Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 1, 2018 Guest: Peter Baker, Jill Colvin, Harry Litman, Shannon Pettypiece, Clint Watts
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, the president calls for an end to the Mueller investigation. A Trump confidant telling the AP he`s in a dark place. Those around the president fear he just made a possible obstruction case worse. Also, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, back in the hot seat with Trump, "constantly bashing him for his Russia recusal."
"The Washington Post" on the board with the new terms from Mueller for a proposed interview with Trump. And "The New York Times" reporting Trump wants to do it and thinks he can spool investigators that their work is a witch-hunt. And the lightening speed of a Paul Manafort trial. Already several witnesses in on just day two. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Wednesday night.
Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.
Day 559 of the Trump administration. And this was just one more in a string of extraordinary days in our country. Because this was what we woke up to from the president of the United States, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch-hunt right now before it continues to stain our country even further."
Perhaps just as extraordinary, nothing happened after that. It was a Wednesday in America. And tonight, Robert Mueller and his team remain on the job. In fact, there`s late news tonight from "The Washington Post" on these negotiations for a possible sit-down interview between Robert Mueller and President Trump.
Carol Leonnig of "The Post" reports on this latest offer from the special counsel writing that Mueller, "Indicated this week that he`s willing to reduce the number of questions his investigators would pose to Trump in an interview, renewing negotiations with Trump`s lawyers about a president sit-down after extended standoff, according to two people briefed on the negotiations. In a letter sent Monday, Mueller`s team suggested that investigators would reduce by nearly half the number of questions they would ask about potential obstruction of justice, the two people said. It`s unclear which topic or topics would be left out."
Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" wasted no time in reporting tonight on the president`s desire to sit down with Mueller. They write, "President Trump pushed his lawyers in recent days to try once again to reach an agreement with the special counsel`s office about him sitting for an interview, flouting their advice that he should not answer investigators` questions, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday. Mr. Trump has told advisers he is eager to meet with investigators to clear himself of wrongdoing, the people said. In effect, he believes he can convince investigators for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, of his belief that their own inquiry is in fact a witch-hunt."
Late this afternoon, President Trump`s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, gave his own update on this effort to come to an agreement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER: He`s always been interested in testifying. It`s us, meaning the team of lawyers, including me, that have the most reservations about that.
I`m not going to give you a lot of hope it`s going to happen. But we`re still negotiating. We haven`t stopped negotiating with them. The most recent letter, they sent us a proposal. We responded to their proposal. It took about 10 days and yesterday we got a letter back from them and now we`re in the process of responding to their proposal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And again, all of this comes as the president escalated his attack on the Russia investigation. Here is what he said in full in this particular tweet. "This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch-hunt right now before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted and his 17 angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to the United States."
Of course, Sessions took himself out of all matters Russia-related. Tonight, a source close to Trump tells NBC News he is, "constantly bashing Sessions in private for that recusal," that hasn`t changed. And he, "can`t get Sessions out of his mind."
Confronted by what his friend and boss and client said this morning about ending this investigation, Rudy Giuliani did the only thing a lawyer could, he put on his tap shoes and he tap-danced around what Donald Trump said this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: It`s an opinion. And he used his -- he used a medium that he uses for opinions, Twitter. He`s established a clear sort of practice now that he expresses his opinions on Twitter. He used the word should, he didn`t use the word must. And there was no presidential directive that followed it. He didn`t direct him to do it and he`s not going to direct him to do it.
This whole obstruction of justice thing is nonsense. If he wanted to obstruct it, he would obstruct it. I mean he would just end it. He has a person with a First Amendment right to defend himself, First Amendment right to express his opinion. If he believes he`s innocent and he is innocent, he should speak out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The White House also moved quickly to frame Trump`s words as nothing more than his own personal view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It`s not an order. It`s the president`s opinion. The president is not obstructing. He`s fighting back. The president is stating his opinion. He`s stating it clearly. And he`s certainly expressing the frustration that he has with the level of corruption that we`ve seen from people like Jim Comey, Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe. There is a reason that the president is angry and frankly, most of America is angry as well and there is no reason he shouldn`t be able to voice that opinion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: But remember what the White House once told us about how we should regard what this president says on Twitter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are President Trump`s tweets considered official White House statements?
