Cat. 4 Florence targets VA, SC and NC. TRANSCRIPT: 09/11/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Brenda Bethune, Ed Rappaport, Russel Honore, Lisa Lerer

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 11, 2018 Guest: Brenda Bethune, Ed Rappaport, Russel Honore, Lisa Lerer

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news tonight, the President declares his administration totally prepared for a giant storm churning west toward landfall in the Carolinas while calling his own response to Puerto Rico an unsung success.

Tonight Bob Woodward on Trump`s war on truth and what he says people are calling the "Mike Flynn mystery."

And Donald Trump Jr. says he`s not afraid of jail time that may result from the Russia case while he laments that his father can`t trust that many people on the inside anymore.

All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Tuesday night.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 600 of the Trump presidency, and on top of the daily threat that the ongoing Russia investigation represents for this White House, they are about to be handed an all but certain natural disaster along our most vulnerable coastline, a threat to any White House, and this President seems convinced we`ve never been more ready.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are totally prepared, we`re ready. We`re as ready as anybody has ever been. It looks to me and it looks to all of -- a lot of very talented people that do this for a living like this is going to be a storm that`s going to be a very large one, far larger than we`ve seen in perhaps decades. It`s tremendously big and tremendously wet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The President cited what he sees as the huge success of the relief effort in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it`s an island. I actually think it was one of the best jobs that`s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Just a reminder, the revised numbers from Puerto Rico put the death toll there at just under 3,000 people. Puerto Rico is an American territory. Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

And as for the next one, Hurricane Florence is a sprawling Category 4 storm. FEMA is saying tonight it`s the strongest to target anywhere from Virginia on down through the Carolinas in decades. They`re projecting massive damage with life-threatening floods, storm surge, hurricane force winds, heavy rain. Widespread evacuations are underway right now ahead of this landfall, and those landfall estimates have gotten interesting and have been on the move late today into tonight.

For more we want to start off by talking to Brenda Bethune, the mayor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Mayor, I`m very happy we were able to arrange this tonight. I`m told we have a bit of a satellite delay. Let`s start off with what you`re being told. There were some forecast models tonight that had this storm kind of banging up against the coastline and then drifting south a little bit. That would not be good news for Myrtle Beach.

BRENDA BETHUNE, MYRTLE BEACH MAYOR: Absolutely not, Brian, and this storm is so massive that, really, no matter where it hits, so many of us will be impacted. North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and into the inland. So we really are very, very concerned about this storm.

WILLIAMS: The people who predict such storms have terrible things called "inundation maps," and they`re designed for public officials like you to tell you, to show you how bad it might get. How much of Myrtle Beach is in the potential danger zone, the inundation zone from storm surge?

BETHUNE: We are in the zone. As I think you are aware, Governor McMaster did call for a mandatory evacuation of all three zones in the Myrtle Beach area. And that is hardly ever done, so we do expect this to be substantial damage and flooding, and that is what really concerns us.

WILLIAMS: Has everyone who means to get out by now gotten out by now, and what more can you say to folks who are thinking of sticking around?

BERTHUNE: Myrtle Beach actually is almost like a ghost town right now, so I hope that that`s a good sign that most of the people and the visitors who were vacationing here have left. However, I know that we still have some who always hope that maybe the storm won`t come or won`t be as bad as what is predicted. That is not the case, and I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out of town and getting out quickly.

This is not the time to procrastinate because we do not even have an interstate coming into Myrtle Beach, and our roads are not designed for massive numbers of people, into the millions, to get out of here safely. So we really need people to adhere to the warnings, to the evacuations and leave town as soon as possible and be prepared.

WILLIAMS: I know you have so much on your plate, and I want to thank you for finding the time to talk to us and pass along those warnings. Mayor Bethune, we`re thinking of you and your community. We`ll keep you in our thoughts as you face the days ahead.

We`ll have more on this storm for our viewers a bit later on in this hour.

Meanwhile, and as we mentioned, day 600 of this administration, and as Bob Woodward`s book "Fear" hit book stores today, a new development in the Mueller Russia investigation is looming over the White House.

