Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 23, 2018 Guest: Frank Figliuzzi, Elie Honig, Jill Colvin
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Breaking tonight from "The New York Times," Manhattan D.A. eyes criminal charges against the Trump Organization.
Also the head of the National Enquirer, the man who knows Donald Trump`s secrets, gets immunity. As "The Associated Press" reports, the Enquirer kept a safe full of buried Trump stories.
The President blasts his own Attorney General again, goes after his very manhood, and Jeff Sessions answers with a rare brush back pitch.
And the President uses the same language that veteran prosecutors have heard from mobsters, wondering if it shouldn`t be illegal to flip to become a cooperating witness for the feds. All of it as |THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.
And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 581 of the Trump administration, and just tonight a short time ago, in fact, new legal troubles potentially for the President on a new front.
We`ll let "The New York Times" tell it. "The Manhattan district attorney`s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two senior company officials in connection with Michael Cohen`s hush money payment to an adult film actress, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter. A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursements to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, who has said she had an affair with President Trump"
Mostly along those same lines, a big story today had to do with a long time friend of the President who has apparently turned on him. "The Wall Street Journal" broke the news that the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information about Michael Cohen. A person familiar with the matter has confirmed the report to NBC News.
Make no mistake, this is a big development as one Trump friend told Vanity Fair, "Holy expletive, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn."
Pecker has known Trump for decades. He helped that catch and kill negative stories about him. According to Michael Cohen, Pecker`s company paid Karen McDougal exclusive rights for her account of an affair with Donald Trump and never published it. Trump has denied her account for the record.
This week, Michael Cohen admitted in court that he was directed by Trump to coordinate payments to McDougal as well as Stormy Daniels, aka, her real name Stephanie Clifford, to keep negative information from influencing the 2016 election.
Also tonight, the A.P. reports that according to five sources, the National Enquirer "kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. According to the A.P., fearful that the documents might be used against American media, Pecker and the company`s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump`s inauguration, according to one person directly familiar with the events." More on all of this later.
The President has been telling his side of the story concerning the two Cohen-related payments. Here`s how he explained them to Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AINSLEY EARHARDT, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: Did you direct him to make the payments?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made the deal. He made the deals. And by the way, he pled to two counts that aren`t a crime, which nobody understands.
I watched a number of shows. Sometimes you get some pretty good information by watching shows. Those two counts aren`t even a crime. They weren`t campaign finance.
Later on I knew. Later on. They didn`t come out of the campaign. They came from me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Remember, we`ve heard the President on audio tape talked about one of the payments. And with that answer there, the President could just have admitted to possibly violating another campaign finance law, because if that money came from him, Trump would have had to report it as a campaign expenditure, something he did not do.
The President also took issue with Cohen`s guilty plea and suggested that cooperating with authorities in any form should be against the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EARHARDT: If you`re saying the payments, if they`re not illegal, then why would he even -- why he use that information for plea deal?
TRUMP: Because he makes a better deal when he uses me.
This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years, I`ve been watching flippers. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever their next highest one is or as high as you can go.
It almost should be outlawed. If you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you`ll go down to two years or three years, which is the deal he made, in all fairness to him, most people are going to do that. And I`ve seen it many times. I`ve had many friends involved in this stuff. It`s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Also tonight, there are reports the President has considered a possible pardon for Paul Manafort. But to use plain English here there are as many conflicting reports as there are a number of media interviews. People conducted today with Rudy Giuliani, who as fate would have it is in Scotland playing golf at a Trump golf course.
"The Washington Post" says Giuliani told the paper the President asked his legal team about pardoning Manafort several weeks ago and that they advised him to wait until the after the Mueller investigation was over.
Giuliani has also spoken to "The New York Times" telling the paper that similar discussions about a pardon were initiated by the lawyers and not by the President.
Giuliani spoke to NBC News as well, and he told us the President never specifically sought his lawyer`s advice several weeks ago on whether to pardon Manafort, and that they talked about "pardons" in general.
Tonight, the White House denies that a pardon is being discussed and that no decision has been made.
Meanwhile, as the President grapples with his legal challenges and the investigations of his associates, he is taking aim once again at his Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has been one of his most loyal lieutenants in this administration.
