Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: July 27, 2018 Guest: Emily Jane Fox, Josh Gerstein, Jill Wine-Banks, Clint Watts, Malcolm Nance, Nancy Cook, Jon Meacham
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the President swears he did not know about that Trump Tower meeting in advance while someone close to Michael Cohen tells Vanity Fair, Cohen is sitting on top of a treasure-trove of damaging information and "there`s a lot more to come."
For the tenth straight time, the President today ignored questions from reporters and that`s just since the Trump-Cohen tape came out on Tuesday.
And Donald Trump`s first ever National Security Council meeting on the topic of election safety was convened today hours after the President was invited to Moscow by Vladimir Putin. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.
On a Friday night, good evening, once again, from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 554 of the Trump administration and the President escalates the war on his former lawyer and confidant Michael Cohen while denying that he had any advance knowledge about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.
A source has told NBC News Cohen is willing to tell Robert Mueller that Donald Trump Jr. informed his father about the meeting before it took place. Trump son had that meeting with several Russians after he was told they were coming prepared with damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Well, today the President responded with this. "So the fake news doesn`t waste my time with dumb questions. No, I did not know of the meeting with my son, Don Jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam. Taxicabs, maybe." We`ll explain that one. "He even retained bill and Crooked Hillary`s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice." That last reference, of course, is to Cohen`s attorney Lanny Davis who has declined comment on the President`s response or to the reports of Cohen`s alligations.
The President steered clear of this topic during his event at the White House today designed to highlight economic numbers. As Trump wrapped up, however, our colleague Kristen Welker asked him about Michael Cohen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Mr. President, is Michael Cohen telling the truth? Is Michael Cohen telling the truth? Mr. President, is Michael Cohen telling the truth?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: As we say it`s been ten times now the President has ignored reporters` questions since the Cohen audio first aired Tuesday evening. And for that matter, there are only been three White House press briefings in the entire month of July.
On the Cohen front, Politico reports the President advisors have "been taken aback by Cohen`s no holds barred approach and his willingness to publicly reveal potentially devastating details of his private conversations with the President. Asked to describe the mood among Trump`s close confidants, one person close to the President replied simply, not good."
They add this quoting someone close to the President. "Trump is enraged over the Cohen revelations."
Emily Jane Fox, who is standing by to join us, has been covering the Trump- Cohen fallout for Vanity Fair. Her latest piece out just late today details the current mood in the Cohen camp.
"Now the bond between Trump and Cohen appears to be irrevocably torn asunder. There is a sense that Cohen is ready to torch his old boss." "Maybe Cohen is going to be the thing that`s going to pull this whole thing apart and unravel the myth behind the man," one persona familiar with Cohen`s thinking told her. "Maybe he is the next John Dean."
Fox also reports one of the people she spoke to referred to Cohen as having "a treasure-trove" of information that he says he could unleash in order to reciprocally complicate the President`s life.
Donny Deutsch, who recently spoke to Cohen appeared on this network and had this insight into the allegation about that Trump Tower meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONNY DEUTSCH, SIRIUSXM HOST: What Michael has made very clear to me is number one, and this is a man he worked for over decade, nothing went on in this business without Donald knowing about it and he led me to believe that he could bring Trump back to Russia. What came out yesterday to me was not a surprised based on conversations Michael and I had.
Everything that was going on, Trump knew about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he reference this meeting in particular when you talk to him.
DEUTSCH: Yes, he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Robert Mueller, for his part, has not yet spoken to Donald Trump Jr., but the two men were just a few feet apart today. Politico published this photo of both men waiting for the same flight out of D.C. while seemingly unaware of each other at Washington National Airport.
There is another new development tonight regarding the special counsel. Mueller`s office says plans to call 35 witnesses in financial crimes trial of ex-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, which is slated to begin Tuesday. This is the first of two trials for Manafort.
