Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 7, 2018 Guest: Anita Kumar, Brian Bennett, John McWhorter, Lanhee Chen
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the President intensifies his hunt for the author of that anonymous op-ed. He is now asking his attorney general to find the leaker under the guise of national security.
Plus, sentencing day for George Papadopoulos, the man at the table with candidate Trump, who offered to broker a meeting with Putin. Tonight, his lawyer is blaming President Trump.
And 44 goes after 45, Obama is back. He`s calling out Trump by name. He`s rallying the Dems and wondering what has become of the Republican Party. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Friday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 596 of the Trump Administration may well be remembered as the day when the previous president got in the game.
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BARACK OBAMA, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The politics of division and resentment and paranoia has, unfortunately, found a home in the Republican Party.
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WILLIAMS: Much more on Barack Obama`s re-emergence a bit later on in this broadcast here tonight.
But first, the current President is escalating his effort to find and unmask the anonymous author of that explosive op-ed piece in "The New York Times."
And today, unbothered bid what the President would do if that happened, Donald Trump suggested, using his Justice Department to do just that.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Jeff Sessions should be up investigating who the author of the op-ed piece was or who said --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think so, because I it`s national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it`s national security.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there action that should be taken against the "New York Times"?
TRUMP: We`re going to see. I`m looking at that right now. It only happened yesterday. But I am looking. I am looking at it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said last night that it`s treason what happened. In this country we punish treason with the death penalty. Are you serious about that?
TRUMP: We`re going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he`s talking about, also where he is right now.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: As you can probably tell already, the President spoke on board Air Force One, recorded in audio form and not by cameras, while traveling from Montana to North Dakota.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want your people to take lie detecter tests about this op-ed?
TRUMP: People have suggested it. Rand Paul, who i like and respect, came out this morning. He said, "Have them take lie detecter tests."
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WIILIAMS: The "New York Times" responded today with a statement that reads, "We are confident that the Department of Justice understands that the First Amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power. The President`s threats both underscore why we must safeguard the identity of the writer of this op-ed and serve as a reminder of the importance of a free and independent press to American democracy."
So far, nearly 30 administration officials, there they all are, from the Vice President on down have issued statements saying some version of, it`s not me. We heard from two of them today, including Kellyanne Conway.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you write the op-ed?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNCELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: No, I did not. Everything I think I have the courage to say publicly.
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WIILIAMS; Conway added the anonymous op-ed author should resign.
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, also weighed in, writing her own, it`s not me op-ed to the "Washington Post," which was intern posted this afternoon. She writes, "I don`t agree with the President on everything. When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it. I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person."
As already noted, former President Obama had plenty to say today about the current administration, including it`s responds to criticism from opponents and the news media.
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OBAMA: It should not be Democrat or Republican. It shouldn`t be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents. Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up.
It shouldn`t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don`t threaten the freedom of the press, because they say things or publish stories we don`t like.
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WILLIAMS: The current President is said to be still fuming, kind of in advance, over how he`s portrayed in Bob Woodward`s new book, "Fear," which still doesn`t come out, a reminder, until next week.
One of the juicier anecdotes reportedly involves former Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, going in and swiping a letter off Trump`s desk so he wouldn`t see it or sign it. The letter would have ended the trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.
Woodward shows the letter in his book. Today, Trump said, "It`s just not true."
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Gary Cohn actually take a memo off your desk? Is he a traitor?
TRUMP: No. He never took -- he never took a memo off my desk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did Woodward get it?
TRUMP: Gary Cohn, if he ever took a memo on my desk -- off my desk, I would have fired him in two seconds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our lead-off panel, shall we on a Friday night, at the end of this olong though oddly shortened week. Anita Kumar, White House correspondent for McClatchy Newspaper, Brian Bennett, senior White House correspondent for "Time" magazine, and Jeremy Bash, back with us as well, former chief of staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel to the House Intel Committee. Good evening to you all.
And Anita, what is your latest reporting? We have to ask this hourly these days from inside this west wing.
ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, well, you hit on it. The President is still very, very upset. People have used words that he`s obsessed. He wants to know who wrote this.
