Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 17, 2018 Guest: Ashley Parker, Frank Montoya, Jr., Charlie Sykes, Leon Panetta
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: --a walk-back after a global drubbing for siding with Putin at their summit. He now says he got a word wrong in his statement. He reads a statement saying he agrees with the U.S. intel finding that Russia hacked our election, but then he adds that it could also be other people.
Tonight, the President is back to calling the meeting a great success while his White House struggles to contain the mess created in Helsinki.
And we heard from the Mueller investigation today, asking for immunity for five people so they can testify against Manafort at his trial next week while a Russian woman with ties to the NRA is due in court in D.C. tomorrow. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Tuesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 544 of the Trump administration. And following what became a global blowback after taking Putin`s side on election meddling, the President attempted a fix today that was then quickly broken.
And on social media, as late as this evening, he continued to insist, "The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the fake news media."
Now, before we get to the mistaken word the President said he got wrong yesterday, here now a reminder of what he said in Helsinki while standing next to Putin yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it`s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it`s not Russia. I will say this, I don`t see any reason why it would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Those words set off alarm bells around the world. They brought about charges of treason by seasoned intel vets in this country and resulted in a hastily arranged meeting of the Trump administration national security types this morning.
NBC News is reporting tonight it was Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo who urged the President to publicly clarify his comments.
One of the anchors on "Fox & Friends," assuming their most ardent viewer was watching this morning, actually urged the President on camera to make a correction.
Ashley Parker of "The Washington Post" has been reporting on all of it, will join us in just a moment. She and her colleagues write this tonight, "Trump was particularly rattled by a critical tweet Monday from Newt Gingrich. One of the people said Gingrich, long a stalwart ally, urged the President on social media to clarify his Helsinki statements, saying they were the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected immediately."
So the White House called the media in to a pre-existing meeting the President was having with members of Congress about taxes and reading off a printed statement, the President said he got a word wrong yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn`t." And the sentence should have been, and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video, the sentence should have been, "I don`t see any reason why it wouldn`t be Russia." Sort of a double negative. So, you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, here`s what he`s talking about, his original comments alongside Putin yesterday in Helsinki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it`s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it`s not Russia. I will say this, I don`t see any reason why it would be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Yesterday, the President also seemed willing to accept Putin`s denial that the Kremlin had nothing to do with our election meddling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including the election process.
TRUMP: President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Today, the President made a point of expressing his support for the home team, the 17 intelligence agencies here in the U.S., but then he couldn`t help himself and he added to his written remarks and left himself some room.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have felt very strongly that while Russia`s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that, and I`ve said this many times, I accept our intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia`s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There`s a lot of people out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And then this, in the age of digital photography, cameras caught a glimpse of the statement the President was reading from. It shows he crossed out a line about bringing all those who hacked our election to justice and he added, there was no collusion in his own handwriting. The President did not offer an explanation why he waited until today to correct the record. Instead of choosing to do so in either of the two Fox News interviews, he taped immediately after the press conference prior to leaving Helsinki.
Tonight, the White House has continued its P.R. offensive. The administration sent out a press release with a detailed description for the first time of how it is "protecting our elections and standing up to Russia`s malign activities," but the damage from Helsinki may indeed be done.
Tonight, a piece in "The Washington Post" by longtime conservative columnist George Will carries this striking headline, "This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man."
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Tuesday night. Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post." Charlie Sykes, Author and longtime Conservative Radio Host who is this days Contributing Editor and Podcast Host for the folks over at the "Weekly Standard." And Frank Montoya, a Former FBI Special Agent in charge, who during his time in the Bureau played a role in establishing the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, which gives him a specially germane line into tonight`s line of questioning.
Ashley, I`d like to begin with you. Anatomy of a correction. Give us the cliff notes of how this happened, starting on the flight home, the initial arrival back in the United States, morning television today and then seeing what we saw on television.
ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST: So it did really start on the flight home where the President, as he always does, watched cable news, and he had actually been quite pleased with how he felt the summit went. But as he watched the blanket coverage that was almost universally negative and there were really no people out there defending him, and negative from not just the usual critics, the mainstream media and Democrats, but from Republicans. You know, including as we wrote there was a tweet that Newt Gingrich sent that I believe was then aired on Fox News, which the President watches, that really rattled him because Newt Gingrich is someone who has really been with him through thick and thin.
