Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 11, 2018 Guest: Peter Baker, Jackie Calmes, Josh Gerstein, Cynthia Alksne, Steve Schmidt, Jeremy Peters, Jon Meacham
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, President Trump takes another swing at NATO while in Brussels after blasting the alliance all day and accusing Germany of being controlled by Russia.
And on this overseas trip that`s quickly becoming a disruption tour, Trump now goes on to the U.K. before heading for private time with Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, the Mueller team reveals details of Paul Manafort`s VIP treatment in jail as the judge blast the former Trump campaign chairman and orders him to set on to Alexandria.
THE 11TH HOUR on a Wednesday night begins now.
Well, good evening, once again, from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 538 of the Trump Administration and the President kicked off the NATO summit with a full on attack on the alliance, an attack that continued into the night.
Just as few hours ago well after midnight in Brussels, he wrote this. "Billions of additional dollars are being spent by NATO countries since my visit last year at my request, but it isn`t enough. U.S. spends too much. Europe`s borders are bad. Pipeline dollars to Russia are not acceptable."
That pipeline reference has to do with Trump`s attack on Germany this morning because Germany buys natural gas from Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where we`re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions dollars a year to Russia. We`re supposed to protect you against Russia, but they`re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that`s very inappropriate.
Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60 percent to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline. And you tell me if that`s appropriate because I think it`s not. Germany, as far as I`m concerned, is captive to Russia because it`s getting so much of its energy from Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: German Chancellor Merkel responded to Trump by reminding him she, in fact, had grown up in Soviet-occupied Germany and that her country now makes its own independent decisions.
And about the silent three there who flank the President at the table, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, they have no choice but to sit there and listen. The Chief of Staff wore his discomfort more visibly than the other two.
The President also brought up his other big criticism where NATO is concerned on defense spending. He proposed NATO members just double their spending goals from two percent to four percent of their GDP.
He added this from his phone, "What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only five out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe`s protection, then loses billions on trade. Must pay two percent of GDP immediately, not by 2025."
Trump`s increasingly hostile instance toward NATO comes just days before his summit with Vladimir Putin.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta says he has a very fundamental concern.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: The President of the United States has to protect our country from our adversaries. I worry that this President for whatever reason is not operating with the awareness of how much an adversary Russia is to the stability of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And as they say that gets your attention. Former Secretary of State, John Kerry, issued a strong statement that reads in part. "I`ve never seen a President say anything as strange or counterproductive as President Trump`s harangue against NATO and Germany. President Trump makes public adversaries out of our friends and turns our adversary, who has been attacking America`s democracy into his fawned-over ally."
Kerry goes on to say, "The President set America back this morning. He is steadily destroying our reputation in the world."
There was also push back from members of Trump`s party today. No open criticisms mind you but largely measured responses.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: He wants to make sure that they get to the full percentage, whether it`s two percent or something that they need to be spending? In other words, put your money where your mouth is.
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: We value our alliance. We value our allies. But you got to pay your own way, OK? The American taxpayers have carried them on their backs.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I don`t agree with that. The Germans wouldn`t agree with that. They`re a very strong people. I just met personally met with Angela Merkel over there, and I have really the highest opinion o her.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE, CHAIRMAN OF FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: It`s just seems like the tone of what we`re doing is something that`s not good for the alliance.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, HOUSE SPEAKER: NATO is indispensable. It is important today as it ever has been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: At these summits we are often left to try to read the body language among the leaders, and there was plenty to read today. When Trump tried for a handshake with Theresa May of Great Britain, she smoothly redirected it to someone else. And this scene was unusual for an American President with the leaders of the other nation out front.
During a walk to a photo op, there was Donald Trump with the authoritarian in their midst as he walked in back and then paused to speak with Erdogan of Turkey.
Well, with that, let`s introduce our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night. Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post," and Jackie Calmes, White House Editor for "The L.A. Times." Good evening and welcome to all of you.
Peter, you`ve been around awhile. How seismic was today and what is your damage assessment to NATO as of the time of this conversation?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it`s hard to remember a moment quite like this. It`s not that the issues that President Trump are raising are not issues that have been out there before. In fact, they have.
President Obama and President Bush certainly pushed the NATO allies to spend more on their own defense. Under President Obama, they came up with the current target of two percent in 2014, and supposed to meet that target by 2024. But neither of them ever sort of did it in your face kind of way that President Trump does it. And neither one of them went into a NATO summit clearly intending to sort of go the attack the way President Trump did today.