The witness list was made public just today. The biggest name on it, no surprise is that man, Rick Gates, Manafort`s former partner and one-time deputy on the Trump campaign who pleaded guilty and is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
After all of that, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Friday evening. The aforementioned Emily Jane Fox, Senior Reporter for Vanity Fair. We should add she just wrote the book on the Trump family. It`s called "Born Trump, Inside America`s First Family." Josh Gerstein, Senior White House Reporter for Politico, and Jill Wine-Banks, Attorney and former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel. Good evening to you all.
Emily, here in New York, I`d like to begin with you. If this relationship hasn`t soured, I`d hate to see a relationship that has.
EMILY JANE FOX, SENIOR REPORTER, VANITY FAIR: Seems a little chilly.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, help me go through the two camps of belief, will you please, on how these recordings have entering the public domain. There`s belief number one that Cohen has leaked these as a brushback pitch to say Mr. President, there`s a lot more where this came from.
Theory number two is that this is coming from the Trump team, to go ahead embrace and own some of the worse that they know is coming because that also takes an arrow away from Cohen and his value as a flip target to the feds. Please.
FOX: This is a both very important and very complicated parlor game that we`re playing here. It`s difficult because both sides have credibility issues here. So on the one side, the Cohen camp not only have people been saying, as you said, perhaps he`s sending this as a signal to what he has and what he could offer to Donald Trump, but some people have argued that perhaps he`s sending a smoke signal looking for a pardon.
WILLIAMS: Pardon, yes.
FOX: Now, people who are close to Cohen and familiar with his thinking have flat out denied that time and time again to me. They have said the way that you would get a pardon is not by angering the President and sticking a thumb in his eye repeatedly. And even if he were to get some sort of pre-pardon, then he would undoubtedly be subpoenaed and then have to testify and would not be able to plead the Fifth. So that is something according to all of my reporting he has taken off the table.
On the other side, you have President Trump`s camp, and there was a school of thought on Friday when the recordings were first released and Rudy Giuliani was the only person on the record describing the subject matter on that tape.
WILLIAMS: Yes, we quoted you on this broadcast.
FOX: Yes. So he was able to control the narrative for a few days until Lanny Davis did put out the actually recording earlier this week. And so it was kind of a smart tactic to be able to define the narrative even though we now know that it is very best case Rudy Giuliani there are questions raised about the narrative that he laid out there.
So what you have is a complicated set of motivations from each side. Characters on each side that are not necessarily the most trustworthy or have the greatest credibility. And so to try and determine who leaked what when is a difficult game.
I will say that from my reporting in the Cohen world of the past 24 hours particularly after this relation last night about what Michael Cohen may know about the Trump Tower meeting, they have said over and over again we did not leak this because this does not serve us. To have this out in the public was not our strategy.
We wanted to be able to go to the special counsel Robert Mueller with this information. It doesn`t serve us to have this out in the public. Now it is possible, in some way, that it does serve President Trump to have one of the most damaging things out there perhaps to control the narrative again and perhaps to make it more difficult for Michael Cohen to cooperate.
If Michael Cohen is not going to cooperate, then maybe the President can breathe a little easier tonight.
WILLIAMS: And, Josh, the only problem with conversations, the likes of which we`re having here is, it`s about the mechanics of leaking and we`re forgetting the story in chief is oh, yes, by the way. It`s alleged the President had a heads up on Russians coming to his office building in New York prior to him becoming President with dirt on his opponent. At the top of the ticket as they say, one Donald Trump, Josh, has been conspicuously silent but for his Twitter feed this week.
JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. And, you know, given his no collusion mantra that he`s put forward time and time again, there could hardly be a more damaging allegation then that he was aware in advance that his campaign was endeavoring to get damaging political intelligence about his opponent from Russians and Russians that I believe his own family had been told had some connection to the Russian government.
So there`s no question that this would injure his narrative if people believe it. I think the problem is, as Emily points out, there`s a need for some additional corroboration. You have a number of figures here whose credibility is not particularly high and who have made a number of statements that prove not to be accurate.
The real question, I think, is not whether Michael Cohen has stories that could damage the President but whether he can lead Robert Mueller or other federal investigators like the folks in New York to provable facts to other sources of information that can allow them to assemble a damaging case against the President. If it`s just stories that he`s telling Michael Cohen, I don`t think it`s going to be that damage.
