IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump muddies damage control effort. TRANSCRIPT: 07/18/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Clint Watts, Philip Rucker, Anita Kumar, Jonathan Lemire, Joyce Vance, Bob Kerrey

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 18, 2018 Guest: Clint Watts, Philip Rucker, Anita Kumar, Jonathan Lemire, Joyce Vance, Bob Kerrey

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, our coverage of another incredible day, another instance of hearing the President`s answer to a question followed by the White House telling us difference. While the President tries in a new interview to sound tougher on Putin, "The New York Times" reports tonight before his inauguration, Trump was shown intel that Putin ordered the 2016 attack.

Also, new details right out of streaming T.V. series on that Russian woman, the gun enthusiasts, she`s in jail tonight accused of being a Russian mole living here in America and allegedly using sex to gain access.

Among our guests tonight, the Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia who the Russians want back for questioning, the White House reporter who asked those questions in Helsinki, and the former vice chair of Senate Intelligence as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 545 of this at administration.

And you would be forgiven for thinking right about now that we are up to our necks in Russians and Russian influence in this country right now. It was another one of those days and tonight, it just got more serious with a bold story in the past hour from "The New York Times" which if true, makes suspect everything the President has said about the Russians since being President.

The Times reporting it this way, "Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election. The evidence included texts and e-mails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the CIA how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on January 6, 2017."

Well, today, the President was asked a question about the Russian election interference. He answered it then the White House said in effect we heard it wrong. Before we hear his latest remarks, here is the briefest reminder of what he said on Monday at the news conference with Putin in Helsinki followed by his attempt on a fix on Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

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.

I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn`t." The sentence should have been, "I don`t see any reason why it wouldn`t be Russia." Sort of a double negative. So, you could put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Fast forward to a Cabinet meeting today when the President got another chance to explain his view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CECILIA VEGA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let`s go. Make your way out.

VEGA: No? You don`t believe that to be the case?

TRUMP: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Back up and just to be clear, that was the President seeming to assert that the Russians are not still targeting the U.S., which is at odds with the settled view of all the intelligence professionals in his administration.

Few hours later, the White House moved into cleanup mode and gave its account of what the President really meant there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I got a chance to speak with the President after those comments, and the President was saying thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions.

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So despite the video that shows the President looking at Cecile and answering "no" to this question about whether Russia is still targeting the U.S., and despite multiple people in the room understanding that the President was responding to that question, and despite the President having never before said the word "no, no" repeatedly to ushers reporters out of the room, you`re saying it`s a reverse. You`re saying the President didn`t.

SANDERS: The President said after the question was asked was "thank you very much," and then he said "no, no I`m not answering any more questions."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Once again, and for the record here is the exchange at the Cabinet meeting, Correspondent Cecilia Vega one more time. The President, as you`ll see, continuing to answer questions even though Sarah Sanders claimed he had stopped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VEGA: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let`s go. Make your way out.

VEGA: No? You don`t believe that to be the case?

TRUMP: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s go. We`re finish here.

Press let`s go.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Make a way out.

VEGA: Can you clarify, you don`t believe that to be the case?

TRUMP: We`re doing very well -- we are doing very well probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia and there`s been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Well, there was more on the subject today as the President was asked about Russian interference during an interview with CBS News.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF GLOR, CBS NEWS: You said you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016.

TRUMP: Yes. And I`ve said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that that is true, yes.

GLOR: But you haven`t condemned Putin specifically? Do you hold him personally responsible?

TRUMP: Well, I would, because he`s in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country, you would have to hold him responsible. Yes.

GLOR: What did you say to him?

TRUMP: Very strong on the fact that we can`t have meddling.

GLOR: But he denies it. So if you believe U.S. intelligence agencies, is Putin lying to you.

TRUMP: I don`t want to get into whether or not he`s lying. I can only say that I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as curtly constituted. I think that Dan Coats is excellent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Dan Coats, the President referring to his Director of National Intelligence.

Tonight, the FBI Director, Christopher Wray, whose bureau has come under repeated fire from the President and his allies over all of this agreed with the DNI`s assessment of the Russia threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The intelligence community`s assessment has not changed. My view has not changed, which is that Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and then it continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day. To me, it`s a threat that we need to take extremely seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So for what it`s worth, there is the FBI Director. Another big issue today is the question of what two men discussed behind closed doors with only translators present for over two hours. Put more bluntly here, our President was alone with a trained KGB spy for over two hours.

