Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 20, 2018 Guest: Sabrina Siddiqui, Zachary Wood
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, President Trump tells Reuters, he is totally allowed to be involved in the Mueller investigation and, "I could run it if I want."
Meanwhile, what does White House counsel Don McGahn know and more importantly, what did he tell the special counsel during a report 30 hours of questioning?
After some blockbuster reporting in "The New York Times," Trump allies realized they were in the dark.
And Rudolph Giuliani`s fantasy weekend declaring truth isn`t truth and going completely and boldly against the facts regarding a key part of Trump`s path to the White House. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway for a new week on a Monday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 578 of the Trump administration.
And tonight the President of the United States is coming off a vicious string of personal attacks, comparing people to dogs and rats and calling Robert Mueller discredited and disgraced. He is neither.
And now tonight the President is talking about what`s at the heart of all of it. The Russia investigation. Now that he knows his White House lawyer has testified fully before the Mueller team.
This afternoon, Reuters interviewed President Trump. They report, he is "worried that any statements under oath he provides to Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be used to bring perjury charges against him."
"Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a perjury trap."
Reuters quotes the President has saying, "So if I say something and he," meaning Comey, "says something, and it is my word against his, and he`s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say, well, I believe Comey. And even if I`m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That`s no good."
The report goes on, "Despite his concerns, Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mueller. Also, Trump asserted that he retained power to intervene in the probe but that he had chosen not to do so in the moment."
Quoting the President here. "I can go in and I could do whatever, I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out," he said. "I`m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven`t chosen to be involved. I`ll stay out."
Not long after that interview, the President`s lawyer said this about the Mueller investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDOLPH GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP PERSONAL LAWYER: They`re trying to run it right into the election. And if that`s their strategy, the American people really have to learn that.
I mean, they`re trying to do same thing Comey did. They`re trying to become judge and jury of the 2018 elections. That is a tragedy with a phony investigation like this.
They simply don`t have any evidence of collusion and they have no evidence of obstruction, other than their version of the truthful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Over the past two days, the President and his legal team have learned the extent on which White House counsel Don McGahn has been talking to the Mueller team. This was first reported with a bang over the weekend "The New York Times" which cited a dozen sources and reported, McGahn had at "least three voluntary interviews with investigators." That totalled 30 hours over the past nine months.
The "Times" also reported McGahn discussed Trump`s comments and actions during the firing of the FBI Director James Comey and Mr. Trump`s obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the inquiry, including his repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of it.
The "Times" followed up with a second report that Trump and his legal team didn`t appear to know exactly how much the White House counsel told Mueller`s investigators. These stories, as you might imagine, set off the President to wit.
The failing "New York Times" wrote a fake piece today implying that because White House counsel," misspelled, "Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the special counsel," misspelled, "he must be a John Dean type rat. But I allowed him and all other to testify. I didn`t have to. I have nothing to hide. And disgraced and discredited Bob Mueller and his whole group of angry Democrat thugs spent over 30 hours with the White House counsel," misspelled only, "with my approval for purposes of transparency."
Tonight, "The Washington Post" reports that McGahn`s own lawyer has told the Trump legal team, McGahn does not believe he implicated the President in any legal wrongdoing when he spoke to the special counsel.
Meanwhile, the President`s lawyer is now in damage control mode. Earlier tonight, he explained that he and the President`s former attorneys are now aware of what was in McGahn`s testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: John Dowd got a political version of what McGahn said during that period of time. John, of course, because of what happened over the weekend, went through it thoroughly. I`ve been on the phone with him for hours and gone over it with him.
When it first came out, I didn`t know the details of what McGahn said. Now do I. I knew not to worry about it because if the President had said anything criminal to the counsel of the White House, McGahn wouldn`t be there.
McGahn, as a matter of legal ethics and possibly even law, would have to quit. And he`s a very ethical guys and he`s a very careful guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The following may further explain why the President may indeed have reason to be rattled about McGahn. Earlier today on this network, Steve Schmidt told Nicolle Wallace about the Don McGahn he knows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I believe that Don McGahn told Bob Mueller the truth. Every single thing that Don McGahn has seen, has heard, has been a witness to, he told the special counsel.