WILLIAMS: And now the Jill Wine-Banks. Counselor, if there`s a short version of this answer, if it`s answerable, in your view, how has Cohen`s case changed this week since Tuesday? How has Trump`s case changed this week?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FMR. ASST. WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: I would say that Cohen is in the same position he was in terms of whatever evidence exists against him but that he has put himself in a better position because if he really does have the willingness to testify that he was in the room when Donald Trump Sr. learned about the meeting in Trump Tower and if he will identify the other people who, rumor has it, were also in the room it means that`s it`s not his word against the President`s word and as everybody has pointed out, they both have credibility issues.
Giuliani is saying that Cohen is a pathological liar and he knows that because Cohen lied for his client for many years, which is not exactly a very strong defense. And what does that make the client who hired the lawyer to lie for him?
So they both have credibility issues. If he can identify the other witnesses, I think Josh pointed this out, it means that there`s a really credible case. And to some extent, if I`m viewing this as a trial lawyer, jurors really can make logical conclusions.
The evidence at this point is now getting very compelling that there was a clear willingness to accept help from the Russians to win the election, to collude with them as the public is calling it, or to enter into a conspiracy with them, which is what the crime is. And I think it really has gone to the stage where we`re really getting somewhere now and we could have a very significant case.
WILLIAMS: Emily, the Counselor is right. Last night watching Rudolph Giuliani on CNN, it was straight up character assassination calling a person who was up until recently, the personal trusted lawyer of the man who became President, a pathological liar. If you believe the theory that the leaks have come from the Trump camp, that would hold that this is some of the worst, most damaging stuff Cohen has to tell the feds.
Your report tonight is that Cohen is sitting on top of a "treasure-trove." Is that a promise or a threat or did they not characterize that?
FOX: I think it`s both. I think there`s a combination of things that`s happening now. Cohen had been preparing since early July for the onslaught that we`re now seeing.
He had heard word from people in the President`s orbit that this kind of character assassination was coming. And he wanted to be ready to combat it because he, as he`s said, he has a family to protect. He has a duty that he feels he wants to serve to his country and he wants to smack back, if he`s smacked. And he feels right now like he is the most under siege from someone he was incredibly loyal to for more than a decade and he doesn`t want to take it anymore.
And so what he is saying is that like we saw last week, if Rudy Giuliani is going to come out and categorize a tape like this, perhaps leak it or perhaps just control the narrative, then he`s going to release the tape in two days and try and correct the record. And he said to people who are close to him, if they want to keep playing this game, I`ll play it and I`ll play it to win. And so that is what I think if Rudy Giuliani and the Trump surrogates around him continue to, this character assassination that we saw last night, then we`re going to continue to see the kind of behavior from Cohen that we have seen in the last week.
WILLIAMS: I have to ask you a question because you`re still young and you have your whole life ahead of you. Maggie Haberman tonight talked about, this is what she called that the culture of corrosive lying, surrounding the story on both sides. Does it get to you? You`re writing down some of these quotes that become the news of the day.
FOX: I think as all reporters are doing right now, you`re just trying to get to the truth and that is the hardest thing to do right now because there`s so many people who are not honest brokers in this whole set of characters. And all that we can do is try to get to the truth of the matter and trust who you think should be trusted and has proved to be a trusted source for you. It is wearing but it is worst the wear and tear that it takes.
WILLIAMS: All right. Josh, next week begins the Manafort trial unless we`re looking at another delay. What stood out to you, if anything, if anyone on the witness list?
GERSTEIN: Well, you know, it`s going to be a cavalcade sort of luxury goods pervious. We`re going to see --
WILLIAMS: Haberdashers of people.
GERSTEIN: Haberdashers. If you call someone a tailor who sell suits to someone at a total of $800,000 over several years, you`re going to see people that specialize in high-end landscaping and half million dollars that Manafort spent on that. It`s really going to be sort of lifestyles of the rich and famous episode, I think, with one after another of these individuals coming in and testifying not just that Manafort spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their product but that the method of payment was highly unusual.