We know who the American translator was in the room. Her name is Marina Gross. She`s a veteran of the craft who works for the State Department. And since she`s the only other American witness to the conversation, some in Congress would like very much to have the ability to question her about what she heard.

Earlier on this network, Former CIA Director John Brennan, who is these days Senior National Security and Intelligence Analyst for this network raised his own concerns about that private two-hour plus meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Two hours with Donald Trump, I have real questions about that. Why did he not trust John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo, and John Kelly to be in that meeting?

There is something that is very, very puzzling about this, and I am concerned because I know how manipulative the Russians are and Mr. Putin is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And again, and for the record, for good measure, in his CBS News interview today, the President called Former CIA Director Brennan a low life.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Wednesday night. Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post." Clint Watts is back with us. Former FBI Special Agent, Former Member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. His latest book, "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hacker, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News." It`s a timely work. And Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Clint Watts, it is not because of a lack of rigor on my part that I asked you a question so open ended as what is going on and again, if this New York Times reporting turns out to be true, what does that mean about all that we`ve witnessed?

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: It means the President has muddied the waters for 18 months, basically a year and a half now. He`s had very specific evidence presented to him that there has been no doubt who instructed this, which was Vladimir Putin who stood next to him on that stage, and took Putin stance in Helsinki against his intelligence community.

Yesterday, he walked back and then muddied the waters even after his walk back, saying well, and it could be other people, too, that were meddling in the election. Today, more confusion, what does he really believe? And he took a shot at Montenegro, NATO. These are all positions that the Kremlin would love for the United States to take.

We are doing active measures on ourselves. It`s very hard to figure out what the truth is. We saw it on Monday. The President`s Twitter account puts out a tweet, Russian minister of foreign affairs says we agree.

He is more in line with the Russian position on almost all issues, and yet he`s had this evidence all of this time. We have two indictments, one in February, now one this month that layout both the hacking and the social media influence. They are very detailed, there are tremendous sources there.

And this article from "The New York Times" shows that there was a -- there is a source that is so sensitive. It was compartmentalized such that CIA Director Brennan at the time would only deliver to certain people in closed letters. That source is so highly confidential. We probably only have five like that, maybe in our entire country.

We are at that level right now where the President has seen that and yet still will go out on stage and say he isn`t sure or it could be somebody else or Putin told me it isn`t that way so why don`t we believe Vladimir Putin.

WILLIAMS: Again, I can`t say this enough, this is the reporting tonight of "The New York Times." It has not been matched by this news organization or any other to our knowledge.

But again, if true, Clint, this means all the investigators on this case from the special counsel on down have known this to be true as their baseline predicate for the investigation of this President and all the people in his orbit.

WATTS: Yes. And rewind this back to a little over a year ago when FBI Director Comey was fired, he then talked to Lester Holt. He said, "All of this Russia thing, you know, it`s a big nothing."

Rod Rosenstein, he is the one who brought in the special counsel. He did this. Why did he do this? He knows this information as well.

So look at the justifications for why we should look at this. Look at the depth of this investigation and then look at where this investigation might go. We are looking at the operators, the people that were executing the hacking, the people that were doing social medial influence. What if they work up the chain?

If we go back to Osama Bin Laden, the case against Osama Bin Laden, in the 1990s after the embassy bombings, you start off with the figures that do the attack, but when the United States was attack, who do we charged? The person who made the decision. What if we are looking at that coming forward in the next few months and looking at the Americans that might be tied to this case in the next few months?

We will going to have a major head-on collision between the White House, the Special Counsel`s Office, the Department of Justice, and Congress. And I think this is the time, especially if you`re in Capitol Hill, you need to start making decisions about who you are in this for. Are you going to ride with the President all they way to the very end or are you going to stand up for this country and support your intel agencies, which are doing the work?

We`re seeing a lot of breaking in the Senate. We`re seeing a lot of breaking even in the House. You`re seeing DNI Coats come out and say, "Hey, we still see Russian interference going on?"

We are on, I think, about a two to three months period here. We`re going to have major institutional collusion in our country. And I think it`s important that everybody start pushing in the right way now by putting America first rather than President Trump`s ego first, which is what seems to be the case in this.

WILLIAMS: Later in this hour in the chair you`re sitting in, we`re going to have a former senator and I`m going to ask him who he sees in this current group standing up.

