Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 20, 2018 Guest: Jill Colvin, Brian Bennett, Ned Price, Barbara McQuade, Matt Apuzzo, Eli Stokols
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, Trump on tape. "The New York Times" breaks the story of a Michael Cohen recording of the President before his election, discussing a payment to a former Playboy model. The question tonight, who wanted this out there and why? Also this evening, 18 months into it, tonight may indeed conclude the most damaging single week of the Trump presidency, it`s because of what happened in Helsinki. And tonight we hear the experts who have determined something once unthinkable.
And it took going somewhere else to make the world seem a bit smaller. This evening, we`ll look at what happened on a night just like this one that changed the world forever as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Friday night.
Well, good evening, once again, from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 547 of the Trump Administration. And a new bomb shell report from "The New York Times" reveals federal investigators are in possession of at least one audio recording between President Trump and his longtime personal attorney and so-called fixer, Michael Cohen.
Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, Michael Schmidt first reported today that Cohen secretly recorded a conversation with Trump about payments to that former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who claims she had an affair with Trump back in 2006 for about a year. We should note, President Trump has denied the affair.
According to the "Times," the conversation was recorded two months before the 2016 election and the FBI seized the recording this year during the raid on Cohen`s New York office.
Days before the election, "The Wall Street Journal" first reported that company that owns the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., agree to pay $150,000 to McDougal for her story about the alleged affair but didn`t publish it. The "Journal" reported AMI was a backer of Trump and the strategy of quashing a story this way was known as catch and kill.
"The Washington Post" is reporting on details of the recording tonight, "In the 90-second conversation, Cohen can be heard urging Trump to consider buying the rights to McDougal`s claims to better control the story, according to people familiar with the exchange. I think we need bring this in-house, Cohen tells Trump, according to one person with knowledge of the recording."
Meanwhile, President Trump`s current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, confirmed "The New York Times" that President Trump had discussed payments to McDougal with Cohen on the recording. And Giuliani tells the "Times" that Trump did nothing wrong.
"Mr. Giuliani initially indicated the men discussed a payment from Mr. Trump to Ms. McDougal separate from the Enquirer`s payment to buy her story. Later, he said that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen had actually discussed buying the rights to Ms. McDougal`s story from the Enquirer, a move that would have effectively reimbursed the newspaper for its payments to her. That payment was never made, Mr. Giuliani said, adding that Mr. Trump had told Mr. Cohen that if he were to make a payment related to Ms. McDougal, to write a check rather than send cash, so it could be properly documented."
Earlier tonight, Reporter Emily Jane Fox of Vanity Fair reported those close to Cohen are disputing some of these Giuliani comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Some of the details that were reported today by Mr Giuliani or described by Mr. Giuliani are indirect contrast with what people around Mr. Cohen have said. In fact, the issue of who brought up paying for something in cash versus who brought up paying for something with a check is directly opposite in the --
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR: So Giuliani is saying that part of the reason this is exculpatory because the President wanted to pay by check rather than cash.
FOX: Because it`s transparent to do so.
MADDOW: And from the other side, people close to Cohen are saying actually, no, it was me saying you should pay by check. It was the President who wanted to pay by cash.
FOX: Correct. I ran this by Mr. Giuliani as well this evening and he said that he saw the transcript, which he said was created by three different lawyers clearly identified this as Mr. Trump having said that this was a check. Now --
MADDOW: Well, we will find out, presumably.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: In her appearance tonight with Rachel Maddow, Emily Jane Fox is also reporting that by speaking about the recording, the President`s legal team here has waved privilege.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FOX: One person familiar with the situation told me this evening that this was deemed privileged by the special master, but that the President`s attorneys waved the privilege. I just spoke with Rudy Giuliani, Mr. President`s attorney, who said he wasn`t sure if the special master had deemed it privilege or not, but effectively, they waved privilege today by speaking about what was on the tape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: We`re going to have more on all of this in a few minutes, but there`s more. Before we move on, Michael Cohen`s attorney, Lanny Davis, the former Clinton impeachment lawyer, wrote on Twitter tonight. "Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that. But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Michael Cohen. Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape."
