Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 26, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Robert Costa, Sol Wisenberg, Rebecca O`Brien, Jonathan Lemire, Jill Colvin
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Breaking tonight, Donald Trump knew in advance about the Trump Tower meeting according the Michael Cohen. This is the meeting where Don Jr. was supposed to learn Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Plus, blockbuster reporting from "The Wall Street Journal." The CFO for the Trump Organization, the day-to-day money man, the highest ranking non- Trump in the company has been subpoenaed.
Also, Mueller`s case for obstruction. New details from "The New York Times" on why the why the special counsel is looking at the President`s Twitter feed. We`ll look at all of it what it means for this President and this White House from the reporters breaking these stories tonight as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Thursday evening.
Well, good evening, once again, from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 553 of this Trump administration.
There`s breaking news yet again tonight and it`s this. A source telling NBC News that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen asserts the President knew about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting in advance. Was told about it, indeed, by his son, Don Jr., before it happened. The source also goes onto say Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Now, you may recall that the June meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and several different Russian nationals, including it turns out an attorney with reportedly close ties to the Kremlin in that meeting. Russians were expected to provide damaging political information on Hillary Clinton.
Let`s listen to what the President himself told three journalists from "The New York Times" about whether he knew about this Trump Tower meeting.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn`t look at it very closely, to be honest with you.
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: OK.
TRUMP: I just heard there was an e-mail requesting a meeting or something, yes, requesting a meeting that they have information on Hillary Clinton, and I said -- I mean, that`s standard political stuff.
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Did you know the time that they had the meet something?
TRUMP: No, I didn`t know anything about it.
SCHMIDT: But you didn`t --
TRUMP: It must have been a very -- must have been a very unimportant, because I never even heard of that.
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: No one told you a word, nothing? I know we talked about this on the plane a little bit. But nobody --
TRUMP: No, nobody told me. I didn`t know -- it`s a very unimportant -- sounded like a very unimportant meeting.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And here now Donald Trump Jr. speaking with Sean Hannity about that June 2016 meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY FOX NEWS HOST: A lot of people going to want to know this about your father. Did you tell your father anything about this?
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP`S SON: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell. I wouldn`t have remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President`s lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, told NBC News tonight that Michael Cohen is not credible and that he can`t be believed. Giuliani added that he spoke to the President about this at length before as well as other witnesses and he says it`s not true.
Here is Rudy Giuliani talking about Michael Cohen on CNN tonight where the story first broke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: Number one, he lied to people about taping them, both the President and other people. And not only that, he went to subterfuge in order to do it like a whole little game, which shows how pathologically is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There is also new reporting about the President`s preferred mode of messaging. "The New York Times" reporting Robert Mueller is now examining of all things the President`s Twitter postings. Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman broke the story. Michael Schmidt his standing by to join us.
He and Haberman write that Mueller is "scrutinizing tweets and negative statements from the President about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the former FBI director, James B. Comey, according to three people briefed on the matter. Mueller is examining whether the actions add up to attempts to obstruct the investigation by both intimidating witnesses and pressuring senior law enforcement officials to tamp down the inquiry. Mueller wants to question the President about the tweets."
Trump has been prolific in his attacks on both Sessions and Comey on Twitter and in public comments and, of course, that`s just the start of it. The Times also notes the President`s written and verbal criticisms as well as his actions could all be woven together as prosecutors tried to build their case.
The President is facing yet another legal challenge. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today that the Trump Organization`s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury here in New York in the Michael Cohen investigation. If the name Allen Weisselberg sounds vaguely familiar, it may be because we heard his name earlier this week.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S FORMER LAWYER: I`ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with --
TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
COHEN: -- funding. Yes. And it`s all the stuff.
TRUMP: Yes, I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because -- here, you never know where that company, you never know what he`s --
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So, I`m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Michael Cohen talking to Donald Trump about Allen Weisselberg on that one secret conversation that was released this week.
Now, sharp eyed television viewers may also remember Allen Weisselberg from The Apprentice. He was a judge on seasons two of the show that aired on the NBC television network.
A Democratic U.S. senator tonight described Weisselberg as holding the keys to the Trump financial kingdom. Others have said today he knows about every incoming and outgoing dollar going back years to when Donald Trump`s father ran the business.