Hey, Phil Rucker, it is only Wednesday. I am reminded by the calendar. Can you walk us through what you think we have been through and, say, nothing of the last 12 hours, let`s go back 72. Your trip, we saw you there in Helsinki.

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Well, Brian, it`s been a remarkable 72 hours. A really tortured period for President Trump. We know when he got on that stage with Vladimir Putin and answered the question from John Lemire and others, about the intelligence, he saying, I think, what he believed at that time and he`s now tried to walk it back and then take back the walk back and the then try another walk back from Sarah Sanders today.

And one point I think is so important about this week, we still to this hour do not know what was discussed in that two-hour one-on-one meeting between President Trump and President Putin. The Russian ambassador to the United States briefed reporters earlier today in Moscow and said that there were a number of important verbal agreements, that`s the word that the Russians are using, that were made between Trump and Putin on a range of issues. There`s talked that there could have been some sort of agreement on Syria, but we don`t know that from U.S. officials.

The Pentagon, Brian, the senior officials at the Pentagon, according to my colleagues at the "Washington Post," are completely in the dark about what was discussed and agreed to on Syria. So there could very well be real policy changes for this country that President Trump agreed to with President Putin that we just don`t know about because nobody else was in the room. There were no note-takers, there were no advisors, and President Trump as we know is not a reliable narrator on what happened on the facts.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, Phil. I saw some translated Russian television news tonight and they`re all but trolling American viewers.

RUCKER: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Speaking in vague terms about all that what was discussed and agreed to in that one-on-one.

Anita Kumar, there is a term of art in our business called the pool spray. It has nothing to do with backyard recreation in the summer months, it has everything to do with the press pool that covers the White House and the fact that cameras are allowed into often very quick events, and we have to spray the room to show all the participants. They are the coin of your realm on a daily basis.

You know one when you see one. You`ve looked at the tape of today`s. Whose account do you believe?

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: Right. I mean, I`ve been -- I was not in the room today, but I have been, as Phil has, many times. President Trump actually does more of this pool spray if he likes this to be seen on T.V.

I have never heard him say "no" when he doesn`t want to answer question. Generally, what he does is just kind of ignore questions. Sometimes he will say "thank you." Thank you, meaning thank you it`s time to leave the room as staff is ushering us out.

So, you know, we were surprised at the briefing today to hear what Sarah Sanders said. It just didn`t seem like something that we had heard from him before, some kind of explanation that seemed very different than anything we had heard. So it`s surprising.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, we still heard the President even in the CBS News interview using modifiers, "I would hold Putin accountable" and a shortage of kind of present tense action words. I guess this is his language on this subject.

RUCKER: Yes. And, Brian, it`s so revealing because I think he`s just very uncomfortable saying what his advisors that have convinced him he needs to say. We saw that yesterday in the meeting with Republican lawmakers, where he -- just reading his body language, he was so uncomfortable reading that statement and any would say, for example, "I have full faith in our intelligence agencies. I believe our intelligence agencies." And then in the next sentence adds on ad-libbing off of that statement, "Well, actually it could have been other people, too," which is definitely not what the intelligence agencies have concluded.

So he`s clearly not comfortable talking about this. I think, you know, what he believes is much looser and much more in line with what he have said Monday in Helsinki because that`s been keeping with the comments that he`s been making over the last year and a half.

WILLIAMS: And, Anita, what of the White House defense effort when Sanders cites times when Trump has been critical of Putin but can`t name an instance by name? You usually go up on a day like this with one or two stories in you back pocket, do you not?

KUMAR: Right. I mean, that is the thing about Sarah Sanders and Sean Spicer and press secretaries before them, you for every administration. You know what some of those questions are going to be when you come out there. They come out with a briefing book. They come out with examples of things.

Sarah Sanders was perfectly ready for the question today about what has the United States done under the Trump administration to, you know, against Russia. She was ready. Or what have we done on elections to sure up the elections for this November?

She was either not ready or didn`t have an answer, couldn`t think of anything. She just said that President Trump has come out and said things about President Putin, but she had been asked several times for an example and really couldn`t come up with one. And so finally she said, "Well, he blames Russia for the interference in the election and that`s as tough as you can get," which, you know, as we seen, he`s gone back and forth on that. So that wasn`t so tough.

WILLIAMS: A busy Wednesday night. Our thanks to Clint Watts, who, again, wrote the book on this subject. To Phil Rucker and Anita Kumar, who write a version of history of this topic everyday. Thank you, gang. Appreciate it very much.