"The New York Times" points out the recording "highlights the potential legal and political danger that Mr. Cohen represents to Mr. Trump. Once the keeper of many of Mr. Trump`s secret, Mr. Cohen is now seen as increasingly willing to consider cooperating with prosecutors."
You`ll recall just last month President Trump was asked if Cohen might flip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you worried that Michael Cohen might flip?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: Look, I did nothing wrong. You have to understand. This stuff would have come out a long time ago. I did nothing wrong. I don`t do anything wrong.
It`s really nice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still your friend?
TRUMP: I always like Michael. No, I haven`t spoken to Michael in a long time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still your lawyer?
TRUMP: No, he`s not my lawyer anymore, but I always liked Michael.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your personal lawyer.
TRUMP: And he`s a good person. And I think he`s --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you worried that he`ll cooperate.
TRUMP: Excuse me. Do you mind if I talk?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to know if you`re worried he`s going to cooperate?
TRUMP: You`re asking me a question I`m trying to ask you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to know if you`re worried if he`s going to cooperate with federal investigator.
TRUMP: No, I`m not worried because I did nothing wrong.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Got it.
TRUMP: Nothing wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: From there, let`s also remember this moment. This was Donald Trump who knew something about what might be in his lawyer`s office upon learning that his lawyer`s office had been raided by the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man. And it`s disgraceful situation. It`s a total witch hunt.
It`s a disgrace. It`s frankly a real disgrace. It`s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It`s an attack on what we all stand for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And there`s more tonight. And this one`s different. NBC News is reporting this evening that the special counsel plans to subpoena a New York woman named Kristin Davis to talk to investigators. She was dubbed the "Manhattan Madam" by the New York tabloids back when she was connected to the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.
She said today she will cooperate, that she has no information on Russian collusion, but she added she has worked for former Trump campaign adviser, Roger Stone, for many years.
Earlier tonight, Roger Stone told CNN that Ms. Davis has done nothing wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: She has no knowledge whatsoever of any Russian collusion, collaboration with WikiLeaks or anything else improper having to do with the 2016 election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: I know it`s a lot. We`re going to get to all of it as promised.
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel to do just that on a Friday night. Matt Apuzzo, Pulitzer Prize-winning Reporter for "The New York Times," Barbara McQuade, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, and Eli Stokols, White House reporter for the L.A. Times. Good evening to you all. Thank you for your patience.
And, Matt, even though this is your story so I don`t have to bring you into an area of sourcing where you`re not going to answer my question anyway. I`m going to start with the lawyer present, which I think is best for all involved.
Barbara, you can`t be on cable news these days without using the word narrative. So here`s the narrative that is emerging tonight. The special master, senior federal judge goes through the pile of stuff they found in Cohen`s office in New York. Comes across this audio recording and says this is attorney-client, even though the client would eventually become the president. This is privileged. Puts it in the privileged bucket.
So Rudolph Giuliani or someone on behalf of the President waves privilege, saying it`s OK that contents of this conversation is out there. The narrative goes that this was leaked by forces unfriendly to Mr. Cohen to diminish Mr. Cohen`s value to the home team as a potential flip to the U.S. attorney. Your reaction to that narrative, Barbara McQuade.
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, I don`t know that it diminishes his value in any way, Brian. I mean, it sounds like from what`s been reported, he is engaging in this transaction with President Trump to serve as his lawyer. It may be that this is also not part of the attorney- client privilege because they`re committing some sort of crime together. I don`t know that in any way diminishes Michael Cohen.
I think, you know, one big mystery here is who is the person who`s released this? The only people who knew about this were the judge, the FBI, the Trump team and the Cohen team. So, one of them is the one who releases. I suppose Matt knows the answer to this.
But was it the Cohen team or was it the Trump team and was it to get us to be talking about this instead of what happened in Helsinki? So I`m not sure that it does in any way diminish what Cohen has said. But I think it does perhaps distract from a more damaging narrative to President Trump.
WILLIAMS: OK. Matt, to you I happen to know that the heart of the matter as a story was the full denial from the Trump campaign of this story back in 2016.
MATT APUZZO, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. That`s right. "The Wall Street Journal" first broke this story the fact that Ms. McDougal had claimed this affair and was paid by the National Enquirer and that effectively silenced the story before the election.