"Washington Post" reporting tonight that former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is in talks with the special counsel`s office about a possible plea deal, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

The "Post" reports it this way, "The people, who spoke on the condition of an anonymity to describe the conversations, cautioned that the negotiations may not result in a deal with Robert Mueller, who is prosecuting Manafort for alleged money laundering and lobbying violations. But the discussions indicate a possible shift in strategy for Manafort who earlier this year chose to go to trial in Virginia only to be convicted last month in Alexandria federal court on eight counts of bank and tax fraud. The specifics of Manafort`s current negotiations with prosecutors were unclear, including whether he would provide any information about the President."

Even before this news broke, the Russia investigation was clearly on the President`s mind early this morning. President Trump attacked the investigation on Twitter notably before commemorating the 17th anniversary of 9/11.

Also tonight Bob Woodward is out talking about his new book as the White House continues to push back hard on his reporting and sourcing. Earlier this evening Woodward sat down with Rachel Maddow in this studio and talked about the remaining mystery about what went on during Mike Flynn`s short tenure in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Is it clear to you from your reporting for the book why they waited days after getting that warning about Flynn from the Justice Department?

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": I think somethings -- sometimes decisions are not made, but they did fire him.

MADDOW: Ultimately.

WOODWARD: Yes. And he did plead guilty and is a witness. No one that I`ve been able to find can explain exactly what happened. There`s what`s called the Mike Flynn mystery in the investigative reporting world and, you know, so we presumably at some point will see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: More on that point in just a moment as the Trump Administration continues to deal with the fallout from the Woodward book.

This morning Donald Trump jr. Offered up this assessment on who his father should trust inside this White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR. PRESIDENTIAL SON: I think there are people in there that he can trust, it`s a much smaller group than I would like it to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: who do you trust?

TRUMP JR.: Well, you know, I`ll keep that to myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they`re not family.

TRUMP Jr.: Well, obviously -- I`m talking outside of family. I think that one goes without saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILIAMS: Let`s turn to our leadoff panel for a Tuesday night, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post," and Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and Pentagon. Gentleman, welcome to you both.

Phil, on the -- on a 10 scale of preoccupation with events on the outside, where is the President? Where is his west wing these days?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: I`d hate to put a number on it, Brian, but you`re looking at eight, nine, 10 territory. The President is very preoccupied with the Woodward book, with that anonymous op-ed, with the media coverage surround it and of course with the Russia probe. A lot of distractions this morning.

He woke up on September 11, a solemn day in this country, the 17th anniversary, and the topics he tweeted about were not September 11 but about his preoccupation`s.

WILLIAMS: And, Jeremy Bash, flush out what this Flynn mystery might entail in Mr. Woodward`s telling.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: I actually don`t think it`s mysterious at all, Brian. I think when the White House was warned by Sally Yates that Mike Flynn might be vulnerable to blackmail, they took that to the President of the United States and he said, "Don`t worry, I`ve told Mike what to do, how to handle the Russians, and I`ve got his back." And it was only after it had become somewhat untenable internally because Flynn had lied to the Vice President, and it was clear he was under a significant FBI investigation for lying to those investigators, and it was revealed by the "Washington Post" that all of this was going down, did the President have to relieve Mike Flynn. I actually don`t think it`s mysterious at all.

WILLIAMS: And Jeremy, are you surprised by these stories about Manafort. Do you believe them?

BASH: I do believe them. I think Manafort`s overall goal is to secure a pardon, and that basically means he does not want to appear publicly to be providing information about the President. He wants to limit his exposure to potential prison time in case the President doesn`t come through for him.

He took a huge gamble by having two trials. Normally defendants don`t do that because it gives the government two shots at you. He lost in the first gamble, convicted of eight fraud felony, financial fraud counts. And now on the second case, there`s no real upside for him. He is going to prison through the 2018. And the only question is how much into the 2020s will he serve.

WILLIAMS: So, Phil, a phrase here to four that we associated with two generations of Rucker`s (ph), the circle of trust, Don Jr. remarks on that front were interesting today.

RUCKER: Yes.

WILLIAMS: And I guess stating the obvious that there are fewer and fewer people on the inside they feel they can trust.

