Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 9, 2018 Guest: Lisa Lerer, Mimi Rocah, Michael Crowley, Chuck Rosenberg, Eric Tucker
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, President Trump calls the Russia investigation an illegally brought rigged witch hunt but says stay tuned, while Rudy Giuliani puts the chance of a sit-down with Mueller at 50 percent.
Plus, inside the Manafort courtroom, the judge today telling the jury disregard my criticism of the prosecution.
And nearly one year later, are we getting closer to knowing the truth what really happened in the dark aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico?
"The 11th Hour" on a Thursday night begins now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 567 of the Trump administration brings an ominous warning from the President, though the kind of T.V. phrase that the President loves, as his lawyers in the Russia investigation trying to up the pressure on Robert Mueller.
Here`s what the President wrote today. "This is an illegally brought rigged witch hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted. It was started and paid for by crooked Hillary and the Democrats. Phony dossier, FISA disgrace and so many lying and dishonest people already fired. Seventeen angry Dems? Stay tuned."
The President said nothing about the matter today during a roundtable while on vacation. This was about prison reform. He is letting his lawyers do the talking.
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told our colleague Kristen Welker there is "still a steep hurdle" to an interview with Mueller and it would "raise significant Article II questions going to the heart of presidential authority. It`s not just about this President but about the presidency."
Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani spokes with Axios. They report, "There are two topics the President`s lawyers want to rule out in order to agree to a Trump sit-down with Mueller. One, why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, two, what Trump said to Comey about the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn."
Tonight, Bloomberg has also spoken to Giuliani and also reports that those two topics are off limits. According to Bloomberg, Giuliani said, "If asked the President would tell the special counsel that he didn`t urge Comey to stop investigating Flynn and didn`t fire Comey to cut off his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign but the President`s personal lawyer said Trump`s advisers think Mueller wouldn`t believe him and would side instead with Comey."
This might explain the concern on the part of the Trump legal team. Here now a sample of his comments on Michael Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My White House counsel came to me. They had, I believe, two meetings. And we ultimately fired, but we fired for a different reason.
LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: You`re talking about General Flynn?
TRUMP: General Flynn, yes.
HOLT: Because of lying to the Vice President?
TRUMP: Yes, but everything plays in. Everything plays into it. But we fired him because he said something to the Vice President that was not so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn? And also as you looked back --
I feel badly for General Flynn. He`s lost his house. He`s lost his life. Some people say he lied and some people say he didn`t lie. I mean, really it turned out maybe he didn`t lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And here now, Donald Trump on James Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: All I want is for Comey to be honest and I hope he will be and I`m sure he will be, I hope. He`s a show boat. He`s a grandstander.
The FBI has been in turmoil.
I was going to fire Comey. There`s no good time to do it, by the way. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."
Rod Rosenstein, he wrote the letter, very critical, of Comey. One of the things they said, "I fired Comey, well, I turned out to do the right thing.
And I did a great service to this country by firing James Comey.
Who has lied more than Comey? I mean, Comey lied a tremendous amount.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President may soon hear about the next step in the investigation of his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Federal prosecutors now have access to everything they can use from that FBI raid of Cohen`s home, office, and hotel room back in April.
For months, as you may know, an independent lawyer, a so-called special master who happens to be a former federal judge, reviewed all the seized boxes of documents and files to decide what should be off-limits in the investigation. Her review is now complete, which means it`s now up to prosecutors to decide whether they will bring charges.
It`s a lot to get to. And so we will with our lead-off panel on a Thursday night. Mimi Rocah is back with us, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, these days, a distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at Pace University School of Law. Lisa Lerer back with us, National Politics Reporter for "The Associated Press." Michael Crowley returns as well, National Security Editor and Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent for Politico.
Lisa, I don`t want to put you in a bad spot, because you don`t do commentary, you do straight on news. But is there any reason to believe this is anything but political side showing? We emphasize to our audience, we`re hearing 50 percent of the argument on a sit-down with Mueller. Mueller`s side doesn`t talk and Mueller`s side doesn`t leak.
LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Right. Well, generally, lawyers are not out debating their client`s legal strategy in public, which, you know, certainly leads one to believe that this is not so much a legal strategy as a P.R. strategy. I think, you know, our reporting has told us that the President`s lawyers are not eager for him to testify. But there`s also concern from some in the White House that if he appears unwilling to speak to Mueller, that could look like he has something to hide. That might not -- that could be politically lethal, in a way.
So part of the strategy here is to keep this back and forth going, to make it look like there is a negotiation. Whether there is one or not. And most importantly, that the President is willing to sit down for this interview, particularly ahead of the midterms.
WILLIAMS: Mimi, one of our guests last night hadn`t thought of the President in these terms. The President got a paycheck from this company and this building for 14 years. He was host of a reality show. It`s part of what shapes his world view. He`s the first T.V. star we`ve ever elected as President.
Having said that, the way Rudolph Giuliani has framed this sit-down as something of a reality show leading up to a final rose ceremony, how must the feds view all of these moving parts, none of them having to do with them?
MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSITANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Right. And it`s so hard to know how much of the discussion, discussion that we`re hearing from Giuliani, is even happening also with Mueller, right? We don`t know how much of this is a two-sided conversation or this is just Giuliani, you know, spewing things to the public for us to hear his take, his side of it, his reality, as you say.
ROCAH: He`s created this completely false deadline and false reality.
WILLIAMS: Sixty days? Explain that.
ROCAH: Yes, if I can just explain that a little bit.
ROCAH: There is DOJ guidance that generally obviously prosecutors should not use their power as prosecutors to impact elections. I mean, that`s sort it in a nutshell. Well, the closer you get to an election, that means the more careful you have to be in how overtly you investigate or charge someone who`s going to be on the ballot in that election.
First of all, Donald Trump, as far as I know, is not on the ballot in 2018. So this whole issue about, you know, them affecting the election is actually pretty tangential. It`s not clear how much it applies.
WILLIAMS: But Mueller is so clearly cautious and observant of precedent and law.
ROCAH: Yes. And so he will take it into account. But it`s sort of a sliding scale. Trump`s not on the ballot. So you don`t have to be quite as careful as, for example, charging someone like Collins who is up for reelection.
ROCAH: So there they had to be very, very careful. And also, you know, you have to not -- you don`t have to stop the whole election -- the whole investigation.
WILLIAMS: Can you pause some aspects of it?
ROCAH: You just don`t want to do something overt. So he can keep doing lots of stuff that he`s doing, it`s not like they`re going to close up shop come September 1st. So Giuliani is creating this deadline, September 1st, September 1st because then if people buy into that, you know, because who knows about this DOJ guidance, most people don`t, and how it works, and it`s very fact-based and nuanced, then come September 1st, if Mueller doesn`t wrap it up, then Giuliani can claim he`s blown some deadline and he`s, you know --
WILLIAMS: Or they have successfully stopped the investigation or even pause it.
ROCAH: Yes, either way. He makes Mueller look bad by creating this false reality.
WILLIAMS: Michael Crowley, any reason to believe the Giuliani strategy is anything other than these three words, delay, distract, and discredit?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR, POLITICO: I don`t think so, Brian. And, you know, think about Rudy Giuliani`s recent history. You know, where is the track record of this guy being a master strategist?
He was mayor of New York City, which is an extremely challenging job. He wasn`t an especially popular one for most of that time until a cataclysmic event in the form of a massive terrorist attack kind of transformed his image. But that was this thing happened out of the blue and a lot of it was just sort of how he performed on camera.
Then he ran for President. His presidential campaign was basically a flop. He`s not really remembered for any great and powerful message or insights.
And since then his reputation has kind of taken a beating. He`s made a lot of money basically influence-peddling. And his reputation has suffered.
So, you know, there are people -- and I`m not saying people on this show here are doing this, they`re not, but other people are sort of suggesting that there is this brilliant strategy behind what he`s doing, and it`s putting Mueller on the defensive. I see no reason to think that we should imagine that there`s a strategy behind this unfolding. It`s hard to discern on the surface level.