Good place to bring in our lead-off panel on a busy Thursday night. Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times," Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and moderator in his spare time of "Washington Week" on PBS, Rebecca Davis O`Brien, Reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" of the aforementioned Weisselberg story, and Sol Wisenberg, just to keep things interesting, Deputy Independent Counsel for Whitewater-Lewinsky investigation. He was chosen by Ken Starr to conduct the grand jury questioning of President Bill Clinton. A big group tonight, but a lot to talk about at the same time. Welcome to you all.
Mr. Schmidt, tell us even though it has to do with tonight`s late development, we`ll get to your piece of this story in a bit. Why would be so important for the President, if it turns out to be true, to have had advance knowledge about the Trump Tower meeting beyond the fact it would mean his answer to your question was false?
SCHMIDT: Yes, so a basic level that, you know, he made false statements to the public about this but that wouldn`t be that different than many other things that have gone on during his presidency or his candidacy. The difference would be on a legal area. If Mueller believes that the meeting itself was conspiring with the Russians, that there is a legal problem with it, it brings the President into that area. It brings his knowledge and his role into more scrutiny.
If Mueller really doesn`t like that meeting and wants to do something about it, it`s more problematic for the President.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, I know you have been on the phone, I`ve been on the phone. A source connected to the Cohen camp told me tonight what we have witnessed is a set up. What have you learned?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Speaking to Mayor Giuliani a few minutes ago, he believes that Cohen is lying. He`s going to question Cohen`s credibility in the days ahead.
I asked him if he believes Cohen is playing for a pardon. And he said if he is playing for a pardon, in his words, he`s doing it in a stupid way. He said the President is not considering a pardon for Mr. Cohen.
But you do see tonight these sources talking to CNN and saying that Cohen is willing to talk to Mueller. And the question will be right now will Mueller now call Cohen to do an interview, to sit down and talk about that meeting in 2016?
WILLIAMS: Let`s talk turkey here and that is a lot of reporters are both pushing and chasing down a narrative that here is news that Cohen can put Donald Trump in possession of knowledge about that meeting. The narrative is that the Trump camp leaked the story because it`s bad to own it in advance. What it also does, it diminishes the value of Mr. Cohen as a potential flip target for the feds, the Southern District of New York. Can you speak to that possible strategy?
COSTA: When you look right now at Michael Cohen`s legal situation he`s not even been contacted by Mueller that we can report at the Post at this moment. And so his path ahead legally is challenging.
He`s under scrutiny. His offices and his hotel room have been raided. The Southern District of New York is looking into all of his business dealings. Now you have this flow of information to different sources tonight that he has more information about President Trump`s activity and conduct as a candidate.
And whether he`s looking for a pardon from the President because he has all this information he`s alleging or he`s looking to cooperate with federal investigators. There`s a debate inside of Cohen`s orbit about whether he is making smart moves at this moment if he is trying to save himself legally.
WILLIAMS: All right. Counsel, that comes to your area of expertise. Sol, what would be the legal implications of learning that the President knew in advance about this meeting?
SOL WISENBERG, FMR. DEPUTY INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, WHITEWATER-LEWINSKY INVESTIGATION: Well, potentially, the crime involved here would be there`s a campaign finance law that says you can`t accept aid from a foreign government during the campaign. But keep in mind that under that law is not a criminal violation unless you act willfully, which means you knew you were violating the law.
So Mueller would have to prove, first of all, that Cohen is telling the truth that President Trump knew about the meeting. He would have to prove that President Trump knew it was a violation of law to accept aid from a foreign government and he would have to prove that anything really happened after this meeting, because this was a quick meeting where they didn`t have any dirt that they were willing to talk about based on what we`ve been told by the Trump camp and that was the end of that.
So I think there is potential legal liability but I think it`s incredibly speculative at this point. The interesting thing will be, you know, if Mueller can tie it to any later efforts, you know, by the Russians and any later evidence of collusion which so far, you know, we haven`t seen at all.
WILLIAMS: Sol, is ignorance any defense? And here`s what I mean by that if I may speak English. We`ve had a ton of people come on this broadcast and say people came up traditionally through politics. Say, I would have called FBI right away if I had known about this, anything about this meeting.
We`re talking about an administration of political neophytes. They didn`t come up through the classic channels. Would ignorance of their obligation to notify the FBI be any defense in hindsight?
WISENBERG: Well, they don`t have an obligation to notify the FBI. Your question is general maxim ignorance of the law is no excuse, but there are exceptions to that. And this campaign finance law is one of those exceptions.
Now, you said that everybody was in neophyte, there`s one person in that meeting who was not a neophyte and that`s Paul Manafort. So that will be a very interesting development if anything comes from that. All the others were neophytes.
