Manafort pleads guilty. TRANSCRIPT: 09/14/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Schmidt, Josh Gerstein, Barbara McQuade, Jeremy Bash, Emily Jane Fox, Tamara Keith

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 14, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Josh Gerstein, Barbara McQuade, Jeremy Bash, Emily Jane Fox, Tamara Keith

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The breaking news we`re covering tonight, Paul Manafort is now working for the Feds. Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman decides to flip and take a deal to cooperate in every way, and not face a second trial. And he`s a man who knows a lot.

Also tonight, the report from "Vanity Fair" that Trump`s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is also talking to the Mueller investigative team.

And the slow-rolling disaster that will still be causing trouble well into next week as Florence delivers more water than than the land can take, as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC news headquarters here in New York.

Day 603 of the Trump Administration, and while it has not diminished the damage, it is delivering.

Florence is now, thankfully, a tropical storm -- still tonight pounding the Carolinas, and we`ll have a late live update just ahead in this broadcast.

But we begin with a huge announcement today that Paul Manafort, the man who offered to work for Donald Trump for free, is tonight working for the Feds.

The man who has enjoyed the good life after a lifetime of orbiting at or near the top of the Republican political solar system has been living in jail of late. And today, Donald Trump`s former campaign chairman, already a convicted felon, pleaded guilty to two federal counts, and made a deal to cooperate in all ways with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

By doing so, Paul Manafort has admitted to conspiring against the United States, and conspiring to obstruct justice. He now also avoids a second trial in federal court. The deal he signed with prosecutors orders him to -- and we quote -- "cooperate fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly with the government in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant."

You may recall President Trump was sympathetic to Manafort during his second trial, praising him for not breaking under pressure from the Feds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the reasons I respect Paul Manafort so much is he went through that trial.

You know, they make up stories. People make up stories. This whole thing about flipping, they call it, I know all about flipping. For 30, 40 years, I`ve been watching flippers. It almost ought to be outlawed. It`s not fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" spoke to the president about Manafort`s plea deal. They report that Trump denied the Manafort case had anything to do with him, saying, quote, "I got hit with an artificial witch hunt that should never have happened."

The plea deal also says Manafort must forfeit several properties, including homes in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Hamptons in New York. He also will give up his apartment in Trump Tower. Manafort`s attorney also offered this explanation for his client`s decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT`S ATTORNEY: It`s a tough day for Mr. Manafort, but he`s accepted responsibility, and he wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life.

He`s accepted responsibility, and this is for conduct that dates back many years, and everybody should remember that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Interesting note there about Manafort`s family`s safety, and we`ll get to that later in our discussion.

As for reaction from the president`s legal team, Rudy Giuliani appeared on Sean Hannity`s program earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC MAYOR, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The plea agreement has and the cooperation agreement has nothing to do with the Trump campaign.

The reality is, no evidence of collusion. All you had to do was look at the plea. The plea is to crimes that have to do with Manafort`s past -- no involvement with President Trump, no involvement with the campaign, no involvement with Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: There is also this report in "The New York Times" about Trump`s former lead counsel.

Quote, "John Dowd, Mr. Trump`s former lawyer, e-mailed lawyers representing other clients who have been drawn into Mr. Mueller`s inquiry, that Mr. Manafort, quote, `has no info on president or campaign.`"

We should be crystal clear here. No one has any idea what John Dowd is basing that on.

Earlier on this network, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz -- who, while not working for Trump, has been accused of being a cable news water carrier for the president of late -- says the White House should be alarmed about the Manafort plea deal, and adds that any possibility of a pardon now seems remote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW PROFESSOR: He`d have been much better off pardoning early, rather than waiting until he`s already cooperated. So I don`t think we`re going to see any kind of a pardon at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As to what Manafort can offer Mueller at all, let`s remember he was present at the Trump Tower meeting with visiting Russians, having done business in that part of the world for years, and worked for a number of powerful Russians himself.

He`s also been with Roger Stone, a key figure who has not been called in yet.

Tonight, NBC News is reporting Manafort has already had initial conversations with the Mueller team.

It`s a lot to talk about at the end of a long week. Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Friday night.

Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning "New York Times" Washington correspondent; Josh Gerstein, senior White House reporter for "Politico"; Barbara McQuade, veteran federal prosecutor, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan; and Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at CIA and Pentagon, former chief counsel for the House Intel Committee.

Welcome to you all.

