Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 20, 2018 Guest: Michael Crowley, Jackie Comb
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, new details on the negotiations underway for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to appear on Capitol Hill. It now looks like Thursday at the earliest and the fate of Brett Kavanaugh hangs on her potential testimony.
Plus, new details on Michael Cohen`s repeated conversations with the Mueller team and what it means for the former boss, Donald Trump.
And the President goes there tonight at a rally in Las Vegas, Nevada.
THE 11TH HOUR on a Thursday night begins now.
And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 609 of the Trump Administration and Republicans are bracing for testimony from Brett Kavanaugh`s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, after her attorney said today she is open to testifying next week, just not as early as Monday. As we have been reporting, Dr. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a high school party back in the 1980s. It`s an allegation Kavanaugh has denied.
Ford`s attorney Deborah Katz sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee today. It reads, in part, and we, "She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety. A hearing on Monday is not possible and the committee`s insistence that it occur then is arbitrary in any event. Her strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow for a full investigation prior to her testimony."
Earlier tonight, staff members for the Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley held a call with Ford`s attorneys to discuss her possible role and testimony. One of the sticking points apparently is this proposal floated today to have an outside lawyer, preferably a woman, handle questioning on behalf of the 11 men who make up the Republican side of that committee.
The "Washington Post" first reported some of the details from the call tonight, "The roughly 30-minute conversation touched on the scope of the questions, and Katz raised concerns about the potential of an outside counsel coming in to question Ford, arguing that the scenario would be too much like a trial according to the aide. "Ford also does not want Kavanaugh in the hearing room when she testifies," Katz told the staffers, and requested that the nominee speak first. Katz also raised the possibility of a subpoena from Mark Judge, the person who alleged to have been in the room at the party and other potential witnesses and suggested that Thursday would be a good hearing date."
On Wednesday, Grassley had asked Ford to respond by tomorrow morning on whether or not she would testify in that hearing that is still scheduled for Monday, by the way. It`s not clear at this point if the hearing will be moved.
In a letter to Senator Grassley today, Brett Kavanaugh wrote, for his part, "Thank you for the invitation to appear before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Monday, September 24th. I will be there. I continue to want a hearing as soon as possible so that I can clear my name."
Brett Kavanaugh was back at the White House today and according to a person involved in the confirmation process, Kavanaugh is, "determined and hopeful." Notably, he`s now had days of nonstop prep sessions and sample questions, so-called murder boards, based on the questions he might face. President Trump has been uncharacteristically muted and controlled in his response to the allegations against Kavanaugh so far.
And earlier tonight in an interview with Sean Hannity before a rally in Las Vegas, the President said there should be no further delays.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s a very sad situation. He`s an outstanding person.
And, frankly, Sean, to see what`s going on is just very, very sad. You say, "Why didn`t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?" I mean, you could also say, when did this all happen? What`s going on? To take a man like this and besmirch.
Now with that being said, let her have her say, and let`s see how it all works out. But I don`t think you can delay it any longer. They have delayed it a week already. And we`re talking about --
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And you`ve been very accommodating.
TRUMP: I have been accommodating. I say let her say what she has to say and let`s see how it all comes out. But they`ve delayed it a week and they have to get on with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Thursday night. Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post." Jeremy Peters, political reporter for "The New York Times," and Former U.S. Attorney, Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.
Counselor, you get to go first tonight. Let`s say you are Dr. Ford`s lawyer. Knowing the risk that the Republicans may just try to gavel this through and have their vote with or without her testimony, what are your demands of this committee if you`re her lawyer?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It looks like Dr. Ford`s lawyers have successfully reasserted themselves and will establish some good baseline rules here. The problem is that the Republicans who run the Senate Committee control all of the mechanics of this hearing. And it`s clear that they`re more interested in rushing this through in a slip shod manner than in really exploring the issues. So it will be up to her lawyers to set some ground rules so that this doesn`t take on the attitude of a trial where she`s being cross-examined. Rather, it`s an opportunity for her to tell her story in a meaningful fashion without being unduly confronted and unfairly tarnished.