But, you know, there`s all sorts of talk about finding out who this person is. But I`m hearing they haven`t launched any official investigation. And even when the President, you know, sort of says Jeff Sessions should take this on, DOJ should take this on, he`s not actually directed him to it.
But we`ve seen this before, right? He suggests lots of things but doesn`t actually come right out and order it. So, he still wants to know who it is. He`s still is guessing who it is. He`s still trying to come up with a short list of who it is.
WILLIAMS: Brian, we`ve been forced into this parsing of words, really in an unprecedented fashion. You hear the President right there and say, "Cohn never took a memo off my desk." Memo`s for internal use, letters are for external use. So, there could be that, I suppose.
When you hear the President say that he trusts the people around him, in your view, after being around this west wing, should he?
BRIAN BENNETT, TIME MAGAZINE SR. W.H. CORRESPONDENT: Well, it`s a wishful thinking on the President`s part, for him to say that. I think there`s -- one thing about the President is when he populated the White House, he had to bring people in who he hadn`t had long relationships with. And a lot of those people are still in his Cabinet and are still around. And that`s just a product of the President being an outsider and not having a deep bench of people and advisers when he came into the White House.
And so there are still are people who came from other worlds that the President doesn`t know that well around him. And the fact this op-ed came out has set that in relief and made the President even more paranoid that some people who he doesn`t have many year relationship with may be trying to undermine him.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, what would be the problem with the President after labeling it a national security issue, assigning the levers and machinery of government, in this case, his Justice Department, to go after, root out, discover, and probably go after an anonymous author from within his own ranks?
JEREMY BASH. FMR. CIA CIEF OF STAFF: Well, it`s completely inappropriate to use the apparatus of the government, the national security authorities and capabilities of the U.S. government, to go try to squelch political dissent, political criticism. He would be -- basically be invoking national security in a very authoritarian mode to try to root out anybody who is a political critic.
And it`s interesting, Brian, because if you re-read that op-ed, it was all about the fact that people in the government are simply ignoring the President and basically doing their job and ignoring when he directs them to do outlandish things. We saw this at the Pentagon when he directed them to build 30,000 nuclear weapons. The Pentagon said, "We`re not going to do it." We see in the Woodward book, when the President said, "Go assassinate Assad," people said, "We`re not going to do it."
And here, again, I think nobody is going to lift a finger at the FBI or the Justice Department to investigate this, as that would be manifestly inappropriate, illegal, and unconstitutional.
WILLIAMS: Anita, lest we go a week without mention of Omarosa, she was on "Hardball" tonight, talking about what she sees as the President`s current state of mind. We`ll listen and talk about it on the other side.
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OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE AIDE: This is triggering all of his worse fears. And it`s going to make him go around and hunt down this person in the White House, in the agencies, and it is not a good precedent.
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WILLIAMS: So, Anita, the question I ask you on a near weekly basis, if you take out the Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a separate entity, how did the Trump agenda advance this week? And convince me that inside the west wing it was anything but this hunt for the author of this piece.
KUMAR: Right. Well, it was the Bob Woodward first and then the hunt for the author, right?
KUMAR: Right. This was the week of the Supreme Court nomination hearings. This is something that the White House feels very good about. They feel like they have the votes on.
And of course, there was a lot of attention paid to that. But then, you know, on -- at the Capitol, but over at the White House, theirs is, you know, one thing after another.
This is the -- I mean, the job numbers came out today and you can argue who should take credit for them, but they were pretty good. Didn`t get a lot of attention. You played some of what the President said on Air Force One. He also complained that stories about the economy aren`t getting the attention they deserve. And you could argue that it`s because there`s one drama after another at the White House.
So, you know, this is the time right now, right after Labor Day, where he`s really going to go into campaign mode. We obviously seen him on the road this week. We`re going to see him on the road next week. He really wants to take that message, the Republican message, the midterm message, to voters. But he is having trouble sticking to what the message should be.
WILLIAMS: Brian Bennett, the old gray lady, as people are fond of calling the "New York Times," certainly doe have a fresh coat of paint, though, we are begging them to put bylines back on page one. It strikes us all the time that this broadcast every night covers the journalism and the journalists of that day.