Josh, you were in court for the entire first Manafort trial. You were in the courthouse for what happened today. Put this in perspective -- how big of a development is this?

JOSH GERSTEIN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Oh, it`s a pretty significant development.

I mean, Manafort had put up such a strong fight up to this point. Remember, at that first trial, he had no fewer than five lawyers fighting that case for him.

So for him to make this about-face with this trial coming down on him -- we`re going to hear three weeks of testimony, a lot of it probably having to do with issues of foreign influence, of his ties to Ukrainian oligarchs, many of whom also have influence in Russia -- I think it could have been pretty unpleasant both for Mr. Manafort and for the Trump campaign, Trump associates, the Trump White House.

And so, while the plea is definitely bad news for the president, you know, a trial would have been pretty bad news for him as well.

WILLIAMS: And, Michael, looking back on your interview with Donald Trump - - I think this was in December -- the direct quote was, "I`ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very nice man, and I found him to be an honorable person. Paul only worked for me for a few months.

Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me."

Call this the "very short period of time" defense. The president is fond of using it, and there`s no one he`s not willing to distance himself from.

But despite that, how critical is this news today, in your view?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, in a very basic level, Mueller could not end his investigation without talking to Manafort.

So even if he does not have the goods on a lot of other people, he was in the Trump Tower meeting, as you pointed out. And if you`re Mueller, you need to talk to everyone you can that was there, because you have to turn over every rock to make sure that when you close up shop, you have looked at all the leads.

So whether he has a ton of evidence that leads to other prosecutions or not, this is just an important thing to check off the box, because he has to talk to him.

He was running the campaign at such a critical time where there -- when there was contacts with the Russians, and there are huge issues here about what the president knew about those conversations --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: Also --

SCHMIDT: -- and that`s what he (ph) can answer.

WILLIAMS: -- I know you`re not John Dowd`s spokesperson; he seems to be filling that role himself.

But what on God`s green earth is he talking about that Mueller has no info on the president or the campaign?

SCHMIDT: I don`t know --

WILLIAMS: (LAUGHTER) OK, yes (ph).

SCHMIDT: -- and I am not John`s spokesman --

WILLIAMS: (LAUGHTER)

SCHMIDT: -- and I struggle to understand him sometimes.

What I do know about John Dowd is that he had conversations with Manafort`s lawyers last year about a pardon.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

SCHMIDT: And that is something that Mueller himself is looking at, the question of pardons, and how they were using them to try and stop people from doing exactly what Manafort has done here -- cooperate.

Now, the president, as Dershowitz points out, is in a much more difficult position to pardon Manafort, because if Manafort is talking, as he has been, to the government, and the president comes in to give him this, that is clearly trying to impede an investigation.

John Dowd would take the argument that, because the president is the head of the executive branch, because of Article II, he can do whatever he wants.

WILLIAMS: OK, Barbara McQuade, put your former fed hat on.

If you`re a member of the Mueller team, how significant is today`s news?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR FED PROSECUTOR, U.S. ATTY FOR EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICH.: Well, I think it`s incredibly significant. Of course, Mueller and team know a little more than we do about what has happened already.

My guess is that there would have been some conversation with Manafort already to assess at least the topics that he is able to deliver through cooperation before they secure this deal.

You don`t give away cooperation lightly. They did let up on the charges. They`ve kept his sentence in the District of Columbia to 10 years, with these two five-year conspiracies.

So they`ve given something up, and yet, they didn`t need to do that. They had a very strong case, very strong likelihood of winning at trial. And so, in order to give that up, that means they thought they were getting something of value.

So what usually happens is a cooperator -- prospective cooperator`s lawyer will come in and say, here are the topics he can talk about. There`ve been reports that Manafort himself has had some meetings with the prosecutors already. And so, they likely know the areas he`s able to cover.

Now, it will take many hours over the coming days, weeks and even months to sit down and really go over in excruciating detail all of the things that he knows. But I think Mueller is in very good shape, and knows that Paul Manafort has things of value that he wants to hear more about.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Jeremy, on the -- under the heading of Manafort and the Russians, our mutual friend and FBI veteran Frank Figliuzzi said the following on the air with Nicolle Wallace this afternoon. This certainly got our attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR ASST DIR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, FBI: He has the history with Russian organized crime, intelligence service.

I actually believe that there were Russian intelligence officers who were promoted the day that Manafort told them, "I got the campaign chairman job; I`m in charge of the presidential campaign."