And the way President Trump did today literally in advance of meeting that he will have with Russia`s President in just a few days, a meeting he has promised will be friendly and perhaps easier, he says, than his meeting with the allies. And I think that you can`t find an exact parallel of this or even a close parallel of this.
I`ve been doing a lot of reading lately about 1989 and the unification of Germany. And it`s striking just how close America and Germany were at that time, President Bush, Chancellor Kohl. We see the exact opposite today.
WILLIAMS: And, Ashley, let`s talk about what might have led up to today. It`s often said this President needs an opponent to function at his best. Does he view all of the alliance members as opponents? If not, what else is motivating what he said and did today? What`s going on here?
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": A couple of things, he views them as a good target for his base. His base likes him going out there and not necessarily attacking NATO per se and again they don`t necessarily care about this one specific natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. But they do like the idea of the President they elected standing up for America, standing up for their countries, standing up for them and saying to people, you know, we`re not going to be taken advantage of.
And they believe that the U.S. is being taken advantage of by these countries. Of course these countries are our allies. So that`s not necessarily the correct target. But it plays with the President`s base.
And then the second issue is that the President has this uncanny ability to take his own weaknesses, his own vulnerability, such as for instance his own coziness and problems with that perception with Russia and turn it back on someone else. So he knows he`s going to be getting all of these negative Russia coverages and too close with Putin, you know, what about the meeting coming up on Monday.
And so instead of dealing with that, he takes it and he loves that insult at Germany. So this is sort of classic Trump`s playbook boomeranging something back at someone else.
WILLIAMS: Jackie, let`s start on that last point right there. Was this, in fact, a cheap and easy way to look tough on Russia when he knows there`s a premium on that, and I know you happen to believe he`s much tougher when the principals aren`t right there in the room with him.
JACKIE CALMES, WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, exactly. Just as the man who became famous by saying "You`re fired," has never personally fired any of the many people who have been let go from his administration. In this case, we saw first thing this morning or before many of us in the east coast were up that he had leveled this attack against Germany but he leveled it in the presence directly across the table from the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg.
But when he later -- hours later met personally with Angela Merkel, the target of his jibes, he could not have been nicer. He was totally complementary and didn`t say -- he said he talked about the gas pipeline privately, but you know, if he were such an in your face, you know, stand for American, why did he do it to Jens Stoltenberg but not to Angela Merkel when she was right in front of him?
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, this was rather striking, the Twitter feed of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Now in Washington, there is an industry Senate around the words what the President meant to say. This was a classic. I`ll read it off the screen.
"NATO is the most successful alliance in history. All NATO allies have committed to extending this success through increased defense spending, deterrence and defense, and fighting terrorism. Weakness provokes, strength and cohesion protects. This remains our bedrock belief."
Peter, that`s the kind of thing we used to hear from, oh, I don`t know, U.S. presidents.
BAKER: Yes, no, exactly right. Again, it`s not that these issues aren`t there, they`re not, you know, precede Trump`s 10-year in office. What`s different is the way he approaches it. What`s different is that he treats these allies as if they were enemies and adversaries. And that`s what`s really striking about it.
It`s not that we don`t have concerns about this pipeline, there are concerns about this pipeline. It`s not that we don`t have concerns about this military spending, we do historically, bipartisan. It`s not new.
But Pompeo is doing what, as you say, other administration did. They acknowledge the issues. They press in a gentle, you know, and friendly way to make a point but without casting the other side as if they were somehow an enemy, as if they were somehow, you know, anti-American in their approach.
WILLIAMS: And, Ashley, to the point you were making, I saw Bannon on Fox News tonight with Sean Hannity. Bannon was talking about how tough on Putin-Trump was being and yes, a light bulb went off when Bannon went on to say that Putin no doubt looks at Trump after a day like today, thinking there is the leader of the western world. Well, it turns out Mr. Bannon is in London having kind of a salou (ph) with members of the right, including some of the hard Brexit folks.
And we have this reporting from "Politico" tonight. "Bannon`s goal, he said in a brief interview between meetings, was to help contextualize Trump for a European audience that hates him and a fiery tabloid that he believes doesn`t give the American President a fair shake."
Ashley, I ask this because a lot of people watching the President attack Germany and kind of obliquely attack Russia at the same time wondered where those talking points came from.