And I suspect that Mueller -- a lot of this, he may find it comical that Giuliani is setting these deadlines and sort of, you know, issuing what are in effect, you know, demands and orders. I just think Mueller is doing what he`s doing on his own timeframe, has a huge amount of information at his disposal, is really the guy in charge here. And there`s something -- you know I could be completely wrong in the way this turns out, but from where I sit right now, there`s something almost a little satirical, Rudy kind of, you know, raging at the dying of the light here, and I just don`t think there`s much to it.
WILLIAMS: Lisa, no judgment here because a number of us are, but the President is cable addicted. And having established that, what are the kind of unique pressures? Here he is on vacation, playing golf, as far as we can tell, every day, although our lenses are kept far, far away from his golf course. What are the pressures he is seeing and feeling?
LERER: Well, he`s certainly seeing a lot of coverage of the Manafort trial, which has not been particularly flattering either for Manafort or Rick Gates or really the campaign. He`s seeing what`s going on with his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and how the pressure is ratcheting up over there. And he`s feeling the pressure of the midterms.
While he claimed a number of victories in the midterms this week, that special election in Ohio was awfully, awfully close. We still don`t have a conclusive winner. And that`s a district that Trump won by 11, it really is a Republican stronghold. It should not have been that close.
So he`s feeling a number of legal and political pressures. But I think what his team is seeing that`s making them feel like their strategy may be working, is the polling numbers. They`re seeing that the longer they -- as you put it, the longer they delay, the more disapproval of Mueller and the investigation seems to rise. But as you pointed out at the beginning of the show, we`re only hearing 50 percent of the story.
So while those numbers have been moving a certain way, the big question is what happens once the public starts hearing the other half of the story, do we see those numbers change. Polling moves.
WILLIAMS: Mimi, another associate of Roger Stone is about to receive or has received a subpoena to come in and talk to the Mueller team. This is now a lot of associates, the stars and moons around Roger Stone.
I think I`ve asked you this question about five times before. Would you want to be Roger Stone right about now? He hasn`t been called.
ROCAH: Yes, absolutely not. I mean, look, it`s dangerous to make predictions about Mueller because we`ve all said many times, he knows so much more than we know. But just based on what`s in the public record and, as you say, the process and how it`s playing out that so many of his associates have been subpoenaed and he hasn`t been asked to come talk to them, I think really does point in the direction that he`s going to be looking at an indictment.
And the question is, indicted for what exactly, and with whom. You know, is he going to be put into the -- he could just be added into the already existing Russia indictment, either one, really, depending on what his actions were exactly. Probably the hacking one, or a separate indictment with other U.S. citizens, possibly. I mean, it all seems possible to me right now.
And it`s not that the longer Mueller goes on, you know, he`s scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to find something. I think he`s going on because he just keeps uncovering more and more evidence.
WILLIAMS: I`ve wanted for months to see whatever whiteboard they have in his office.
ROCAH: Yes, exactly.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael, part of your life`s work has been studying and writing about foreign affairs. And so here we have Russia. Remembering this is all about Russia`s interference in our election.
Sanctions just put in place against Russia. They called it unfriendly. Just a quick reminder, with true north as our guide, how weird is the U.S.- Russia relationship as of right now?
CROWLEY: It`s bizarre. I can`t think, Brian, of another example where you had so much distance between the commander-in-chief and his seniormost advisers on the subject matter. So in this case, the distance between Trump and his top national security officials on how the United States should be approaching Russia.
Trump wants to befriend Russia. Trump wants to reset relations, in effect. He seems to basically trust Vladimir Putin. And then there is this whole apparatus around him that is ensuring that we don`t do any of those things, that we harden our resolve against Russia, that we continue to impose sanctions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who some people have depicted as a bit of a yes man, who basically wants to please Trump, he came out and issued a statement saying the U.S. would never recognize Russian annexation of Crimea until it is reversed, and that is not the position Trump has held, he`s left the door open. Pompeo has been tough on this subject.
And never mind U.S. Congress, including Republicans in Congress who have deferred to Trump on all kinds of other issues are mad as hell, for the most part, with some notable exceptions, some of the senators who traveled over to Moscow. It`s bizarre, Brian, I`ve never seen a divide like this at the highest levels of the U.S. government.