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president is the president of the United States. So they`re considered official statements by the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: At least one Republican was willing to speak candidly about the reaction among many lawmakers in the capital.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Every morning we wake up, he tweets something, and we`re supposed to respond to his tweet. Mueller is going to finish his investigation and the truth is all going to come out. And that`s the best thing that could happen for the president and for the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And after that from Senator Rubio, let us bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times", Jill Colvin, White House reporter for the Associated Press, John Heilemann, long time political journalist, co-author of "Game Change" and "Double Down", and Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney, former deputy assistant attorney general under President Clinton. Good evening, all.
Peter, I`d like to begin with you and I`d like to read you what Sally Yates, formerly of the Justice Department, wrote on social media today. "Today, our president called on his recused attorney general to shut down the investigation of his own campaign. As shocking as that is, what`s even more dangerous is that we`ve gotten used to it. The rule of law won`t evaporate overnight. But it can slip away if we let it."
Peter, there we have the president`s own words to judge him by this morning. This is on him. I guess this is one of those lessons we get to see if words have consequences.
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that`s right. Look, what is fascinating is how much this plays out in public and out loud. What we`ve seen from the president`s tweets is him saying what would have been a scandal had, say, President Nixon been found to have said it privately in a taped session in the Oval Office. In fact the tape that really finally undid him during Watergate was hearing him order his aides to tell the CIA, to tell the FBI to lay off the Watergate investigation.
Here you`ve got the president of the United States saying out loud, not in the privacy of the Oval Office but on Twitter for everybody to read. The attorney general of the United States who reports to him, or was appointed by him, should shut down the investigation directly.
And it is in fact both surprising and yet not surprising. It`s the kind of things he`s done now for a year and a half and we have kind of as a society gotten accustomed to it to some extent.
WILLIAMS: Harry, I don`t walk around quoting U.S. code, for god`s sakes, I haven`t read U.S. code, but there three words in U.S. code that stands out. Specifically on this argument you started hearing late today that this could be as trivial and unserious as Twitter still seems to so many people as a medium, this could still be a kind of slow-rolling obstruction in plain sight. And the three words in the obstruction portion of U.S. code are, if you`re trying to influence, intimidate, or impede an officer of the court. How is this not that?
HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: How is this not that? I mean it beats me. That`s exactly right. And in some ways, the notion of whether it`s precatory or a command almost doesn`t matter, although it`s a very, very tenuous distinction. He not only -- it`s not only the president saying this but he`s saying in the same sentence, right now, it`s a rigged witch- hunt. It is staining our country. Surely anyone who heard those words in the Oval Office would think he better remedy the situation or he is going to lose his job.
But if what the president is trying to do in a mild way or a dictatorial way is shut down the investigation, I`ll give you three other words, which are obstruction of justice. It`s a real possibility. And especially, Brian, given the whole run of different tweets, all of which are admissible. He is really flirting with enhancing the criminal case against himself.
WILLIAMS: So, Harry, as a former Fed, you can say with some certainty that the Feds on Mueller`s team are looking at the president`s words this morning in real time, saying, would you look at this?
LITMAN: Yes, not only -- and they didn`t just jump to it this morning. I mean, they`ve been looking at the tweets carefully all the way through. And it`s not simply -- this tweet is really reminiscent tweets he said in that past, but the whole kind of pattern of tweets where he goes back and forth and seems to be dancing around the notion of here`s two other words from the statute, corrupt intent.
We`re going to put these all together and see if we can make a case for his wanting to close it down basically to protect himself, the White House, and his family. But no doubt, just like any other statement, it`s sort of silly to say, well, it`s on Twitter, it`s on White House stationery. It`s a statement from the president of the United States and it`s admissible and of course they are analyzing it.
WILLIAMS: OK. Jill Colvin, tell us what you and your colleagues are reporting about this president`s state of mind and the atmospherics inside the West Wing.
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Confidence of the president tell us that he is definitely not happy right now. The president was watching television, watching coverage of the beginning of the trial of Paul Manafort this morning. We`re told that that is what sparked the flurry of tweets this morning. And one confidant told my colleagues Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller earlier today that the president is "in a dark place."
The president has been furious. It`s been building over the last couple of weeks, ever since he returned from Helsinki. He was furious at the media, the way that he felt that he was not given enough credit for how things went with Vladimir Putin. He felt like he was being misportrayed and that his summit with Putin was misportrayed. He felt like he didn`t get enough credit for meeting with Kim Jong-un in Singapore and he has just been raging.