And at the same time it needs to happen on her time line. You know, Judge Kavanaugh is up in the White House every day. He lives a few moments away from the setting where he`ll be testifying. She`s on the other side of the country. Her life has been turned upside down.
She has death threats. She has to care for her children. They`re out of her house.
It was always unreasonable to expect that she would provide testimony by tomorrow and be up on the Hill on Monday. I`m glad to see her lawyers setting boundaries.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, so much of what we talk to you about on this broadcast is a story that changes by the hour and here we are again. Noting that, what do you make of the current state of play in this story?
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Brian, it looks like Dr. Ford is going to be testifying next week most likely. It`s a question of when that hearing takes place, but more importantly for her, it`s a question of what the mechanics of that hearing look like. Will Kavanaugh be in the room? Will there be any other witnesses who could come forward? What would the questioning be like?
Are the Republican senators going to yield their time to an outside counsel as is being discussed or are they going to select one among them to do the questioning? Or will they all do the questioning? If they all do the questioning, that could be a recipe for trouble because we`re talking about 11 white male Republican senators, some of whom -- one of whom, Orrin Hatch, has already stirred a lot of controversy earlier this week for comments he made that seemed to be insensitive to Dr. Ford`s personal story.
WILLIAMS: We should note there is precedent, a lot of it in history, just not in the modern television era, for chief counsels or outside counsels running questioning during hearings. We all remember Roy Cohn, at least watching the black and white films after the fact of Roy Cohn who was elected by no one, participating in the questioning of witnesses and being rough about it.
RUCKER: Yes, that`s exactly right. There is a precedent for this. And it could politically help Republicans if they had an outside counsel. It would give them a little bit of independence from the situation. It would present the appearance of an independent investigation.
But it could create more of a trial setting. It could make it seem like Dr. Ford is on trial as opposed to sharing her testimony in a hearing setting. So it`s very dicey and these are all the dynamics that the Republican leadership, especially Mitch McConnell who`s trying to protect his Senate majority in the election seven weeks from now, are grappling with at this hour.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy from the McCarthy hearings fast forward to the present day, you last wrote a piece on the religious right and their involvement in this, and I was taken aback by it. I had to read certain paragraphs twice. I`ve never claimed to be that bright, but some of it read like a kind of polite threat. It read like the through line that you were writing was, get this thing gavelled through, and get him on the court, or Trump Administration and all Republicans, you might find a complacent voting public out there for the midterms.
JEREMY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: That`s exactly right, Brian. This was a veiled threat from the religious right. Get this done.
There is probably no larger reason why Donald Trump is President than the fact that the religious right held its nose and came out to vote for him because he told them he would name justice -- he not only told them what kind of justices he would name to the court. He gave them a list of names that he vetted so they knew he wasn`t going to welch on the bet.
So their thinking is, this is really uncertain. This is a story that changes hour been hour. We don`t know what`s going to happen. This very well could slip from our grasp, this chance to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for a generation, so we need to get this done as quickly as possible.
And it`s kind of these two parallel tracks of conversations happening, the ones in public where the President as we just heard him say, is being deferential, respectful toward the nominee -- toward the accuser. At the same time, this other conversation is happening, saying we need to get this done as quickly as possible.
WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, as a politically as you can, and as lawyerly as you can, if I ask you to do your fact finding in direct questioning, in direct examination in that hearing room, could you? Because that`s the answer we`re hearing from people who are against the FBI. It`s another way of asking you whether you think, given all your experience as a fed, if an FBI investigation in this course is -- in this case is absolutely necessary.
VANCE: It is absolutely necessary, Brian. There are so many unanswered questions. Republicans are trying to keep this in the posture of a he said/she said, so it`s impossible to resolve the veracity of Dr. Ford`s claims. Investigators can go out.