WILLIAMS: OK, just thought I would ask. Three terrific writers, and thinkers, and explainers starting us off on a Thursday night. Mimi Rocah, Lisa Lerer, Michel Crowley, our thanks to all three of you. Really appreciate it.
Coming up for us, as we approach our first break, it`s something you don`t hear often in a federal courtroom. What the judge had to say after a feisty exchange with prosecutors. There have been a few.
And later, President Trump has said it a lot, he only hires the best people. However, the list of Trump associates with legal problems just keeps getting longer. I`ll get it out.
"The 11th Hour" just getting under way on a Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN DOWNING, MANAFORT`S ATTORNEY: Good day. Good day for Mr. Manafort.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Downing, how was today?
DOWNING: It was a good day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: An attorney for President Trump`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort sounding confident. Day eight of the Manafort trial.
Today`s testimony focused on charges that Manafort lied and committed bank fraud to qualify for bank loans. The more notable moment may have come before any witnesses even took the stand this morning. It was in the form of a rare mea culpa from this judge, who has clashed frequently with the special counsel`s team, the government prosecutors.
Referring to a tense exchange the day before over whether an IRS witness should have been allowed to testify after having been allowed to be in court, judge T.S. Elliott told the jury, "It appears I may well have been wrong." He went on to say, "This robe doesn`t make me anything other than human. I sometimes make mistakes."
Paul Manafort, a reminder, facing bank tax fraud charges, charges he denies. This is his first trial as a result of the investigation by Mueller`s office.
With us tonight to talk about it, we`re so pleased to have Chuck Rosenberg back, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who has spent his fair share of time in that very courtroom where the trial is being held. He also happens to be a former senior official with the FBI. And Eric Tucker is back with us, Justice Department Reporter for "The Associated Press." He was in court for today`s proceedings.
Chuck, I`ve thought of you so many times because, in plain English, you were U.S. Attorney for where this trial is taking part. You`ve had your fair share of time to watch this judge. What do you make of all of it?
I`ve heard straight down the middle reporters today say kind of straight up that he has been prejudicial, he has clearly and provably been tougher on the prosecution.
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, Brian, I`ve seen him be tough on the prosecution. I`ve seen him be tough on defense counsel. But there I think is a better way to do it, right?
I mean, if a judge has something that she needs to say to counsel, defense or prosecution, she can call them to the bench. She can excuse the jury. She can even yell at us, that happens too. But it should be done in private, because judges have so much authority in their courtroom. And the jury listens carefully to what they say.
The concern I have is that if he`s angry at one side or the other, even if he`s right, the fact that he yells at them, berates them, castigates them in front of the jury can tip the scales and the judge has to be so careful never to do that.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I was going to say, Chuck, I`ve covered my share of proceedings in federal and state courts. And so often have seen a judge say, counsel approach the bench, and kind of covers the microphone and has a little bit of a sidebar discussion.
ROSENBERG: Yes, and that`s happened to me too. I told a story earlier today where I accidentally, and it wasn`t a crime against humanity, came back from lunch with a piece of chewing gum in my mouth and a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia asked me to come to the bench, handed me a tissue, and we discreetly took care of the problem. You know, he wasn`t happy with me.
Like I said, it wasn`t a crime against humanity. But he didn`t do it in front of the jury. These judges have to be so careful.
Remember, the government has no appeal. And for the defendants the question of liberty and perhaps even life. And so the notion that you would put your finger on the scale, even accidentally is a very serious one.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I`m just so happy we finally have something on you.
Hey, Eric Tucker, I just became the latest person to call the Judge T.S. Elliot. It`s really unfair that he goes by T.S., but it`s Ellis, but that one is on me, I apologize.
What do you make having been in the room of the dynamic, and are the reporters who are saying today that he`s been unmistakably tough on the prosecution, do they have it about right?
ERIC TUCKER, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Look, there`s no question, Brian that it was an extraordinary moment for everyone coming into the courtroom this morning for the judge to basically tell the jury to put out of their minds something that he, in fact, had said yesterday and to offer a semi apology. The one thing that I think we should definitely not lose sight of, though, is what precipitated this, which is actually a government request last night and early this morning where they said to the judge, "Respectfully, your honor, if you review the transcript, you actually permitted this witness to be in the courtroom. You are incorrect, and as a matter of fact, we actually would like for you to alert the jury that you`re mistaken." And that`s really unusual.