I was next door to Don McGahn at the National Republican Congressional Committee. He was my next door neighbor. I`ve known Don for years. I like Don McGahn.
Don McGahn is a good lawyer, he is a careful lawyer. Don McGahn is not getting disbarred or going to jail for Donald Trump.
What the Trump people don`t understand is this. He`s not the President`s personal attorney. He is the White House counsel. He is an assistant to the President. He is a commissioned officer.
He doesn`t work for Donald Trump. He works for us. He works for the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President may also be troubled to hear the Michael Cohen case may be approaching some sort of determination. The President`s former personal attorney is reportedly about to face charges for over $20 million in bank fraud.
NBC News is reporting that multiple people familiar with the investigation say prosecutors could seek the indict Cohen by the end of this month or they may wait until after election day.
On that, let us bring in our lead-off panel on a Monday night, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of Washington Week on PBS, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a Federal Prosecutor. And Jeremy Bash is back with us, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and at the Pentagon.
Robert, I would like to begin with you. What is the degree to which the Trump camp was caught off guard by just the idea of 30 hours of Don McGahn testimony in front of the special counsel?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s not only the Trump camp that was caught off guard, it was McGahn himself a year ago who`s found this whole strategy by John Dowd and Ty Cobb, the President`s lawyers, to be off in his view speaking to people close to McGahn. McGahn didn`t agree with the cooperation strategy when it came to the Mueller probe. He advised against it, but he went along with the cooperation, sending over one million documents from the White House and offering his time.
In fact, Brian, I saw McGahn go into Mueller`s office around 6:00 a.m. in the morning one day when I was staking it out. He was fully cooperative then, I`m told, and fully cooperative ever since.
WILLIAMS: Well, there`s some reporting.
Hey, Joyce, Cobb and Dowd, their decision to waive confidentiality, that may go down as one of the more consequential decisions of late for our republic, correct?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think that that`s right. And they base their decision according to the reporting on the President`s guarantee to them that he had done nothing wrong. So they responded, great, you`ve done nothing wrong.
The best way to bring this to a quick determination would be for you to go ahead and be completely open.
And so when Robert Costa refers to Don McGahn protesting this sort of approach and permitting McGahn himself to be interviewed by Mueller, it`s because McGahn as White House counsel represents not the President but the presidency.
So he was thinking about the legal precedent that this would set going forward, where future prosecutors, future investigators, would say, "Well, during the Trump presidency, you were open and we had access to people." And he might have wanted to restrict that a little bit more as the Clinton presidency did during a similar investigation. So a little bit of an interesting mislocation of the viewpoints here.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, let`s talk about what Don McGahn has been around for, what he may have witnessed, and reminding our viewers, he, of course, is not only a lawyer but White House counsel. That makes his value extreme as a witness before the Mueller prosecutors.
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: That`s right, Brian. The oath that Don McGahn swore when he took this office was to the constitution and to the rule of law, not to Donald Trump personally. And so his duty of loyalty runs to the office, runs to the institution of the presidency as noted.
What has he been around for? Well, first, when Sally Yates in January 2017, right after the inauguration, came to the White House and said that Michael Flynn had laid to FBI investigators, she made that report directly to don McGahn. So he was in the room when those issues were discussed with the President. He was also in the room when the Comey firing was discussed.
And finally, he would have been privy to conversations about the cover story that the President concocted aboard Air Force One trying to explain that the Trump Tower meeting was not about a meeting with the Russian government about interfering in the 2016 election.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, we`re going to play for our audience the moment heard around the world from "Meet The Press" this weekend. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I`m not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he`s going to tell the truth and he shouldn`t worry, well, that`s so silly because it`s somebody`s version of the truth. Not the truth. He didn`t have a conversation --
CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS HOST: Truth is truth. I don`t mean to go like --
GIULIANI: No, no, it isn`t truth. Truth isn`t truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Robert, is that just the era we`ve entered where the President`s lawyer can go on television and say things without consequence?