Coming up, you`ll hear the President`s latest complaints about the job that Sessions is doing. But first, here now is how Trump describes his own job performance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EARHARDT: What grade do you give yourself so far?
TRUMP: So I give myself an A plus. I don`t think any President has ever done what I`ve done in this short -- we haven`t even been two years. I would honestly give myself an A plus, and so would many other people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On that note let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Thursday night, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and Moderator of the A plus Washington Week on PBS, Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press," Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, who in the past has worked for among others Robert Mueller. And Elie Honig is back with us, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, also happens to be a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of New Jersey. Welcome to you all.
Frank, because of your unique resume, I`d like to begin with you. First of all, what should people think about this "New York Times" story tonight, Manhattan D.A. eyeing potential charges against Trump Organization and two senior execs?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: This is a very interesting development, and it`s interesting for three reasons. First, remember, the President cannot pardon someone, especially his own organization for state or local crimes. Secondly, this is showing that there`s increasing pain being brought to anyone associated with this President. And when you bring pain to associates of the President, you increase the likelihood that people cooperate as they assess that cost benefit analysis.
And third, Brian, while the U.S. Department of Justice may well have a legal memo in their files discouraging the indictment of a sitting President, there`s no such memo in the Manhattan DA`s office or in the state attorney general`s office in New York.
WILLIAMS: Frank, when I heard the President`s word today, I thought of all of you, all of the former feds we have affiliated who have become friends of this broadcast and appear with us often. He is supposed to be the protector and upholder of the rule of law and there he was today talking about so-called flipping, coming out against cooperating with government prosecutors.
FIGLIUZZI: It`s becoming increasingly clear, Brian, that this President never truly had long-term or national interests at heart. It`s all about his self-interest. And what`s ironic, increasingly ironic, is that a man who is driven entirely by his self-interest is being done in by cooperators who are operating on the same premise.
They`re looking out for themselves. So he`s being burned by the people who operate by the same philosophy he does.
WILLIAMS: Elie Honig, you`ve been justifiably so proud watching these past few days the attorneys at your former jurisdiction, Southern District of New York, comport themselves and carry out what it is they carried out. What did you make of hearing the President`s words today about cooperating with the government?
ELIE HONIG, ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I was stunned. And I think Frank hit the nail on the head. It`s all about the President`s self-interest.
Who are the people who truly fear and despise cooperating witnesses? They are the heads of major criminal organizations, drug traffickers, mob bosses, corrupt CEOs, corrupt politicians.
The United States Department of Justice has made some of the most consequential cases in its history relying in part of cooperating witnesses. Terrorist attacks, massive financial frauds.
In fact, this President says he`s going to be the one who`s going to bring down MS-13 and street gangs. I`ll tell you what, without cooperating witnesses, he`s never going to touch the real leaders of those organizations.
WILLIAMS: Jill, talk about your news organizations reporting on this safe, apparently inside the headquarters there at the National Enquirer.
JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, my colleague Jeff Horwitz, who is really been covering the AMI story for I feel like over a year at this point, maybe longer, talked to former AMI employees. A lot of these folks are under --
WILLIAMS: AMI, American Media International.
COLVIN: Exactly. It`s the company that owns the National Enquirer.
WILLIAMS: Sorry, go ahead.
COLVIN: A lot of these folks are under, you know, confidentiality agreement. What they told Jeff was that there was actually a safe that within the offices there that was used to store all of the documents that had to do with the various hush fund payments, documents related to the Trump hush money settlements but also related to other celebrities.
You know, the way that the National Enquirer appears to have worked is they had this catch and kill policy, whereby they would pay people for their stories in an effort to prevent them from ever being published. It was something that really frustrated writers who worked there because you got a big scoop and then you`ve got your bosses telling you no, this can never get out, this can never be published.
And what the Cohen court fillings have revealed and these employees have revealed is this pattern of, you know, working with people but especially Trump and this relationship that Cohen had with this organization kind of actively using them to try to find out whether there are any stories brewing out there and then sending them after to kill them.
WILLIAMS: Jill, did that includes stories against opponents, did that include commissioning stories against people like Hillary Clinton? I know we have a montage of some of their covers in the past.
