daniel says, where basically, the U.S. attorney`s office tells him the kind of jeopardy he is under. He tells them in return the kinds of things he can do.

And by the way, the point about the joint defense agreement critical, of course. And I think actually, what he signaled in the interview is so -- begins to be so different and going away from Trump centrist. It`s probable by operation of law, the joint defense agreement is already a dead letter. If it`s not, it will be soon, because all it takes is one person to say I`m not in anymore.

VELSHI: We`re not on the same side anymore.

Jill, the President is trying to keep all attention on his Supreme Court pick. He has headed to a NATO meeting. He`s going to be meeting with Vladimir Putin. That`s something he`s going to want to spin his own way.

He`s not prove very hard to bait on the conversation of Michael Cohen and federal authorities in his opinion overstepping their bounds in their investigation of him. Is he going to stay just solemn and not talk about this or is he going to get baited into saying something about Michael Cohen?

COLVIN: You know, I have the crystal ball in my hand right now but I won`t say as you said. I mean, this is a President who certainly likes to have his opinions be known to people, usually through Twitter. We have not seen him respond to this report yet today. He`s been fairly reluctant to answer questions about Michael Cohen for the last -- a couple of months now. You played that clip from the President in the Oval Office.

There was one of his helicopter departures, probably maybe two, two or three weeks ago now where I also asked about Michael Cohen. I said, "You know, how do you feel about these reports that Michael Cohen was sort of using you tone enrich himself?" And he immediately just jumped into his talking points about the raid on Michael Cohen`s office and how he thought that that was disgraceful, didn`t really engage. So, we`ll see.

I will not be surprised if we see something pop up on the President`s Twitter feed, maybe in about seven hours from now when he usually wakes up and starts tweeting. But I think it`s also very important you all recognize the fact that this is a very, very busy week for the President.

VELSHI: It is.

COLVIN: He has set this very truncated deadline for making his Supreme Court announcement. He has a very important meeting coming up at first to NATO and then to the U.K., then he has a meeting with Putin. So there`s a lot on his plate right now.

VELSHI: And we`re going to be talking about the Supreme Court nominee potentials in a little while. Thank you, Jill, Jill Colvin, Harry Litman and Daniel Goldman. We appreciate your time tonight.

GOLDMAN: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: Coming up next, as Jill just teased, the name of the next Supreme Court nominee is now just a week away. President Trump says he is talking to "outstanding" people about the job.

And later, the federal government changes what it will and will not say about children being taken from their undocumented immigrant parents.

THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Monday night.



TRUMP: In the morning, during the morning I interviewed and met with four potential justices of our great Supreme Court. They are outstanding people. They are really incredible people in so many different ways, academically and every other way and I had a very, very interesting morning.


VELSHI: That`s President Trump earlier today speaking about meeting with potential Supreme Court nominees.

Robert Costa of "The Washington Post" reports tonight, "Trump met Monday with four federal appeals court judges, Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Amul Thapar and Raymond Kethledge, according to three people briefed on the meetings who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publically. Others on Trump`s short list include federal appeals court judges, Thomas M. Hardiman and William H. Pryor Jr., according to more than a dozen White House aides and senior Republicans."

On Friday, the President promised to announce his final choice of a nominee one week from today on Monday, July 9th. And if history is any guide, that means we could be headed for a final Senate vote some time in September. According to the Congressional Research Service, ever since the Ford administration, the average time from a nomination to a final vote in the Senate is about 67 days.

Here to talk about it, Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, and Sahil Kapur, National Political Reporter for Bloomberg. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being here.

Anita, what`s your latest reporting on how this process is going?

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: Well, it seems like it`s going fast, but we have to remember that President Trump has anticipated probably having at least one other vacancy. So he`s had this list of names going for, you know, as he says, a couple of years, even before he was inaugurated. But it`s going pretty fast as the President mentioned.

He had four interviews today. Each was about 45 minutes. He wants to interview about three other people this week. And as you mentioned, he will announce his decision on Monday.

But let`s be clear. He is familiar with all these people because they have been on this list. So the White House and various advisers have been talking about this list and talking about who it might be for quite some time.