COSTA: Of course, Brian. It`s a bizarre statement. But putting that aside and acknowledging it for what it is, it`s more revealing about how the Trump legal team feels about the Comey firing. They`re uncomfortable, publicly about having the President sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller to talk through the President`s intend. Was it corrupt? Was it criminal? That`s what the Mueller people have wanted to find out for months.
And Giuliani is already contesting that. Already contesting Comey`s version of the story that`s there publically. But Giuliani does not know the extent of what witnesses have said beyond Mr. Comey about the Comey firing and what went on inside the White House and different things about the President`s intend.
And so when he says truth is truth, he`s saying he doesn`t want to go up against Comey`s version of the story but there are more versions of the story than just Comey.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, just as a fellow practitioner, as a fellow lawyer, when you hear an attorney use a phrase like that, your reaction?
VANCE: It tells me that he knows his client doesn`t have a traditional legal defense. They won`t be able to offer when Bob Mueller finally produces his report, or perhaps a new batch of indictments, they won`t be able to say the facts that are being alleged are untrue. It appears that`s a near certainty.
And so, instead, they`ll have fall back on a defense of the Mueller team is corrupt, then you can`t believe anything about facts. There`s no longer any rational truthful because it`s all a he said, she said. This is really a dangerous place to be.
Giuliani knows that this is not how our courts function. Our courts are uniquely suited to fair it out the difference when you have people telling these oppositional stories. That`s what prosecutors do for a living, that`s what Rudy Giuliani did for a living. Unfortunately, now he`s just reduced to shilling for a President who may not have a leg to stand on at the end of the day.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, where do you think the President got the idea he could run the Mueller investigation? And how would that work exactly?
BASH: Well, he has-- I think, it outsized a constitutionally inappropriate sense of the presidency. He believes that basically the presidency cannot be constrained by law. Of course, that`s antithetical to the American tradition, and I think he can do this in numerous ways.
One of the ways I think we need to be concerned about, Brian, is that the President could try strip the security clearances of Bob Mueller and his investigators. Of course, they hold those security clearances because they are conducting a counterintelligence investigation. They have to have access to classified information.
If the President did to them what he did to John Brennan and what he`s threatening to do to others, then that`s a way that the President could try and purport to undermine the investigation. There was an effort on the Hill at this hour led by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to prevent the President from doing just that.
WILLIAMS: And, Robert, I want to read this tweet from the President over the weekend. "Study late Joseph McCarthy because we are now in a period with Mueller and his gang that makes Joseph McCarthy look like a baby. Rigged witch hunt."
Robert, what would it look like if Republicans on the Hill reared up and said, "Enough?" What would it look like if the President pulled a few more critical security clearances, for example?
COSTA: At this point, Brian, based on my reporting, the Republican Party, they`re fully with President Trump ahead of the mid-term elections believing in his political capital is necessary to drag them across the finish line as they face a possible blue wave.
At this point, some people are privately grumbling that if the President moves on Mueller or moves on Rod Rosenstein, they will speak up. But so far, Brian, the notable people that are speaking up are those who have chosen to retire or those who have decided to leave office.
WILLIAMS: And, Joyce, what should we glean from Mr. Cohen`s silence of late? What are the chances the decision to participate, to flip, has already been made and that is underway?
VANCE: Cohen was initially pretty loud. We learned an awful lot from his public statements. He certainly didn`t make any effort to sequester himself after his home and office were searched.
And so what we`ve seen in the couple of weeks, this virtual radio silence that`s coming from Cohen would seem to me that signal that he`s either in the process of negotiating with prosecutors, trying to come up with a cooperation agreement, or that they have actually reached a cooperation agreement. That would be a good explanation for his dropping off of the public radar screen.
WILLIAMS: Interesting stuff tonight and a lot of it. Much obliged to the three of you for starting off our broadcast with us. Robert Costa, Joyce Vance and Jeremy Bash, our thanks.
And coming up on a Monday night, truth isn`t truth is the sounds bite that made the headlines. But there was something else that Rudy said that flew in the face of the facts that are right there on the printed page.