PARKER: Well, I don`t know if they came, you know, directly from Steve Bannon. But it`s an interesting coincidence that he is there and to sort of parse his motives. On the one hand, he`s doing what he did throughout the entire campaign and early into the White House, which is to try to take President Trump as sort of a convenient vessel or vehicle and use that to spoke his name, which is you know, kind of populism sweeping the globe. And on the other hand, you have to remember that Bannon is someone who was cast out of this White House and he committed sort of the original sin of criticizing the President`s family and criticizing the President over Russia.
And so you sort of have to imagine that when Bannon goes on a show that we all know that President Trump watches on Fox News, he`s also sort of trying to get the President`s ears, send a message to him, and possibly get back into the President`s good graces. He would love to be on that list of people who the President late at night sneaks around John Kelly and calls from the residence again.
WILLIAMS: And, Jackie, talk about the optics of an overseas trip. The first part of which is spent with our oldest and best friends. The last stop is the private time the President has requested with Vladimir Putin.
CALMES: Well, this of course raises the scenario and specter to allies of his most recent foreign trip in which he first went to the G-7 summit of the alliance of major industrial democracies in Quebec and it fell apart and he refused to sign the group`s communique over trade disputes and then went off early to, as a matter of fact, to Singapore to meet with Kim Jong- un of North Korea, the virtual phoria autocrat. And it was, you know, like a bromance.
And so you have here the same sort of set up where he`s been -- he`s with allies, it hasn`t gone well. And then he`s off to meet President Putin who, by his own admission as he left the White House the other day, will be the easiest of his visits.
So the optics are, you know, if this again as we presume it will follow the scripts of G-7 and Kim Jong-un, it`s really underscores this completely mystery as to how the President of the United States can be some one so friendly to autocrats while fortuitously disdainful of our long-time allies.
WILLIAMS: A good question to end on. With our thanks to Peter Baker, to Ashley Parker, and to Jackie Calmes. We really appreciate the three of you starting us off on this busy night.
And coming up for us after a break, Paul Manafort will be leaving the jail that prosecutors say treats him like a VIP, where he doesn`t have to dress like all those other inmates and has unlimited phone privileges unlike other inmates.
And later, how the President`s contempt for U.S. allies is, in fact, playing to his base back home. We`re just getting started here on a Wednesday night.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. Paul Manafort goes on trial in two weeks, and his lawyers have been doing their job trying to push back the start time. Part of their argument is that they just can`t properly prepare their client because he`s being held two hours away in what they are calling solitary confinement.
Now Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s response to that request today painted a very different picture of his incarceration. According to a court filing, Manafort has been enjoying unique privileges, including a private living unit, including his own bathroom and shower, a personal telephone, a laptop and work space to prepare for trial. He also doesn`t have to wear a prison uniform like those other inmates.
And we learned that the Mueller team has been listening to Manafort`s private calls. In one, he mentioned he is being treated like a VIP. Well, not for long. A judge today denied Manafort`s request to remain in that VIP cell.
Manafort`s lawyer had initially asked for their client to move closer to Alexandria, Virginia, then they backed off after the requests was granted by U.S. district judge, prompting a sharp review from said judge. A footnote in the rulings today reads, "It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem."
Well, with us tonight and for good reason, Josh Gerstein, Senior White House Reporter for "Politico," and Cynthia Alksne, a Former Federal Prosecutor and a Veteran of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ.
Well, Josh, we`re having you back because you correctly predicted all of this last night and you will go home with a copy of our home game. What stood out to you in light of all that looking at the court documents today?
JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, what struck me, Brian, is that sometimes you will hear judges dressed down attorneys for one side or the other in court but it`s more rare for them to put that kind of criticism in writing. He was basically suggesting that the defense`s position here was in coherent that it was one way at one time and just a couple of days later, it moved in the other direction.
I think not only has Manafort undercut any effort that he`s making to delay the trial, he`s also undercut an appeal that`s underway trying to get him to release from jail all together in advance to the trial. So, it`s a pretty significant setback. He`s also now going to be, as you say, moved up to Alexandria and taken out of the relatively gentle conditions he was being held in there.
WILLIAMS: Cynthia, I am always learning interesting things about you. And tonight`s interesting thing is that you are a former member of the Virginia Board of Corrections. My experience with Virginia Corrections is limited to a couple of trips to death row in Virginia and a lot of time spent covering lurking during the Marion Barry years.
