AP: Trump incensed about anonymous op-ed. TRANSCRIPT: 09/06/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Nancy Cook, Eli Stokols, Chuck Rosenberg, Josh Gerstein, Kim Wehle, Clint Watts

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 6, 2018 Guest: Nancy Cook, Eli Stokols, Chuck Rosenberg, Josh Gerstein, Kim Wehle, Clint Watts

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, Donald Trump leaves a leaky White House, heads west to montana and treats the crowd to a retelling of his electoral college victory.

Back home, members of his Cabinet and staff go out of their way to deny they are the source for that bombshell cry for help. This, while the President`s lawyer is sending mixed messages tonight about whether he`ll answer Robert Mueller`s questions about obstruction.

And in the meantime, Senate Democrats breaking rules, disclosing documents, trying to raise doubts about the President`s choice for the court at a perilous time for this President.

All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 595 of the Trump Administration. And the President`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Associated Press tonight that President Trump will not answer Robert Mueller`s questions in writing or in person on the subject of obstruction of justice. But earlier tonight, Giuliani told NBC News obstruction questions are not ruled in or out. We`ll have much more on this and an attempt to sort it all out in just a moment.

But first, President Trump just wrapped up a rally way out west far from the troubled atmosphere inside his own west wing. If it`s Thursday, it must be Billings, Montana, where tonight they heard the President attack the anonymous official from his own administration who wrote that surprising and scathing op-ed yesterday in "The New York Times."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The latest act of resistance is the op-ed published in the failing "New York Times" by an anonymous, really an anonymous, gutless coward. You just look. He was -- nobody knows who the hell he is, or she, although they put he, but probably that`s a little disguise that means it`s she. But for the sake of our national security, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once.

I think their reporters should go and investigate who it is. That would actually be a good scoop.

That would be a good scoop. Unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The "New York Times" is reporting tonight that the White House has a list of suspects and ideas are being floated to catch the author. "Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, an ally of Mr. Trump`s, recommended that the President force members of his administration to take polygraph examinations and there was at least briefly some discussion of that among advisers to the President. Another option mentioned by people close to Mr. Trump was asking senior officials to sign sworn affidavits that could be used in court if necessary. One outside adviser said the White House had a list of about 12 suspects."

Meanwhile, many close to the President are racing to say it`s not them and to put as much distance between themselves and the op-ed as possible. So far more than two dozen administration officials have denied they are the author of the piece as the White House searches for what they call the "anonymous, gutless coward."

And today a new report from Axios says, "There are plenty of white house officials working in that, "quiet resistance." "Two senior administration officials reached out to Axios to say the author stole the words right out of their mouths. "I find the reaction to "The New York Times" op-ed fascinating, that people seem so shocked that there is a resistance from inside," one senior official said. A lot of us were wishing we`d been the writer. I suspect, I hope Trump knows, maybe he does, that there are dozens and dozens of us."

First lady Melania Trump also weighed in today after beginning her statement by saying, "Free press is important to our democracy." The first lady continued to write in part, "If a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves. To the writer of the op-ed, you are not protecting this country, you are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ramped up her attacks on "The New York Times" today by releasing a phone number for the newspaper. She told people on Twitter, if they want to know the author of the op-ed, ask "The Times."

Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press has new reporting tonight on the President`s reaction to all of this, "Trump was incensed about the column. Calling around to confidants to find out about the author, solicit guesses to his or her identity and fumed that a deep state within the administration was conspiring against him.

He ordered aides to unmask the writer. As striking as the essay was, the long list of officials who plausibly could have been its author is equally striking. Many have privately shared some of the article`s same concerns about Trump with colleagues, friends and reporters," so goes the reporting of the Associated Press tonight.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel for a Thursday night. The aforementioned Jonathan Lemire. White House reporter for the Associated Press. Nancy Cook, White House reporter for Politico. Eli Stokols, White House reporter for "The L.A. Times." We welcome all three back to the broadcast.

Mr. Lemire, Trump went on a rant out in Montana tonight. Of note on social media, his pronunciation of anonymous. Also talking about Lincoln`s Gettysburg address. He said, "Many of us know it by memory." That was notable.