All of you, if you`re a journalist or a former U.S. attorney, you`re guaranteed a spot on this broadcast. Talk about, thus far, the role of journalists and journalism in this presidency.
BENNETT: Well, this White House has really crystallized the mission. I mean, it`s incredibly important to be accurate and fast in getting the news out. And also to try to say in plain language what`s happening.
And when a presidency is going against norms and doing things that are unprecedented, to be able to describe that quickly and accurately, so people can get a clear picture of what`s happening. And we`ve been working hard to do that. It`s going to be really interesting to see over the next couple months, as the President goes out even more on the campaign trail.
The White House right now seems to want to put him out to be his own spokesman, rather than doing daily briefings. They haven`t done it for a long time. And so reporters are having fewer and fewer opportunities to get the White House on the record on questions they want to ask them about, and only able to get the President when he makes himself available at space (ph) in the Oval Office and listen to what he says at these rallies and events that he goes to.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, on things political, we often ask our guests, what will it take to move Republicans off the dime? The question to you, what was your pivotal moment? Has it already arrived? Will you know it when it happens? Or is it, as it is for so many people, the kind of slow-moving, frog-boiling experiment, of rolling moments every day?
BASH: Well, when I talk to people inside the government, inside the Intelligence Community, inside the Defense Department, I sense a huge frustration because their job, in many respects, is to support a policy process, and there is no policy process. There are no deputies meetings, there are no principals meetings. There`s no regular order in the way that policy is made.
I think the Woodward book explains this. The anonymous author explains this, as well. The President makes up policies and fires them off and decides things at whim without the input of facts, information, expertise, intelligence, and deliberation. So we`re getting a horrible result.
The thing I worry about, Brian, is as we come to the midterms, that many people inside the government who are actually trying to do a good job are going to leave. They`re going to say, we`ve served two years, we`re done, we`re going to leave with our reputations somewhat intact, if they can. And that`s going to be very hard to replace them.
And then we`re going to really have a government without anybody to check the President of the United States.
WILLIAMS: We`re much obliged to the big three for starting us off on a Friday night. Anita Kumar, Brian Bennett, Jeremy Bash, thank you all of you, for coming on with us again tonight.
Coming up for us, the sentence for George Papadopoulos for lying to the feds.
And then later, former presidents firry return to the campaign trail 44 goes after 45. As Obama asks what has become of the GOP?
THE 11TH HOUR at the end of a shortened work week on a Friday night just getting underway.
WILLIAMS: George Papadopoulos is now the first former Trump campaign aide to be sentenced in Special Counsel Mueller`s investigation. The one-time adviser sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia-linked individuals during the campaign.
Before today`s sentencing, the President was trying to distance himself from Papadopoulos.
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TRUMP: I don`t know Papadopoulos. I don`t know him. I saw him sitting in one picture at a table with me. That`s the only thing I know about him.
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WILLIAMS: That picture shows the adviser sitting with the then-candidate and his security team back in 2016. Papadopoulos worked on the campaign for several months. The trump crowd, you remember, rather famously tried to diminish his role to that of coffee boy. It is clear now he was not.
Also today, a long-time friend of Roger Stone`s appeared before a Mueller grand jury in D.C. his name is Randy Credico. He is a lot of thing, a radio personality, a stand-up comic who ones appeared on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, and a perineal political candidate here in New York.
Importantly, Roger Stone had called him his "back channel" to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Credico, accompanied by his comforted by his dog was questioned for several hours today and has now been subpoenaed to do the same before the Senate Intel Committee.
There`s also new reporting from Bloomberg, this is important, according to sources, former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort lawyers have talked to prosecutors about a plea deal to avoid this coming second criminal trial.
It`s enough to qualify for a conversation with Joyce Vance, former U.S. attorney.
In fact in light of Obama`s re-emergence today, we can remind the audience, Joyce`s name was among the first five U.S. nominations President Obama made. Joyce is a 25-year veteran.
As a federal prosecutor, Joyce, I want to take things out of order and begin with the last thing we said. It`s an interesting time, isn`t it, for Manafort`s lawyers to be talking about a deal now. Do you believe it?