President Trump during the campaign when he was a candidate talked about Justice Samuel Alito signing bills, right, rather than signing opinions. So you`re talking about somebody whose knowledge of American government and civics was on the level of the average fifth grader. So it`s quite possible that he didn`t know that this was a violation of the law.
But also keep in mind -- I know that`s not what you`re talking about with this meeting in Trump Tower. Campaign finance -- sorry, hacking law, laws about hacking computers, they don`t require willfulness. Ignorance of the law is no excuse with those laws.
So you got to keep in mind what law we`re talking about. Here with the Trump Tower meeting, you`re talking about a campaign finance law that a person would have to know it`s illegal to actually accept aid from a foreign government.
WILLIAMS: And this button at the end of the sentence for our viewers. Tonight`s story is the President was told by his son, Don Jr., all of this according to what Cohen is prepared to share with prosecutors that this meeting was on the docket.
I want to remind you, Donald Trump Jr. in Senate Judiciary Committee testimony said, "I wouldn`t have wasted his time with it. I never spoke to my father about it." That was September 2017.
All of this brings us to Rebecca and the story we were chasing all day long until tonight`s story. Welcome to our time clock.
Tell me the importance of this man to tramp the person, to tramp the head of family business. How far back does he go? What would he know about, what kinds of things?
REBECCA O`BRIEN, REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, Allen Weisselberg was more than just a CFO. He was also been the financial gatekeeper for Donald Trump himself and for his family for a long time. He`s been around in the orbit of this man and his businesses for decades.
I think, you know, one question he`s surfaced in a number of issues that have come up in the -- he was involved in foundation and he`s been linked to the payments related to the two women who alleged sexual encounters with Donald Trump.
O`BRIEN: So, you know, we don`t know -- and this is a reminder of course that beyond this -- behind this volley of back and forth between the Trump camp and the Cohen camp that`s going on right now that we`ve seen play out over the last 12 hours since the story broke, there are two investigations going on right now. And the fact that Mr. Weisselberg was asked to testify before a grand jury, we don`t know what he was asked, but the fact this man who has access to the innermost sanctum of the Trump Organization was asked to speak about who knows what. You know we should be paying attention to that and that surely signifies something about what the interest the federal prosecutor is.
WILLIAMS: That`s a great point. Michael, this cannot have been a great day at the Trump White House. To Rebecca`s point, we remind everybody the Cohen investigation is being handled by feds.
The U.S. attorneys for the Southern District of New York really accept the fact that they`re on the same fed team and they`re separate and apart from the Mueller investigation. If in the questioning of Weisselberg they do stumble across the keys to the financial kingdom, can you reemphasized to our viewers that information can be shared on a realtime basis with the larger Mueller investigation?
SCHMIDT: Correct, he would go back. It`s the same Justice Department. They`re all under the same um umbrella.
The interesting thing is that when it came time for the Justice Department to deal with the Cohen issue, Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, sent it to New York. We don`t know exactly why he did that. But what it do is it insulated Mueller for more accusations at least from the public about a witch hunt.
Mueller was a guy who was appointed to look into the Russia issue, looking at obstruction. But it`s harder to say he`s on a wild goose chase looking at Michael Cohen when he`s not in its career prosecutors. The best and the brightest folks that do this kind of work in the country in New York City looking at that. So that has insulated Mueller on that front.
At the end of the day, what Cohen wants is a global deal with the Justice Department. He wants any exposure in New York and any exposure with Mueller to go away. So he`s been want to come to them with one big giant thing and say, "Hey, look. Here`s everything I have. What can you give me?"
WILLIAMS: Yes, 11:30, Sunday night are there about. I look at my phone, there`s a tweet in all capital letters from our President to the leader of Iran or as we`ve come apt to call it Sunday night. The President`s Twitter feed is an active and wild unregulated place.
Your story this morning for "The New York Times" with Maggie Haberman was that of all the things, this output, this affluent we see everyday might be the case that they`re chasing down staring us in the face. I think we`re all guilty of not seeing these tweets as evidence speaking to the case itself.
SCHMIDT: Yes, I think you have to look at the tweets and imagine if you heard about them in private. Imagine if the President was saying these things to Jeff Sessions or about Jeff Sessions to his aides about how he wanted to get rid of him at the same time that he`s pressuring him to reassert his control over the Russia investigation, unrecuse himself from it.