And when "The Wall Street Journal" went to the Trump campaign, they got a very firm denial. They said we know nothing about any of this, and the President or the candidate at the time denies the affair. And now we`re talking about a tape in which the President of the United States is saying that thing that I didn`t know anything about, I`m actually caught on tape secretly talking about. And we can`t square that.
And the story has change a little bit during the day, but when you get right down to it, this really does seem to undercut the denials that the Trump campaign gave when this story first surfaced in 2016.
WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, Rick Wilson, the veteran GOP Politico started the day on Twitter telling all of us beware of all objects shiny. This is the time to keep eyes on the ball and look out for distractions.
Part of the narrative that Emily Jane Fox and others are talking about and reporting tonight is that on the whole, team Trump would rather the weekend conversation be about an affair in Ms. McDougal than what the conversation was Monday through Friday morning.
ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: That`s certainly plausible. I mean, it`s obvious that the President`s tweet tonight as he headed to New Jersey talking about the NFL protest was clearly an attempt to change the subject.
And I can just tell you from our reporting this afternoon trying to confirm and trying to report out what Matt and his colleagues first reported this afternoon about the Cohen tapes, the Trump legal team was pretty forthcoming in talking about this and talking to people close to the White House. And the President have said that when it first realized that Michael Cohen got a different attorney, got Lanny Davis signed up and started acting like somebody who might be willing to cooperate, that was something that unnerved the President. He`s been weary about this, about Michael Cohen who`s been so loyal to him for so many years.
He didn`t really contemplate that he would actually maybe flip on him, and now the fact that he appears willing to do that, I think, is something that has rattled the President a little bit. It does come at the end of a really difficult week. And clearly, people close to Michael Cohen say they gave no indication that he was the one that put this tape out there today. But they did say that he is, indeed, pretty fed up with being treated the way Trump has treated him over the years and that he does likely plan to cooperate and do what he has to the do.
WILLIAMS: Matt Apuzzo, you were trying to get in there.
APUZZO: Yes. I guess I would just say that, you know, my colleagues and I this is not something that -- you know, look, I`m on vacation. This is not something that we --
WILLIAMS: I was going to keep that secret for you.
APUZZO: -- that we came up with here this morning. This is something that we`ve been working out for some time, you know, and really piece together. And, you know, we went to and were finally able to get comment from Rudy Giuliani this morning, which is what I think said OK, it`s time to publish. We have the President`s lawyer on the record talking about this.
I mean, I would just say there`s so much news, there are so many shiny objects in covering this administration, Brian. You know, I would just sort of be a little hesitant to kind of take every shiny object as a distraction, even though many of the shiny objects are distracting.
WILLIAMS: All right. Well, let`s look in a different facet of this object and let me ask you what your knowledge is of the current Trump-Cohen relationship if indeed it can be called that these days and how much should we make of this recording apparently cutting off? I`m asking mostly for those of us old enough to remember the name Rosemary Woods.
APUZZO: Right. That`s a great question about why is this such a short recording. I don`t know the answer to that.
And the status of the Trump-Cohen relationship is obviously a strained one at this point. You know, my colleague, Maggie Haberman, reported that when Trump was told, "By the way, Mr. President, this tape exists," his response was, "Why would Michael do that to me?" So I mean, he feels betrayed by the existence of tape. I think you heard from Lanny Davis` comments here that they feel as if they are being betrayed by the mischaracterization of the conversation, at least in their view.
This isn`t the relationship it once was. Obviously, Michael Cohen at one point said he would take a bullet for the President. We`ve heard plenty of indications that Michael Cohen feels that he -- if push comes to shove, he`s not going to take that bullet for the President.
WILLIAMS: Barbara McQuade, a neck snapping change of subject to the Manhattan Madam. A good folks like you who we`ve relied on to be of counsel to us on this broadcast have reminded us the folks who need to be nervous are the big names who have yet to be interviewed by team Mueller. The name Roger Stone does come to mind here. We mentioned it earlier.
Is Roger Stone the one who needs to be worried?
MCQUADE: Yes, I think so. I mean, based on the reporting about the Manhattan Madam, the reason that it appears that Robert Mueller`s interested in her is that she has a close relationship with Roger Stone. She has worked him as a web designer. And I think that might be a very important fact.