Coming up, Former CIA Director John Brennan calls it the height of absurdity that the White House would even consider letting the Kremlin question a former U.S. ambassador to Russia. That ambassador is with us here tonight

And later, did the U.S. catch and accused Russian agent as she was fixing to leave town and did she indeed use sex as a tool of her trade to borough into American society and institutions. The 11th Hour underway on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Russian authorities yesterday named several Americans who they want to question, who they claim were involved in Bill Browder`s "crimes," in their terms, including a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?

SANDERS: The President is going to meet with his team, and we`ll let you know when we have an announcement on that.

HABERMAN: For a second, is that a topic that came up in their conversation? Did President Putin raise this with President Trump?

SANDERS: There was some conversation about it, but there wasn`t a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the President will work with his team, and we`ll let you know if there`s an announcement on that front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The questioning by Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times," and that was notably not a no. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not rule out the possibility of somehow letting Russian officials question American citizens, including most notably Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. She says she`s going to get back to us on that.

In Helsinki, we heard Putin suggest the U.S. could interview Russians indicted in the Muller investigation if Russia was allowed to question Americans. President Trump called it an interesting idea.

Tuesday, the Russian prosecutor`s office said it wants to question one Mike McFaul and several other Americans as part of its investigation into financier Bill Browder for what the Russians say are financial crimes. Browder will remind you an outspoken critic to of Putin lobbied Congress to pass something called the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russia for human rights violations.

Well, today the State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert was asked about all of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I can`t answer on behalf of the White House with regard to that, but what I can tell you is that the overall assertions that have come out of the Russian government are absolutely absurd. The fact that they want to question 11 American citizens and the assertions that the Russian government is making about those American citizens, we do not stand by those assertions that the Russian government makes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here to talk about it with us tonight, the aforementioned Michael McFaul, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and we`re happy to say an MSNBC International Affairs Analyst. He is the Author of the new book, happens to be germane to the discussion, "From Cold War to Hot Piece: An American Ambassador in Putin`s Russia. And Jonathan Lemire is back with us, White House reporter for the Associated Press. You may have seen him questioning Presidents Trump and Putin in Helsinki on Monday. Do I know the people I surround myself with or what?

So Mr. Ambassador, in addition to what Heather Nauert just said, closer to what governments usually say in this event. Here is your former boss tonight, John Kerry, Former Secretary of State. "The administration needs to make it unequivocally clear that in a million years, this wouldn`t be under consideration period. Full stop. Not something that should require a half second of consultation, dangerous."

Again, Ambassador McFaul, that`s the kind of thing governments say. Were you surprised to not get someone reflectively watching your back from the top of the government at the White House today?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Disappointed I think is a better word, surprised I guess, although a lot of things that come out of the White House these days are not surprising. I was delighted by what the State Department said. That`s an excellent statement, but the weird thing about that statement was that dependent clause at the beginning. I can`t speak for the White House.

They`re all one government. It`s the Trump Administration. And time and time again, when we talk about Russia, it appears like we have two policies. We have one policy by the entire government and then we have another policy by President Trump, and it just does not serve America`s natural interest to have that.

And number two, something very important here. I want to make sure people understand by not batting away this as absurd, the President is suggesting that there`s moral equivalency between an indictment put out by Mr. Mueller of 12 Russian intelligence officers who violated our sovereignty, and the evidence is overwhelming with a crazy cockamamie story that makes absolutely no sense, no logical sense that somehow the U.S. ambassador is helping money laundering. And yet by not saying that these things are not equivalent, the President is suggesting there is moral equivalency to that. And I just find it deeply disappointing. I hope they do a better job tomorrow at the press conference.

WILLIAMS: And are we really lead to believe that in that two-hour meeting on the kind of informational dark side of the moon with only interpreters present, Putin says to Trump I have a great idea and here it is. Think of it as kind of a player trade?

MCFAUL: Yes. It`s very consistent with the Vladimir Putin I know. Disinformation is a tool they use all the time, that`s why I wrote the whole book about it, Brian, to try to educate the American people just for how the disparately the methods are that he uses both domestically and abroad.

And, you know, the way I interpret as, the indictment came out, they needed something to say. I don`t think it`s an accident that the number of Americans named is 11, almost the exact same number. And then he`s quite ineffective story teller, Vladimir Putin.