And one could read this one document, this one filing from the government, as actually sort of a broader request of the judge to say, there are many things that the judge has said that hopefully in the government`s mind, the government would like to see undone or unwound.
WILLIAMS: And Chuck, something you just said has me going back to this, especially if you`re in your line of work, if you`ve ever been on jury duty, if you`ve ever watched the trial, the judge is really your conduit, he`s your almost father figure during the proceedings. He turns and addresses members of the jury. He`s your go-between.
You often see a trial in his or her lens. And so it is critical, I`d love to be able to watch the jurors as they visually relate to this judge.
ROSENBERG: That`s right. And look, for most people serving on a jury, it`s probably the only time, Brian, they`ve ever had that experience. They don`t know what courtrooms are like, they don`t know what prosecutors or defense attorneys are like. They certainly don`t know what Judge Ellis is like.
So what he says goes. I mean, not just as a matter of law but as a matter of fact. And if he`s mad at the prosecutor, for instance, then maybe they are too. And so that`s why a judge has to be so very careful.
Remember, both sides are entitled to a fair trial, not just one, but both sides are entitled to a fair trial. I think judges that remain cognizant of that throughout the proceedings are really doing both sides a favor.
Look, I like Judge Ellis. He`s a very smart judge. But sometimes he ought to just call balls and strikes and not try and play all nine positions on the field as well.
WILLIAMS: And a civics reminder for all our viewers, federal judges have an awesome responsibility. It`s why they have to be nominated by the President, approved by the Senate, and then they are seated for life.
Eric, one final note. Otherwise, prosecution had a very good day?
TUCKER: Yes. So I would say that today got really back to the meat and potatoes part of this trial. We really saw the building blocks of the fraud, the bank fraud allegations that make up a significant portion of this indictment. You`ll remember, Brian, that obviously the last several days have been focused on rather salacious allegations.
There`s been discussions of extramarital affairs involving Rick Gates, who is the government`s star witness. He had a fairly challenging cross- examination. Today there was none of that.
This really got to the core of the government`s case, and prosecutors really I think made some significant inroads in being able to establish that when Paul Manafort applied repeatedly for mortgages, for loans on his New York properties, he made what appeared to be false statements and in one instance, for instance, he alleged that this property was owner occupied when in fact they found it being listed as a rental. And so right away, Manafort had an issue. So yes, I would say today was a fairly good day for the government.
WILLIAMS: We are thankful for two of the very best guests to explain all of this as the Manafort trial churns on. Chuck Rosenberg, Eric Tucker, gentlemen, thank you both.
TUCKER: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: And coming up for us, with a couple of this week`s elections yet to be decided, Republicans look to November. But do they all see the same thing about now? When "The 11th Hour" continues.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: A story that`s been a little bit lost later half of the week, votes are still being counted tonight in a couple of those Tuesday elections. Trump-endorsed candidate Kris Kobach lost half of his already narrow lead today in that Kansas GOP Gubernatorial Primary.
The Washington Post reports that according to a vote-tallying error, Kobach`s lead over incumbent Governor Jeff Colyer is now just 91 votes. Colyer is refusing to conceive the race. Kobach has acknowledged the results could change, but says he intends to start campaigning immediately for November as if he won.
Reminder, he happens to be secretary of state of the state of Kansas, that means his office would oversee any possible recount. And tonight on television, Kobach said he would be happy to recused himself in that event, although he reminded all of us, recounts are county by county affairs. You may recall he led President Trump`s now-disbanded commission on election fraud.
We are also still following that special election, the Ohio 12th Congressional District. That race remains too close to call. If you were with us that night watching, Steve Kornacki`s coverage, you understand how that could be. Republican Troy Balderson is leading by less than 1 percentage point.
And after Republican New York Congressman Chris Collins was arrested on insider trading charges yesterday, now New York`s 27th Congressional District could be up for grabs, big area of real estate upstate. Collins, who pleaded not guilty, says he`ll be staying in that seat and his name will be on the ballot come November.
