Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 7, 2018 Guest: Kimberly Atkins, Eli Stokols
WILLIAMS: Thank you so much. As a member of your audience, thanks for a great hour of political coverage. Our thanks to everybody at Lawrence O'Donnell.
And now, let's get things officially under way for "the 11th hour."
The breaking news tonight, the results of a special election this evening. The Ohio 12th congressional district. A race where the President went to campaign. The very latest tonight from Steve Kornacki.
Also tonight, the going gets tough for the star witness against Manafort. Rick Gates. A drubbing of a cross-examination, admitting to formerly personal secrets as the jury hears the first reference to Donald Trump.
And longtime Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen now reportedly under investigation for tax fraud as the posturing continues toward a possible Trump/Mueller meeting. All of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Tuesday night.
Having officially started, we have a live look for you at the prize, at the ultimate destination that tonight's conversation is all about. The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. A live picture, 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, and formally and officially good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 565 of the Trump administration.
And President Trump is facing a major political test as voters in five states headed to the polls today and tonight. If you've been watching our prime time coverage, then you know. All eyes tonight have been on the special election in the Ohio 12th Congressional District where the Trump- backed Republican, Troy Balderson, has been locked in this close race all night with Democrat Danny O'Connor. They don't get much closer.
A little housekeeping. The seat is vacant because the incumbent left Congress. The winner tonight goes to Congress but then has to fight for re-election just months from now in November. They flew -- the President to Ohio this past Saturday to campaign for this Republican.
During the 2016 race, Trump won the district by about 11 points.
Just this morning, the President said this. "Ohio, vote today for Troy Balderson for Congress. His opponent controlled by Nancy Pelosi," there's that talking point again, "is weak on crime, the border, military vets, your Second Amendment, and will end your tax cuts. Troy will be a great congressman."
So as we've been relying on him all during prime time tonight, right back we go to Steve Kornacki at the big board with the very latest. Steve, you can't change the numbers. You can crunch them, but it looks like we're going to be at this quite a while.
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, there's still some crunching to go. Let's take you through it. I mean, 1,766, that's the margin. That is the lead Balderson has.
Now, here's the thing. Every single one of these counties, if I looked in there right now and showed you the individual numbers, they'd say 100 percent reporting. And you'd say, "Well, Balderson is ahead. So why does this still say too close to call?"
Let me take you through what's happening here. Take a look at what that 1,766 vote lead translates into when you do percentages. Fifty point two to 49.3 percent. What is that? That is a lead of 0.9 points for Balderson.
Now, what does state law in Ohio say? It says that any election where the margin is 0.5 or less automatically goes to a recount. No winner declared. They do a recount.
Now 0.9 is higher than 0.5 so Balderson is north of that number. And you again say, "Why is it too close to call?" That gets us to another number to crunch here, the big one. Three thousand four hundred and thirty-five. That is the number of provisional votes, those yet to be reviewed from these counties that are outstanding.
Now, what do we know about provisional votes? They tend to break Democratic. You can almost take it to the bank that the Democrats will get more votes, potentially significantly more votes out of this pool of 3,435. They disproportionately come from Franklin where O'Connor reigned up the score and from Democratic parts of Delaware County.
So the Democrats, you could say I don't know if who was a little bit more than 60 percent probably be in a little bit conservative here that O'Connor got. What would that do? That would probably net him somewhere in the neighborhood of 600, 700 votes.
You would take that 1,766, now you might be south of a thousand. If you're south of a thousand, what happens to that 0.9? Well, if this number gets cut in half, let's say that number gets cut in half. Where do you sit? You sit at 0.45. And suddenly, 0.45 is less than 0.5 and where are you? You're in recount land.
Now, if you're a Democrat, don't get your hopes up too high. Generally when they have recounts, they're not going to change that many votes. But that would trigger the recount. That would delay this whole thing.
So, you know, it builds and it builds and it builds all night and you're waiting for that moment when you get a winner. What we can say is that Balderson is in very good shape right now.
If you're Balderson, you just want to win this thing. You're feeling pretty decent about where you are. But there is this pesky business of the state law, there's provisional ballots, and there's the very plausible scenario where that number drops under 0.5.
And hey, what can we do? If the state says they can't declare a winner, the state says they got to do a recount, we can't say Balderson won. We can say he's in pretty good shape but we got to wait.
WILLIAMS: OK. Steve, don't move because I have two bits of news that have become news since you've been on the air and so you haven't heard either of this. First from the President on Twitter. This is 10:59, so a minute before we hit the air.
"When I decided to go to Ohio for Troy Balderson, he was down in early voting, 64-36, that was not good. After my speech on Saturday night, there was a big turn for the better. Now Troy wins," asterisk there, "wins a great victory during a very tough time of the year for voting. He will win big in November."
So, point of information is assisted by our NBC News and MSNBC decision desk. Steve, since you've been talking, we were just told the message from our decision desk is, too close to call. We will not be calling this race tonight.
WILLIAMS: So what you've been surmising, they also obviously agree with your math of the provisional ballots. The message here is, we're not going to have an answer.
