Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: August 29, 2018 Guest: Philip Rucker, Tamara Keith, Richard Painter, Jonathan Lemire
ALI VELSHI, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Tonight, White House counsel Don McGahn`s exit announced via presidential tweet surprises even McGahn himself. Was it Ivanka and Jared who set the wheels in motion? And did McGahn`s testimony to Robert Mueller play a role?
Plus, one Trump ally warning "The Washington Post" tonight, winter is coming and the White House is not prepared. Phil Rucker is standing by with the details.
And in Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis accused of racism for calling his African-American opponent articulate and urging Florida not to monkey this up. Tonight, Andrew Gillum responds.
"The 11th Hour" begins now.
Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams. Day 587 of the Trump administration brings the sudden news that the West Wing attorney who has been the pivotal link to Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation is out.
White House counsel Don McGahn will soon be making his exit. Axios was first out with a report this morning. That was quickly followed by this tweet from President Trump.
"White House counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall shortly after the confirmation, hopefully, of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service."
This afternoon, Trump was asked about the departing White House counsel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don McGahn is a really good guy, been with me for a long time. Privately before this, he represented me. He`s been here now almost two years, and a lot of affection for Don.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: According to several reports, McGahn did not know in advance about Trump`s plans to announce his departure. "The Washington Post" spoke to one person about McGahn`s response to the Trump announcement writing, his reaction was, of course, it happened this way.
Don McGahn worked with Trump during the 2016 election before he was appointed to be White House counsel. And during an interview at this year`s CPAC, McGahn talked about his influence within the West Wing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON MCGAHN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I advise the President on a range of issues from constitutional law, executive power, whether or not we can go to war, judicial selection, administrative law, essentially government law that the President has to encounter on a day-to-day basis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that involves you in just about everything?
MCGAHN: Unfortunately, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: McGahn has also been on the front lines of this administration`s dealings with Robert Mueller, and he`s been a key witness in the Russia inquiry. The President`s announcement today comes after the "New York Times" reported last week that McGahn has spent 30 hours talking to Mueller`s team and that the President`s team didn`t seem to know what McGahn had shared with investigators.
Today, the President insisted he`s not at all concerned with whatever McGahn told Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned about what he said to the Mueller team?
TRUMP: No, not at all. Not at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you know he was going?
TRUMP: I knew he was going. Also, you know, I had to approve it. We do everything straight. We do everything by the book, and Don is an excellent guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And that prompted Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: I can`t imagine that he wouldn`t be worried. If he`s not worried, he should be worried. Whenever somebody on the inside spends 30 hours with somebody who is trying to get you, you got to start worrying, and you should have started worrying even before that happened and thought seriously about what your options were to reduce the amount of worrying that you`re going to have after the fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now, again, close involvement with virtually all aspects of the Russia investigation meant he was often on a collision course with the President.
You may recall in late January of 2017, McGahn was the first White House official to be warned about national security adviser Michael Flynn`s contacts with Russia. In March of that year, Trump reportedly pressured McGahn to ask Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. There were also clashes with FBI director James Comey who was eventually fired in may.
And in June Trump reportedly tried to get McGahn to orchestrate the firing of Robert Mueller. McGahn has said to have refused, threatening to resign himself.
Now, if there`s one area where McGahn and Trump agree, it`s not judicial appointments. The White House counsel has been instrumental in getting Neil Gorsuch appointed to the Supreme Court, and McGahn is now shepherding the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. McGahn has also moved swiftly in getting conservative nominees on to federal court. So far he`s helped win Senate confirmation of more than two dozen appeals court judges.
The potential loss of McGahn as an ally in the White House has sparked concern among Republican senators.
Today, Senator Chuck Grassley, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, posted this tweet replying to the President`s announcement that McGahn was leaving. He wrote, "I hope it`s not true. McGahn is leaving the counsel. You can`t let that happen."
There`s already talk about a possible replacement for McGahn.
Trump legal team member Emmet Flood, this man, is the one name most frequently mentioned. Flood represented former President Bill Clinton when he was impeached.
Reporter Robert Costa of "The Washington Post" sent this tweet today writing, "Flood is widely seen as likely replacement and was personally recruited by McGahn to join the White House back in the spring. Flood has built a rapport with potus, to McGahn`s relief. But no decision finalized yet."
