Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 4, 2018 Guest: John Brennan, Tom Goldstein, Norm Eisen, David Jolly
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the explosive allegations from Bob Woodward`s new book, describing the White House in the midst of a nervous breakdown, an unhinged President off the rails and lacking in basic knowledge about the world. Mr. Trump tonight is on the counterattack and so is the White House.
And on foreign policy tales of a President ordering an assassination and questioning war strategy toward North Korea. We`ll run it all by the former CIA Director John Brennan with us here tonight.
And chaos during the opening moments of the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, tonight, Democrats are digging into over missing documents.
All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday evening.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 593 of the Trump Administration and what a back to work Tuesday it was. Day one of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, more on that in a moment.
And while that was going on, the first report surfaced about what`s in Bob Woodward`s new book. In the advanced details are rather devastating. The book is called "Fear: Trump in the White House."
Woodward writes that he conducted and recorded, notably, hundreds of hours of interviews for the book while also reviewing notes, personal diaries, government documents.
"The Washington Post" reports that Woodward describes, "A nervous breakdown of the executive branch under this President." And "Woodward depicts Trump`s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days."
Among the most revealing details are the interactions between President Trump and his first lead attorney in the Russia investigation who you`ll remember was John Dowd. According to "The Post" Woodward writes that Dowd was convinced that Trump would commit perjury if he ever talked to Mueller.
Dowd and Trumps criminal defense team tried to prep the President for a possible Mueller sit-down during practice sessions back in January, "Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the President eventually lost his cool. This thing`s a G.D. hoax. Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, "I really don`t want to testify -- I don`t really want to testify."
That should be "The Post" says that Woodward account reveals Trump`s attorneys insisted to Mueller that Trump`s testimony was a bad idea because of how it would make the President look.
In March, John Dowd reportedly told Mueller, "I`m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you published that transcript because everything leaks in Washington and the guys overseas are going to say, "I told you he was an idiot, I told you he was a G.D. dumbbell. What are you dealing with this idiot for?" "John, I understand," Mueller replied.
Later Dowd reportedly told the President, "Don`t testify, it`s either that or an orange jumpsuit. I`ll be a real good witness," Trump told Dowd according to Woodward. "You are not a good witness," Dowd, replied. "Mr. President. I`m afraid I just can`t help you."
The next day Dowd handed in his resignation. Woodward also details the actions of some top aides in the White House including former economic adviser Goldman Sachs and veteran Gary Cohn, "According to Woodward, Cohn stole a letter off Trump`s desk that the President was intending to sign to formally withdraw the U.S. from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security."
Woodward illustrates the Chief of Staff John Kelly`s feelings about the President, "Kelly said of Trump, "He`s an idiot." It`s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He`s gone off the rails. We`re in crazy town. I don`t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I`ve ever had."
Today Kelly issued a response calling Woodward`s account, "B.S." Woodward did request interviews with President Trump, which were not granted. After the manuscript was published in August, the President called Woodward to say he wanted to talk.
Today, "The Washington Post" released a recording of that call.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE AUTHOR": I`m sorry we miss the opportunity to talk for the book.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just spoke with Kellyanne and she asked me if I got a call. I never got a call. I never got a message. Who did you -- who did you ask about speaking to me?
WOODWARD: Well, about six people, you know --
TRUMP: Well, they don`t tell me.
WOODWARD: Senator, I talked to Kellyanne about it 2 1/2 months ago. I`ve got to go talk to people and see them outside of the White House and outside of their offices and I`ve gained a lot of insight and documentation. And it`s, you know, it`s a tough look at the world and your administration and you.
TRUMP: Right. Well, I assume that means it`s going to be a negative book, but, you know, I`m some -- I`m sort of 50 percent used to that. That`s all right.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President was aware the recording was underway, by the way. Tonight, the President wrote that the book is, "Were made up frauds, a con on the public." He wondered if Woodward was a Democratic operative.
And on the Russia front there is new reporting from "The New York Times" on the negotiations between Mueller and Trump`s legal team. "Times" puts it this way, "Mueller will accept written answers from President Trump on questions about whether his campaign conspired with Russia`s election interference. Mr. Mueller`s office told Mr. Trump`s lawyers in a letter two people briefed on it said on Tuesday on whether the President tried to obstruct the inquiry itself. Mr. Mueller and his investigators understood that issues of executive privilege could complicate their pursuit of a Presidential interview and did not ask for written responses on that matter."