I`ve been in those meetings many times, and you know, when you know the facts, you can push back, but if you don`t know the facts, you can just kind of nod your head and say "OK," like the President said, that sounds like an interesting idea, and that`s tragic. That means our President was not prepared to go into that meeting for five minutes one-on-one with Vladimir Putin, let alone for two hours.

WILLIAMS: You said it yourself, it`s all in your book in a manner. You lay out how it is that this could happen, including this passage we`ve read before about a kind of tense interplay you had at one point as ambassador with Putin.

"He turned away to stare intensely at me with a steely blue eyes and stern scowl to accuse me of purposely seeking to ruin U.S.-Russia relations. Putin seemed genuinely angry with me. I was genuinely alarmed. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end and sweet covered my brow as I endured this tongue-lashing from one of the most powerful people in the world."

And, Ambassador, because we know the stakes and we know what has happened to innocent people on street corners in the U.K., a serious question I never thought I`d have to ask you. Do you worry about your life being in danger? Serious answer.

MCFAUL: Seriously, no. Although I just had somebody come to my house today to deliver papers out of the blue. I didn`t take them. I wasn`t there. So, strange things like that happen.

You read the passage, and I think it`s important to understand this is also an act of intimidation against me personally and those other people that are listed there. I`m a critic of Vladimir Putin. I think that what he does abroad and at home are things that we should disagree with, and so this is yet another tactic to intimidate me like he has done with other people. And I wish, I just hope my own President, my commander-in-chief would understand it for what it is and push back both in public and in private.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, is there any indication in God`s green earth that something like this could ever be agreed to? Is this just kind of cruel 24-hour spooling out of a crazy idea?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: If past is prologue, that`s probably what this is, that the White House would entertain an idea and would be talked out of it. The other branches of government we saw a little bit of course in the State Department spokeswoman today, members of the Trump administration with cooler heads would prevail. This would be something that the president would sort of float --

WILLIAMS: While 11 Americans sweat.

LEMIRE: Right. Of course, yes, that`s not taking into consideration here because this president views things under a very narrow political lens, his own. And in this exchange and we, of course, are not privy to the details in that private meeting, but you could see it in that news conference that I was in the room for where that he seemed generally enthused by this idea that there could be this almost investigator swap.

And I`m sure his consideration was not at all the ambassador or the other 10 Americans who would be potentially subjected to this but rather his own hide and how this could affect the Mueller probe. And could -- it would potentially serve to just further muddy the waters, that these Russia investigators would go in, it would slow things down if, in some way, this ever happened, he probably saw it as yet another way to damage the credibility of an investigation that seems to be creeping closer and closer to him in the White House.

WILLIAMS: We all watched you in realtime in Helsinki wondering the same thing, which I`ll ask you now. Did it feel in realtime like you had just obvious caused with your question a genuine moment, a historic moment to happen?

LEMIRE: Thank you for that. I mean, certainly my job there was to simply do my job and to try to answer -- get the answer to a question. I think a lot of Americans wanted for a very long time. And my colleagues and I have tried verifications before but it seems like this setting was perfect for it. And, you know, I did not know that it`s going to be called. We don`t get a heads up ahead of time.

I prepared my questions, but I didn`t know until Sarah Sanders called my name that I`d be the one to get the chance to ask that questioning. But in that setting with President Trump standing near feet away from Vladimir Putin, you know, with him repeatedly declining to fully back the U.S. intelligence services and their findings. It seems like that was the moment he needed to be put on the record in front of the whole world, who you believe, Vladimir Putin or your own intelligence agencies?

And which should have been the (INAUDIBLE) that hit out of the park. Instead, he equivocated. He waffled. He said he believed both sides. He didn`t want to defend his own government. And then he had a chance to -- I gave him a chance, I said, please, in front of everyone here, admonish Vladimir Putin for what may have happened in 2016. And at the very least, could you warn him to never try this again and he didn`t do that, either. So this is just simply -- it is a question that has only raised more questions.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, our thanks, welcome back and Ambassador to you, please keep talking to us about this as this story progresses and thank you for coming on the air and being forthright in your answers with us tonight.

Coming up, the first court appearance for a Russian woman, suspected of being a foreign agent. Prosecutors say, she`s communicating with Russia spy agency all the while and she seems to have a thing for guns, when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: There are new details in the case of this Russian national arrested and accused of being an illegal Kremlin agent. Maria Butina made her first court appearance today. New court documents alleged she took orders from a Russian official with close ties to Putin. And from the looks of her apartment, she appears to been getting ready to skip town at the time of her arrest.