We obviously have identified a number of witnesses. There will be more. There will be materials. We`ve already heard mention of high school year books that are very interesting.
The FBI needs to go out and do their professional job that they perform routinely in these investigations, looking for material so that they can then give the Senate that information to use in a hearing. That`s how this works. Investigators gather information and provide it typically to prosecutors or in this sort of setting for the senators who are charged with advising and consenting on the nomination.
WILLIAMS: Phil, the President did take this subject matter on tonight at the rally in Las Vegas. He did a pregame interview with Sean Hannity live on Fox News. Talked about it yesterday. Have you been surprised at the relatively rare on-message control?
RUCKER: I have been surprised. I was not totally surprised that he could get through 24 hours Monday without attacking the accuser, but I`m surprised it`s now Thursday and he remains on message with this. At the rally he brought up Kavanaugh, but it was a very all sort of mild statement. He talked about how important the Supreme Court --
WILLIAMS: His education and resume.
RUCKER: Exactly. And the crowd was chanting, "Kavanaugh, Kavanaugh." And that`s the moment where you could see Trump going into, you know, how can you believe her? These are phony allegations. It`s not true. But he didn`t do that. He restrained himself.
And it`s such a contrast from that quote that stands out in Bob Woodward`s new book where Trump is telling a friend his advice on how to handle these sorts of accusations and it`s deny, deny, deny, and then retaliate and take on the enemy, take on the women. But he is not following his own advice here.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I don`t need to remind you, this is not a sporting event and lives are at stake in this and reputation s are at stake, and having set it up that way, do you think there`s been a bit of a momentum shift? We felt we saw one last night when the Republicans seemed to be saying, we`re going through with this whether we see her on Monday or not. Do you think as Joyce puts it, maybe the accuser has gotten the upper hand, Dr. Ford?
PETERS: I mean, I think it`s so hard to predict politically how this plays out because it`s changing so quickly and you just don`t know what might be around the bend. What if there are more women who come forward? What if there is more reporting that uncovers more women? This is on such a knife`s edge right now and that`s why there`s such nervousness in Republican circles about this nomination going forward.
So I think on net, Brian, this is not good for Republicans. Either way you look at it, because they are ramming through a nomination or going to be seen as trying to ram through a nomination with allegations of sexual misconduct behind this nominee, which is going to seriously alienate the kinds of voters that they need to turnout in November.
At the same time, it`s going to add fuel to an already white-hot fire on the Democratic left. And I just don`t see a scenario right now in which either of those gets you seats if you`re a Republican.
WILLIAMS: A rare treat to have both of you gentlemen at our set, in our studio here in New York. Couldn`t ask for a better big three to start us off tonight. Phil Rucker, Jeremy Peters, Joyce Vance, our thanks.
Coming up, Trump`s former personal lawyer now talking to Mueller`s team, and more than that, apparently talking to them for hours. New reporting on what Michael Cohen is being asked about and what he might be saying.
And later from destruction to reconstruction, a look at Puerto Rico one year after Hurricane Maria.
THE 11TH HOUR on a Thursday night continues after this.
WILLIAMS: New reports out tonight indicate long-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is talking a lot to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. ABC News came out with a story reporting that Mueller`s team sat Cohen down for multiple interviews on all aspects of Trump`s dealings with Russia.
"New York Times" followed shortly afterward with its own version. ABC reporting that according to sources, the questioning focuses on, "Financial and business dealings and the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign." Investigators also wanted to know, "whether Trump or any of his associates discussed the possibility of a pardon with Cohen."
ABC also reporting the interviews took place in both New York and D.C., including the feds from the southern district of New York and the Cohen`s participation was voluntary with no guarantee of leniency. This all comes just one week after former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort struck his own deal with Mueller.