You know, I think it`s a fair assessment that the person identified in the indictment that Robert Mueller return last week, charging the Russian intelligence officers with hacking into the DNC and other entities, that person in contact with an organization that sounds a lot like WikiLeaks is Roger Stone. And Roger Stone himself had said, you know, he thinks he`s that person. And so it seems that Robert Mueller wants to talk to the Manhattan Madam -- so-called Manhattan Madam, Kristin Davis, I think is her name, because of her role as the web designer.
She is involved in understanding what is it involved with Roger Stone`s internet persona and his work in the web domain. And I think that it`s not likely to be a fishing expedition. You`re not likely to say who are all the people Roger Stone knows?
It seems likely that they would be following up on some other factual nugget. Her name has come up in some documents, or mentioned at the minutes of meeting, a few other testimony of other witnesses seems likely that that`s why they`re pursuing her knowledge.
WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, people have been referring to this week as perhaps the most momentous of this still early administration. Where do you rank it?
STOKOLS: I think it`s certainly up there, Brian. I was there Monday for the press conference in Helsinki and have been trying to catch up with the President`s repeated walk backs over the last few days of his positions on Russia. And in the week, his book ended here with the Russian news, a reminder of all the things that are still out there hanging over the administration in the legal realm. And so it`s been a stressful week for this President.
I go back about a month being around the President as he was traveling, interacting with him a bit. You could see he was really ebullient. He thought that the Mueller probe was fading, the public didn`t care about it.
He felt great going into and certainly coming out of the Singapore summit. Was excited about meeting with Putin. And this week has really been a difficult reminder to him that sometimes his instincts are wrong, and also that there may be a limit to what Republican here in Washington will put up with given the rebuke, the broad rebuke that he got from his own party this week for his comments related to Putin.
WILLIAMS: To Matt Apuzzo, unconditional permission to resume your vacation in an undisclosed location, and congratulations for being out-front on a big story all day long and into tonight.
WILLIAMS: To Matt, Barbara McQuade, to Eli Stokols, our thanks for starting us off on a busy Friday night.
And coming up for us as we approach our first break, the President is in New Jersey for the weekend after what might be, as we said, the most consequential week of his presidency, as Eli was saying, starting in Finland. Well, tonight, the ways in which he is already trying to change the subject, including but not limited to the NFL.
And later, after a week of warnings from people who should know just what are we witnessing here. "The 11th Hour" last work day of the week just getting started.
WILLIAMS: As of this evening, President Trump has officially completed 18 months in office. While it has a lot of competition, this week has been nominated as the most remarkable.
Since that meeting with Russian President Putin on Monday, we have seen the President walk back comments he made on Russian election interference and then walk back those walk backs. Here a friendly reminder of what has transpired over the course of just three days.
(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.
The sentence should have been "I don`t see any reason why it wouldn`t be Russia." Sort of a double negative.
I accept our intelligence community`s conclusion that Russia`s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.
CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. No.
VEGA: No? You don`t believe that to be the case?
TRUMP: Thank you, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Then just yesterday, we learned Putin`s been invited to Washington in the fall. The White House also had to back off the President`s suggestion he`d be willing to let Russia interrogate Americans, including Former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul.
And today, Politico is reporting it this way. "Trump`s disastrous performance since his news conference alongside Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has sent West Wing morale to its lowest level since had Charlottesville fiasco almost a year ago. Staffers are considering accelerating their departures in the wake of the president`s equivocations on Russian meddling in the 2016 election."
Well, here with us tonight to talk about it, Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press," and Brian Bennett, Senior White House Correspondent for Time Magazine.
Brian, by the way is the author of this week`s cover story that included the, shall we call it troubling cover imagery, which the President may count as an official Time Magazine cover appearance since such things we know are important to him.
Jill, welcome back. I know you started NATO, went to the U.K. all the way to Helsinki. You live to tell the tale. I know that some events don`t always occur to you in the moment.
You`re doing your job, a comment that other people can judge as weighty later doesn`t land the right way. I imagine all of this did and what was - - you don`t do opinion, but you do give take away. What was your take away for this week?
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": I mean, this trip was something that was just whiplash the entire way at every stop. This is something --
WILLIAMS: President is everywhere.