Tonight, NBC News is reporting that a person familiar with the matter says discussions are, "Moving in a positive direction." That`s certainly the line some Trump surrogates took on television tonight.
Let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a busy Tuesday night. Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning and White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post." Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon also a national security analyst for us. And Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Good evening and welcome to you all.
And Philip, I try gamely to prevent you from ever passing judgment on one of the stories that comes before us but you have read now and reported on this book. You report on this White House every day. Do the two portraits match up?
PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: They absolutely do, Brian. And what we have in Woodward`s book is a lot of new detail and color and scenes and episodes that fit in with the broader narrative that I think has been very clear now of this President. You know, really showing a lack of knowledge and information about the world. A lack of curiosity in alarming his advisers.
And what Woodward details is, again and again and again his military leaders, General Dunford, for example, Secretary Mattis, the Defense Secretary, and others just being alarmed by this President, by decisions that he wants to make. For example, he said in a phone call that General Mattis, the Defense Secretary, that he wanted to assassinate Bashar al- Assad, the leader of Syria and his people.
And Mattis, when he hung up the phone had to tell his senior aide, "No, we`re not going to do any of that. We`re going to be much more measured than that." So there`s an effort by all senior officials in the administration to be guardrail for what they believed would be very dangerous and unwise actions that the President wanted to do.
WILLIAMS: I intend to ask John Brennan a question about that in just a minute`s time from now.
So, Jeremy Bash, in your lifetime did you think you`d ever read about or hear about of a letter being swiped off the desk of the President of the United States lest he read it or even worse sign it?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: No, Brian. And what we see here is our system of government is heaving under enormous strain because we have a President whose Cabinet does not trust his fundamental judgment. They believe he`s unfit to make core decisions about national security, about life and death.
And they not only are alarmed as was just referenced, but they actually believe that his actions are a direct threat to national security and they have to take unprecedented steps to prevent that from happening.
WILLIAMS: Barbara McQuade, these portions about lawyers conducting a practice session with the President and then relating the results of that to Mueller, does that, given your experience, I know you weren`t in the room for either instance. Does that ring true to you?
BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: I don`t know. You know, it`s -- the idea that they would do a practice interview does ring true to me. I think that that`s a common scenario to help someone understand what it might be like to go through that. But to then try to use that as an excuse to not conduct the interview does not seem like a winning argument. You know the law says that "A grand jury is entitled to every man`s evidence, is the way the long was phrased long ago," and that includes a President.
And so, just because you`re bad at telling the truth doesn`t mean you get out of it.
WILLIAMS: Phil, I want to read you this, one minute after 11:00 o`clock Eastern Time tonight since we`ve been on the air, the President has written this, "The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and phony sources, has me calling Jeff Sessions, a term we`ve asked our children not to use and a dumb southerner. I said neither. Never used those terms on anyone, including Jeff and. And being a southerner is a great thing. He made this up to divide."
Imagine the timing, Phil, of this book details coming out today in the midst of this Supreme Court hearing.
RUCKER: Yes. Well, it`s a huge story, these book details, and I think it`s going to continue to be a story for days if not weeks to come. The President should be careful what he`s wishing for here in taunting Woodward because Woodward has done meticulous reporting. And as Jim Comey once said, "Lordy, there are tapes." There are a lot of tapes.
Woodward recorded hundreds of hours of his interviews. He has said in a statement tonight that he stands by his reporting. And, you know, I think the President in saying that he has never used that phrase before, he better be sure he`s right.
WILLIAMS: Indeed. I saw that your colleague and fellow Pulitzer winner David Marines (ph) who has known Woodward for 41 years --
WILLIAMS: -- said just tonight -- minutes ago he would stake his life on the accuracy of Woodward`s work.
And Jeremy Bash, I often ask you how you think the White House is functioning inside during our conversations in all the days that pass here. We now learn in the Woodward book that sometimes this, these machinations, would take up days at a time.
BASH: Yes, this is an effort by aides, by colleagues to hatch a plan to thwart the President`s direct orders. And you saw in the context of an illegal order given to Secretary of Defense Mattis about assassinating a foreign leader, which violates the 1974 executive order signed by President Ford. We don`t do that in our country. It`s against our law and our policy.
