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Kavanaugh and accuser invited to testify. TRANSCRIPT: 09/17/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Cynthia Alksne, Peter Baker, Nancy Cook

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 17, 2018 Guest: Cynthia Alksne, Peter Baker, Nancy Cook

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight there will be another hearing, but this time we will hear from Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser. Trouble for Trumps nominee for the court as California professor and her allegations are now public.

All eyes remain on two critical Republican votes, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Plus, Robert Mueller announces the sentencing day for Michael Flynn three days after Paul Manafort agrees to cooperate.

And the President orders a bunch of documents he classified are rare event especially considering they have to do with an active investigation into Russia. All of this as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Monday night.

Well, as we start a new week, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 606 of the Trump Administration and it appears we are going to be covering yet another Brett Kavanaugh hearing next week, but it`s not the kind of hearing the Trump Administration was expecting or looking forward to.

Brett Kavanaugh`s pass to the Supreme Court just got extremely complicated. Tonight, the Senate Judiciary Committee they will hold a public hearing next Monday with Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor in California.

NBC News reports that Kavanaugh spent roughly nine hours inside the White House today and that a White House official described him as, "chomping at the bit to testify."

In an off the record interview with "The Washington Post," Ford alleged, "One summer in the early 1980s Kavanaugh and a friend both stumbling drunk corralled her into a bedroom during a gathering of teenagers at a house in Montgomery County, Maryland. While her friends watched, she said Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her. When she tried to scream, she said he put a hand over her mouth. "I thought he might inadvertently kill me," said Ford."

In an interview this morning her attorney spoke out about the allegation.


DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY FOR CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD: She clearly considers this attempted rape. She believes that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Ms. Katz, is your client willing to testify before the Judiciary Committee publicly and tell this story?

Katz: She is. She`s willing to do whatever it takes to get her story for it, yes.

She has taken a polygraph. She`s a credible person. These are serious allegations.


WILLIAMS: And again, her client has now given an on-the-record interview with "The Washington Post."

Today, for his part, Kavanaugh issued another strong denial of the accusation with this statement, "This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday."

He goes on to say, "I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation from 36 years ago and defend my integrity."

Today President Trump was standing by his nominee and indicated he is willing to allow the process to move forward at its own pace.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Judge Kavanaugh is one of the finest people that I`ve ever known. He`s an outstanding intellect, an outstanding judge respected by everybody. Never had even a little blemish on his record. The FBI has, I think, gone through a process six times with him over the years where he went to higher and higher positions. He is somebody very special.

At the same time we want to go through a process. We want to make sure everything is perfect, everything is just right. If it takes a little delay, it will take a little delay. It shouldn`t certainly be very much.


WILLIAMS: The President`s Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway also made an appearance, stressing if not leading, the White House messaging about Kavanaugh`s accuser.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me, on behalf of the President whom I spoken at length about this. So put aside all the nonsense that`s on T.V. and in print from people can possibly be a source the way they were thinking. She should not be ignored or insulted, she should be heard.


WILLIAMS: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee now have one week to prepare for this next hearing.

This afternoon Republicans on the Hill weighed in on the accuser and the next steps.


KASIE HUNT, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that any of these claims are legitimate?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: No, I don`t. I think this woman, whoever she is, is mixed up. And -- but I can`t speak for her. All I can say is, no, I don`t.

HUNT: Do you believe Dr. Ford?

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: I don`t know enough about Dr. Ford and her allegations yet to reach that kind of judgment. If Judge Kavanaugh has lied about what happened, that would be disqualifying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there the possibility that you believe her story but he is still qualified to serve on the court?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I`d have a hard time putting somebody on the court that tried to rape somebody.


WILLIAMS: The Judiciary Committee`s Democrats were pushing to delay this week`s vote on Kavanaugh before this. They`re now arguing for a closer examination of the allegation against Kavanaugh before another hearing is held.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) CONNECTICUT JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: As a former prosecutor, there is no way that I would put a crime victim on the stand without an investigation, let alone a witness before the entire American people. It`s a disservice to her and a disservice to Judge Kavanaugh.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D) HAWAII JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There should be a thorough FBI investigation, especially when the two principals are contradicting each other. Why the group of people who left this Supreme Court seat vacant with Merrick Garland for over a year suddenly are so anxious to go ahead with this process? It`s really mind-boggling in my view, and raises some issues.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a busy Monday night. peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times". Sam Stein, politics editor for "The Daily Beast." And Cynthia Alksne is back with us, a former federal prosecutor and a veteran of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Cynthia, you`re the lawyer here, so I`d like to begin with you. First of all, let`s talk about your takeaway from what is known thus far and the possible optics of next Monday with the GOP side made up of 11 white males on the Judiciary Committee?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, let`s start first with the case itself. I was a sex crimes prosecutor. That`s the way I started as a prosecutor, and I`ve looked at hundreds of those cases over my career. And it really is a base credibility balancing and we won`t be able to know that until she testifies.