COLVIN: I`m glad you mentioned that. It`s really interesting, you know. So as early as 2010, employees said that Cohen and the National Enquirer were in conversations. It was as early as 2010 that the National Enquirer was running stories, kind of boosting the President`s presidential ambitions. You know, linking to a website that Cohen had helped set up to boost the President`s name recognition.
And there was a series of stories if you go back throughout the election in which the National Enquirer wrote no negative stories about President Trump and had story after story that was deeply negative, not only to Hillary Clinton, but you`ll remember there Ted Cruz coverage some really ridiculous allegations that the President then used on the campaign trail to try to discredit Ted Cruz. And you sort of see this pattern, you see this pattern of this news organization, I use the term news organization very loosely, this organization, you know, seemingly working on behalf of Trump`s campaign. And I imagine a lot more will be coming out.
WILLIAMS: Bob Costa, you had the President today seemingly divorced from his role as the head of a law-abiding society. You`ve always been a very good West Wing whisperer and interpreter. By how much is there a sense that the walls may be closing in?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There`s a sense of shock inside of this White House because of the double barreled legal news that happens on Tuesday, still reeling from that in most respects. And the President has become isolated, but he was isolated in many ways over the past few weeks operating from the executive residents at the White House in the same way he`d operated from Trump Tower. And he`s been unhappy with Michael Cohen, the person he relied upon to talk to people like David Pecker, to keep him in the tabloids, to handle situations behind the scenes. Now he feels betrayed.
He`s been named. The candidate`s been named by Cohen in court, and so now it`s been brought to the presidency. And so many people around him, when you listen to Sarah Sanders, the Press Secretary, and others, they keep saying they`re not talking about pardons in the White House. But that doesn`t mean the President is not talking about Manafort and Cohen with people like Giuliani playing golf in Scotland.
WILLIAMS: Frank, for all -- those of us who don`t have a background in your background or law degrees, when we talk about immunity we`ve thrown a lot of legal terms out over the past couple of weeks. What does immunity mean? What does it mean that the feds know you have to offer?
FIGLIUZZI: So first, immunity is not handed out lightly and two factors have to be present. One is you have to believe that the person you`re granting immunity to is exposed to criminal charge, number one. Number two, that he has some cooperation to offer, there`s some benefit to getting him to talk and then giving him incentive to talk.
Now, it`s important here that we need to understand that we don`t know the full degree of immunity that was provided. We don`t know the degree to which Mr. Pecker has agreed to cooperate. Whether it`s going to be an entire historical provision of everything he knows about the President and all his misdeeds, or whether it`s limited to simply pay off to two women. We don`t know that yet.
There are some unanswered questions here, but clearly Mr. Pecker has made a tactical decision to protect himself and to cooperate with the special counsel`s office, and that should give the President and his attorneys great pause tonight.
The contents of that safe that we`re talking about, which Mr. Pecker relocated those contents soon after the President was elected, we have to assume and the President`s attorneys have to assume that those contents are in the hands of the special counsel`s office. They should be very worried about that.
WILLIAMS: Yes, in my lifetime anytime you say the word safe, it gets people`s attention because it means stuff they don`t want out there.
Elie, what`s the difference you used to tell people between immunity and the President`s term, flipping?
HONIG: Yes, they`re sort of different species but similar. If a person doesn`t quite have enough provable criminal exposure, so you can`t require them to take a plea, they`ll invoke the Fifth. And then the way you respond to that is by giving them immunity. That means, you can testify freely and your words can`t be used against you.
So it`s sort of a cooperation like. They still have to tell the truth, they still have to testify. But unlike Michael Cohen who had to plead guilty to a charge, someone who`s immunized doesn`t have to actually plead guilty to a criminal charge. It`s a way to get testimony that you might not otherwise be able to get.
WILLIAMS: And Robert Costa, there`s Paul Manafort tonight in a lock up. He`s already been through one trial, awaiting his second. He`s already been knicked on enough charges if they give him the maximum, it could mean the rest of his natural born days in prison.
Is he getting messages from the President of the United States who more than once has talked about what a really good guy he is and what he`s been through?