It ranges from the illegal all the way to the dangerous of pulling troops off the Korean peninsula. These require a lot of effort by staff, by Cabinet officials, by national security professionals to prevent the President from doing grave harm to America`s interests.
WILLIAMS: So, Jeremy, you have to limit the opportunities where he is able to do such a thing?
BASH: Yes. I think you have to box him in, you got to take documents off his desk, you got to not tell him things, you got to basically ignore his orders. And we`ve seen that down the line. In fact one of the things that Chris Wray, the FBI director, said publicly over the summer at a conference that I attended was essentially, "We`re ignoring the President when he says that we should stop investigating the Russia matter."
WILLIAMS: And Barbara McQuade, as I mentioned some surrogates for the President appearing on cable news channels tonight were expressing relief over the direction the Mueller talks are apparently headed. Do you believe any of it regarding leaks out of the Mueller camp or the White House on the Mueller talks?
MCQUADE: Well, it`s hard to believe Robert Mueller would accept written answers. It certainly wouldn`t be his first choice. You know, written answers are certainly not preferable because you can`t follow up with follow-up questions. You can`t look at someone`s tone or inflection or body language to determine whether you think they`re telling the truth.
But it could be that Robert Mueller has reached a point where he`s decided that Donald Trump is not going to sit for an interview and Robert Mueller is not willing perhaps to litigate this matter and risk an adverse decision in the courts, though I think he would win that battle.
And so maybe he perceives Trump sit for an interview as his opportunity to tell his side of the story. And if he wants to do that through written questions, then maybe Robert Mueller takes those answers and moves on and believes he has all the evidence he needs already to do whatever it is he plans to do.
WILLIAMS: And Barbara, let`s speak English, written answers are not Donald Trump at a typewriter or with a yellow legal pad, they`re written by committees of well-compensated attorneys.
MCQUADE: Yes, absolutely. I`m sure that someone would take a first draft of those that would be a lawyer. It wouldn`t even be President Trump. And then he would look at the answers to verify their accuracy such as they are. And they would be fined tuned. And they would think them through.
So, you know, absolutely. And that`s why I think that Robert Mueller would be less inclined to take those kinds of answers than to sit face-to-face, look him in the eye and ask him questions and take verbal answers.
WILLIAMS: And Phil Rucker, to underscore what you have already underscored, a person close to woodward called me tonight, with the express purpose of reminding me the fine print says that Bob Woodward has recordings of so many of the conversations that he engaged in for this book. As you put it, the President`s kind of engaging in a high wire act.
RUCKER: He sure is, Brian. And it`s not just recordings. The Woodward`s book details his method. He did interviews with firsthand witnesses and other participants in these meetings on deep background, which is a journalistic term for conducting the interview but not identifying the source by name in the book.
And so the book is written almost like a screenplay but it`s all based on these rigorous interviews, it`s also based on diary entries, memos that he has obtained, in some cases it`s government documents. And there are actually that letter that Gary Cohn reportedly took off the President`s desk.
Woodward prints a PDF copy of the letter in his book. So he actually has that letter that was swiped from the President`s desk. So there`s a real reporting foundation here behind the narrative in the book.
WILLIAMS: I was just going to say, much oblige to you and the big three for starting us off on a Tuesday night. Phil Rucker, Jeremy Bash, Barbara McQuaid. Thank you all for coming on.
RUCKER: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: And coming up, more revelations from Woodward`s new book including how Defense Secretary Mattis reportedly described the President.
Former CIA Director John Brennan in the wings to join us next.
And later, fireworks from the very first moments of the Kavanaugh hearings as Democrats attempt to delay what may be the inevitable.
THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a back to work Tuesday night.
WILLIAMS: This new book by Bob Woodward offers a depiction of how President Trump`s national security team was shaken by their boss on the foreign policy front.
"Washington Post" details this moment from the book after Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians last year, "In April 2017, Trump called Mattis, said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. "Let`s expletive kill him. Let`s go in. Let`s kill the expletive lot of them," Trump said, according to Woodward. Mattis told the President that he would get right on it, but after hanging up the phone he told a senior aide, "We`re not going to do any of that, we`re going to be much more measured."
