Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 24, 2018 Guest: Ken Thomas, Shannon Pettypiece, Richard Painter, Glenn Kirschner, Catherine Lucey, Philip Elliott, Brian Bennett
BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight, the walls close in on Donald Trump and the Trump Organization as the long-time keeper of the books is granted immunity to talk about those hush fund payments and more.
Just the latest blow to this White House and this President after a week of bad news with one reporter saying for the first time he`s hearing real fear and concern in the voices of Trump allies.
And the man who`s fought for his country, fought for the presidency and fought for his life, John McCain has decided to allow fate and nature`s way to decide his remaining days on earth.
"The 11th Hour" on a Friday night begins right now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 582 of the Trump administration and there`s been a new escalation of legal pressure on the President.
Today, we learned another member of the innermost circle Trump Organization, Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg has been talking to the feds and he`s been granted immunity.
Once again, "The Wall Street Journal" was first out with this story. They write that Weisselberg provided "information about Michael Cohen and the criminal investigation into hush money payments for two women during the 2016 Presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the matter."
"Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said he wasn`t aware that Mr. Weisselberg had been granted immunity and didn`t know whether the President had knowledge of it. Even at the Trump Organization, where fewer than 30 employees work on the 26th floor of Trump Tower alongside Mr. Weisselberg, the revelation that the CFO had been granted immunity from prosecutors surprised many executives."
NBC News has confirmed that report about Weisselberg and that he indeed is the man referred to as executive one in the Michael Cohen court documents and that Weisselberg is the one who arranged to reimburse Cohen for his payments to Stormy Daniels. Weisselberg is the latest Trump associate to get immunity.
Yesterday we learned David Pecker, publisher of "The National Enquirer" and a long-time Trump ally, also obtained that same privilege for giving prosecutors information about Mr. Cohen.
It was only this Tuesday when Cohen pleaded guilty, remember, to campaign finance violations related to those payments, which he told the court were at Trump`s direction.
Weisselberg goes back to when Trump`s father ran the company. He is the long-time keeper of the books, who even appeared with Trump on season two of "The Apprentice."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Replacing George this week is my Chief Financial Officer, Allen Weisselberg. And you think George is tough. Wait until you see Allen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Weisselberg was also part of the team put in charge of Trump`s finances after he won the 2016 election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERI DILLON, ATTORNEY FOR TRUMP ORG.: He`s relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization to his sons, Don and Eric, and a long- time Trump executive, Allen Weisselberg. Don, Eric and Allen are committed to ensuring that the activities of the Trump Organization are beyond reproach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And earlier on this network, a former Trump campaign adviser detailed Allen Weisselberg`s role in the Trump Organization.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Allen, as far as I know, has been with the President, then Mr. Trump, and the Trump Organization since the 1970s, since he was even based in Brooklyn.
Allen on the 26th floor, he had a -- his own fiefdom, he had multiple people working for him. There`s a large accounting office there. They all reported to him.
I am sure Allen got frequent reports to then Mr. Trump about the Trump Organization.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Weisselberg is the latest piece to fall, bringing this case closer and closer to that man. As Shannon Pettypiece of Bloomberg writes Trump`s "sense of invulnerability is in for its biggest test as he suddenly must defend against grave threats. The threat is intensifying as Trump confronts a midterm referendum on his presidency."
That, plus a feeling of betrayal, may have motivated this from the President just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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 the next highest one is or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed.
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: With that, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Friday night, all three returning veterans. Ken Thomas, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press," who traveled with the President to Ohio today, the aforementioned Shannon Pettypiece, White House Correspondent for Bloomberg, and we welcome back Richard Painter, who returns to us after a bid for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. Richard, of course, Chief White House Ethics Lawyer formerly for the White House of President George W. Bush. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Ken, having made the trek today, did you discern any difference in mood, in the traveling White House as opposed to the stationary kind?
KEN THOMAS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Brian, we didn`t have any visits by the President to our press cabin, either on the way or on the way back from Columbus. His speech was somewhat subdued in Columbus. It was a fund-raising dinner so it wasn`t the same kind of atmosphere you would normally see at a rally.