KORNACKI: Yes, because the -- boy, this gets -- we are so into the weeds in this, but we are looking through what exactly does the state law, the statute in Ohio say about this. Because if you go to the secretary of state, they run the elections in Ohio, if you go to their website, it says something that sounds curious when you read it. It says that provisional ballots shall not be counted for at least 10 days after the election. That means the typo does not -- does the word "not" not belong there?
I mean, if you look at their website, they're saying these 3,435, we would have to wait 10 days for them to get to those and count those. So only then would you know if that 3,435 brings the number down and you need a recount. If that is correct, then that's what it is.
The other thing we know is they have -- apparently under state law, they have until August 24th to certify this election. We're sitting here on August 7th, we've got 17 days, more than two weeks until this has to be certified. So if you have that 10-day waiting period and then it comes under 0.5, you know, you're short of that certification.
So the law isn't putting a real lot of pressure on them here to get this certified. The law, as we understand it, is saying it's going to be ten days before they can open these. So, again, I mean, if I'm a betting man, if you come out here and you say, "Hey, Kornacki, you know, your life is on the line, who is going to win this thing," I'm telling you Balderson. You know, he looks like he's in much better position than O'Connor just to win this thing.
But if you're telling me, "Are you sure he's going to win it by more than 0.5 points and therefore avoid a recount," oh, no, I don't want to bet my life on that at all. This could get -- with those provisionals, this could get at 0.5, then you get a recount. Again, the recounts, the history of these things doesn't suggest that O'Connor is going to overcome a deficit of that magnitude, but you have to have the recount and you have to see.
So meanwhile, of course, these two candidates are both going to be on the ballot as their parties' nominees in this district in November. So the clock ticks, the clock ticks, the clock ticks, maybe we're in September and we're still getting a final answer on this. And meanwhile, in two months, they go to the polls again in this district.
WILLIAMS: I would never ask you to bet your life. You're too good at what you do. And we also don't allow wagering.
So Steve Kornacki, please don't move. I believe Balderson is coming out onstage shortly.
OK. In the interim, Garrett Haake, our Correspondent, is standing by at Danny O'Connor's campaign headquarters. You saw, we heard from the candidate.
Garrett, on nights like this, they try to give neither a victory nor concession, though they've got to hit certain markers. And as we've mentioned, tonight is the night to pivot to November for both of these guys.
GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brian, this was even more of an in the tweener speech than you might otherwise see in a race like this, effectively too close to call, because this race doesn't really stop tomorrow. It's just another marker.
Now we have a quasi incumbent, if you will, if Balderson is ultimately declared the winner here. And now we're going to hear from Troy Balderson.
WILLIAMS: Yes, let's go over to his headquarters.
TROY BALDERSON (R), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Very honored for an opportunity to represent the voters of the 12th Congressional District and they have bestowed on me.
I have so many people to thank tonight. Some behind me right here, my son, Joshua, and his fiance, Chelsea. He's getting married next April. My girlfriend, Melanie.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Melanie.
BALDERSON: I want to thank God. More importantly, my mom and dad who weren't able to be here with us this evening. The thousands and thousands of volunteers that worked this grassroots campaign. Thank you all very, very much for all that you have done.
The phone banking, the door knocking, all of it. It's been phenomenal. It's a great honor for me.
I'd like to thank President Trump. Mr. President has come. I'd also like to take the time to thank Vice President Pence for coming. And the big shoes that I'll be filling, I wouldn't have got through a lot without him through this process. Congressman Pat Tiberi.
I'd also like to take this opportunity and time to also thank Chairman Steve Stivers, who's been a great asset to me and has been helping all through this process. Chairman, thank you. There's many others. I could just keep going on and on.
But tonight I'm going to promise to you that I'm going to work relentlessly, relentlessly for this 12th Congressional District.
America is on the right path and we're going to keep it going that way. It's time to get to work.
Over the next three months, I'm going to do everything I can to keep America great again. So that when we welcome -- when we come back here in November, get ready, we got to come back here in November, I have earned your vote for a second time.
Danny O'Connor ran a hard race and I look forward to campaigning against him again this fall.
Thank you all so much for all your support. God bless you and God bless America.
WILLIAMS: All right. Troy Balderson. And let's repeat the way we opened the hour from our decision desk, and this is both germane and important to everything we're watching and trying to understand tonight, this race is too close to call. We will not be calling this race tonight.
So look, there's a possibility you'll see other news organizations give estimates or the like. We are not. That's where we stand, separated by 1,754.
As Steve Kornacki has so ably laid out for us, we have something north of 3,400 so-called provisional ballots. So we believe this has all triggered the state's own system to look back through at all the votes cast. So this is going to be a while. And let's not forget, they get to run again in November.
Before we were interrupted by the Republican candidate, we were talking to Garrett Haake at Democratic headquarters. And, Garrett, you were starting to make the point about how it has to be half victory speech, half concession speech, although officially neither.
HAAKE: Yes, that's right, at least for Danny O'Connor leaving the door open here to continue campaigning. That speech he gave here tonight sounded a lot like his typical stump speech, in part because it essentially is. He considers this as start of midway point in the race towards November. You didn't hear that from Troy Balderson at all. You heard much more of a traditional victory speech there with the acknowledgment that he's got to do this all over again in November.