So his mood starts to darken and change on the flight home. And then on the flight home, there was sort of the tiniest bit of a walk-back. There was a tweet he sent out saying that he does believe his intelligence community but we really need to look to the future. That gave you the first inkling of what was to come.
He lands. He gets a late start this morning, which means he`s in the residence watching more T.V, getting more frustrated. And there was really a push by a number of people both inside and outside the White House to get him to make some correction and walk it back.
The White House has told us these were the President`s words, but this was also a collaborative effort. The first draft was written by his top policy adviser and speech writer Stephen Miller. The President weighed in. And as you saw, he was even weighing in in those photos up until the last minute, scribbling in that trademark sharpie scrawl of his, you know, no collusion and other little tweaks to the manuscript, which as you saw he read somewhat haltingly and begrudgingly finally around 2:00 p.m. today.
WILLIAMS: Our guest later on in the broadcast, Eugene Robinson, was the first to go on television and brand what he have witnessed a hostage tape, in his view.
Hey, Frank, which Trump do you believe as a career intel expert, the Trump standing next to Putin in Helsinki or the Trump correcting the record today and saying he got a word wrong in Helsinki?
FRANK MONTOYA, JR., FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, I`ll tell you the one that concerns me the most is the one in Helsinki yesterday. There`s no question that what he did yesterday was confirm the suspicions that a lot of intelligence and especially counterintelligence professionals in the government have that, you know, there`s something there, that there is the possibility of compromise, that though people don`t want to talk about it, call it some kind of a fringe theory or even conspiracy theory that he may be acting as an agent of a foreign power, that didn`t put to rest any of that concern. In fact, I think there is going to be more talk about that that it`s not so covert, so to speak, just because of the way -- because of what he did and the way he did it, standing right next to Vladimir Putin.
WILLIAMS: And, Frank, you mentioned this. We don`t talk about it because it sounds flat-out crazy and because even those inclined to think that way, it`s such a deeply scary notion for patriots in this country.
MONTOYA: Yes. Well, I mean, first of all, there is an investigation because those suspicions exist, that there was a conspiracy amongst Americans and members of the Trump Organization or the campaign or the administration to assist the Russians in attacking our democracy. So that`s a given.
But the fact is he is the President of the United States. It is the office of the presidency. It`s supposed to be the leader of the free world.
The idea that he may be an agent or acting as an agent of a foreign power is terrifying. I mean, look at what he knows and the power that he possesses, but at the same time there`s just a litany of behaviors that have -- that led up to yesterday. What they really did, I think, is confirm, not just to those who are working the case but to the world, that there is a reason to be suspicious. That there is a reason to be concerned.
WILLIAMS: Charlie Sykes, folks on the left are fond of calling Fox News state-run T.V., and I want to read you a portion of the "New York Times" story tonight.
By Tuesday morning, it was clear Mr. Trump could not rely on support from even his most diehard allies. On "Fox & Friends," his favorite morning T.V. program, the host, Brian Kilmeade spoke directly into the camera. "From November, when everybody had you losing, you shocked the world. It wasn`t because of Russia but Russia`s goal was to upend the electoral process. They hate democracy."
He went on to say, this has to be corrected. The President later corrected it.
So, Charlie, were minds changed today, when even members of the President`s base saw that statement he read in the Cabinet room?
CHARLIE SYKES, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Only the minds that wanted to be changed, because as a walk-back this was ludicrous. I mean, as an excuse, this made the dog ate my homework seem like a brilliant alibi to say, "Oh, I just dropped this contraction," because obviously what you saw in Helsinki was that was the real Donald Trump. That was not a gaffe. That was what Donald Trump thinks. That is his attitude towards Vladimir Putin. That is his relationship with Vladimir Putin.
And in fact, you know, whether you want to use, you know, the word treason, which I think goes a little bit too far, it was a betrayal of his own country, it was a betrayal of the presidency, and what you actually saw was collusion in action, which, of course, was ironic. And I think that what a lot of the folks even at Fox were seeing was, "Look, this is a man who was supposed to be strong. He was supposed to be -- never apologize. And instead you saw this obsequious, craven, sycophancy in the presence of one of the most thuggish dictators in the world." It was a terrible moment for Donald Trump, but what a pathetic attempt at a walk-back.
WILLIAMS: And, Ashley, where are we on the Trump cycle? And here`s what I mean, those who like you watch him so closely have seen the rare times he`s been forced to do a walk-back, a corrective statement. Often it`s somewhere around 24 hours before he finds himself back to his natural place, his original position, as if the walk-back never happened. Did tonight`s tweet give us any clues?