COSTA: He`s getting a message that`s not a phone call but it`s pretty much as direct as a blinking red light. When you get Giuliani talking about how he has had conversations with the President about pardons in recent weeks, when you see the President sit down with Fox News and talk about how much Paul Manafort had a tough time and how his heart goes out for Paul Manafort, it`s a reminder of why Mr. Manafort hasn`t said a word in court. Sitting, waiting, convicted but he sees some hope on the horizon.
And his lawyers, I`m told, are telling him to just sit tight. He has another trial coming up in D.C., but if he sits tight, he could get a pardon. Let it play out.
WILLIAMS: Jill, it was so late last night/early this morning that we were all home from our shift here, which we consider the night shift, 1:10 a.m., the President took to Twitter and had caps lock on. Obviously, no collusion, rigged witch hunt.
I don`t imagine, Jill, the President feels he`s getting the air support he would like these days.
COLVIN: No, he doesn`t. And this is something that even allies of the President outside of the building have also been really critical of this feeling like there has not been this coordinated effort to try to fight back. You`ve got Giuliani making contradictory statements every time he opens his mouth, getting himself some trouble, every time he goes on television. And you`re not seeing, for instance, what you saw during the Clinton administration, where there was a very, you know, organized effort, outside team made up of communication specialists, attorneys who were there to try to push back in a coordinated professional manner.
We`re not seeing that right now. And that means that you`ve got a President who is furious, who always feels like the media is out to get him, and who now is watching the television, you know, flipping the channel and just not seeing any type of coordinated defense, you know, for him.
WILLIAMS: Much obliged to our front four on a busy Thursday night. Robert Costa, Jill Colvin, Frank Figliuzzi, Elie Honig, thank you all very, very much.
Coming up, President Trump once again attacks his own Attorney General, but this time Jeff Sessions hits back.
And then later, Presidential scandal, an investigation into the President and chatter of things like high crimes and misdemeanors. The kind of talk we haven`t heard in this country since way back in 1998.
THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Thursday evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I put in an Attorney General that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Session. Never took control of the Justice Department. Jeff Sessions recused himself, which he shouldn`t have done, or he should have told me.
Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn`t have put him in. He took the job and then he said I`m going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this?
And by the way, he was on the campaign. You know, the only reason I gave him the job because I felt loyalty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump attacking his own A.G. again for recusal as you heard and never taking control of the Justice Department. But then hours later came a rare brush back from the A.G. himself, "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President`s agenda. While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will be not be improperly influenced by political considerations."
And while it may be a new dynamic to our American presidency, this President has openly trashed and diminished his own chief law enforcement officer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I am disappointed in the Attorney General. He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office. And if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office and I would have quite simply picked somebody else.
Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recused himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.
The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this or when he recused himself. Or he should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself and we would have put a different attorney general in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump`s Twitter-based attacks on Sessions have included disgraceful and its close cousin beleaguered.
Just last week, the President said if we had a real Attorney General, there would be no Russia investigation.
Weeks ago, he called on Sessions to stop this rigged witch hunt right now before it continues to stain our country any further.
Sessions had only been attorney general for about six months when he was asked about, let`s call it his working conditions under Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You`ve seen the President`s criticism of you. Do you think it`s fair?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it`s kind of hurtful, but the President of the United States is a strong leader. He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Joining our conversation tonight Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for "The New York Times." And we talked Robert Costa into just hanging around for a few more minutes as well as well.
Jeremy, today comments came at an unusual time. There`s a chance, I guess, that we`ll look back at this week as a low point in the Trump presidency. There`s a chance it`ll be further eclipsed. And Sessions, I think looking at the calculus, thought he might get the better of today`s exchange.
JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think, Brian, what you`re seeing here is kind of the Trump presidency writ large. This was a whole lot of fun for Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump when they were riding around on a plane together crisscrossing the country and campaigning. And now that it`s gotten very real, it`s gotten very ugly.
Donald Trump is all about himself. Him preserving himself and avoiding, you know, any type of bad political outcome here in his presidency. Jeff Sessions is a lawyer, a prosecutor, somebody who understands the law and the role of the Attorney General, not as the President`s personal attorney, but as the chief law enforcement officer of the nation. And that`s where they diverged.