The other big thing you heard from Balderson, and I think this is really important, the big thank you to Donald Trump. You showed the President's tweet earlier, Brian. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find a Republican in Ohio who disagrees with the central premise of it, namely that it was Donald Trump who was able to carry Troy Balderson across the finish line here.
He did not have a great last couple of days campaigning. But he did get a big boost from the President who in some part had to essentially remind Republican voters that there was a special election happening this week and that his agenda was on the line.
Every Republican strategist I talked to this week said that Balderson needed that boost to juice his numbers in the more reliably Republican parts of this county or this district, rather, that just weren't huge Troy Balderson fans coming into this last weekend.
WILLIAMS: Garrett, how about a word about this district? You know, our viewers along with us kind of fly into these districts where on nights like tonight there's no more important stretch of real estate in this whole country politically. But what an interesting part of the country it is. You've got the terrific city of Columbus, Ohio, its northern reaches, and then stretches of countryside that look just like the American midwest.
HAAKE: Yes, absolutely, Brian. It is that mix of suburban, a little bit of the city of Columbus, and a whole lot of rural, expansive Ohio here that makes up this district.
You know, the Democratic candidate here is 31 years old. In his life he's never been represented here by a Democrat. The mix of voters here have always elected your pro-business, country club, chamber of commerce types of Republicans.
John Kasich represented this district before ultimately becoming governor of this state. Pat Tiberi, very much in the same model. These are voters who love the John McCain and Mitt Romney party. They've voted for the Donald Trump party.
The operating theory here was do people who drive Volvos and go to country clubs in those suburbs around the district, these well-educated, wealthier voters, are they really going to stick with Donald Trump and really stick with his agenda in the face of what we've seen over the last year and a half? The answer appeared to be yes on those moderate Republicans, the swing county here, and I don't want to get two deep into Steve's lane.
Delaware County here did stick with the Republican here. But you did see this enormous turnout of Democrats who have turned their back on this President from that suburban part of this. Brian, there are dozens of districts that look enough like this in November that Democrats are going to be picking this apart based to see what they can learn.
I'm sure they feel like they can make a lot of these districts competitive based on the lessons they learned tonight. Moral victories do not, a house majority make. They've got to get across the finish line in these districts in November.
WILLIAMS: All right. Garrett Haake live at the headquarters of the Democratic candidate tonight. Thanks, buddy, for your live reporting this evening. We really appreciate it.
We want to bring in our lead-off panel on this busy Tuesday night. Kimberly Atkins is back with us, Chief Washington Reporter for "The Boston Herald." She, as you see, is on the Hill. And here with us in New York, John Heilemann is back with us, longtime Political Journalist, Co-author of both "Game Change" and "Double Down." We did a little bit of both tonight in Ohio. And Eli Stokols is back with us, White House Reporter for "The Los Angeles Times." Good evening and welcome to you all.
Kimberly, in your case, real state where you are really means a lot on a night like tonight. What do you think the member with the letter "R" after their names who work in that building behind you, what do you think they make of a barn burner in this district in Ohio during this time?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, "THE BOSTON HERALD: I think there is some concern. I mean, I'm talking and texting with some as we talk right now. And there is a lot of concern.
Look, dozens of districts that are up in the midterms are not as red as the Ohio 12th. And the fact that this was such a squeaker, even if they come out with a "W" at the end of it, it's quite an erosion of support for Donald Trump, who won that district by 12 points.
I know the President is claiming victory tonight, and it might be the case that he energized Republicans enough just to squeak over, to squeak out a win here. But he also energized Democrats in a way to really get out the vote. One thing that the President tweeted that is true is that it's August, and it's a time when a lot of people are on vacation, a lot of people aren't thinking about politics and they still were able.
Democrats were still able to mobilize people, it sounds like particularly in the suburbs, which is going to be a crucial battleground. I think Republicans have to be really concerned about that.
WILLIAMS: All right, John Heilemann, here in our New York studios, as they like to ask during moments like this, so what have we learned so far this evening?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIR ANALYST: Well, I'm a big fan of two things in political analysis, one is the win is a win school. You win a race. And it looks like the Republican has won this race. So hats off for winning the race because that's all that matters in this business.
WILLIAMS: We have to hasten to point out we can't declare at this point.
HEILEMANN: That's why I said it looks like the Republican has won.
WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely. I got your modifier.
HEILEMANN: The second thing I'm a big fan of in all analysis is context and Kimberly has provided some, and people on this network have been providing it all night. There's been a safe Republican sit forever. It's a sit where Republican should easily hold the seat the fact that it's a squeaker, a nail-biter, that we're not able -- too still too close to call at this hour, means that Democrats should have a lot to be happy about here.
They've looked at this race and they've said, "You know, but for a couple of -- a few votes here, we could steal this race and we have 90 days to do that with these same candidates on the ballot." So Democrats are right to feel good about what they've done here tonight.
This should not be a contested race let alone a race that's a razor thin margin. But again, Republicans get the win and you can't take that away from them, if they, again, assuming that things hold, they get this win, and, you know, you can't gainsay that.
WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, I heard a noted political expert on another network tonight say the following. "If Democrats can do this well in a district 88 percent white, they will retake the House."
ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: And I think right now that's what I hear when I talk to analysts and consultants on both sides is that at least when it comes to the House, the wind is at the Democrats' back, the numbers look good. If they're running double digits ahead of where they ran in 2016, they are going to take the number of seats that they need to win a majority, most likely, better than 50 percent chance at this point. But I think, you know, you go back to the President's tweet, there have been a lot of Donald Trump tweets that ring less true than what he said tonight.
Yes, he's going to take a lot of credit for this. That's obvious. But pollsters on the ground in Ohio have said that they saw better numbers, especially in those rural precincts, after he was there. He's also right that it is an interesting time to vote.
And, you know, what he didn't get into in the tweet, but what he said on Saturday and what he's been saying over the last couple of weeks, he has the loudest megaphone in the country. And when he goes out there and he can hang his hat on things like Democrats, some Democrats, just a couple of, but it doesn't takes two New York Democrats saying abolish ICE for Donald Trump to go out there and remind voters who are on the fence in a more conservative toss of district like this, look, you may not love me and everything, but here is where the Democratic party is going these days, that is also effective.
I know that Danny O'Connor tried to say, "Oh, I'm not going to support Pelosi for speaker but then he bungled that in the interview with Chris Matthews and that wasn't convincing. So it does come down still in this close race. You know, Democrats have a win at their backs but it does take candidates and it does take some convincing some of these voters.
HEILEMANN: I love my friend Eli Stokols, but I will say this, this is not the biggest lie the President has ever told on Twitter. He's told many bigger lies. But there's someone who gets a lot of credit for this victory, you know, outside force or an inside force that is not about this candidates and that's the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, who is the anti- Trump governor --
WILLIAMS: Really interesting --
HEILEMANN: -- who came in and backed Balderson, cutting an ad in the last week of the race, incredibly popular in the state of Ohio.
WILLIAMS: But waited very late.
HEILEMANN: Waited very late, but it's late in race this close, the late dynamic. Who had more effect on this race at the end? Governor Kasich by coming in at the end, again, a guy with a 65 percent approval rating in the state, or Donald Trump coming in, especially given the way that Balderson performed in some of these Republican suburbs where the President didn't help him, John Kasich did.
STOKOLS: I completely agree with that, but I think it's telling that what we just heard when Balderson came to the state, who did he thank? He thanked the President, the Vice President, Congressman Tiberi and he thanked Chairman Stivers. He didn't mention John Kasich.
John is correct that the turnout may have been because he didn't just have the Trump wing and Donald Trump pulling for him but he also had Kasich vouching for him as well. And this is a case where you have the establishment and the Trump wings of the party pulling in the same direction and maybe he wins by a percentage point. That tells you something about where things are. But the fact that he didn't come onstage and even say John Kasich's name also tells you something that were key things.
HEILEMANN: He's afraid of the Trump base. And again, you're not going to see this in very many races. You're not going to see in very many races where Republicans have the kind of money they had to spend $6 million, $7 million and spend in a race that they should easily win where you're going to have outside groups outspending, Democratic outside groups, by five times and where you're going to get a Republican governor with 65 percent approval rating or lower than 60 and the President of the United States on the same side. This is an unusual set of circumstances that just barely pulled this Republican across, again if the results hold.
WILLIAMS: We have part two of the Trump tweet tonight on this race. It seems he wasn't done. "Congratulations to Troy Balderson on a great win in Ohio, a very special," I think that means special election, "and important race."
So, Kimberly --
HEILEMANN: What has he ever done, Brian? You said it seems like he's not done. When is he ever done?
WILLIAMS: Yes, that's true. Good points.
WILLIAMS: It's really all like a continuation. Kimberly, what is the -- is there a vetted process for the campaigns the President will visit? We have just learned that it looks like he may make a stop in Texas for Ted Cruz, for example. There was some hubbub about who cleared the President to come into Ohio, who requested it, who gave their permission in this case. But it's also indisputable, he moved votes.
ATKINS: Yes, I mean, you're using words like vetting and permission as if that's something that the President ever goes by. I think it's going to be a matter of the President choosing his gut very frequently and getting into this. I think that this is, which he's calling a win and other Republicans are calling a win tonight even though it's still technically too close to call, will probably boost him in that effort.
But I think one thing you have to watch is that there are still some contested primaries coming up between candidates who are more mainstream Republicans and others who are very Trumpy candidates who the President is going to be eager to back. So in this case, you did see Kasich and Trump on the same side with the same candidate and bringing those voters together. That's going to be a big factor moving forward if the Republicans are going to be able to create that unity, to get behind people, to get them over the finish line in November, if those fights are nasty, it will be a lot more difficult to do. That's one of the many factors, including how Nancy Pelosi plays in these races.
We still don't know the answer for sure yet. We have to take a closer look at how these precincts voted. But Trump is definitely going to be on the campaign trail, whether the candidates he's backing likes it or not.
WILLIAMS: Hey, John, just a moment for civics.
WILLIAMS: So let's say, again, to take your point for the purposes of argument, the Republican wins, and let's say we don't have an official call for days.