The President`s inner circle is dwindling as its outlook dims. On the day when the mercury in the nation`s capital hit 92 degrees Fahrenheit, the headline on another blockbuster piece of reporting by "The Washington Post" tonight reads, winter is coming. Citing 26 sources, the story describes how aides and advisers to the President fear the White House is ill- prepared for a potential Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, now just 69 days away.
According to the paper, "Winter is coming, said one Trump ally in close communication with the White House. Assuming Democrats win the House, which we all believe is a very strong likelihood, the White House will be under siege. But it`s like tumbleweeds rolling down the halls over there. Nobody is prepared for a war."
Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Wednesday night, Phil Rucker, who is a co-author of the aforementioned story is the Pulitzer Prizewinning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post." Tamara Keith, White House Correspondent for NPR, and Richard Painter was Chief White House Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush. Thanks to all of you for joining me.
Phil, let`s start with you. Your piece focuses on fear in the White House. Why now? What`s specific about the potential departure of McGahn that`s got so many people worried, or is it just one more thing that`s making them worried?
PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, Ali, it`s just one more thing that`s making them worry. This fear has been building for a while now as it looks increasingly likely that Democrats have a real possibility of taking over the majority of the House at a minimum in November`s midterm elections. And, you know, people around the President, his allies, including some of his advisers inside the White House, are very concerned that that could lead to a barrage of subpoenas, of investigations, of inquiries into ethical misconduct in the administration, into increase perhaps into the President`s businesses, and most dangerously, into possible impeachment proceedings, depending, of course, on what sort of reports Special Counsel Robert Mueller issues regarding obstruction of justice.
And so there`s concern that Trump is not prepared for that, that he hasn`t hired the kind of lawyers to his legal team who can really manage an impeachment battle with Congress. He certainly has in Rudy Giuliani a fierce and vocal defender and somebody willing to wage this public relations battle with Mueller, but he`s not exactly what a lot of Trump allies believe the President would need in an impeachment lawyer. But there`s also concern that the White House itself has not built the infrastructure necessary to manage all of these investigations and these subpoenas.
The White House counsel`s office had 35 lawyers at one time, now it`s down to 25. McGahn is leaving, but so, too, have a number of his deputies in the counsel`s office. So there are vacancies there to be filled.
And then you look at the communications operation in the White House. They do everything they can to put out these fires every day and deal with the day to day, but that doesn`t leave them a lot of band width to prepare for the real difficulties that could come if Democrats win the House and begin these investigations.
VELSHI: You know, Tamara, just this last week we`ve heard stories about how the President ignored the advice of John Kelly, of Sarah Huckabee Sanders to issue a proper response to the passing of John McCain. Subsequently, he did it later. But it really brings up the question of where do the guardrails exist in the White House?
There is some talk that Ivanka and Jared might have been behind the acceleration of Don McGahn`s demise. We`re not sure what John Kelly is doing exactly in the White House. He`s not keeping the President out of trouble. So there is definitely some sense that there is no supervision there.
TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, and when John Kelly came in, he said he was going to be the chief of the staff, and at this point, it`s not clear, really, who he`s supervising. Don McGahn as the White House counsel, he was never the President`s lawyer. He represents the presidency.
And at times, what was best for the presidency isn`t what President Trump wanted, which led to sort of a contentious relationship, because, you know, out in the outside world, when President Trump was businessman Trump, he had lawyers who said yes. And Don McGahn has been someone who at times has had to say no.
VELSHI: Let me ask you, Richard, when Phil talks about the White House lacking infrastructure to deal with this sort of thing, the President has systemically dismantled an infrastructure that might have been there. It`s not clear he had one in the start, but the fact is so many key people are leaving.
What is the role of the White House counsel and in what way should the President be looking at the role of the White House counsel because he has expressed concern that Don McGahn wouldn`t get on -- it`s been reported that he has expressed concern Don McGahn wouldn`t get on board with the idea of pardoning Paul Manafort. So the infrastructure was broken from the beginning.
RICHARD PAINTER, FMR. BUSH 43 WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ETHICS LAWYER: Well, it certainly was. The role of the White House counsel is to assist the President in complying with the law, making sure the President complies with the law, discussing the various options open to the President that comply with the law. This President doesn`t want to comply with the law.
He has obstructed justice by firing the FBI director drafting a statement for his son in the Mueller investigation about the Trump Tower meeting that was a lie. I mean, the list of problems goes on and on. And I`m amazed that Don McGahn stayed this long, because if a White House counsel sits around and watches people break the law and then gets involved in the cover-up, well, we know where that leads.