Went on a rant about impeachment, almost treating himself as a disassociated third-person character of it. What does it say about what you know to be his state of mind?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: He also suggested that Lincoln was some -- and the Gettysburg address was something that was not too popular at the time. But as --

WILLIAMS: Like his speeches.

LEMIRE: Like his speeches. As the decades went on, it was seen more favorably. He predicted the same for himself.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LEMIRE: So he made the Lincoln comparison. Certainly this is a moment where impeachment or certainly crisis is on the mind of the President and people closest to him. He is, in our reporting, sort of in a very much in a bunker mentally right now where he is not sure who he can trust. He believes that it`s not just perhaps the mythical deep state that has been there in place before he arrived, but even some of his closest advisers have been working perhaps against him.

This op-ed comes on the heels of the Woodward book, which -- and they seem to be on a very much the same theme. The presidency getting in the way of the President, trying to stop him, trying to get in between him, his worst impulses, perhaps, and the American people.

This is a remarkable scene today where we had some of his Cabinet members, some senior aides, even the Vice President falling all over this. Exactly right. Had to go out there publicly on the record say, "It wasn`t me. I didn`t write this." A number of them threw in a bunch of attacks on the media to sort of further please the audience of one watching in the Oval Office.

The White House certainly is trying to sort out who did this. You know, the President is, you know, our reporting is absolutely incensed, he is fuming, he is talking to confidants. He believes there`s no one he can trust. He`s even casting some doubt perhaps on members of his own family, members that have been working in the building that they have been too leaky with reporters at times.

And that, the question now is, does this go beyond just asking Press Secretary Sanders and Chief of Staff Kelly to sort of ask around and see what`s going on? Does he call for some sort of formal governmental inquiry into this, something that Rudy Giuliani told me tonight he believes would be appropriate? But I suspect that would set off alarm bells throughout Washington.

WILLIMS: And during all of this, how did the Trump agenda advance today is always our question.

Hey, Nancy, I saw in your notes somebody from the west sing said to you, "Honestly, it could be anybody." What else did you learn from the inside today?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I just think from a staff perspective right now there is a few different points. One is that people feel like, you know, it could be so many people in the administration that, you know, it`s hard to just narrow it down to a dozen or 10 people because there are so many people who entered into the White House not necessarily being loyal to Trump but they wanted to bolster their resume or sort of further personal ideology they had. But they didn`t really support the campaign.

And then secondly, I feel like there`s a real heightened sense of paranoia right now inside the White House. People are very worried after Omarosa`s book that people are taping conversations, that anyone could be stabbed in the back at any time by their colleagues. They`re worried that, you know, stories about them will end up in a tell-all book.

And there is just this real sense that you can`t trust anyone, and I think that goes from the President all the way down to, you know, aides throughout the west wing and even throughout the agencies.

WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, interesting times at "The New York Times." They made news themselves about a week ago when they suddenly removed the bylines from the front page so we can`t look for the writing of our favorite writers and reporters, and now this consequential decision, which must have come out of, I assume, several rounds of talks and assurances, what do you make of the timing of this, obviously vis-a-vis the Woodward book, which is yet to go on sale, let`s remember, and the Supreme Court hearings on the Hill. Do you think they are related and coordinated?

ELI STOKOLS, L.A. TIMES REPORTER: Well, I have no reason to think that. And just listening to what James, the editorial page editor has said publicly about this, that they received this transcript before they knew that the leaks of the Woodward book were going to come out. They weren`t thinking about some sort of one-two punch or overshadowing the Kavanaugh hearings. They found something they thought was news worthy, they made a controversial decision to publish an anonymous op-ed. And here we are.

I think the interesting thing is everybody is searching for playing this parlor game, trying to figure out who done it. I think you have to step back and ask yourself, "Why now?" As John and Nancy have talked about, a lot of our sources inside the west wing, people who talk to the press a lot, have expressed similar frustrations and similar characterizations of this west wing as we read in that op-ed.

The question is, why now somebody decided to go out and poke the bear by putting this out publicly, even if they`re not putting their name on it. They knew it would get a reaction. And I think what it tells you is that after the last couple of weeks, after we have -- we see the SDNY investigation continuing, that`s an existential threat to this President, you have the poll numbers going down, the election getting close, the Mueller probe perhaps nearing an end stage. And you have a lot of people I think inside this White House now sort of thinking more long term and considering that there could be an end game coming into play before long.