And later, an uncomfortable conversation with a young writer ready to become part of the national conversation. As THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Monday night.
WILLIAMS: President Trump`s legal team is working hard trying to spin the news surrounding the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and key members of the Trump`s campaign, including but not limited to, his son.
On Sunday, among other things, Rudolph Giuliani said that Trump`s team did not know that Natalia Veselnitskaya was Russian before the meeting took place, nor that she was connected to the Russian government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: Ay meeting with regard to getting information on your appoint is something any candidate staff would take. If someone said, I have information about your opponent, you would take that meeting. If it happens to be --
TODD: From the Russian government?
GIULIANI: She didn`t represent the Russian government. She`s a private citizen. I don`t even know if they knew she was Russian at the time. All they had was her name.
TODD: I think they knew she was Russian, but OK.
GIULIANI: Well, they knew when it they met with her, not when they set up the meeting. You asked me, you know, did they have any intention to do anything with Russians?
Well, all they knew was that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn`t know she was a representative of the Russian government and, indeed, she`s not a representative of the Russian government. So this has much to do about nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s read the e-mail, again, shall we, from a guy named Rob Goldstone to Donald Trump Jr. setting up the meeting.
"The crown prosecutor of Russia offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." He goes on to write, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information. But is part of," this might as well be in all capital letters, "Russia and its government`s support for Mr. Trump."
DJTJ, Donald Trump Jr., replied to Goldstone minutes later, writing in part, "If it`s what you say, I love it especially later in the summer."
We have asked Jeremy Bash and Joyce Vance to return to our conversation for just one more bit.
And, Jeremy, just remind us the short list of facts versus myth, all dating back to this one fateful meeting.
BASH: One myth, Brian, was that it was just a meeting with Don Jr. No. In fact, it was a meeting with the entire senior high command of the Trump organization`s campaign. It was a meeting with Don Jr., with Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, and, of course, with Jared Kushner.
Second myth is that this was just one lone lawyer coming to talk about adoptions. No. In fact, it was a Russian government delegation, that was how it was set up. It was a meeting with multiple players, all of whom have significant ties to the Russian government, and they came with specific offer.
Actually, they came to say that they intended to utilize the information that they had stolen through cyber attacks. They intended to weaponize and they intend it to interfere, an attack, in the 2016 election.
And then the other myth is that for some reason because they didn`t bring the documents to the meeting and they didn`t actually do any specific collusion or conspiracy right there across the table, that somehow that wasn`t conspiracy. Of course, that`s not how it was set up. It was them coming on behalf of the Russian government to say we`re going to be doing this and, in response, we want sanctions relief, which is, by the way, exactly what they ended up getting.
And what happened next? Donald Trump mentioned those e-mails after they were released in October 150 times. An average of five times a day. It was a central part of his closing argument as part of the final 30 days of the presidential campaign.
WILLIAMS: And Joyce Vance, there again we get on read the e-mail from this Goldstone who`s kind of a Barney rebellion character from overseas, laying out the stakes of the meeting. I know the feds have the equivalent of blinders and Bose headphones in Mueller`s office. What must they make, however, of these repeated and different attempts at cover stories for the meeting?
VANCE: It`s never good when you`re always trying to come up with a cover story and especially when the cover stories are all centered around this one meeting in Trump Tower. There is this sort of progressive truth telling as the truth begins to come out. It really makes it look like there`s something to hide about this meeting. But the reality, Brian, is there is not a lot to hide.
The e-mails really tell the story. There is a federal law that makes it illegal for a foreigner to provide assistance to a United States campaign by means of a donation or a contribution and that`s pretty much the story that this e-mail tells. It says not just a Russian citizen but actually someone linked to the crown prosecutor wants to present dirt on Hillary Clinton as a donation to the Trump campaign. And three senior members of that campaign eagerly take meeting.
This is a lot less an e-mail chain and month like a long loading, smoking gun. I think this is a very good piece of evidence for the Mueller team.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, you have to love the Hollywood inspired phrasing of taking a meeting. But when Giuliani says that anyone would have taken that meeting, what`s your answer to that?