I have not in my travel seen any accommodations that match this description. Have you?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Nobody has ever been so pampered in the Virginia jail system. I find the whole things shocking. And they were so amenable to him. He had all this time to himself and he had a work room to himself, and they got him a little special extension cord so he could move back and forth, and the phone calls are particularly shocking.
You know, in a Virginia jail system, there is a legitimate issue that inmates do not have the access to the phones that they need and that they`re charged for them. Apparently, he has his own.
WILLIAMS: It`s a huge issue in jails across the country, by the way.
ALKSNE: Right. And it`s important one, and now this guy has his own phone and he`s made 300 phone calls in the last three weeks. That`s more phone calls that I`ve made. And he seems surprised that Mueller is listening to him. Of course, Mueller is listening to all of them, except the ones that are to his lawyer.
Inmates are told routinely, "By the way, all your phone calls are listened to, there`s nothing surprising about that." But nobody has ever been as pampered as this guy. And then the audacity to complain about it and have his lawyers whining that he`s in solitary confinement, it`s not just sort of humorous on late night television, he`s done himself a huge disservice because now the judge knows he`s full of it. And worse for him, the judge thinks maybe his lawyers are full of it.
And when you are in the courtroom, you have to -- your credibility is critical, not just with the jury but with that judge. And these lawyers have hurt themselves in the credibility game. And more than that, they may have done something very wrong, which is according to these phone calls, Manafort was allowed two computers. I own only one computer. Manafort had two in his jail cell. He would type out e-mails, draft them, and then he would give them to somebody on the team, who would then take them out and send the e-mails in violation of the prison rules, of the jail rules.
So somebody on the team, and Manafort knows who it is, has been breaking the rules for Manafort. So, it`s not just Manafort who thinks he`s above the law, it`s somebody on the team and that person has dramatically hurt their credibility with the judge, which will play out the next several months.
WILLIAMS: Not even as court says he`s portrayal of having that pretty good behind bars foresaw any of this coming.
Hey, Josh, there are two Manafort trials. Please sort those out for us and tell us why the Manafort`s forces are hoping for one to begin before the other.
GERSTEIN: Well, this was a really interesting indication in the Mueller court filing today was that their theory about it from these intercepted conversations going in and out of jail is that Mueller`s defense team apparently has decided they would rather go to trial in D.C. first than in Virginia because even if they lose there, it will be of some benefits to him. And the implication I took from it was that they think it would make, perhaps, President Trump more likely to grant a pardon.
The D.C. trial has to do with the foreign lobbying for Ukraine and alleged money laundering related to that. The Virginia trial is a little bit more basic, it`s simple tax evasion and bank fraud, large amounts of money are involved but it`s basically how did he get this very expensive suits and expensive rugs and home renovations out of his accounts overseas.
They may feel that the optics of that trial aren`t as good for a pardon as something that seems to have some potential connection to Russia that maybe Trump and the Trump White House will see as, you know, an effort to be out to get the Trump campaign through some kind of proxy and maybe that would attract to pardon. That`s what I read between the lines in this filing today.
WILLIAMS: Interesting. Cynthia, I want to ask you in the end on this. When the news starts piling up, I`ve asked you various versions of this question. What personal knowledge or memory do you have of Robert Mueller that sustains you in your belief that when this is all over, justice will be served and the bad guys will be identified and prosecuted?
ALKSNE: Well, we worked the case together, and I thought he was incredibly honorable and solid. And I talked to him a little bit about his career because I was sort of starting mine and having children. And he had his children and they were grown and in college. And I really looked up to him. And I had a chance to talk to him, and I found him to be honorable.
I remember one time we went down into the basement, he had to do an interview of a witness. And, you know, you can tell a lot about a person the way they do an interview of a witness who`s hostile to you. And this witness, it was a murder case, and this witness was hostile to him, and he treated him with respect and demanded the truth from him.
He wasn`t a kind of bullying prosecutor. He wasn`t somebody you would be afraid to take notes on what was happening in the room. And I just have always found and always thought that he was one of the most honorable people I encountered in my time at the United States attorney`s office in D.C. and wanted very much to be like him as I grew as a prosecutor.
WILLIAMS: Wow, terrific answer. Thank you both. You guys are both invited back on this broadcast at any time. Josh Gerstein, Cynthia Alksne, really appreciate it.