And I think that the fact that somebody decided to send this to "The New York Times" now, the timing of it is almost as interesting as if we were to figure out who actually wrote it.

WILLIAMS: And then this happened this afternoon. Let`s all gather round and listen to Steve Schmidt, whose anger and disgust over Trump has led him to leave a lifelong membership in the Republican Party, a veteran of Republican politics. He on the 4:00 p.m. hour with his colleagues here in the studio talked about the way he views this President. We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE SCHMIDT, FMR. REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: This is an hour of national emergency. it is evidenced by his behavior every day. It is evidenced by the Bob Woodward book and the other corroborating stories. It is evidenced by that op-ed and by what actual White House officials are saying to United States senators.

And from Durbin to Sasse to Corker, nobody seems capable of understanding the grave peril and danger the nation, the republic, and the world are in from this violent, corrupt man who is indecent, assaulting our institutions, unraveling the liberal global order and by account after account after account is phycologically unfit to hold any position of public trust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Well, Jonathan Lemire, he went and said it. The question is about the disconnect. What percentage of Americans does Steve Schmidt speak for right there? And do you see any migration, any movement among Republicans in Washington?

LEMIRE: Steve Schmidt always brings it.

WILLIAMS: He does.

LEMIRE: The -- there hasn`t been much migration yet. I mean, there have been -- we saw Bob Corker speak out and sort of suggest that he agree with some of the --

WILLIAMS: Leaving the Senate.

LEMIRE: That`s right. And that is what we see time and time again, is that the only Republicans who are willing to stand up and speak back to this President are those who are not going to face voters again because they`ve been term limited out or not seeking re-election or in John McCain`s case, they are greatly ill, when he was speaking out.

There has not been a movement to that. In fact, most Republicans at this point have given the President cover. Has suggested this was inappropriate, that this author should have put their name on it or should have resigned. And this person shouldn`t be working here. As you played the clip where it use to highlight the reporting earlier about Rand Paul suggesting that they should take investigative steps to sort out who this is.

You know, Paul Ryan today did say he didn`t think it was the House`s rule up (ph) job to be part of this inquiry. But then Mark Meadows, a longtime Trump ally, said, "Yes, it should be."

There has not been a sea change yet. Now, certainly my A.P. colleague who is in Montana tonight spoke to a few people in the crowd there at the Trump rally. No one there seemed to care about this op-ed. That wasn`t what was on their mind. Obviously these are Trump supporters, but if they viewed it at all, the suggestion was, that it was just another effort to try to undermine this President. That he`s doing a good job.

That`s what they care about. They don`t care about some op-ed from some career bureaucrat, you know, appearing in "The New York Times." That though the President, certainly, is concerned and those around him are concerned. It`s not clear to me, at least yet that there`s going to be any kind of sea change around him.

WILLIAMS: Nancy Cook, two kinds of guessing games under way. Number one, where is the denial to all the assertions in the op-ed? Number two, where does the guessing game stand as to who wrote this?

COOK: Well, and it`s interesting to me, you know, as you said that people in the White House aren`t really denying the substance of the op-ed. There`s not really a lot of denial of the substance of the Woodward book, which basically makes it seem like a lot of senior officials in the White House baby sit Trump and pull papers off his desk.

What they`re just trying to do is under attack the credibility of Woodward and in this case just make "The New York Times" a foil for Trump. And that`s really the strategy at this point but they`re not really getting to the substance.

In terms of the guessing game, you know, it really depends on who you talk to. You know, people have mentioned a lot of -- I think people in the White House definitely feel like it`s someone at a federal agency and they`re trying to convince Trump that it`s, you know, someone in an agency and someone low-level.

People i talk to feel like it could be a wide swath of people, including some of the people who issued denials today. And you`ll see that even in the past where there have been people where, you know, there have been anonymous sources like with deep throat with Watergate. You know Mark Felt who was deep throat and denied it on the record that he was for many years --

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes.

COOK: -- until he came out with it.

WILLIAMS: Eli, a question that between them Steve Schmidt and any number of our other contributors ask almost on a daily basis. I`ll ask you, what will it take to see migration in the Republican ranks?