COLVIN: Exactly. Starting with NATO --
WILLIAMS: Insulting your host.
COLVIN: Exactly. From the very first moment that he sat down at that breakfast before the NATO festivity has officially got underway and coming out at Angela Merkel like that, assaulting Germany, claiming that they were the ones sort of in cahoots with Russia too, all of the drama at NATO. The threats that potentially he didn`t want to participate anymore. Then you have that interview he gave to the Sun in which he --
COLVIN: -- lambasted Theresa May right before he arrived. That story published just as the President had landed. I mean, then you go into the protest all across London. And then you go to Helsinki, which we all thought would be the main event.
And really, I mean, I`ve covered this President now for almost three years. And there are times where, as a reporter, you know, you`re surprised. There are times when we`ve all seen the backlash from Congress. We`ve seen aides, you know, really kind of burying into their holes and not wanting to comment.
You know, you feel the morale, and at this point, I mean, so many people in the West Wing just feels like there`s a sense of numbness of all these things that they`ve gone through again and again.
WILLIAMS: And I was told today it was the last day for two important aides, Marc Short, the chief lobbyist on the Hill, and Joe Hagin in the West Wing.
COLVIN: I was under the impression that Joe Hagin had already departed, but you might be right.
WILLIAMS: OK. I thought -- well, that`s Lemire I`m quoting from Associated Press, and I heard on this network. So either way, too big departures.
COLVIN: In any case -- these are people who are also were widely respected, not only within the West Wing, within the House who the President trusted, but also were trusted outside of the building. You know, Hagin was somebody who came in to the White House with years of past experience in past administrations.
Marc Short was the person who really helped shepherd the President`s legislative agenda. You know, he had a big role in these very important nominations. And those are people who are really going to be missed, especially at a time when right now it is not easy to find people to fill any of those positions.
You walk into the press office now, I mean, there are a lot of empty desks. And so the question now is, who are they going to find to fill those positions and how much -- you know, what`s their competence level going to be?
WILLIAMS: That`s true. It`s not like working for other administrations.
Brian, I`m going to quote your favorite writer, Brian Bennett of Time Magazine, and we`ll talk about your writing as soon as I`m done with this quote. From your cover story this week, and it`s on the overarching topic of Russia.
"Trump is bruised by the idea that Russian election meddling taints his victory, those close to him say, and can`t concede the fact that Russia did try to interfere in the election, regardless of whether it impacted the outcome."
It`s a notable quote, Brian, because here we are in the position of kind of hoping we find out from the Russian some of what was discussed in the two- hour plus closed door session between two super power leaders.
BRIAN BENNETT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, it`s so extraordinary that in this presidency, we always have to rely on the other country to find out what was discussed in a lot of these meetings and that we`re finding out more from the Russians than from the White House about what President Trump and President Putin talked about.
And I mean, one of the most extraordinary moments this week was of course when the President decided he wanted to -- he say that he had mixed up the word "would" and "wouldn`t" in his remarks. It was extraordinary because this President is so reluctant to correct the record on so many other occasions. And it reflected such sincere and troublesome concern among his staff that they came to him and said look, "Mr. President, you need read something that walks this back."
Of course it didn`t address the central problem of his Helsinki performance, which was that he stood next to President Putin, was asked by a reporter who he believed the U.S. intelligence or President Putin about Russian interference, and he couldn`t definitively say that he believed U.S. intelligence and he couldn`t confront President Putin. I mean, that was the moment for the President to stand up to President Putin in front of the rest of the world and tell him to -- that he shouldn`t have meddled before and that he shouldn`t meddle going in to the next round of elections.
WILLIAMS: Jill, let me ask this question a bit backwards. It`s your reporting that he started buoyant on the flight home from Helsinki. Is that because that he didn`t come up in the game and is not aware of global norms or the U.S. President`s duty to stress American exceptionalism, especially in that forum?
COLVIN: You know, I think that the President, in some cases, we just need to take at his word and listen to the way that he`s framing this. The President left NATO saying that he had achieved this grand victory. Everyone snapped into gear because he`d made these threats and then magically they`re all paying money and now NATO is stronger he proclaimed as he goes to the next stop.