Cohen pleaded guilty to federal crimes last month. He`s scheduled to be sentenced December 12. Earlier this evening, Cohen`s Twitter account briefly posted this message captured before it was deleted, and it reads, "Good for Michael Cohen for providing critical information to the Mueller investigation without a cooperation agreement. No one should question his integrity, veracity or loyalty to his family and country over Donald Trump."
Well, Cohen`s lawyer, Lanny Davis quickly followed just minutes later explaining that it was, "My tweet sent to Michael Cohen and I asked him to rescind to his followers." Well, that message is limited to Twitter.
With us tonight to talk about all of it, Emily Jane Fox, senior report for Vanity Fair. She also happens to be the author of "Born Trump: Inside America`s First Family." She also happens to be the first to report last week on Michael Cohen`s talks with Robert Mueller. Michael Crowley also returns to our broadcast, national security editor at Politico. And still with us, Former U.S. Attorney, Joyce Vance.
Emily, this is built on your reporting and I want you now to build on the reporting that`s out there. What more do we know about these sessions, these questions, and possible answers from Cohen?
EMILY JANE FOX, VANITY FAIR SENIOR REPORTER: So, here`s what I have discussed in last Friday night I sat with you here talking about how Michael Cohen had been speaking with Robert Mueller and in the weeks since. What I`ve learned is that Michael Cohen has been an open book. He had signalled for months that he was willing to be an open book. That he wanted to share everything that he knew with prosecutors. And he has now started the process of doing that.
And what that means is he wants it to be known to investigators that he no longer wants to be the guy with a shovel behind Donald Trump. There are a couple of reasons why he wants that. He wants this because he believes it will serve the country and will serve his family best. He has yet to be sentenced and won`t be sentenced until December.
And as many smart lawyers have pointed out to me, it is possible that if he is seen as a good cooperating witness, that prosecutors can then suggest to a judge a more lenient sentence when it comes to sentencing.
But there is another thing that was particularly interesting from Cohen world this evening where someone said to me, Michael Cohen is not only telling Robert Mueller`s team what he knows related to Russia. He`s not only explaining to the Southern District what he knows about financial issues. He`s not only sitting down with the New York attorney general and explaining what he knows about the foundation, but he is not holding back and saying that Donald Trump is unfit to be President in his mind, he`s an unsuitable leader. He`s dangerous to this country and he is not loyal to this country. And those are the kinds of things that he has been sharing.
WILLIAMS: Well that gets your attention.
So, Joyce, Emily just raised the interesting question, some of this is going to the Southern District of New York and some of this is going to the Mueller team in Washington. Can you tell us why on earth that is? I know it`s a matter of law and how the feds are constructed and situated. And are they both looking for different things? Does all the work go in the same hopper?
VANCE: There are actually three potential consumers of the information that Cohen has to provide. There`s the Mueller investigation, looking at Russia and collusion, the Southern District of New York apparently looking at campaign finance violations, and perhaps other misconduct.
And then this interesting investigation that the New York attorney general has into the Trump foundation, perhaps financial fraud and mismanagement that could reach not just the President but also his children who participate in that entity. And so the beauty of having someone like Cohen who is really a gold mine of information is that this information can be shared across the offices. They can decide where he provides the most value. And I feel sure that in addition to listening to his information, they`re now assessing his credibility to see whether he has potential to be a witness in the courtroom or whether his value is strictly in providing information.
WILLIAMS: Michael, from the relative safety of Washington, you get to sit back and sum up what this all looks like. Just this Cohen piece indicates a closing in by Mueller on the life times and administration of Donald Trump.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Brian. I was thinking of the phrase "pincer movement." You know think about, I mean, Mueller has been, to use another metaphor, just a steam roller. He`s flipped Michael Flynn. Paul Manafort indicated he would never turn. He flipped Manafort.
Cohen is singing like, you know, Pavaratti, and it`s got to be terrifying for Donald Trump. The people who know so many secrets about him, who said they were going to hold out, are crumbling under the might of this special counsel`s investigation. I think it`s a testament to the kind of awesome reach that Mueller has. You know, he has -- he comes armed to these people with, you know, thousands of e-mails, documents, accounts from other witnesses. And I think people are finding it really hard to resist him and it`s really kind of an amazing thing to watch.