RUCKER: That`s right, Brian. One of the most telling things that President Trump has said in the last few days came in that Q& A session he had with reporters on Air Force One, Friday of last week. And what sticks out to me is he said, "Look, you know, when I go into meetings now, I look around the room and see, who do I recognize?" And the implication there is if he doesn`t recognize you, if he doesn`t know you, then he doesn`t trust you, and he`s very careful about what he says in audiences with people that he doesn`t know, with faces he doesn`t know.

There`s been an effort, and this predates the Woodward book, by the way, an effort the last few months in the White House to try to cut down the number of people who are in the room for some of these serious discussions involving the President because they`re so sensitive to information leaking out. So the National Security Adviser John Bolton often attends those meetings. Sometimes it`s the loan representative of the National Security Counsel without a lot of deputies, without a lot of directors there because the President wants to be with someone he can trust.

The problem for Trump, though, is that the people all around him even in his inner circle are talking to reporters. They -- surely many of them talked to Bob Woodward for his book, and information still gets out of this White House. He can not have complete control. The President can`t over the information.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, you are by any standard a former member of the intelligence establishment in this country, especially given the men and women you have worked for. Tonight Nicolle Wallace in Washington moderated quite a panel of some senior former members of the intelligence establishment in Washington. General Hayden made some remarks we wanted to highlight. We`ll watch them together and discuss them on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: My instinct, no data, right. My instinct is the President has acted more and more desperate, more and more frightened by the prospect of the investigation continuing. And so he`s doubled down on his attacks on the person of Bob Mueller and on the institutions that Mueller represents or is guiding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, do you care to take a crack at what the former CIA director was getting at there?

BASH: Yes, and first of all, Mike Hayden is not just a former CIA director, he`s a former Four-Star Air Force general. And devoted his entire public life to the defense of our country, he was the director of the NSA. He was the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and he was appointed by President Bush. So when the President says that it`s only Partisan Democrats who`s attacking him or questioning his way of leading our country, he ignores people like General Mike Hayden.

I think General Hayden is exactly right on the substance as well. And it`s a concern to intelligence professionals. And I`ll just end on this, Brian, which is, it is those members of the Intelligence Community, I think, who really deserve a lot of our praise and honor for the way they handled the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

They were the first ones into Afghanistan. They kind of took the fight first to the Taliban and to al Qaeda. And it`s those individuals, those professionals, whom we should be listening to very carefully as they assess what`s happening in our country and our world.

WILLIAMS: Phil, I wanted you to listen along with us to --

RUCKER: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- Donald Trump Jr., another answer he gave that got a lot of attention earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you scared that you could go to jail?

TRUMP JR.: I`m not because I know what I did and I`m not worried about any of that, you know? That doesn`t mean they won`t try to create something. I mean, we`ve seen that happen with everything. But, you know, again, I`m not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But some say that Mueller has been successful. He has an indictment of Manafort. He has a plea deal from Cohen. He has Papadopoulos sentenced. You know, he`s got a litany of close associates of your father`s under investigation and some --

TRUMP JR.: All for things that happened way before they were ever any part of a campaign. So if they get Manafort on a 2006 tax charge, you know, again, I understand that they are trying to get my father and they`ll do anything they can to get that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, Phil, you see there the line of argument. This is about things that happened well before we got here.

RUCKER: Well, that`s not quite true, Brian. He could make that argument about Paul Manafort, certainly. He was convicted on charges that did not have to do with the Trump campaign. But Papadopoulos, Trump campaign adviser, and you can just go down the list.

Look at all the indictments that Mueller has had against Russians, Russians who were interfering in the election. There were over a dozen of them that were announced just before President Trump stood on stage in Helsinki with President Putin of Russia. So that argument is not quite right.

And, you know, Donald Trump Jr. says there, and I take him at his word that he`s not worried about going to jail, but I know from my reporting earlier this summer that President Trump has been concerned about his son`s legal fate, not necessarily that he`ll end up in jail but certainly concerned that he may have done something wrong, may have inadvertently wandered into legal jeopardy as some of Trump`s associates have described the President is thinking to us.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, we keep hearing that plot line day to day.

Gentlemen, I can`t thank you enough. Phil Rucker, Jeremy Bash, leading off our broadcast on a Tuesday night.