Once they had to work together in the scriptures of the United States Constitution, something that Jeff Sessions understands very well but Donald Trump does not.
WILLIAMS: So Robert, this vindicates two things my mother said, it`s all fun and games until someone gets hurt and this is why we can`t have nice things. This relationship has gone absolutely sour. Is it all in your view over the Russia subject which the President keeps talking about and specifically recusal and the like?
COSTA: There are many tangents inside of this relationship. You think about the Attorney General going to the White House today to talk prison reform, the President`s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, doesn`t like the Attorney General`s hard line position and how he`s really against Kushner`s own proposal and prison reform. The President has been kicking that down the rood.
He sees Sessions as someone who shares the President`s immigration view. The President was looking for someone to be his enforcer on the Russia probe, to be a loyalist. But he`s in this box now.
All of his lawyers are telling him do not get rid of the Attorney General because it would be similar in a sense to what happened with Jim Comey in 2017. If you push out someone from the Justice Department, whether it`s the FBI director or the A.G. and you had the intent of doing that because you wanted to disrupt the investigation, you could be up for obstruction. And people are being asked about when they sit down with Mueller, we`ve reported this.
When they set down with Mueller`s team, asked about the President pushing around Sessions on Twitter, behind the scenes, these are coming up in the obstruction interviews.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I want to roll for you some video of some of the men and women you two guys cover on Capitol Hill for a living, specifically a couple of senators talking about Jeff Sessions today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: He serves at the President`s pleasure, so the President can fire him but I sincerely hope he doesn`t. People worry about the dominos if Jeff Sessions goes.
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: It would be a very, very, very bad idea to fire the Attorney General because he`s not executing his job as a political hack.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn`t have the confidence of the President, and all I can say is I have a lot of respect for the Attorney General, but that`s an important office in the country. And there -- after the election, I think there will be some serious discussions about a new attorney general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Jeremy, Lindsey Graham says very little by accident. Did we just move a timeline up that the President could be allowed to replace the A.G. and the Senate will kind of take a dive on that if it`s after the midterms?
PETERS: I think Lindsey Graham, if that`s the case, is assuming a lot that we don`t know. And that`s what the margin of victory is in the Senate. If for the Republicans if they hold onto it or if for the Democrats if they surprisingly seize it. So we just don`t know.
I think if Trump does fire Sessions and the Democrats are in control of the Senate, it would be very hard for him to get somebody confirmed. I think it would be hard for him to get any Cabinet position confirmed, any Supreme Court justice confirmed for the rest of his presidency for that matter.
But, you know, I do think, though, the difference here between firing Comey and firing Sessions is this. There`s no one telling Trump that firing Sessions is a good idea right now. And when he fired Comey there were people telling him that, notably Jared and Ivanka. So I think that even the President in all his impetuousness is not ready to pull this trigger before the midterm elections because he knows how politically calamitous it would be or at least he`s being told how politically calamitous it would be.
COSTA: Brian, real quick. Reading the key tea leaves in the Senator Graham comment, I talked about to White House officials, they say he`s talking about after the election because they`ve got to wait on the Mueller report on obstructions release. Mueller`s going to do that sometime between now and probably after the election at this point.
And so they need that report to come out so the President is more free to make a change. That`s Graham is really talking about.
WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thank you. News doesn`t get any fresher than that. Robert Costa, Jeremy Peters, appreciate you both coming on tonight.
And coming up for us as we approach another break, with the White House now in the middle of its own legal quagmire discussion, the started back up that`s been somewhat dormant for, oh, 20 years now. That when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST: If the democrats take back power do you believe they will try to impeach you?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, you know, I guess it`s something like high crimes and all -- I don`t know how you can impeach somebody who`s done a great job. I`ll tell you what, if I ever got impeached I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor, because without this thinking, you would see numbers you wouldn`t believe in reverse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Congressional Democrats are way wary about even a mention of the "I" word particularly ahead of the mid-terms and yet you heard the president just use it there. Current circumstances, the presidential cover-up occupy of alleged extra marital affairs, allegations of hush money payments, the president being implicated in a crime in open federal court just this week, let`s not forget, the ongoing Russia investigation. It`s all happening during this consequential run up to the mid-term election.