So because the President is so transparent about the way that he communicates, he kind of get used to it and think that it`s normal. But if you`re looking at the larger actions that he has taken and you`re trying to tie them all together and understand them, is there a larger pattern of public and private pressure? Was he trying to use all the tools that he had from the phone in his hand to calling up the FBI director to try and insulate himself from the Russia investigation?
WILLIAMS: Hey, Robert Costa, give me a little Gail Sheehy (ph). You are so familiar with the inner workings of the Trump family business, even the confines of Trump Tower. To Rebecca story`s in the journal about Mr. Weisselberg, what must that do to the head, the psyche of the President?
COSTA: It`s crucial. And to take you back a few years, whenever I would go to Trump Tower as a reporter, Michael Cohen would be there and he was the President`s personal lawyer but he would really also confidant, a political advisor, someone who wasn`t always just in party and legal advise, but was kind of boosting the President as we saw in that recording. Someone who`s saying, "Hey, boss, that`s a great poll."
Weisselberg is the opposite. He wasn`t advising on politics. He was Trump orb. He was old school lawyer. He was someone the President and then candidate and then a businessman would rely on for real legal advice about branding, about licensing out the Trump name, who knew about the whole global operation.
He did have and still has, as you said, the keys to the kingdom. To understand beyond Trump the brand and personality, how does the Trump Organization actually work.
WILLIAMS: Sol, so we have these competing versions of the same news story tonight. A story breaks originally on CNN since confirmed by NBC News that Trump may have had advanced knowledge of this meeting in Trump Tower and we know this because Mr. Cohen, his former lawyer and kind on consiglieri is ready to tell that to the feds. Does it matter to you, does it matter to the law who leaked the story tonight?
WISENBERG: Well, no, it doesn`t. I mean, there`s either a crime or there isn`t. There`s evidence or there isn`t. So I don`t think it matters unless -- I don`t think anyone suggested this particularly stories coming from Mueller since Cohen isn`t talking to Mueller. So as a legal matter, it doesn`t.
If I can speak very briefly to the Twitter issue, though, an issue that people aren`t really focusing on enough. I think it`s very unlikely based on what we have seen so far that there could be an obstruction case built on the Twitter post by the President, but it could certainly go to motive, to intent if there were ever other charges brought against the President.
And look, white collar lawyers tell their clients all the time, keep your mouth shut. Don`t talk about the case. Don`t talk about it to anybody. Don`t talk about it to your sister. There`s no sister-brother privilege.
And here is somebody who is constantly talking and saying inconsistent things about this investigation and his knowledge of things. And so I think it`s very, very dangerous for the President to do that, whether or not they get an obstruction case out it.
WILLIAMS: Since you mention the sister, I`m duty bound to add the President`s sister happens to be a sitting senior federal judge. That would be interesting.
Counselor, I`ve looked around the panel. A lot of us have interviewed presidents. You are the only member of our member who has interviewed a sitting president of the United States in a legal matter. And having established that, what do you think the chances are of Trump versus Mueller face-to-face?
WISENBERG: I think that according to what Mr. Rudy Giuliani says they`re going to only let him be interviewed about collusion issue and not about obstruction. I think that is a very wise strategic choice.
Here is an interesting thing that nobody has commented on. Mueller and the President`s attorneys have been doing this dance for months now where Mueller says, "I want to interview you," and the lawyers have been saying - - Giuliani has been saying, "Well, only if you do this and only if you agree to do that."
So the question arises, why hasn`t Bob Mueller brought him into court? Why hasn`t he issued a subpoena and said this guy is going to talk to me. I think one reason he hasn`t done it is I don`t think he necessarily wins in court.
I think a lot of people assume that Nixon, U.S. versus Nixon settled that issue. But in fact, in order for him to ask questions about presidential communications, and this is clearly presidential communications, he`s got to show that the evidence he needs is a very important and he`s got to show that he can`t get it from anybody else.
And I guarantee you, if he goes into a court and says I want to talk about obstruction, Rudy Giuliani is going to say, "Well, wait a minute. What evidence do you have of obstruction? Your view of the law of obstruction is wrong." And he`s going to get tied up in court for a long time. And I think Mueller knows that he might not win on the executive privilege issue.
COSTA: Real quick, Brian.
COSTA: Talking to Mayor Giuliani tonight, I asked him about this. I said, "The President could offer a lot of clarity if he just sat down with Bob Mueller and talked about this 2016 meeting that his son attended with Russians and others from the campaign." I said, "Would the President be willing to do so?"