And coming up for us, he has served as a Sherpa for other Supreme Court nominees. He has worked side by side with pillars of, shall we say, the Old Republican Party? And he`s a big fan of the post-war alliance. We will ask Steve Schmidt what he makes of what`s going on right now when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Germany is totally controlled by Russia. Germany as far as I`m concern is captive to Russia. They`re certainly doesn`t seem to make sense that they paid billions of dollars to Russia and now we have to defend them against Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump`s accusation as you heard that Germany is under Russia`s control, it remains a bracing attack on one of this country`s closest allies. Just 31 years ago standing in front of a structure that both dominated and divided the city of Berlin, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech of affirming U.S. support for Germany at a time when that part of the country was under Soviet control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: As long as this gate is close and as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand. It is not the German question alone remains open but the question of freedom of all mankind.
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And the rest as they say is history. Among those growing up on the other side of the wall the east side of the wall was a young woman named Angela Merkel., now chancellor of Germany.
With us tonight to talk about what we are witnessing, our friend Steve Schmidt. A political veteran of the Bush White House, the McCain presidential campaign, among other stops.
Steve, I have a two-part question. Where and who will the grownups be who rise up and say, Mr. President, now you are playing on house money and this is not the way we intended with NATO. And second, Steve, what is it that we are witnessing today?
STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Brian, thank you for having me. What we are witnessing first off is the sundering of the western alliance, the NATO alliance, the most important, the most successful military alliance in the history of the world which is kept at peace in Europe for the last 73 years and has led Europe from destruction to prosperity held back Soviet utilitarianism and has helped spread freedom across all of the captive nations of Eastern Europe.
All of these countries that are up there today, most everyone of them has shed blood. Their sons, their daughters have died fighting for the United States, for the NATO alliance after the invitation of Article VI upon the occasion of the attack of the United States on September 11th.
The president of the United States indifference to this institution, indifferent these allies and their sacrifices, indifferent to the shared values of liberty and freedom that binds all of our country together with the exception of course the Turkish autocrat that Trump has a great affinity for it.
When we see him indifferent to that, it`s a tragic day. When you weaken the most important military alliance in the history of the world, you make the world a more dangerous place and you`re doing Vladimir Putin bidding who has no higher strategic goal than unravel the European Union and to unravel the NATO alliance.
WILLIAMS: But I guess my larger question parts of which we ask here every night, Steve, is why, why would that be apart of Trump`s motive?
SCHMIDT: Well, Trump is part of a spreading autocratic nationalism, populism that we see rising all over the world in Poland, in Hungary. We see a regression of liberal democracy. This president has shown from day one of his indifference to liberal democracy. He has a fetish for autocrats, clearly. He praises them all over the world from Putin to Kim Jong-un.
I don`t know why he such affinity for Vladimir Putin. I can`t explain to you why his insulted everybody from Rosie O`Donnell to Theresa May but never Vladimir Putin (INAUDIBLE) a contrary word towards the Russian autocrat. It`s completely inexplicable, but it sends a dangerous message around the world.
America imperfect or she maybe in this post-cold war era, in the post war era has stood for a liberal ideal against tyranny, against fascism, against communism, against the totalitarianism, and you see Trump through his actions weakening those ideals and that is dangerous. Dangerous for the United States, dangerous for all the world, for all the people the world who want to live in peace and freedom.
WILLIAMS: Steve, finally, let`s talk about the one thing that does seem to reunite Republicans even some never Trumpers and that is the choices this president has made and promises to make for the Supreme Court. As we mention, you are a recovering Sherpa having been in the role. What did you make of the selection of Judge Kavanaugh and the roll-out so far.
SCHMIDT: Well, I play a leading role Brian as you mentioned in the confirmations of Chief Justice Roberts and Alito. I supported Justice Kagan and Sotomayor. I believe the presidents have the prerogative and should be able to nominate and get pass qualified justices.
Brett Kavanaugh is a judge that would have been or judge that would have been nominated by a president, Rubio or Christi or Jeb Bush. The issue here is the illegitimacy of the seat caused by Mitch McConnell`s unprecedented tampering with this process.
And so, not only has McConnell broken the institution of the Senate, it`s comedy, but he delegitimatize to some degree the third branch of government, the Supreme Court. And so Democrats will never look at this seat as legitimate and that further phrase our already toxic political culture.