John Dean can tell you about that, what happened in the Nixon years. And you end up losing your bar license and go to jail. So I`m amazed he stayed this long.
I don`t know whether Emmet Flood is going to really want this job unless this President is going to decide he`s going to comply with the law, and that`s not what`s been going on over the past almost two years now.
VELSHI: So what happens next in that description that Richard just gave, Phil, that the White House counsel, and this is something Don McGahn said himself, that his job is to acquaint the President with all the various laws that the President has to come across every day. And as Tamara said, his job is to advise the presidency, he`s not there to protect the President. But if the President thinks Don McGahn maybe wasn`t loyal or said more than he should have to the Mueller investigation in his 30 hours of being interviewed, what does the President do, then? Does he bring someone in who will do his bidding more willingly than Don McGahn did?
RUCKER: That`s a great question, Ali. I don`t know. I think if he were to tap in Flood to replace Don McGahn, he`d be getting very much the same kind of White House counsel. Somebody who is a lawyer`s lawyer who`s going to, you know, stand by the presidency and defend the presidency and work on behalf of the presidency which at times will come into conflict with President Trump`s demands for personal loyalty.
Part of what`s going on here is the President views the presidency, the administration, the executive branch, as so much about himself. It`s about defending him, it`s about promoting him, it`s about protecting him, and that`s not what our system was built for, and that`s not what the White House counsel`s office is for. That`s what Rudy Giuliani can do and is doing, but he`s a separate outside attorney for the President, and frankly, there`s fear in the orbit that the President hasn`t even taken that role seriously enough to have sort of a top flight, white collar criminal defense attorney who actually has worked with the Supreme Court and can handle this impeachment proceeding in that chair.
VELSHI: Tamara, if one looks at this administration and wants to look at things that are really successes, the appointment of members of the judiciary at the federal level, at the circuit level, has been one of those successes and Don McGahn has been behind a lot of that.
KEITH: Absolutely, which is why you got that tweet from Chuck Grassley and why Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, put out the most effusive statement I think I`ve seen in a very long time.
VELSHI: Yes. He said he`s the best White House counsel he`s ever known.
KEITH: He`s ever known. It`s just an incredibly effusive statement. And the reason is they have been able to push through just a huge number of conservative judges. And in part that`s because of rule changes in the Senate, in part it`s because Don McGahn and his team have been vetting people and getting them in the pipeline. There have been a couple of misfires, but largely, they have been able to just get a ton of judges approved by the Senate and into lifetime appointments.
KEITH: And, you know, if you go back, President Trump when he was running, there were a lot of people on the right, especially evangelicals, who were worried about, you know, some of the things that come along with Donald Trump. And they were reassured by this list that McGahn and others put together of judges that the President said he would consider his list for the Supreme Court. And the fact is that the President, by handing this to McGahn and just sort of letting the process go, he`s giving those voters exactly what they asked for.
VELSHI: Richard, the President we know has not always been given the best advice. We know by John Kelly, we know by Jared Kushner. But we don`t have a lot of reports of bad advice that he`s gotten from Don McGahn.
At this point with the investigation closing in on him, does the President getting rid of Don McGahn expose him to greater legal jeopardy?
PAINTER: Probably not, because he doesn`t listen to anyone`s advice unless he wants to hear that advice, and it`s advice he wants to hear. He`ll listen to Rudy Giuliani mouth off and Alan Dershowitz when Dershowitz goes on the television to attack Robert Mueller, and he`ll listen to people who repeat the lines that he wants to hear. But he will not listen to good lawyers.
Donald Trump, even in his days back in New York, had trouble finding good lawyers. He took Roy Cohn, who was Senator Joe McCarthy`s lawyers from the McCarthy-Army hearings. He was one of the nastiest lawyers in New York. And he`s had another string of very bad lawyers.
The bottom line is Donald Trump doesn`t want to listen to good lawyers, good lawyers don`t want to work for him. He ends up with people like Michael Cohen. It`s been a disaster.
I would never want to be Donald Trump`s lawyer. I wouldn`t want to end up going to jail.
VELSHI: Right. There`s a lot of liability that seems to come with working in this White House. Thank you, guys, Philip Rucker, Tamara Keith and Richard Painter.