And today, those same Russian intelligence officers, if my prediction`s correct, are scurrying for cover.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So you have Paul Manafort, deep in debt, offering to work for Donald Trump for free. Also, let`s not forget his attorney today mentioning the safety of the Manafort family.

This is like a float full of red flags, Jeremy.

JEREMY BASH, FMR CHIEF OF STAFF, CIA AND PENTAGON AND FMR CHIEF COUNSEL, HOUSE INTEL CMTE: Yes. Well, first, on nights like these, Brian, we have to hearken back to first principles, which is, why do we have a foreign policy vis-…-vis Russia that makes no sense -- that skews heavily in favor of the Kremlin, that looks to undermine NATO, the G7, the EU, and all of the multinational institutions that Russia fears.

Perhaps it`s because Russia`s agent of influence, Paul Manafort, who was doing the Kremlin`s bidding, let`s not forget, in advancing the agenda of the Ukrainian leader Yanukovych and that political party.

Paul Manafort was in charge for a brief time of the Trump campaign. He, of course, not only had a hand in the Russian -- in -- excuse me, in the Republican National Convention, which had a platform that was mysteriously changed towards a pro-Russian position; and he of course also was present when the Russian delegation showed up at Trump Tower.

And I just want to make sure everyone understands, that Trump Tower meeting, Brian, was not random Russians coming off the street to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton, as has been described.

It was a Russian government delegation coming to him, and he`s (ph) saying, "We have already hacked Hillary Clinton`s e-mail, and the e-mail of her campaign and the Democratic National Committee. We`re going to operationalize it. This meeting is not about that; this meeting is about what we`re going to get in return -- sanctions relief."

And finally, Brian, on that issue of the safety of the family, I think, with Paul Manafort now working for the U.S. government, there is concern that the Russians might target him, and particularly his family.

WILLIAMS: Barbara McQuade, if you are the lawyer for D J. TJ, Donald J. Trump Jr., or Jared Kushner, Mr. Abbe Lowell, what are you think about this development tonight?

MCQUADE: It is concerning. I mean, certainly those lawyers will have already have talked with both of their clients about what happened at that meeting, and will understand whether they have any exposure.

But, now, no doubt Paul Manafort will be asked many questions about what happened at that meeting. He will be shown documents and e-mails and notes and whatever they have about that meeting to try to understand what happened.

And so, if they`re -- they have any exposure about what happened there, I think they may be in trouble -- and that includes any false statements they have made in their testimony before Congress.

WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, I`d like to get your reaction to a tweet from Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe. His political persuasion, I think he would agree, is on the Left. I think he has enjoyed his new position as kind of a commentator on our times.

He tweeted this out of the blue: "Anyone recall who hand-picked Pence as Trump`s VP? Paul Manafort. And recall who led the squirrelly transition? Mike Pensch (ph) -- Mike Pence," sorry. "Watch what unfolds as Manafort tells Mueller all he knows!"

What on earth could he be talking about there?

SCHMIDT: I don`t know, but this shows the difficulty -- (LAUGHTER) bad place the president`s in --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: Oh, it`s a bad place.

SCHMIDT: -- because Mueller has Manafort, and Manafort want -- is 69- years-old, and doesn`t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, and has now agreed to do everything he can to help Mueller, and to prove to Mueller that he is aiding and helping him get to the bottom of all of this. And that is just a dangerous place for the other side to be in.

Because even if Manafort, you know, is completely truthful -- or he could even, you know, push things ahead to try and prove his worth here.

And that`s just -- that`s a dangerous spot.

WILLIAMS: Josh, I could not help but think of the young law associates who have been working 12- and 24-hour shifts, both with Manafort`s defense team and for the government of the United States, preparing what was going to be a very document- and display-heavy trial.

All that work was for not. They knew that, of course, going in.

Is the one ray of sunshine, if you`re Donald Trump, the fact that there`s not going to be the drubbing of daily trial coverage?

GERSTEIN: Right. I mean, remember, Brian, how deeply that earlier trial seemed to irritate President Trump to his core. He seemed genuinely angered by the fact that it was getting so much press attention.

We saw regular tweets from him; there were reports coming out from the White House that he was obsessed with the attention it was getting.

So who knows how the president would have managed to get through with (ph) another trial, and this trial would have been coming just a few weeks in advance of a Congressional midterm election.

I do think that the issue of a pardon here is not completely off the table.

We did see the way this deal is structured to try to reduce some of the incentives the president might have to try to move forward with a pardon. It makes it still a possibility for state officials to bring charges against Manafort if that happens, but I wouldn`t rule it out as simply as Professor Dershowitz did.