And coming up, we`re going to talk about the graphic we`ve been putting on the corner of the screen already tonight. We`re going to go live to the National Hurricane Center. They will give us the very latest on the plot line of Hurricane Florence.

Then later, the unusual gesture by the President on a day when gestures take on added importance in this country.

THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Tuesday night, September 11.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: During times like this when a big storm is bearing down on the United States, there is one authority, and that has to be the National Hurricane Center. They`ve taken all the forecast models and human intelligence, and it`s up to them to make the final call, the final predictions. Public officials then act on their recommendations.

With a big storm out there and headed here, we are fortunate tonight to be joined by a busy man. Ed Rappaport is deputy director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Ed, I`d like to start by asking you about two things I`ve seen tonight on television coverage. Number one is a report that it may hit as a 4, it may hit as a 3. I want to give you a chance to tell our audience that it`s a very small bit of difference there. And number two, is this report late tonight that it may kind of bump into the coastline of North Carolina and meander a bit, maybe drift on south along the coastline which would be just a disastrous route for this.

ED RAPPAPORT, NHC DEPUTY DIRECTOR: That`s right. Thank you for bringing up both of those issues. Now, the center of the storm is now still 600- plus miles away from the coast. But moving in that direction and you`ve probably seen graphics like this before. This is a forecast that`s come out of the National Hurricane Center here of where the center is going to go.

And, indeed, as it approaches the coast late Thursday, overnight Thursday into Friday, we do show it slowing down. Now, whether the track turns a little this way or a little this way, in the end, you`re right, it`s not going to make a great difference because it`s a very large hurricane and it`s going to create a large storm surge over a large area as well as a rainfall threat.

And, in fact, let`s take a look at that. This is the South Carolina and North Carolina map. This area in red is where we have the expectation of life-threatening storm surge. These are the values of the inundation that we could get. Nine to 13 feet deep along the coast, particularly North Carolina based on our current track and up some of the rivers as well. And then we`re going to see as the storm slows, we mentioned, because it`s not moving much it`s going to drop rain. A lot of rain in the same area and we`re expecting flooding from that as well.

So storm surge flooding on the coast and then this is the rainfall expected in inches. Upwards of 20 inches in some places, all of Virginia, North Carolina is going to have excessive rainfall and perhaps into South Carolina, too.

WILLIAMS: Ed, unrelated, it was raining in North and South Carolina today. Places like Hatteras have just come off setting a rainfall record for the year, for the year to date. They can`t stand another drop of it, and I`m hard pressed to think of a more vulnerable stretch of our coastline than just what you have highlighted on your screen.

RAPPAPORT: That`s right, and it becomes potentially even worse as we move inland because we have, of course, the increasing elevation. And when the winds go up in elevation, they tend to drop even more rain. So that`s why we have this long band, even away from the center. The center is down in here. Up into Virginia and Western North Carolina, up in the mountains where water can get focused down on the rivers.

So we`re looking at potentially catastrophic situation not only at the coast but inland, flooding in both places. Storm surge at the coast, rainfall inland.

WILLIAMS: Ed, we wanted to talk to you before it got too crazy. You`ve always been very generous with your time. Thank you very much and good luck to all of you and the other forecasters there at the National Hurricane Center because it now get serious this next few days. Ed Rappaport from Miami.

As forecasters were tracking Florence, President Trump was talking up his administration`s hurricane history and preparedness. At that briefing in the Oval Office today, he was asked whether the government has learned any useful lessons from Hurricane Maria which, of course, ravaged Puerto Rico about a year ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think Puerto Rico is incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it`s an island. I think probably the hardest one we had by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature, and I actually think it was one of the best jobs that`s ever been done with respect to what this is all about.

I think the Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.

The best job we did was Puerto Rico but nobody would understand that. We`ve got a lot of receptivity, a lot of things for the job well done from Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Reminder here, recent reports now put the official death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico at nearly 3,000 people. That means a death toll closer to all those killed on 9/11.

And FEMA officials now acknowledge the agency was ill-prepared for that storm. Today the President said his administration is totally prepared for Florence.