And it harkens back to another, there he is, presidential scandal 20 years ago. Our national political correspondent Steve Kornacki is with us at the big board tonight. Here`s why this is important. Steve`s new book, and we`re thrilled to be able to say this, you can never sell these too early, "The Red and the Blue, The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism" is coming out October 22nd. Something tells me there maybe another mention of the book as we get closer. But Steve, I know this is your thing.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you for that, Brian. Appreciate that. The parallels between what we`re talking about right now and what happened around the same time in 1998 they are abysmal. What has got all this talks up this week, headlines like this, as you say, Michael Cohen implicating Donald Trump in a crime. The crime would be a conspiracy to break campaign finance law to cover up a politically damaging affair.
And the accusation 20 years ago about Bill Clinton was he committed a crime, the crime of perjury, the crime of suborning perjury, encouraging others to commit perjury to do, what, to cover up an extra marital affair that would be politically damaging that make take down Clinton`s presidency. Of course that kicked off the impeachment drama with Clinton. Clinton survived.
How did he survive, why did he survive and what does that tell us about Trump`s situation now? Well, number one, there`s this, when the Lewinsky story, just the accusation of an affair, when that broke Clinton he was very popular. He was at nearly 60% in the polls. Folks said, well guess what, now that this is out of the bag the numbers are going to crash. They didn`t crash. They kept going up.
Clinton was forced in the summer of `98 to admit to the affair. His popularity actually got higher. September `98, almost exactly 20 years ago, Ken Starr came out with a report that formally accused the president of a crime, committing perjury. Clinton`s number went up. They`ve had the midterm election in the fall of `98.
The White House party, we tell you every time we`re on this doing election previews this year, the White House party always loses seats. They gained seats. That told folks that there was a backlash against the idea of impeaching Clinton. This is the bottom line story of 1998.
At the end of that year when impeachment was being pushed by Republicans the question was asked, did the president of the United States commit a crime. The vast majority of Americans said yes. Bill Clinton committed a crime, he committed perjury. Those same Americans were asked, OK, he committed a crime, should he be impeached? And the vast majority there 58, 37 of the margin said no. So the Republicans have to vote to impeach. They needed Democrats to go along to convict, and Democrats looked at those numbers, they looked at that election and said no, no need for us to bolt on this president. And Bill Clinton survived.
WILLIAMS: Steve Kornacki at the big board. There is more where that came from. Steve, when we come back from a break he`s going to join our conversation will be joined by a guy who was there for it and witnessed the trial of Bill Clinton. That and more when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We heard President Trump talk about his chances of being impeached and his prediction of widespread poverty if he is. Here`s what his lawyer Rudy Giuliani had to say on the subject to Sky News today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Giuliani is it inevitable that President Trump will be impeached?
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO THE PRESIDENT: Hardly. I think it`s inevitable that he won`t. President Trump is completely cleared. He had this Cohen guy, he doesn`t know anything about Russian collusion, anything about obstruction. He`s a massive liar. If anything it`s turned very much in the president`s favor. He`d only impeach him on political reasons and the American people would revolt against that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You have to admire how hard that gentleman hit the pro shop. He`s got the Trump jacket and the tartended (ph) (INAUDIBLE) Trump golf hat. That`s hitting the pro shop hard when you get there.
Back to news, Giuliani may believe it`s inevitable that Trump won`t be impeached and we are hearing the I-word more often or a more general conversation and a question about whether the president will reach the scheduled calendar organic end of his term.
Well, joining us tonight Jim Warren, veteran print journalist and political commentator who was there. He covered the Clinton impeachment trial for the Chicago Tribune. Later, of course, serving as their Washington bureau chief. These days he`s executive editor of the news start-up called NewsGuard available on spray and roll-on that will rate the voracity of news and information sites. And also joining our conversation is our friend Steve Kornacki.
So Mr. Warren, are you surprised that we`re hearing the word and we`re hearing the word from the president, using it obviously to bat it down.
JIM WARREN, VETRAN JOURNALIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, I`m surprised you answered the question about Giuliani`s green fees were waived by Trump.