We had these exhibits come out publicly yesterday where people have written in in long hand that these funds were transferred from some strangely named account in cypress to cover these bills. You know, whether they be for home improvement or a Mercedes-Benz that went for $130,000, probably not typically the way people pay for these kinds of purchases even if they`re lucky enough to have the money to do so.
WILLIAMS: Jill, we`re also going to be seeing something important next week. This is first of about 100 times I plan to say it. These are public servants who are going to be putting themselves and their argument forward at trial.
Every one of the lawyers in this case could exponentially improve their salary in the private sector, especially with the pearl of any association to the Mueller investigation on their resume. Instead, they`re going to lay it all on the line. This is a very closely watched trial. The first of the Mueller effort.
WINE-BANKS: It is. And every one of them is dedicated to finding the truth and to presenting it to a jury for them to evaluate. And I think that`s what we will have. It`s going to be a very exciting week.
But if I could go back to something that was said, I want to address why possibly Trump would have leaked this. And it`s because one of the first things that a trial lawyer learns is that if you have bad news or bad facts, it`s better to get them out yourself first. Don`t wait to have to take it on cross-examination, put it out on direct-examination.
It`s much more effective in front of a jury for you to put it out. And in the way that this has happened, they did have a couple of days of their narrative sort of explaining a way this very bad, for example, the tape. Then you hear the tape and you go, whoa. It`s nothing like what Giuliani said. That`s completely off, but after two days of hearing it, his base will believe that what he said is true.
They will pay no attention to what they actually heard on the tape. And so that is a reason why he might have gone ahead with it.
And the other thing is the value of Cohen is not diminished by these leaks because he still has to be a witness in a trial. It`s not enough even to have the tape. Someone has to explain the tape and someone has to say did the President say use cash or don`t use cash. And he`s the one that could do that because he was the other party to this conversation.
So I don`t think it hurts his value as a witness and he still will be valuable and if he wants to make a deal with Mueller, I think Mueller would find him very interesting.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Jill Wine-Banks, to Emily Jane Fox, to Josh Gerstein, the members of our lead-off panel late on a Friday night. The good news, I`ve been assured it`s Friday. There will be no more of this for this week.
Coming up, more talk of another U.S.-Russia summit, this time one suggested by Vladimir Putin. And the White House says the President is open to a visit to Moscow. Lord knows he`s been there before.
And later with midterms fast approaching, the administration says foreign interference in our elections will not be tolerated. We`ll try to arrive at a definition of that when we come back on a Friday night.
WILLIAMS: We mentioned this before at the break, Vladimir Putin has invited President Trump to Moscow just days after the White House postponed plans to have Putin visit us here in Washington this fall.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement after the invite from Putin that read, "President Trump looks forward to having President Putin to Washington after the first of the year" read midterms, "and he is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation."
Just hours after that statement went out, President Trump actually met with his National Security Council on the topic of election security. That was a first meeting of its type for this presidency.
After the meeting, the White House released a statement that did not mention Russia but read in part, "The President has made it clear that his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections from any nation state or other malicious actors." All of this as NBC News reports, as the headline says pretty clearly, Trump administration has no central strategy for election security and no one`s in charge. That`s pretty direct.
Our own Ken Dilanian writes it this way. "Even members of Trump`s national security cabinet have acknowledged the need for a central unifying effort, one that experts say is missing. Senior officials have also admitted that the government has failed to take steps necessary to give the Russians second thoughts about intervening in American politics." That`s where these next two gentlemen come in.
With us to talk about it two guests each with a book relevant to our conversation. First, Malcolm Nance, Veteran of Naval Intelligence Security Ops, Homeland Security and the Author of, get this, "The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies are Undermining America and Dismantling the West." Plus, we have Clint Watts back with us tonight, former FBI Special Agent, former Member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. His latest book, get this, Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News. These guys are a lot of fun. Trust me.