PARKER: Well, I think there is sort of a release -- steam release valve theory for this President. And for that cycle, we`re in about the middle. I`ll explain what I mean. The President gave, again, a begrudging walk- back. You could tell from his body language, his arms were folded, which is sort of his default posture of peak. He was reading from the paper.
And so what will happen is probably the walk-back, as Charlie said, is not going to change anything. All of the people who have criticized him are unlikely to be swayed by this sort of double negative argument. And when the coverage tomorrow morning is still similarly unflattering, maybe Fox News will come around, but I would be surprised if anyone else really does an about-face.
The President will go -- grow increasingly frustrated. He will be angry that he feels he was forced into something by his aides that he really didn`t agree with and was against his gut, and that`s when he will need to release this steam and we could see some anger, some lashing out, some return to his true opinions on Twitter or in private or in public statements. Some time I would say within the next 24 to 48 hours.
WILLIAMS: All right. Well, having that timeframe is useful.
Frank, let me give you a hypothetical. Let`s say that yesterday our deputy assistant secretary of state for all things Russian was in Helsinki for a meeting with his or her counterpart in Russia and they came out in a press event after that and seemed to take the Russians` side in a matter of great perhaps existential importance back home. How would that government official be treated and viewed by the government if this were, in other words, anyone else in our government, what mechanisms would be triggered?
MONTOYA: You know, I think that if you look at it from the context that there were already this litany of behaviors that existed, very good possibility that there would already be an investigation under way that could include everything from the use of national security letters to interviews to FISA activity. The point being to try to build a case against this individual. And if they were to make some kind of a disclosure like that, again, it would just heighten our awareness that we were on the right track, that we were looking at somebody who could be betraying this country.
It was that stunning yesterday, in terms of the disclosures that were made, in terms of the betrayal, like Charlie was talking about, to this country in terms of the oath that we all swear to protect and defend the Constitution and this country. So, yes, it would be another straw on the camel`s back, so to speak, another piece to the puzzle, as we were making our way through this investigation. It would not bode well for that subject.
WILLIAMS: So, Charlie, that`s bracing to hear that if it had been anyone else in government, it may triggered a FISA-style surveillance of your life. The George Will headline that we mentioned at the top of the broadcast was bracing. In your view, Charlie, what should your fellow conservatives be doing and saying? Who do we see about all of this?
SYKES: Well, part of the problem, of course, is that this is so unprecedented. You can`t really put this in historic context. You know, I wrote a piece yesterday where I said, you know, Donald Trump is often compared to Neville Chamberlain, but that`s unfair to Chamberlain, because Chamberlain even though he was deeply wrong-headed was, in fact, a patriotic and a serious man. We`ve never had a president behave this way.
There are things that Republicans can do. You know, perhaps the maximum would be a resolution of censure or a sense of Congress, you know, reasserting, you know, our support for what intelligence agencies have done. But I do think this is one of those moments where I think, you know, you pulled aside, you know, the curtain and all of the rationalizations and all of the enabling of Donald Trump, this is who he is. Despite the fact that he wraps himself in the cloak of patriotism, it`s always Donald Trump first.
I think Ashley is exactly right. We`ve seen this play before. And unfortunately we`ve seen several things.
You know, yes, you know, Donald Trump is still going to blow at some point because this is what he really believes, and, of course, we`re going to see what the Republicans do. Because after Charlottesville, you had lots of hand-wringing, you have lots of expressions of concern, but ultimately they fell back into line. And I think it`s going to be a very interesting tell whether or not Republicans do this, even though we really are at this moment where the President of the United States is not reliable in standing up for the United States of America.
You know, the man who runs on America first stands in front of Vladimir Putin and he sides with Vladimir Putin over the United States of America. If this is not one of those turning points I don`t know what would be. But, Brian, as you know, we`ve had this conversation dozens of times and we`ve seen this scenario play out over and over and over again.
SYKES: And there`s no reason really to expect it`s going to be different this time.
WILLIAMS: Yes, it may take a Congress other than the one we know to be existing in Washington. Three people who know a lot about this story. Three people who care deeply about this story. Our thanks to Ashley Parker, to Charlie Sykes, and Frank Montoya. Appreciate it very much, gang.