Lastly, and I want to say this that we`re not talking enough about the deal here. When the White House deputy press secretary today dodges around the question whether Trump and Kennedy had a meeting where Kavanaugh was discussed as the replacement should Kennedy retire, and maybe Kennedy suggesting he`ll retire if it is Kavanaug. When Kennedy`s son is Trump`s banker at Deutsche Bank, there are aspects of this that stink and we haven`t talked enough about that.
When we talk about Supreme Court justices, we expect the highest levels of integrity. The issues that you will recuse from are always an important part of any confirmation process and certainly I think Democrats would be wise to focus on this issue in the confirmation to make Brett Kavanaugh to promise to pledge that he`ll recuse himself from any decision involving questions about whether the president is above the law, whether the president should be compelled to testify in an ongoing criminal investigation that lurches closer to the Oval Office everyday.
WILLIAMS: Joining us from what has become the straight talk studio, Steve Schimdt. Steve, thank you my friend for coming on and come on any time. We appreciate your time tonight.
Coming up for us. One of our next guest calls Trump`s behavior in Brussels diabolical. Supporters say he`s a accomplishing what more polite president could not. But we`ll look at what his base and history will both make of the president`s challenges to our own best allies when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We are giving our country a free ride.
We are really -- NATO is obsolete. It`s old. It`s fat. It`s slappy.
We`re paying for 80% of NATO. Now I can only tell you one thing. It helps them a hell a lot more than it helps us. I will see NATO and I will going to tell NATO, you got to start paying your bills. United States is not going to take care of everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Donald Trump over the years on the topic of NATO, let`s get right into our conversation. Jon Meacham is with us tonight, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian. His latest book "The Soul of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels" keep it close, and Jeremy Peters, political reporter for the New York Times. Gentlemen, welcome to you both.
Jeremy, it`s been said that everything the president said about NATO is for the base. Isn`t geopolitics a big prize to pay to well in the midterm elections?
JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPOTER: Yes, it`s certainly is. I think, though, this is entirely consistent of what Trump has said since he started campaigning for president if not before. I mean you go to the inaugural address and he talks about how we leave our border defenseless while defending other countries` borders, you go back to the campaign where he spoke about America`s first and how we are -- have stupid leaders who`ve been taken advantage of other countries. It fits all right into that. This is in fact the display you saw today, Brian, was in fact I think the rawest and purest form of America first.
WILLIAMS: But this is him playing with our house money. He`s speaking for us that way with NATO which has lost 1,100 kids in Afghanistan by the way.
PETERS: Yes, that`s exactly right. I mean if Trump were kind of able to see things beyond himself, that might register. But that`s how he sees the world. It`s not just America first, Brian, it`s Trump first.
WILLIAMS: OK. Mr. Long view have the nation turn --
JON MEACHAM, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING: I looked like Jerry Brent (ph) obviously. Yes.
WILLIAMS: What is the lasting impact of what you witness just today? What from today lives on in future Jon Meacham`s books and in -- your next generation?
MEACHAM: Arguably, if this is a fracturing of the alliance, I don`t think it breaks it apart in any kind of irreplaceable way. One good thing is that Europeans are used took regime rising and falling in a way that we`re not. They`re used to parliament system. They`re used to these spasms that we are having now. And so, I suspect they will -- nobody knows how to wait people out more than Europeans. So I think they`re going to wait them out.
I think it could have a serious impact because at some point or another while Trump is president of the United States, his words is going to have to be trusted or he`s going to have to trust the words of one of these allies in some matter of international security. And why anyone would believe anyone after this is a great question.
Second point which -- and this is a big, big if which kind of like if Trump weren`t a narcissist which is one of the great counterfactuals of our time. If Director Mueller comes back with something that suggests that Donald Trump has in some way been a witting and unwitting asset of the Russian government then all of this falls into a different kaleidoscope, was he saying or was he trying to bring Russia into, was he trying to get them into a normal place. Now he can say, you know, even Germany is in bed with him. I was just dealing him the same way our allies do. It always happens. Everybody does. This could be setting a predicate for everybody is in business with the Russians. Look at the Germans.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Peters, where is Mr. Bannon in all of this?
PETERS: I think right now beside himself with glee, he thinks this went over really well. Their whole plan this week has been to kind of counter program what they saw as ensured hostility once President Trump set foot on European soil. As we were talking about during the break, Sean Hannity and Steve Bannon are over in Europe now talking about what a great success this was.
I think the focus now shifts to the midterms and whether or not Bannon and the populist insurgent conservatives can galvanize their troops enough to get people to turn out the vote to ensure that the House doesn`t flip democratic and impeaches President Trump. That`s their biggest fight.