WARREN: That`s -- I would love to know. I mean the stuff of Clinton is fascinating. Clearly, Trump and his camp invite the comparison progress raises, one, to have this look like it`s merely private behavior when in fact as Steve noted it`s apples and oranges particularly with the charge I think which is very different now of hush money.
Both men though would trade themselves distinctly as victims of witch hunts. In the case of Trump, Robert Mueller and the case of Clinton by Ken Starr, if you remember back there was a great show on early days of MSNBC called the news with --
WILLIAMS: Yes, I can`t remember what happened to that guy.
WARREN: And the venom that we reported that particularly Democrats showed towards Ken Starr was huge. Now, one thing that left out of that brilliant brief, concise history of Steve was the fact that Clinton benefited not just from a good economy but by the unpopularity of his enemies, notably Newt Gingrich.
WILLIAMS: Newt Gingrich.
WARREN: Remember, amazingly, he wins seats, Gingrich, Times Man of the Year only a year or two before resigns speakership --
WARREN: -- and one said parenthetically it looks like a guy now forgotten by history Bob Livingston was going to be the successor and what happens to him, lo and behold he`s got to resign from Congress because of extra marital complexities.
The difference at this point, obviously, is that we don`t know what Mueller knows. We have no clue. We are just guessing. At some point in that fall we knew exactly what Ken Starr had via that report that Steve spoke about an 18 boxes of documents which he unloaded on the House Judiciary Committee.
WILLIAMS: Steve, Republicans, some national Republicans are saying they should market the mid-terms. Even though you`re voting on your local member of Congress, if you don`t want impeachment elect Republicans to Congress. The Dems, of course, can`t do to the opposite and advertise the opposite.
KORNACKI: Well, that`s why the Democrats have been so hesitant. In part it`s the example of `98. A big difference Bill Clinton was broadly popular in `98. Donald Trump is not broadly popular now. He certainly has the base behind him.
But what happen when Republicans pushed ahead they voted a month before election day of `98 to open an impeachment inquiry. They said we`ll do it after the election but we`re going to get it started right now. So they said, look, you have Republican Congress, you`re going to have impeachment. What that did is it woke up the Democratic base.
There had been talking the fall of `98 the accusations against Clinton, we`re going to demoralize Democrats. They didn`t like them anymore. Sure that you didn`t he should be impeached but they weren`t energetic and enthusiastic.
When the Republicans said, look, we`re going to go forward with impeachment the enthusiasm of the Democratic base surged. Again, one of the reasons it just doesn`t happen normally that the White House party gained seats in midterms as the first time, you know, sixth year election that the White House party gain seats James Monroe presidency 1998. That`s how shocking that result was, and that was the Democratic base waking up. So that`s one thought here the Democrats have is, if you go down to impeachment road now, do you wake up a Republican base that`s a little demoralize right now and even into the enthusiasm as the Democrats seem to have.
WARREN: But reality also as this comes down as Steve knows to votes. And right now it is improbable, it seems that the Republicans are going to lose control of the Senate. And remember the process, House votes, articles of impeachment and then there`s a trial in the Senate. Began, what, January 7, 1999. The chief justice of U.S. Supreme Court serves as the judge.
WILLIAMS: He sewed stripes on his sleeves he`d once seen at an opera and liked.
WARREN: Totally. And there are two article of impeachment, 10 Republicans came over with 45 Democratic votes on the first and then second one it was 50-50, it need 2/3 of it. That was pretty darn clear early on at the air was out of the balloon. And when you invited me on tonight I tried to recall 20 years later my most vivid memories of that process and sitting up there in the gallery of the U.S. Senate.
And perhaps my most vivid one was looking in a corner of the room one afternoon, and C-Span cameras couldn`t catch this, and there was young on the rise United State senator from North Carolina John Edwards. John Edwards had totally zoned out and was reading a magazine profile of John Edwards.
WARREN: And it was the same with a lot of other people in that room. Very quickly. They showed up because they didn`t want be chastised for not showing up. But it came quickly clear that Clinton was going to survive.