With us to talk about it, Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore. I`ve said this before, but the general will always remain a heroic figure for those of us who were in New Orleans during and after Katrina, because his arrival there marked the turning point and brought hope to a situation of almost total hopelessness.

General, you are familiar with the damage in Puerto Rico. Let`s take first things first. You are also familiar with the relief effort this government put up in Puerto Rico. What do you make of what the President said?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, JOINT TASK FORCE KATIRNA COMMANDER: Well, I think the numbers are still under response, it was slow within the point a federal general go there until eight days after the storm hit and we never got over 100 helicopters in what is described, as the President said, one of the worst disasters in the history of the country. It brought deconstruction to the power grid, 40 bridges out, and thousands of people basically left without homes or roofs over their head.

The response wasn`t still right and it was slow. But Brian, what I learned between Hurricane Katrina and Rita, when you`re given another hurricane watch to look out for, don`t spend a whole lot of time talking about the last storm, talk about the future storm. And I think the people in Puerto Rico is going to take eight to 10 years to recover, and the President`s words are not encouraging.

But FEMA is going to be there to help the people recover as best they can. But there are a lot of rules that is going to prevent people from getting into their houses in Puerto Rico. But again, I`d like to defer that for a later time because we really need to go back and do an analysis, and we need to have hearings in to Congress to figure out and make to sure we don`t end up with another Maria. That was a Category 4 storm, and we did not maneuver enough assets using the expeditionary capability of the United States military to basically follow that storm in.

And speaking of that, let`s move to Florence for a minute. I hope -- what I didn`t hear today from FEMA was how many ships are going to be coming in after the hurricane, how many hundreds helicopters on stand-by from DOD, how many high clearance trucks are on stand-by. Each one of these states have between 7 and 11,000 National Guard. They will need more help than that. And Washington, D.C. has 1,500 National Guard.

What I heard FEMA said was they had 800,000 liters of water. Well, if you evacuate a million people, the math don`t work. They have to have less than half a million meals. They need to stay out of logistics and make sure we`ve got the response ready dealing with assistance from large units like the military to help do the search and rescue.

The search and rescue is if you don`t do it timely is when we lose a lot of people. I can guarantee you, Brian, with some money on this, if that storm came in at a Category 4, just about everything under that cone of uncertainty is not going to have electricity.

And the people who decided to stay back, they need to understand this. The United States army is evacuating the people from the coast and the army bases. The United States Marine Corps have moved inland and moved the marines to Georgia away from the storm. The United States navy has moved its ships out to sea and sent the families inland.

So those people who think they can rough it out and you`re inside the cone of uncertainty because you`re going to have two things, you`re going to have to win of a Category 3 or 4 that`s going to take your roofs out, it`s going to take all the power out, it`s going to close the roads, and we`ve already talked substantively about the impact of surge. And as that water goes inland, as it starts to flood in the high ground, that water is going to run back to the ocean. So people still have time to evacuate they need to evacuate.

You know the red -- the Cajun Navy has already deployed to North Carolina. The Cajun Navy understands the same way I understand. You got to maneuver in behind a storm and be in position to go in to start rescuing people. That is what I hope FEMA will get on the books tomorrow, is what is the response force to go in and help each state in their National Guard to do search and rescue on a big scale? We had over 245 helicopters in Katrina, we never got over 100 in Puerto Rico.

We need to be able to mass that force. And all the people that can do that along with the National Guard is the active duty military. And I haven`t heard any orders to them to be prepared. So many hundred helicopters, so many hundred high clearance vehicles going there to help.

And I think that is where I fall short on giving the president and his national security team any compliments, because that`s why I don`t think they`re prepared. They don`t understand what are the type of things and the instruments of government that they`re should be preparing to go and help people survive the effects of the storm that first 24 to 36 hours, Brian.

WILLIAMS: All right, from the Cajun Navy to the U.S. Army, General Russell Honore, that`s exactly why we asked for you and wanted to have you on the broadcast tonight. We`ll probably talk to you once or twice more here as the week goes on. Thank you, sir.

And coming up for us --

HONORE: And I might say the Red Cross is already pre-deployed, too, and if you haven`t joined the Red Cross Well Program, you can text somebody and tell them you`re well and you`re safe from the storm. Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, General, as always.