Coming up, while Robert Mueller`s team ponders its next move, Paul Manafort`s lawyers want to relocate his next trial. An investigation update just ahead.
And later, the primaries were barely over before controversy erupted in Florida`s race for governor. Why this contest is being called a proxy war in the national political debate.
"The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Wednesday night.
VELSHI: President Trump`s former campaign manager wants his second trial moved out of Washington, D.C. Paul Manaforts say he can`t get a fair trial there and they`re blaming in part the President`s tweets. Trump has mentioned Manafort on Twitter at least half a dozen of times this summer.
He`s lamented about how bad he fells about the so-called witch hunt, comparing Manafort`s treatment to that of Al Capone, praising him for not breaking and declared, there is no collusion. And Trump had this to say about Manafort and the Russia investigation just last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I must tell you that Paul Manafort is a good man. He was with Ronald Reagan, he was with a lot of different people over the years, and I feel very sad about that. It doesn`t involve me, but I still feel -- you know, it`s a very sad thing that happened.
This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do, it`s a witch hunt and it`s a disgrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: As "The Washington Post" reports, Manafort`s defense told the judge, "Manafort has become an unwilling player in the larger drama between Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller and has asserted that nowhere are potential jurors more biased against him than in the district because of its partisan makeup and saturation of political news. The judge hearing the case agreed to give the motion a fair look but noted she believes the overwhelming majority of the publicity is national.
Manafort is charged with conspiracy and money laundering. He`s pleaded not guilty. The request to move the D.C. trial comes a week after Manafort was convicted on eight counts of bank and tax fraud in a separate trial in Alexandria, Virginia. It still remains to be seen if Manafort will be retried on ten counts on which the first jury couldn`t agree.
Today was the deadline for Mueller`s team to decide on that, but the judge granted the prosecution`s request for more time.
With us to talk more about this is Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for "The Associated Press". Also still with us is Richard Painter.
Richard, let me start with you on this jury question. Is there anything to the argument made by the defense that a jury in Washington, D.C would be more poisoned as it relates to information about -- news coverage about Paul Manafort than elsewhere in the country?
PAINTER: No. People in Virginia, or wherever they want to move this trial to, will also read newspapers and watch cable television. They may watch a little more Fox News and less MSNBC, and that`s really what this is all about. They want to move this into Trump country. They prefer an all- white jury, I`m sure. And, you know, this has been going on for months where the Trump supporters and Manafort`s supporters, a lot of people have been accusing Robert Mueller of setting up these trials in the District of Columbia in order to nail Trump and his associates, and there is a tinge of racism in some of these claims, too, about D.C. jurors.
I think a Washington, D.C. jury can be very fair, just as fair as a jury anywhere else, and if you commit the crime in Washington, D.C., I think you ought to be ready to deal with a D.C. jury.
VELSHI: Jonathan, one doesn`t have to be a code breaker to make a lot of sense of the President`s constant tweets about Paul Manafort, his comments -- you know, he wouldn`t comment about John McCain passing away, but he`ll always comment about what a great man Paul Manafort is who doesn`t break and doesn`t flip. And at the same time Paul Manafort`s lawyers who took every opportunity to thank the President for his support. It almost seems like we`re watching a coded negotiation or some sort of communication between those two groups about not breaking and maybe a pardoning.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": Let`s recall that clip you just showed of the President talking about Manafort that came just hours after that remarkable split screen where Manafort was found guilty and Michael Cohen pleaded guilty.
LEMIRE: The President had nothing to say.
LEMIRE: And instead, he steadfastly praised Manafort for remaining strong, for suggesting it was the witch hunt that got him. He`s told people privately, according to our reporting, that he feels like this is a warning shot from Mueller, that even though this trial didn`t actually have anything to do with Russia but it was sort of the special counsel is sort of showing flexing its muscles and sending a message to the President like, hey, this could be the opening act, and Trump has told people around him he worries that a real member of his inner circle could be next.
And certainly, you know, though there has been some reporting that Manafort`s lawyers at least expressed some ideas of negotiations with lawyers in the second trial, but yes, Manafort fought this. He didn`t flip, unlike, say, Rick Gates who turned against him. And the President has talked to people about potentially pardoning him.
And, you know, we have Rudy Giuliani tell us in recent days, sort of downplays that, confirmed the discussions were had but suggested it was floating out there and the President agreed that we shouldn`t do it. But even by acknowledging that, he`s giving us a window to the idea that there have been discussions.