So it`s a lot to talk about and with us to do that, Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, that`s why he`s smiling, I said "former." and Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg. Michael, I`m coming right at you.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Yes.
WILLIAMS: If you had your old job, other than looking for a new job, if you had your old job as party chairman, how worried would you be tonight?
STEELE: You see this?
WILLIAMS: You had a full head of hair.
STEELE: Yes, yes, exactly. It would be like that, you know. I would be very concerned at this stage. I mean, we are coming out of the summer, you know, doldrums, if you will, where folks don`t pay attention to politics. And it`s a little bit of a wasteland, even though you`ve got primaries and all that going on.
The fact of the matter is, from a party perspective, in terms of setting up the November campaign, you want the kind of momentum that`s going to energize your base, get those dollars flowing, and really put in place the messaging that you want to bring it home, right? And so, that connects all those pieces. I call it the messenger, the message, and the money. And that combination is one that works to empower the base to go out and deliver that vote.
WILLIAMS: Shannon --
STEELE: In this case -- I was going to say, in this case, the fact that you have a red district like this that is that close, that the President won by 11 points in 2016, is a real problem. It will impact the money. It will impact the message. And it certainly will impact the messengers around the country who have to make that delivery.
And forgive, Michael, Shannon, pick up right on what Michael just said. You`ve got this barn burner of a race in Ohio that should be done and dusted, safe Republican district. Right into that we have the arrest of Collins, 27th District of New York. It can`t look good. Tell us about the folks you`ve been talking to.
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, I mean, within the White House, and within President Trump`s outer circle, they are certainly aware that this does not look good. It is no shock to anyone that the Ohio 12th District, as Michael was explaining, if that is up for play, well, there is about 70 other House seats that are up for play too. And the Democrats only need 23. And it is certainly not lost on the President or anyone in his inner circle of what a Democratic-controlled House means to them.
It means investigations on everything from Russia to the emoluments clause. It means the risk of impeachment which his lawyer Rudy Giuliani raised today with me, the fact that if there is something referred to Mueller in A Democratic House, that probably means impeachment.
So the President is very aware of this, but what they`re going to do I think is still a question, because there`s still a debate about whether or not the president is the greatest tool in the Republicans` toolbox or, you know, their worst enemy.
WILLIAMS: Michael, as bumper stickers go, if you had to design the GOP bumper sticker to be used universally, around the country in all 435 districts for the midterms, what would your terse message be to the voter?
STEELE: Who, me?
WILLIAMS: Oh, man. You`re on fire tonight.
STEELE: That would be it. Because that sums up the state of the party right now, a party that has not really defined its relationship with the American people. It has clearly defined and continues define its relationship with the President. And that is the problem. This has got to be about how the American people view.
Now, look, you don`t have to go back that far in history, Brian, to understand what this election looks like. It looks like 2006 in many respects. It`s got elements of 2008 to it. It`s got all of these pieces from the past where the party has dropped the ball, where it has not clearly defined itself with the American people or has defined itself in a way that the American people summarily reject.
I said in 2006, running for the United States Senate that it was like running with a Scarlet letter "R" on your chest, and it was. And we took a big drubbing. That Scarlet letter "R" is back on our chests and like the American flag at a time of crisis, it`s upside down.
WILLIAMS: Yes. What you said back then might have been 12 years before it`s time. So Shannon, for New Jersey shore to Northern California, you`re going to have all these Republicans on all these ballots, are they all kind of ad-libbing their association with the guy at the top of the ticket for Republicans, being a part of the Trump era GOP?
PETTYPIECE: Well, I mean, they`re really in a difficult situation. Because they need that Trump base as a Republican, you need that Trump base to turn out. But that`s not going to be enough to get you to beat the Democrat on the ticket. You also need to get moderates and independents as well.
So, I mean, that`s what everybody across the country is struggling with. And I mean, to this point, Michael was just making about 2006, it is that I hear a number of people referencing that. And with this indictment of Chris Collins, it again looks more like 2006, because if you remember then, there was this wave of scandal seats that opens up. That people were able to move into.