I still think there`s a chance Trump, out of spite or mercy -- out of a desire to give the back of his hand to Mueller and to his deputies and lieutenants, might well do a pardon after the election.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I know even CIA veterans can handle sarcasm now and again.

Does this mean the chance of this being a witch hunt is greatly decreased?

BASH: (LAUGHTER) Near zero, Brian.

Look, I think it`s clear that the president faces significant exposure, because the individual who has the most knowledge about Russian influence operations, and who has the most knowledge about what the campaign was doing with that Russian government delegation, is now working for the special counsel.

WILLIAMS: An embarrassment of big names to help us start our broadcast after this busy day on a Friday night. All four of these guests have agreed to stick around and come back.

Coming up for us, he has gone from being willing to take a bullet for this president, to talking to the Feds. The news today on Michael Cohen from the reporter who broke the story.

And later, the state of play for the Kavanaugh court nomination after a tough allegation surfaces. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on the end of the week Friday Night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: According to a new report, Robert Mueller`s team is talking to another very important former Trump associate. Emily Jane Fox of "Vanity Fair" is reporting that President Trump`s former longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is talking to Mueller`s team, but the extent and purpose of the talks, not entirely clear.

She writes, quote, "It is a remarkable reversal from a year ago when Cohen told me he would take a bullet for the president. But he has been squeezed financially, emotionally and legally in a way he could not have imagined.

Since last month, his primary concern has been his family. He had expressed to friends that he was willing to share what he knows, both because he wants to be on the right side of history, and to spare them.

As one longtime friend of Cohen put it to me, `He doesn`t feel he needs to go out of his way to protect Trump anymore, particularly because Trump has gone out of his way to hurt Michael.`"

Remember just last month, Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of charges in Manhattan Federal Court. During his allocution, the portion of the court appearance where he stood in court and spoke for himself, Cohen said he violated campaign finance laws at the direction of a candidate for federal office.

The next day, President Trump accused Cohen of making up stories to get a deal.

Joining our conversation tonight, the aforementioned Emily Jane Fox, senior reporter for "Vanity Fair," who also happens to be the author of the book that came out earlier this year, "Born Trump: Inside America`s First Family."

Still with us, Michael Schmidt, Barbara McQuade, Jeremy Bash.

Emily, what has Michael Cohen`s life been like these past couple of weeks?

EMILY JANE FOX, VANITY FAIR, SENIOR REPORTER: It has been a much quieter existence for him, both because he has had to stop talking after he pleaded guilty in August.

And talking to friends, associates, people who he had been speaking to even in a run-up to what happened in August, there is a sense in the world around Michael Cohen that something was happening, that something serious was going on.

And people around him started talking about, well, he must be talking to Robert Mueller. And as they reported today, that has been the case. It`s unclear what those conversations have been like and how serious they are, how far down the road they have been.

But this is a man who`s -- I interviewed him last Labor Day weekend -- and to say that his life has turned in a stunning way is such an understatement. This is someone who was out in the Hamptons for the summer, and this was -- this summer (LAUGHTER) was different for him.

He faced eight counts that he pleaded guilty to. His family was in some sort of legal jeopardy that he, you know, tried to avoid by pleading guilty. Financially, he is incredibly squeezed, and he is now staring down what could be years in prison, should the judge sentence him to that in December.

And so, it`s just -- it`s a real stunning turn.

WILLIAMS: A couple of points.

Your book points out how intermeshed he was with all things Trump and the family. Number two, he defined himself based on his job for Donald Trump, thought he might parlay it to a White House job, but he wore it every day like a -- like an outer garment.

And, is it simplistic or is it too Scorsesian to think that he`s watching other deals and watching developments, and wants to raise his hand and say, "I know the guy pretty well, and I was his lawyer for a long time"?

FOX: Well, he has raised his hand repeatedly, over and over again, saying, "Hey, come talk to me. I`m ready. I`m wiling to tell you everything that you -- that I could possibly tell you that would be useful to you."

Now, I don`t know what he has that is useful. As people close to Michael Cohen said to me today, there`s probably nothing that Robert Mueller does not know that Michael Cohen could bring to him, but he certainly could be a corroborating witness for them.