So, Clint, are we getting played before Putin ever dealt with our invitation to come to Washington, which was smartly delayed after McConnell and the speaker of the house visited the President. The President`s now been invited to Moscow, of all the places on the planet.
CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI AGENT: Yes. As I`ve talked about on this show with you before, President Putin owns President Trump. He`s pushed him both directions and set him up in these scenarios. I`m not sure that President Trump even minds because he adores President Putin, it seems like so much.
But you could see this coming. I mean this play was going to be there and every time these overtures are made and then pulled back, it puts Russia in a very strong position where they can then make these challenges. They can then push these things.
When you say, "Russia, do you have those e-mails?" I think it was two years ago. When you make that statement, it puts you in a very weak hand if you ultimately become the elected official because you have someone across the ocean who has been influencing the election, who is in a powerful position and who is manipulating the system whether it`s information in foreign policy around the worlds in ways that are to the detriment of the United States.
So it makes President Trump really looks like he has weak hand in this scenario. And if he goes and takes it, you know, part of reason they went to delay for the witch hunt was they probably wanted to delay it for the midterms. The reaction was not good here in the United States, Republican or Democrat to that Helsinki summit.
Now, President Putin puts it out there. Do you go to Moscow right before the midterm elections? It probably isn`t a good political strategy for the President.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Malcolm, our friend Clint is absolutely right. It was two years ago today in response to a question from Katie Tur who just anchored the hour before us. We`ll take a look at what the President said then and we`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Malcolm, we were all around back then and in the media, I think it`s fair to say, it was kind of passed off. It was laughed off. How do you think history will end up judging that moment in the Trump campaign in?
MALCOLM NANCE, AUTHOR, THE PLOT TO DESTROY DEMOCRACY: Well, happy Russia if you`re listening day. And I think that it will resonate throughout history just like that.
To be honest, just 24, almost 36 hours before on this network, we made the first warning that this was a Russian attack on the United States and on the electorate. I know by that morning we were taking it pretty seriously on air.
But I don`t think people understand the capacity of these foreign actors in this case, Russia in creating not just a social media storm where the media just took off after it but also creating the meta narrative around the entire election that Hillary Clinton`s e-mail were bad and they just played on our own investigations in Congress and our freedom of speech. Weaponized it and then used it against us. And that`s why we have a situation where we have a President of the United States now may in fact be beholden to a foreign power like Clint said.
WILLIAMS: Malcolm, how`s it going to go down with your colleagues and members of your life`s work that national security advisor in the White House is now kind of trolling the Mueller investigation by using the phrase witch hunt?
NANCE: Yes, there`s never been a national security advisor who is so blatantly and openly political in this way. John Bolton just came out and used witch hunt right out there as if this was a legitimate way of doing governance in his position. It`s dimly looked down upon, believe me.
There`s a lot of people in the community and I`m sure throughout the political world who just were astonished at this. Russia has to be delighted because now this means the narrative of the entirety of the Trump administration from top to bottom, in every aspect of government from national security all the way over to the guy who is cleaning over at the GSA, everything is now a witch hunt. And that of course plays to our opponents.
WILLIAMS: Clint, I have to read you a headline from New York Times tonight, David Sanger`s piece. "Russian hackers appear to shift focus to U.S. power grid." That gets your attention.
His lead sentence is state sponsored Russian hackers appear far more interested, that`s what got my attention, far more interested this year in demonstrating that they can disrupt the American electric grid than the midterm elections. And he goes on to say, U.S. intelligence officials and tech company executives. What do you make of that?
WATTS: They`re trying to build essentially options of whether it`s warfare or negotiation. So a lot of times you`ll hear people say, well, they didn`t actually turn out the power. They`re not doing an act of war. But this is actually a leverage that you can have. So we know about this now.
What do we have to do? In the United States, we have to go around and check all of our electric systems to make sure that there isn`t a foreign adversary that`s in those systems and we have to then safeguard against that. That`s -- that can be used as a tool. That`s a negotiation tool that they can use in terms of dealing with us.