And you`ve got the president who feels it`s not just the media that is now coming and attacking him, but also the government that`s coming and attacking him right now. You`ve got, in addition to the Manafort trial that we`re watching unfold on television. The president has also been deeply shaken by the ongoing investigation into Michael Cohen, his long time fixer, and the release of that audio tapes that really just set him off. And, you know, you saw it today, anyone can see that the president is not in a good place.
WILLIAMS: OK. John Heilemann here in New York, what is it we`re witnessing?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL ANALYST: Well, you`re witnessing a combination I think of the president acts out. We see this over and over again in a variety of different ways. His -- this is an expression of his I`d and he`s angry and afraid. And he can see the walls closing in. I think he`s somewhere close to panic right now. And that`s part of what`s going on.
He still has some degree of political calculation that`s governing what he`s doing, because the reality is, as has been pointed out today, if he wanted to fire Rod Rosenstein and try to end this investigation, genuinely end it, he could call Rod Rosenstein into the White House and fire him. He has the ability to do that.
But he obviously thinks, rightly or wrongly, we don`t know if he`s right or wrong about this, but he thinks the political consequences of that on Capitol Hill would be too great. Because if he didn`t think there was political consequences, he thought Republicans would all just roll over, he would clearly do it, because he does have manifestly corrupt intent. He manifestly believes that he would like to shut this entire thing down. And one of the great beans of his presidency is the fact that Jeff Sessions recused himself from this and was not loyal to him in a way that he thought.
So you`ve got the president still making political calculations, not going as far as what his -- I think his core wants him to do, because I think he would like to fire Rod Rosenstein. But at the same time, the outlet of Twitter, and I just also -- it really is, you know, we both remember Bill Clinton, you know, can you imagine what would have happened if Bill Clinton had walked up to the White House podium and said Janet Reno should fire Ken Starr, or if he had taken to the op-ed page of "The New York Times" or write an op-ed saying Janet Reno should fire Ken Starr, that would have been would have provoked a cataclysmic scandal and a cataclysmic reaction, both Democrat and Republican. That`s not that long time ago.
Today is Twitter. I mean people -- there are a lot of things about Twitter. It`s a sewer, it`s a cesspool, it`s a horrible medium in some ways. It`s also beneficial in others. But it`s the same thing as the podium and it`s the same thing as the op-ed page of "The New York Times" in 2018.
WILLIAMS: Those words are hanging out there tonight. Hey, Harry, are you a member of the club, despite all the great bylines that have gone to work on the story tonight? I maybe a member of this club myself that will believe a Mueller/Trump meeting when you see it?
LITMAN: In other words, yes, I`ll believe it when I see it. I don`t think it`s going to happen. You know, I`m a long-term card carrying member of that club. I think however much they pare it down, it will be questions that if he answers them falsely, he will be subject to criminal penalty. And they`re not going to be softballs like, well, did you have corrupt intent. They`ll be things like, for example, did you know Flynn was under investigation when you told Comey to let up on him? We`ve just had new reporting that shows he does.
But there are probably half a dozen other things that Trump doesn`t know and Mueller does. And yes, I don`t see he`s sitting down with him under any circumstances, where there`s criminal penalty for lying. And I don`t see Mueller sitting down with him where he gets a free pass for lying. So I see an impasse.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, we knew, as if we needed any help, that the president`s words were going to be impactful on Twitter this morning, the minute we learned how many news organizations got "What the president meant to say" phone calls afterwards and I know yours was among them.
BAKER: Yes, no, absolutely. And, you know, they`re trying very hard to make the point, well, this is just an opinion, this is not a command. Well, that`s because they understand that there is a line there, that`s what -- they`ve drawn the line, at least. And the line is he can express an opinion, he can say that it should be shut down but he won`t actually order it, because as John said, I think, correctly, he does perceive that to be a step too far, at least for the moment. And it may be a moment where he changed his mind on that.
But so far, he has convinced himself that actually pulling the trigger, actually firing, you know, Rod Rosenstein or attempting to fire, you know, Bob Mueller would be, you know, create such a blowback against him either legally or politically that`s not worth the effort.
So what he`s trying to do here is -- in effect, continue to shape public opinion, to make sure that at least his base and maybe some other people believe that this investigation isn`t legitimate, that there is no reason to believe what they hear that might come out of it from Paul Manafort trial, from any other session that might come out of this investigation, and to, you know, sort of prepare the ground in effect for what might amount to a big political battle later on when we do hear more results from the investigation, you know, either this summer or after the election.
WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin, we witnessed three whole news media briefings for the month of July from the White House. They are, I should point out, 1-0 for August so far. We had one today, but the president is about to go down for 10 days. Rush Limbaugh was able to talk to him today. Is the philosophy going to be friendlies preferred?
COLVIN: I mean, that`s long been the strategy of this administration, especially when they feel under fire, that they try to keep the president away from reporters, away from situations where he could kind of turn the tweets into a kind of standing press conference, gaggle back and forth, and make matters worse.
I thought it was really interesting, this week it`s also Bill Shine is, you know, really stepping into his role as the new communications chief. And we had a really interesting thing that happened yesterday when we were standing outside the Oval Office. We were waiting for the president to do a swearing-in ceremony and Bill Shine actually came out and told reporters ahead of time, the president will not be answering questions. You can try, but he is not going to do it.
And that`s exactly what happened. We`ve sort of seeing this new -- we`ll see how long it lasts, but degree of discipline from president in not engaging. And it seems to be, you know, a strategy from them to prevent him from, you know, digging deeper.
WILLIAMS: John, that may be because everyone around the president is getting more serious because he could be in serious trouble. Do you think there`s any acknowledgement, deep, dark, in the West Wing, or in the residence tonight, that he`d like to take that back today?
HEILEMANN: I don`t know on his part. In the residence, probably not. Certainly a lot of us were in the building when he did what he did. But I do think that it`s important -- to get back to the situation with Mueller and the interview, you know, I think a lot of people are going to interpret in a somewhat panicked way the notion that Mueller is giving ground, that he`s, well, limit the questions on obstruction of justice.
To me it indicates a position of strength that he -- when you look at -- Harry Litman talked about this new reporting where he lost a space in "The New York Review of Books". If it`s truly that Mueller has already talked to -- we know he has talked to Priebus and McGahn and that they have already testified to him that yes, Trump had been presented with a timeline and with evidence of the fact that the FBI was investigating Flynn on criminal charges before he had his conversation with Comey, telling Comey to lay off, that there`s memos, documentation that Mueller has that he`s heard from those witnesses.
It all feels to me like what this is about is Mueller conveying the notion that, I can cut back to half of my questions on obstruction of justice because I don`t actually need that much from you, Mr. President. I`ve already got this case basically made. It`s not a position of weakness. It`s a position of strength. And I think that`s making the president, among many other things, feel nervous and making the people around him feel even more nervous.
WILLIAMS: Does it get more highbrow than someone quoting "The New York Review of Books" on our broadcast? I don`t know that it does.
Peter Baker, Jill Colvin, John Heilemann, Harry Litman, thank you all for helping us out on a Wednesday night.
Coming up for us, is the president`s behavior a clue of what`s to come? We ask a former FBI agent what he thinks.
And later, if you were curious about those cues that popped up in the crowd at the Trump rally last night, you`re not alone. We will have a review of this fringe conspiracy theory group behind them. "The 11th Hour" just getting under way beneath the dome on a Wednesday night.
WILLIAMS: Just to review, the day got under way with the president saying the attorney general should end the investigation against him. According to a Bloomberg report, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine had this reaction to reading that Trump quote. "Jeez, gasped Collins, as she was reading the president`s tweet in an interview, "This is unbelievable. Those comments are totally inappropriate." She added, "The president should not be talking about the investigation at all."
Meanwhile, reporting has already told us the president`s words on Twitter count in this investigation. As we`ve been saying so far tonight, just days ago, "The Times" reported that Mueller is examining all the president has said about Jeff Sessions as part of his wide-ranging obstruction investigation. He can throw this morning`s tweet on the pile.
Here with us to talk more about it, Clint Watts, former FBI special agent, his latest, "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, and Fake News". And Shannon Pettypiece, also back with us, White House correspondent for Bloomberg.
Clint, I have to ask you, if you came across the type of behavior we are seeing from the nation`s chief executive in your old day job at the FBI, how would that alter your investigation? What would that do?
CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: It just adds to the pile and it continues the timeline. I think several interesting things about this obstruction angle is we`re hearing some negotiation from the Mueller team about taking written responses to questions and then sitting down for an interview. I`m sure --
WILLIAMS: Isn`t that just to get him in the door?
WATTS: It is. And it could play very much to the president`s disadvantage strategically, because as we`ve seen, the president doesn`t like to read very much. And I doubt he`s actually going to be the one crafting up all these statements. He`ll be working with his legal team.
WILLIAMS: That`s probably correct, yes.