VELSHI: Sahil, you wrote an interesting story today. Let me just quote from it for a moment. "For three decades, Republicans have successfully used the abortion issue to mobilize the religious right, whose support proved critical in Trump`s 2016 election. The President, who in 2016 promised to pick justices who would overturn Roe has an historic opportunity to alter the court`s ideological balance with a more conservative nominee. But Trump may keep in mind where broader public opinion lies, ahead of an election where a surge of voter enthusiasm among women is endangering his party`s grip on Congress."

And that is an important point you make, Sahil, that while public opinion on abortion is roughly split, public opinion on making abortion illegal is not split at all. It`s overwhelmingly against the overturning of Roe versus Wade or anything similar.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: That`s right, Ali. So by a two to one margin, two recent polls I found that Americans do not want to see Roe versus Wade overturned. And this is kind of the gut check moment for the conservative movement, because for a generation now, they`ve been able to mobilize their voters to the polls without having to worry about potentially succeeding here. And now they`re at the cusp of a possible fifth vote on the Supreme Court to overrule Roe versus Wade potentially or at the very least to, you know, kill it with a thousand cuts. You can imagine a solid block of five conservatives on the court supporting or voting to uphold state laws that essentially make abortion inaccessible in wide swaths of the country.

So this is where they`re at now. And there`s the politics of it, number one, in terms of who, you know, what voters will get mobilized and get excited to show up. Will it be the pro-choice, the pro Roe voters who aren`t ordinarily excited in the election? And the second is the confirmation.

There are several senators like Susan Collins of Maine who have said they are not comfortable voting for someone who has a demonstrated record of hostility to Roe. That`s a key distinction demonstrated record. If it`s someone without a paper trail, I would expect Collins and Murkowski to vote yes.

VELSHI: So on paper, it`s a 51 to 49 split in the Senate. In reality it`s 50 to 49 because Senator McCain is not able to come to the House for a vote.

But Anita, there are a few vulnerable Democratic senators who the President is courting. And then as Sahil said, there`s Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. Let`s listen to what Susan Collins said about this.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Candidate for this important position who would overturn Roe v. Wade would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda that I don`t want to see a judge have.


VELSHI: What -- I mean, that is a traditional Republican view. We don`t want an activist judge. Chuck Schumer tweeted the same thing out today. We don`t want an activist judge. We want someone who`s going to respect existing law, and Roe v. Wade is existing law. How are they going to work this all out?

COLVIN: Yes. It`s interesting because you hear the conservatives saying they don`t want an activist judge either. So, you know, what`s going to happen here is it`s not really going to come down so much to Roe versus Wade or whose pro-life. I mean, clearly this list that the President is looking at was -- he announced or said last year that this list was, he got help on this list by the federal society and the Heritage Foundation. Those groups are going to put forward conservative pro-life judges.

The question is whether that judge, when they get on the Supreme Court, will want to revisit that issue or not. You can be pro-life, but not want to revisit and not think that you should revisit that, something that`s already has legal precedent. So that`s what Senator Collins was talking about is someone going to go back in time and want to look into that. And so, you know, the President says he`s not going to ask the question. He doesn`t --

VELSHI: He doesn`t need to ask the question.

COLVIN: He doesn`t need to know. He knows exactly where these 25 people stand. It`s the question on whether they want to go back and visit.

VELSHI: And, Sahil, the reason the President doesn`t need to ask that question is first of all, senators will. And secondly, the President, who has an ability to mess up things that can`t be messed up is not doing so when it comes to Supreme Court justices. He didn`t mess up Neil Gorsuch because he outsourced it to groups like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to completely vet the candidates.

KAPUR: Right. So this list of potential 25 justices that President Trump has put throughout it has, as you point out, been heavily vetted by conservatives, including the Federalist Society, which is a group of deeply conservative lawyers who want to dramatically restrict the federal government`s powers to what is explicitly enumerated in the Constitution. Now, we`ve seen this dance in the Senate happen for about two decades now. And it`s a bipartisan one where Supreme Court nominees get up and say this precedent or that precedent is settled law.

You know, they say it`s a precedent of the court. That is not a particularly meaningful thing to say because the Supreme Court overrules its precedents all the time. This is not a court, unlike the lower courts that doesn`t have the ability to do that.