And he just keep coming back, the Muller team is not credible. They`re Democrats. And he said Mueller hasn`t brought up this 2016 meeting as part of the possible questioning.
It seems like Rudy Giuliani is hedging very much whether the President would be willing to sit down and talk about this meeting.
WILLIAMS: Rebecca, who is new to our broadcast of tonight, and welcome, by the way.
O`BRIEN: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: I failed at the top. Because there is such a large community of folks out there who are still waiting to see the President`s tax returns, because a lot of people on the left regard things financial as kind of the original sin in Donald Trump land, is it unfair to say that Weisselberg, the Weisselberg news word of his subpoena is so big, could reverberate so much that we could be looking at -- we could later learn that it had a huge effect inside the Trump White House right now?
O`BRIEN: Certainly. But I think we also have to remember the -- what we know right now about this subpoena of Weisselberg is that it`s in the Southern District. We don`t know precisely what prosecutors there or investigators there are seeking from him. We don`t know what he`s told them if anything or, you know, could be something very constraint and/or could be much broader. And we don`t know the answer to that right now.
Certainly, he knows a great deal about the financial workings of Trump and his inner circle. So time will tell and maybe it could be soon, it could be a long time coming. But he`s certainly has -- you know, he`s done -- he`s handled the President`s personal financial matters as well as his professional and business matters.
WILLIAMS: It could be hyperbole that somebody said to me tonight, every dollar in, every dollar out. If it`s not that, I think it`s close to that.
Michael Schmidt, Robert Costa, Rebecca O`Brien, Sol Wisenberg, can`t thank you all enough. Our big four, our front four starting us off tonight on another busy night.
Coming up for us as we approach our first commercial break, more on the impact of tonight`s developments in this tightening investigation surrounding the Trump inner circle. Michael Cohen ready to say the President did know about this meeting in Trump Tower for starters.
And later, tonight was the deadline to reunite migrant fathers and mothers with their children. The U.S. government says hundreds of families will remain torn apart. An update for you as "The 11th Hour" is just getting started beneath the Washington monument on a Thursday night.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. It`s a lot. We`ll get through it. We`re still tracking this breaking news just tonight on the Robert Mueller`s Russia investigation.
As we`ve reported, the sources telling NBC News that Michael Cohen asserts President Trump was told in advance about that 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. He was told about it by his son, Don Jr., and that Michael Cohen is willing and ready to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Earlier tonight, President Trump`s lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on CNN where this story first broke and said Cohen is not a credible witness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: There`s no doubt in my mind that he`s just not credible. I would not accept him as a witness as a prosecutor. If Mueller has any other kinds of case, this is the kind of witness that can really destroy your whole case because any finder of fact loses confidence in the case when you rely on a guy like this. When you rely on a guy where before you`re finished with him, you`re going to have such a string of lies, you just can`t trust him.
You put him in this kind of pressure, what`s his history been? His history has been lying under pressure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Now, let`s talk about what we just witnessed. Jonathan Lemire is here with us, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, and Jill Colvin is with us. She has an amazing title. White House Reporter for the Associated Press. Who`s watching the White House for the Associated Press if they`re both with us tonight?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Who`s been at the wire tonight?
WILLIAMS: That`s a great question.
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": I don`t know.
WILLIAMS: Welcome to you both. Jonathan, there`s so much to talk what was just in there. This is straight up character assassination I think by any definition by Rudolph Giuliani. The man he`s talking about was until recently the personal lawyer for the man who became President of the United States. He`s calling him right up to an including a pathological liar.
The narrative being advanced by several journalists tonight and several lawyers in what has become a proxy war is that Mr. Cohen did not leak this. Mr. Cohen`s team did not leak this. This was leaked by someone close to Mr. Trump because their philosophy is it`s out there, it`s bad. Own it early and by getting this out there, this is one of the worst things Cohen had to share with prosecutors, you diminish his value on the used car lot.
LEMIRE: First all, it`s an interesting argument to make from Rudy Giuliani to say that Michael Cohen is an untrustworthy character considering he was the person that President Trump trusted for a decade. So that perhaps speaks poorly about the President`s judge of character there as well.
But I think you hit the nail on the head here. There`s certainly is some reporting working tonight that this is not a leak from the Cohen camp. In fact, on this very air, earlier this evening Emily Jane Fox, we`re going to be fair was -- very well sourced to Cohen and his world suggested that the fear there is that this card was being plucked from his hand.