And that`s why it`s so disturbing that somebody like Senator Hatch would already announce that he doesn`t believe her, because he has never spoken to her. He`s never read her statement. He doesn`t know anything about her polygraph. He doesn`t know anything about her statement to her husband or to the psychiatrist or anybody else she ever spoke to about this before it was released. So it`s hard to believe that he could be allowed to make a credibility determination since he`s already made up his mind.

But that`s the job here of the people on the committee, and I would agree with the senator from Hawaii that this should have been happen by the FBI first before they go forth and have this public hearing. But it is going to be a credibility balancing act, her credibility with the prior consistent statements, and the polygraph, which is very unusual in a case like this. We don`t polygraph rape victims ever. So you would never have a rape case or attempted rape case or sexual assault case with a polygraph because we just never do that. So that`s interesting.

Judge Kavanaugh has had trouble in this hearing with credibility. Senator Leahy has accused him of being untruthful with the committee, so it`s all going to play out on the credibility front.

WILLIAMS: So, Cynthia, I have a dual question for you. Number one, I`ve not known you to be a political person. You think it would be standard operating procedure or something close to it to have the FBI come in?

ALKSNE: Well, the FBI should come in. You never have a criminal case where the first thing you do is put all the witnesses on the stand in front of the jury. That`s not the way our criminal justice system, that`s not the way our justice system works.

First there`s an investigation by people who are specialized in doing investigations. And then there`s a discussion with the police or the FBI. And actually in rape cases, more often the police because it`s usually a state crime.

But you would have a discussion between the prosecutor and the investigating agency, and you make a decision about how to go forward. And they spend time with the victim and you trigger out what to do next. You don`t just throw everybody on national television. That`s a dumb way to do an investigation. And it doesn`t serve Judge Kavanaugh well, and it doesn`t serve the victim well.

WILLIAMS: And Cynthia, here`s part 19 of my original three-part question, then we`ll move to you gentlemen. When Lindsey Graham kind of skeptically says on Sean Hannity as he did tonight that she hired an attorney in august, paid for a polygraph in August, he is surprised that she wasn`t planning to share her story all along. What`s the problem with that?

ALKSNE: It`s just snarky, that`s what it is. It`s Lindsey Graham being just snarky. And it`s unnecessary and unhelpful. I mean, the question now is what happened not how it happened that it finally came to pass.

I mean, the only smart thing to do, if you`re a lawyer and you`re looking at this case is telling -- is to give her the advice, wow, you`re going to be taken through the rare. And let`s try to make some steps in case this comes out as things inevitably do, that we`re prepared to battle that.

And having a polygraph, you know, there`s a lot of talk back and forth about polygraphs because of television and what people think about polygraphs. As somebody`s polygraph or head -- I don`t do the polygraphs myself, but we have use polygraphs in numerous cases, they are a wonderful tool in the prosecutor`s toolkit to figure out who is being deceitful and who isn`t.

And I think it`s amazing she passed that polygraph. In fact, I would love it if maybe Judge Kavanaugh wants to get on -- we call it the -- "on the box." Maybe Judge Kavanaugh wants to get on the box, and while he`s there, let`s ask him if he`s going to overturn Roe v. Wade.

WILLIAMS: Wow. Cynthia Alksne, thank you.

Peter Baker on to you to what we witnessed at the White House today. I think you`ll agree that was as controlled and as on message as we`ve seen the President in recent memory. What do you think is going on in the west wing and in the residence tonight?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, you`re right, that was a President who was listening to his coaches, listening to his advisers for a change. They told him don`t inflame it, don`t tweet about it, don`t attack the accuser, don`t make this worse than it is. And, in fact, that`s what he tried to do. He tried to stay on the line that a lot of presidents would if they were under similar circumstances. That is, expressing your confidence in your nominee, saying that you`re willing to take a delay in the hearing in order to hear out the accuser and not do anything to insult her or to, you know, further make this, you know, the polarized process it already is.