Before we talk about this with our next guest, we get some quick background tonight from NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The FBI says, during the two years, Maria Butina was making a name for herself as a Washington D.C. college student and gun enthusiast hoping to further relations with Russia. She had a dark secret. Prosecutor say, her every move was directed by a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, close ally of Vladimir Putin.

Investigators say she hid in plane site joining the NRA to get close to influential Republicans. Unaware law enforcement official say that the FBI was watching her.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The Russians for decades have been trying to penetrate Washington circles. This is very reminiscent of the 10 Russian illegals, the sleeper agents who were arrested several years ago. But this was a speed version of that.

WILLIAMS: At a 2015 Trump event in Las Vegas, she asked the candidate a question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you would like to be the president, what will be your foreign politic especially into the relationships with my country?

WILLIAMS: Court document say, she offered sex for access to an unnamed political group. The FBI arrested her last weekend when she was packing up to move. In court today, she pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors said she should be jailed pending trail because she could slip into the Russian embassy and the FBI couldn`t stop her. But her lawyer says she is no flight risk and is known for months that she was under investigation.

ROBERT DRISCOLL, MARIA BUTINA`S ATTORNEY: She`s not an agent to the Russian government, the Russian federation. She`s innocent in the charges brought against her. Most importantly, she`s a young student seeking to make way in America.

WILLIAMS: She`s not charged with being a spy. But the FBI says she was part of a covert Russian campaign to influence American politics.

Pete Williams, NBC News at federal court in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: Should she worry that her lawyer is reading of a piece of paper? We don`t know. The Butina case is not a Mueller case. Mueller`s office, as we`ve been talking about, did just indict those 12 Russian intelligence officers. And tonight, notably, President Trump was asked again whether he`s willing to meet with Mueller`s team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF GLOR, CBS EVENING NEWS HOST: But would you -- are you more likely to sit an interview now?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My lawyers are working on that. I`ve always wanted to do an interview, because look, there`s been no collusion. There`s been no talk of Russia. There`s been no phone call. There`s been nothing. And it`s-- I call it a witch hunt. That`s exactly what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Well, let`s talk about this. And with us to do that, Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor, Joyce, if this isn`t crazy, it will due until crazy gets here as they say. What do you make? What strikes you about this case of this young woman again who was apparently fixing to leave town?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, it looks that way and it also looks like we`re finally getting to watch that season of the Americans that the producers wouldn`t run because it seemed too farfetched, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes, yes.

VANCE: All joking aside, I think this is a very serious case. Although it`s not currently being handled but Mueller`s team, it looks like a case that could end up there or that could be a companion case to their work because of the very serious nature of allegations that Russians were trying to influence the NRA. And we know that $30 million in money funneled out of the NRA into the presidential campaign more than the NRA had ever contributed. So there are serious questions that will need to be answered here.

WILLIAMS: And I know you`re not a political analyst, but spool this out a little bit. And if that`s proven, if Russian money was in an NRA pool, you`ve got all these people running for reelection in the midterms whose opponents can now say, my opponent accepted Russia money from the gun lobby.

VANCE: There`s an enormous amount of political risk here potential for people who are accepting money or who were otherwise intertwined with the NRA. Perhaps that`s why we`re not hearing a lot of chit chat from the NRA itself. I would have expected them to come out a lot more strongly and defense their organization, and all of their many leaders who have appeared in photographs accepting an honorary membership in Butina`s Russian gun organization. But we`ve not seen that obviously there`s a lot of information left here to come out and it could be very dangerous for politicians.

WILLIAMS: And gun rights, by the way, is just not a topic of huge interest in Russia. Now, Joyce, to tonight`s "New York Times" headline, a clean kill on their part reporting unmatched by other news organizations as of the time of this broadcast. Here`s the headline. From the start, Trump has muddied a clear message, Putin interfered. It says, the president knew before he was president. If true, Joyce, what does this mean?

VANCE: Long standing DOJ policy holds that the Justice Department should not indict a sitting president. And I still don`t expect that we`ll see Mueller`s team depart from that policy. But this reporting if it holds up is clear proof that the President has engaged in at a minimum a coverup of Russia`s efforts to interfere with our election. This is a broad mandate for folks on the Hill to pick up this information and to make a determination whether the President`s conduct is something that violates the oath he took to uphold the Constitution.

WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, this is why we have you on the broadcast. Thank you so much for clear and concise answers as we are all reacting to what we have read on the pages of the "New York Times" tonight and elsewhere.

Another break for us. Coming up, he was Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Senator Bob Kerrey will talk to us about the relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and the U.S. and Russia when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think I did great at the news conference. I think it was a strong news conference. You have people that said you should have gone up to him. You should have walked up and started screaming in his face. We`re living in the real world, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That was tonight his interview with CBS News. President Trump as you heard defending his performance on Monday in Helsinki, standing there next to Vladimir Putin. Still, people find the lack of certainty, the lack of urgency in his wording and demeanor striking because they have been warned by our government that the Russian attack remains under way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Have you seen Russian activity in the lead-up to the 2018 election cycle?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Yes, we have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here.

HEINRICH: Director Coats?

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, we have.

HEINRICH: Anyone else? Admiral Rogers?

MICHAEL ROGERS, COMMANDER OF THE U.S. CYBER COMMAND: Yes.

COATS: It was in the months prior to September 2001 when according to then CIA Director George Tenet, the system was blinking red. And here we are two decade nearly two decades later. And I`m here to say the warning lights are blinking red again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about this tonight with bob Kerry, former U.S. senator from Nebraska who once served as the top Democrat on the Intel Committee in the Senate. The position currently held by Mark Warner of Virginia. Also happens to be former governor of Nebraska, he`s a member of the 911 Commission. And he`s a Navy SEAL combat veteran of the Vietnam War who is among 72 living recipients of the Medal of Honor. Senator, thank you for coming back to the broadcast, we appreciate it.

BOB KERREY (D), NEBRASKA: You`re welcome.

WILLIAMS: What do you make of the last three days? And I guess now that includes this story tonight in "The New York Times"?

KERREY: You don`t have enough time.

WILLIAMS: What`s happening?

KERREY: Well, you know, he got played by Putin. He`s been there for two hours as a KGB agent, very experienced. And he played him. And the press conference, in the press conference, the president is equating things to the United States and America is dealing with things that the Russians are doing. And he misses this tremendous opportunity to say to the Russians, you got to play by the rules. And they`re not playing by the rules.

So look, I think part of the problem that the president is having is he didn`t really experience the Cold War and he didn`t really understand how he won the Cold War. We didn`t win the Cold War just with the military efforts. And partly we won it because Ronald Reagan was willing to call it the evil empire. He is willing to stand and say, Gorbachev, take down that wall and Eisenhower the same way.

And part of the problem that we`re having with the president is having that, it was a mistaken idea that we can do it alone, that it can be America first on trade, there can be America first on national security, it doesn`t work. It hasn`t worked for the last 70 years. And now Putin regards the end of the Cold War as a great disaster for Russia. He`s trying to rebuild it.

The president seems to miss that entire history and how we actually got the job done. It wasn`t just military effort. It was willingness of our leaders, in this case in particular, Ronald Reagan, to standup and say, this is an evil empire. He`s unwilling to do it.

WILLIAMS: Well, that brings me to two of the president`s talking points. Number one, that no one is been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.

KERREY: Not even close.

WILLIAMS: And number two, and in away it`s been said this is aimed at the base to normalize being nice to Russia, the notion of our relationships never been worse that it is right now. And those of us with any history on us know there are times in history it`s been much worse.

KERREY: Well, of course it was deeply insulting to say it`s worse because the things that we did, we didn`t invade Crimea, we didn`t invade Ukraine, we didn`t shoot down a civilian airplane. That`s a weird doing. That`s what he`s doing. He`s the one that`s denying civil rights and inside of his own country. He`s the one sending agents into England to kill people. Not us.

He`s the one that`s created a deterioration in the relationship and a lost opportunity frankly when the Cold War ended. It was difficult the transition that Russia had to make to a market economy, to a democracy. And he`s moving away from it.

WILLIAMS: So what do you think it is, a friend of mine watched the press conference in over in Helsinki kind of a mild Trump supporter, comes away from it and says, he kind of, you could believe they`ve got something on him. What do you think its?

KERREY: Well, you certainly don`t want to believe Vladimir Putin, he says, oh, no we got millions of people. Look, Donald Trump has been talking about running for president since `87 or `88.

WILLIAMS: He`s been a prominent American.