That the Trump team wanted to put this out to sort of sully, to diminish what he could offer Mueller, to sort of damage his credibility and to sort of suggest that we`re not afraid of what you can bring. We`re going to put it out there and we`re going to deal with it now.
And so much of what this President is exactly that. Confronting things head on and just like dealing with scandal after scandal that would have sunk any of his predecessors and for him it`s a Thursday. And I think that they feel like this, they`ll potentially very damaging is something they can deal with too. They can put it out there and muddy the water.
The disinformation campaign that we have seen time and again whether is Uranium One or Hillary Clinton`s server or that Pakistani tech guy who made a cameo in the press conference in Helsinki last week as he tries to explain his way out to Russian mess.
They will attack Cohen. They will muddy the waters and they think they can get through it.
WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin you were on the President`s trip to the Midwest today. Before we talk about that I want to share with our audience a brief snippet. This was the President in Granite City, Illinois. And even though it`s brief snippet, it may speak to his state of mind. We`ll discuss it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are dying to see us make a little bit of a mistake. They analyze every word. They say did he say that. Could it have been. Did he say something positive about Russia? I think he loves Russia. And I see along with Russia, but that`s OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: All right, Jill Colvin. How was your day with the President? How did he seem to you?
COLVIN: I think this trip was a very welcomed distraction for the President. They`ve just created this incredible split screen. Have the president -- he both in Illinois and Iowa. And this was the kind of trip his staff loves to organize for him, he gets to.
And they took him at first to community college. The center where students learn to manufacture. And he was playing with various things that had been made from a 3D printing machine, including a little model of the White House.
He was picking them up, he was joking with staff, showing them off. He later went to this sort of rally like setting with these members of various steel workers and they`re all celebrating the fact the steel mill have been reopened.
And so these are the kind of the set pieces of the White House really tries to provide the President to keep him on a positive mood. And to distract him from what`s happening.
But you had today, the President is out there sort of kind of playing along. And you can see as the stories are breaking as I`m sure the President was being informed of the reporting that`s out there, just the extent to which Russia remains on the President`s mind.
That clip you showed. The President was giving a speech on trade. He was supposed to be as I said, giving this kind of raw, raw steel is back. Look at the way that my that threats of trade war and my steel and aluminum tariffs, look at the good they are doing.
And yet, you can see that the President as he looks to the media, as he points to those people in the back of the room, his concern there, you can feel it is still Russia.
WILLIAMS: And yet Jill, here we are, the United States just our soybean farmers alone do $12.5 billion worth of business with China. American farmers love to brag that they feed the world and it`s pretty accurate.
Number two, if 25 percent tariff stay in effect, we`re talking about the price of the best selling car in this country. The Ford f-150 going up $5,200. Slicing into the economy of ineffect the Trump base. The folks you saw in the Midwest today. Was there any of that? Is there a sense of kind of beat the clock going on?
COLVIN: Yes, but we didn`t feel any of that today. These locations were specifically chosen. The President was surrounded by people who just sat around. I mean, we had an hour long round table of people just singing the President`s praises.
But not far from the town where we were, were farmers. We drove through field after field as we drove across Iowa, right near the steel plant that we were at there also. The country`s biggest nail manufacturer they said that they`re on the verge of closing. And that they`ve losing and bleeding employees and steel aluminum tariffs went into affect.
And looks in the company one of our story today pleading with the President saying "Mr. President, these are your people. This is your base." They are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt here. But there`s only so much that they can take.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire and time you have sat down in the studio, we have learned that tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. in the situation room the President will convene his first ever national security council meeting on the subject of election meddling.
LEMIRE: Well, that`s interesting timing. Yes, this is -- he`s finally convening this for the staff (ph) security counsel. It comes of course just ten days or so after he cast yet again on whether election meddling even happened or certainly if Russia was behind it.
And then after a flurry of rather ineffective walk backs we get a tweet from the other day saying the whole thing was a hoax. We know for that for this President he cannot separate the idea of election interference and the claims of collusion. That he believes that any suggestion that Russia meddled in what happen in 2016 diminishes his victory and makes him an illegitimate President.
There are perhaps other arguments for that two and that`s other problem about. But at minimum we know that he believes that if we question, what happened then, it`s like questions him. He has have it be quick frankly drag, kicking and screaming into this.
Let`s remember the voter commission that he set up that might he may put -- Mike Pence in charge of earlier this year that held like what are two meeting for was the disbanded because he believed that million of people had voted illegally in this country.