STOKOLS: It may take the midterms, but that may not even do it if Republicans lose the House. I was asking that question to a lot of Republicans on the Hill today, and they say, "We just have to get through" -- one of them just said, "We have to get through the next two years." It`s going to be ugly. The House democrats, if they take over a majority there, are going to do a lot of impeachment, a lot of hearings, there`s going to be a lot chatter, a lot of investigations.

And they`re just going to have to brace for it because they know that if that is the case, that Donald Trump retaliating and reacting to that won`t be pretty either. Although I did ask them, where is that line?

You know, you talk to these people and they say, "They may not like Trump`s behavior, they may recognize the dangers that he poses to the democracy itself." But they`re caught between the base and their principles and wanting to stay in their -- in office. And so what do they do? They adhere to the base. They accept and they celebrate the policies, tax reform, the conservative judges, the things that they are getting from the Trump presidency and they look the other way on the other things.

And I asked, I said, "When does that change, when does that converge to the point where your concerns about Trump and the country start to become bigger than the conservative policy agenda items you`re checking off?" And the person who I asked that to today, a pretty high-ranking person in the Senate said, "You know what, I don`t know when we get there but those lines are getting closer. There is movement and people are starting to ask those questions, at least privately."

WILLIAMS: Interesting. The big three on a Thursday night starting us off, Jonathan Lemire, Nancy Cook, Eli Stokols, our thanks for being here.

Coming up, President Trump`s lawyer declares Mueller questions about obstruction of justice a no-go and then says, "He still might."

And later, the insurrection from some Senate Democrats during day three of Judge Kavanaugh`s Supreme Court confirmation hearing. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on the aforementioned Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Welcome back. As we mentioned, this is the polite way to put it, mixed messages tonight coming from Rudolph Giuliani on whether or not Trump will answer Robert Mueller`s questions on obstruction of justice.

Earlier today, Giuliani told our guest Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press that President Trump would not answer Mueller`s questions on obstruction of justice in writing or in person. "That`s a no-go. That is not going to happen," Giuliani said. "There will be no questions at all on obstruction."

Meanwhile, Giuliani tells NBC News earlier tonight that obstruction questions are, "Not ruled in or out."

We have asked Jonathan Lemire to stay with us for this conversation, and joining in the conversation, Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, also a veteran former senior official of the FBI.

So, Jonathan, because we`re talking about your interview, it`s been said one side of this matters, not what Rudy says, but when does it start mattering, these changes back and forth? Just in the time since your interview with him.

LEMIRE: Yes. And Rudy Giuliani, first of all, this is not the first time he`s been inconsistent.

WILLIAMS: Right.

LEMIRE: And certainly he is -- as much as his title is President`s lawyer, he`s far more President`s legal spokesman. Being much more the public face of this. And part of that is to sort of move the goal posts on to what would need to happen for the President to sit down for an interview with the special counsel, but also to shape public perception as to what that interview could be, eventually with, of course, the end game being Mueller we believe would write a report that would end up at DOJ, to Congress and they`ll make that decision and he is playing to those Congress members and to the people who vote for them. That`s where he is. That`s his target audience.

But as much as he gave mixed messages later tonight, he couldn`t have been clearer with me when we spoke.

WILLIAMS: I have no doubt.

LEMIRE: When we spoke early this evening suggesting that two things, that there would be no questions about obstruction. The President would not field them. Either in terms of sit-down interview or written.

Though, he did not discount the idea that he would take some written questions on the Russia collusion angle. And that`s in response to the Mueller teams most recent letter just from a few days ago signaling that it would be up for written questions on obstruction. But Rudy was very careful again to change the -- to move those goal posts just a little saying, "Well, we might be up for that but we really want to talk about the idea of follow-up questions. We want to know -- we`re not sure we`re going to be agreeing to any follow-up questions and we want to have that matter settled before the President answers anything at all."

WILLIAMS: OK, Chuck, you`re out in the pacific northwest, and thank you for taking time on your trip to join us. Does any of what Rudy says matter? And my question to you is, because Mueller cannot speak and will not speak, what should not speak. What should we know about how the feds view all of this?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: Right. Good question. And I`ll be polite to used the phrase "mixed messages," Brian. Rudy has been -- Mr. Giuliani has been consistently inconsistent. It`s absolutely stunning but it`s no longer surprising.