BASH: No way. I mean, I`ve worked on presidential campaigns. There`s no way that you sit down with a foreign government delegation and they offer to attack the election, interfere, intercede, play a role and then you say, OK, we`ll take it and then you go ahead and act on it once they do that. That never happens. That`s not normal. That`s not just merely taking opposition research.
WILLIAMS: And, Joyce, if you were the lawyer for Donald Jr., how much potential exposure would you be warning your client about, exactly?
VANCE: He has a lot of exposure here. It will come down to his state of mind and his level of knowledge. But the e-mails in and of themselves are very important detail. And then we have the efforts to cover up the meeting. So it doesn`t look great for him, from this point of view.
And I think one of the issues, quite frankly, is whether or not prosecutors will view this as an independent act they`ll charge, because this particular statute is not frequently used. But this is a relatively egregious case involving not just a foreigner but representatives of a foreign government itself.
WILLIAMS: Thanks the two of you for sticking around taking a few more questions. Sometimes our first segment is not enough for that. Jeremy Bash and Joyce Vance, we appreciate it.
And coming up for us, the President says he hasn`t given a lot of thought about pulling Mueller`s security clearance but he grabbed for a giant shiny object once again when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think this is yet another example of his egregious use of power and authority. Just because he has the ability to revoke one`s clearance doesn`t mean that he is doing it for the appropriate reasons. If my clearances and my reputation as I`m being pulled through the mud now, if that`s the price we`re going to pay to prevent Donald Trump from doing this against other people, to me it is a small price to pay. So, I am going to do whatever I can personally to try on prevent these abuses in the future. And if it means going to court, I will do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The former CIA director John Brennan as you heard, mulling legal action after his security clearance was pulled by the President who doubled down on this today, "I hope John Brennan, the worst CIA director in our country`s history, brings a lawsuit. It will then be very easy to get all of his records, texts, e-mails, and documents to show not only the poor job he did but how he was involved with the", here, you ready for this one, "Mueller rigged witch hunt. He won`t sue".
The Associated Press sums up Trump`s actions this way, "With tweets and taunts, President Donald Trump is attempting to turn one of his most outspoken critics into the public face of the Russia probe that he has long worked to discredit, where Mueller`s disciplined silence creates a void, Trump is eager to fill that empty space with Brenna."
Over 175 current and former intel officials have now come out in favor of the John Brennan and against this practice of pulling clearances. Still the "Washington Post" is reporting the White House is drafting more clearance cancellations, demanded by Trump.
Well, with us to talk about it tonight, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press and welcome back to the broadcast, Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for The Guardian. Welcome to you both.
Jonathan, just tonight, Phil Mudd, career CIA officer was in a debate segment on CNN. The president didn`t like it, tweeted against him and is asking aloud whether or not his clearance should be revoked on Twitter. Are we all going after this giant shiny object of security clearances?
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: This is the president`s new toy. He is certainly drawn to things. Having been so frustrated with how much so Washington works, even his own party controlling both houses of Congress, the members of his own staff giving him a hard time and telling him no. Much like presidential pardons, he`s realized security clearances are revoking him. It`s something he can do on his own.
And I think everybody see this and using about this quite bit publically in the days ahead as you like sort of change the conversation. Just remember that his order the strip Brennans was actually drafted multiple weeks before it was issued.
But Brennan`s is a little more complicated than that. He`s trying to get more of it. Our story indicates sign, our reporting, that it sometimes with this president it`s hard to know what`s impulsive and what`s strategic. But he has long had a problem with John Brenna. Go on a little bit by Senator Rand Paul who has long had a vendetta against Brennan for quite some time. This president is sensitive to anyone who publicly criticizes him particularly on television. So that`s part of it.
But the other part is he realize that`s Brennan with his attachment to the deep state, with his ties to the Russia probe, could be a useful foil here. Someone else he could attack. A proxy if you will for requesting after the Mueller investigation, trying to tie that all up. And if believes at Brennan who has been a very outspoken critics of president, if Trump has told people around him, but he thinks Brennan`s credibility has been shot. And if he links Brennan to Mueller, that helps him attack credibility of the investigation.