And it`s -- you`re right, it`s surprising because we haven`t seen him do that very often. It does suggest that he does have the capacity to do it when he chooses to. But we`ll see how long that lasts.

You know, tune again at 6:00 a.m. or 7:0 a.m. tomorrow after he`s watched "Fox & Friends," we`ll see what the Twitter feed us.

WILLIAMS: Sam Stein, to paraphrase the reporting of Ashley Parker of "The Washington Post" tonight quoting to imminents with the President, they say he had -- the President has never had a special connection or affinity with Kavanaugh. If it comes to it, they`ll have to move on.

Sam, to your knowledge, is there a plan b?

SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let me just say, you know, we spent all day reporting what a plan b might look like, and theoretically you can envision it, which is get Kavanaugh to withdraw his nomination, perhaps before this public hearing on Monday. Install someone new, try to push it through, and if worse comes to worse, have a vote in try to have a lame duck session. You`ll still have the Senate Republican majority then. That would be the plan b.

But from everything that I could get from our reporting talking to officials who are close to the White House, officials in the White House, they have to desire to go down that road. I mean, it`s for two reasons. One is, they fundamentally believe that if they are to give in at this point on Kavanaugh, it will invite further Democratic opposition to whoever is that replaces Kavanaugh or any of the future Supreme Court nominee.

And secondarily, in a crustily political nomination, Trump knows that his reputation with conservatives hinges on two things. One is the appetite for these political fights, and the second is delivering them the type of conservative judges that they dream of. And if you were to back away from Kavanaugh at this juncture, he would be disappointing them on both those fronts right before 50 days before the midterm election.

So the White House is actually in a different type of mode there. They`re now looking at plan b`s. They are trying to rally the troops to try and threaten lawmakers not to get wobbly. They`re looking for ways to assure some evangelical leaders who may have been getting wobbly. And they`re planning to forge ahead. It depends what happens, of course, on Monday because it all could blow up in their faces.

WILLIAMS: Cynthia, we`ve had hearings of Watergate Sam Dash comes to mind, where the chief counsel has taken part in the questioning, though they`re attached to the majority or minority staff of the -- at the committee. Having said that, if you were overnight hired as chief counsel for, let`s say, for the Democrats, what would you, let`s -- Kavanaugh is not on the box but he`s on the stand and he`s sworn in, what would you ask him?

ALKSNE: But, you know, there`s an interesting aspect of his statement, and that is it`s not that -- and this happens in a lot of these types of cases. There`s two ways to go, two things you see. One is, I was there and we were both drinking and there was a misunderstanding. The other is, I was never there.

So it`s interesting to push that, "I was never there." I`m surprised that`s what they did given his friend, Mark Judge, who apparently wrote a book that talked about how they did a lot of drinking and that perhaps they don`t remember everything that they were doing.

So I think you just have to -- the question here has to include the information from Mark Judge about all the drinking that they did and how possibly they don`t remember and that maybe possibly they had blackouts. And exactly find out and probe that area. I would also like to know -- I noticed in a statement he didn`t say whether or not he knew her.

You know, it`d be nice to know if he even remembered her and what he remembered about her. And there are a lot of things you would want to know that you would actually prefer to do in private and not on national television. But there`s certainly a lot of things that need to come out.


STEIN: Can I just say one question that I think will be asked is a very straightforward question which is someone on the Democratic side is going to say to him, "Judge Kavanaugh, your accuser, Professor Ford, has taken a polygraph test and she passed. Will you submit or would you submit to the same type of polygraph test?" And he would be faced with a really difficult decision there.

I mean, what do you say in that situation, no? Then you`re in trouble, yes, then you have another nosey (ph) moment that could derail the nomination. And I don`t really see exactly how he gets out of that very straight forward, very obvious coming question. WILLIAMS: Peter.

BAKER: Brian, I was told today to answer the question is, the name did not in fact immediately jump to mind when he saw it from "The Washington Post" reported on Sunday. He says he`s told people around him that he has a vague recollection of her from the social circles that were in there, but he doesn`t have a strong memory of her. Remember, he went to an all-boys school so he wouldn`t have gone to school with her, and we don`t know even from her account just how much interaction they had prior to this particular incident that happened.