But, yes, this is someone who has been so closely (LAUGHTER) intertwined in the Trump Organization with President Trump and with his three adult children, who has worked with them very closely on business deals, who has cleaned up many of their messes.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

FOX: And so, to say that he has nothing of value would be completely incorrect. He knows this family very well, he knows this business very well, and he knows how they operate.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, the lawyer in you, what does it tell you about Cohen`s value to this federal effort?

BASH: Well, Cohen has already said that he conspired with Donald Trump to violate federal election law to get Donald Trump elected. That would be the second effort to get Donald Trump elected illegally, the first one of course being the effort by Russian intelligence.

But, look, I think Michael Cohen has a lot of information, including, as Emily Jane Fox just alluded to, the business practices. And then, more in particular, the money laundering practices of the Trump Organization.

That`s going to be highly relevant and highly interesting to prosecutors, both at FD, NY/STNY? (ph), and, if the origin of the capital`s from Russia, indeed, to the special counsel.

WILLIAMS: Michael, we`ve got Woodward, we`ve got Anonymous, we`ve got Manafort, and now, we have Cohen, just in the space of the last few days.

You know enough about this West Wing to at least speculate about the mindset of the boss and those around him.

SCHMIDT: Well -- and, but let`s look at the longer list. These are the people --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes, I was leaving some of them (ph) out.

SCHMIDT: -- no, no. No, no, no, no. These are the people working for Mueller right now: the former deputy campaign chairman, the campaign chairman, the former national security adviser, his former personal lawyer.

Those are huge pieces. That`s really -- and we lose sight constantly in this story.

WILLIAMS: We do.

SCHMIDT: Because every day, it`s another development that just amazes us.

But to think of those folks as if you were playing chess, and you had lost (LAUGHTER) so many pieces to the other side. I mean, Mueller is moving here in a very systematic direction than just taking down and knocking folks off.

And the interesting thing has been how the president has not really done anything besides complain publicly about it, and he hasn`t had the -- I think, at least, the political capital in his mind, to go ahead and fire him.

But this is clearly moving only in a bad direction.

WILLIAMS: A great point. We are terrible at taking a breath and reassessing.

We`ve become quite good at adding another face to our graphic. We`re running out of room on the screen.

Hey, Barb, other than the fact that Mueller doesn`t intend to take September off after all --

MCQUADE: (LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: -- what are you looking for, and what have you learned about the larger effort?

MCQUADE: Well, I think today`s development certainly is a big one with Paul Manafort. I think what we might see next is a focus on Roger Stone.

Manafort and Stone themselves were partners. There`ve been a lot of witnesses brought to grand jury to talk about him, and that links up to, you know, WikiLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and really goes to the heart of Russian interference with the hacking of the e-mails.

And so, I think we might see something emerge relating to that as the next step from -- in the investigation, and Manafort certainly could be helpful in that regard.

WILLIAMS: And, Emily, because you have just written this book on the family writ large, you have Donald Trump Jr., you have Jared Kushner. They have to be sweating.

FOX: I don`t think that this is an easy evening for anyone in the Trump family.

And you also forget that Ivanka and Jared worked -- I mean, Ivanka and Eric also worked very closely with Michael Cohen.

WILLIAMS: That`s right.

FOX: There is no person in the Trump family who is immune from what any of these people who are currently working with Robert Mueller will say, will do and knows.

And I don`t think that any of them could be resting easy over the last couple of months, but particularly, this evening.

WILLIAMS: I know an ominous note when I hear one, and we`ll bring the conversation to an end on an ominous note.

Emily Jane Fox, Michael Schmidt, Barbara McQuade, Jeremy Bash, our thanks to you all.

And coming up, as we approach our second break, an update on the (ph) storm we`ve been covering for days which will be impacting lives for days to come. That photo about sums it up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Former Hurricane Florence is now a tropical storm, and the problem with that otherwise good piece of news is, it is has no apparent plans to go anywhere quickly.

That ubiquitous radar loop is also relentless -- spoke after spoke, spinning off that hub, soaking rain bands hitting the same places where it`s been raining for 24 hours. In some communities along the coast, there is nowhere for that water to go.

Rescues have been going on all day. They continue tonight and into the morning.

Power outages are widespread. Beach erosion is severe. There have been structural failures. Sadly, the death toll from the storm has risen to five as of our air time tonight.

Morehead City, North Carolina, to name one place, is on track tonight to beat the all-time record for hurricane rainfall, at 24 inches -- two feet of water on top of what they already had.

And back with us tonight, as he was for our live coverage last night, Meteorologist Bill Karins.

Hey, Bill.