WILLIAMS: I just wish I had these memories, I was a small child when all that happen. So, that`s the breaks. Jim Warren, Steve Kornacki, gentlemen, we`ll of course have you back as this discussion puts itself in the middle of oru broadcast.
Coming up, President Trump`s very first tweet mentioning the continent of Africa sets off a storm, some would say as it was intended to do. We`ll have that when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We mentioned this before the break. President Trump is attracting attention and drawing criticism after what he said on Twitter that was probably intended to do both. He in effect endorsed what has long been a white nationalist conspiracy theory. It all started with this tweet in which Trump writes that he`s asked his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and the large scale killing of farmers. You`ll note the mention there of Fox News and Tucker Carlson true to form, his tweet came following this segment last night on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa has begun and you may have seen this in the press seizing lands from his own citizens without compensation because they`re the wrong skin color, that is the definition of racism, nothing to see here says Mike Pompeo state department. It`s totally OK for South Africa to steal property for racist reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: To be clear, while this is complicated, no private land has been seized. And there is no large scale killing of farmers going on in South Africa. In fact, Reuters reports, if you can believe this quote, farm murders are actually at a 20-year low.
At the heart of what is an immensely complicated issue in a country with a crime rate far higher than ours, is an effort by the South African government to bridge the gap between white and black South African landownership. Right now black South Africans who make up 80% of the population still own just 4% of the land.
Trump`s posting drew an angry response from the South African government which "totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past," and the former South African ambassador, we don`t have a current ambassador under this administration said "The president of the U.S. needs political distractions to turn our gaze away from his criminal kabal and so he`s attacking South Africa with the disproven racial myth of large scale killings of farmers."
Malcolm Nance who worked intelligence deployments with the military in South Africa offered this assessment on this network earlier today.
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MALCOLM NANCE, MSNBC TERROR ANALYST: For the president to jump into this without any understanding of the situation and without understanding even the dynamics that are on the ground, he essentially pushed not even an alt- right, there is a South African neo-Nazi movement there which pushes this white genocide farmer attack meme.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: To underscore that point, well-known white nationalists and leaders of white supremacists communities in the U.S., Canada and Europe are voicing their support for the president on social media following his comment. This latest racially charged Trump controversy comes weeks ahead of First Lady Melania`s Trump`s first solo visit abroad to the continent of Africa.
Coming up for us tonight, "The New York Times" has a new look on the web, but loyal readers couldn`t help but notice something very important is missing in action. The story of the disappearance when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, 2018 has been a great year for newspapers and for journalists as he is fond of pointing out at his rallies, the election of Donald Trump has led to a huge surge in news coverage and resources, and reader interest, same thing for television journalist. We often note that this very broadcast which was named for THE 11TH HOUR in the 2016 presidential campaign has stayed on the air and for an hour each night covers that day in the life of the Trump Administration.
But back to newspapers and while this boom didn`t come along in time to save print and while what we call newspapers are indeed digital news operations now, make no mistake. We are in the midst of an all-out newspaper war mostly between "The Washington Post" and the "New York Times." Pulitzers are now delivered and handed out by the truckload it seems.
And we are now used to seeing stories with three and four-person by lines and two dozen confidential sources all of it real and not fake. And back to those by lines. The "New York Times" launched its new web homepage this week and they`re gone by lines replaced by white space on the front space. Where`s Baker? Where are Schmidt and Haberman, Mazzetti, and Peters and Davis? They are identified on the inside of the paper which must mean they`re not in the witness protection so why can`t we see their names out front.
Dean Baquet the Times editor was forced to explain the decision in a piece that was all about things like streamlining the reader experience, the kind of stuff that would make mannequin roll over during his eternal rest.
Politico asked the question, does "The New York Times" hate its reporters? Inside media writer Jack Shafer wrote the obvious, the Times has never had more star reporters on staff than it has today. Given that their star light helps direct our reading it makes no sense to hide their names in flurries of white space.
One journalist at the cross town New Yorker magazine wondered on Twitter this week, were any "New York Times" reporters` moms consulted on this by line free homepage idea? Well, obviously not. Watch this space for any updates as we watch to see if that white space on the Times` front page gets filled in with by lines.
That is our broadcast for a Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. And good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END