Coming up here, we`ll talk to Former CIA Director Leon Panetta about what he thinks there is between Putin and Trump and what he made of today`s attempted walk-back.
And then later, an update tonight on the attempt in the House of Representatives, the aforementioned Congress to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Tuesday evening.
WILLIAMS: As the White House continues to deal with the fallout over President Trump`s news conference with Vladimir Putin, former members of the Intelligence Community are continuing to weigh in on this news over the past 48 hours.
Well, earlier tonight I had a chance to speak with Leon Panetta, whose resume may be unmatched in the modern political era, starting with his 16 years in Congress representing his California district. He was later OMB Director and Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House. He then served as both CIA Director and Secretary of Defense under President Obama. He`s a man who maintains close ties to senior defense officials in this country and with officials in the Intelligence Community.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us tonight, and I`d like to begin by asking you if you take the President at his word that he misspoke in one of the multiple times that he sided with the Russians?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: My problem is I`m not sure what this President`s word is. I think it was a poor effort at trying to walk back from what he did in Helsinki. It was pretty clear when he spoke in Helsinki he was saying what he thought, he was saying what he wanted to say and as a result of the political explosion in this country and reaction to that he tried obviously to try to walk it back, but I thought he did a poor job at it.
He was reading it -- when you start to parse words like would or wouldn`t, you know, it just doesn`t really sound like he is honestly trying to say he made a mistake. I think he fought it every bit of the way and it showed. I think the damage has been done, and very frankly, he hasn`t repaired the damage with what he did today.
WILLIAMS: Are you worried about the two hours that we may never know about, knowing full well that it`s quite likely the Russians know what was said with just translators in the room and just the two men?
PANETTA: I`d be very disappointed if we don`t know what went on in that room, but that could very well be the case. There`s no question in my mind that the Russians know what went on in that room. That`s the way they operate.
But just the fact that the President of the United States and the leader of Russia, our primary adversary, had a closed meeting one-on-one without any aides there to explain to the American people what happened in that room, I think really sets a terrible precedent for the presidency of the United States. I think it was a mistake and I think the President`s going to pay for it.
WILLIAMS: Does it make things worse for you knowing, a, this President knows more about the degree of meddling than the rest of us because he`s had briefings that civilians have not, and, b, he was given a heads up that these 12 most recent indictments were coming before he left on this trip from his own government?
PANETTA: Brian, this is about the truth. And presidents who underestimate the American people and think that they can tell them whatever they want to tell them and that the American people will accept any lie that they tell them really does underestimate the American people and weaken himself. I don`t think there`s any question this President received important briefings time and time again that laid out the case how the Russians specifically took steps to interfere with our election process.
The Intelligence Community has clearly presented that case. Seventeen intelligence agencies agree that the Russians were involved. In addition to that, you now have 12 indictments of Russian military officers who were involved in that effort to undermine our election process.
There is no question in my mind that the President of the United States knew the truth, and the truth is that the Russians were behind this.
WILLIAMS: It`s hard to watch the Helsinki event and not think that something isn`t up, and not think that they don`t have something on him, to use a phrase. What do you think at long last it might be?
PANETTA: Well, there is no question that there is something here that intimidates the President of the United States. I mean, this was a moment in time when you have a major summit like this where the President of the United States, who is sworn to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution, has to defend the interests of the United States of America. And rather than standing up from strength and really telling the Russians that it is unacceptable what they did in the Crimea, what they`re doing in the Ukraine, what they`re doing in Syria and what they`re doing against us in our election process, that that is unacceptable.
Yes, there are areas we can work with them on but they have to correct their behavior in these other areas. Rather than saying that, this President basically coddled Mr. Putin and it was clear that he was intimidated by that situation. Whether the Russians have something on this President or not, no one really knows, but the way he behaves, there is a clear signal that the Russians have something on him.
WILLIAMS: You called yesterday, barring such things as assassinations and the like, perhaps the worst day of the modern era of the presidency. Former CIA Director Brennan said his behavior was treasonous. Do you use that word?
PANETTA: Well, I think treasonous is a word, you know, that requires in the law an awful lot to be able to make that case. I think this was more of a case of incompetence. That the President rather than preparing for that kind of high-level summit, rather than understanding the history behind that kind of summit, rather than reading into the issues, rather than following the advice, I`m sure, of those around him, his secretary of state, his chief of staff and others, that he had to be strong in that meeting with Putin and make clear his objections to what the Russians were doing. That is what tells us that a president is prepared in order to engage in that kind of summitry.