At the same time, Brian, you have to forgive me. I just had to laugh a little bit. You know there`s something satyrical about Michael Cohen, you know, the footage you just showed of him in that plaid jacket that he was wearing around. He posts this tweet and deletes it. It`s kind of -- there`s a kind of slap stick quality to him.
And I would add on a darker note, you know, that he was really quite abusive in some high-profile cases, including his response to a Daily Beast reporter who called him about a story about Trump a couple years ago, really a thuggish character. So Cohen is repositioning himself now and it may be that he has kind of found truth in light. Wants to turnover a new leaf and be an honest guy.
But he`s also a guy who has, you know, if there`s credible reporting on his past, a lot to atone for, appears to have had his hands in a lot of shady business and has treated people poorly. So we`ll see where this all goes. But, you know, I think we should stop a little short of lionizing the man and remember that this is a guy who really needs to kind of save his own skin both in the public eye and as a matter of his legal jeopardy.
WILLIAMS: Emily, indeed we have recordings of Michael Cohen on the phone with journalists that we can`t play on a family broadcast. He has charitably been called "a bag man and a fixer of things." And at least a verbal leg breaker for years for Donald Trump. It is also possible for someone simultaneously to be a family man, whose wife works in the family business and has two kids they love very much, and a guy who has built a pretty nice life for himself on Donald Trump`s salary. Those two things have collided. He`s decided he likes that life and would like to spend as little of it behind bars as possible. So he is insisting on his own relevance to this investigation.
FOX: Sure. I mean, if you are staring down the possibility of six years in prison, you will do anything that you can to make that as short as possible.
FOX: If you can -- if you have the information to share that could potentially reduce those six years to four years or two years or six months, you are going to share. And this is someone who does care about his family.
Look, Michael Cohen is an incredibly complicated figure as a lot of these figures are complicated in Trump`s orbit. He has is at one point a family and another point a man who has threaten reporters. And in fact, pleaded guilty to eight very serious crimes just last month, and so there`s not a lot of sympathy for what he is going through because these are crimes that he chose to commit.
But at the end of the day, he is a piece of collateral damage in Donald Trump`s wake and there are a number of collateral damages in that same wake. And the only person who is unscathed as of yet is President Trump.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Michael Crowley, a brief political question. Democrats have every reason to be scared of every shadow behind every pillar as elections approach. Yet there`s a wisp in the wind of a fear of some kind of October surprise.
WILLIAMS: Not the type of overseas military strike that we`ve sometimes heard threatened, but this is Mueller related.
WILLIAMS: What do you know?
CROWLEY: Well, Brian, you know, we`re living in the age of information warfare, aren`t we? So that`s the kind of new equivalent, I guess, of a missile strike.
And what`s interesting about the dynamic that our story touched on is, you know, Republicans had been warning, Rudy Giuliani in particular, you know, Robert Mueller, you know, you need to stand down. You can`t -- in fact, Giuliani and some others were saying that Mueller should entirely wrap up his investigation by September. But, you know, others say, well, he can`t take any dramatic action because he`ll be, you know, allegedly violating guidelines that say that prosecutors can`t influence an election. That`s a complicated debate that`s often distorted by Giuliani and others.
But what`s fascinate is that a lot of Democrats are saying actually on the other side, you are already seeing Trump look into declassify and release sensitive Russia-related documents coming out of the Justice Department, and they`re bracing potentially for more. What documents could be leaking out at the President`s behest, potentially from Republicans on Capitol Hill that are sort of counterattacking the Mueller investigation, potentially providing a limited or misleading picture of how that investigation got off the ground.