COLVIN: The President has said again and again that he believes that stronger, better ties with Russia are important, that together, these two nuclear powers, if they work together, will create a safer world. This is the way he talks about it and the way he`s can described it, and the way people around him say is that he really felt like things had gone well. That he accomplished some kind of interpersonal, you know, getting closer with Putin.
He felt like he`d sort of understood the man as the two of them sat together for more than two hours and felt like the press conference had actually gone OK until he started hearing from allies, until he started hearing all the criticisms from Congress, members of his staff begging him, doing interventions, saying look, sir, you need to walk his back. This is not acceptable.
And the president meanwhile has just been stewing. You`ve seen it on his Twitter feed. He`s blaming the media. He`s furious about the questions he was asked. You know, he`s angry at members of Congress for not standing up to him. He`s angry at everyone else, not himself.
WILLIAMS: And don`t forget the NFL. Brian, we won`t eve show it because it`s not germane. But tweeting tonight about the national anthem controversy, the NFL mocking, the salary of the NFL commissioner. So let`s tie that in. What they see their boss doing to -- and the vacancies to the remaining employee morale.
BRIAN BENNETT, TIME MAGAZINE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s incredibly difficult for people who are working in the White House coming out of the Helsinki debacle. They`re having a hard time figuring out, OK, how do we capture the conversation again? Of course, the president has his own ideas on how to do that. He wants to go back to talking about cultural issues like the NFL kneeling. He also wants to talk about federal interest rates.
I mean it`s really extraordinary that this week also the president went out and discouraged the Fed from raising interest rates. I mean in a normal presidency that would be a massive story of interference by a president in what is supposed to be a walled-off decision by the Fed. And, you know, those are things that he wants to be talking about and he wants to get back to talking about those things. And it puts people who work for him that are institutional and believe that there`s a certain way the country should be run, it puts them in incredibly awkward position.
WILLIAMS: Brian Bennett of "Time Magazine", Jill Colvin of the Associate Press, so great to have you here. Thank you so very much.
Coming up, what they saw and heard in Helsinki that led some of our guests and analysts to say things about an American president that they never dreamed they would say. We`ll have that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We started this week focused on Helsinki, Finland, a bracing event during which the president deferred to Putin of Russia. Just before that event, the two were alone together with just interpreters present and as week comes to an end with Putin invited to Washington this fall. Helsinki hammered home a point that some have been advocating, some others have been denying or trying to suppress or ignore that for the first time an American president is at least suspected of having loyalty to a foreign leader of a foreign power.
Here now is how our guests and experts reacted on just this broadcast this week to what they saw from Helsinki.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: I don`t think even in their wildest dreams Vladimir Putin or his entourage thought that it could go this well.
JULIA IOFFE, GQ CORRESPONDENT: This is why Vladimir Putin, as he told us today, wanted Donald Trump to win.
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The more conspiratorial theories look more plausible not less plausible after a day like today.
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Ronald Regan won the Cold War. Today Donald Trump lost the post-Cold War for the United States of America.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: He`s made a decision to side with the other team and he`s done so only because he believes it`s in his personal interest.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: 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.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER CIA ACTING DIRECTOR: To state it boldly, the United States was attacked and the president sided with the enemy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There is some candle power there and let`s bring in another expert in these matters. Ned Price, former senior director to the National Security Counsel and former senior analyst at CIA.
Ned, thank you very much for coming on. You could probably discern all those voices that precede you. I want to read a quote from one of the people we just saw, Julia or Julia Ioffe, a Russian-born American journalist who had her comments there. This is what she wrote in GQ. "After Trump and Putin met in Helsinki many pundits and politicians struggled to understand what it is they saw, to rationalize it, to explain it away, to speculate on what kinds of kompromat the Russians could have on Trump, when the answer, like infidelity or death, was staring them, us in the face. Yes, Putin has something on Trump. He helped him win. That`s the kompromat."
Ned, do you agree? Do you concur? Do you at least say it`s possible?
NED PRICE, FORMER CIA SENIOR ANALYST: Well, Brian, I think that`s an element of the kompromat. In fact, it has to be. Because as we have heard from Jim Clapper to other experts out there, it is in some ways unlikely that Donald Trump would be our commander in chief today were it not for Russia`s multi-pronged assault on our election after all this election was decided by some 70,000 votes in three swing states that were particular targets for the Russians.