JOYCE VANCE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: I do believe it. It makes sense to me because Manafort has exposure in this second trial. And it will also cost him a lot of money to move forward. So if he`s going to conclude a plea deal with prosecutors, now would be the time.
What we don`t know from this reporting is, does he just want to plead to the indictment and go home, go to prison, or does he want to plead and cooperate with the Mueller investigation? That`s the most interesting thing to look for here.
WILLIAMS: Now, let`s talk about Papadopoulos. Fourteen days, I think by anyone`s standard is a light sentence. It also comes with a year of supervised release. Does that -- can we glean anything from that? Does it mean, perhaps, he was so helpful that this liberal decision is a reward? Does it mean that it turns out he didn`t have that much stuff?
VANCE: I think this is anything but a reward. White collar criminal sentencing in the federal system tends to be very light. Papadopoulos had no criminal history. Under the sentencing guidelines, he fell into the lowest category. The zero to six month range for custody.
The fact that Mueller`s team asked for any custodial sentence at all, I read as a signal that they were not happy with what they got from George Papadopoulos.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, what about all that talk, admittedly, a lot of it was from Rudolph Giuliani, that when we got within the 60-day window of the midterms, even though Donald Trump is on the ballot, Mueller`s office would suddenly go dark, pencils down, work suspended till after the midterms. This happened, we had grand jury testimony and a sentencing today and we`re now within that 60-day window.
VANCE: We are. And I think we heard every former federal prosecutor who comments on the station push back against Giuliani`s characterization of that role. DOJ has a policy that prosecutors should engage in serious consideration and make every effort to not take steps that could implement an election. That doesn`t mean prosecutors have to shutdown and go dark. It means, for instance, you might forgo announcing a new startling indictment plus to an election.
It doesn`t mean you can`t continue to work, go to grand jury, move forward with a previously scheduled trial. So, I think we`ll see this work continue.
WILLIAMS: We have a few seconds left, they`ve talked to everybody, but Roger Stone dog walker, do you still contain he has a lot to worry about?
VANCE: I think he does have a lot to worry about. The interesting question here is, is he Mueller`s end goal or is he just another step on the way up the chain?
WILLIAMS: Always fantastic to have. Joyce Vance, thank yo so much for joining us on a Friday night.
Coming up for us, for Democrats secretly worried about this midterms. President Obama might as well have written in into today`s speech on a horse even if the current President said later, "He slept (ph) her with (ph)," when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
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OBAMA: It did not start wit Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He`s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. a fear and anger that is rooted in our past but also borne out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes."
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WILLIAMS: Democrats have been saying they need him, the left has been saying, they need to hear from him. And so today, they did with in the 60- day window until the midterm elections.
Today the last president reappeared and came out swinging in his attack of the current President. And what we call a "new normal." It happened during an hour long speech at the University of Illinois.
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OBAMA: I complain plenty about Fox News. But you never hear try to shut them down or call them "enemies of the people." It shouldn`t be Democratic or Republican to say, "We don`t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray, we are Americans. We`re supposed to standup to bullies. Not follow them."
We`re supposed to stand up to discrimination. And we`re sure attacks supposed stand up, clearly and unequivocally, to Nazi sympathizers.
How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Obama also offered stinging criticism of what`s become of the Republican Party.
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OBAMA: They`re undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia. What happened to the Republican Party? Its central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against Communism, and now they`re cozying up to the former head of the KGB, actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack. What happened?
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WILLIAMS: On queue, President Trump responded to Obama`s speech today during his own remarks in Fargo.
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TRUMP: I`m sorry, I watched it, but I fell asleep. I found this very good, very good for sleeping.
WILLIAMS: With us tonight to talk about all of it, Lanhee Chen, senior advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, also happens to be research fellow at the Hoover Institute and former presidential campaign advisor to both Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney among others. And Jonathan Allen, veteran journalist and author currently our own NBC News national political reporter.