I think what`s important to recognize is that hacking is going to continue but the targets will probably shift. In the 2018 midterms, sure, I imagine that the Russians will do some sort of audio sustainment. You know, they will repeat the narratives that are pro-Russian. But what do they gain really, how much can they really gain with the election of one senator or congressman here or there?
What they can gain though is building additional capability and going after things like the power grid, water, other utilities, looking into other sources of information or hitting even our financial system, which is a technique we`ve seen from other state actors, going after U.S. institutions. The banking sector maybe is a target. Those are things that are different capabilities that they can try and build out.
And we`ve seen them use these sort of attack attacks in Ukraine. Ukraine is almost always the test bed that they use for their cyber warfare. They`re launching attack called black energy during the middle of winter to actually shut the power off in that country and they use these attacks very successfully both as a warning but also as an intermediate stuff to full war.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks tonight to two really smart guys who live and work in a scary world. Clint Watts here with us in New York and Malcolm Nance who has written all the books behind him. Gentlemen, thank you both for coming on, on a Friday night.
Coming up, I think we`d all agree the House of Representatives deserves a month off for good behavior. When we come back, the Republicans who are heading home determined to hold onto their seats come the midterm elections.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So many things have taken place, but the economy is the strongest ever. And I think that`s going to have a very positive impact. And I am going to work very hard. I`ll go six or seven days a week when we`re 60 days out, and I will be campaigning for all of these great people that do have a difficult race. And we think we`re going to bring them over the line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was a very important little thing right there. Donald Trump speaking in a friendly confines of "The Sean Hannity Show" with members of the House now back home in their districts on their richly deserved summer break.
The president is trying to shift the focus slightly to the midterms. And as we just heard, he intends to play up the economy. We saw two things this week. The president supporting various candidates via Twitter, this continued tonight and the president willing to fix or back away from some potential midterm land mines. For starters and after that visit from the Republican Congressional Leadership he postponed the invitation for Putin to come visit Washington. He deescalated a trade war with the E.U. and he offered farmers a $12 billion bail out package in effect to offset the cost of tariffs.
According to a new cooked political report analysis, this is important too, Republicans have reason to be worried, "With 102 days to go, Democrats remain substantial favorites for House control. A big reason Republicans are depending 42 open or vacant seats, a record since at least 1930."
Well, here to talk about it all, two learned folk of the folks of the political persuasion, Jonathan Allen, NBC News national political reporter and Nancy Cook, White House reporter for Politico.
Welcome to you both. And, Jonathan, is there a way you can put the Republican level of concern, put it this way, what do you think this president heard from McConnell and Ryan in the -- behind closed doors in the Oval Office?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, certainly, House Republicans are very concerned about losing their majority. For Mitch McConnell, there`s an outside shot that Senate Republicans would lose their majority. Certainly, they`re trying to build up as many votes as they can for the president.
But this right now, I think the president is treating the midterm elections as though he is on the ballot this time. Because he knows that if one of those chambers of Congress flips, the -- his agenda will be put on ice between 2018 and 2020. And as he`s wanting for reelection -- remember, he filed, we zoom back a little bit, filed for reelection on inauguration day on an unprecedented thing. He`s been holding political rallies earlier and more frequently than past presidents have in advance of the midterms.
And now, he says he`s going to be out on the trail six or seven days a week. He understands his own political fortunes and certainly the fate of his agenda rests on his ability to have a Republican House and Senate going into 2019.
WILLIAMS: Nancy, I want to show you three states, NBC News/Marist polling that are just coming in and these are not an important politically, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Trump is under water in those three pivotal states right now. Let me ask the question a different way, do you think the president accepts and is willing to be a realist about being a potential drag?
NANCY COOK, POLITICO, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Absolutely not. And I think that we saw that with his comments on Sean Hannity`s radio program today, where basically he said that, you know, he was going to go out there six or seven times a week. The irony is that a lot of these candidates don`t necessarily want him to go to their states. You know, a lot of them want to run on things that perhaps the Trump presidency has -- can take some credit for like conservative judges or the state of the economy or the tax bill, but they don`t necessarily want sort of the picture of Trump in their district.