As we were saying, coming up for us, the president who insists he is prepared for this potential weather crisis will have to prove that while this deals with one crisis, they can deal with a new one at the same time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE" AUTHOR: My feeling is people need to wake up and realize that this is the behind-the-scenes story and you see -- I call it a war on truth. There`s a war on truth and that, you know, we have a contest in this country, not just a political one, but a moral one, a religious one about what`s true, right? And people debate it and argue very intensely about it. And that`s kind of the life force of democracy, isn`t it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The man speaks the truth. That was veteran journalist and author Bob Woodward on his new book, his 18th book, we add. He is standing by his accounts of dysfunction and chaos inside the Trump White House even as Trump and others are trying to discredit his sourcing and reporting.

With us tonight to talk about all things related, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post," where he is, of course, a long time colleague of Bob Woodward. And Lisa Lerer is back with us, national political reporter now with the "New York Times" and this is where it gets interesting were she has launched a new subscription newsletter appropriately called "On Politics with Lisa Lerer " on the "New York Times" website, where you can`t find bylines on the front page but we hope you find and subscribe to her newsletter.

Good evening and welcome to you both. Lisa, it strikes me that Watergate gave us the phrase, non-denial -- strikes me that we`re seeing, in response to the board, some fantastic classics for the ages, non-denial denials.

LISA LERER, THE NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. There -- that`s exactly right. Gary Cohn gave one today that was really -- one for the ages, as you put it.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LERER: He said he didn`t deny not talking to Bob Woodward, and he didn`t deny not taking the letter off the president`s desk. What he did say was that he still supports the president`s economic agenda.

So, you know, we know from the White House the president has said publicly that he is really loving these statements that everyone is putting out, but I`m not sure I would be taking any of them to the bank if we`re curious about who was involved in this book because a lot of them actually seem kind of like confirmations.

WILLIAMS: And, Eugene, this is not our mutual friend Bob`s first trip around the bases or first rodeo or whatever expression you have.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST, COLUMNIST: No, it`s not.

WILLIAMS: How do you think these crises differ though in his life as a journalist trying to get his arms around it?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, I`ve known Bob for 38 years. He hired me at the "Washington Post." He and Ben Bradlee hired me to be reporter. And I`ll tell you when I hear Bob Woodward say people really need to pay attention and wake up, that gets my attention.

WILLIAMS: That focuses the mind.

ROBINSON: That gets my attention. When I hear him being poetic, deeply so, and saying that truth is the life force of democracy, that really gets my attention. And I can see how affected he was by the reporting that he did. And every interview I have seen, and frankly every conversation I`ve had with him about this work, has told me that he thinks this is serious.

WILLIAMS: You`re absolutely right. He goes on book tours, but he`s never waved his arms before and said, I`m asking you to read this because this is important.

ROBINSON: He has never done that. He`s never done that. It`s not like he needs to, you know, do that to become famous or something like that. He`s Bob Woodward. He -- and I think he means it.

WILLIAMS: And, Lisa, do people in the West Wing get that this -- obviously we`re living in unusual times -- but this is unusual even for this veteran journalist?

LERER: Yes. I mean I think they understand that Bob Woodward has a level of credibility that perhaps other authors who have weighed in on this -- I mean what we`re hearing from Bob Woodward is not new. It tracks with the other accounts.

WILLIAMS: Right.

LERER: It tracks with Michael Wolfe, it even tracks with Omarosa.

WILLIAMS: Or the "Times" op-ed.

LERE: Or the "Times" op-ed. But I think he brings as a level of credibility that people know that when you`re reading a Bob Woodward`s book, that this is deeply source, that this is impeccably source and what he`s writing is pretty bulletproof. And that is why you are seeing these denials that are really confirmations because there`s nothing much that a lot of the people who participated in this book can say --

ROBINSON: I have seen his method over the years.

LERER: Right.

ROBINSON: And meticulous is the word that doesn`t come close to it. I mean he has files that cross-referenced, they`re indexed. There are just - - it`s amazing. And if we had another couple of hours I could tell you stories from over the years where he knew a piece of information that nobody else knew, that everybody was denying, that our best reporters, best sources couldn`t ferret out. And he knew it.