VELSHI: Right, it`s not outlandish when people suggest that the President is talking about this. However, there are some reports that Don McGahn was resistance to the idea of pardoning Manafort. Now, I don`t know how the rules work, what Don McGahn would have had to do about this, because the President to do whatever, as Richard says, he wants to do.
VELSHI: But I wonder whether that plays into this whole matter.
LEMIRE: We`ve heard it as well McGahn was suggesting that was a bad idea, and that, you know, he is one of the few White House figures, senior aides, who has shown some willingness to stand up to President Trump, you know, suggesting that there was talk sometime last year where the President was really on a tirade about the Mueller investigation, that McGahn was one of the people in there who said, "Look, you can`t mess with this right now, it needs to run its course."
Today`s news that he`s leaving is not an entirely shock. We`ve heard for a while not that, you know, he`s been eyeing the exit. Part of the reason why Emmet Flood was brought in was to, again, McGahn`s hope provide a transition so he could leave. But certainly, there have been moments where they have butt heads, McGahn and President. And I don`t think President Trump is going to be that sorry to see him go, particularly if he can install someone else who would even give him a bless.
VELSHI: Yes, although to Richard`s point, I don`t know who is going to be that lawyer, who is going to tell the President the things he might do that are bordering on dangerous are good ideas.
Jonathan, good to see you. Thank you. Richard Painter, great to have you here as well.
Coming up, allegation of racing bating and dog whistles and socialism ,and it`s only day one. The Florida governor`s race that everybody is talking about what it might tell us about the political divide across this country when "The 11th Hour" continues.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: The race for Florida`s governor heated up in a big way. Just hours after Democrat Andrew Gillum pulled off a major upset in his primary. As his opponent was being interviewed about his own primary win, Trump-backed Republican Ron DeSantis spoke about Gillum in a way critics quickly said was a racial dog whistle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: You know, he is an articulate spokesman for those far-left views. And he is charismatic candidate. And, you know, I watched those Democrat debates, none of that was my cup of tea, but I mean, he performed better than the other people there.
So we`ve got to work hard to make sure that we continue Florida going in a good direction, let`s build off the success we`ve had on Governor Scott, the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right. Fox News issued an on-air statement after the interview saying it does not condone that language. Earlier tonight, my colleague Lawrence O`Donnell asked Andrew Gillum if he was offended by these antithesis comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW GILLUM, (D) FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I try not to take too much of what these folks say seriously when they caricature themselves. They were an embarrassment to themselves. I think that DeSantis can be better than this. I know that our state is better than this. And I think it`s just left to the voters to make sure that we send a very clear and convincing message that racialized politics and politics of division are not who we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The DeSantis campaign put out a statement today responding to the backlash that read in part, "Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd."
Congressman DeSantis also tried to clean up his remarks earlier tonight on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DESANTIS: It had zero to do with Rayshawn, it has everything to do with whether we want Florida to continue to go in a good direction, building off this success, or do we want to turn to left-wing socialist policies which will absolutely devastate our state.
And here`s the thing. I believe people should be judged based on their ability and character regardless of race, but it`s because of that that I know that socialism won`t work in Florida. It`s not good for any race, color or creed. So this is not about race, this is about ideas and principles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right. Here to discuss it with us, two former members of Congress, Donna Edwards, Democrat of Maryland and David Jolley, Republican of Florida. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being with me.
Donna, I`ve spoken to a number of people about this all day and some have said they`re outraged and that he should get out of the race and he should do this and he should apologize, and then I spoke to a spokesperson for Andrew Gillum and I said what do you think Ron DeSantis should do, and he said to me, he should keep talking.
DONNA EDWARDS, (D) MARYLAND FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, I think he should. I mean here`s the thing. I actually spent some time today because I couldn`t -- I didn`t know the phrase monkey this up. And then when I found all kinds of idioms with using monkey, dozens and dozens of them, the phrase monkey this up does not appear anywhere in the English language.
DeSantis was definitely -- was definitely -- wasn`t dog whistle. It was a straight-up racist call. And I think that the best thing that Mayor Gillum can do right now is run with the best interests of the voters talking about wages and health care and improving the state`s economy, and that is going to be a win for Andrew Gillum.
