Omarosa's new tape - ongoing threat. TRANSRIPT: 08/16/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Kimberly Atkins, Aaron Blake, Nancy Cook, Elie Honig, Darren Samuelsohn

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 16, 2018 Guest: Kimberly Atkins, Aaron Blake, Nancy Cook, Elie Honig, Darren Samuelsohn

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, Omarosa has the attention of this President and his presidency as "The New York Times" reports there could be as many as 200 recordings. And as Omarosa herself tells this network, "Donald Trump has met his match."

Plus, "The Washington Post" confirming tonight that Brennan security clearance move was decided weeks ago and was trotted out to change the subject. And not to be outdone, Trump is reportedly eager to do it again and we have the latest reporting.

Also tonight, one of the great voices of the past half century is gone. Tonight we will remember the essential and remarkable and singular Aretha Franklin as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 574 of the Trump administration, and a new day brought the release of another surreptitious recording by Omarosa along with increasing signs that her book and subsequent allegations and recordings have ignited this President.

Omarosa Manigault-Newman says the recording we`re about to play for you here illustrates an attempt to silence her after she was fired from the White House staff in late December.

New York Times is reporting tonight that these recordings have the attention of the White House. "The tapes of Ms. Manigault-Newman`s private conversations with Mr. Trump and other officials connected to him have rattled the White House in a way that few things other than the special counsel investigation into possible campaign collusion with Russia have. Mr. Trump`s aides have been concerned that they will make appearances on other tapes of which Ms. Manigault-Newman is believed to have as many as 200."

This latest recording is of a conversation between in December 2017 between Omarosa and Donald Trump`s daughter-in-law, that would be Lara Trump. She`s married to Eric Trump and she is an advisor to the Trump 2020 campaign.

Omarosa chose to share these four excerpts from a recording of a longer conversation. It`s important that we let you know that NBC News was allowed to listen to the recording in full to confirm that the clips are indeed in proper order and in context.

In this audio, Lara Trump refers to an article posted the day before that suggested Omarosa had damaging information on Trump.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LARA TRUMP, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Listen, obviously, with like "The New York Times" article and stuff, you know, it`s --

OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: What`s "The New York Times" article?

TRUMP: The one that -- it was in The New York Times today, I guess you did with Maggie Haberman, or they wrote about you. It sound a little like, obviously, that there are some things you`ve got in the back pocket to pull out. Clearly, if you come onboard the campaign, like we can`t have it -- we got to --

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Oh God, no.

TRUMP: -- everything, everybody positive, right?

So the only thing that we have to consider when we`re talking salary as far as the campaign is concerned is that, as you know, everything is public. And all the money that we raise and that pays salaries is directly from donors, small dollar donors for the most part.

So I know you were making $179,000 at the White House. And I think we can work something out where we keep you right along those lines, specifically, let me see, I haven`t added up the numbers. But we were talking about 15k a month. Let`s see what that adds up to, times 12, yes so that`s $180,000. Does that sound like a fair deal to you?

In terms of your position, specifically, I really feel like your commission was requires, you know, you to be able to be flexible in terms of where you are. Sometimes, you know, come to New York for occasional meetings but I would love if you could, you know, occasionally go do speaking engagements and that sort of thing for us. I think you`d be awesome doing that.

So it doesn`t really matter where you are. If you`re comfortable staying in D.C., then, you know, we`re more than happy to have you.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Lara Trump responded to that with a statement that reads in part, "We still want her on our team because we cared so much about her personally. That`s why I reached out to her to offer a position with the 2020 Trump campaign before we knew anything about the gross violations of ethics and integrity during her White House tenure. Another of Omarosa`s bombshell tapes is a fraud."

Earlier on this network, Omarosa told our colleague Craig Melvin how she interpreted that conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: I saw this as an attempt to buy my silence, to sensor me and to pay me off $15,000 per month by the campaign.

CRAIG MELVIN, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: And you saw this as hush money?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Absolutely. He thought he could dismiss, you know. He thought, you know, that I could be disposed of, but Donald Trump is wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Vanity Fair has posted a piece indicating the President is willing to go to great lengths to stop Omarosa. "Trump told advisers that he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have Manigault-Newman arrested, according to one Republican briefed on the conversations."