LERER: Right.

WILLIAMS: One story comes to mind. Hand on. Brief timeout. Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us. When we come back, we`re going to talk about this president and his behavior on this day, specifically.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On September 11th, 2001, a band of brave patriots turned the tide on our nation`s enemies and joined the immortal ranks of American heroes. At this memorial on this sacred earth, in the field beyond this wall, and in the skies above our heads, we remember the moment when America fought back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That was the president in Shanksville, Pennsylvania this morning in a ceremony marking the 17th anniversary of the September 11th attacks and the new national memorial there.

As we mentioned, Trump started his day by writing about the Russia investigation on Twitter. He followed that with a statement declaring 17 years since September 11th. And another praising former New York mayor and current personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani saying, "His leadership, bravery and skill must never be forgotten."

Moments before delivering the somber speech, we saw this, the president enthusiastically greeting supporters with his fists in a moment that instantly rocketed around the internet.

Eugene and Lisa remain with us. Lisa, there`s always -- there`s also the posting on Twitter today, the president and first lady saying they were en route to Pennsylvania. It turns out the picture is a year old. The picture features Hope Hicks and Omarosa in it. There it is. There they are. The president has a tortured relationship with 9/11 from the get-go, does he not?

LERER: He does. He has a relationship where he -- it`s hard to see it as anything other than the president using 9/11 for his own personal gains. He, of course, during the campaign famously said that while the towers went down, Muslims in New Jersey were celebrating. That was not true at all.

And actually my colleague Peter Baker had a really great detail in his piece about the speech day which pointed out that on 9/11, President Trump who, of course, was not president then but a New York real estate developer was quick to point out that after the towers went down, his building was now the tallest in downtown Manhattan.

So those are examples in that past of him using this tragedy to promote his own agenda, and we`re seeing a little bit of the same thing today, Rudy Giuliani, of course, his lawyer. So pumping up Rudy Giuliani and reminding the public of Giuliani`s, you know, moment and, you know, well-lauded moment during 9/11 certainly helps the president.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, that clip we just saw from Pennsylvania, arguably, the most presidential thing he did all day, those were the two graphs, the kind of not graphs, the poetry graphs from the speech, they needed to be read as is off the teleprompter. He succeeded. There is so much to take in there. The fact that we can hear every breath is due to the new microphone he`s had fixed to all of the podiums on a long gooseneck because his years as a performer have taught him vocal control. That`s why his rallies sound different. That`s why he sounds different.

There`s something else I want to talk to you about and that`s empathy. That comes to play certainly on a day like today, one day every year. And it also comes to play, it always struck me what presidents have to do in hurricanes and natural disasters, it`s more about empathy than FEMA.

ROBINSON: It is, really. And there is that sort of -- it`s performance but it has to be performance that`s informed by real feeling, I think.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

ROBINSON: And frankly, about Donald Trump, you have to wonder whether that feeling is there. He`s not a very empathetic person. He just isn`t. I mean there`s -- I`ve seen no evidence that he is. I recall that in a campaign speech, he claimed at one point to have lost hundreds of friends in 9/11, and that was not true. He didn`t go to any 9/11 funerals, you know.

And so how can you make that sort of claim and still have a real connection and really try to understand what people who genuinely suffered loss are feeling? I don`t quite understand it. Today you couldn`t help but think of the president. You know, I thought of George w. Bush --

WILLIAMS: Yes.

ROBINSON: -- a few days later in the rubble with the bullhorn, you know, the moment, I think, that, you know -- I`m a frequent critic of George W. Bush, but I was very proud of him that day and the way he sort of rallied spirits and rallied the nation. I thought of Rudy Giuliani then and Rudy Giuliani now and wondered what happened.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Well, it`s going to be another week like that, and somewhere there`s folks on the coast of North Carolina who don`t have much and may be about to lose it all. And it may take some empathy to get them through this. Eugene Robinson, Lisa Lerer, she of the new newsletter. Did I mention of the "New York Times?" Thank you so much for coming in.

And coming up for us, we`ll get the latest tracking on Hurricane Florence when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We thought we would take a look at the very latest on Hurricane Florence including what to expect and when so we are so happy to be joined by your friend Janice Huff, veteran meteorologist here WNBC TV in New York.