KERREY: He does, more than a prominent American. He`s a person of interest. And when you`re a person of interest in the Soviet Union particularly in `87 and Putin was the head of the KGB at the time. I don`t know if they got something on him. I think far more of interest to me is and far more important I think is this demonstrates his failure of America first.

You`re going to run into trouble because you tend to create these equivalencies. I can cut a deal. I can create a shopping center. God knows what he has in mind. It`s not making a deal with somebody like Vladimir Putin because Vladimir Putin is going to play you and he unquestionably did play President Trump in that two-hour meeting they had, later in the press conference.

WILLIAMS: Your bio which I read introducing you would indicate a man who loves his country. You`ve been decorated for courage. My question is, where do you think the courage is going to come from in this Senate and this House? Name Republicans, remembering Republicans were the heroes of Watergate.

KERREY: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Name one or two not leaving the Senate or House who you think might stand up.

KERREY: Well, you know, look, there`s two kinds of people in Washington, people who can count and people who lose. And right now, they`re counting 90 percent of the Republican Party are supporting the president. So it`s really up to the American people who are supporting President Trump. They`ve got examine this thing.

This is not attacking them personally. This is me pointing out that this America first policy it tends to produce an environment where you can`t get the trade agreements you want, you can`t get the military strategies you want and you need some sense and understanding of history to know how it was we got to where we are today.

It was Ronald Reagan saying this is an evil empire. Not Donald Trump saying, evil? Where is the evil? No, I can cut a deal with him. You can`t do that if you expect to have an outcome like we had after the end of the Cold War.

WILLIAMS: What reassures you that this country you love is going to be OK? These are hard times.

KERREY: Oh, we`ve been through worse. My god, we had 2,000 bombings in 1970 with 25 people killed, you know. We celebrated the anniversary of Aaron Burr killing Alexander Hamilton across the river not too long. We had 700,000 men died in the civil war, the area of reconstruction after the end of the war. It was -- we`ve been through worse than this.

There`s a lot of stake because you`re dealing right now with country trying to answer the question do we go Democratic or do we go, you know, dictatorship, do we take away freedoms. There is an argument that needs to be made on behalf of freedom, on behalf of liberty. Again, it`s a lost opportunity with Russia because they`re one of the countries going in the opposite direction, moving away from democracy, moving towards taking freedoms away from their individual citizens.

WILLIAMS: We are lucky recipients of having the same body clock. I like that you`re a night person. I like so much that you come by and visit our broadcast. Please always do. Senator, thank you. It is always a pleasure.

KERREY: My pleasure.

WILLIAMS: Bob Kerrey, our thanks.

Coming up, it`s been pointed out before on this program and elsewhere, once a phrase finds its way onto the president`s verbal play list, he gives it a good ride. More on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Prior to our last item, just some reminders for you especially for our time shifting viewers. You can watch us anytime you please by downloading the MSNBC app on your phone. If you`re on the move, you can listen live to us each and every night on Sirius XM satellite radio. We are also available as a podcast wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. So there`s really no reason why you would ever have to miss a single edition of our 11TH HOUR broadcast.

Now, back to the news, the last thing before we go on a Wednesday night, the phraseology lexicon of our president, he does have his favorites, his go tos. And if you watch him on television a lot, as we tend to do for a living around here, you almost find them sneaking into American conversational life. And as we`ve found, when you watch Donald Trump, you need only look at what`s happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You look at the economy. You look at what`s happening.

But if you look at what`s happened to steel and aluminum.

If you look at what`s happening with trade in China.

If you look at what took place and what happened. And it`s a disgrace. I think it`s really a sad situation when you look at what happened.

We used to go to Syria. That was a place to go. And you look at what`s happened. It`s so sad.

When you look at what`s happened in Vietnam, there is nothing more impressive.

If you look at what`s happening in California, they`re having revolts out there.

If you look at what`s happened in West Virginia and so many different places.

You look at what`s happening.

Take a look at what`s happening in Europe.

You look at what`s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, take a look at what happened in Sweden.

You look at what`s happening in Germany. Take a look what`s happening in Germany. Take a look at what`s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris.

You look at what`s happening in Brussels. You look at what`s happening all over the world. Take a look at what`s happening to our world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

That is our final item for tonight. Our look at what`s happening here today. That is our broadcast on a Wednesday evening. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Today, the White House said that it was considering a request made by the Russian government to hand over to Russia for questioning America`s former ambassador to Russia.

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.