BILL KARINS, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: Hello and good evening, Brian, and we`re maybe halfway through this story.

WILLIAMS: Yes (ph).

KARINS: I mean, it`s absolutely incredible. Usually at this point, you know, the storm goes inland, and now, we`re, like, "OK, what happened? How bad was this?"

Well, we`ve only done that with the surge and the winds, and we`ve certainly seen some of the pictures and the damage from that.

But now, we have to get through water issues with the rainfall with this storm, and they`re going to last into (ph) the middle of next week, in some cases. There`ll be new homes going underwater on Tuesday of next week as the rivers continue to rise, and all that water flows on towards the coast.

And there are some of the pictures from the -- when we had the surge problems. The worst of it, as we`ve maintained (ph), was along the Pamlico Sound, the Neuse River, the Trent River, all the way up into areas -- even Washington had some problems, too, on the Tar River.

The New Bern area, there`s the water rescues that were taking place, and they were having people volunteering to line up and bring their boats in to go help people, because at one point, they had a hundred and fifty/150 people on a waiting list to get rescued.

So the storm continues to spin.

And how about our friends here, the Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, the Emerald Isle. This band has been just sitting here, just pounding them relentlessly for about 36 hours now. That`s where the two feet of rain has happened. We have a flash flood emergency for that area for Carteret and Craven counties.

We also still have tornado -- occasional tornado warnings throughout the region. Everywhere in red is under a flood warning, which is pretty much all of Eastern North Carolina at this point, and that`s going to continue to be a big issue as we go throughout the rest of this storm.

So over here, I`m going to show you the storm path. And as we go throughout the next two to three days, it slow drifts through South Carolina, then up through the mountains on Sunday, and we could even have flooding problems there.

And then (ph), if I was to tell you that Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the biggest cities in the East Coast, is going to get 15 inches of rain over the next three days, that would be a big story all by itself, and it hasn`t even begun there yet. And that could be a huge issue and a story as we go through the weekend.

And here is how it`s going to play out. So here`s our future radar. This actually predicts where the storm will be as we go throughout the next 48 hours.

We spin it into areas of central portions of South Carolina. This is as we go through noon Saturday. Notice heavy band of rain still sitting near the Wilmington, the Jacksonville area.

By the time we get to midnight, still watching that heavy band, maybe shifting finally away from Wilmington and Jacksonville into areas towards Fayetteville. And then, the Charlotte area starts to pick up some very heavy rainfall right through Sunday morning.

And then, we worry about this. When you get the heavy rain in Asheville and Boone up here in the mountains, it only takes a couple inches to get serious flash flooding and landslide concerns. And then, by the time we finally get to Sunday, it begins to move out.

So the rainfall predictions, you know, Brian, this storm is behaving pretty much as expected.

I mean, it was about a week ago that we first started saying North Carolina, South Carolina area could have to deal with a hurricane.

You know, we -- the intensity wasn`t right exactly. We were thinking it would be a 3 or 4 at landfall, so we were saved a little bit from the wind damage. But the surge was just as bad as we thought it would be, and now the rainfall -- all the predictions and the dire predictions, of two, three, maybe four feet of rain, they`re coming true.

It`s a -- you know, it`s just an unfolding story. We`re not done yet. There`s still a lot of destruction to be done. There`s a lot of people that have dry homes now that, when these rivers come up in the days ahead, their houses will flood. There will be new tragedies to come.

WILLIAMS: After another long day`s journey, and (ph) tonight, our meteorologist, Bill Karins.

Bill, thank you, my friend. Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us tonight, the president`s choice for the Supreme Court denies an 11th hour allegation of sexual misconduct. An update on the story and his prospects when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Less than a week before the first scheduled vote on the Supreme Court nomination, the vote of the Judiciary Committee whether or not to send it to the full Senate, Judge Brett Kavanaugh is on the defensive.

Today, he is denying an allegation of sexual misconduct apparently dating back decades to when he was in high school.

The allegation first surfaced in a letter sent to California democrats, including Ranking Judiciary Committee member Dianne Feinstein.

A report published in "The New Yorker" today details it this way.

Quote, "In the letter, the woman alleged that, during an encounter at a party, Kavanaugh held her down, and that he attempted to force himself on her... She was able to free herself."

The report goes on to say, "She claimed in the letter that Kavanaugh and a classmate of his, both of whom had been drinking, turned up music that was playing in the room to conceal the sound of her protests, and Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand."