There`s no way to sugarcoat this. This has been a terrible week for the President. And it did strikes at the heart of the loyalty that he always insists upon his aides and his ability to control the future of these investigations.
He`s had three people essentially turn their backs on him in the span of a week. I was speaking to a long-time Trump adviser who said that Michael Cohen is actually someone who he can`t control now, even though he`s President. He -- you know, President Trump can sit at the resolute desk. He`s the commander-in-chief. He can press a button and have a diet coke instantly appear, and yet he can`t control Michael Cohen. And that speaks to the predicament that he finds himself in.
WILLIAMS: Shannon, along those same basic lines, what does it tell you when Rudy says they had no idea the CFO had an immunity deal?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I think sometimes maybe Rudy is not informed on all the various legal matters. He`s informed on things dealing with the Mueller investigation or that he needs to know to speak about on television.
I mean, our reporting does indicate that the Trump Organization was aware that Allen Weisselberg had spoke to a grand jury. As part of that grand jury appearance, he sought an immunity deal and was granted one. He still is with the Trump Organization.
His, you know, where, you know, typically two lawyers on each side share information. So, I don`t think this was a huge secret to everybody. It doesn`t mean it was the type of information that was shared with everyone. But I don`t think it was -- it was not the closely kept secret that I think Rudy thinks it was.
WILLIAMS: All right. Richard, having advised a President and a West Wing on legal matters, how bad a week was this legally for the Trump White House this is.
RICHARD PAINTER, FMR. BUSH 43 WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ETHICS LAWYER: Well, I certainly never seen anything like that because I never advised a President who had his campaign manager and his deputy campaign manager found guilty or plead guilty to multiple criminal charges the same day that his former attorney has pled guilty to eight felonies. And now we have the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization turning state`s evidence.
I have to say that every white-collar criminal defense lawyer knows when the chief financial officer turns state`s evidence, everyone in the executive suite is in a lot of trouble because the chief financial officer knows exactly where the money is coming and going. And that includes not just the money being used to pay off various women who had been engaged in sexual activity with Donald Trump, but it also may very well include Russian money.
And, remember, that every time Bob Mueller gets anywhere near Donald Trump`s money, Donald Trump starts threatening to fire Bob Mueller. It appears that they`re closing in on the basic financial structure of the Trump Organization, perhaps the reasons why he`s not disclosing his tax returns. And what we may find there is really quite ugly. So, this has been a very, very bad week for the President.
You know, it`s shocking, though, that Congress is doing absolutely nothing about this. We`re well past the point where we were in Watergate in 1973 when they had hearings looking into the obstruction of justice and other criminal activities going on in the Nixon administration. This is far worse and yet Congress is doing absolutely nothing. It`s pathetic.
WILLIAMS: So, Ken, how does this week of real news undercut the P.R. effort led by the President to undercut Robert Mueller himself?
THOMAS: It`s just much more difficult for him to do that now. And part of the reason is that the investigation is in New York. And it`s not something that he can put his finger on on the scales as it relates to the Justice Department and try to, you know, have his will be heard.
He can`t really control an investigation led in New York. And so, you know, what we`re seeing, I think, internally is just frustration by the President and almost a sense of numbness among a lot of aides, that this is just another shoe to drop and it`s just harder for them to project a strong narrative heading into the midterm elections.
You know, he was in Ohio tonight trying to, you know, rev up the state party that, you know, there`s been a lot of friction between the President and Governor Kasich, but this whole investigation speaks to the challenge that he has in driving a narrative in the weeks ahead, heading into a very crucial midterm election.
WILLIAMS: Shannon, you`ve been doing this a long time. And we have learned to trust your gut. Was this week really different? Did something just change?
PETTYPIECE: Yes, because the President was actually implicated in a crime. And while the current Justice Department guidelines say that the President can`t be indicted, he certainly can be impeached if it is found that he committed a crime.