Here`s how she responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned at all about being arrested?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Well, what Mr. Nixon -- I mean Mr. Trump does will be brought to light. Every action that he takes against me jeopardizes him and his presidency. So I think that you should watch his behavior and how he`s unraveling, and I don`t have any fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`re going to release more tapes?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: If I need to, I`ll do what I have to do to protect myself. I am not going anywhere. I`m not going to be bullied, I`m not intimidated, and I`m going to go toe to toe with him.

Donald Trump has met his match.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So that gets your attention. The Republican National Committee has now gotten in the game.

Today, the RNC released the greatest hits video designed to remind all of us about the warm and passionate feelings Omarosa once held for Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: His policies affect my community where I live in Los Angeles, and that`s really why I stand by him.

And I believe that you will see that this President is going to be incredible for this country. And I am excited about what`s happening with this administration. I`m very honored to be a part of it.

He was the right choice for America.

When I say Trump train, I want you to say choo-choo. Y`all ready?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Trump train.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Choo, choo.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Trump train.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Choo, choo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: There was a link to that video today on the Twitter feed of the President of the United States along with this, "Thank you for the kind words, Omarosa."

We have said it before just this week and this bears repeating, those who dismiss any or all of this freakiest as some kind of dust up between a former reality show host and a former reality show contestant may be making a huge mistake.

Omarosa is weaponized, she plays by Trump`s rules, and she has tapes.

Here is how one veteran observer summed it all up last night on NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So after Trump`s public praise of Vladimir Putin, his Attorney General`s meetings with Russians, his campaign chairman`s money laundering, his deputy campaign chairman`s tax fraud, his personal fixer`s secret Shell company, his national security advisor`s lies with the FBI, his son`s attempt to get dirt from a foreign adversary, and his son-and-law secret back channels with that adversary, the person who could end up taking down the President of the United States is Omarosa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: With that, let`s turn to our lead-off panel on a Thursday night, John Heilemann MSNBC National Affairs Analyst, Veteran Political Journalist who happens to be Co-author of "Game Change" and "Double Down," Kimberly Atkins, Chief Washington Reporter for the Boston Herald, and Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post."

Ashley, I`d like to begin with you having laid out all of that exposition, including the political science as delivered by Seth. How central, how pervasive is this topic, this cloud in that White House?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It`s dominated the White House this week in the same way it`s dominated the news. This was something the White House was initially hoping to avoid. They thought they could get the President not to engage on her book.

But I have to say even before the book came out, even before this all exploded, people in the White House were nervous about what Omarosa had, and they were reaching out to White House reporters who they thought might have seen excerpts from the book in advance with The Washington Post questions, is there an index and am I in it, and how bad is it? And that was before they knew she had tapes.

So now that she has tapes it`s become an issue that, as we can see, is consuming the President. And some of her charges, especially saying that she has information that the President knew about WikiLeaks before anyone knew about those WikiLeaks e-mails, again, we don`t know if this is true or not, but could be incredibly explosive and problematic for this White House.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, it was the fashionable in this circles about three months ago to say things like of all the cases we`ve seen, of all the people we`ve seen flip, it`s the Cohen case in New York that`s going to be pivotal. Instead does our friend Mr. Myers have it about right, that this, this trove of recordings and how they come across, this Trump trained professional communicator, this could be the one?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it depends a lot on what`s on the tapes.

WILLIAMS: You look skeptical.

HEILEMANN: Well, it depends a lot on what`s on the tapes.

WILLIAMS: OK.

HEILEMANN: So, you know, are there really 200? What`s on them? Anybody in the White House we`ve talked to over the over the course of the last 18 months about things that have freaked out the White House, and one of the things that freaked people, you`ll recall this reporting, was the sudden fear if you were wearing a wire in the White House, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: It`s very similar, there`s a parallel to that. And I think, you know, it obviously puts the fear of God in to people to think that there is a bunch of tapes out there. They all had contact with Omarosa at one time or another.

A lot of them talked on the phone with her. A lot of them met with her in rooms a lot less secure than the situation room, which she also apparently taped in with the Chief of Staff. So they`re all freaked out about what might be out there.

Look, you know, Michael Cohen, it seems to me, is closer to potential crimes that the President, the President`s family, people around the President may have committed. And in the end, those crimes may be more consequential. But there`s no doubt that the pompous stuffed shirts among us in the same ways people minimized Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti at the outset and said it`s a porn star and some cheap hustling lawyer from L.A., it turned out that the porn star was more relatable to a lot of people in America and the cheap hustling lawyer, I put that in quotes --

WILLIAMS: Just to spoke in Iowa. He`s running for president.