In his strongly-worded denial released today by the White House, Judge Kavanaugh said, quote, "I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time."

Sixty-five women who knew Kavanaugh in high school are also coming to his defense. They co-signed a letter saying, in part, "Through the more than 35 years we have know him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity."

A longtime Kavanaugh friend, who reportedly is identified in the accuser`s letter and who is said to have been in the room during the incident, has talked to "The Weekly Standard." And (ph) he`s quoted as saying, "It`s just absolutely nuts. I never saw Brett act that way."

Sen. Feinstein, for her part, is now being criticized for not coming forward with this information before Kavanaugh`s confirmation hearing.

A statement from her office reads, in part, "It is critical in matters of sexual misconduct to protect the identity of the victim when they wish to remain anonymous, and the senator did so in this case."

Feinstein says she did pass the allegation along to the FBI, which has said it is not currently investigating this.

Joining us to talk all about it is Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR, and remaining with us -- he did not disappear -- is Josh Gerstein. Welcome to you both.

Tamara, I`m just curious as to what you`re picking up and hearing, the reactions to this allegation in either party around town.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, certainly the White House is taking this very seriously. Because this is not -- you know, when you -- when you have allegations like this, this is a serious matter.

And -- but I think that people don`t quite know what to do with it because this is an anonymous allegation.

It -- it`s different than many of the other allegations in sort of this #MeToo era that have come forward where you know who the accuser is, and where there are more details, and when it has more -- been more fully vetted.

But, in this case, the person making the accusation wants to remain anonymous, didn`t really want to push the matter. And so, it`s creating sort of a challenging moment.

Certainly Sen. Feinstein is experiencing the challenges of that on the other end, with members of her own party saying, "Well, why did we find out about this so late?"

WILLIAMS: And, Josh, I keep saying about Collins and Murkowski, they`re so interesting for a ton of reasons, starting with the fact that their states are the northern anchors on East and West of this country, starting with the fact that their politics are similar, both pro-choice Republican women.

Collins apparently spent a good long time on the phone with Kavanaugh today.

Murkowski`s dealing with a constituency up there -- I think my mouth took the night off -- of Native Alaskans, which is an important group for her as she casts her vote. They have asked her to vote no.

And then, there are complications around this letter, this issue.

The nominee went to an all-boys high school. Getting 65 women to sign on to a letter speaking to his character back then is an undertaking.

GERSTEIN: Yes, it is. At the same time, there are 65 women, as you say, on the letter. And so, it seems like if they`re saying that this was just organized very quickly, that it can`t be the case that they`re all involved in some kind of conspiracy on his behalf.

But it`s a difficult kind of situation, and as Tamara was saying, the White House and Kavanaugh himself, I think, are really involved in trying to push back on this.

You know, I was watching a speech that Kavanaugh gave a couple years ago at the Clinton Library down in Little Rock. And he talked about the importance of rapid response in these kinds of confirmation fights. This is well before he knew that he`d be nominated to the Supreme Court.

And he really stressed how critical it was to get answers out, to get rebuttals out in the same news cycle, if at all possible.

So I`m not terribly surprised that we`re seeing that kind of a response with a forceful statement, with this letter from women supporting him.

They certainly knew in general terms that he was likely to face some kind of onslaught at various times in the nominating process, even if they didn`t know specifically about this individual allegation that`s just come out in the last, you know, 48 hours or so.

WILLIAMS: Tamara, let me ask it this way.

Is there any indicator or person inside or outside the White House you`ll be looking at to know whether the level of concern just went up?

KEITH: Well (LAUGHTER), certainly we`ll be looking at Susan Collins who had that lengthy phone conversation, and has not said anything publicly since then. She had that long conversation with Kavanaugh.

And I think the other thing to watch for is, does the White House push back stop with the letter and with that statement from Kavanaugh, or does it keep coming? Do they -- do they keep coming forward with more items, more character witnesses? And we just don`t know yet.

I think, in part, the White House doesn`t know at this point whether this is going to be more than what it seems right now -- whether Chuck Grassley will find himself under pressure to change the timeline in any way.

As it stands right now, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee says the vote -- the committee vote is going forward on Thursday.

WILLIAMS: Yes, all great points there. Both of our guests have agreed to stick with us just over a break.

And when we come back, we`ll talk about the fact that we`re covering a president who is now in the Puerto Rico death toll-denying business. An update on all of that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: With Tropical Storm Florence continuing its assault on the Carolinas, President Trump spent this Friday night talking about Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria, and it`s a safe bet he was tuned into his cable news network of choice.