WATTS: So he`s going to have to go in and understand and know what the statements are that are on the paper and be able to speak to those. The other thing that the president is at a huge disadvantage is he doesn`t know everyone that Mueller has talked to, what they have told him, and what documents, texts, e-mails, phone calls they`ve had with each other behind the scenes that also match up to a timeline.
We`ve seen just here on NBC News where the president has said, well, Comey, when I got rid of him, it was because of this Russia thing. So these are public things that are very damning. The timeline is very damning.
And even if he did not actually obstruct, it`s just the attempt to obstruct that can be held as a charge. So in terms of how the investigation progresses, it seems to me that the Mueller team probably has all the data it needs to ask these questions, have the president come in. And then it`s going to be very difficult, I imagine, for the president to negotiate and be consistent both with the written statement and with the timeline that`s been laid out in front of them.
WILLIAMS: Shannon Pettypiece, any acknowledgement by those around the president that his tone isn`t always that of an innocent man?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. His lawyers, his legal advisers, you know, around a year ago, when he first started building up the legal team, really emphasized to him that you cannot be making public attacks against Mueller personally or against this investigation. And they were successful for a while, if you remember, back to the summer last time, where Trump would say no collusion. And he pretty much tamped down any personal attacks on Mueller.
But that strategy he felt wasn`t really working for him. And there was a moment, really particularly after this Michael Cohen raid, where he took the gloves off. And he had already been starting to test the waters. He had already been sort of ratcheting up this rhetoric about a witch-hunt.
But he had been told that this investigation would be done by the end of 2017 by his lawyers. It wasn`t. He continued seeing indictments coming from people involved in his administration and his campaign. And that moment, that Michael Cohen raid, was really the moment he said, well, forget this, the gloves are coming off, I`m going on full attack mode. Rudy Giuliani was brought in with the specific, you know, point or goal of being the public attack dog against Mueller.
So this is a conscious strategy at this point. And it is a major shift from where we were a year ago when the legal advice was, stay cool, let`s cooperate, and try and get this thing over with quickly.
WILLIAMS: And Shannon, you also wrote about the state of play in the "Will Mueller and Trump Sit Down." And you`ve got to admit, look at someway, it looks like Mueller is trying to get -- say whatever you need to do to get the guy in here and get him in the door.
PETTYPIECE: Well, that`s typically how these negotiations work.
PETTYPIECE: And to the point the guests were making earlier, does it look like Mueller`s caving? Well, Mueller really knows the answer to a lot of his questions. And to the point Clint was making, to some extent, you know, the Trump legal team does know what the documents are out there. They know what the witnesses have said to some extent.
But Mueller has many, many, many more pieces of this puzzle than the president`s legal team does, and he knows the answer to many of the questions he`s going to ask. He wants to get those on record. Around obstruction, one of the main ones is to determine the president`s intent.
So yes, if they have to concede on some areas to get to the areas they really want, that`s what they`re doing, and that is sort of typically for how these things go between a prosecutor and a defense lawyer in any of these sort of, you know, carefully choreographed negotiations.
WILLIAMS: Clint Watts has agreed to stick around. We`re going to put his web training to use when we talk about the newest fringe group we saw last night at the president`s rally. So Clint, our thanks for now. Shannon Pettypiece, our thanks as always for coming on.
And coming up, incredibly expensive men`s wear, million dollar homes. Why are transfers from bank accounts in Cyprus? The latest on the Manafort trial from a reporter who was inside the courtroom today, when "The 11th Hour" continues.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: The trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort enters its third day tomorrow in federal court. As you know, it is the first trial of what we`re calling the Mueller era. Prosecutors today started establishing how Manafort made his money in Ukraine and how they contend he hid it from the U.S. government. They presented piles of evidence to illustrate Manafort`s lavish lifestyle and more importantly, the manner in which he paid for things, largely through foreign bank transfers.
We`re guessing not a lot of members of our audience have paid for things through foreign bank transfers. The president, who has sought to distance himself from his former chairman, did weigh in today, writing, "Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alphonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and public enemy number one, or Paul Manafort, political operative and Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement, although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russia collusion?" That`s our president.
Here to talk about it, Daniel Goldman, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Rachel Weiner is with us, reporter for "The Washington Post", who was inside the courtroom today. Rachel, thank you for being with us, I`m sorry about the long day this makes for. Talk about what was presented today, and the judge`s theory that he`s not allowing photographs to be displayed in court but he`s going to allow the jury photos when they go off some day to deliberate.