Jonathan, you get to go first, only because I want to ask you based on your experience, he went after Trump by name, were you surprised?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I was a little surprise. Usually former presidents aren`t willing to give up the halo effect of being out of office to essentially risk their popularity, the memory of their presidency by getting back in the fights with the current president. It`s deeply unusual, but we live in the unusual times.
And as you mentioned before President Obama has been getting a lot of pressure from his left to engage in this fight. I think it`s important to remember that Donald Trump won the Presidency by beating Hillary Clinton in a lot of counties and swing states that Barack Obama had won. He has better standing in a lot of those places than any other Democrat right now.
So there`s a lot of pressure on him to speak up. And I think some of the things he said, look, as he put it, it shouldn`t be that hard to say Nazis are bad. I will even take that, you know, that really brave step and say Nazis are bad. I hope I don`t get any blow back from people criticizing me for making an opinion there.
But I do think we live in sort of deeply unusual times. And obviously he felt, he wanted to stand up and say something that they`re not going to see on the campaign trail. It will be interesting to see two presidents at the same time on the campaign trail. Because we haven`t seen that, at least, in terms of the most recent president campaigning during while the current one is.
WILLIAMS: Lanhee, we should say something here. And that is, when 44 got elected, 43 did the usual classy President thing and said, I`m going to keep my silence and hang back and enjoy retirement. I`m quite certain that 44, in criticizing 45. It was not an easy decision for him. What else did you find notable today?
LANHEE CHEN, SENIOR ADVISOR, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: Well, it could not have been an easy decision because it was clearly not something. It was a break with tradition.
I thought the other thing that was interesting was how aggressively President Obama tied what President Trump has done to the Republican Party. And this is really an effort to aim squarely at some of these voters that are moderate Republicans or maybe convincible independents. The theory being that those individuals are the ones that are going to who -- who are going to swing the election in November.
Now the challenge with that theory, of course, is that midterm election -- electorates traditionally have been base electorates. It`s about getting out the Republican base to the Democratic base. And this appeal really is something that, I think, will energize Democrats, yes, but also Republicans. Again, with the ideas they can get enough independent support, maybe they can win in some of these marginal districts.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan, Obama could not make the difference for Hillary Clinton in 2016. We may well learn that there were other factors at work. Obviously, a midterm is different. Obviously, absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially on the left. Do you think it`s a difference he can make, to Lanhee`s point, this time?
ALLEN: I think Lanhee makes a good point that generally speaking midterms are base elections. But when I talked to strategists of both parties right now, they still are aiming at those swing voters, particularly those loosely affiliated Republicans or people who feel, somewhat alienated from the party. And, I think that`s why you`re seeing so much negativity, frankly, from both sides.
While you are seeing Republicans dump tons of opposition research on Democrats in districts across the country with the idea that they`re going to try to disqualify those Democrats. I think what you`re hearing from President Obama, as Lanhee pointed out, this was a very partisan message and tying Donald Trump to the Republicans. He`s trying to -- he is basically trying to get the same thing accomplished.
WILLIAM: Lanhee, I want to read to you what Lindsey Graham said on Twitter today about President Obama.
"The more President Barack Obama speaks about the good old years of his presidency, the more likely President Donald Trump is to get re-elected. In fact, the best explanations of President Trump`s victory are the results of the Obama presidency."
And this next one I couldn`t help. From May of 2016, same guy, Lindsey Graham. "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed, and we will deserve it." I guess there, right there is the problem for Republican office holders in Washington in microcosm.
CHEN: Well, look. The difference between then and now has a lot to do with Donald Trump`s popularity with Republican voters. I mean, if you look at where Donald Trump is now, he`s getting 87 to 90 percent of support from Republican voters consistently. You take a state like North Dakota, where the President just was, where he won in 2016 in huge numbers. He is going to have a huge positive impact on Congressman Cramer, who is the candidate in North Dakota. That matters a lot, to these guys who are sitting incumbent.
So the way that they view President Trump is largely through the lens of how the Republican base electorate views the President. And he is in a much more popular place now than he was during the campaign, when Senator Graham tweeted that original tweet about the President.
WILLIAM: Is it fair to say that there are Republican office holders, especially in the leadership, with a kind of blood on their hands, as we are discussing Nazis in 2018?