VELSHI: David, let me ask you about this. Mark Caputo, whom I know you know, sums up the race this way. "The upset win on Tuesday of Andrew Gillum, in defiance of polls and conventional wisdom, marked a profound political shift in the nation`s most crucial swing state as Democrats took a page from the GOP in choosing a candidate who they hope will energize their base. Gillum`s victory makes Florida`s race for governor a choice between new-era liberalism and the Republican Party under Donald Trump and his handpicked candidate, Representative Ron DeSantis." Evaluate that statement for me.
DAVID JOLLY, (R) FLORIDA, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Yes. Look, I largely agree because the Democratic Party united behind him that the candidate should be behind him very importantly in that five-way Democratic chill last night. Andrew Gillum is perhaps the most progressive, won about 35%. Gwen Graham more moderate was just two points behind. So there were a lot of moderate votes last night as well, but importantly, Gwen and the others got behind Gillum.
I think today, both parties are looking at a silver lining. Republicans think they have a weaker candidate in Gillum. And I would warn Republicans do not underestimate Andrew Gillum, because what he has done is he has nationalized this race for the Democrats. He has energized this race.
The contrast between the two parties now takes care of itself and we get to have a national conversation about the direction the Republicans want to go and the direction the Democrats want to go.
On the issue of Ron DeSantis` comment today, even in the most favorable light, it was stupid and callous and showed a level of historic ignorance that suggest Ron DeSantis --
VELSHI: And he could have said something about that after the feedback that he got, right? He could have said, hey, look, I can`t imagine -- I didn`t mean anything by that comment, but definitely not using that again and I apologize.
JOLLY: And he should have said that to Andrew Gillum. He should have picked up the phone and called Andrew Gillum and said that`s not what I meant. But it does show truly a level of cultural ignorance that he would use that term. And that`s in the best favorable -- most favorable light and the worst favorable light which is also fair to ask this is a Republican Party where Trump has unleashed certain elements where now this language is permitted. And you have to ask if there was a reason to use it. It was a bad day for Ron DeSantis. I agree with Mark Caputo on that. This was a very good day for Andrew Gillum.
VELSHI: Donna, let me ask you this. As David points out, Andrew Gillum was the most progressive guy in that race. I think I spoke to him about a month ago. He was far behind in fundraising. He was far behind in the polls. He had the backing of George Soros. He was a Hillary Clinton supporter. He had the backing to Tom Steyer who is trying to get Donald Trump impeached.
He, later in the game, he got the backing of Bernie Trump, but he also had folks who were -- who wanted stronger gun laws in Florida and he got a good amount of support from African-Americans. It`s an interesting coalition that he`s built and it may turn out to be a successful one.
EDWARDS: Well I think so. And I mean Andrew Gillum ran a race that, you know, obviously consolidated his base of voters, but he ran a race across the entire state. And I think that what David says is true, that the fact that Democrats came straight out, all of the field came out and endorsed Andrew Gillum means that they`re going to run a race that is going to be able to consolidate those Democrats, and then thankfully, able to reach out to independents who were closed out of this closed primary. So there is still a lot of votes out there to be gotten.
VELSHI: By the way, I think -- it`s been a long day, I think I said Bernie Trump.
EDWARDS: You did, but that`s all right.
VELSHI: But that would make for an interesting candidate. David, I want to ask you about something else that I was personally quite stunned by when we got news that the president had had a conversation with evangelical groups in which he hoped -- he said this. Let`s play it. Let`s just play what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just hope there won`t be violence. I can tell you that because that`s the way, I guess, if you look at what happens, there`s a lot of unnecessary violence all over the world, but also in this country. And I don`t want to see it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And he was saying that in reference to reports that he had told evangelical groups that if Republicans lose in the midterm elections, there will be violence.
David, it alarms me because I remember Rwanda, Ii remember Bosnia. You know, you can go back in history further than that to Germany in 1931. This warning that they will take what you have away and they will be violent. I think it crosses a line for this president.
JOLLY: Alarming, that`s the right word, heartbreaking as well. Listen, that`s a punch in the gut to every American to hear the president of the United States talk about violence as a result of a political election.
Our nation was founded on the very principle that we have peaceful elections. We recognized this week a man, John McCain, who recognized that as a vanquished candidate, your job is just as important on election night as the victor to help heal and bring the country together.
This is a president who continues to remain immorally unprepared for a leadership role for the nation and also continues to play, as I mentioned, to permit these types of narratives to develop within a Republican Party that is unrecognizable to the titans that we remember of generations past.