And there is a sense there`s going to be more of these scandals bubbling. And now, this party is not just associated with Trump, but people`s questions, or this taint in their mind about corruption and concerns about what`s going on in the Republican Party.
WILLIAMS: We`ll have you both back to talk about this very same thing with our great thanks. Michael Steele, Shannon Pettypiece, appreciate you both coming on.
And coming up, as our guests just mentioned, 12 years ago Democrats accused Republicans of the culture of corruption and took over Congress. Well, why one conservative said today this is the age of corruption and cruelty. That when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLIE SYKES, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I keep thinking about what is our time going to be remembered for, what is this the age of. And listening to the program today, these themes, this is going to be the age of corruption and cruelty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That got our attention today, corruption and cruelty. That`s the conservative author and radio talk show host Charlie Sykes, a friend of this broadcast, coming up with those two words that, again, he predicts will define this administration and this era at a point where we`re able to look at it in the rearview mirror.
One illustration of this era was posted on Twitter by Aaron Blake, senior political reporter over at the Washington Post. He wrote the following, "List of people charged with and pleading to crimes. Trump`s second campaign manager. Trump`s deputy campaign manager. Trump`s national security adviser. Trump`s foreign policy adviser. Trump`s first campaign manager, battery charges later dropped. Trump`s first congressional endorser.
For all of it, let`s bring in Walter Isaacson into our conversation, distinguished fellow with the Aspen Institute. If you ask me, he`s a distinguished fellow of any kind, former editor of Time Magazine, veteran journalist, author, biographer of among others, Franklin, Einstein, Kissinger, Jobs, and Da Vinci, also in his spare time professor of history at Tulane. Welcome back to our studio.
WALTER ISAACSON, DISTINGUISHED FELLOW, ASPEN INSTITUTE: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: What do you make of those two rods, his choice of those who words, corruption and cruelty?
ISAACSON: They`re very simple words. They`re very true. And they go to the heart of what`s going to be a problem for this administration, because it is a lot of corruption, just people at the trough for money, a simple corruption. And it gets, you know, with congressmen, sleazy congressmen in the White House lawn, making phone calls to dump stock when he had insider information, and getting his son to do it. Then, you have cruelty, without a country that is intentionally cruel to people.
And finally, I`ve to add a third one, which is character. We`re a country that really does care about character. And we have a lot of people just lying to us.
WILLIAMS: Our friend Steve Schmidt calls it a lack of rigor. He sees this as a lack of standards, a lack of rigor in all tiers of the Trump operation.
ISAACSON: You know, when you set out to destroy norms, norms get destroyed. We have norms in our society, which is, you know, you don`t sit at the trough trying to take money and being greedy and being corrupt. That`s why people voted for Trump at first, they thought he was going to drain the swamp.
The Clintons got in trouble because they seemed greedy and there was a taint of corruption to the Clinton foundation. So a lot of people voted against her, voted for Trump. And you have him now and his whole administration, his family, trying to make money off of the presidency. And then, you have that unnecessary bullying and cruelty. And here is what I think -- I think it will get to the heart of the problem, because Americans deep down inside, they`re not cruel people. We`re not corrupt people. And we try to at least feel we have some character.
And so, I think most Americans, you know, certainly most Republicans aren`t cruel. They aren`t corrupt, and yet they`re watching this happen. And you`re starting to see the support seep away, I think.
WILLIAMS: We`re very proud of calling ourselves the most generous nation on earth, in fact. 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon lifted off the south lawn for the last time.
ISAACSON: The helicopter going off, yes.
WILLIAMS: Yes. And Gerald Ford talked about our long national nightmare. Do you see, do you entertain any echoes of anything Nixonian in what we`re witnessing now, as a historian yourself?
ISAACSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, history never repeats itself, but as you know, Twain said, it rhymes, or perhaps you can say it echoes. The corruption now is somewhat different, it`s sort of money grubbing, greedy corruption, to make money, emoluments as they call it, you know, people enough out of their office. But you see the same type of coverups and, frankly, lying.