WILLIAMS: Sabrina, regardless of what else is said about Mr. Brennan, he is at heart a long time, many decades public servant. And I know you wanted to come on tonight and make a point about public servants.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, I think what we`ve seen from President Trump is an effort to cast some of these former top intelligence and law enforcement officials as political opponents. When in fact if you look at the careers of people like John Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, these individuals who each have served for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations alike.
Look, we`ve seen presidents come and go. And we have never before seen them be as outspoken in their criticism of a sitting president. Now, in my reporting when I`ve spoken to some of Brennan`s former colleagues or Clapper`s former colleagues, what they tell me is the reason they are being as forthcoming in their criticism as they are right now is because they genuinely believe this president poses, whether you agree or disagree, a unique threat to our institutions and this is not about any sort of partisanship.
In fact what a lot of the former colleagues argue is, if they were overtly political, we would have seen that by now and we simply haven`t seen any evidence to support the president`s claims that this is on their part an effort to settle some sort of score against this president. If anything, he is the one who admitted that he is acting in part in retaliation as well as in relation to his frustration with the Russia probe.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan, it`s Maggie Haberman who says all the time, especially in Washington, norms outweigh laws. They outnumber laws. On this norm of pulling security clearances, is there a point at which it would inflame or cause Republicans on the Hill, god for bid, to speak up?
LEMIRE: It hasn`t yet. There have been very few things that have caused republicans to speak up. Outside of the ones that we, we go over time and time again. Those who are retiring, those who are not running election or those who are gravely ill. Those are the Republicans on the Hill who have spoken up against this president.
Those who are there, who have to face voters again, whether that`s this fall or two years from now or four years from now, seem very reluctant to do so because they`re so cowed by the support that Trump still has in the Republican Party and there`s fearful of what that base could do if he turns them against them.
We have not seen much in the way of pushback from Republicans. In fact, number of Republicans have cheered them on. If suddenly, if it goes beyond Brennan and it becomes two, three, six, a dozen, whatever it might be, perhaps we would see some sort of outcry.
But right now the Republicans are towing the president`s line. They`re saying that Brennan doesn`t need the security clearance. The government is not benefitting from it because we`re talking the -- Trump Administration is not talking to him, I mean trying to gain in the inside and that he`s abusing his privilege by going on television and attacking the president and being biased and therefore they don`t see at least to this point any wrong what the Trump has done.
WILLIAMS: Sabrina, Phil Mudd over at CNN does what our on air contributors do all day and all evening long. He is passionate, he is emotional, he is a patriot, he is a terrific spokesperson as a lifelong CIA operative for the intelligence community. Tomorrow, it may be someone else on the other end of the president`s Twitter feed. What do you make of Brennan`s flirtation with legal action? Do you think there`s a there, there?
SIDDIQUI: Well, I think it was interesting that the president welcomed a lawsuit from Brennan in part because he seems to have interpreted that as though Brennan would be suing him personally. When in fact I think what Brennan would do is probably more narrow in its scope. He would perhaps appear before a judge to make the case that his security clearance was revoked for political reasons and not through proper channels.
And I think what could tee up is a decision before the courts as to whether or not they should somehow limit the president`s authority to revoke security clearances. Because there isn`t really a great deal of legal precedent for the action that the president has taken and I also think to the question of what might happen on Capitol Hill, Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee did introduce an amendment that would prohibit the president from revoking security clearances for political purposes.
Now given Republican probably behind the president so far it`s not could even come up for a vote let alone pass the Senate. But again the question is if he is going on start to strip more security clearances, then there may be more support for some sort of response. Or at least being more clear on whether or not he has that authority.
WILLIAMS: I think your point is exactly right. The president`s comments about the discovery process and what could be learned, I think, go back to the time of lawsuit he is used to in New York and not the kind of legal case this would be if Brennan goes forward with it.
On that, our thanks to Jonathan Lemire and Sabrina Siddiqui. We really appreciate it. Thank you both for coming on.