HEILEMANN: He`s maybe running for president and certainly was able to do what she is doing to him know. They are perfect analogues. He plays the game the way Donald Trump does. That is what has triggered Trump so much is that he looks at these people and they get the dynamics of modern media. She understands -- I`m not sure she understands how to sell books, but she does know the power of tapes.

WILLIAMS: And one note from a friend of mine who`s a former fed. For anyone who`s been a reporter in New York or bought a tabloid newspaper, the new wire is an iPhone. The Ravenite Social Club where Gotti hang out, all someone had to do is bring an iPhone into the room, so I wanted to point that out.

So, Kim Atkins, the question keeps being asked what is the President is so afraid of, what has the President got to hide?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, THE BOSTON HERALD: Yes, I think that`s the biggest open question here. And I know you sort of dismiss the reality T.V. angle of all of this, but the thing that`s important about that is Omarosa comes from the same place as the President. That mix of politics and reality television.

She knows how to tease out something for maximum effect. She`s going to keep dropping these recordings, whatever she has bit by bit to keep her on television, to keep her book in the headlines because she knows how to sell the exact way that the President does.

So is there some there there that`s going to be her big finale, a big reveal at the end? Quite possibly, and it depends on what that is, which is that will explain why the White House is so concerned about it. But the concern itself is evidence that Omarosa was present when people were talking about something that they don`t now want to be made public, whether it was something illegal or something that would prove damaging to his presidency, we don`t know. But it`s something there or else they wouldn`t be this disturbed, they wouldn`t be keeping, you know, the security clearance revocation of a former CIA chief in pocket to sort of lob out as a flash bomb to divert attention.

It`s an awful lot of reaction from this White House for there to be no there there.

WILLIAMS: Ashley, knowing how much you love commenting on the journalism of other news organizations I`ll just say that the Vanity Fair report tonight on the President wanting Omarosa arrested by the Justice Department is getting enough traction for it to be addressed by Sam Nunberg, the Roger Stone acolyte who appeared a few hours back on this network. He`s already got the source of that story lined up.

Here it is. We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I think that Kelly, by the way, is one of the people that`s actually prodding the President to try to arrest her.

They think it`s a national security violation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So that would be general now Chief of Staff Kelly, the first person wronged in the public playing of these recordings, let`s not forget, in the meeting in the situation room. And Ashley, you get to cover this place tomorrow.

PARKER: I do. And I think that`s sort of a key example why this is problematic for the White House. To John`s point I should say, on the one hand, I checked in with someone who worked on the campaign today and said how likely is it that if there was something illegal or something that would actually be of interest to Mueller`s team that Omarosa saw it and taped it, and this person said their sense, and again they don`t know, was not that likely.

She was rarely in Trump Tower during the campaign. She was often not working when she was supposed to be working or she was working but she was out traveling and doing women things as being a surrogate on T.V. That said, because she can play the game the way the President can, she triggers him and she gets him to tweet things that he should not be tweeting.

She gets him to say things to confidants that he should not be saying, and that then throws the White House into this whole other level of frenzy that brings in the President and it brings in General Kelly and it brings in the rest of the staff. And so even in a very best case scenario where nothing illegal was done and she has no recording of that, she`s still yet again managed to plunge this very chaotic White House into even further chaos.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, veteran Twitter aficionado, you know that a well written one can be a kind of modern day haiku. I came across one tonight on this very iPhone.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

WILLIAMS: It is from --

HEILEMANN: Are you recording this?

WILLIAMS: No, I`m not. But we do have machines.

HEILEMANN: Well, we`re on television.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it`s part of the job.

HEILEMANN: Yes, all right.

WILLIAMS: Greg Miller, National Security Reporter for "The Washington Post" fired this off tonight. "It`s pretty great. President`s campaign chairman is waiting to find out if he`s going to prison. Architect of bin Laden raid is daring President to take his clearances. Reality show contestant/White House employee has tape of 180k offer she got to stay quiet. Years of chaos in one day."

Mr. Heilemann, do you agree with my assessment?