So he`s telling people that he doesn`t have a strong memory of her, and I think what you`re going to hear between now and the hearing on Monday is this idea that perhaps she was confusing him with somebody else, and perhaps a case of mistaken identity. And that`s because they know that they can`t attack her directly and say she`s making it up.

That`s what they did with Anita Hill in 1991. Today that probably wouldn`t fly in the #MeToo era. That would generate a huge backlash. And so the best defense that they think that they can mount is she`s thinking of somebody other than him. It was, you know, 27 -- I`m sorry, 36 years ago, and it wasn`t him.

WILLIAMS: And Cynthia, any other similarities between this and the Anita Hill matter other than the fact that we`re going to be looking at, you know, Grassley and Hatch?

ALKSNE: This happen the same back then.

WILLIAMS: Yes, they were around then.

ALKSNE: No, just the -- what Peter just mentioned, I think they will be very gingerly and very careful because they know what the -- that the American suburban white women are watching and they weren`t happy with the way Anita Hill was treated, and the election is 50 days away.

WILLIAMS: Sam Stein, Collins and Murkowski. I always say this, their states are the northern anchors to the east and west of the United States.


WILLIAMS: They are two powerful Republican voices in the Senate. When we hear from White House types, if this guy goes down, we`re going to come back with another name on the list more conservative. That`s the only thing that argument runs up against is passing the Collins and Murkowski test.

STEIN: Yes. And you know, I mean, to a certain degree, McConnell does not want to have to start from scratch. You know, the disappointment with the base at having to scrap Kavanaugh will be palpable. I think they are worried about that.

On the other hand, you get the sense talking to people on the Hill that they also are really deeply nervous about this Monday hearing. I mean, there`s really very few things that can go positive for them here. It`s going to be a he said-she said. And eventually you have to vote on that, along those lines. And then the back of it all, of course, is what to do about Murkowski and Collins.

My source is telling me that they are, you know, essentially they are basically waiting to see where the chips fall. And one of those chips, of course, is what do this sort of centrist Democrats who are up for reelection in red states do?

About a week ago, it was widely assume that the Manchin`s of the world, the Heidi Heitkamp`s and the Joe Donnelly`s of the world would end up reluctantly voting for Kavanaugh to save their own height.

One of the things that this has done is that it has given Manchin, its given Heitkamp, and it`s given Donnelly effectively have bit more cover to say, "You know, what, we just can not proceed with this guy. It`s too toxic." And that puts additional partial on Murkowski and Collins because now they become the swing votes.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, last word.

BAKERL: Well, I would take `s scenario and spin it out even further. I think Sam is right, the Democrats has now have a free pass to vote against him. They can explain that to their constituents based on this alligation assume it doesn`t, you know, come unruffled for some reason or another.

And then you are looking at a very, very dicey situation. Let`s say for sake of argument, Kavanaugh`s nomination doesn`t go forward. There is no way -- it doesn`t seem conceivable, you get another nominee before the election, vetted to the committee and voted on. So that`s puts in a lame duck as Sam talked about.

Let`s say for the sake of argument the Democrats win the Senate, which even Mitch McConnell was talking about as recently as last week. Then you`re in a completely different scenario.

The idea that the Senate would go ahead with a lame duck confirmation of a justice after two years, after saying that they couldn`t even consider Merrick Garland because they want the voters to have a say first seems to bagger the imagination. Then you`re under the situation with Democrats are encharge. They`re not going to let anything go through if they can help it.

WILLIAMS: to make my metaphor, that lame duck may not hunt, but I couldn`t ask for a better big three on this night of all nights.

Peter Baker, Sam Stein, thank you. Cynthia, I think I`m authorized to invite you on live television to join our live coverage on Monday of this hearing because we would like you to be of counsel. We need your viewpoint.

All right, thank you all three.

Coming up for us, Peter mentioned this. The Kavanaugh controversy just one facet of a White House in turmoil. Looming midterms are another. The Mueller-Russia investigation yet another, let`s not forget. That`s why the President`s decision to declassify key documents and text messages late today is so controversial. We`re just getting started on a Monday night.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you spoken to him today?

TRUMP: I have not spoken to Judge Kavanaugh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know if he`s offered to withdraw from the process? Has he offered to withdraw?

TRUMP: Next question. What a ridiculous question that is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he has a path towards confirmation?