That of course is not what happened. What did happen, according to every U.S. Intelligence Agency is a foreign power interfered with this election and they believe that they will do so again. There are reports tonight how they targeted some of the 2018 midterm races but when President Trump in Helsinki standing across Vladimir Putin was given a chance to admonish Putin to his face, don`t do it again, he declined.
WILLIAMS: Jill, I did note that the President made the long walk from the chopper back to the White House tonight. One thing he hasn`t been doing, we`re going to talk about the CNN correspondent later on the broadcast is taking questions and that sure was the case tonight.
You know Jill.
COLVIN: Yes. I`m sorry. I thought you`re going to play out there. Yes. The President was notably mute all day long. We had multiple opportunities. I shouted at him, I can`t count how many times. I think, there`s a ton of breaking news today. You obviously the impeachment attempts against Rosenstein.
The Cohen, that he breaking all of these questions that we had. And the President very -- he got different ways of avoiding reporters questions. Sometimes he pretends he doesn`t hear us. In each case today he really sort of looked at us, acknowledged us and gave us thumbs up to kind of make clear that he was not interested in speaking.
We also have not heard him weighing in on those things at all on Twitter and any of that. But I want to go back to the point that John and you were speaking about which we started this segment, which was this idea that Rudy Giuliani is out there and trying to discredit Michael Cohen here by arguably putting this information out early by trying to get ahead of time.
And you see this pattern of the White House and the President`s lawyers constantly getting more engage in kind of the one-upmanship and the battle, trying to cut each other out of the need. Without paying attention to the fact that throwing out there that the idea that President knew about this meeting, Trump Tower the Don Jr. meeting that he denied, that Don Jr. denied. These people did this under oath in testimony to Congress that is a huge story.
And it just seems like sometimes they completely forget about the broader impact as they`re trying to hurl punches at one another.
WILLIAMS: A terrific point and well taken. I think we`re in middle of a proxy war by two very crafty attorneys and sometimes we forget is a heart is gigantic story again tonight. This is why we have invited both White House reporters for the associated press.
Jonathan lemire, Jill Colvin just back from a quick trip to the American Midwest, thank you both so very much.
And coming up, for us the deadline for the U.S. government to reunite those migrant families has arrived. Yet, hundreds of kids are still being put to bed tonight with no idea where their parents are. We`ll get a late live update from McAllen, Texas when we come back.
WILLIAMS: To a hugely important issue and ongoing story now. The government has until midnight Pacific Time to reunite children that were separate from their families at the boarder, as the result of that so- called. What was a zero tolerance policy by the Trump administration.
According to a court filing, the government had reunited and hear are the latest numbers, 1,442 out of 2,551 migrant children with their parents. That`s as of 6:00 eastern time today. At this point, 711 children are still separated from their parents.
For more as promise we want to go to NBC News correspondent Gabe Gutierrez who`s been following developments tonight. From McAllen, Texas. Gabe, for the folks watching at home they would be forgiven for wanting to know this was a federal judge`s order. How is it that 711 kids are still left without parents in this case?
WILLIAMS: Well, hi there Brian, while the whole process has been chaotic and confusing, at least that according to the immigration attorneys and the migrant families that we have spoken with. And those 700 that you mentioned, something that you have understand. Government says it`s on track to reunite all these eligible children as the government defines them.
But it says that the children that are ineligible for reunification are those for example that who`s parents failed background checks, they had criminal records or the parental status couldn`t be verified.
And more than 400 of them had been had actually been deported. So it`s all in how you define numbers, but again, the government said it`s on track to meet that midnight deadline. But it`s really hard know because we won`t find out until tomorrow when the government is expected to present it`s updates figure see that federal judge in California.
But beyond the numbers Brian, we have been speaking with migrant families here that really describe the emotion behind this and how difficult it`s been for the past several weeks and months to be separated from their children.
When we spoke with one woman from her name is Detalia (ph) from Guatemala. She was separated from her son. She says for 45 days and her son Jeremy (ph) told us how he had been bullied while he was in federal custody and injured his head and he was finally happy to be back with his mother. Take a listen to their story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUTIERREZ: So again, Brian the government now facing that midnight deadline to reunit what it eligible children ages 5 to 17 years old. If you recall a few weeks ago there was that other deadline for the children younger than five years old. But the question right now is will it meet that deadline.