HEILEMANN: I agree with that. It`s a brilliant piece of poetry and also has some of the power of prose, all those things I like, the recitation of just straight facts.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

HEILEMANN: The three facts followed by a summation sentence that pulls it all together. I do think it`s interesting that there are a couple of things that tie some of these things together, particularly the Brennan story that we see this letter now out today, 11 former CIA chiefs.

WILLIAMS: All the other former intelligence chiefs, yes.

HEILEMANN: All coming out and saying that they are protesting Trump taking John Brennan`s security clearance. It is what ties together Stormy Daniels, John Brennan -- this is like the opening for a bad show.

WILLIAMS: I had a fear you were going to do this. Walk into a bar.

HEILEMANN: Stormy Daniel -- Not walk into a bar but they might walk into a set, Stormy Daniels, John Brennan and Omarosa with the Lara Trump tape today, all of them revolved around the notion of attempts to silence critics through either payoffs or through intimidation in the case of Brennan. But these are all people who somewhat pose a threat to the President. Stormy Daniels poses a threat, women pose threats so we`ll pay them off.

Omarosa today offered this $180,000 a year job to go work on the campaign that is a no show job by Lara Trump, saying but just don`t say anything bad about us. John Brennan, you can`t pay him off, but what you can do is you can cut him off and you can try to threaten him and intimidate him. All speaking to a President who apparently is not just thin-skinned but starting to feel as though the various angles of potential vulnerability are such that and has been for a while that something has got to be done and something is not just tweets at this point, right? It`s taking more substantive actions. I think that shows you a President who feels jeopardy and a great vulnerability that`s significant.

And just one last thing to Ashley`s point, I think it`s right. Omarosa was not in the inner circle of the campaign. But the tape today talking to Lara Trump shows you something important, which is that she may have access to new e-mails that may prove anything for Mueller, but she`s talking to members. And when you`re talking to family members of the Trump family, you are hearing a lot of stuff. That`s hearsay, not admissible in court but might provide some interesting leads for the Mueller investigation as it goes forward.

WILLIAMS: So, Kim Atkins, tomorrow morning is Friday morning. Tomorrow morning, the book tour continues.

Any number of new surreptitious new to us recordings could drop? What`s the dread factor in the West Wing?

ATKINS: I mean I`m assuming that it`s great, just judging from the President`s own Twitter feed and the reporting that we`ve seen already. I eman, we`ll see if someone else loses their security clearance or if a new tariff is impose on a different country. But I think that this is going to hangover the White House until they are absolutely certain that Omarosa has released everything that she has.

WILLIAMS: I want to thank John Heilemann, Kimberly Atkins, Ashley Parker. Appreciate you guys starting off our conversation on a busy Thursday night. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, John Brennan fires back, accusing the President of speaking hogwash as he put it. New reporting tonight suggesting more could be coming out on this front.

And later, what did the President just say that may not have been the company line, and why it`s important.

THE 11TH HOUR as we say, just getting started a beautiful look at Washington on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: If someone in the government has their security clearance taken away it`s supposed to be for cause and not for spite. Yesterday it was former CIA director John Brennan who had his security clearance pulled.

Tonight, "The Washington Post" is reporting this. "President Trump has told advisers he is eager to strip more security clearances as part of an escalating attack against foes who have criticized him or played a role in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election," that`s according to two White House officials.

The reporting also details the decision behind yesterday`s announcement from the podium writhing, "Senior advisers, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recommended to the President that they announce the action Wednesday amid an onslaught of news coverage from Omarosa Manigault- Newman`s new book, which accuses Trump of having made racist remarks," sorry about that.

Brennan, a senior national security and intelligence analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, came back swinging at the Trump administration today as he did on television yesterday. Writing in this morning`s "The New York Times," he calls Trump`s repeated claims of no collusion hogwash and writes, "Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him."

Former colleagues of Brennan are jumping to his defense. You heard John Heilemann reference this letter. First of all, there`s Navy retired Admiral William McRaven, the former Navy SEAL who has a special operations, oversaw the bin Laden raid, he has written this open letter to the President in "The Washington Post" calling Brennan one of the finest public servants I`ve ever known.

He goes onto say, "I would consider it an honor," this is talking to the President, "if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency."

And then came this document late tonight, a response from a dozen former top intelligence officials, just about all the big names you know, the big names we cover around here that represent both Republican and Democratic administrations. In it, they defend Brennan, they call the President`s action an attempt to stifle free speech.