TRUMP: Say it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he has a path toward confirmation is on track?

TRUMP: Oh, I think he`s on track, yes. I mean, I think he`s very much on track. If they delay it a little bit just to make sure everybody is happy -- they want to be happy, I can tell you. The Republican senators want to be 100 percent happy themselves.


WILLIAMS: To repeat, Judge Kavanaugh was in the west wing for nine hours today by our count. President Trump saying Judge Kavanaugh is on track for his nomination after the allegations surfaced that Kavanaugh assaulted a girl when they were in high school.

As we mentioned, Kavanaugh is strongly denying Dr. Christine Blasey Ford`s accusation.

Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press reports tonight that the President Trump muted response underscores the politically perilous situation. The administration finds it self in, "White House aides met behind closed doors cognizant of two realities, that scuttling the Kavanaugh nomination and finding a replacement would likely postpone confirmation hearings until after what could be a difficult midterm election, while pushing back too hard in his defense could alienate female voters as well as female senators who could hold the judge`s future in their hands."

That accusation against Kavanaugh just the latest in a long list of tough headlines for this President just in recent days.

On Friday, let`s not forget, former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. He has agreed to cooperate with Mueller. He is now working for the feds.

It`s been more than a week since Bob Woodward`s new book "Fear" was released. Did we hear much talk about that today? No, because it`s been replaced by the Kavanaugh story. The book paints a picture of a White House in chaos.

And of course, the White House still has not yet uncovered or unmasked the author of that anonymous op-ed in "The Times" who wrote about a resistance to some of the Presidents policies from within.

All of this with exactly 50 days to go till those crucial midterm elections. With us to talk about all of it tonight, the for mention, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press, and Nancy Cook, White House reporter for Politico.

So, Nancy, I`d like to begin with you. Are rules different or tempered this days because this is a, some have branded it a woman problem for this the White House?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I just think that the White House is very cognition of not trying to alienate suburban female voters ahead of the midterm. And subsequently, they`re really pushing back both Congressional leadership and the White House top attorney and trying to get Trump and the White House and the Congress to have a very muted and necessary response to these Kavanaugh allegations.

And it`s just much different than what we have seen from President Trump before. You know, usually he really likes to hit back against people who accuse him. He likes to call them on Twitter. And I was told in my reporting that that was his original instinct when he heard about it on Sunday and Kavanaugh wanted to hit back as well. But he was really convinced to stay quiet and he didn`t address the alligations until Monday afternoon, this afternoon. And even when did, he did so, you know, in a much quieter way than he normally does.

WILLIAMS: And Jonathan, the Dems, and we just heard Cynthia Alksne actually used this point. She said she would never put witnesses directly on the stand at trial without an investigation that went first. The Dems were using that point, the Republicans hear that, and say they`re trying to run out the clock because the midterms are coming and all of it is one big traveling mess.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It is. I mean, certainly, you know, as we wrote in a story, Republicans are very cognizant of the idea of the midterms are looming.

And as Peter and Sam, our line in the previous segment, you know, it`s hard to imagine a lame duck process goes through considering what happened with Merrick Garland. So right now the Republicans and the White House are trying to work in tandem to get this through. But they took it definitely took an approach today. They do it very quietly. And to -- as Nancy said, impress upon the President that he should temper his usual reactions.

Remember this is Donald. Donald Trump has, in the #MeToo moment, his inclination, time and time again is to believe the powerful man who stands accused of misconduct. Whether it was Roy Moore, Roger Ailes, Rob Porter, his former staff secretary, and of course himself and he has denied time and time again the more than a dozen women who have said that he mistreated them or touched them inappropriately, even though, of course, we heard him brag about them on the "Access Hollywood" tape.

But he, at least for now has stayed disciplined. Now, whether that lasts, well, that could be over by tomorrow morning, we`ll wake up to his Twitter feed. But right now they understand how much is riding on this, that for so many Republicans who have mixed feelings, shall we say, about this President, the ability to deliver conservative justices, a Supreme Court justices is the key measure. So he doesn`t want to blow this.

And also he knows they need a victory here and admits all the turmoil, as you just laid out, that`s swirling around this White House right now.

WILLIAMS: He still mentions Gorsuch in every speech before every group.

Nancy, we often depend upon you around here to give us the heads up, the beware of distractions and shiny objects. Can you do exactly that right now for this week?