CHEN: Well, this is one of those things where I think Republicans would do well to be absolutely crystal clear about things that have to be denounced. Regardless of what anyone else in the party is saying. There are always going to be elements of both parties that are going to say things that are ridiculous about a number of different issues.
But to be crystal clear, to denounce white nationalism, to denounce racism, that seems like a fairly simple thing, regardless of who you`re going up against.
WILLIAM: To Jonathan`s point, let`s go out on a limb and do that together. Gentlemen, I can`t thank you enough, Lanhee Chen and Jonathan Allen, two of our returning veterans.
And coming up for us on a Friday night, the star witness on the Hill today was the star witness on the Hill almost a half century ago. We will talk to someone who was there. More on that when we come back
WILLIAMS: Today marked the last day of Judge Brett Kavanaugh`s confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. It was quite the scene on Capitol Hill when former Nixon White House counsel John Dean was sworn in to testify in the Kavanaugh hearing after being called by Democrats as something of an expert witness.
Dean, of course, was a huge witness in the Watergate scandal, and a star witness during those televised hearings, with his wife, Maureen, famously seated behind him. He helped bring down Nixon after cooperating with prosecutors. He served four months in prison. And today, Dean offered this analysis specifically here on the topic of presidential powers, if Judge Kavanaugh is indeed confirmed to this court.
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JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: If Judge Kavanaugh joins the court, it will be the most presidential powers friendly court in the modern era. Judge Kavanaugh has a very broad view of presidential powers. For example, he would have the Congress immunize sitting presidents from both civil and criminal liability. Under Judge Kavanaugh`s recommendation, if a president shot somebody in cold blood on Fifth Avenue, that president could not be prosecuted while in office.
WILLIAMS: As we`ve reported, Judge Kavanaugh has dodged key questions that could come into play with respect to the Mueller investigation. He wouldn`t say, for instance, whether President Trump has the right to pardon himself or whether a sitting president must be required to respond to a subpoena.
Well, with us this evening is someone who was there, we think, as a small child, when John Dean became a household name, Jill Wine-Banks Attorney and former Assistant Watergate Special Counsel.
Jill, a lot of people were sad to see at the end of the session today, Senator John no-relation Kennedy of Louisiana kind of smeared John Dean and compared him to a rat. It was an unfortunate moment. Dean was already, tonight, kind of willing to laugh it off. But other than that, how did it strike you today, seeing John Dean, of all people, testifying on the Hill?
JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I`m very used to that because John Dean has done a lot about Watergate since the time and, of course, was a critical witness in the Watergate trial. But he has been offering an ethics course for lawyers from the lessons that he learned during Watergate. So it isn`t surprising that he is an expert in what an out of control presidency looks like and what the dangers of having unlimited executive authority are and the need to have some oversight beyond the Congressional acts of impeachment.
WILLIAMS: Your experience and your legal standing are the reasons we always like to have you on. And I know you`re asked this, given your experience a lot, but what are the dots you connect, if any at all, between that time, that case, and what we`re witnessing in a slow rolling basis every day now?
WINE-BANKS: I see so many comparisons, but one of the most obvious is, we can hear on tape President Nixon committing crimes. We don`t have to wait for secret tape recordings here because we see, in public and on Twitter, President Trump doing the same thing. I see obstruction in plain sight in front of us, without having to wait for a subpoena of tapes. So there is that similarity.
We have the obstruction for sure. The underlying crime was never proved to be committed by Richard Nixon. And it isn`t necessary for him to have been impeached for an abuse of his powers. And I think that`s what we`re seeing now, too, is an abuse of power. So that`s what we should act on.
WILLIAMS: Of course, you realize, net-net if Kavanaugh gets confirmed, it will mean, in a sense, that all the Republicans voting yes have found a way, in their own heads, to either disagree with all that you just laid out or ignore it? Having said that, do you think Kavanaugh gets through?
WINE-BANKS: Unfortunately, in the politics of today, there is a good chance that he will get through. That doesn`t mean that I think he should get through. I think that there is enough question about his having dissembled before the Congress when he was confirmed for his current circuit court seat. And that he may have dissembled in this hearing, as well.