Woodward also writes about a national security counsel meeting January 19th in which Trump, "Disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all." "We`re doing this in order to prevent World War III, "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.
After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates the President acted like and had the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader."
Tonight, Secretary Mattis has released a statement on Woodward`s new book that reads in part, and we, "The contemptuous words about the President attributed to me in Woodward`s book were never uttered by me or in my presence." He goes on to say, "While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility."
Well, here with us tonight, Former Director of the CIA, John Brennan. We`re happy to say he`s also an MSNBC senior national security and intelligence analyst. Thank you for coming in.
Your reaction to just the story about Bashar al-Assad. And is General Mattis, one of the people you regard as a human guardrail around this administration?
JOHN BRENNAN, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: Absolutely. I think it just underscores how fortunate we all are that somebody of Jim Mattis` experience, common sense, as well as his interest in making sure that this President, Donald Trump, does not do something that truly is dangerous for our national security.
I think it also reveals just how inexperienced Donald Trump is and how impulsive he is to say that he wants to kill somebody like that. As well as his utter disregard for the implications of doing something rash on the Korean peninsula.
Again, it shows his impulsiveness, it shows his recklessness, and that`s why I think people like Jim Mattis and John Kelly and others are there to prevent Donald Trump from doing something that is truly going to hurt this country.
WILLIAMS: Here is Gary Cohn. Well-known rich guy in New York, Goldman Sachs, he didn`t come up through the diplomatic channels. He wasn`t trained as a national security adviser. He ends up in the Trump White House and the story goes he swiped a letter off the President`s desk so he wouldn`t read it or worse sign it and get us into trouble with South Korea.
BRENNAN: Yes. It makes you wonder how that letter got on to his desk if it didn`t go through the appropriate vetting process.
WILLIAMS: And did the President miss the letter when it was gone?
BRENNAN: I don`t know. What else might have been taken off his desk in an inappropriate way by Gary Cohn or others. But again, I think it just shows that this is a White House that is rather dysfunctional. And individuals like Gary Cohn and others are trying to prevent Mr. Trump from doing things that could hurt all of us.
WILLIAMS: After the North Korean summit, we heard the President kind of question the need for the military exercises that are a huge built-in part of our forces serving overseas. And I want to read you this other portion. This is via "The Washington Post" from the Woodward book. "One month into his presidency, Trump asked General Dunford for a plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, which rattled the combat veteran.
In the fall of 2017 as Trump intensified a war of words with Kim Jong-un, nicknaming North Korea`s dictator "little rocket man" in a speech at the United Nations, aides worried that the President might be provoking Kim.
But, Woodward writes, Trump told Porter, his staff secretary, that he saw the situation as a contest of wills, "This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim."
What`s missing from any of that in your experienced view?
BRENNAN: It`s Donald Trump acting like a President, that`s what`s missing. I think Donald Trump has grown up in the private family real estate business of New York and he deals with issues the way he has dealt with them throughout the course of his business career, which is to try to intimidate, to try to bully and try to get his way. And on the international stage, you do that at the nation`s peril.
And people like Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, you`re not going to find a better military professional than Joe and Jim Mattis and others. And so these are individuals who understand the complexities of these issues. And I think -- I`m sure that they shudder when they hear Donald Trump utter these impulsive comments and reactions and trying to bark orders.
And so I think what is coming out now in the Woodward book is the danger that we face by having somebody in the Oval Office who not only is inexperienced and who is in over his head, but is prone to taking these impulsive and reckless actions were it not for individuals taking documents off his desk and listening to him on the phone but then disregarding his orders. How long can this go on? This should not be happening in the United States of America. It is.
WILLIAMS: Now that you have a little distance on the CIA, your friends and colleagues of many years, who are perhaps tonight working in dangerous, hostile places, what`s your view on how they are able to remain focused and keep true north at true north?
BRENNAN: Well, I think they do a lot of the traditional blocking and tackling that has to go on from one administration to the next. I think they tend to be concerned about the utterances that are coming out of Washington and not just from Donald Trump but from others in this partisan environment that really makes them question the validity, the basis as well as the foresight of our national security policy.