VELSHI: David and Donna, always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you very much for being with us tonight.
JOLLY: Good to be with you.
VELSHI: All right. The president`s latest accusations of the blames about China and the quick pushback from one of the intel agencies that Trump loves to attack. "The 11th Hour" is back after this.
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TRUMP: I think we`re doing well with North Korea. We`ll have to see. I think part of the North Korea problem is caused by our trade disputes with China. China has been taking out about 500 billion a year from the United States for many years, so we can`t let that happen.
So when we started working a little bit against China, and we have a great relationship with China, I have a great relationship with President Xi. I think he`s a terrific man, a terrific person. But we have to straighten out our trade relationship because too much money is being lost by us, and as you know, China is the route to North Korea. Ninety-three percent of the product and the various things that go into North Korea go in through China.
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VELSHI: That was President Trump earlier today on the relationship between the United States and North Korea, blaming the lack of negotiations with North Korea on his trade disputes with China. Trump later echoed those thoughts on Twitter in what he called a statement from the White House. In it he went one step further, writing, "There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games."
And adds this, the president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea and Japan if he so chooses. They will be far bigger than ever before. This announcement comes just one day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced there are no intentions to stop the military exercises.
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JIM MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We suspended several of the largest exercises, but we did not suspend the rest. So there are ongoing exercises all the time on the peninsula. We suspended several exercises at the direction of the president. The good faith effort was made. We have had - - we have done no planning for suspending others.
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VELSHI: Mattis clarified his statement this afternoon saying, "No decisions have been made about future exercises."
With us for more tonight retired four-star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran, now an MSNBC military analyst.
Barry, you`re a military expert. I know a little about economics. I won`t bother getting into too much detail about the fact the president continues to be dishonest about the 500 billion that China apparently takes from America, but the concept that the North Korean problem is caused by our trade relationship with China, I just couldn`t make sense of that.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, look, I think it would be a huge mistake to look for a rational pattern of activity in the U.S. government right now dealing with either China or North Korea. I mean Secretary Mattis is a brilliant, terrific public servant. I feel the same way about Pompeo at state, Treasury secretary is pretty good, CIA director is pretty good, but there is simply no coherent strategy unifying the efforts of the U.S. government dealing with either one of these problems.
So in the middle of a trade war with China, in the middle of an unconstrained nuclear threat from North Korea, and the president left Singapore and said the nuclear threat from North Korea is over. It`s not.
VELSHI: It`s all done, it`s all good.
MCCAFFREY: It was fantasy. Now right in the middle of this, now we`re talking about Hillary Clinton`s e-mails and why that`s the subject of ongoing debate --
VELSHI: Let me just share that with my viewers, General. Donald Trump tweeted last night sharing anonymously source reporting from the Daily Caller, "Hillary Clinton`s e-mails, many of which are classified information, got hacked by China. Next move better be by the FBI and DOJ or after all of their other missteps, Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr, FISA, Dirty Dossier, et cetera, their credibility will be forever gone."
And, General, let met just share with our viewers, NBC reporting on this. The FBI responds, "16 hours after President Trump tweeted about a right- wing media story alleging that China hacked Hillary Clinton`s private e- mail server, an FBI official is refuting the report in a comment to NBC News. The FBI has not found any evidence that the Clinton servers were compromised, the official said."
There`s a bit of a problem, General McCaffrey when we`re just making stuff up and putting it out there.
MCCAFFREY: Well, clearly, it`s a diversion and it`s a diversion it seems to work in a political sense it doesn`t have much impact on reality. I must admit now the unsecured Clinton server, in my view, probably could have been hacked by, you know, Latvian teenagers or criminals or Uruguayans or whoever. So I think that was another huge insecurity in the last administration.
But right now, we got serious problems that are facing us. What are we going to do about North Korea which continues to develop missile material for nuclear weapons, continues to manufacture their prototype ICBM, has not done an inventory of their nuclear capacity, has made no effort to come up with a concept on a verifiable denuclearization. They`re simply not going to do it. The White House doesn`t know what they`re doing on this question.
VELSHI: But what about Mattis? Is this a good cop/bad cop thing? Is Mattis still in the inner circle? This is a little worrisome because Mattis is one of the adults in the room. You and I discussed this before.