So it seems perfectly legitimate, it seems perfectly fair for senators to ask and demand that potential Supreme Court nominees, stay where they stand on a precedent because they`re going to have the opportunity to overrule that. I suspect we`ll be hearing a lot of that. Democrats have shifted their strategy from initially trying to point out that this goes against, you know, Majority Leader McConnell`s statement of norms and traditions and, you know, that sort of thing. Wait until after the election.

They have shifted their strategy. They`re talking about the merits, they`re talking about what a five majority -- member of conservative majority in the Supreme Court will do to progressive values like abortion rights, like voting rights, like potential access to health care. Remember, the Supreme Court came within one vote of wiping out the Affordable Care Act in its entirely in 2012. So they`re talking about the merits. And, you know, for the first time, we may be having a midterm election that is substantially and known to everybody being about the Supreme Court.

VELSHI: There is so much to talk about. All right. Thanks to both of you. We`re out of time for this segment, but we`re going to be talking about this a lot.

Anita Kumar and Sahil Kapur.

Coming up, the Secretary of State heads back to Pyongyang in days for another high-level meeting with Kim Jong-un but the White House isn`t talking about reports that the North Korean leader is still up to no good.

THE 11TH HOUR back after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I really believe North Korea has a tremendous future. I got along really well with Chairman Kim. We had a great chemistry. We really had Chairman Kim --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But do we believe him, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I made a deal with him. I shook hands with him. I really believe he means it.


VELSHI: Well, that may be the problem. President Trump again saying he trusts North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to follow through on an agreement to get rid of North Korea`s nuclear weapons. This comes only days after NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence agencies are convinced North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons in recent months.

The "Wall Street Journal" also reports that North Korea is expanding a missile manufacturing plant, one that makes weapons capable of striking U.S. forces in Asia with a nuclear warhead.

At a briefing this afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be departing for North Korea on Thursday to meet with Kim, but she declined to comment about reports that North Korea is continuing its nuclear program.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We aren`t going to confirm or deny any intelligence reports. What I can tell you is that we`re continuing to make progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say you`re continuing to make progress, how can the public evaluate that progress? What`s happened?

SANDERS: Well, I think a number of things. One, in the last eight months you haven`t seen missile launches. You haven`t seen nuclear -- you haven`t seen the nuclear detonations. And, again, these conversations are continuing to evolve. I`m not going get into the details, but I can tell you that progress continues to be made.


VELSHI: Joining me now are Gordon Chang, columnist for the Daily Beast and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World", and Michael Crowley, national security editor and senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico. Welcome to you both.

Gordon, we`re going to have a truncated version of a conversation you and I had a little earlier in the green room, and that is for that decades North Koreans have suffered under their dictatorship because they feel they`re giving something up for some greater fight. Those nuclear weapons, that development of that nuclear program is part of that fight, that Kim Jong-un and his father and his grandfather told the North Koreans is necessary. This is his raison d`etre.

GORDON CHANG, THE DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST: Yes. You got two Koreas, you know, sitting side by side, one rich, one poor. The world`s most interesting political experiment. And in the poor Korea, the Kim regime has told people you can sacrifice because we`re going rid the Peninsula of foreigners, and we`re going to extend our system. And nuclear weapons has been really at the center of this, because Kim Jong-un, his policy with (INAUDIBLE), which is nuclear weapons, economic development. You give up the nukes, that basically says everything I`ve been telling you for five years is wrong.

VELSHI: So, is Donald Trump being duped into thinking that Kim Jong-un really wants to give up his nuclear weaponry?

CHANG: Well, it certainly looks that way with a ramping up of the Yongbyon reactor as well as this missile facility. The point is President Trump has based his policy on a judgment that Kim Jong-un wants to give up his weapons. No one really thinks so except for perhaps Trump.

The other thing though is maybe Kim does want to give up his weapons but the North Korean military doesn`t and this one of indication that show that Kim really doesn`t have a firm grip on the generals. So that could very well it-- be it. But the point is either case, it`s really bad news for the United States.

VELSHI: Michael, national security adviser John Bolton brought up the possibility of disarming North Korea inside of a year. Let`s listen to what he said.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I`m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year. If they have the strategic decision already made to do that and they`re cooperative, we can move very quickly.