Janice, first of all, I know you`re a South Carolinian, so I know a lot of this is personal for you, but second, I want you to start with what we asked the National Hurricane Center, this troubling little warble in the forecast tonight that it may bounce along the coast and kind of meander south instead of making a proper landfall, which would just mean horrendous amounts of water hanging around for days.

JANICE HUFF, WNBC-NBC NEW YORK CHIED METEOROLOGIST: That`s right, Brian. And one of the computer forecasts, you heard about it a lot, the European model, we`ve talked about it over years of course with hurricanes and other storms too, is forecasting that the storm will stall and sort of hug the coastline for a while before moving inland. That would cause tremendous problems for the coastline and inland areas too with the water. The storms surge and the rain.

Right now, Florence is still on track of steady track moving towards the west northwest. There haven`t been any major changes in its intensity overnight or in the last few hours, still a category 4 storm. It`s 350 miles southwest of Bermuda. The center of the storm, strong its winds are right at the eye there at 140 miles an hour. So a very healthy category 4 storm.

It continues off to the west northwest. It could possibly strengthen close to category 5 tomorrow. That`s 155 miles an hour. If it`s over 156, 157, that`s when it`s a category 5. But then more than likely staying a category 4 as it approaches the coastline.

Now, there has been a change with the landfall in terms of exactly where it would be and then what happens after that. If it stays out here and hugs the coast, this is null and void, but right now, it`s expected to move on shore near Wilmington Friday afternoon or Friday morning, actually. Still it`s probably a category 4 or 3, so still devastating as it makes landfall there.

But there now, the newer track taking it further to the west into South Carolina, the remnants. And that`s where it sort of stalls on Sunday. If it keeps on that track and then all that heavy rain will be falling across that area because the slower the storm moves, the more rain you`re going to see. And so the catastrophic flooding is possible at that point.

Now we do have the hurricane warnings in effect up and down the coastline, of course. That includes Myrtle Beach, Wilmington, Cape Hatteras and up towards the North Carolina/Virginia border, they have the tropical storm watch in effect. Extreme winds with the storm, of course. Hurricane-force winds are expected by Thursday afternoon in this area. This is the high- risk area for the strongest winds from Cape Hatteras, even down to Charleston.

And then moving up towards Charlotte inland areas could see hurricane-force winds as well. And with all that heavy rain and saturated soil, a little bit of wind will knock down lots of trees. A storm surge height is going to be expected the highest when it makes landfall or just before it hug the coast. This could be a big problem here for more than 24 hours. But as it moves onshore, we`re talking 9 to 13 feet of storm surge right here. The water is always the worst, Brian. The water is really the most deadly part of the storm.

WILLIAMS: Janice, we`re so lucky to have you. We want to rest you up for the coming days. It`s going to be a busy one for all of us here. And of course our thoughts are with all the people in the path of this storm. Janice Huff, our meteorologist, thank you so much.

And coming up for us, the gestures we saw on this day when gestures large and small are just so important.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go this evening. Here in the eastern night in just under two minutes, it will be September 12th and that will mean the day that is for so many, the worst day of the calendar year, ever year, especially here in New York and elsewhere will be over.

We`ve had a couple of presidents since 9/11 and while everyone marks the event differently, this was the first time an American president started the day with criticism of the FBI and Justice Department.

The first time a president has pumped his fist out of September 11th crowd, not at a rally but wanting to see him during a commemorative visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania this morning. He also sent this out, "Departing Washington," for that service in Pennsylvania, hashtag, "Never forget." But it was, as we pointed out, last year`s photo. There`s Hope Hicks and Omarosa in the photo for starters.

Once again, it`s one of those days when a word here or there or a gesture, big or small, still carry such great meaning. Now, 17 years after that horrendous lost of life, and there`s also evidence that others, including our friends and allies have noticed a change in us. Readers of the "New Zealand Herald" woke up to this depiction of how they think we`ve changed in the 17 years since that day and it`s powerful stuff.

That is our broadcast for this Tuesday night, September 11th, 2018. Thank you so very much for being with us. 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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