And when somebody who is president of the United States says things that aren`t true, that should still unnerve us a bit. And Trump is much different from Nixon. He kind of does it in public, which is try to obstruct justice. But it`s still very unnerving that you`re breaking down the rule of law, especially when Republicans had always been strong about the rule of law, always been strong against corruption, always, you know, been strong on character, which is the most important issue when we select our leader.
WILLIAMS: Do you think, in 30 seconds or less, seeing this stuff in plain sight, is harder for us to discern in the public realm when the President tweets something that he couldn`t possibly have meant that. Well, of course he does.
ISAACSON: You know, that`s a really good point. It`s hiding in plain sight. It`s a coverup that`s not a secret coverup. It`s being done in plain sight. And it`s weird how our own immune system to this type of thing gets a little bit jangled when people do it in plain sight.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Great to see you, sir. And those parents watching, send your kids to Tulane, they`ll get to sit in his class.
ISAACSON: Roll wave.
WILLIAMS: Walter Isaacson here with us in New York.
Coming up, there has been a big change in the death toll, would you believe over a thousand dead in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria? It`s certainly now matches what the people on the ground there had been seeing and saying. We`ll explain when we come back.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody`s ever seen anything like this, what is your death count as of this moment? 17?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 16, 17.
TRUMP: 16 people certified. 16 people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people working together, 16 versus literally thousands of people.
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WILLIAMS: That was the President early on eager to diminish a humanitarian crisis. Eager to point out that while still sad, the loss of life in Puerto Rico was relatively minimal. Well, the new death count by the government of Puerto Rico has leaked out today. And, of course, it`s staggeringly high.
Over 1,400 people are now believed to have lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Maria. Way higher than the official death toll of 64 lives lost. How else to explain a minimal loss of life when so many towns, and villages, and homes were cut off, not just in terms of electric power but completely cut off from the rest of the island from humanity.
In the months since the storm, FEMA has admitted to being under-prepared for the storm. Power, would you believe, still not completely restored on the island, one in ten health centers still running on generators. Just getting street lights up and on and operating was a huge struggle especially in parts of San Juan.
After the storm, some in the media wondered allowed if the President initially understood that Puerto Rico was a US territory and that all Puerto Ricans are US citizens. He was eager to rate his own administration`s response as 10 out of 10. Yes. there have been other death toll estimates, one as high as 4,000. But this new government estimate of 1,400 seems closer to the truth given the size and scope of this disaster.
But this is interesting. Asked about the government`s new death toll estimates, the mayor Cayey in Puerto Rico, Rolando Ortiz told NBC News, the updated figure still doesn`t match what he lived. "The numbers from the government seem low to me still but the reality is that the people who died, died, and it`s painful because those are human lives. But this is evidence of the government`s inability to tell the truth. That`s the most terrifying news."
Another break for our broadcast and coming up, it`s something the President has campaigned against loudly. Today it came to the rescue of his own in- laws when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight has to do with one of those phrases, one of those causes the President is so fond of mentioning and often.
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TRUMP: End chain migration. Ending chain migration and canceling the visa lottery.
We will get rid of chain migration. I started talking about chain migration.
Chain migration. Chain migration. Chain migration is one of the disasters. Chain migration is a disaster.
A disaster. A total disaster. We have to end chain migration. We have to end chain migration.
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WILLIAMS: If you guessed chain migration, you would be correct. Yet, chain migration is exactly what led to Melania Trump`s parents Donald Trump`s in-laws, gaining their US citizenship today. Remember, the first lady herself has only been a citizen for 12 years since `06. Born and raised in Slovenia. She our first ever naturalized citizen first lady.
Her parents` immigration lawyer admitted today that chain migration is the dirtier term for what happened today. The New York Times was more direct. Their headline reads "Melania Trump`s Parents Become US Citizens Using Chain Migration Trump Hates."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Chain migration is bringing in many, many people with one and often it doesn`t work out very well. Those many people are not doing us right.
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WILLIAMS: So to recap, America has twos new citizens tonight, the parents of our first lady who also happens to be an immigrant, though, most around him believe the President`s campaign against chain migration will likely continue.
That`s out broadcast on a busy Thursday night, thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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