COOK: Yes, well, I think what`s interesting is as the Kavanaugh news was breaking today and it was sort of day two and they were urging Trump to really sort of stay quiet, meanwhile there was a major dump going on, a news dump going in the White House. And they were releasing info about a bunch of really things that they`ve been working on for a long time. I think to really distract from that news. And some of it contains some really important nuggets.

So, for instance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the refugee cap on the number of refugees that could come into this country would be only 30,000 people next fiscal year, which is much, much lower than we`ve ever seen historically.

The president is going to release some previously classified documents related to the Russia investigation. That`s a huge deal. And also it was announced that they`re going to put, you know, billions of dollars in tariffs on China. And so all of this sort of came out this afternoon, and on top of that, you know, the special investigation continues a pace. There`s Mueller released something that he`s going to try to schedule a sentencing for former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

So while the Kavanaugh show is happening, and I would say it`s not just a reality show, there`s real world implications at stake, the White House is doing all these other things this week and definitely something we should keep an eye on.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire quote in the New York Times from Glen Bolger, leading Republican pollster working on several top racist this year was even blunter. This is in the scope of a larger article. People think the economy is doing well, but that`s not what they`re voting on. They`re voting on the chaos of the guy in the White House. That, of course, would be the Trump White House worst case scenario.

LEMIRE: That`s a very unnerving proposition for those close to Donald Trump who are trying to bank on the booming economy, at least for some people, not all, it`s a pretty stratified economy, but that is the reason why he should, why Republicans should control if Congress fall and certainly when we get there, why Donald Trump deserves another four years because the economy is doing well under him of that.

If people are focusing on all the drama that goes with, that is a trouble for the West Wing. I think you are seeing an effort, not successfully, but the president has been out there trying to talk about the economy at times, and that message doesn`t seem to be sinking in. So instead, and this is a moment where he`s not been particularly disciplined, we are. We seeing shiny objects. We`re seeing that I just outlined the Russia revelations say it, declassification. And we`re going to see more that of this week. We certainly expect him to go to North Carolina at some point to check on the storm damage which is always a test for a leader.

Let`s remember, it was just a couple days ago that he questioned the death toll in the Puerto Rico hurricane, another thing that feels like it was a year ago between the how fast the news cycle is, but that will be a moment. That`s brought to the forefront again. He`s going to rally for Senate candidates, Nevada and Missouri and of course, he`s also coming to here to New York next week for the United Nations, which is another moment.

Last year that`s where he debuted the phrase little rocket man and really unnerved world leaders. This is a moment where I think he focuses on the Iran and other thins. But again, it`s going to be an image for voters. Do they look at him and say this is a president who is, you know, got his -- in charge of the world stage and ahead of a booming economy? Or is he just further delving in a chaos?

WILLIAMS: Two of our returning veterans are great. Thanks to Nancy Cook and to Jonathan Lemire, really appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, as we`ve been talking about, as the president declassifies these documents, even text messages in the Russia investigation, prosecutors say they are ready to sentence the president`s former national security adviser. What that may say, or not, about his cooperation with Mueller and what it has yielded. All of it coming up.


WILLIAMS: This is important. President Trump is demanding the release of FBI documents related to the Russia investigation and essentially an investigation into himself. According to a White House statement, the order comes, "At the request of a number of committees of Congress and for reasons of transparency. The declassification applies to redacted pages of the FISA warrant obtained to monitor former Campaign Adviser Carter Page and FBI interviews." More notably, Trump also directed the DOJ to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation without redaction of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr.

Put another way, this is a presidential order to make public some previously private communications that refer to an ongoing investigation into his administration. It comes just days after former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort pleaded great and agree to work for the feds. It comes on the same day we learn Mueller is ready to sentence Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty back in December lying to the FBI about contact he had with Russians during the campaign. He`s been cooperating ever since.

With us to talk about all of t Daniel Goldman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. I`ll get straight to the point. How big a deal is this?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Brian, I think this is the most egregious and flagrant, obstructive conduct that the president has ever exercised since he became president. I actually think in many respects, it may be worse than firing Jim Comey, and here`s why. The president is under investigation. He absolutely has the power to declassify documents, but what he is doing here is he is declassifying documents related to an ongoing confidential investigation into himself and his family. So it`s kind of a dual-pronged, improper abuse and attack on the rule of law.