WILLIAMS: They become a sitting member of Congress. You don't get to inherent the seniority of the Republican you're replacing. So you get bumped down, you get terrible office space and not much of it. As a practical matter, you inherit much of the staff from the last member of Congress, just so you can hit the ground running.
You put some stuff on the walls, you get letterhead printed, but you never feel permanent. Two-year terms, it's tough to feel permanent because you've got to go out and sing for your supper in November.
HEILEMANN: Right. Well, look, I mean, both these guys, they both said in their speeches tonight that they got to get out there and start working again, they both got to get out to start raising money again, they got to spend their time between now and November.
WILLIAMS: You got to serve constituents.
HEILEMANN: And they got to try to serve constituents, although, you know, in reality, after Labor Day, Congress will probably go out of session. The House, people got to go home.
WILLIAMS: With as hard as they work?
HEILEMANN: Yes, I know. Kind of shocking, right? You know, I think the reality is, unless the President actually tries to engineer a government shutdown between now and November, the amount of actual legislative business that's going to gets done on the House side is relatively limited.
So you're going to have -- you're not going to have a lot of big important votes to cast as a back venture. You're going to obviously be involved in the national discourse and national dialogue. You might have some things to vote on, so you're not going to be completely useless. But essentially from now until you run this race again, you're going to be engaged in the act of full-time politics even though you're going to need to pretend like you're involved in other things like constituent service and occasionally filling that office in one of those three buildings up there on the House side of the Capitol.
WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, how legitimately happy do you think the President is or is it relief, again assuming, in the end of this race, the Republican wins. We don't know and we certainly won't know tonight.
STOKOLS: I mean, when Donald Trump gets anything that he can portray as a victory, he is a happy guy. And he is going to play that up. And I think that's why you've seen two tweets tonight already. You'll hear him talking about -- he may call the pool back to Bedminster tomorrow and hold a press conference. You never know.
But this is a guy who is going to, for better or worse, insert himself in every election race, every one of these races that he can. Republican consultants, a lot of them don't want him in every race. They think there are certain places where he'll be more helpful and others where he should stay away.
But whether he goes to these places or not, this election is about Donald Trump. He's already in there. And he has proven that when he goes and does these rallies, he can juice the Republican turnout, the base vote.
The question is what happens in those districts that are closer, how does he also animate those voters who are already predisposed to vote against him, does he bring more of those out? And I think especially on the House side, that's something the Republicans are worried about.
HEILEMANN: I like talking about the 1990s with Brian, because we both remember the Clinton administration and we're both old men. You remember vividly in 1994 when Bill Clinton was out on the campaign trail after Labor Day. There came a point at which the situation was so dire that a lot of Democrats were coming to Bill Clinton and saying, "Go home. Don't come out and campaign." And the president then --
WILLIAMS: That happens.
HEILEMANN: That happens. It's not unusual that you find individual. This was a big wave of Democrats who said stay home and the President listened. Bill Clinton went off the campaign trail at the end of 1994 for the better part of two weeks if I remember correctly and basically said, "Hey, you guys know your politics better than I know your politics. I'm a political animal. I'm going to sit around the White House and watch college football for the last couple of weeks in October."
Can you imagine Donald Trump who's going to hear -- the White House political officers are already hearing from a lot of major Republicans who are saying, "If you can just take the itinerary not through my district, can you imagine Donald Trump hearing that and saying, you know what, I'm going to defer to the congressman on this matter?"
WILLIAMS: Yes, I'll be here in the residence. Well, that's kind of the sentiment Kim Atkins was already picking up tonight when we went to her. And our thanks to our initial panel tonight, to Kimberly Atkins on Capitol Hill, and here in New York, John Heilemann, Eli Stokols. Much obliged. Thank you all for coming out on a busy night.
Coming up, Paul Manafort's lawyers predictably began gnawing at the star witness with questions about things like embezzlement and adultery.
And later, new criminal suspicion surrounding President Trump's former fixer and longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen. His problems, while they still do not number 99, now may include tax fraud charges and the potential for a very long jail sentence.
"The 11th Hour" on a busier than average Tuesday night just getting under way.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, M SNBC ANCHOR: -- on a busier than average Tuesday night, just getting under way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Downing, how do you think it went with Gates today?
KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S ATTORNEY: Mr. Manafort had a great day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Rick Gates, the star witness in the financial fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was back on the stand today, day six of this trial. And the defense was quick to go after the credibility of the witness. Manafort's lawyers pressed Gates on his lies to Mueller's team before he agreed to a plea deal. They brought up an extramarital affair that Gates had and asked him about the money he'd embezzled from Manafort's operation.
Most of the testimony centered on the financial schemes that prosecutors say Manafort developed to avoid paying taxes and maintain his lifestyle even as his income dried up at one point. Gates told the court that Manafort directed him to disguise millions of dollars in foreign income as loans and to funnel money through shell companies outside the U.S. Gates portrayed Manafort as a man who essentially went broke after his income stream as a consultant to Russian-linked candidates in the Ukraine vanished.