But they are the professionals that are going to do what they need to do in far away places and putting themselves and their families at great sacrifice and risk. But this is something that I know is concerning them. We are in turbulent times, without a doubt, and so individuals, whether they be in the law enforcement, intelligence or military communities, I think they would like all of this to be behind us so that we can move ahead and fulfill our global responsibilities.
But unfortunately at least by all accounts that`s coming out of not just the Woodward book but other things, that the White House is in a fair amount of disarray. That Donald Trump is not going through what should be a very rigorous process to deal with these very complex and complicated issues. And not just act out of instinct, which is what he has always done in his real estate background.
WILLIAMS: I have more questions for former Director Brennan. He has agreed to stay with us. We`ll take a quick break and continue on the other side.
WILLIAMS: We`re back with Director Brennan with more details from this new Woodward book and the president`s reported thinking on our nation`s longest war in Afghanistan. The "Washington Post" highlights another portion of the book. This is a July 2017 NSC meeting where the president reportedly voiced his impatience with the status of the fight, "Trump dressed down his generals and other advisers for 25 minutes, complaining that the United States was losing, according to Woodward. "The soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you," Trump told them. "They could do a much better job. I don`t know what the hell we`re doing." He went on to ask, "How many more deaths? How many more lost limbs? How much longer are we going to be there?"
Again, we continue to be joined by former CIA director John Brennan. And Director Brennan, when I read this, that struck me as the most presidential thing. That is plausibly and conceivably what other presidents would say to other commanders complaining about the pace of the fight. Except I`m guessing you have a difference with the way Trump carried it out?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Yes. And I`ve heard basically those questions with a different tone and different thrust uttered by other presidents. These are the types of questions that presidents and National Security Council members need to ask, how long are we going to commit troops, how long are we going to lose lives. What are the national security stakes and equities that we have to protect? How can we, in fact, extricate ourselves from these very long and drawn-out wars?
These are complicated issues. What we don`t want to do is to have a precipitous, you know, withdrawal that is going to allow then our adversaries to use Afghanistan once again to launch another 9/11. But can we commit treasure and blood for years upon years and hope that, you know, one day in the future, we`re going to be able to get out. These are serious questions. And again, these are the issues that are very complex and complicated and you need to have the experienced people be able to tell Donald Trump exactly what we can do, what`s in the realm of the possible and not to be impulsive, and not to berate his generals who are sitting around the table.
WILLIAMS: I have an elective question that is about something you said today on Twitter. We have established you and I are both North Jersey kids, both long suffering New York Giants fans. And you wrote this about Colin Kaepernick. Colin Kaepernick drew our collective attention to the problem of continued racial injustice in America. He did so not to disrespect our flag but to give meaning to the words of the preamble of our constitution, in order to form a more perfect union. Well done, Colin. Well done.
I was curious about that. He, of course, has rocketed back into the news with the Nike story. He remains at the center of the news. The president has now wound himself up in our calm day of the weekend heretofore, and that`s Sundays. Expand on what you said about this young man.
BRENNAN: Well, I issued a statement last September where I did take issue with a lot of the derogatory, negative statements about what Colin Kaepernick was doing. We do have issues in this country about racial injustice and we need to come to grips with them. And I worked in the government for 33 years. In order to allow citizens to express themselves and to protest, and kneeling during the national anthem, I think, was a form of protest to bring attention to an issue that we should, in fact, be focusing on. But to have individuals like Donald Trump and others just be so dismissive of it, I take issue with that.
And so Colin Kaepernick stuck with his principles. He did it, I think, in a respectful way. It wasn`t to disrespect the flag or those soldiers and intelligence officers and others who have given their lives. No, it was to say, we can do better in this country. We must do better. And that`s why the words, in order to form a more perfect union, came to mind. We all should be striving to do better and the continued problems of racial inequality and injustice in this country is something that is corroding, you know, some of the foundations of what this great country is all about. And we need to be able to work together and I think Colin Kaepernick drew attention to it.
I think what we need to do now is act upon it. And I know a lot of people are. And so therefore, I felt as though when I saw a lot of people who were condemning and criticizing him and Nike, I felt that I would lend my voice and just say that it was a way to draw attention to a national issue that deserves the attention that he has given to it.
WILLIAMS: "Sports Illustrated", again, this week calls quarterback the most dangerous job in sports. In your humble opinion, should he be playing in the NFL?