On Twitter, over just the past couple of hours, Trump has been doubling down on his false claims, that 3,000 people didn`t die on the island.

He`s also been quoting Fox News contributors, including Geraldo and Lou Dobbs and Ed Rollins, who are calling the death toll a "political agenda," praising the president`s extraordinary job, blaming the Puerto Rican government for being corrupt.

Remaining with us, Tamara Keith and Josh Gerstein.

Tamara, I`ve got this other tweet from the president. He retweeted FEMA tonight. "We have created a rumor control page for Hurricane Florence that will be updated regularly. During disasters, it`s critical to avoid spreading false information" -- wondering if that includes the death toll on Puerto Rico.

What does the NPR Stylebook say about an era where we are covering presidents denying death tolls on U.S. territories involving U.S. citizens?

KEITH: Well, at this time, we keep doing fact checks. And at this point, we check the fact before the statement and after the statement in an effort not to amplify things that simply aren`t true.

And in the case of the death toll in Puerto Rico, it is a slightly complicated thing, because the death toll was not properly calculated initially. And the Puerto Rican government acknowledged that, realized it was a problem -- commissioned an independent scientific -- scientifically sound study.

And that study found that there were nearly 3,000 deaths, and the governor of Puerto Rico accepted that number, and made it the official death toll.

And the president of the United States is saying, "No, those people didn`t die."

It`s an estimate. It is not -- you know, they have not been able to count each individual person, it is an estimate. But it`s an estimate that is the official number now.

WILLIAMS: And it matches the number of families and entities who`ve reported missing loved ones, employees and friends.

And, Josh, someone pointed out that, given the pressures of the press coverage; given the Woodward book; again, Anonymous; and then, Manafort, and then Cohen, all piled up on top of one another; president has no travel plans this weekend -- weather forecast, chance of showers each day -- what must we expect over the weekend?

GERSTEIN: Well, it`s going to be interesting to see if the president manages to -- manages to hold at bay the Twitter temptation, and particularly on the Manafort developments.

I don`t believe we`ve yet to see any direct reaction from him, and he was very voluble, as we discussed earlier, during the trial and in response to the verdicts and so forth. So his lawyers must be working over time, I guess, to keep him quiet about that.

But the multitasking he`s showing on the other fronts is pretty amazing. I saw something on the order of 30 tweets covering the situation in Florence.

But, as you say, you`re quite right -- he does seem to have the ability now to jump in on this question of the Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico. It would seem that it were (ph) better spent on the emergency unfolding now than relitigating an emergency from quite a while ago.

But the president`s attentions are diverted in the way that they are, I suppose.

WILLIAMS: I can`t thank you enough, you guys, for coming on tonight. Tamara Keith, Josh Gerstein, sorry to keep you late and thank you so much for adding --

GERSTEIN: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: -- for our conversation on a Friday night.

And coming up for us, the first responders who drop everything in their own lives to protect and save the lives of others in harm`s way. And there`s been a lot of harm just this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The last thing before we go tonight is a word about first responders as we`ve witnessed them this week, just in the stories we`ve been covering.

Let`s begin here in New York, the most somber day of every year in the fire service, this week`s 9/11 anniversary, and the number immortalized on the front of the fire helmet there -- the 343 members of the New York City Fire Department who were lost on that day 17 years ago, a death toll that grows larger every year with 9/11-related cancers.

This week, while the anniversary ceremony was under way, the FDNY and NYPD were packing up their search and rescue teams to deploy to the south to the Carolinas ahead of the storm.

Let`s think of the firefighters in Massachusetts last night, where more than 70 homes were on fire because gas lines were apparently overpressurized.

A local fire chief said it looked like Armageddon. Some of the fires would not go out because they were gas-fed, impervious to water. Firefighters responded from miles around, including Boston, an hour away, and the neighboring state of New Hampshire.

Then, just today in Wilmington, North Carolina, fire and rescue companies took a knee and gathered in the rain in prayer after their frantic rescue effort failed to save a mother and infant daughter, crushed under the weight of a tree blown into their home by hurricane winds.

And remember, every firefighter and police officer you see here is not home with their families. They are unable to tend to their own damaged homes.

Tonight, while the rest of us sleep, they will be going out on rescues and saving the lives of complete strangers. They are the embodiment and definition of public service, and this week has tested their limits.

That is our broadcast on a Friday night and for this week. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

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