But as a former federal prosecutor, I can tell you this, while the Mueller team would like to speak with the President, in fact, they`d like to speak with everybody who`s involved in this investigation, they don`t have to. Often in federal investigations we don`t get to talk to the target of the investigation. He`s abroad or he won`t speak with us or invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege not to speak with us.

And so you can finish an investigation without speaking to the President. If Bob Mueller decides he wants to push the issue, regardless of what Mr. Giuliani says, he simply issues a grand jury subpoena and litigates that.

I don`t know what he`s thinking about doing because he won`t talk. He`s a professional and that`s the way professionals conduct themselves.

WILLIAMS: All right. So I`m asked to -- I`m allowed to ask our lawyer in this case, what do you think about the possibility of what you just mentioned, a subpoena, knowing Mueller and his work as much as you do?

ROSENBERG: Yes. That`s a real tough call because you have to decide whether the reward, perhaps getting the President to speak. Remember, he could still invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege, is worth the risk. And the risk here is both litigating it and perhaps losing it. Although I think that`s unlikely, as well as the attendant delay.

Again, because you don`t have to speak to everybody in an investigation, you can speak to enough people and look at enough documents to have an idea, a very good idea of what the President did and why he did it.

Do I think that Bob Mueller will subpoena the President? I really don`t know, Brian. I know it`s tempting but, again, you have to weigh that risk and that reward.

WILLIAMS: Chuck Rosenberg, thank you, as always, for your candor and your expertise. Jonathan Lemire, thank you for your reporting. Appreciate it, gentlemen.

Coming up, the President says that Democrats is trying to stop his Supreme Court nominee are both angry and mean. But are they doing real damage, are they landing know blows? We`ll look at that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Senate is now considering a truly exceptional nominee for the United States Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh. And he`s doing really well. But do you believe the anger and the meanness on the other side? Sick. It`s sick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Day three of the confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh featured another fairly dramatic round of fireworks. Frustrations been mounting among the Democrats over documents marked confidential from Kavanaugh`s time in the Bush White House. Well, today Democrats began releasing them even after warnings that breaking Senate rules could lead to expulsion from the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I`m going to release the e-mail about racial profiling and I understand that that -- the penalty comes with potential ouster from the Senate. This is about the closest I`ll probably ever have in my life to an I am Spartacus moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The hearing then pivoted to the issue of abortion with the disclosure of a 2003 e-mail about a draft of an op-ed piece on Roe v. Wade. In the e-mail Kavanaugh that he wasn`t sure all legal scholars referred to Roe v. Wade as settled law of the land. Because the Supreme Court could always overrule it at the time there were three justices now four who could vote that way.

Today Kavanaugh was asked to explain his thinking and what he believes about Roe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE BETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Roe v. Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It`s been reaffirmed many times.

I thought the op-ed should be accurate about what -- in describing legal scholars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Democrats also pressed Kavanaugh for specifics on his views about presidential power, specifically in the context of this current administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Give us some reassurance about your commitment to the democratic institutions of this country and -- in the face of a president who seemed prepared to cast them aside.

KAVANAUGH: My 12-year record shows and my statements to the committee show and all my teaching and articles show -- show my commitment to the independence of the judiciary as the crowned jewel of our constitutional republic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Kavanaugh also had a chance for something of a do-over with Senator Kamala Harris. Last night, she asked him whether he had ever talked to anyone at the law firm of Marc Kasowitz, who once represented President Trump in the Mueller investigation. Kavanaugh`s answer had sounded less than definitive. Tonight he gave a different response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes or no, have you ever been part of a conversation with lawyers at the firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torrez about special counsel Mueller or his investigation? And I asked were you ever part of a conversation, I`m not asking you what did you say.

KAVANAUGH: Right.

HARRIS: I`m asking you, were you a party to a conversation that occurred regarding special counsel Mueller`s investigation? And a simple yes or no would suffice.

KAVANAUGH: About his investigation. And are you referring to a specific person?

HARRIS: I`m referring to a specific subject and the specific person I`m referring to is you.

KAVANAUGH: Who was the conversation with? You said you had information.

HARRIS: That is not the subject of the question, sir. The subject of the question is you and whether you were part of a conversation regarding special counsel Mueller`s investigation.

KAVANAUGH: The answer is no.