We have evidence that he has said, I didn`t have conversations, that we now know he did have. We know that his views are extreme. He`s been criticized by his colleagues on his own court, from both the left and the right, for having ignored facts, for taking on issues that weren`t raised by the parties but served his purpose in trying to reach a particular outcome. He has been criticized for ignoring precedent.
And I think that there`s enough reasons to think that he is not a neutral arbiter of cases. That would be dangerous in the Supreme Court. And without a Supreme Court to oversee everything that is neutral and isn`t have a bias to act, I think we are in big trouble.
So I am hoping that justice will be done and that he will not become a justice. That is my fervent hope. I`m hoping that some Republicans will see the truth of his characterizations of issues and will vote against him, and that it won`t happen.
WILLIAMS: From our Chicago bureau one of our long-time contributors on the broadcast, Jill Wine-Banks. Jill, thank you, have a good weekend.
WINE-BANKS: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up, the President claims Bob Woodward`s new book must be fiction. He says, the quotes inside don`t sound like him. We`re going to talk to a man who studies words for a living and has, as it would be the case, not a kind word for this President, when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Speaking today on Air Force One where, again, audio recording was allowed but no cameras, the President took issue with the way he is portrayed as speaking in this new book out next week from Bob Woodward.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The book that was written was fiction. I don`t speak that way. I`m highly educated. And always did well. Always did well, no matter what I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: How this President talks can be something, as you can tell, he gets sensitive about, if he feels someone is calling him out on his intelligence or schooling?
Tonight, we had a visit to the studio by one of the smartest guys we know. He studies words and the way people say them for a living. We often ask him about how this President talks, other than a lot. So here now, our guest, John McWhorter armed with a PhD in Linguistics from Stanford. These days he`s a Professor at Columbia University and a Contributor at The Atlantic.
Professor, welcome. Is every day in this presidency a word festival in your line of work or Groundhog Day?
JOHN MCWHORTER, LINGUISTICS PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Brian, I don`t like to watch him. I don`t like to listen to him. I like to read my news. And it`s bad enough just reading the sorts of things he says, written out, when I occasionally am forced to actually watch him do what he does. Then I am just ever struck by what a meat and potatoes approach he has to what most people would approach as statesmanlike oratory.
WILLIAMS: I think of you constantly because you`re the only person in your line of work who I know, and your line of work comes up so often when we watch him.
I was watching the President last night in Billings, Montana. And it was his delivery around the subject, by the way, of potential impeachment of himself that struck me. We`ll play this and talk to the professor on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They like to use the impeach word, impeach Trump. Maxine Waters, "we will impeach him." But he didn`t do anything wrong. It doesn`t matter, we will impeach him. We will impeach. But I say, how do you impeach somebody that`s doing a great job, that hasn`t done anything wrong?
Our economy is good. How do you do it? How do you do it? How do you do it? We will impeach him, but he is doing a great job.
It`s so ridiculous. But we`ll worry about that if it ever happens. But if it does happen, it`s your fault because you didn`t go out to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: I say this clinically absent judgment. The man was a reality television entertainment star headquartered in this building for 14 careers. If you look back at Corbett Monica and Buddy Hackett and Schecky Green, the Carson shows.
MCWHORTER: The people grew up watching on TV.
WILLIAMS: I think, when I care, generationally, that`s a set he`s doing. That`s a set piece. That`s borderline standup.
MCWHORTER: Yes. I mean what he`s doing is the sorts of people that he watched on TV starting in the late `50s and into the early `70s, and really although I mean technically he doesn`t drink, is he your uncle sitting by the pool with a beer, that beer is likely a Budweiser. And he`s just kind of running his mouth in a colorful way and enjoying the attention of his little nieces and the teenager from next door.
But the problem with this is, that it shows something more general about him. This goes beyond language. I cannot think of a President in the grand succession we`ve had who has spent so little effort in trying to be something larger than that swimming pool Budweiser basic. He never tries.