RACHEL WEINER, COURTS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think that`s in part because he wants the trial to move quickly. He`s been adamant about that and it`s worked so far. They`re way ahead of schedule. They were supposed to take three weeks and now the government says they will finish their case next week.
He may also not want a commotion knowing how much media coverage this case is getting. But, at first, it seemed like he might not let them show the jury these fancy suits at all. In the end, they did come in, they just came in at the end of the day. But they did get pictures of the $15,000 ostrich skin jacket, and also I think an $18,500 python jacket and all sorts of other very expensive suits.
WILLIAMS: The man likes jackets. Councilor, a couple of questions for you. First of all, this is a non-sequestered jury. The president of the United States is tweeting about the defendant in a way they can all see, proclaiming his innocence. Where do we file that? What do we do about that?
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, it`s tricky. The judge will instruct the jury, as every judge does in every trial, do not read about the case, do not watch television about the case. But this is a different world where we`re dealing with Twitter. I mean, they -- I don`t know whether the judge, maybe Rachel knows, has instructed the jury not to read Twitter. But that`s almost what the judge needs to do. They`re not sequestered in the way that, you know, we`re used to with the O.J. Simpson trial, for example. But, they likely have been instructed to not pay attention to any news, do not read newspapers, because of the prominence of the coverage.
WILLIAMS: Let`s interrupt our conversation to ask Rachel. Have you heard such a charge from the judge?
WEINER: Yes. Judge Ellis has made very clear. I`m not sure he knows what Twitter is, he`ll be the first and most constant to say that at 78, he is not up on any sort of new media. But he told them don`t read anything, don`t look at anything, don`t look anything up on your computer. He always says, you know, I would say, don`t look it up in an encyclopedia but I`m the only person who does that. So don`t look it up online, put it out of your mind, don`t talk to your family.
So assuming they hold to that, it`s possible they didn`t see the Trump tweets. But of course, now you could walk into a coffee shop, you could be --
WEINER: -- anywhere and it would -- might come across your vision.
WILLIAMS: Yes, that`s right.
Dan, we did hear he gave the government lawyers a couple brushback pitches today, some chin music. They keep hammering the lavish lifestyle, the expensive ostrich jacket. You can overplay that hand, I guess.
GOLDMAN: Well, to the judge, you can overplay the hand. And sometimes to the jury --
WILLIAMS: It`s not a crime to be a rich guy.
GOLDMAN: It`s not a crime to be a rich guy. But you have to understand the context of this evidence. It`s not just that he lived a lavish lifestyle. Although that is relevant to sort of his motive, particularly when the money dried up after he stopped working for Yanukovych in 2014, that he wanted to continue this lavish lifestyle. But you also have to be able to show in a tax fraud case that what you declared for your income tax is less than what you actually earned.
And one way to do that is to show what we call in prosecutor world, unexplained wealth. How can you be paying out $6 million in cash if, for example, and I haven`t seen his tax returns, you only declare --
GOLDMAN: -- that you made $1 million? So it is very relevant evidence. And I think what the judge is just getting a little frustrated with is, don`t try to over -- as you pointed out, don`t try to oversell it, that`s not really what`s relevant, what`s relevant is the money, not the photograph. And so he`s trying to stress that and keep things moving.
WILLIAMS: And Rachel, what was this hint today in court that Rick Gates, star witness, former Manafort assistant, may not end up taking the stand?
WEINER: So, one of the prosecutors, assistant U.S. attorney, Uzo Asonye, did say Gates may or may not testify, and obviously that caused a lot of commotion. But I think there`s not much to it. Always prosecutors, when told not to put in some evidence because a later witness will testify to it, will say, well, we haven`t -- we`re not sure that person will testify, so we should put it in now, just to make sure they can account for any possibility, you know, whatever might happen to Rick Gates.
And so I think he was just doing that the way prosecutors always do, not recognizing in this case the amount of attention that would get. And he did immediately sort of walk it back and say that`s nothing particular to Gates, that`s true of any witness. It would be shocking if Rick gates didn`t testify. He is the key witness in this case.
WEINER: And the defense is planning to blame everything on Rick Gates. But I`m sure prosecutors were expecting that and have prepared him for that.
WILLIAMS: Councilor, I have time for a yes or no. Will he or won`t he testify?
GOLDMAN: Yes. But, and I know I gave you a one-word answer once, but the prosecution did not include Gates very prominently in their opening statement. So, that would indicate they would certainly be calling him. And the fact that they didn`t is interesting because it means they`re giving themselves room not to call him. And remember, they didn`t try this case with Gates as a witness, so it`s possible to prove it without him.