HARRIS: Thank you. It would have been great if you could have said that last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Joining us conversation tonight, Josh Gerstein, Senior White House reporter for Politico, focusing on legal, national security issues. A lot of that around here lately. And Kim Wehle, former U.S. assistant attorney for the District of Columbia. She was associate independent counsel in the Waterwater investigation and worked with Brett Kavanaugh among others during enquiry.

Welcome to you both. Josh, let me begin with you. Did the witness pass the Senator Harris test? She became the latest senator to ask these questions that always indicate I know something, I`ve got something, I`m going to try to get you there.

JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSR REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, I mean, I think there is a fine line, Brian, between caution and evasion, and it seemed at times that Kavanaugh was bleeding over from simply being cautious into being evasive or seeming shifty. Whether he intended to convey that or whether he actually was hiding something is unclear.

I guess the flip side of it is that Senator Harris still hasn`t made clear exactly what this information is that she has that suggests that Kavanaugh`s answers about his contacts with the Kasowitz firm are not accurate. At one point the judge offered that he is friends with or at least well acquainted with a gentleman who`s a partner at that firm named Ed Mcnally who was a lawyer in the White House counsel`s office along with Kavanaugh at the same time he served under Bush.

But then Kavanaugh said he hadn`t had any conversations about Mueller with that fellow either, so it`s not entirely clear why he brought that name up. So I do think there were moments at which Kavanaugh didn`t seem at his best in answering these questions, but I`m not sure that on the panel or in the broader Senate that any minds were changed by the display we saw today and last night.

WILLIAMS: Kim, as best you can as a lawyer, do you think these documents we have learned about today, the whole pile of them, are impactful, in fact, and do you think we have a right to see his work product from 35 months of his life in the Bush White House?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Well, under the presidential records act, the Bush records belong to the people not to Mr. Bush and certainly not to Mr. Trump. And I`m concerned with the institution of the Supreme Court and the way it`s being so deeply politicized by the majority party here.

I think we can think back to the last contentious Supreme Court hearing in our recent history and that would be Clarence Thomas. When Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment there was a unanimous vote in the Senate, a bipartisan vote, to stall the proceedings and engage in a hearing on that particular issue.

He was ultimately confirmed and there was a poll I think over him. And I think it`s unfortunate that in the highly polarized temperature we`re in as a country by virtue of this particular President that Brett Kavanaugh is now in a similar situation.

I do think this information should come out. I think that the Republicans in Congress in shifting the cloture vote from 60 to 50 with Neil Gorsuch and punting Merrick Garland`s nomination cynically and unnecessarily so Obama didn`t get his.

I think we`re creating a situation where the legitimacy of the court itself is being questioned in an environment where we already have a broken executive branch and a broken Congress. And I think that`s really the tragedy here.

WILLIAMS: And remember what Bush V. Gore did to questions about this court politically. Hey, Josh, Kim raises a great point. All the character witnesses for this judge say Kavanaugh`s a nice guy, really smart. Everyone said Merrick Garland, nice guy, very smart. What is the Paul Merrick Garland holds among this gathering?

GERSTEIN: Well, among Democrats there is no question that shadow continues to extend over this. I think perhaps the brilliance of the Republican move, though, here by Mitch McConnell is it does now seem a long time ago that this episode with Merrick Garland took place.

We`ve had a whole Supreme Court nomination in between. And so, I think in the public mind and the way people think about these things, it becomes more difficult as time goes on to convey some sort of urgency about a wrong done to Merrick Garland two years ago when we`re talking about a nominee that is not even the most recent nominee to follow Garland.

So, there`s no question that is lingering out there. There`s a lot of bitterness on Democrats on that side, and I also think among Democratic senators when many of them cast their votes you`ll see that issue of Merrick garland raised again and again. And perhaps that will even be at the forefront in Kavanaugh`s qualifications or views on these issues might actually take a back seat to some of that ongoing strife between the two parties about the Supreme Court.

WILLIAMS: Kim, you`re a lawyer and not a politician, God bless you, but this question involves both. Collins and Murkowski, two prominent Republican senators who are notably, publicly and loudly pro-choice. How do you think they get to a yes vote on this guy unless he`s been speaking code to them in their senate offices?