BOLTON: Well, what our experts have devised is a program that with North Korean cooperation, with full disclosure of all of their chemical and biological nuclear programs, ballistic missiles sites --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That hasn`t happened yet?

BOLTON: We can -- it has not. We can get -- physically, we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year.


VELSHI: It`s very tricky, Michael. We got to unpack that. He says physically we can dismantle, there lot of qualifiers. If they have the strategic decision already made to do that, if they are cooperative, if they cooperate, if there is full disclosure of all of their chemical and biological nuclear programs and ballistic missile sites. We didn`t get anything -- we didn`t get any of those things in the first series of discussions in Singapore.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: No, we got none of that. And I think you can almost imagine what Bolton is doing here -- you can imagine what Bolton is doing here is almost setting the process up for failure. He is setting this timeline which under the most ideal circumstances, which are very hard to imagine and run against the evidence like you just cited which is the lack of initial declaration and the fact that there seems to have been no follow-on progress to the initial summit, maybe this could physically happen in a year.

It seems almost impossible that it actually will. And we all know that John Bolton came to this White House as an intense skeptic of the possibility that North Korea would surrender its nuclear weapons. He advocated and, you know, he argued for legality of an American first strike against North Korea. He has said that North Korea should cease to exist as a state. He does -- he must think that this whole process is a fraud, and I think he is reminding people that, you know, if Kim really is as serious as Trump is saying, this should be moving really fast.

And what we`re going to start seeing I suspect is that it is not. And Bolton is going to have an opportunity to say I told you so, possibly behind the scenes. But I think there`s a very interesting tension reflected by those comments where Donald Trump is basically saying I trust Kim. Bolton is saying this ought to move really fast if they`re serious, and so far it`s not and I don`t think it`s going to.

VELSHI: Right. And the if they`re serious, Gordon, is the big deal here. If they`re not serious, if these reports that we have at NBC News about the intelligence agencies doubting that there is a serious commitment to this, that in fact North Korea is going the other direction, they are increasing their fuel supplies, the president has some obligation to stop wearing rose-colored glasses about this whole thing and tell America what`s going on with North Korea.

CHANG: You know, because the president has based his policy on that one judgment of Kim`s intentions, you know, all of this evidence we`ve seen in the last four or five days, you know, the president I think has an obligation to tell the American people. Because what the president did June 12th, first of all, we`re suspending the joint exercises with South Korea. That puts our forces at a lower state of readiness. The North Koreans are continuing to exercise. They`ve got their summer drills that end in August, but we`re not going to have our corresponding drills to make sure that we`re ready to defend. All sorts of things that President Trump has really put us at risk.

Now, it doesn`t matter if he is right about Kim`s intentions. But if he is wrong, then we have some really serious problems that we`ve got to deal with.

VELSHI: Michael, what is -- at this point, I mean the president has always had these qualifiers, that if he`s telling the truth, if he`s -- you know, if they are going ahead with this thing. At what point do we start to realize that it might not be that? Because there are reports out today that the White House is so excited about the way things went in Singapore, which would make them about the only folks in the country who are, that they want to have another summit in September when everybody comes to New York for the United Nations. They want to have Kim Jong-un come here to New York which will be fantastic for traffic and further these discussions.

At some point, does somebody have to step in and say, guys, you`re living in a bit of a fantasy land?

CROWLEY: Well, you would think. I would think that if the president is going to meet Kim again, there`s got to be some more tangible progress. It`s just, you know, I think in the chaotic news environment we have right now, the White House can kind of skate through this and obfuscate. And the media is distracted. The public is distracted.

If there`s going to be another grand event like a sit-down meeting with Kim, it`s just too embarrassing. There is just too much of a lost of face if you don`t have tangible movement, including I would say substantially with a full declaration by the North Koreans. That`s really the first step here. It will be really interesting to see whether Mike Pompeo purports to make any progress toward that on his trip.

And again, I think what`s interesting here is that John Bolton understands this. I think John Bolton, it`s very strange. You know, he came in right away. He got -- the Iran deal was -- essentially, Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran deal just after Bolton arrived the White House. He must have been delighted by that. And now he`s sort of trapped in this nightmarish situation where Trump seems to be operating on trust with Kim.