That didn`t happen here because this President refuses to learn and to listen and to do what is necessary. He`d rather operate by his gut instincts. That`s fine if you`re a New York developer. It works if you`re a New York developer. It does not work if you`re President of the United States.
WILLIAMS: Former CIA Director, Former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta with us tonight from California. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us.
PANETTA: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And coming up as we continue, the political fallout before and after Donald Trump`s attempt at damage control. How the Putin controversy is playing out far from the nation`s capital. That and more when we come right back.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: In plain English, it`s been a heck of a week and it`s Tuesday, let`s not forget. So on nights like this, we like to bring in old friends of the smart variety. Not old in age, of course, people we`ve known a long time. Here they are. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning Columnist for the Washington Post. Jim Warren, veteran Print Journalist, Political Commenter, these days Executive Editor of the new start-up called NewsGuard that will rate the veracity of all of us in the business, news and information sites. Welcome to you.
Gene Robinson, you get credit today for calling what we witnessed from the cabinet room a hostage video, the printed remarks, kind of the addendum by sharpie. Do you think any minds were changed today?
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think some reactions were changed. I think there are Republican officials in Congress, mostly members of Congress, who were critical perhaps before the President`s remarks who will now accept them, like Marco Rubio for example.
I don`t know that his mind was actually changed about what President Trump said, but his rhetoric has certainly changed. And I think for some Trump supporters it will be enough.
But I do think this was a big deal. I think this is a big deal. It`s -- that moment with the president of the United States and the president of Russia, the president of the US sides with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence officials. And it raises the question in a very real and present way of the enormous power this man has and his questionable loyalties, frankly. I mean, it`s just -- I think that gets to people in a kind of different way.
WILLIAMS: Speaking of enormous power of the office, Nicolle Wallace, former White House Communications Director, said today on her broadcast, say nothing of 27 hours. You can get a transcript of your own remarks of your president in about 60 seconds. Why the 27-hour wait and why the need, Jim Warren, to write there was no collusion on your own remarks, since it`s something you have worked into every set of remarks you`ve given?
JIM WARREN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, NEWSGUARD: Because presumably he was resisting that for all this time. He didn`t want to say what he said. Leon Panetta hit it. But I also think one should note something that Charlie Sykes said just a few minutes ago, which I think reflects, perhaps expectedly, a sense of cynical orthodoxy.
We`ve seen this before. We`ve been here again. We`ve had a whole day of cable news about this and that. We`ve million times said all of this is beyond the pale but nothing has changed.
For sure I think in the short term, and judging by some calls I made tonight to Trump supporters in Chicago said they were unchanged. And certainly by looking, as I did all day, for my new job at new sites, where everyone turned, this got less play than one would think.
In Janesville, Wisconsin, 25 minutes ago, Paul Ryan`s hometown pay for the big story, 25 percent hike in water bill. Go town to San Antonio, a murder released. In Chicago, a house fire. Here in New York City, the downpour today and the flash floods.
WILLIAMS: And water spouts spotted off Brooklyn.
WARREN: At the same time, for all the reasons my good friend mentioned, Sykes mentioned before, I think why this might be interesting is it may ultimately provide the framework for a legitimate primary run by the Republicans, by, A, Republican against Donald Trump. All the same values that somebody like Charlie Sykes sees violated, I think it could prop up a run against the President in a primary.
And as we know, every time there`s been a serious run against incumbent in `68 in McCarthy, the incumbent has ultimately gone down.
WILLIAMS: Gene, I want to talk about the world order and show you Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump taped yesterday in Helsinki. Here we go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FOX NEWS: So membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that is attacked. So let`s say Montenegro, joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I understand what you`re saying. I`ve asked the question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.
CARLSON: I`m not against one -- or Albania.
TRUMP: By the way, they are very strong people. They have very aggressive people, they may get aggressive. And congratulations, you`re in World War III.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Gene, how is the world order looking right now?
ROBINSON: Not the way it looked a few weeks or months or years ago.
WILLIAMS: Turns out it wasn`t a compliment that Montenegrins are strong people. They are aggressive and can get on into the --
ROBINSON: Well, work this out (ph), that was the President of the United States questioning the very existence of NATO, the reason of NATO, Article 5, which, by the way, has only been invoked once, by guess who, by the United States after 9/11, not by Montenegro, right?