WILLIAMS: Forty-five seconds of Pulitzer Prize winning greatness. Have we ever had a president go it alone to this extent? It this true history we`re witnessing?
MEACHAM: Yes, to this extent yes, because he is both rhetorically and in fact trying to make America first, America only, or if anything America plus Russia. And one of the great questions of the age and one that we`ll wrestle with forever, which is why does Donald Trump have these conflicts with Russia, our long time historic adversary, and we`re going to -- this question is getting a lot hotter over the next 96 hours after that meeting. And if in fact they had some leverage over him because of preexisting deals or some sort of business things, this will be written about forever.
WILLIAMS: May make Robert Mueller The most important living American as many people contend. Jon Meacham, Jeremy Peters, our thanks as always. Terrific conversation tonight. We`re back with more right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: I stood up speaker of house for my home state. Stood up to the IRS and stood up to the FBI to think that I would not stand up for my athletes is ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan is again denying those allegations from several former Ohio State University wrestlers. They have accuses Jordan of being aware of and yet ignoring complaints of sexual abuse. Involving a doctor who worked with the team over 20 years ago. Well today, words of support from House Republican leaders including but not limited to Speaker Paul Ryan who did not specifically refer to the allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Jim Jordan is a friend of mine. We haven`t always agreed with each other over the years. But I`ve always known Jim Jordan to me a man of honesty and a man of integrity. I also want to make sure that Ohio State conducts the review of this doctor and what he did. That`s important so that campuses are safe. And I`m glad Jim is supporting that review.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Another important guy in this, North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows he heads up the conservative House Freedom Caucus that Jordan cofounded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, obviously, I support Jim Jordan. I`ve known him for six years. I know that he`s a guy that fights for the underdog. Always has and you know I`ve had a number of conversations with him and really at this particular point, I know that if abuse allegations were brought up to him, he`d have been the first one to come to the defense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Four former college wrestlers tell NBC News that Jordan knew about the alleged abuse while he was working there as an assistant coach. They paint a salacious picture of a highly charged sexual atmosphere that surrounded the Ohio State Wrestling Program back then.
One of the men who talked with NBC News says he complained directly to Jordan at the time. We should also tell you six former wrestling coaches at Ohio State released a statement saying the allegations against Jordan are "absolutely wrong" adding "none of us saw or heard of abuse of OSU wrestlers. The well-being of student athletes was all of our concern. If we had heard of any abuse, we would have spoken up."
Jordan has said the accusations may be politically driven. He suggests the controversy may be in response to his recent tough questioning of Attorney General -- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
And today the congressman was on the offensive attacking the continuing news coverage in this form. "Now CNN is contacting all 100 plus of our former staff and interns asking for dirt on me, getting desperate. How can you ever trust such #fake news."
Another break for us. Coming up, the true meaning of today with a more important moment on television involving Donald Trump. More important than anything American viewers may have seen all day long. We`ll have that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: The last thing before we go here tonight is a look back on there day. We saw a kind of backhanded history made today. We watched our president speak with genuine contempt for a U.S. ally and a U.S. alliance. The president says nothing by accident.
And so there are reasons behind how he acted today and what he said today. But for folks who have been around for any time at all, as you have just heard this past hour, it sure is bracing to hear an American president going after our own allies especially at a meeting of the organization built upon the promise of all for one and one for all.
All kinds of people have been talking about this on television all day. But there`s only so much an American can say about this no matter how learned. So perhaps it will be useful to hear how it went over in Russia. When he Donald Trump attacked Germany a powerful NATO ally, and NATO itself, our most critical military alliance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never thought I`d live to see this! Neither the USSR nor Russia, who tried many times to drive the wedge between transatlantic allies, but the main player, Washington, and President Trump himself is doing everything to break down the foundations of transatlantic alliance and unity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There you have it right there. After all these years and all the effort first by the Soviet Union, then by Russia aimed at tearing apart the most successful alliance in the history of the modern world, there are some folks watching all this in Russia who cannot get over their good fortune because they have a U.S. president as they see it making their argument and doing the work for them.
And they have heard our president say about this trip he`s on right now that after being with our oldest and closest friends our NATO allies including a visit to the U.K., it`s the alone time he has requested with Vladimir Putin that will be the easiest part of his week long overseas trip.
And back here in this country, that is our broadcast for a Wednesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.