And so he is inserting himself in some races where it`s going to be much trickier. But as Jonathan said, you know, I really think that he finally has caught on to the idea that his political fortunes are very much linked with Republican staying in control of Congress. And that`s particularly true of the House which a lot of election experts expect will flip to Democrats at least at this point.
If Democrats for instance take back the House, they`ll also take back the House Oversight Committee and they could really bury the president under a lot of, you know, hearings, subpoenas and potential impeachment proceedings.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan, a senior lifelong Democrat said to me yesterday, remember no one can lose like the Democrats and since you are co-author of one of the chronicles of the last major Democratic loss, we should probably put a giant asterisk on this conversation and we should also emphasize to folks these are individual House district races. Your results may vary, correct?
ALLEN: That`s absolutely right, Brian. I think you`re trying to get to add up the 23 seats the Democrats need to take the House. You can see some pretty easy places for them pick up seats on the east coast and on the west coast. But in order for them to actually flip that chamber, they`re going to have to win some tough contests in the midwest and in the heart land.
And, you know, a lot of these prognosticators believe that`s going to happen at this point. I think a lot of the battle that you`re going to see over the next couple of months with the president hitting the hot keys is going to be in that sort of center part of the country.
And, you know, the one difference I would say between a presidential election and congressional elections is that in congressional elections sometimes you can win just by being against the president of the United States because people want to put break on what that president is doing. In a presidential election, you really have to have both an argument against the other person and your own sort of clear positive agenda that you`re offering.
WILLIAMS: Nancy, I know you took creative writing as a young journalist on your way up. How -- with that in mind, how does Donald Trump spin a loss of majority the day after the election? Doesn`t that make it kind of a wartime footing and doesn`t that just change everything?
COOK: Yes. It would really make it a wartime footing. I mean I feel like it`s a little bit early to say that, you know, how he`s going to spin it. I think in the meantime what he`s doing to do is what he started doing already in the last 24 hours. He`s really started talking about how Democrats will abolish ICE. How they will raise taxes. And he`s also starting to make the argument which congressional Republicans have been wanting him to make for months, which is that, you know, really focusing on the economy and we saw that this morning at this press conference he gave where he talked about the great GDP numbers.
You know, that`s what Republicans, they want him to stick to that message. He`s not great at staying on message and staying disciplined. You know, we saw him at one tax cut touting speech, throw a speech up in the air and say, well, this is boring much to disagree in a lot of Republicans in Washington. But I think that if he can stick to that, you know, pro-growth economic message that could help Republicans in a lot of these vulnerable districts.
WILLIAMS: Two great writers and reporters. Jonathan Allen and Nancy Cook, our thanks for joining us on a Friday night at the end of yet another work week.
Coming up for us, 44 years ago today, Washington was consumed by a different controversy. It was the day House members started voting on whether or not to impeach the president of the United States. A look back when we come back.
WILLIAMS: It has been an extremely busy week of fast breaking news on multiple fronts. With us to talk about where all of this leaves us, Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize winning-author and historian, his latest work is entitled, "The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels".
Jon, thank you for coming on. A gentleman, we both know, one, Michael Beschloss has a very active and educational Twitter feed and he pointed out the following to us. We`ll put it up on the screen. "House Judiciary Committee votes to recommend President Nixon`s impeachment for obstruction of justice. Today, 1974, he included the next day`s New York Times front page treatment."
Jon, we don`t have to draw any parallels but the question to you is how much more real did things get this week?
JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR, "THE SOUL OF AMERICA": Then or now or both?
WILLIAMS: Today in current time.
MEACHAM: Because, you know, like Beschloss, who is the given of Twitter, sometimes July of `74 seems better. I think it got realer, to a use a very elegant literary term. What we forget sometimes in the maelstrom of what we do and the maelstrom of your broadcast and just the tsunami of information is that these things do take a good bit of time from June 17th, 1972 until August 19th, 1974 was 27 months. Joe McCarthy rose and fell from Lincoln`s birthday in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1950 until late 1954.