BRENNAN: I think that there are some real questions about why he was not picked up by one of the teams. Like you, I`m a football fan. I am not a football expert. And I will leave it to others to decide whether or not, in fact, there was some type of effort to deny him the opportunity to play. He should not have been denied the opportunity. Maybe he wasn`t able to play if he had competed for a, you know, position on one of those teams, but it seems as though he was denied that opportunity. And that`s what racial injustice in this country is all about, being denied the opportunity that all Americans deserve and should have.
WILLIAMS: We promised our viewers foreign policy, we got sports as well. Director Brennan, thanks --
BRENNAN: Good to see you again, Brian.
WILLIAMS: -- for coming by the studio.
Coming up, protests erupt, Democrats demand a delay, and that`s just the first two minutes of today`s confirmation hearings. What to expect tomorrow when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: A good judge must be an umpire, a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy. As Justice Kennedy explained in Texas versus Johnson, one of his greatest opinions, judges do not make decisions to reach a preferred result, judges make decisions because the law and the constitution as we see them compel the results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Brett Kavanaugh didn`t speak his first words today until about seven hours into the hearing, which featured endless and partisan opening statements from both sides, a bus load of arrests after protesters disrupted the proceedings at regular intervals, just as you see there, and a planned but surprise objection by the Dems right at the top of the hearing, which sent it immediately and briefly off the rails.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I welcome everyone to this confirmation hearing on the nomination of Judge --
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. Chairman?
GRASSLEY: -- Brett Kavanaugh.
HARRIS: Mr. Chairman?
GRASSLEY: -- to serve as associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.
HARRIS: Mr. Chairman, I`d like to be recognized for a question before we proceed.
Mr. Chairman, I`d like to be recognized to ask a question before we proceed. The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order.
HARRIS: -- 42,00 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to review or read or analyze.
GRASSLEY: You`re out of order, I`ll proceed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.
GRASSLEY: Let me (ph) hear directly from Judge Kavanaugh (INAUDIBLE) this afternoon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: What is the rush? What are we trying to hide by not having the documents out front? What is with the rush? What are we hiding by not letting those documents come out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So around sporadic excitement, that`s about how it went. Those documents in question related to the time Kavanaugh spent working in the Bush White House as staff secretary. The democrat strategy was laid out over the holiday weekend on a conference call organized by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The president weighed in late in the day, "The Brett Kavanaugh hearings for the future justice of the Supreme Court are truly a display of how mean, angry and despicable the other side is. They will say anything and are only looking to inflict pain and embarrassment to one of the most highly renowned jurists to ever appear before Congress. So sad to see."
And there`s something else, a bad visual from today. This is Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was killed at Parkland High School. He tried to shake hands with Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh turned and went away. A lot has been said and written about this already and will again tomorrow.
Later, White House description of how this event went down didn`t completely add up, by the way. With us for more, Tom Goldstein is back with us, veteran D.C. attorney who has personally argued 41 cases before the Supreme Court. He is the publisher of SCOTUSblog about the court and has taught at both Harvard and Stanford law schools just to keep it fair. And Norm Eisen, author of a new book "The Last Palace." Importantly, Norm was an Obama administration ethics lawyer and former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. More on that in a moment. These days, he is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Gentlemen, welcome to you both. And Tom, I have to ask, I get to watch these and report on these for a living. You`re in the business, in the game. Was today truly with -- as without precedent as it seemed to be?
TOM GOLDSTEIN, ATTORNEY SPECIALIZING IN SUPREME COURT LITIGATION: It was. I`ve been attending these hearings for about a quarter century and this was explosive. It`s generally the case that there`s a lot of decorum in the Senate and including in these hearings even if there are ideological divisions, which have obviously grown, it`s still a relatively quiet place, it`s a bunch of lawyers arguing about the law.
But between the protesters, the 60 of them who stood up and ended up getting arrested and the Democrats` insistence on just continually interrupting and making this procedural argument, it is not something that we had never seen. And Chuck Grassley, who`s a very, very kind chairman of the committee who really tries to let everybody have their say, was rattled at times.