ROBINSON: So, look, it shouldn`t be a surprise. He doesn`t believe in the post-World War II world order as established by, you know, and maintained by presidents for 70 years. He doesn`t believe in it. He believes the world started when Donald Trump was inaugurated and took the oath of office and the rest of that is all trash.
WILLIAMS: You know 30 seconds when you hear it. Where are we on the timeline of Trump? Are we in the middle of the middle? Are we in the beginning of the end? Where are we?
WARREN: I think we are in the formative stage of a possible interesting Republican primary run against Donald Trump. And I think it would serve folks to go out tomorrow. If you can get out to Waterloo or Dubuque, in a place like Iowa, fifth year in a row where farm income has gone down, where soy beans are tanking, where people actually know that big exports of pork go to Mexico, China and Canada, the same place he slapped tariffs.
WILLIAMS: Oh yes.
WARREN: And they`re going to be pretty angry in the midterms and they`re going to vent. And those are a lot of people who up to this point have said, we kind of like his moxie.
WILLIAMS: A guy who just did that is Jim Fallows, who we`re going to have on this broadcast. Also wrote a critical piece this week on Republicans.
ROBINSON: I would say one quick thing. Where we are, four months before November, before our very important election, so if you`re looking for a point where you can say maybe it`s the end of the beginning, that could be November.
WILLIAMS: Thanks to our friends, Eugene Robinson, Jim Warren.
Coming up, the special counsel`s latest move ahead of the Manafort trial in a week, we`re back with that after this.
WILLIAMS: We are back. And the headlines have been about Helsinki largely, but it`s easy to forget the special counsel investigation rolls on. The trial of former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort expected to start just eight days from now.
Remember, this is the first trial of the Mueller investigation, and today we learned Mueller has requested immunity for five potential witnesses who may be called on to testify in this trial. The request did not name them. In fact, it asks that there identities be kept secret to prevent undue harassment or reputational harm in case they aren`t needed to testify.
With us to talk about this tonight, a man who is qualified to do so, Guy Lewis, former US attorney who also worked with Robert Mueller, James Comey and Rod Rosenstein, among others, during his time at DOJ. All right, Guy, dual question to start you off. Why five requests for immunity and what`s the one paragraph viewer`s guide we`re going to need in eight days when they gavel this thing to a start?
GUY LEWIS, FORMER US ATTORNEY: Very interesting, Brian, how they`ve sort of teed this issue up. I mean, let`s think about it. The special counsel has filed a motion to compel, in essence a motion to force five anonymous people to testify. Each one of these people have claimed that if they testify honestly and truthfully that it may subject them to criminal prosecution so they`re exercising their fifth amendment.
So really when I`ve done this in the past in cases that I prosecuted, this is like playing with fire when you`re a prosecutor. The witness comes in, they don`t want to be there, they may have criminal liability themselves, and I`ve had experiences where it`s blown up in my face. And the witness says, look, you know what, the only reason I`m saying this is because you and the FBI agents are forcing me to do it.
WILLIAMS: Well, Guy, that doesn`t sound like the very methodical, orderly special counsel that we`ve been told about.
LEWIS: Well, listen, he is certainly crossing his Ts and dotting his Is. He`s having his witnesses present. But in many respects, a trial is a lot like maybe a nightly news cast. A lot of times things happen that you don`t plan on and you can`t anticipate. But certainly, these witnesses, who really I would want to know about, and if I`m the defense I`d be pounding the table because they have a right to investigate and cross examine the evidence as well.
WILLIAMS: Guy, I heard a gentleman who like you is a former US attorney say on live TV today, this is what collusion looks like. And he was talking about this Russian woman, this Maria Butina, who has ties to the NRA. She`s appears in court tomorrow. What can you tell us about this case? Where does it fit and how important is it in the scheme of things?
LEWIS: Brian, very, very interesting. So, again, back in the old days when I was a prosecutor, we tried some -- indicted and tried some Cuban nationals down here in South Florida. It almost looks exactly the same. They were individuals, in this case Russian nationals, a Russian national student, young lady who has been tasked with reporting information, with infiltrating certain parts of our institutions, maybe our government.
She`s reporting -- clearly she`s reporting to this fellow, Alexander Torshin, who has ties to Moscow and is an important Russian banker, banking official. And I would venture to guess that she is being managed by this guy, who it looks like to me is her handler, and maybe there are several others who are out there doing exactly the same thing.