So I think that`s a part of it. But I also think that may not be it. And I think we have to account for the fact that there are other additive elements on top of this. On one extreme, you have the theory, which I think is still a bit outlandish, that he`s Manchurian candidate, that he`s for years has been a recruited asset of there`s Russians, and now this assault coming to before.
But on the other extreme, something I think is much more likely, if not probable is the fact that Donald Trump wants to leave office, wants to leave the presidency in good graces with Vladimir Putin because he and his family have use the Russian market, have in fact relied upon the Russian market for years. So whether it`s Manchurian candidate or this financial conflict of interest, the end result is the same, Vladimir Putin has leverage over Donald Trump. And as we saw this week, he`s going to exact that in any way he can.
WILLIAMS: I want to know one thing. You`re in touch on a daily basis with your former colleagues. You`re out there at this conference and has been with the entire national intelligence community, some of them in exile admittedly. What is morale like in the trade of intelligence?
PRICE: Well, it`s a good question, Brian, because I think we focus far too much on the standing of senior intelligence officials. Will Director Coats go or won`t he after this week? What to make of Chris Wray, the FBI director?
Look, I have been in touch with my former colleagues in the intelligence community and there is a profound sense of demoralization. Just as I was trying to make sense of Monday`s press conference and proceedings, I got an e-mail from a former colleague of mine. The first line of which was what in the hell are we doing? And it wasn`t a question about policy. It wasn`t a question of what are the state of relations between Washington and Moscow.
Brian, it was an existential question that he, as a member of the intelligence community, posed. Why are we in these positions in some cases risking life and limb when we have a president who is quite ready to side with Vladimir Putin consistently over the work of the intelligence community? These men and women are in these positions with little pay and even less recognition, Brian. And to see the president do this to them, it really pushes them to the exit. And unfortunately the implications of that over the long term could be profound if there is this brain drain going forward.
WILLIAMS: Ned Price, a veteran of the trade out there at this gathering of practitioners in Aspen later half of this week. Thank you so very much for joining us on the air tonight.
Coming up, the president calls critics of this summit in Helsinki hypocrites, insisting his meeting with Putin was a great success. Steve Kornacki is with us tonight at the big board, a special Friday night appearance with new numbers showing who might agree with the president.
WILLIAMS: We showed you some numbers last night showing the president`s base appearing to stick with him following this summit in Helsinki. And according to last night`s round of poles, the meeting wasn`t enough to shake their confidence. But here`s the question. What if there`s more to the numbers than meets the eye presently? With us at the big board is the only man who can answer that question, Steve Kornacki, our national political correspondent.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. How are you? Well, it`s interesting because as you said, the numbers we`ve seen on the Republican base tell a story we`ve kind of become familiar with, but remember he`s been getting criticism this week from some Republican corners. There`s some unanswered questions about how all this shakes out. We`ll take you through what we know here, sort of the instant readout. Two polls there at there so far this week.
Again, these are conducted basically the day after, two days after that summit, that press conference. Why disapproval? And this one, this from Axios, 40 to 58. Again, if you look at the next one we have, this is from CBS News, same story, 55% disprove, 32% approve. And then when you look at that question, we`re just talking about there. If the party break down, it is that wide gap among Democrats. Look, an overwhelming 91%, 83% disproving of the president`s conduct. Republicans, the flip side, 79, 60, a little bit lower when you get down to 68. You usually see the president`s number with his own party closer to 79 even higher. So, a little bit of descent here.
But again, what really was hurting Trump here in these numbers we`ve seen this week. Independents, 2 to 1 disapproval there. So when you get those wide gaps overall, that`s what`s driving it. But the question here, look at -- that media coverage. How is that going to shake out? The other question is how deep, how deeply held are these views? How deep are these reactions? Is this the kind of event? Given the media coverage we`ve seen, given that it`s a foreign country, given that it`s Russia, that it`s Putin, is this the kind of event that`s going to linger with people? That`s what people you`re trying to get it here. One of the things we want to know.