WILLIAMS: Norm, this book, and here`s how I`m going to weave it in to today`s news, this book talks about you and your family and the Czech Republic of your family`s roots, even the Holocaust, but it gets back to the shining example of American democracy central to this tale. Is that democracy, do you think, under any threat given what we see today, given this era that we`re covering here every night?
NORM EISEN, AUTHOR, "THE LAST PALACE": Brian, I do think that we`re seeing a threat. The same types of threats that the five people I write about in that book have seen over the past century, living in the house where I lived as United States ambassador in Prague, like a giant ocean liner sailing over these choppy waters of democracy and we`re seeing that here now. In some ways, the Kavanaugh nomination and the hearing process are an example, they`re a pivot point. It is a warning moment for our democracy because to make a sham of the advice and consent role of the Senate, I was working in the White House when we turned over Elena Kagan`s documents. We turned over every page.
Late on Friday night, there is an extraordinary assertion of sweeping privileges, unfounded, 100,000 documents withheld. And then as we heard Senator Harris say, just a few hours before the hearing began, tens of thousands of pages dumped on the committee. I think they may have gone too far and the American people see through this. And that`s why Judge Kavanaugh is the most unpopular Supreme Court nominee that we`ve seen in decades.
WILLIAMS: I saw some polling today from ABC News at 38%. Tom, you`ve never made a partisan remark, at least in my presence, so be our umpire for folks watching today and tomorrow. Is it partisan when the Democrats say, we`re missing a chunk of this guy`s life and jurisprudence, where are his writings from his time in the White House and why dump 42,000 pages on us the night before this thing?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, both sides have a point. On the Republican side, you have the fact that he does have an enormous record, thousands of pages of judicial opinions. They have released a large amount of material from other times in his government service. And so there is a lot to look at and learn about Judge Kavanaugh and I think people do know a lot about him.
The Democrats have a point as well, and that is, it is really unprecedented to withhold so much material, such a large portion of the material, to try to move it forward so quickly and also to not have it evaluated by the national archives but instead by a private lawyer who`s working on behalf of the former Bush administration. So it just depends on what you think the rule ought to be. If the rule should be, we want a comprehensive look at the nominee, you`re not getting one. On the other hand, if what you`re asking for is a really good understanding of what he has done in the judiciary and believes as a judge, you probably do have that.
WILLIAMS: Norm, when Pete Souza, the celebrated Obama White House photographer, releases a picture as he did today showing you as a much younger man with the president who was a much younger man, but reminding people on social media, you used to have regular ethics gatherings for White House staff. Does it make you slightly wistful or seriously worried that there`s a new era afoot?
EISEN: Well, of course, those were glory days for all of us, Brian. And what a privilege for me to go to work in the White House every day and have the run of the place and have a president whose first instruction was, we want to do the right thing. You come to the Oval Office, you come in any time there is a problem when you need to see me, the door is open. And that goes to a point that I want to add to what Tom said because this is not just a question of, well, there is Republican documents, they have a large record and the Democrats want this. There is another factor here and it`s an ethics factor. And that is that you have a president, never before in our almost 230-year history have we had a president who is a named subject in a criminal investigation pick his own judge. And a judge who, as far as we know, has some of the most extreme views on presidential immunity of anyone sitting on the federal bench.
Part of the reason we need these documents is to assess that ethical judgment and it`s so profound that today, one of Tom`s brethren, perhaps America`s most distinguished constitutional lawyer, Larry Tribe, and a former Republican appeals court judge, Tim Lewis, and I authored a report saying this has reached a breaking point. Just like those breaking points I write about in the book, this has reached a breaking point for our democracy. And if there`s one lesson of the century, when you accumulate enough of these breaking points, no one can do it, but when you accumulate enough, you can head into a democratic recession, deterioration and decline. And this is a very dangerous moment for our country.
WILLIAMS: By the way, that book Norm Eisen mentioned, this would be the book right here. He is the author of this. Tom Goldstein writes the equivalent of a book per week on SCOTUSblog which we highly recommend to everyone on our audience as we thank both gentlemen for coming on with us tonight.
And coming up, more warnings about what the president is saying and carrying out right there in plain sight. That and more when our modest broadcast continues.
WILLIAMS: We were going to give a whole big elaborate buildup and review of the day, but suffice it to say, we`ve invited two of our favorites after a long day to talk about all the many stories competing for our time and attention.