And now, I know there are Republicans who say they have valid gripes. But I would suggest that if you go back to the Nunes memo, you know, I think that any fair minded assessment of how that saga played out would tell you that the documents that Nunes, you know, put ought in the public eye were spun very misleadingly by Republicans. I think Democrats are concerned that that could happen again in the days and weeks before the election and sort of kick up a phony controversy that could be in effect an attempt to end the election on the Republican side.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to (INAUDIBLE) any Washington dinner, two journalists and a lawyer. Emily Jane Fox, Michael Crowley and our in-house counsel for this conversation and so many others, Joyce Vance. Appreciate you all coming by.
And coming up, the poll numbers on Brett Kavanaugh are on the move. Steve Kornacki will walk us through them after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Brett Kavanaugh is one of the finest human beings you will ever have the privilege of knowing or meeting.
So, we got to let it play out, but I want to tell you, he is a fine, fine person.
So, we`ll let it play out, and I think everything is going to be just fine. This is a high-quality person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Republicans are banking on having a Supreme Court justice seated on the bench by the midterms, but new poll numbers indicate this GOP push to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh may come at a high political cost.
With us tonight, our National Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki at the board with the numbers. Hey, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. Yes. And let`s take it through a brand new NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, this is just out a couple hours ago. Really our first read out on how the public is absorbing the accusation as it has emerged. So here it is.
New poll, 34% now say they support the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, 38% oppose. He`s under water. He`s upside down, plurality opposition. Now, there`s a couple different ways to look at this. First of all the question is what`s the trajectory here?
We have been polling this for a while now before the accusation even emerged. So compare it to our last poll. This is last month before anybody had heard anything about all the accusation here. You see, look, the uptick is 9 points in opposition, from 29 last month to 38 now. Support is basically stable 33, 34.
So that`s a concerning sign obviously if you`re supporting Kavanaugh. If you`re trying to get him through here, on the positive side I guess if you want to put it that way for a Kavanaugh supporter, still a lot were undecided here. It is plurality opposition, but it is 38%. You got to look at this maybe from the perspective of a senator, say, like a Susan Collins from Maine. If she was inclined to vote yes and she`s looking at the poll, this is not a pretty poll to look at, but you`re not looking at overwhelming opposition. Is that maybe what it would take to dislodge her from that standpoint here? Put this in historical context, yes.
What you`re looking at here is, this is now the most polarizing nomination we have seen sort of in the Post-Bork Era, a 34-38. It`s the only one you see here, Gorsuch, Kagan, Sotomayor, Alito, Roberts. You can even go back to Ginsburg and Breyer in the `90s, those were not controversial.
All of this had more support that opposition, this one different. Notice though, by the way, Clarence Thomas in 1991, not only overwhelming support, almost everybody had an opinion on Clarence Thomas. Add those together, 90% had an opinion. That`s because the Hill/Thomas hearings were live on TV. Everybody in the country it seems watched them. If that`s where this ends up, that undecided number is probably going to come way down as the entire country makes up its mind, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Steve Kornacki at the big board with us tonight at the big board.
And with us to talk about this and more, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning Columnist for the Washington Post, Jackie Calmes, White House Editor for the Los Angeles Times.
Jackie, before I start with you, I`d like to start with the bio of Dr. Ford. It struck me tonight. She`s the person we talk most about. We know Judge Kavanaugh`s bona fides, but let`s just take a moment.
She`s a graduate of Holton-Arms School in the DC Area which makes her allegation germane. She has received degrees from UNC Chapel Hill, Pepperdine, California, the University of Southern California and Stanford. Currently a professor of psychology and stats at Palo Alto, she teaches in conjunction with Stanford. And notably has co-written more than 50 scientific books and publications, some of topics child abuse, adult depression, post-9/11 trauma. And I am guessing, she is anxious for a different photograph of her to be in the public realm at some point.
Jackie, how does it feel for you to witness this story to think about it, to write about it?
JACKIE CALMES, WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, for myself like a lot of people, it`s a real sense of deja vu because as a congressional reporter for Wall Street Journal, I covered the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings in 1991. And it was nothing short of a searing experience.