What Michael Cohen did was, you know, say that the President was involved, was an accessory, was a co-conspirator, whatever word that the prosecutors would choose to use in an illegal campaign finance contribution. Now, his lawyers will try and argue that, but if the Southern District of New York wants to take Michael Cohen`s statement and pursue charges on that, they have two choices. They can either refer it to Congress as an impeachment, say we found this wrongdoing for the President and hand it over to Congress so then begin the impeachment proceedings, which would require a majority in the House.
So if Democrats take the House, there is a wide assumption in Trump`s world that they would instantly impeach him. And then it goes to the Senate, where you need two-thirds, which is a much, much bigger hurdle to overcome, but two-thirds to actually convict and remove.
The other alternative that the Southern District of New York could take is they could take this finding if the rest of their investigation shows the President did commit a crime, as Michael Cohen is saying, and give it back to Bob Mueller and give this to Bob Mueller to include in his report that he will then give to Congress that may have other, you know, violations or illegal acts that Bob Mueller finds, if there are any, and give that to Congress and the same process happens again. So now we`re not just talking about a political gaffe, now we`re talking about an actual crime that could be involved.
There are no charges. We don`t have all the evidence yet but we`re talking about an actual crime that has been committed and that can lead to impeachment.
WILLIAMS: And, Richard, let`s talk about the language of this week. We know now that the President is not sure but that flipping ought to be illegal. We know now that he prefers people who don`t break. He doesn`t like rats. We can certainly say that about characters portrayed by guys like Pesci and de Niro.
It was a Scorsese-ian week at the White House. What does it say do you think about this man`s view of stewardship over the nation writ large and kind of the rule of law in general?
PAINTER: Well, he talks like a mob boss, he thinks like a mob boss, and he`s been acting like a mob boss. And that`s what we`ve got for President. That`s the bottom line.
This situation with Michael Cohen is serious. It was a campaign violation. It`s a felony. Similar to what Jon Edwards was tried for. Edwards was not convicted. It was a hung jury because of some complications with that trial.
I have to say, though, this situation with Cohen is only the beginning. The Russia investigation is really where the action is here. That`s the real danger to our country, that our President and his campaign collaborated with the Russians, have been lying about their contacts with the Russians. And that`s what Bob Mueller`s investigating.
And once an investigation starts in the House of Representatives, if they ever bother to think about impeaching this President, I would assume that they get beyond the Stormy Daniels payment, the campaign finance violation, and focus on the really important stuff, which is the collusion with the Russians and the betrayal of our country to a foreign power in order to win an election and the cover-up. And this is a very, very serious situation. It`s dangerous to our national security and Congress needs to act now. Not wait until January when the Democrats get control of the House of Representatives.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our big three tonight on a Friday night for getting us underway, Ken Thomas, Shannon Pettypiece and Richard Painter.
And coming up for us, as we approach our first break, the legal glossary we`re all being forced to learn on the fly after the news just this week, like the difference between immunity and a plea deal and flipping. We will ask our veteran counsel for their wise counsel when we continue.
And later, what happened after that judge`s deadline to reunite families separated at the border? We`ll have a late update as "The 11th Hour" just gets under way on a Friday night.
WILLIAMS: To review, this week we saw the President`s former campaign chair convicted on eight felonies and his long-time personal lawyer pleaded guilty to eight counts of his own implicating the President along the way. But today`s development, the word the CFO of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, is sharing and has been granted immunity maybe the biggest development thus far. He is, as they say, the guy who knows where all the bodies are buried.
A Bloomberg News opinion piece today puts it this way. "Weisselberg`s cooperation is a potentially momentous turn of events for the President. He was privy to decisions at the Trump Organization that Michael Cohen was never allowed to take part in." That kind of knowledge is goal to federal investigators.
Axios sums it up this way in this single sentence, "The warning lights of growing legal jeopardy are flashing red." And there`s this from the cover of next week`s issue of "The New Yorker," the great artist, Barry Blitt, depicting the hounds hot on Trump`s heels where he`s already lost one shoe.