Because, first of all, it would be wrong under any circumstances to declassify anything related to an ongoing investigation. Congress absolutely has oversight power, but it does not have oversight power during and over a pending investigation. When you layer on the personal self- interest that the president has in getting these particular documents, these political enemies who he`s been attacking on Twitter for months and months and months, and to put their text messages out in public, this is a flagrant abuse of his power to undermine the investigation and our general tenet of the rule of law.

WILLIAMS: Well, who do we see about that? And by that I mean, Congressman Schiff said tonight that he`s been told by folks, feds, folks in the FBI, that this might cross a red line for them. Who is going to say so? Who is the controlling legal authority on an order like this?

GOLDMAN: Well, it`s an order effectively to the Department of Justice. So Rod Rosenstein was overseeing this aspect, this investigation, because Jeff Sessions is recused. So, it`s really up to Rod Rosenstein to figure out how to deal with it. Traditionally when Rod Rosenstein was getting improper requests along these lines, this is the furthest and most blatant to date, but he has dealt with them by trying to give a little in order to defuse things and protect himself and the investigation.

If this is over the red line, as Congressman Schiff says, and I agree it really does appear to be, then he has two choices which is either to say, no, we`re not going to turn this over, or to resign. And I think that it`s no coincidence that this follows on the first business day after Paul Manafort cooperates. And this is an obvious attempt to begin to continue to undermine this investigation so that -- as it is closing in more and more on perhaps him, perhaps not, but certainly his campaign and maybe his family members.

WILLIAMS: Last question, it was a big deal today when we heard Flynn in Mueller`s view ready to be sentenced. Does that--are there any tea leaves to be gleaned about how valuable his cooperation, how useful it was?

GOLDMAN: Well, I don`t think it means he won`t testify. I think what likely has happened is that his testimony has been taken either before the grand jury or in proffer sessions. He has done enough most likely to get a sentence of probation, so there is no reason to allow him to cooperate further and testify. That`s ordinarily how it would work. Cooperators aren`t sentenced until the last defendant against whom they have information is sentenced.

But because Flynn does want to get on with his life and he`s made that clear in court proceedings, and he probably has already done enough to get a sentence of probation, it may just simply be that he is going to be sentenced to his probationary term and then he will testify down the road with his grand jury testimony there hanging over him that he cannot be inconsistent with.

But it is interesting to me. The aspect of it is it really is a sweetheart deal. I thought it was such a sweetheart deal that basically Bob Mueller was withholding additional charges because he didn`t want to disclose them during the course of this investigation. But that`s apparently not the case. So, that much we know is that Michael Flynn got a very good deal.

WILLIAMS: Someday we`ll know all what was going on behind the scenes this whole time. We were awfully happy to be able to asks these questions of you tonight. Thank you very much.

GOLDMAN: Thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS: Daniel Goldman with us yet again tonight.

Coming up, new polling numbers from some big Senate races. All we have to say here is Steve Kornacki, after this.


WILLIAMS: I know I said the last couple segments were really important. This is really important, too. As we mentioned earlier the midterms are 50, 5-0, days away. And what is the very definition of early balloting? Voting begins this Friday when people in Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming they can start their absentee and early balloting. And today new polling shows close battles for some big Senate races around the country. With us at the big board tonight, the only person we would want to do this, Steve Kornacki, our national political correspondent. Hey friend, what do you have?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brian, thanks for that. Yes, we talked so much about the battle for the House but it`s the battle for the Senate, Democrats trying to get the majority there. It`s also starting to come in focus thanks to newt polling. So first, let`s just set this up.

Right now we think the battleground for the Senate looks about like this. You got six blue seats right here. Democrats in danger of losing these seats. Conversely we have four red ones here. This is where Democrats think they have a shot to make inroads, to pick off Republicans. Again, for Democrats, they need a net gain, a net gain of two seats if they`re going to get back the Senate. So within this battleground, we got four new polls we can tell you about just coming out.

This one here, Arizona. This is one Democrats think they have a shot of pick it up. This poll shows their candidate winning by 7. We had a poll at NBC a while back here that also showed Kyrsten Sinema ahead. That`s a pick up opportunity for Democrats. There`s this, Tennessee, Republican House seat. It`s an open seat right now. Corker is retiring. CNN today, they got Bredesen up five. NBC, we took a poll here a couple weeks ago, we had him up as well.