Coming up, as her husband positively scorches several individuals on Twitter in just these past 24 hours, the first lady warns of the destructive and harmful aspects of social media. That in more when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Social media is an inventible part of our children`s daily lives. It can be used in many positive ways but can also be destructive and harmful when used incorrectly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: First lady taking her be best campaign on the road to a cyber bullying conference in suburban Maryland today, where she spoke about the dangers, as you heard, of social media. She did not discuss directly the dynamic and the person we are still getting used to.
The first ever president of the United States who attacks individuals including his own employees and American institutions on social media, as recently as several times just today. Just tonight. The "New York Times" has counted and reports the president has tweeted attacks against at least 487 people. A figure now dated, because of fresh attacks tonight. 487 people, companies, or institutions since launching his run for the White House. And this might have been the closest that the first lady came today to calling out obliquely her husband`s behavior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Let`s face it. Most children are more aware of the benefits and pit falls of social media than some adults.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The president was back at it within an hour of his wife`s speech. Melania Trump has received plenty of criticism for her campaign to combat online bullying. In fact, according to the "New York Times", the president suggested that Mrs. Trump choose a different topic to avoid questions about how the wife of a notorious Twitter bully could lead a campaign to spotlight anti-bullying and other child wellness efforts.
Today the first lady`s communications director issue a statement saying that Melania is, "Well aware of the criticism but that will not deter her from doing what she feels is right. I would hope most people in this country are happy that they have a strong and independent first lady who only has the best interests of the children at heart."
Well, this afternoon another headline involving that independence of the first lady one that could be seen as a break of sorts from her husband. This reads, Melania Trump planning solo international swing to Africa. According to the statement released today, the first lady is planning a trip through several as yet unnamed African countries in October. The trip, of course, follows her husband`s famously offensive and offcolor remark about countries on the continent.
A break for us. Coming up, we`ll talk about a new book just out. It`s been called a wrenchingly honest story of resilience, compassion and conviction. When we come back we`ll have an uncomfortable conversation by design because that`s exactly what the book is about. That and more when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. Tonight we hope to have a comfortable conversation about something called uncomfortable learning. Just about every night here we talk about the aspects of free speech that are under fire. And there`s something else at work these days.
Many of us limit and choose to filter out of our lives the speech that doesn`t agree with our views. Many prefer the media that already agree with them. College campuses play a role in this as well. Higher education used to be a place where ideas went to thrive. But increasingly, they are where controversy or contrary views go to die. Dangerous places full of triggers, fearful of snow flakes melting on contact.
All of this is part of the subject of a new book called "Uncensored" by Zachary Wood. He gave a Ted talk on this subject that more or less, to make a long story short, catapulted him into wider awareness and a new job as an assistant editor at the Atlantic. He is a Barkley fellow at the "Wall Street Journal." We left out the best part. He is a 2018 graduate of Williams College and getting there and here wasn`t easy.
Zachary Wood grew with one parent struggling with mental illness. A mother who worked three jobs to make ends meet. In high school, he traveled on public transportation four hours everyday from his home in Washington D.C. to a private school in the Maryland suburbs and back.
This is important. The subtitle of his book is, "My high of, an uncomfortable conversations at the intersection of black and white America." And we are so happy to have the author. Zachary Wood here with us in our New York studios tonight. Thank you coming in.
ZACHARY WOOD, AUTHOR: Thank you so much for having me.
WILLIAMS: What is your one paragraph boil down version when people ask you about your upbringing and the two worlds you eventually got exposure to?
WOOD: The story of my life has been that I have always had to adapt to difficult and different circumstances. Whether it was going from an underresourced public school in inner city Detroit to an elite private school in one of Detroit suburbs, whether it was living with a mother that had a mental illness but cared deeply about my education, and making sure that I would have the skills necessary to make a difference in the world, whether it was moving to D.C. to live in an underprivileged community where I faced many disadvantaged and again going to an elite private school and having to make the shift between those drastically different environments every day, what that did for me is it help me foster early on a greater sense of empathy and compassion, and admit that I had to be open to new experiences and listening to people regardless of what their views were.