Here to talk about it on a Friday night, Danny Cevallos, a veteran Criminal Defense Attorney and MSNBC Legal Analyst, and former Federal Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner. He worked under Robert Mueller at the U.S. attorney`s office for the district of Colombia way back when Mueller was chief of homicide and Glenn was a prosecutor coming up.
OK, Glenn, maybe you can help our glossary. What is the difference between immunity and a full on deal, what the President would call a flipper and how does this gentleman in this case qualify for immunity?
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Brian, you know, when we have witnesses that we want to talk with and they have committed crimes so they have a privilege against self-incrimination, there are generally three ways that we can go about trying to talk with that kind of witness. One, we can just invite the witness in and assuming the witness is represented by counsel, invite the lawyer in and see if they are willing to sit down with us and out of the goodness of their heart, talk with us without being concern about their right against self-incrimination.
Now believe it or not, some witnesses will take us up on that but not many. The second way we can go about talking with a witness like that is if we have enough evidence to charge them knowing that they have committed crimes and that`s what gives rise to their Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination, we can charge them with those crimes and we can try to develop them as a cooperating witness and have them plead guilty and give them something of a benefit and have them agree to cooperate truthfully with the investigation. If neither of the two options comes to fruition, then we can grant them immunity.
Now I will say immunity is not really the favorite tool in the prosecutor`s toolbox because once we present an immunized witness to a jury, you know, the jury is going to see that this person has committed crimes, has never been held accountable for those crimes and the prosecutors seem to give that witness a free pass to just go ahead and talk about what they did and what they know without being held accountable. And, you know, I will say that, you know, cross-examining an immunized witness is something of a field day for a defense attorney.
So what we will come back with as prosecutors is, you know what, they may have gotten a free pass, they may have gotten immunity and not been held accountable for their crimes but guess what? Immunity does not protect an immunized witness from being charged with perjury if they lie either in the grand jury or to a trial jury and on top of perjury, they could be charged with obstruction of justice, accessory after the fact and potentially other crimes. So they do get something of a free pass with respect to the crimes they committed but they still have an incentive to tell the truth because if they don`t, they could be charged.
WILLIAMS: All right, Danny, let me come at this a different way and that is to say this is not General Motors. This is a very small company.
The boardroom that people got to see on "The Apprentice" one year for the finally was built here in the "Saturday Night Live" studio in H.H. inside this building at 30 Rock in New York City. Having said that, there`s Rhona Graff, the Trump`s long-time assistant, there`s Keith Schiller, who ran security for him and there`s Allen. Can you imagine what they`re going through tonight realizing this guy is going to be in front of a grand jury with the door closed and no lawyer there?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That`s right. You said something very compelling a couple minutes ago. You said Allen Weisselberg is the guy who knows where the bodies are buried. And I heard that phrase a lot a month or two ago and it was not about Allen Weisselberg, it was about Michael Cohen.
And you take a look at Michael Cohen.
WILLIAMS: That`s right.
CEVALLOS: Did he get immunity or did he plead guilty and maybe he`ll cooperate? I think there`s a chance he may still cooperate even though he`s not presently cooperating or he may be cooperating and it`s just not public. That`s possible, too.
But the government did what the government likes to do a lot more with a lesser quality witness, which is get a conviction, get him to plea, and then dangle that 5-K-1 substantial assistance motion in front of them until they give him what they want, but if you are a VIP, if you have just critical information, that`s when the government will actually go through the hoops that it has to to give that person immunity. You have to be very, very important.
I would love to ask Glenn the ratio of people that he convicted, cooperated as a witness and then maybe they got a substantial assistance motion versus the number of people he gave full on immunity to.
Glenn, it`s got to be, it`s got to be way more convictions, pleas and then possible cooperation down the road than it ever was full immunity, right?