So with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post," David Jolly, former member of Congress on the Republican side of the aisle from the great state of Florida, which we`re thinking about tonight because they`re getting the bad end of a storm but more on that later in our broadcast.
So, Eugene, with you, I wanted to talk about the president`s tweets. I guess it was, oh, yesterday, that have been almost normalized into the conversation with the pace of news about Jeff Sessions` role. He incorrectly talked about Obama era investigations into two prominent Republican members of Congress. And was indicating that Jeff Sessions allowed this to happen.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, and so in a normal time, in a normal presidency, any other presidency, any other time, this would be a huge multi-day story. This would be outrageous that the president of the United States very clearly indicated that his view of the Justice Department is as a political weapon. To attack the other party and to protect his.
That -- for a president to say that publicly would be an outrageous breach of norms and there would be hue and cry and that`s, you know, we can -- today, you can hardly even remember that. It happened yesterday. But we`re in this sort of, you know, cuisinart of news that it just whirls and whirls and whirls. And -- but we shouldn`t forget that. That`s an important thing because it`s -- it`s simply outrageous and unacceptable.
WILLIAMS: And to you, former member of congress, Jolly, Michael Capuano, longtime Democrat, 10-year incumbent representing the congressional district that was JFK`s and Tip O`Neill`s among others upset tonight Ayanna Pressley in the democratic primary.
DAVID JOLLY, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN (R), FLORIDA: The change is very real. Now, let`s recall that Pressley has been a longtime Hill staffer, worked for John Kerry for a while. But the change is very real. And here`s what`s very important about what happened in Massachusetts.
Fundamentally, in the United States government, the House of Representatives is the only elected office in the federal government where your community has to elect you. You can be president of the United States or vice president Gerald Ford without being elected, a United States senator can be appointed. We saw it today with Jon Kyl. Kavanaugh can be appointed to the Supreme Court, cabinet officials. But communities get to elect their representatives in the people`s house. Tonight, they chose Ms. Pressley over Capuano.
The remarkable thing is he was a solid progressive. But they chose somebody else tonight. And that`s an important thing. Change is real. We can`t overlook this.
WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson, in our closing seconds, how much of what you just said in answer to the first question falls under the in plain sight theory that people kind of --
WILLIAMS: -- lose sight of and dismiss?
ROBINSON: All of it, basically, because we do lose sight of it. We`re -- you know, with good reason, we want to know what has happened behind the scenes. Bob Woodward gives us a glimpse that -- at what things are like. We can`t see and hear the president, but just take his Twitter feed. I could make a very good case, I think, and I`m not even a lawyer that you could use his Twitter feed as the outlines and a lot of the meat of the case of obstruction of justice, in a court. And maybe you could -- you know, I don`t know if you could win it, but you could make a good case. And these -- but these transgressions happen so frequently and so often that I fear we get outrage fatigue and we don`t pay attention to what we ought to be looking at.
WILLIAMS: David Jolly, if I gave you 15 seconds, up or down vote on Kavanaugh based on what you know now, what would you do?
JOLLY: He will pass because he has the numbers. I would vote no based on procedure. What -- it is reflected, though, is there`s a fundamental lack of confidence in this president and his administration and Republicans control the Congress.
WILLIAMS: To both of our friends, I pledge more time on a day less packed with news. But we love you both. Eugene Robinson, David Jolly, thank you so much, gentlemen.
And coming up, as we mentioned, warnings posted in the gulf. Big storm coming ashore tonight, a late live update when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Real quick before we go tonight, after ruining Labor Day weekend for millions in Florida, please spare a thought tonight for those in the Panhandle, Southern Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Southeast Louisiana as a big storm named Gordon has just made landfall. Hurricane and tropical storm warnings posted along the coast, big winds, big waves, heavy rain and a storm surge all a reality now. At least it`s moving quickly. And it`s by no means a large storm.
It`s a fraction of something like Katrina, for example. But some folks down South tonight are getting all the storm they can handle. And a program note, I`ll be back with you in mere hours for tomorrow`s start of the questioning for Judge Kavanaugh. Live coverage of the hearing begins at 9 a.m. Eastern time. And with thanks to my friends who stepped in and allowed me to step away for a little bit, that is our broadcast for this post-Labor Day Tuesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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