Also today, Donald Trump's name was mentioned in front of the jury for the first time in this trial. And prosecutors presented evidence that Manafort tries to use his leverage in the Trump campaign to get one of his lenders a job in the administration. It never stops.
With us tonight, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who was inside court for today's testimony. She's at the end of a long day for herself. Elie Honig is with us, former assistant U.S. attorney general for the Southern District of New York, and former assistant attorney general for the great State of New Jersey. And Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times."
Good evening and welcome to you all, and I apologize for the late hour. Barbara, I have to hear about the part of this we're not allowed to see, cameras aren't allowed in federal court. We are limited to one or two color sketches. What was the dynamic like, what were the atmospherics like with Gates on the stand, especially between Gates and Mueller?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, it was very interesting to see Gates testify. He never made contact with Paul Manafort. He was looking at the prosecutor who's asking the questions, he would look at the jury but he never looked at Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort, on the other hand, was really staring daggers at Rick Gates during his testimony.
I thought Gates did fairly well on his direct examination. They used a lot of documents that he just sort of connected the dots. And so a lot of it was corroborated with e-mail messages and other documents. But I thought he did not particularly well on cross-examination, I thought he seemed evasive and argumentative. I think that, you know, he admitted to a lot of fraud and a lot of lies and I think the body language of the jury was that they weren't liking Rick Gates very much. But, you know, they put him in the middle for a reason, we used to call it the cooperator sandwich, you start strong and you end strong, and you put the person who was in baggage (ph) in the middle to give yourself a chance to recover. And no doubt, in closing argument, prosecutors will argue that we don't like Rick Gates either, we're not asking you to like Rick Gates. We didn't choose Rick Gates to be our witness. It was Paul Manafort who chose him to be
WILLIAMS: No one needs to tell you, Barbara, that federal judges have enormous power in our society. They are nominated by the president. They have to be approved by the Senate. And they sit on the bench for life. That said, this particular judge, nominated by president Ronald Reagan, has played an interesting role in this case. And a lot of people have come away with interesting opinions.
Today, he kind of participated in the case. Tell us your assessment of what you've seen.
MCQUADE: Well, throughout the trial, he's been very hands-on. He injects himself quite a bit. He asks questions of witnesses. He seems very smart and very engaged, so in many ways, those are positive things. But he's -- you know, I've never seen any judge get so involved in the case. And today, you know, some of the questions he asked are things lawyers might not want to ask, but today, he actually made a statement, when Rick Gates testified about something like Paul Manafort was deeply involved in financial matters, the judge said something to the effect of, well, obviously not very involved, otherwise he wouldn't have been able to -- you wouldn't have been able to steal so much money from him.
You know, a really inflammatory comment and as this, you know, supposedly independent authority figure in the courtroom and an expert on the law, I really worry about the impact of a statement like that in front of the jury.
WILLIAMS: And Barbara, one more for you, and that is, if you're the prosecutor in this case, was Gates wobbly enough to worry about?
MCQUADE: I'd be a little bit worried about him. I think they can probably rehabilitate him. Again, I think that there's enough corroborating evidence in the documents that have come in, in the case and it's consistent with what other witnesses are saying, that they should be all right. I just -- the only worry I have is that the jury, who did seem to have some very negative body language about Gates, is so put off by him that they hold it against the jury. But I think if they look at this objectively, there is still sufficient and significant evidence to convict Paul Manafort.
WILLIAMS: Elie, it's late and we're hungry, but Barbara is the one who invoked the word sandwich. So let's talk about it. Here is your star witness. He's in an interesting location within the trial. It's mostly a paper case. I guess this means you've got to end strong. You've got to have a great closer and wrap it all up for the members of that jury.
ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Yes, Brian. So the most important thing that you can do as a prosecutor when you're putting on a cooperating witness, you know they're going to take some damage. You know the defense is going to score some points on them. And so you have to be able to rally back with corroboration, with independent evidence that backs up the cooperator, so you're not just saying to the jury, take this criminal's word for it.
And what we've seen so far, the Mueller team has done a really good job of doing that. All of the witnesses leading up to Rick Gates, the accountant, the bookkeeper, the vendors, have had a constant theme of, Manafort was the boss, Manafort knew where every dollar and every cent went. And there's documents that back up Rick Gates. You know, the one that stands out in my mind is the exchange where Gates sent a profit and loss statement to Manafort. And Manafort said, it's in PDF, can you send it back to me in Word? Because he wants to alter it, because you can't alter a PDF, you can alter a Word document. And that's the type of -- that's the one piece of evidence that can be so golden and can really stick in a jury's mind.
WILLIAMS: And, where lawyers are concerned, you need to stick to this, or you need Mariano Rivera, you need a great closer here.
HONIG: Yes, or in some instances, just a boring closer. You know, just a straight down the middle, I don't know that you need quite a superstar, it doesn't sound like they have another superstar like a Rivera ready to go, it sounds like they got more -- a couple of guys with 350 ERAs who can come out and get you to the end of the game.
But look, boring can be good after an explosive cooperator like this. Put a little distance between the cooperator and the closing arguments, let things settle back down, call a couple of more straight-up financial types, and then let it go to closing.