KIRSCHNER: Absolutely, Danny, because we would rather hold people accountable for their crimes, put pressure on them quite frankly and then, you know, put them in a position where it`s in their best interest to tell the truth because the more truth they tell, the more benefit they receive. As I say, immunity is not the preferred practice but, you know, I will say once I heard that undercover recording that we heard some weeks back where Michael Cohen and then candidate Trump were talking about their friend David, obviously, Pecker and Mr. Weisselberg, the first thing that came to my mind is now you can bet prosecutors are going to be stepping to those two gentlemen to make sure that they can corroborate what they were hearing on that tape, corroborate what Michael Cohen was telling them. And then I have to believe the prosecutors are going to move beyond just corroborating Michael Cohen because as you say, you know, it`s almost cliche that now the bookkeeper will be a central figure in bringing down potentially an organization.
WILLIAMS: With a green eye shape.
CEVALLOS: It`s compelling to think about that Cohen`s attorneys almost certainly approached or even raised the issue of immunity. They went to a prosecutor like Glenn and said what about immunity for my client?
CEVALLOS: And most of the time the answer is a resounding no. Not even interested because the U.S. attorneys have to get approval from their boss and then they have to go to main justice and it`s a big pain and it can blow up in their face if that person ends up being the real doer. Now you have somebody that we haven`t heard a lot about the way we did Michael Cohen but yet he gets immunity.
And then you look a Pecker, Pecker gets immunity. These people must have compelling information and sooner or later, this is the kind of thing that will surface and we`re going to know.
WILLIAMS: We promised our Friday night audience, if you stay with us, we`ll give you an explanation and we`ve done that with Danny Cevallos and Glenn Kirschner.
Gentleman, thank you so much. Both of you.
Coming up for us, the latest on the condition of John McCain following the sad announcement from Arizona today when we come back.
WILLIAMS: As you have no doubt heard by now the news from Arizona today, however, inevitable it may have been was still so terribly sad. Senator John McCain has chosen to discontinue medical treatment after wedging a gallant fight against terminal brain cancer for over a year now.
His family`s statement read in part, "John has surpassed expectations for his survival. But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict. With his usual strength of will, he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment."
McCain was a naval aviator shot down in Vietnam, imprisoned and tortured for five and a half years before coming home to become a giant figure in American political life. The senior senator from Arizona was of course the Republican Party nominee in `08.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZON: I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else`s. I loved it, not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith and the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place but an idea, a cause worth fighting for.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can`t trust Obama. I have read about him and he`s not -- he`s an Arab. He is not -- nope.
MCCAIN: No, ma`am. No, ma`am. No, ma`am. He`s a descent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that`s what this campaign is about. He`s not.
In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance but then he managed to do so by inspiring hopes of so many mans of Americans would once wrongly believe that they have little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And almost nine years after those remarks, John McCain returned to the Senate chamber last July and addressed his colleagues with the clarity of a fighter facing down a terminal diagnosis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Let`s trust each other. Let`s return to regular order. We`ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the isle. That`s an approach that`s been employed by both sides mandating legislation from the top down without any support from the other side with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires. We are getting nothing done, my friends. We`re getting nothing done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And with us tonight for more author and presidential historian Michael Beschloss.
And, Michael, we badly need your brain because I`ve racked mine. I cannot think of a parallel figure in American political life when you think about it, he was a hero of a war that didn`t yield heroes, deeply unpopular in real time, came home and was unable politically to grab the proverbial brass ring, unable physically to comb his own hair for 50 years because of torture and he was a product of that torture, make no mistake.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Absolutely. You know, he would go to political rallies and someone standing next to him would try to hold his arm up in the air and he said I can`t do it, you know. Don`t you realize, you know, I`m not able to do that? You know, this is something that was with him every single hour of his life after that ordeal in Vietnam.
And, you know, Brian, had John McCain not gone on to do anything in politics after he returned from Vietnam as we`re seeing on the screen, in the spring of 1973, I think we would be talking about him tonight because of those five and a half years that he spent being tortured in captivity in North Vietnam at a time when, you know, he could have taken their offer to leave early.