WEHLE: Well, I know people have been saying Brett Kavanaugh is the most conservative possible nominee and this is a disaster for abortion rights, but that is the Republican platform with this President. I think -- I don`t think Brett Kavanaugh, knowing him is going to make these decisions based on ideology, based on religion.

He does have a conservative point of view. I think it`s possible that when he talks about precedent being something he respects and that Roe v. Wade itself and that decision that abortion rights are protected by the constitution has been reaffirmed, I think that`s something to pay attention to.

Whether he would continue to uphold burdens on the abortion right, such that eventually people can`t eventually get them, I think that`s more of the open question and perhaps it`s that delta that these women in Congress are comfortable taking a gamble on with the idea that another nominee could be much, I think much more clearly and squarely in the camp of reversing Roe v. Wade itself.

WILLIAMS: Counselor, thank you very much for coming on. You, too, Josh. Really appreciate both of you joining our conversation.

GERSTEIN: Sure.

WILLIAMS: And we`re better for it.

Coming up, the foreign leader President Trump found time to praise this morning and again tonight in Montana when we come back.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just came on stage and I was told that Kim Jong-un said some terrific things about me. He said I have faith in President Trump. Think of this. You don`t hear that from them. And I`ll tell you what, I respect him, he respects me, and I think something`s going to happen.

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WILLIAMS: It was odd because the President already tweeted about his remarks this morning and that was tonight in Montana. But whatever. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says he wants to denuclearize before the end of the President`s current term.

And truth in advertising here, there is zero reason to believe that. The pledge came out of a meeting with South Korean officials Wednesday. The envoy who spoke to Kim relayed this message, "Kim Jong-un made it clear that his trust in President Trump remains and will remain unchanged, even though there have recently been some difficulties in negotiations between the North and the United States."

And that, hearing that was enough to be rewarded by Donald Trump who said this, again, bright and early this morning. "Kim Jong-un of North Korea proclaims unwavering faith in President Trump. Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together.

Tonight in Montana, as you saw, Trump said Kim had said terrific things about him. Said the two men have a good feeling. "He likes me, I like him." All of this comes after Secretary of State Pompeo cancelled his planned trip there amid reports that North Korea`s actually expanding its nuclear research center.

Just today, the Justice Department announced it charged a North Korean computer operative in a 2014 conspiracy to hack Sony pictures and U.S. banks. It is all why we are always so happy to see Clint Watts former FBI special agent and member of the joint terrorism task force.

This has been your career`s work, Clint. What are we missing by covering all of the stories we`ve been covering that is in your area of expertise here?

CLINT WATTS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I think it`s quite remarkable that the North Koreans were the sort of untold story of hacking and cyber. I mean lowest penetration of the internet of really any country in the world and yet they were able to carry out very sophisticated hacks, not only on the Sony pictures, which has been, rumored to some time, but this provides confirmation on their financial hacking.

They stole $81 billion in one shot from Bangladesh. They were actually going around the world and committing financial crimes, which is different for nation states. We usually think of espionage or election interference, that sort of thing.

They were actually going around just trying to gather money, which is very different approach. And they were part of one of the more devastating attacks called WannaCry which almost shut down the entire cyber space at one point back in 2017. So this was evidence that everybody had heard rumors of, but this is attribution we had not seen out in the public.

WILLIAMS: You wrote an incredibly scary piece in the Washington Post. I`ll just read the headline "Artificial intelligence is transforming social media. Can american democracy survive?" What do you mean there, friend?

WATTS: It is the playground where everybody comes to influence and there is no better place, there is no more effective place, there is no cheaper place to go and target individuals and try and shape their views. You`re hearing a lot of debate. Do we regulate? Do we not regulate?

But the people that will dominate in the future are those with advanced technology. If you have artificial intelligence, you can mine people`s data. You can merge that data with other public data sets. You can then take that and use it with bots to figure out what`s the most engaging conversation.

Think about moving your fitness tracker or your ancestry or your genetics. A lot of these data points are there. Think about what you can do over time to really understand that. And the people that understand that best are P.R. firms and political campaigns. They`ve got the resources. They`ll hire the companies that can do it and take that Kremlin playbook that we`ve been talking about for the last two years.

They can put that on steroids if they want. It won`t just destroy our democracy. It`ll destroy the social media platforms as well.