WILLIAMS: Everyone says it`s like an episode of the series "The Americans." Guy Lewis, we will have you back. Thank you so much for helping us to explain what`s going on these days.
Coming up, because the plot lines we follow here each night so often sound like fiction, best-selling author Dan Silva will be here in a moment to talk Kremlin secrets and the KGB when we come back.
WILLIAMS: US intelligence agencies have unanimously found what is now regarded as settled fact. Russia indeed reached deep within our electoral process, an electronic attack that remains under way as we speak at this moment. It`s just the most recent effort of theirs in a campaign to infiltrate American politics dating back by the way to the days of the Cold War.
That is the subject of a new novel, "The Other Woman," by best selling Author Daniel Silva. He joins us here in our New York studios. Welcome. It`s great to see you again.
DANIEL SILVA, AUTHOR: Nice to be here.
WILLIAMS: I reckon you and I are pretty close in age and so we have watched the arc of all things, first Soviet Union then Russia. You`ve had the great good taste to start writing about it for the last decade or so. Can you believe, as a person our age, how much the conversation is about Russia and Russians here in the United States of America?
SILVA: I can believe it actually. I mean, I`ve wrote my first book dealing with Russia in 2008. It was a book called "Moscow Rules." And I spent a big portion of the summer of 2007 in Moscow, in St. Petersburg researching.
WILLIAMS: What did you know that the rest of us didn`t know?
SILVA: I spent a lot of time with Russian dissonants, Russian opposition, Russian journalists who were living in fear of Vladimir Putin. And I came to the conclusion in 2007 that Vladimir Putin and the new Russia were a malevolent force. That i think we were going to have big problems with them.
And when I wrote that first book, it was a, you know, very successful novel. But I got a lot of blow back on it. The people thought you`re being too hard on Putin. You got it wrong. I didn`t get it wrong. I got it right.
I`ll say one other thing. About four years ago I wrote a book that dealt with Russian meddling in British politics. I didn`t make it up completely out of whole cloth. I wrote about it because they were doing it in Western Europe. And so, I guess I`m only surprised it took them so long to do it here in the United States.
WILLIAMS: As people make their way to a brick and mortar bookstore or electronic dealer of choice.
SILVA: There`s a couple left in the country.
WILLIAMS: Tell us -- give us the viewers guide to this book, what kind of -- what we should know about their tactics and methods that may inform how we take in the news of the day that we will get in purchasing this book.
SILVA: Well I wrote, in this book, a very old fashioned mole hunt. My hero, Gabriel Allon, the legendary head of Israeli intelligence is looking for a Russian mole that has been inserted into Western intelligence. And I wrote that old-fashioned style Cold War thriller this year, because I think that there are a lot of similarities between what is going on now in the way Putin is conducting himself with the way that the old Soviet Union conducted itself.
When I say the old Soviet Union, I mean going back to the days of the `20s and the `30s, when a very youthful paranoid but aggressive Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin reached out beyond Russia`s borders and tampered with the west. They did it through black propaganda, they did it through murder and mayhem. They did it through disinformation campaigns.
And so, when Vladimir Putin meddles in our election, when he meddles in Brexit, when he kills someone in the United Kingdom because of he`s opposed to the regime, he`s reaching back into a very old toolbox that these guys have been using for almost a century now. And you know what, I`m afraid that they`re very good at it.
WILLIAMS: That`s why they`re thrillers. We`ll live on a cliff Daniel Silva whose name could make a recipe book, bold into the top 10. You don`t need my luck but best of luck with --
SILVA: Thank so much. Thank you for having me.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much for coming on.
When we come back, warning of the politics of fear. A certain former president critiques the current Oval Office occupant while never mentioning his name. We`re back with that after this.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. One day after President Trump sided with the leader of an adversarial nation over American intelligence services, his predecessor in office was speaking out in defense of democracy.
At an event marking the 100th birthday Nelson Mandela in South Africa, former president Barack Obama warned about the rise of bigotry and nationalism. Never mentioning Trump by name, the former president outlined his concerns over what`s happening in our times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Strong man politics are ascendent suddenly. Whereby elections and some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.
Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. We see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they`re caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more.
And just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the `90s, now you`re hearing people talk about the end of democracy, and the triumph of tribalism and the strong man. We have to resist that cynicism, because we`ve been through darker times. We`ve been in lower valleys.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Barack Obama in South Africa. That is our broadcast on a Tuesday night, thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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