In Montana Jon Tester, Democrat running in a big Trump state. Here`s a new CBS poll, Tester up two in that race. Again, state Trump won by 21 points. And then Missouri, Clair McCaskill try to hang on against Josh Hawley. CBS has her tied. We took a poll here while back also had her tied. Add all this together, that battleground I showed you. If it breaks down like this, what Democrats are hoping for is a wave, a big wave. What Republicans are thinking will save them is the battlefield is so tilted in their favor. This is quickly what I mean by that.

If you just go by these polls. If they gave Arizona, it may not happen, but if you gave Arizona to the Democrats based on that poll we just showed you, if you take that tie in Missouri and you say, hey, that`s going to be broken for Clair McCaskill, you know, she wins that state. Tennessee, if that one flipped, you know, and if you had Montana, we just showed you if Tester got that. Mansion has been ahead in West Virginia when we polled out there.

And then if you took a state like Indiana where our had Donnelly had, I`ve given six states to the Democrats and they`re not even at 50. They need two more from this battleground to get the majority. If you`re a Republican and you look at, and you say, hey, we can flip South Dakota. We got a shot in Florida and all Ted Cruz has to do is hang on in Texas and Republicans there. There`s so much more turf Democrats are trying to defend. The good news for them? Those polls suggest there could be a wave there. The bad news for them is geographically that`s a tough climb.

WILLIAMS: Nobody better at breaking it down. We could do this -- I wouldn`t do this to you, but we could do the segment every night and still not get tired of hearing you talk.

KORNACKI: I would do it every night.

WILLIAMS: Steve, thank you so much. It`s always a treat to have you on the broadcast. Great stuff tonight.

Coming up, parts of North Carolina. Let`s not forget under water and even where the sun is out and the storm has moved on, the flooding is still predicted to worsen. We`ll have the latest on the aftermath of what was Florence when we come back.



GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: This is an epic storm that is still continuing because the rivers are rising in certain parts of our state. Some areas have not seen the worst flooding yet.


WILLIAMS: You don`t want to have that guy job these days. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urging people in his state not to let their guard down. The storm that was Florence is now a tropical depression. It`s an area of rain that is now so big and sprawling that it`s northern reaches stretch -- system that will cause a further delayed reaction in the Carolinas back where it came from even after the skies have cleard.

The storm system is blamed for at least 31 deaths. Sadly that number could rise with the water. Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged after these record-level rainfalls the top 30 inches in some places. As the storm system heads to the northeast, there`s a still a state of emergency in parts of North Carolina. And evacuation orders are still being issued, fresh orders to leave. Thousands of people and animals have been rescued from cars and homes, trees are down, boats have washed ashore downtown New Bern, Carolina. Some rivers are still rising already a flood stage while others are on their way. Some dams have started to collapse. That wipes out roads and then further raises concerns of flooding to downstream homes.

Recovery efforts continue tonight. Cruise are working to restore power to nearly 300,000 people and driving through water to get there. Yet, with many roads, still impassible. Authorities are warning some folks to be in the dark for several more days.

Again, what`s left to the weather system also spawned (ph) multiple damaging tornadoes in North Carolina, and today, this tornado outside Richmond, Virginia. And while it`s too early to total it all up, it is already estimated that damage from Florence and it`s aftereffects could amount somewhere around $17 billion.

OK. Next and final break for us. And coming up, one "New York Times" reader has taken it upon himself to put back something important that the "Times" has taken away. When we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, is admittedly our current and ongoing journalistic obsession and hobby horse. The recent decision by "The New York Times" to remove bylines from the news articles on the front page of their Web site.

During this desperately important time for journalism and journalist during what could only be called a newspaper war, between the Washington Post and the New York Times. And during this time when people look for and click on the work of the Baker`s and Schmidt`s, Peters and Haberman`s, and Apuzzo`s, we have been confounded by this decision, carried out in the name of streamlining the design. May be their work was attracting too many clicks and threaten to crash the site.

Well, at any rate, we learned on social media today that a very smart and resourceful and perhaps similarly outraged "New York Times" reader has come up with a work around. He`s gone and made a browser extension that adds the bylines back in. Armed with this development, we can once again see the names of those who have been reporting on the Mac (ph) and the Myer and the tragedy and the Carolinas, and those reporting working on the Mac (ph) and the Myer and the tragedy in Washington.

So our thanks go out Dan Stillman. We remain in this fight with you and the fight goes on.


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