Overnight the government says it`s promising to do so, but many people here, many immigration attorneys and activists here are very skeptical that will happen, Brian.
WILLIAMS: For anyone who thinks this story is about numbers, look at that little kid. Look at his mom. Think of what that little kid has now had seared in his brain and what he`s been through. Gabe Gutierrez, I know you have to go down for the night because we`ll next see you on the today show tomorrow morning. With our thanks for your reporting tonight from McAllen, Texas.
Coming up for us, the uproar over that White House decision over who can and cannot report from a Rose Garden event. Criticism is coming from some surprising corners, when we come right back.
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TRUMP: Look at all those cameras. All those cameras. Every stop I got all these cameras. This never happened to Obama. This never happened to Bush. This didn`t happen. They just follow. They`re dying to see us make a little bit of a mistake. They analyze every word. They say did he say that? Could it have been. Did he say something positive about Russia? I think he loves Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just thought we need to see that again. The President on the road today disparaging comments from the President aimed at news media aren`t new. After all, he`s been calling us fake, dishonest and enemies of the people since the days of the campaign.
But his comments today came a day after the CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins was banished from an open press event because she was told she asked questions in the Oval office that were deemed inappropriate earlier yesterday. Here`s a reminder of what happened.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Michael Cohen betray you Mr. President?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Michael Cohen betray you?
TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you worried what Michael Cohen is going to prosecutors?
TRUMP: Just keep going.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you worried about what is on the other tapes Mr. President?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Now, if you watched this or any other news broadcast regularly, then you know. Those shouted questions while often undignified and loud, are the norm. It`s often the only opportunity the media get to ask the President something on the record.
And this President especially regularly answers those shouted questions. But it was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Bill Shine who initiated the ban on Kaitlan Collins, a term he took issue with today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill, was it the right call to ban a reporter?
BILL SHINE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Could you ask her if we ever used the word ban?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What word did you use, bill? What word would you use?
SHINE: Would you ask her if she ever used the word ban, then I will answer that question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There has been near universal outrage especially from the journalism community with support pouring in on Twitter and from CNN rival networks because Kaitlan Collins was disinvited let say from a White House event. The President of Fox News issued a statement of solidarity. And here was Shepard Smith on Fox News today.
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SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS HOST: For those of you at home, if I may, journalists are not the enemies of the people. It`s quite the opposite. Our profession is enshrined in the constitution and the fourth estate holds the essential job of being your eyes and often ears and when appropriate your voice. It`s a cornerstone of our republic.
We work to discern what is truth, then to present it to you in context and with perspective. As your representatives in the people`s halls report to you without fear or favor while striving to hold those in power to the same standards. This is the foundation of what we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was Shepard Smith. We also learned however it`s not like a memo went out at Fox News. Not everyone at Fox News felt quite that same way.
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LOU DOBBS, FOX NEWS HOST: I guess my question would be who the hell are you? All right, the President does insist on respect. All I have to say about that it`s about time there were consequences for disrespectful behavior in the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you think it`s all right to throw a reporter out of an event if they ask a question you find inappropriate? Do you think it`s all right to throw a reporter out of an event?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that was Lou Dobbs, long time friend of Donald trump before that and that was the President tonight on his way back from Marine One. Going into the White House as you saw ignoring shouted questions from members of the White House Press Corps.
Coming up for us after another break, a big anniversary today for an organization in the news. A lot these days when we come right back.
WILLIAMS: The last thing before we go tonight is perhaps the most mentioned man in America whose voice is not known to Americans, that would be Robert Mueller. In terms of the leadership of the federal bureau of investigation only J. Edgar Hoover served as FBI director longer than Robert Mueller.
Well, today was the 110th anniversary of the bureau, was formed back in 1908 as "Force of Special Agents" which it remains today. And today`s anniversary reminded us of Mueller`s public remarks a decade ago in celebration of the FBI sentential.
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ROBERT MUELLER, SIXTH DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: It is not enough to stop the terrorists. We must stop him while maintaining his civil liberties. It is not enough to catch the criminal. We must catch him while respecting his civil rights. It is not enough to prevent foreign countries from stealing our secrets. We must prevent that from happening while still upholding the rule of law.
The rule of law. Civil liberties. Civil rights. These are not our burdens. They are what make us better. They are what have made us better for nearly 100 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Perhaps the second most talked about man in America these days. Robert Mueller speaking on American life, civil liberties and the rule of law.
And that brings an end to our Thursday night broadcast. Thank you so very much for being here with us good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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