WILLIAMS: OK, Peter Baker, you have a great 30,000-foot view of all of this. And bring us back to this question, why did Paul Manafort offer himself up to Donald Trump and why did he do so for free?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. Well, that's a really good question and one that we're unfortunately not hearing addressed yet at this trial, anyway, and one that goes much more to the central point of the president of the United States and what does this mean in terms of our understanding about Donald Trump and the campaign that he waged in 2016.
By the time that Paul Manafort becomes involved in the campaign, he has been cut off from his sources of funding in the Ukraine, from his Russian- backed, you know, money source, and therefore he's offering himself with no money asked from Donald Trump. Why? One might suspect, of course, that he's using this to try to rehabilitate himself, perhaps to offer some sort of advantage to his Russian backers to whom he apparently owes some money. He did at one point offer private briefings to Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch to whom he was indebted. And so you have to wonder what the larger meaning is of this. That's not why the prosecutors are there to prove today, what they're trying to do is prove specific allegations involving tax law, financial law and so forth.
But for the larger public, for the larger, you know, electorate which cares about its president and cares about the leadership of the country, trying to figure out what this means, that's the central question.
WILLIAMS: And for the larger public who has heard perhaps the president try to diminish Paul Manafort, was with us for just a very short period of time, there will always be the president taking the other side of that argument. Here is an example of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have great people, Paul Manafort. He didn't have to do this. Like I don't have to, he didn't need to do this but he wanted to. Because he saw something and he called me and said, this is something special.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, how will we look back on that sound bite perhaps in six months?
BAKER: Well, like a lot of things President Trump has said or tweeted in the past, he probably wishes he could take it back or at least the people around him wish he could take it back. You know, he was impressed to have Paul Manafort volunteer because Manafort had a long history in Republican politics. He'd been involved in the 1976 campaign for Gerald Ford, for -- 1996 for Bob Dole, et cetera, et cetera. So this is something of a validation for Trump at that time to get somebody with Manafort's experience in national politics.
However, a lot of people around town knew that Manafort had this sort of shady connections. A lot of people around Washington knew to keep away from him. And therefore, you have to say, did the president of the United States or the candidate who wanted to be president of the United States at that point have any knowledge of that? If not, why not? We do judge our presidents on the character of the people that they hire and they put in place around them. Presidents get to say, well, I didn't know about this, it didn't have anything to do with my campaign, fair enough. But you have to ask, you know, why do you surround yourself with people who have, you know, clear issues in terms of honesty, in terms of legal behavior?
WILLIAMS: As we thank our guests, a special note to say that we are honored to have a former U.S. attorney as in effect our special correspondent inside that courtroom. And court starts early, and Barbara McQuade has pushed on through into the late night. Thank you so much to Barbara McQuade, to Elie Honig, to Peter Baker, we really appreciated all three of you.
Coming up, Steve Kornacki back at the big board. We'll take a deeper look at the lessons from the numbers out tonight when we come back.
WILLIAMS: It's been another one of those Tuesday election nights. And in its own way, it's been epic and it doesn't end tonight. But, Steve Kornacki, back at the big board with some of the numbers out of Ohio. Steve?
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so 1,754. That is the overall lead that Balderson, the Republican, has here. And again, we're saying too close to call. I do not want to be overdramatic here as I lay out one little wrinkle here that is sort of on top of what I said at the top of this. I -- let me just explain quickly here.
Again, the lead for Balderson right now, it is 0.9. The state law says 0.5 or less is an automatic recount. So right now, this would not be an automatic recount. We had been telling you, and I'll put this up there again, that there are 3,435 provisional ballots to be counted across this district. This is going to take days, it's probably not going to happen, in fact, for another 10 days. When it does happen, when they are counted, we do expect Democrats will win them. We expect the margin will be, you know, potentially considerable, enough potentially to knock this number not down to zero or anywhere near zero, but maybe under a thousand, maybe knock it in half, maybe knock it down enough that the 0.9 margin falls below 0.5 and then the automatic recount is triggered.
I say there is one other wrinkle. I will put this out there. Take this with a grain of salt. Right now, the secretary of state, we told you just a little bit earlier too, the secretary of state in Ohio is saying that in addition to those 3,435, there are 5,048 what they are terming uncounted absentee ballots. The question becomes, what is an uncounted absentee ballot?
We believe that a small, small sliver of this 5,048, I mean, we're talking in the hundreds here, low hundreds probably, would be military ballots. So the military ballots, you know, let's say, 250, you know, ballpark figure here, we expect those to break more Republican than Democratic, a small number. What about the rest? What are those? What we think, but we don't know, we are trying to get confirmation of, but the suspicion is that what this might reflect is, absentee ballots that were mailed out to people and that weren't returned. So they're then being counted in this category of uncounted absentee ballots. That has not been confirmed. That has not been told to us. We don't know. And so, you have to say, it's sitting there, it's on their website. They haven't explained fully what it means.