Well, here to talk about it all Nancy Cook is back with us, White House Reporter for Politico. And we welcome to the broadcast Aaron Blake, Senior Political Reporter for "The Washington Post."

Aaron, your colleagues have gone ahead and verified that this Brennan matter was done without process, without cause, without rigor, that it was indeed political. What else do we need to know about what has transpired and what may transpire?

AARON BLAKE, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it is setup actually an interesting contrast, I think, between the intelligence chiefs that you talked about who wrote that letter from Bill McRaven who wrote that op-ed for "The Washington Post," and some Republicans in the Senate who while some of them have differed with this decision that was made by the White House and don`t necessarily like the idea of revoking security clearances for former intelligence officials have also been critical of John Brennan. I think the White House chose this one as the icebreaker when it comes to this effort because they recognize that Brennan is something of a lightening rod even among people who might be critical of this decision.

And so you`ve seen a number of senators, John Kennedy from Louisiana, Susan Collins who differed with the decision actually said that she is not happy with the way John Brennan has been political. They wanted to force this issue. They wanted to have this conversation, and they chose the most convenient person with which to have it.

At the same time, we`re seeing now that this is still a bridge too far for many in the intelligence community. And I think we`re going to find out whether the op-ed from somebody like McRaven is going to be a tipping point especially for people not just in the intelligence community but within the administration who may not like that this administration effort is taking place.

WILLIAMS: And, Aaron, I`m going to come back to that word "icebreaker" right after this.

Nancy, to you. Others would argue that the deafening sound of crickets from the Republicans in the Senate and the House would give the President all the air cover he needs to go ahead and start making the pulling of security clearances a weekly event at the White House.

NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I definitely think that this is part of a pattern of the President really sort of starting to understanding the ways that he can use executive authority and really pushing the boundaries of that. I think that we`ve seen a similarly interest in him using pardons, which I think is relevant to the special investigations, and now one other sort of factor that he`s throwing into this is also the idea of revoking people`s security clearances. And partly it`s just a means of sort of showing who`s boss, but there`s a ton of people that I think the White House, you know, who`ve angered the President, who he feels like are disloyal, people from the Obama administration, people who have been critical of him. And I feel there`s a real interest on the part of the White House to retaliate.

And just, you know, to put it into context, the President usually is not a huge fan of a huge policy process or sort of a well-laid out decision making. And so what happens on a lot of these issues in the White House is the President says he wants something done. You know, lawyers or staffers try to slow walk him or try to make him follow a process and then, ultimately, he sort of interjects and just does what he wants.

And I think that if we see him revoking more security clearances, it will follow that kind of ad hoc process in the days to come.

WILLIAMS: And just because I`m running to a break, to Aaron`s point, I want to read this from tonight`s "The Washington Post." This is on the notion of if pulling clearances becomes the next thing in this White House, this is Benjamin Wittes, a legal expert we`ve talked to from time to time. "If you did all this in one day, it would have a Saturday night massacre odor to it, but you spread it out and get people used to the first one, then you do the second one over a long period of time, it becomes the new normal."

And that is true. It has a kind of a frog boiling experiment air to it, and as Maggie Haberman is fond of saying there are way more norms than laws in Washington that can be upset. So as I promised, Nancy Cook and Aaron Blake have agreed to stay with us.

A quick break and coming up, the President has gone and told the truth again in another matter that may shatter an earlier cover story. More on all of that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Welcome back. According to tonight`s "Washington Post", President Trump believes he is coming off as strong and decisive with how he has handled outspoken critic John Brennan. Yesterday he explained to "The Wall Street Journal" why Brennan`s security clearance was pulled. He said, "I call it the rigged witch hunt and these people led it." He added, "So I think it`s something that had to be done." That was not among the reasons given by his press secretary yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Any benefits that senior officials might glean from consultations with Mr. Brennan are now outweighed by the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And you probably know where we`re going here. This would not be the first time the president, by blurting out the truth about an action he took, has blown up the cover story that was laid down and meant to explain the action in the first place. Remember the Comey firing. We were told it was because of his mistreatment of candidate Hillary Clinton. The president blew that up in the Lester Holt interview and admitted it was about Russia.

The Trump Tower meeting was about Russian adoptions until it wasn`t, until Trump finally said last week it was to, "Get information on an opponent."