Bolton has said for years you can`t trust the North Koreans. They`ll lie to your face over and over. And I think behind the scenes, Bolton is probably trying to convince the president this is a very dangerous game he`s playing.

VELSHI: All right, guys, thanks very much. Gordon when he came in here actually said that this Pompeo trip may be make or break. If Pompeo doesn`t make some ground up here, there may be a problem. Guys, thanks very much. Gordon Chang and Michael Crowley, thanks to both of you.

Coming up, the Trump administration is now keeping the number of those undocumented migrant kids who have been taken from their parents secret. Democrats are demanding specifics when THE 11TH HOUR continues.


VELSHI: The Trump administration continues to deal with the fallout over its zero tolerance immigration policy. This weekend protests took place across the country as demonstrators called for families separated at the border to be reunited.

Earlier today, the Department of Health and Human Services says it will no longer be providing the specific number of undocumented migrant children held in its custody as a result of the Trump administration`s previous separation policy. As of the most recent update on June 26th, at least 2,047 were still separated from their parents.

Meanwhile, a group of Senate Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, sent a letter to HHS and DHS asking for a list of all children separated. A list by the way that would be anonmized so it wouldn`t get out to the public. Among other things, they want to know how long the children have been detained and whether their family members have been successfully contacted.

Back with us is McClatchy White House correspondent Anita Kumar.

Anita, what do you make of the fact -- you know, we`ve been saying that we keep reaching out and asking Health and Human Services for an update on how many of these children have been reunited. They have a court order now that instructs the administration to do two separate things. Young children have to be reunited with their parents very quickly. Older children with a little more time. It`s not even clear the administration has the resources to do that.

ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean what I make of it is really it`s been a couple of very bad weeks for them on the PR standpoint on this, right? I mean they had to backtrack on their policy. And so the president went back on not prosecuting people that have crossed the border. He is saying that if you come with a child, you`re not going to get prosecuted.

Children were being held alone. Now they`re being held with their parents. So he backtracked on that. And they don`t have a way to quickly do what the court has asked, exactly what you said. They have two to four weeks to get these children reunited, and that doesn`t look like it`s happening. So after a couple of bad weeks, it`s, you know, it`s clear that they`re not providing the number.

VELSHI: But I guess what they don`t want is the media sticking billboards up that say 2,047 or whatever the number is --

KUMAR: Right. Yes.

VELSHI: -- when the clock is running out on them. The bottom line is the government may be in breach of the court order in less than two weeks.

KUMAR: Right. I mean, obviously, their number one concern right now is dealing with this court order. How can they get these children back, reunited with their parents. And from what we have been told before, before they stopped giving out some information was that they were waiting for some of these court cases to go through with the parents. They can no longer do that. Court cases generally take longer than two to four weeks. And so they`re going to have to speed that up or make some other accommodations. I think they just don`t want to deal with that and they`re trying to go by this court order now.

VELSHI: Some Democrats, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, are calling for the disbanding or the abolishing of ICE. She tweeted today -- on Thursday, I`m sorry, she tweeted, "I believe we need to protect families who need help, and ICE isn`t doing that. It has become a deportation force. We need to separate immigration issues from criminal justice. We need the abolish ICE and start over and build something that actually works. Good strategy or risky strategy for Democrats?

KUMAR: Well, I`ve heard some Democrats say -- I mean, obviously, more Democrats are doing that than they were before, supporting this. But I have heard some Democrats say that it is risky, because it takes the emphasis and the focus off the president and his policies. That`s what they want to emphasis is that they think his policies are inhumane. And so that sort of takes it off.

The other thing --

VELSHI: And the reason you say takes it off is because ICE isn`t sort of central to the discussion for a lot of Americans right now, the separation of children at the border, the detention of people, that is.

KUMAR: Right. Exactly. I mean we saw those pictures of tent cities going up and detention facilities and children, and we heard the sounds of screaming children. And some people are worried that if you start talking about this sort of bureaucratic agency, that you kind of take things away from the president.

But I will say the other thing about this is that ICE actually does, you know, two things. It does deal a lot with deportation, no doubt about it. But it also deals with trafficking and smuggling. And so I think there`s going to be a lot of people who are going to hesitate on that. This is -- you know, these are crimes, not the crime of, you know, crossing the board illegally but actual crimes that need to be addressed in the country. And so the Republicans and the president can easily say well, wait, you`re going to be soft on crime now on this issue? And so that`s kind of a risky strategy as well.