WILLIAMS: Has there been perverse proof for you in your operating thesis to read in this anonymous op-ed and portions of the Woodward book that it is apparently true on the inside this is a President unable or unwilling or both to say bad things, to do bad things to Putin, to Russia?

WATTS: Yes. One of the strangest parts of this is that he is the king of Twitter and yet at the same point completely denies cyber. That`s been the downfall consistent. If you look at our China policy, it doesn`t really come up when President Trump talks about it. Russia. Even Iran, which we`ve been on the attack about. We saw indictments and charges and shutdowns on social media. Doesn`t really come up.

WILLIAMS: The world is burning while we have this conversation.

WATTS: And now in North Korea today while he`s essentially heaping praise on Kim, at the same time we`re putting out, indictments basically against hackers from North Korea, which really undermines that message. Some of the excerpts that have leaked out of the Woodward book basically said, one of the quotes to Tom Bossert, the cyber adviser, I want to watch the masters. You`re going to get me a war with this cyber stuff.

It`s remarkable because this is something that we`ve gotten better at. We`ve now seen China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, which is a bad actors in cyber space. We`ve actually seen the U.S. government do attribution, which is very hard to do, and take that indictments. So we`re getting better at this yet at the same point it seems like at the top level we`re not taking it very serious.

WILLIAMS: Please continue to visit us and talk about this.

WATTS: Thanks friend.

WILLIAMS: Clint Watts, always a pleasure. When we come back, a departure to note from this American life.

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WILLIAMS: When we got the news that Burt Reynolds had died, it felt like the 1970s had died along with him. That`s partly why it`s so difficult for especially young people who have only know Burt Reynolds as an old man wearing rose colored glasses.

The truth about Burt Reynolds is how important he was at the time as a star. Something like Clooney and Brad, Pitt and Cooper combined. He was the biggest star in Hollywood for years running at one point in 1978 he had four separate movies in theaters.

At his height on a bare skin rug, he posed nudes famously and what become a festival of body hair. Born in Michigan race in Florida as the son of police chief, his first love was football, first in high school then he went on to Florida State until a knee injury put an end to all that.

It`s part of why he loved making the movie the "Longest Yard" which followed his massive success in deliverance that was in 1972. That lost out that year to the "God Father" as best picture. "Smocking in the Bandits," survives him along with his late and life achievement in Boogie night as an aging porn film director. He was proud of the best actor nomination that brought him.

He seemed to spend half his time on camera either chewing gum or winking or cracking wines. But it all worked for him. The guy who famously turned down the lead role of "Star Wars" and "Pretty Woman" and "Die Hard", "One Flew Over the Cockoo`s Nest and "Terms of Endearment." Set out to have a good time in life and by all accounts Burt Reynolds succeeded while it took a huge toll on his health and led to a painful bankruptcy.

He was also fortunate to work in an era decades prior to the advent of high definition TV, because that was toupee on his head the whole time and it got grayer as he did. He dated and married a slew of famous women. He lived the life and always returned to Florida where he died today at the age of 82.

We`re back with more right after this.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, two years ago today Donald Trump tweeted these things. "China wouldn`t provide a red carpet stair way from air force one and then Philippines President calls Obama "son of a whore" terrible.

Also this Trump had very important save our America before too late And this "Mainstream media never cover Hillary`s massive hacking or coughing attack. Yet it is number one trending, what`s up."

Well, it was simpler time back then, Donald Trump was the Republican nominee and we were just getting started. We point this out because two years ago tonight it was our first night on the air. And we said with great confidence on that night this broadcast was designed to last nine weeks from September 6th of 2016 just on through election night.

And indeed for those nine weeks we were on the air four nights a week for 30 minutes a night, what could go wrong? Well, our show got its name not so much from our east coast air time of 11:00 p.m., but because remember we were in THE 11TH HOUR. See what we did there, of a history making presidential campaign.

Here we are two years later. We`re still on the air one hour every night, five nights a week covering mostly just the one topic, that day, this day and the life of this presidential administration. This is all by way of saying thank you. We strive to get it right here every night. We could not, would not do it without you.

My thanks as well to the best staff in the industry. And the best reporters working today whom make up our guests list on this broadcast night after night. So, that`s our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us tonight and everyday.

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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