Well, joining our conversation, Elie Honig is back with us, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, former assistant attorney general for the great state of New Jersey and remaining with us, our Nancy Cook and Aaron Blake.

Aaron, last night in real-time I said the president pulled a Lester Holt wake up to your headline, Trump blurts out another Lester Holt moment, great minds think alike, this can make the job tougher for people like press secretaries, can it not?

AARON BLAKE, THE WASHINGTON POST SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, it certainly can because this has happened over and over again. It wasn`t just the Trump Tower meeting. It wasn`t just the Comey firing. This has been a situation in which the people who represent the president either aren`t allowed to talk to him or aren`t getting the straight story from him before they`re put out there to offer the first version of a defense.

I think that this is actually a situation which the explanation is somewhat more damning than the Lester Holt interview, all be it on a perhaps less problematic subject.

When we`re talking about the Holt interview and actually differ from some people on this a little bit, he didn`t directly say that he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation. He said the Russia investigation was on his mind when he did it, which I think is a different legal standard.

In this case, he`s actually talking about how John Brennan was somebody who led the "rigged" witch hunt and something had to be done about it. That`s a more direct line from A to B.

And so I think if you`re talking about an investigation which they need to show that there`s corrupt intent, that he`s actually trying to impact the course of how this has gone down, that`s actually a more compelling set of evidence for the prosecutors to look at.

WILLIAMS: Now, Counselor, let`s say you`re still a fed and let`s say you`re part of the Mueller team in Washington, you`re looking at this president who has these apparent moments of clarity that torpedo cover stories that were laid down. What do you glean from all of this?

ELIE HONIG, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: So, Brian, this was exactly why it`s so important that Mueller get a chance to sit with the president in an interview or in a subpoena grand jury situation and get a straight answer from him. Because he and his team have taken both sides of every issue, and lot of this obstruction investigation is going to come down to the issue of intent.

What was the reason the president fired James Comey, revoked the security clearance here? And if you have him on record saying I did it for reason A and did it for reason B, and they`re completely inconsistent, he`s got to be pin down, he`s got to live with one of those positions somehow or another. And that`s why I think this subpoena battle is going to become so important in the months ahead.

WILLIAMS: Nancy, this is another one of those cases how many people knew he had granted an interview to "The Wall Street Journal"? Was there anyone there to prep him and keep his thoughts on the straight and narrow? And to you and your sources, how much worry is there that you are picking up in the Trump West Wing because we`re not talking about the Trump agenda again tonight?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. I think that, you know, this whole week has been dominated basically by Omarosa and then, you know, the Brennan stuff. You know, they`re just sort of not able to put forward an agenda where they`re talking about things they want to heading into the midterms because there`s the Russia stuff that keeps coming up, the Manafort trial.

And you can see I think that`s the real tension in the West Wing right now. You know, the president is very jacked up about the midterms and feels like he plays this very key role in helping to sway Republicans towards Republican candidates. Whether or not that`s true actually remains to be seen, but that is how he is sort of portraying himself.

And there`s that tension with him wanting to do that versus all of these other things that really threaten to swamp his administration including his own admissions about why he`s actually doing things. And I think it also speaks to how little people in the White House sometimes know about what`s actually happening. I think sometimes the president is much more truthful with people outside the White House, even on his Twitter feed, than he is with his own senior aides.

WILLIAMS: Elie, I`m starting to pick up a lot of folks in your line of work with the -- the line that Mueller doesn`t necessarily need Trump, he can go off of what he has.

HONIG: Yes. Maybe, it may be true. But the problem is you`re trying to - - you know, you`re trying to pin down something that can`t be pinned down. You need to know where he`s at. And intent is so important here. And I think we have -- and I think Aaron touched on this earlier. The revocation of Brennan`s security clearance is a new angle here, and he`s getting -- the president is getting into even more dangerous ground.

I think we`re all familiar with the concept of obstruction of justice. What I don`t know that everybody understands is it`s also a federal crime to retaliate against somebody who`s a witness. Now, I don`t know if Brennan quite qualifies as a witness. He`s more of an investigator. But keep that in mind if the president follows through with his threats to pull James Comey`s clearance, right?

Clearly, Comey will be a crucial witness here. And it is a federal crime 1513, if anyone wants to look it up, to retaliate against someone for providing truthful information to law enforcement. So he`s getting closer and closer to really dangerous ground here.