So another poll. New one here. "Huffington Post", they gave voters a third option. They said do you approve, do you disapprove or, you know what, are you not sure? Is your view somewhere in the middle on this? And when they asked that question, look at what came up. Very interesting here. Approve of Trump`s performance, that actually gets plurality support, 41%. That not sure option, nearly a quarter chose and that not sure option is coming from one very specific place on the political spectrum, it`s those independents.
This is the interesting thing. A third of them choose the not sure option. Look at that, disapprove option among independents. We just saw it sitting there about 60% and those others. It comes way down. So what is that telling us? It`s telling us among independents when you push them on this issue, you approve or disapprove, they move to the disapprove side. When you ask them, you know, the third option, not sure, how confident are you in that view? Boy, you start to get a little bit of waffling there. So it does raise the question among those independent voters, how deeply held, how much will this linger?
And that gets to my tease for Sunday because we got a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, going to come out Sunday, maybe more of a comprehensive look at this question about the views on this summit and how they`re affecting the overall assessment of Trump as president. Because that`s the question here. Is it approval rating? Does it go down? Does it go up? Does it stay the same? I think we`re going to get a look at that on Sunday, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for that. That really does change how the story has reported. Huge chunk of the population. Steve Kornacki at the big board for us.
Another break. We`re back with one of the poorly covered stories, let`s say, of this past week.
WILLIAMS: The federal judge who set the deadline of next week to reunite over 2,500 children was given an update today, which we can pass along to you tonight. Of the 2,551 children between the ages of 5 and 17 who are still in detention, only 450 have been reunited with their parents. That`s a little less than 18%. The government says 908 parents are not expected to be eligible for reunification. It`s not clear how many children that involves. Of those parents, 679 cases technically are still pending.
All of this a result of the Trump administration`s so-called zero tolerance policy. The one that required border patrol agents to immediately prosecute people who crossed the border illegally. That meant separating families. The president was pressured to end that policy back on June 20th.
Some children have been kept away from their parents at migrant shelters for months on end now. Many are only allowed to make one 10-minute phone call per week. The families that come here escaping violence in their hope countries come to America seeking asylum which is legal. This latest update from the Feds says that 863 migrant parents have now been given final orders of removal. That means they are being deported just as soon as they are reunited with their children. We`ll get another status report on Monday and pass that along to you.
Coming up, where were you 49 years ago tonight? For that matter, was there a you 49 years ago tonight? Well, it turns out the Russians were in the news back then, too. We`ll have the story when we come back.
WILLIAMS: The last thing before we go here tonight is what happened 49 years ago tonight. And the simplest way to put this is this. If you were alive and old enough to be aware of your surroundings, you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon and when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin then walked on the moon.
Long before anybody thought of HDTV, we marveled at how sharp the pictures were. Imagine half a billion people down here on earth able to watch live television from the surface of the moon in the summer of `69. We marveled at what our nation had accomplished and at the bravery of that crew, remember, no one had ever landed on the moon or anywhere that wasn`t named earth. And they landed with no guarantee that the rockets would fire and get them back up to the third man, Michael Collins, patiently orbiting the moon inside their ride home.
We went to the moon because we could because JFK said we should. But people forget we went to moon because of the Russians. It was the Soviet Union that launched the first satellite into space. It was the Soviets who launched the first astronaut. And the U.S. was sent into a frantic scramble. It was called the space race for a reason. And the mission was to beat the Russians to the moon. In fact, it still gals a whole lot of space folk and NASA retirees that the Russians are these days our only ride into space. We don`t have a vehicle to get our own astronauts up to the International Space Station where three Americans happen to be living right now.
We landed on the moon five more times. One mission failed en route. I`m pretty sure Tom Hanks was the commander. And think of there as we leave you. All of our stuff is still up there untouched, undisturbed, a couple of lunar rovers, some tripods, some tools and the base portion of six lunar landers. We left six American flags up there. Made to look like they`re waiving even though there`s no air or wind because we thought of that too and NASA sewed a wire frame into each flag.
Every piece we left up there and every footprint in that dust starting with the first footprint 49 years ago tonight is a monument to an era when it seemed like there was nothing we couldn`t do.
That is our broadcast for a Friday night and for this week. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good -- have a good weekend and good night for all of us here at NBC News headquarters in New York.
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