WILLIAMS: It`s easy to say that it meant he didn`t scare easily but young folks coming up today may not know what the maverick tag that was attached to him, what it meant and the fact that he lived through a different era of a kind of bipartisanship, think about it. John Kerry toyed with the idea of choosing him as a Democrat for a running mate. McCain actually wanted Lieberman as his running mate.
BESCHLOSS: Very seriously in both cases and that was just a few years ago. Can you imagine, Brian, in the Democratic or the Republican Party today if a new nominee wanted to choose a running mate that came from the other party? It would be really impossible to do. It was hard to do at the time that McCain was thinking about it. But if in the time of Donald Trump, the time that we`re living through, you know, those words that you were so right to have them on the screen, his last words on the Senate floor about bipartisanship and getting things done, that`s something that is so out of keeping in this time but the maverick nature of McCain was always so welcome. This was someone who was always willing to sail against the wind and we`ve seen that the last 18 months.
This is someone who after Helsinki was willing, as very few members of his party were willing to say that Donald Trump had done a bad thing and Helsinki at the side of Vladimir Putin. This is someone who, to my mind, almost, you know, goes all the way back to George Washington`s idea. George Washington hated the idea of factions and parties. He always wanted us to work together in the Congress and as citizens because it had been so hard for us to gain our independence. John McCain knew enough of that history that`s the way he ran his life.
WILLIAMS: Well, a lot of folks are thinking of this consensus American hero tonight. Michael Beschloss, can`t thank you enough for coming on and adding to our conversation.
BESCHLOSS: On this very great man, thank you for asking me, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Thank you.
And coming up, Donald Trump tried hard late today to ignore what has been a perilous week for him politically, a campaign light photo op, a speech in Ohio earlier tonight. What to expect next from a White House in crisis when we continue.
WILLIAMS: There`s good reason why it`s being called the worst week yet for President Trump. Let`s remember just for a moment that on Monday, we had just learned White House counsel Don McGahn have been talking to the Mueller team for more than 30 hours of interviews. Tuesday, Trump`s campaign chairman Paul Manafort found guilty eight of 18 criminal charges. Within that same hour, Trump`s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleading guilty to charges including what he said were hush money payments made at the president`s direction.
On Wednesday, Trump insisted he found out about the hush money payment later on. But the problem with that is AP reporter Catherine Lucey asked Trump about the payment back in April while cameras were rolling in the back of Air Force One and we got to hear her question and more importantly, his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CATHERINE LUCEY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. What else?
LUCEY: Then why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegation?
TRUMP: Well, you`ll have to ask Michael Cohen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You`ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Yesterday word that long-time Trump friend and "National Enquirer" publisher David Pecker had been granted immunity for information about Michael Cohen. We also learned the Manhattan DA`s office is considering pursuing criminal charges against the Trump Organization in connection with the hush money payments and then today we learned the Trump Organization`s CFO was granted immunity, as well. And the new "Time Magazine" cover illustrates Trump is in deep as they put it.
Here to talk about all of it, the aforementioned Catherine Lucey, White House reporter for the Associated Press, Phil Elliott, White House Politics correspondent rather for "Time Magazine" and Brian Bennett, senior White House correspondent also with "Time Magazine".
Catherine, there was your exchange, I feel bad for those listening to us on XM Satellite Radio because with the help of the wording on the screen, you can hear him say no, he gives that simple answer at first. Remind us how that answer migrated just over the course of this week.
LUCEY: Yes, he said no. That`s right. That was back in April and since then we`ve had a series of shifting explanations including this week when the president, I believe, he said in his interview with "Fox & Friends", he know about it later. So we have continued to see the president and the people around him sort of change their stories about these payments.
And that`s really what a lot of this week where there was a whole series of difficult events the president, a lot of what this week has been about with this plea agreement with Michael Cohen where he clearly implicates the president saying that they coordinated to make these payments to these women that -- and the president still has not provided a full explanation.
WILLIAMS: So, Philip, how thrown does this leave his White House staff?