WILLIAMS: There`s a scene in the book where you talk about the hole and the roof, and the room, where you stayed in your house and tried to study and what would happen naturally when rain falls through a hole in the roof. It is has if you zoomed out through that hole and rose up out of your circumstances. Why you, do you think?
WOOD: Well, I was very fortunate to find a number of critical opportunities. I got a number of excellent teachers. My dad set an excellent example. And he`s the hardest working person I know. And so for me, I looked to both of my parents, actually. My mother was -- she stressed the importance of education, importance of reading and learning and seeing that as something that would help me transcend the limitations of my financial material circumstances, and my dad`s work ethic alone is something that always inspired me to work harder. So even when my environment at home was difficult, I could see school as a positive outlet.
WILLIAMS: You get to Williams College, a place most people would kill to get to and what do you notice about free speech or the death thereof on campus.
WOOD: It`s very difficult right now in college campuses to have conversations across the aisle, across political divides, especially when it comes to critical issues of race and gender and class.
WILLIAMS: And you tried?
WOOD: I tried. And I faced significant backlash. And part of the challenge has to do with social media.
WILLIAMS: Which is dividing us further.
WOOD: Exactly. And it`s increasing polarization. And I think we have to start talking to each other again, even though it is very tough to do.
WILLIAMS: That is clearly your message, that however abhorrent or offensive you find the other side, it is best to learn their arguments, take it on, listen to it. And I didn`t want to go there on politics, but what you are calling for, increase understanding, a coming together is made extra tough by the era we`re living through right now.
WOOD: Absolutely. I think, you know, frankly, we have a president who does not set a good example. I mean just if we look at social media alone how often is he attacking people`s character? People who are to be taken seriously, who care about these issues, who care about the American people who are trying to make a difference. I think it`s a terrible example and it makes it very difficult for us to have kinds of conversations that are no necessary.
WILLIAMS: I hope people buy it and read your story. At one point you cavalierly mentioned you`d like to be president. Is that still your goal?
WOOD: That is my goal, yes.
WILLIAMS: It`s not so cavalier by the time you reach the end of the book. It kind of starts making perfect sense. I`m quite sure hearing opposing viewpoints would be an important part of your platform.
WOOD: Absolutely. For me, I care about incoming equality. I care about equality with regard of issues of race and gender and class. And I think, you know, disparities and education, achievement gaps. In order to address those issues as a public servant, I think it`s important for me to try to make an effort as best I can to understand the views of those I disagree with.
WILLIAMS: We will look for your work and your writing at the Atlantic and also (INAUDIBLE) for the book.
WOOD: Thank you so much.
WILLIAMS: Thank you for coming in and talking us tonight.
WOOD: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Zachary Wood, our guest tonight. Coming up there is something in the air this evening from west to east across this country that actually explains a lot. When we continue.
WILLIAMS: We`re back with the last thing before we go tonight, and we sure hope you are having a good summer wherever home is or wherever your vacation travels may take you. In this part of the world, people have been complaining about the weather this summer as if there is someone to blame for the most rain during July in a decade and the marched weekends stretching into the dog days of August.
And yet there`s this. During those sunny days, those sparkling, cloudless sunny days along the east coast here from New York up to Massachusetts and for that matter through the rest of New England, when you look up, the sky these days has a gray cast. The air is not sparkling clear, and it`s because of the wild fires out west. It is just another measure, a very dramatic one, of the suffering this summer has brought the Rockies and California.
We have for you the U.S. Forrest Service map of large incidents by their definition. These are fires currently being fought in the west, including the latest explosive fire in Glacier National Park in Montana.
National Weather Service satellite imagery tracks the smoke from the west to the east across our country and sure enough it catches a ride on the jet stream, and it`s responsible for what seems like high cloud cover, even on sunny days in these parts.
The smoke dissipates as it`s blown out over the Atlantic. And here is another aspect of the summer of 2018 in the northeast. A lot of folks don`t realize the rather spectacular sun sets in their vacation photos out east are because of the particulate matter in the air. In effect, the fall-out from a disastrous wildlife season out west.
That is our broadcast on a Monday night as we start a new week together. Thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.
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