WILLIAMS: Our great thanks to our two guests, terrific segment, Daniel Goldman, Rachel Weiner, thank you both --
WEINER: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: -- very much.
And coming up, you may have seen them displaying the letter Q prominently at the Trump rally last night. They are a conspiracy group willing to believe and say and perpetuate just about anything. Their story when we come back.
WILLIAMS: One of our guests last night who was in attendance at the Trump rally in Tampa mentioned seeing members of the fringe right wing, including a conspiracy group the members of which display the letter Q prominently. We saw it in the crowd, on signs, and on shirts. And the Q stands for QAnon. The group got its start on the web. They believe they`ve received intel from a top government source, a mole at the highest reaches of our government, and there is no end to the false rumors they have pushed including a smear effort headquartered on YouTube alleging several Hollywood celebrities, democratic politicians and others so-called elites are pedophiles involved in a global child sex ring. They believe the Mueller investigation is actually about Obama and Clinton and that Trump is made to appear as more of the cover. It goes on from there, a local news crew interviewed a "Q" conspiracist at the Trump event in Florida last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: QAnon, the storm, the great awakening, it all started back when the president was meeting with military leaders back in October last year said this is the calm before the storm. That launched us into what Q -- the Q team, military intelligence most likely has been talking to all of us, letting us know what`s going on behind the scenes, letting us know the covert battles that are raging between the deep state and President Trump and his military alliance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what do you do with that information?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spread it, combat the mainstream media. We`re fighting a battle on all fronts here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So there is a Q coin among other things. And here is the comment from Trump that gave this group a lot of fuel. A photo op during a White House dinner for military commanders and their spouses. And note what the president says here, which would normally be filed under the kind of toss-off comment the president sometimes makes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You guys know what this represents?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell us.
TRUMP: Maybe it`s the calm before the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s the storm?
TRUMP: It could be the calm before the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You talking Iran? Or ISIS? Or what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What storm, Mr. President?
TRUMP: We have the world`s great military people in this room, I will tell you that. And, we`re going to have a great evening. Thank you all for coming.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What storm, Mr. President?
TRUMP: You`ll find out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give us a hint on your Iran decision --
TRUMP: Thank you, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The calm before the storm. NBC News reporter Ben Collins covers this digital world for the network and has been looking into this group and writing about them as we mentioned. We`ve asked Clint Watts, former FBI special agent to stick around and be a part of this.
Ben, did I get their motives and some of their beliefs about right? And what else should we know about them?
BEN COLLINS, REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Unfortunately, you got it all right, there`s not much to know about them. Basically, this is fan fiction, this is a conspiracy theory that, you know, Donald Trump is doing everything right and anything that looks like he`s doing wrong, it`s actually the right thing. They misconstrue typos intentionally to make it look like he`s been on it this whole thing.
And, you know, at the end of the day, this is just, you know, a situation where people on the internet who can`t really grapple with the reality of this situation have decided to take out all this disinformation on their political enemies. And that`s what you see here, they`ve accused all these people from celebrities to politicians of being a part of a child sex ring that simply does not exist. We thought this was over with the Pizzagate but it just amped itself up with the help of a whole lot of different people on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook.
WILLIAMS: And Clint, you do your work, your life`s work as we do ours, in a free society, where it`s hard to limit this kind of thing. It`s hard to squelch or suppress it. Look at the climate, this is coming up in.
CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Right. And going back two years ago, we saw the Kremlin pushing a lot of disinformation around the election. But what we`re seeing now is everybody adopting those techniques. So there`s a lot of artificial production in terms of social media, social bots, amplification. You`re seeing very high-end production. The videos are very good, which makes them more convincing. And you`re seeing them spread very rapidly in a much quicker way.
So like the key phrase there, the calm before the storm, what you can do is if you`re a good social engineer and you can pick out these phrases that are catching with the audience and combine them into a conspiracy that seems more convincing to people that don`t really know the details. So I`m not so much worried just about Russian disinformation, I`m worried about American disinformation, because it`s a public safety issue. A lot of these conspiracies, we`ve seen people show up with weapons, we`ve seen shutdowns, you know, police emergencies that have come from it.
And if you look at this, this has got all the elements of what would maybe be an uprising or advocating for violence or nudging people towards it or even political upheaval. So I think it`s a really dangerous phenomenon especially when you see it tied to the president and his rallies.