PHILIP ELLIOTT THE POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: The White House staff has had a very bad week. I was talking with one official earlier today who said it`s not that they can`t figure out which way they need to be rowing the boat that can`t even come to a consensus on what ocean they`re in in the first place. There is absolutely no understanding of what facts are -- the basis of what is happening there.
They ask one person and get one answer. They ask another person and get another. The president is seen as an unreliable person to answer questions about his own political fate and at the same time, they are looking at the Justice Department a half way between the U.S. capital and the White House accepting plea deals from people inside the president`s inner circle yet in convictions of people who are his close associates and offering immunity to people who have -- who potentially have a lot of information on the president, the president`s personal business dealings and the president`s family quite frankly, all of that makes things very volatile at the White House and is really spooking Republicans around town as well that I hear fear in their voice in a way that I haven`t heard before on just other purely political controversies involving this president.
WILLIAMS: Yes, you`re reporting that got our attention today. Hey, Brian, this is absent snark and actually sincere. When are we going to have another infrastructure week and that is to say that sometimes an actual agenda can help drive a presidency and focus attention back on what`s important. I know this White House staff is just the latest to use travel and events as kind of a refocuser and if nothing else, a distraction for this president.
BRIAN BENNETT, TIME MAGAZINE SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we saw it today. I was with the president when he went to Columbus, Ohio. We flew on Air Force One, we landed, he went with Melania Trump to visit a children`s hospital to highlight the opioid epidemic and how`s impacting Ohio. And then he went to the Ohio GOP state dinner and gave a pretty conventional speech where he only veered off script a few times at the end and really tried to look presidential, look like he was bringing the party together.
Notably he did not mention Manafort. He did not mention Michael Cohen. And he tried to have and his staff tried to create for him a pretty conventional and normal day and that is what I`m hearing from inside the White House that there aren`t detailed meetings going on about how to handle the crisis that are spinning out over the criminal activity of people who used to work for Trump.
They are focused right now on trying to get Trump out on the campaign trail to promote his vision for the Republican Party going into the midterms. They`re also looking to the end of September when the funding for the government runs out and Trump really wants to have a fight over wall funding in that. And so they`re plotting ahead like that, try to put these issues on the table and try to develop a more normal rhythm inside the White House when of course, it`s going to be incredibly difficult given all of the investigations that are going on and how more revelations are likely to come out.
WILLIAMS: And to that point, Catherine, two things occur to me. Number one, we have probably seen a record number of West Wing departures and number two, we`re probably in the middle of witnessing a record number of people in his inner circle cooperating with feds. And I guess the sum total of it all, how isolated is it your knowledge that he feels right now?
LUCEY: Yes, Brian, we`re hearing that the president does increasingly feel isolated. He`s a president who he values loyalty deeply. We`ve heard that he`s been disappointed, frustrated, troubled, you know, to feel that people he viewed as long-time allies and confidents are, you know, making deals, seeking immunity and it does leave him feeling alone.
And one of the things that I`ve heard from people inside and outside is there is a lot of concern about how he is reacting. There is no clear strategy for sort of pushing back or creating a counter narrative or a clear defense here and people worry about what he might do if another shoe drops.
WILLIAMS: Phil, crazy day on the North Korea front. Pompeo, a trip few people knew he was going on, has suddenly been cancelled on a trip to North Korea, Trump tweets out regards and respect to Chairman Kim, which many people pointed out as more than what he said about John McCain today. Is there any reason to believe this isn`t just a shiny object for a White House in search of a distraction?
ELLIOTT: The White House`s biggest defenders, the professionals in the Foreign Service, the adults and Senate Foreign Relations, they think maybe they finally have gotten through and have convinced the president that maybe the North Korean regime is not a negotiating in good faith. Maybe the president has realized that all of this smoke being blown in his direction from the North Koreans has not worked. Maybe they`re starting to understand -- the White House is understanding that the trade war with China is not just limited to China. It has implications for the North Korean talks that maybe a lot of these parallel tracks are finally converging in a way that the president is understanding.