So you think of say an aristocrat like Franklin D. Roosevelt who forges something like the new deal. He wasn`t thinking about that when he was a kid. John F. Kennedy, you know, to tell the truth, there weren`t a lot of things he always has his mind on until he became president. He was about to do great things. Lyndon B. Johnson was somebody who frankly was a very parochial uneducated bigoted Texan, and the great society comes from him.
Donald Trump never does anything that stretches beyond exactly what he was when. I have this on good authority. This is somebody who took a rather gentle child in his neighborhood when he was a teenager, and hung that kid out the window by his feet and enjoyed watching him yell. I have it on good authority, believe me as Trump says.
He`s never gotten beyond being that little nose picking jerk. He`s just exactly what he was when he began. It strikes me that even after almost two years, he`s never had the slightest impulse to grow. That`s what you see in his oratory. He just gets up there and talks whether he any other president, I`m sure Zachary Taylor tried to orate. And here we are.
WILLIAMS: You just said believe me. That`s one of his kind of verbal tick. He does -- I`ll use his method to make a point. He does repeat the same phraseology in a very short period of time the likes of which we`ve never seen before. He does have these fallbacks. We`ve all come to know them. I know people in my life who say, "Oh, my god, I`m talking like Donald Trump."
When hear yourself using an expression that may come up organically in your life, but it`s one that he owns it`s now a linguistic problem for our country.
MCWHORTER: You know what it is with him and this gets into some linguistics. We think of ourselves of using grammar and putting words in it. But there`s a modern way of thinking of how language works. You`ve got your words, you`ve got things you do with them like you put an ED at the end to make it in the past. Then you have your expressions like what are you doing here or believe me or goodness gracious or I`ll be hornswoggled.
Those are words too. So it`s really just your big sand box full of words. It`s just that whose is bigger? And what`s interesting is that when he uses those same expressions over and over again, what it shows is that he has a small vocabulary, because all of those expressions are words, as well.
So a certain kind of person has a certain size, and can pick, and can choose as you get older especially if you`re a relatively, you know, experienced person say in the public eye, you have kind of a smorgasbord. You try to vary it.
But the most inarticulate thing about him he uses such a limited vocabulary. And we`re not only talking about the sort of Salisbury steak meat and potatoes sorts of words. We mean, it terms of his expression that often sounds like he`s only got about two-and-a-half and it`s because he doesn`t strive to adorn his speech at all.
There`s no art in the man. You can`t imagine him tapping his foot, reading a book, having a favorite song. In the same way with speech, he just lets it fall out of his mouth like he swallowed marbles and decided to spit them out one day by the pool with a beer.
WILLIAMS: Wow. I know a closing quote when I hear one. If I could think like you and speak like you, I guess I would be teaching in the faculty alongside you at Columbia.
MCWHORTER: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Thank you for coming by.
MCWHORTER: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And be honest, who watching at home really thought they would hear hornswoggled and Salisbury steak in the same broadcast on the same night.
Coming up for us, something everybody needs to know about before we are all excused for the weekend. We`ll have that when we continue.
WILLIAMS: Well, there it is from space. Last thing before we go tonight, and as much as we try to send you off into the goodnight and into the good weekend, with something hopeful, we are duty bound instead to tell the many millions of people all along the Atlantic seaboard to keep a head`s up for a big storm due to arrive next week.
It is Florence. It`s the first major hurricane of the season. It is 1,600 miles per from anything, not counting Bermuda right now. So here are the so-called spaghetti strand models including its possible path. That includes a late hook out to sea, let`s hope.
For once on this network, this is not about Republicans or Democrats. The red lines are European forecast models, blue from American, and there`s this. The current so-called cone of probability forecast from the National Weather Services tonight, that does not look good for our friends in North and South Carolina right now.
Winds are expected to be up at 125 miles an hour when we wake up on Tuesday. And by then, we`ll know a lot more about where this is headed and how large and area needs to prepare along the lower 48. And little context here under the heading situational awareness, our friends over at Axios reports, "Forecasters are wearily eyeing as many as seven to nine tropical cyclones that may spin up in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the next week, what could go wrong."
So be sure to have a good weekend everybody. That is our broadcast on this Friday night and for this week Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from our 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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