WILLIAMS: Terrific point. First time someone`s made it. Thank you very much for that. Our thanks to Nancy Cook, to Aaron Blake and to Elie Honig. We`ll have you all back.

Coming up, there have been questions from the Manafort jury. One of them may not be the best news for the prosecution. We`re going to look back at day one of deliberations and talk to the professionals when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Day one of deliberations is history in the Manafort trial. After going at it for about seven hours today, the jury will be back at it at 9:30 a.m. They have spoken, the jurors have, late today in a form of notes to the judge, very common in deliberations. The six men, six women asked targeted questions on bank fraud charges and for clarification about the evidence list and perhaps most notably there`s this.

They asked, can you redefine reasonable doubt? Well, the judge responded to the jury and get this, "The government is not required to prove the defendant`s guilt with respect to each element of the offense beyond all possible doubt. The test is one of the reasonable doubt. What is reasonable doubt? It is a doubt based on reason." Helpful.

Exiting court today, Manafort`s lawyer Kevin Downing was all smiles.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN DOWNING, ATTORNEY FOR PAUL MANAFORT: Well, we just got some good news. The jury`s been deliberating. They had some questions which the judge addressed, and they`ve asked to come back tomorrow to continue deliberation. So overall, a very good day for Mr. Manafort.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it`s a good sign that they`re asking about reasonable doubt?

DOWNING: I think it`s all good sign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: One caveat, most days he declares very good days for Mr. Manafort.

With us tonight is the Darren Samuelsohn, senior reporter for Politico, who`s been at the courthouse every day of the trial.

Darren, thanks after a long day for joining us. I really do appreciate it. You don`t have to be Felix Frankfurter to know that a question from the jury about reasonable doubt is not great for the prosecution because if they`re asking about it at all, they`re asking about it, period. Talk to us about that and what other tea leaf reading is going on?

DARREN SAMUELSOHN, POLITICO SENIOR REPORTER: Well it is very dangerous to read the tea leaves.

WILLIAMS: I know.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMUELSOHN: Sure thing, indeed. There are going to be probably be more questions that they will bring forward as well in the coming days. So we`re going to dive in and look at these four questions here now but know full well that there`s going to be more questions to come.

There`s a lot of testimonies that they have to digest. They just sat through two mind numbing weeks of hearing evidence, hearing from accountants, hearing from tax preparers, hearing from Rick Gates, hearing from a lot of people who Paul Manafort was purchasing very expensive things from.

Now they`re in a room and they don`t have access to the 2,500 pages of transcripts that are basically available for you and I. They don`t have access to Google. They can`t look anything up. They basically have to rely on what they remember. And today, that came forward in these four questions.

And the reasonable doubt one is interesting. That is something that Paul Manafort`s lawyers in their closing arguments hit on really hard. They tried to show -- they showed a graphic that it was sort of a thermometer taking you all the way up to where reasonable doubt is on the spectrum. And making it clear that this is something that they really need to be absolutely sure, at least that`s the position that the Paul Manafort team presented to them. But as the judge pointed out, it isn`t quite that high of a threshold. But he didn`t really give them that much more guidance than that.

WILLIAMS: So maybe that argument got to at least one person. And I know you`ve been going through the questions, and if you match them up against the trial as argued, you think there`s a tax fraud section, there`s a banking fraud -- you think they may be through with the tax fraud section, again, tea leaf warnings apply?

SAMUELSOHN: Tea leaf warnings definitely apply. But by asking the question about the foreign bank accounts, that sort of a second subset of charges we`re talking. There are 18 charges in all 18 counts. The first four I believe are tax returns, charges that Paul Manafort filed false tax returns.

If they`re going an order and that is a big if, it would seem like they`ve moved beyond that and they`re now dealing with the foreign bank account questions as well. They saw a lot of evidence. They had someone from the Treasury Department who testified and said I looked up, whether Paul Manafort filed foreign bank account reports with the U.S. government and didn`t find them. That`s a pretty clear and concise explanation that the prosecutors put before them.

But at the very end of the arguments, the Paul Manafort defense and the cross examination and in their closing arguments made a point that Paul Manafort wasn`t the sole owner of those foreign bank accounts. And maybe there`s a little bit of wiggle room there because he was not quite owning, I think, was 50% of the accounts. Maybe there`s a technicality that he can get off on.