If that did mean that, you know, it's the early vote, you know, absentee ballots that were cast early, you know, we certainly saw O'Connor do better, much better than Balderson in the early vote. You know, they're from all around, they're from each county that's in here. Again, even going by how we saw the early vote break, would that be enough to get O'Connor over Balderson. Hard to see. Would it be enough to get it under 0.5? That's a different story. But again, no confirmation, no word. We are trying to track it down. I put it out there because anybody who is curious and wants to go look is going to see that number on the secretary of state's site right now. And the truth is, we can't -- I'm not sure what that is. I suspect that's absentee ballots that weren't returned. They haven't confirmed that to us.
WILLIAMS: Just some -- sooner or later, you're talking about some real numbers here.
KORNACKI: Yes, yes.
WILLIAMS: So, it'll be interesting to find out. Steve, I can't thank you enough. It just gets more and more interesting sadly as the hour gets later.
And with just 90 days until the midterm elections, one former Trump rival is now asking for the president's help. The Houston Chronicle headline reads, "Ted Cruz asks Trump to campaign for him in Texas." They go on to explain, "During the campaign stop, late Monday, Cruz said he has reached out to his former rival for the White House", remember Lyin' Ted was the president's nickname for him, "to help him with his reelection effort against Democrat Beto O'Rourke."
With us tonight, Charlie Sykes, a long-time conservative radio host who is now contributing editor and podcast host for "The Weekly Standard".
Charlie, what are the rules in politics? You can brand an opponent Lyin' Ted, a nickname that still springs to mind along with low energy Jeb Bush and Little Marco, and then all things can be equaled up if you have a tough race back home in Texas?
CHARLIE SYKES, PODCAST HOST, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, apparently. I mean, who knew that Ted Cruz was quite this elastic? I mean, it's not just Lyin' Ted. And remember, you know, this was a campaign in which Donald Trump made fun of Ted Cruz's wife's looks, implied that Ted Cruz's dad had assassinated John F. Kennedy, his trolls at the "National Enquirer" spread rumors about his personal life. He got booed off the stage at the Republican National Convention when he suggested that people vote their conscience.
But you know in politics, apparently, it's easy to forgive and Ted Cruz has proven that he is willing to get in line with the Trump administration. I mean, he is not just on the Trump train, he's enthusiastically on the Trump train.
WILLIAMS: So Charlie, about tonight and what we're witnessing and what Steve Kornacki's been covering all night and just talked about, what does tonight mean for you?
SYKES: OK, let me give you three data points on all of this. And I don't want to be misunderstood that whoever wins tonight matters less than the trend that you're seeing. This is a district that the Democrats have not - - they won once since 1938. The last Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi won in 2016 by 36 points. And, there are 68 Republican House seats that are less Republican than Ohio 12. So, yes, the Republicans can celebrate the fact that they may have eked out a victory but the trends here have got to be incredibly troubling to the Republicans.
You know, if you're adding double-digit democratic numbers across the board, this is going to be a very, very, very tough election. You know, so Donald Trump can claim that he, in fact, might have tipped this election, you know, at the -- in the very last few days but this should not even be close. We should not know these guys' names, we should not have spent five minutes talking about it. And the only reason we've been talking about it is what Donald Trump has done to the political landscape.
WILLIAMS: I hate the way the politics business, especially, reduces people to just straight up demographic groups but I'm going to go ahead and quote this political veteran that I quoted earlier in the broadcast. Someone I saw tonight on another network. "If the Democrats can do this well in a district 88% white, they can retake the house."
SYKES: Yes, there's no question about it. If -- I mean, we're really seeing a microcosm of the way in which the suburbs that had been traditionally reliably Republican are now turning to the Democrats. We're seeing how rural areas are becoming more Republican. But again, if you see this pattern extended throughout the country, it is just -- there's no way that you can spin this as a good night for the Democrats. So the fact that this took place in a state as crucial as Ohio has got to be another one of those troubling omens, I think.
WILLIAMS: And John Kasich emerges from this. What do you think is in his future?
SYKES: Well, who knows. You know, as we sit here right now, it's hard to imagine any successful Republican primary challenge to Donald Trump unless something really catastrophic happens. John Kasich is about the only guy who appears to be expressing some interest. And, you know, so it's certainly possible that if Republicans start looking around saying, you know, is there an alternative to Donald Trump in our future, do we want Donald Trump to define the Republican Party going into the next decade, they might look to a John Kasich. But I think it's a long shot.
WILLIAMS: And the rest of the summer calendar you think will be consumed with all things Trump and Russia investigation with sporadic interruptions for politics, I guess?
SYKES: I think it's that, and I expect that the rhetoric over immigration will get much more toxic. I think that the rhetoric will be much more divisive. A matter of fact, I think that the rhetoric that you saw in the final few days in Ohio is a pretty good indication of what Republicans are going to try to do between now and November, and they'll see what works and what doesn't work. But, obviously, the immigration card is going to be something that they're going to be pounding away on.
WILLIAMS: Charlie Sykes, always a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for staying up late with us. Thank you for reacting to the news we've been covering late tonight. Really appreciate it.
For those just joining us, again, our decision deck has put it this way. The race we've been covering in Ohio tonight, too close to call. We will not be calling this race tonight. And that goes especially to all the reasons Steve Kornacki has been laying out for us. We have another hour of special live coverage to come.
For now, we'll take a break.
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