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, look, I think Mattis was a defense intellectually, he`s worshipped on the Armed Forces, he`s under the -- devoted to the rule of law and the constitution. He somehow got a bunch of service secretaries who are probably the best we`ve had in 25 years. It`s an island of sanity over there. And I think he`s learned how to deal with the president.
I don`t believe he`s going to allow anything that threatens our security to happen without speaking up, so I`m sort of putting him in a box and saying thank God he`s over there.
You know, if this had been 20 years ago, the Secretary of Defense would have resigned in humiliation that he got stepped on an hour later by the president. I`m sure there was a National Security Council meeting in which they tried to figure out, what are we going to do about President Trump`s latest statement? And he went back to give him the leverage to deal with the North Koreans. By the way, those exercises don`t cost a dime compared to the DOD overall budget. That`s complete nonsense.
VELSHI: Another destruction. General, good to see you as always. Thank you. General Barry McCaffrey.
Coming up, on what would have been his 82nd birthday, family and friends and Arizonans gathered to remember Senator John McCain. The emotional farewell when we come back.
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GOV. DOUG DUCEY, (R) ARIZONA: When John McCain called on us to serve a purpose greater than one`s own self-interest, it wasn`t a talking point designed to win the next election. It was how he had actually lived his life, and continued to live his life. It`s how he wanted us to live ours.
SEN. JOH KYL, (R) FORMER ARIZONA SENATOR: He represented our values all over the world as senator from Arizona and America is stronger for his fierce defense of our values. We can be proud he was our senator.
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VELSHI: John McCain`s family, friends and fellow state leaders have been delivering their final tributes to the lion of the Senate today. McCain`s body is lying in state at the Arizona capitol in Phoenix. He`s only the third person in the last 40 years to be given that honor.
It was an emotional afternoon for McCain`s wife Cindy and his children as they honored their father and approached his flag draped casket. The flag a reminder of his Navy service in Vietnam. Two of McCain`s seven children followed in their father`s footsteps and joined the military. His son Jack returned from an overseas deployment to attend today`s service.
Following the private ceremony, hundreds of people filed into the capitol to pay their respects to a man most had never met. Today`s memorial is the first in a week of somber events to remember McCain`s life and legacy. Tomorrow after a funeral service where former Vice President Joe Biden will speak, McCain`s body will be transported to the U.S. capitol where he will lie in state on Friday.
A memorial service will be held at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday where Barack Obama and George W. Bush will both speak. His 106- year-old mother Roberta reportedly will attend. John McCain will be laid to rest at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland on Sunday.
Coming up, President Trump doubles down on his praise for the government`s handling of Hurricane Maria and says he did a fantastic job. This woman, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico is having none of it when "The 11th Hour" continues.
VELSHI: The last thing before we go tonight is an update to a story we brought you here last night and that`s about the devastating toll, Hurricane Maria really took on Puerto Rico.
Yesterday, officials there updated the number of lives lost in that hurricane from 64 to 2,975. And today, President Trump who was roundly criticized for his government`s response to the needs of Puerto Rico after the storm was asked about this tragic news.
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TRUMP: I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico. We`re still helping Puerto Rico. The governor is an excellent guy and he`s really happy with the job we`ve done. We have put billions and billions of dollars into Puerto Rico and it was a very tough one. Don`t forget, their electric plant was dead before the hurricane.
If you look back on your records, you`ll see that that plant was dead, it was shut, it was bankrupted, it was out of business. They owe tremendous amounts of money. They had it closed up. And then when the hurricane came, people said what are we going to do about electricity? That wasn`t really the hurricane; that was done before the hurricane. But we`ve put a lot of money and a lot of effort into Puerto Rico. And I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we`ve done.
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VELSHI: As we mentioned last night, San Juan, Puerto Rico`s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was among the president`s harshest critics after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory. And earlier today, I had the chance to ask her about President Trump`s latest comments about that horrific death toll.
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CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: These are 2,975 people that will no longer see the light of day. These are parents, children, grandchildren, grandparents, people`s lives will never be the same. And the onset of fear and lack of dignity in which the Trump administration continues to treat the people of Puerto Rico, makes you mad, makes you angry, and makes you realize that this man is not that he doesn`t want to get it, is that he is incapable of feeling solidarity and empathy.
And now, that number, 2975 will follow him wherever he go for the rest of his life.
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VELSHI: San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz speaking with me earlier today.
That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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