That is how his apologists are putting it. That said, this caught a lot of people at the State Department completely by surprise that one, he acknowledged this trip was going to be happening so publicly and then pulled the plug on it so rapidly when just last week they named -- the State Department finally named a coordinator for the Korean denuclearization talks.
WILLIAMS: There is that. Hey, Brian, the headline of your cover story is, "Here is How Much Worse It Can Get". Tell us just enough, two, three sentences to make people run for the exits to buy and/or download this week`s "Time". What`s the hint?
BENNETT: Well, December 12th, that is the sentencing, the date that Michael Cohen is supposed to be in court for sentencing. And what that means is that between the next three months, every prosecutor in the country that has some interest and something that Michael Cohen might know about is going to be calling Michael Cohen and saying help us out and we`ll write a letter and maybe the judge will give you a better sentence.
WILLIAMS: Catherine Lucey, Philip Elliott, Brian Bennett, thank you all three of you for joining us on a Friday night.
And coming up, we have a rare bit of good news out of what was feared and predicted to be a disaster when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We have a rare chance to share a little transparency in media tonight while also reporting some badly needed good news for the people of Hawaii and this is kind of astounding. Hurricane Lane has shredded. It has collapsed. It`s dramatic to watch on the satellite radar imagery but the center just could not hold.
In a matter of hours this has gone from a category 4 storm all the way down to a tropical storm. While there was already flooding from this, some of it catastrophic on the big island where they had 40 inches of rain in some spots. This is nothing like the original projections of life-threatening damage and inundation when this was predicted to be a strike from a historic category 4 which would have made it only the third such storm to hit Hawaii since the era of Eisenhower.
Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel tells me tonight, we can thank the fact that the storm stalled and meandered offshore for so long. It was eventually done in by the trade winds from the east and the jet stream from the southwest. And here`s the transparency part. All of the network correspondents and camera crews have just now arrived. Wearing the storm gear, we all keep in our storm closets, hotel rooms have been secured and satellite uplinks have been established.
And as recently as earlier this evening, the coverage was still quite category 4 tenor. And while former Hurricane Lane will still threaten lives and damage property and it`s going to produce a lot of rain, the headline tonight is this. It was a 5 just days ago. It`s all the way down to a tropical storm tonight. Let`s keep this trend going. Good luck to our friends in the 50th State.
Coming up, it`s been 65 days since the president reversed his policy that separated migrant children from their parents. We`ll get an update on the progress or the lack of it when we come right back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go on a Friday night, we close out this week with an update on the migrant families who were separated because of that so-called zero tolerance policy of the Trump administration. A federal judge had ordered the administration to reunite the remaining families but that deadline came and went 29 days ago with not that much commensurate change in the numbers.
As of today, 528 migrant children are still separated from their parents, that`s according to latest information from the federal government. Among those 528 children, 23 of them are 5 years old or younger. The parents of 343 of those children have already been deported. The government has revealed that 203 migrant children were released under what they call appropriate circumstances. That can include being released into the care of sponsors or in cases where children are now 18 or older themselves.
And here`s another number tonight. We can also report 139 parents waived the right to be reunited with their children but there`s a story behind that number, as well. There`s this from NBC News, under the headline earlier this week "Migrant parents say they were coerced into signing away their right to be reunified with their children." One man, a 36-year-old father named Ascencion says he came here from Guatemala with his 14-year- old son fearing violence. He told NBC News that after being detained and separated from his child, an officer said only your child can stay in the United States.
The father went on, "He did not give me explanations. The officer did not allow me to explain why we were in the United States. They forced me to sign documents even though I asked to speak with someone before signing." This report goes on, "Several of the initial forms that Ascension signed were in English, which he didn`t understand. He told attorneys it wasn`t until he had to sign a later version in Spanish because he had already signed them in English, he told attorneys that he realized had he agreed to deportation without his son."
That is just one of the hundreds of separation stories that continue to play out almost a month now after that deadline to reunite these migrant families.
That is also our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week. Thank you so very much for being with us. Have a good weekend and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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