WILLIAMS: Ben, in the immortal words of my late mother who had no idea groups like this would someday surface in her country, it`s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. What is the danger of something going really wrong?
COLLINS: Sure, we`ve already seen it with the Pizzagate situation where Comet pizza, you know, last year.
WILLIAMS: Right, (INAUDIBLE).
COLLINS: Exactly. A man walked into a pizza parlor and shot it up, assuming there was a child sex ring in the basement, trying to investigate it.
Now, with QAnon, there`s already some real-life examples, right, there was a guy who blocked the entrance to the Hoover Dam a couple of weeks ago. He`s -- since he`s gotten into jail, he`s sent a bunch of wild letters to the president, talking about QAnon conspiracy theories. There`s a guy in Arizona, Tucson, Arizona who has for the past few weeks, he got a felony trespassing charge because he believed that a homeless camp was a child sex trafficking camp. It had nothing to do with it. He was live streaming it on YouTube, in Facebook until Facebook finally brought all this stuff down.
This stuff has real-life consequences happening all the time now. And, these people putting up Q signs everywhere at Trump rallies are -- is not going to help it.
WILLIAMS: Clint, how much do you fear that this group is getting a wink and a nod from the right people to not stop? And what can the government do in a free society?
WATTS: Yes, I think it was a little over a year ago I talked -- you know, part of the reason this works is because we have politicians in this country that are doing influence operations that are very similar that we see to foreign media influence. And I think the other big thing is, we had a hearing today in the Senate, the Senate Intel Committee, you know, was talking about social media and disinformation. And people can make fake news, they can make manipulated truths. They can make conspiracies faster than social media companies can identify them and swat them down.
And in that lag time, we have lots of changes happening. One in four people in a poll in Texas don`t think they should have their children vaccinated. Four in 10 don`t actually think it`s a bad idea for Russia maybe to meddle in our elections. So, these are having real changes in our society. It`s breaking us up and dividing us. And it`s a very efficient technique for hidden manipulators. Those people with sophisticated technology, they can mine and figure out what grabs with an audience which can sleekly produces content, can actually drive major events in our country political public safety.
You can get people to show up under false auspices with rifles. This is a dangerous situation. And if our politicians are maybe not tamping it down but just not saying much about it or letting it go because it might be beneficial in the near term, it could be really devastating to our country in the long term.
WILLIAMS: And of course, this week, we learned people can show up with guns they have compiled on a 3D printer. The president`s next rally is tomorrow night. Wilkes-Barre PA. You`ve got another rally this weekend in Ohio, we will all watch for this and see who turns out in both cases.
We`d love to have you gentlemen both on again on the subject if you`d agree to that. Thank you so much for coming on. It`s a disturbing topic. Ben Collins, Clint Watts, appreciate it.
Much more ahead on The 11th Hour when we come right back.
WILLIAMS: We are back just quickly with some reminders for you especially our friends who time shift our broadcast. You can watch us anytime you please by downloading the MSNBC app. It lives right there on your phone. You can listen live each night on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. We`re also available as a podcast, completely portable. Really no reason why you`d ever have to miss a single broadcast of the 11th Hour. Another break. When we come back, how it is that Richard Nixon got caught up in the name of this broadcast just today.
WILLIAMS: See that logo? Last thing before we go tonight is loosely about Twitter. It`s said that nearly a quarter of our U.S. population is on Twitter. Every day, more people join up and more people drop out. The latter mostly because Twitter is so often where human souls go to die. It can be a cesspool of anger and hatred with no barrier to entry, no way to know who is a Russian. Way too easy to be anonymously hateful.
That is why when you come across a truly indispensable Twitter account, preferably someone you already admire, someone you already know and like, it can be so useful and refreshing. And that`s where Michael Beschloss comes in. He is a long-time friend of this broadcast and truth be told of this broadcaster. And more than that, he`s one of the great presidential historians and authors of our time.
Michael`s Twitter feed does not disappoint. Just in the last few days, he has given us Richard Nixon jumping off a limo, Midtown Manhattan, 1956. Gerald Ford`s cue card from when he took the oath of office and an early selfie taken by a young Jackie Kennedy. But then today, there was this from Michael and we couldn`t help but notice, it said, "The 11th Hour" right there on the cover of "Newsweek" from this week back in 1974. Indeed for Richard Nixon, it was the proverbial 11th Hour as articles of impeachment were marching toward him. Nixon announced his resignation August 8th. He remains, of course, the only president ever to do so.
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