Legal time does not work along the same geological spectrum as political time. Political time wants action immediately. We want a decision. We want to finish a news cycle. Legal time takes longer. And I think given what, you know, I don`t know about you but if I found out that my lawyer had been taping me and that a special prosecutor of the stature of Robert Mueller had access to those, it would go down as not a good week.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, one of the great bromides of Watergate is that the hero -- heroes of Watergate were Republicans. It`s true. If you had to extend that to present day, venture any names you`d care to guess?
MEACHAM: No. And I`m a little counterintuitive even on that. There were, I think, seven Republicans on this date in 1974 who voted for Article 1 of impeachment against President Nixon which was really the most significant one and I suspect the one that had it gone to the Senate would certainly have passed. Bill Cohen was one of those Republicans of Maine. Hamilton Fish of New York.
You know, there is this -- we`ve talked about it, there`s this legend about how Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott and John Rhodes went down to the White House and to tell Nixon this support wasn`t there anymore. But that was August 6th, I think, August 5th.
And one of the things and I think this is worth everybody remembering is about politics and law moving differently. Things do -- summit point start to snowball. And what happened for Nixon in July of `74 was the House Judiciary Committee under Rodino, who was doing everything he could to be quite fair about it and move with some deliberation.
Remember in the middle month, this week, we`re also celebrating the anniversary of this, the Supreme Court said that Nixon had to turn over the tapes. And of those tapes was the great smoking gun tape where Nixon actually says, we`re going to use the CIA to block the FBI from investigating the break-in. It led to the obstruction charge. And insofar as there is if not a parallel at least one of Mark Twain`s historical rhymes, you know, it doesn`t repeat itself but it rhymes, I do think what we saw this week in Trumpland was the beginnings maybe even the middle of what an obstruction case might look like.
We know -- we`ve always suspected he knew a great deal more about what was going on around him than he`s let on. And I think we`re beginning to see how an evidentiary trail may actually bring that home to us.
WILLIAMS: And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we make it a habit to invite Jon Meacham on our broadcast. Jon, my friend, thank you very much. Always a pleasure.
MEACHAM: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: We`re back with more right after this.
WILLIAMS: An update we promised you last evening, after months of separation, the federal government has been told it has completed step one of family reunification. Federal judge in California said "The government deserves great credit for being able to reunite over 1,800 children with their parents. Still in question, the 650 children considered ineligible for reunification."
Now, of that number, 431 parents most of those parents are already out of the country. The U.S. district judge in this case Dana Sabraw today told the government lawyers step two must be finding those parents. Also unclear what happens to be 1,000 families who have been reunited but who have been given immediate orders of removal. The judge has yet to rule on a request by the ACLU for a seven-day waiting period before families are deported. A temporary halt on deportations remains in place.
ACLU argued the waiting period is critical for parents to meet with lawyers to determine if they can seek formal asylum in this country. Judge Sabraw told the lawyers there`s a third step here, as well. He says the federal government has to make sure a situation like this never happens again. He placed blame squarely on the Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Justice, for a lack of communication, protocol and procedure. He said today what was lost in this process was the families.
Another break and coming up, the reason why so many people around the world were looking up today when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, something beautiful that happened earlier today. More specifically, something that was visible to a good portion of the earth for over an hour. It was a gorgeous and especially lengthy eclipse of the moon. While it happened at mid afternoon here on the east coast, it was a spectacular show for those who happened to be in the eastern hemisphere.
During totality when the moon was cast in the shadow of the -- when the moon was cast in the shadow of the earth, it was illuminated by red light filtered by the earth`s surrounding atmosphere.
One of the best images of this eclipse was taken and this is really no fair, by a German astronaut who happens to be one of only six humans who are closer to the moon than all the rest of us because they are right now on board the International Space Station.
The next eclipse that we get to see here in North America is on January 21st of next year. Our thinking on this tonight was after the week we`ve had, what a nice way to send you off into the good night. And so with that, that`s our broadcast on a Friday night and for this week. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Have a good weekend and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.
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