VELSHI: And you already tweeted about the fact that ICE is keeping American cities safe. All right, Anita, good to see you again.

KUMAR: All right. Sure. Thanks.

VELSHI: Thank you very much for sticking around.

Coming up, President Trump likes to speak in superlatives, and his White House did just break a record. What it all could mean for his administration and the country, when THE 11TH HOUR continues after this.


VELSHI: Tonight there are new indications of just how rapidly this White House is churning through its staff. The Associated Press reports the Trump administration is setting turnover records. An analysis of White House filings shows, "President Donald Trump has seen staff turnover in excess of 37% over the calendar year ending June 30th. According to the most recent filing, 141 staffers who worked with the president at the White House at this point last year are gone with 138 new arrivals. Some 61% of Trump`s senior most aides have left the White House."

The AP also found that former President Clinton is the only commander in chief in the last five administrations to have had a somewhat similar senior staff turnover rate at 42%. As far as the Trump White House is concerned, the name we most often hear when it comes whose next to do is Chief of Staff John Kelly. It`s been reported he wants to be out of the West Wing by the end of this month, and that the president is already looking for a replacement. Here`s what Trump said about Kelly just a few days ago when talking to reporters on Air Force One.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you looking for a new Chief of Staff, Mr. President?

TRUMP: No, no. We`re getting along very well. We have -- look, at some point, things happen, but I will tell you, we have a very good -- you see that -- we have a very good relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long do you think he`ll stick around?

TRUMP: That I don`t know. I mean I can`t tell you that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could Hope come back to the White House in some capacity? Hope Hicks, do you believe? We`ve seen a report about that.

TRUMP: Oh really? I don`t know, but I love Hope. She`s great. I hope that maybe -- I`ve been hearing little things like that. I`ll bet you Hope misses it. I think everybody misses it. Many people would like to come back. Look, there is nothing more exciting than what we`re doing.


VELSHI: The White House had a job fair last week to attract staff. It seems that the staffers who want to be part of that Trump White House are being recognized for their loyalty. The AP also noted that the White House`s annual salary disclosure to Congress shows that more than 170 staffers received raises during a 12-month period ending June 30th.

Coming up, still more ethical controversy for the scandal plagued EPA administrator. What staffers for Scott Pruitt are now telling congressional investigators? And one mother`s message to the man when THE 11TH HOUR continues.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you`re doing to the environment in our country. This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves clean water. We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment. Somebody who believes in climate change and takes it seriously for the benefit of all of us, including our children. So I would urge you to resign before hopefully your scandals push you out.


VELSHI: The last thing before we go tonight, that was EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. And the woman who put that video on her Facebook page says she confronted him in D.C. while he was having lunch. Since he took over at the EPA, like it or not, Pruitt has been one of the most effective members of the Trump administration at carrying out the job for which he was hired, assuming that you believe he was hired to essentially deregulate and dismantle the EPA.

But as the protester in that video alluded to and as we have detailed for months on this broadcast, Scott Pruitt has also been plagued by scandal after scandal. Tonight, a new "Washington Post" story reveals more about several of those scandals. Citing three sources, the "Post" reports two of Pruitt`s aides spoke to staffers from the House Oversight Committee, both Republican and Democrat late last week, and they, "Provided fresh details to congressional investigators in recent days about some of his most controversial spending and management decisions, including his push to find a six-figure job for his wife at a politically connected group, and listing staffers to perform personal tasks and seeking high-end travel despite aides` objections."

The reports states that these conversations, "Shed new light on the EPA administrator`s willingness to leverage his position for his personal benefit, and to ignore warnings even from allies about potential ethical issues."

Officials at the EPA and on Capitol Hill declined to comment to the "Post" for the story, but Don Fox, the former acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics told the "Post", "If we were talking about any other federal employee, it would be that person`s supervisor to take disciplinary action which could be anything from counseling to dismissal from public service. This falls squarely on the shoulders of the president, and he seems to do nothing but go out of his way to praise Scott Pruitt."

That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.


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