And that`s where that question came from there, where they were trying to get the judge to explain what was the legal requirements for foreign bank accounts. And in that sense, he really just read back to them the jury instructions that he`d already given them which were pretty mundane, pretty detailed, very technical and they were pretty much left with that to decide on.

WILLIAMS: Darren, how you are this coherent after a mind numbing day in court and four weeks of it, three weeks of it, we`ll never know, but we`re the recipients of it. Darren Samuelsohn, thank you so much for joining us on our broadcast tonight.

When we come back, long live the Queen of Soul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The world learned this morning of the death of the Queen of Soul. And we wanted to take a moment here tonight to remember one of the few truly unique voices in our lifetime. Aretha Franklin was a living advertisement for Detroit, Michigan and for the musical power of the Baptist Church. She was, after all, a minister`s daughter.

If you were lucky enough to see her perform in person, then you know, it was like opening your first bottle of champagne while standing in front of a jet engine. Aretha`s songs changed the rules and the balance of power dynamic on those boy/girl and man/woman songs for the era.

For the young ears listening at the time, it was pretty revolutionary to hear her acknowledge that some guys` kisses were sweeter than honey but then to remind him, guess what, so is my money. Her song "Respect" was about exactly that, "Chain of Fools" same thing.

Most of her songs were one of two things. She was either deliriously in love or really pissed at a guy. Her off stage personal life was a movable feast of eccentricities, insecurities and phobias, including a legendary fear of flying. But she did the flying with her voice. She had incredible range especially in the upper reaches. She always seemed to rise to the note. Though some of those notes we note through sheer force of will did agree to come down and meet her halfway. She was an instinctive piano player with perfect pitch.

Her life was not easy. Let this sink in for just a moment. She had her first child at the age of 12 and was a mother of two by the age of 15. By the time of her death, she held honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. She had performed for kings and queens and presidents. She sang at the Obama inauguration. And she regularly moved the president to tears.

So tonight, if you`re so inclined, say a little prayer for the light and the sound and the life that was Aretha Franklin and for the family members she leaves behind.

When we come back, portions of my last conversation with the Queen of Soul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The very last thing before we go tonight, the woman we are remembering in her own words. Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet, she never missed a chance to talk about the gospel music that got to her first and singers like the great gospel singer Clara Ward that were a huge influence.

n later years, Aretha was a walking event, an icon and of course a treasure. She survived a lot of health scares and she gave fewer interviews when her life took a more reclusive turn. I was honored to sit with her here in New York back in 2012 for what became our final conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARETHA FRANKLIN, SINGER: I had no idea for the longest kind of time that I could sing. Clara Ward whom was one of my mentors along with my dad came to our church, the New Bethal Baptist Church out in Detroit and she sung. We used to have programs after the service in the morning and she sung and I knew that was what I wanted to do. I said that`s what I want to do. After hearing her and she just -- she tore up the church.

WILLIAMS: Does the act of singing make you feel closer to God?

FRANKLIN: Of course, yes, when I`m singing gospel and other things, it depends on what I`m singing.

WILLIAMS: Tell me what "Amazing Grace" means to you.

FRANKLIN: "Amazing Grace" is just that. His amazing grace. It has brought me a long way. And my god, I would never have dreamed that I would sing for Prince Charles and the queen mom and meeting Lady Di in the receiving line over in London. And 20 Grammies later, the National Medal of the Arts, my god, and the Congressional Medal. Who would have thought it?

WILLIAMS: Do you allow yourself time and deep enough thought to realize and take stock in how many people`s lives you`ve changed, how many lives you`ve made better by giving us that sound track?

FRANKLIN: You know, people talk to me in concert and they come up and shake hands and sometimes they ask for an autograph, sometimes they just want to say a little something. They don`t always want an autograph. And it is amazing to find what it is singers do for people, and I`ve thought about that. What is it exactly that singers do for people? And it`s amazing.

WILLIAMS: You`re kind of their driver, their pastor, their bartender, their nurse practitioner, their doctor, you play a number of roles in people`s lives.

FRANKLIN: Well, we all play a role. We just play it in different ways. We`re all part of the whole. We just play it in different ways.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: But what a role she played in our lives. Think of it this way. We are all able to say tonight that we lived in the time of Aretha Franklin. Gone today at the age of 76.

That is our broadcast for a Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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