And I`ve many times since then said to people when I`ve been asked to speak on journalism, on panels or at a lectern, I say it was the single most troubling experience of my reporting career because it was so -- it was the only time that my personal feelings were so close to the surface there because I was so appalled by the way she was treated.
Again, like doctor-- in this affair, she -- Anita Hill was a very professional respected woman. She was younger at the time, and she had worked with Clarence Thomas at two different federal agencies. But to see her, the patronizing tone, I was sitting through the hearings which actually were only three days. And at one point finally the Republican senator started questioning her in a way that was very patronizing and saying that they believed that she believed what she was saying, but could she be fantasizing about it?
And suddenly, it`s like you`re thinking, they`re trying to make her seem crazy. And I think, again, we`re going to, despite the pedigree that you just described for --
WILLIAMS: Dr. Ford.
CALMES: -- the current accuser, Dr. Ford, that she`s going to like, you know, she has volunteered that she spoke about this to a therapist. And, you know, this is just sort of like an open invitation that that will be used against her one way or another.
WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson, this is still fraught in that both sides have hands they can overplay to their ultimate detriment.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Yes, they do. Look, the Republican side is determined to get a conservative justice appointed and confirmed and on the bench to cement a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. And they have a candidate in Kavanaugh whose ideology they like, who they think will be reliable, and they thought they were this close, and I think they`re going to keep pushing it in a way that is politically will hurt them.
But actually I`m a bit less concerned about the politics than the people involved in here because I, like Jackie, fear that Dr. Ford who did not ask for this publicity, who wanted to send up an anonymous warning about Judge Kavanaugh, I fear that she will be damaged, will be hurt, will be battered by this process.
WILLIAMS: Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us. We just need to fit in a short break. Our conversation will continue right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TURMP: Promise me, you got to get out for the mid -- don`t be complacent. You got to get out for the midterm.
You know, when they say we have a majority, it`s like this, it`s like this. If somebody has a cold, we don`t have a majority that day. It`s like we have to have more Republicans in office. We`ll get everything we want so fast.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, that`s the message to the base tonight in Las Vegas, Donald Trump and the faithful. Still with us Eugene Robinson, Jackie Calmes.
Eugene, based on the measurable chance there are some Democrats watching tonight, are you confident the Democratic Party has an equal and opposite appeal to its base, especially where early voting starts very soon in a matter of days?
ROBINSON: Well, if you believe in polling, you see that Democrats have had a considerable edge in intensity for months now. If you look at what`s happened in the special elections this year, Democrats consistently in every case really have done better than expected and even managed to elect a senator in Alabama, which just doesn`t happen. So --
WILLIAMS: There was that, yes.
ROBINSON: Yes. So, it`s teed up for Democrats, but they have to perform on Election Day. They`ve got to get their voters out to the polls and Democrats historically do not vote in large numbers on midterm elections. Young people, minorities don`t vote, and they have to this year if Democrats are going to have a blue wave.
WILLIAMS: As a guest on this program once said, Hillary Clinton is only president on Fox News every night.
I want to show you guys an ad the Deme have put out. This is 30 seconds. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "He was trying to attack me. I thought he might inadvertently kill me." Those are the words of Christine Blasey Ford describing the attack she suffered when she was just 15 years old. Now, her alleged attacker, Brett Kavanaugh, is nominated for the Supreme Court. And it`s up to the Senate to allow for an independent investigation.
When 15-year-old Christine tried to scream, her attacker covered her mouth so no one could hear her. Will Dean Heller listen to her now?
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WILLIAMS: So, Jackie, a couple things here. Number one, people pointed out today, other myself, this is the kind of ad we`re used to seeing on the other side. And does it mean the Dems are hardening their message? Number two, Heller is the customization at the end of the ad which is running in several races across the country apparently.
CALMES: Well, you know, Dean Heller in Nevada for whom Trump was ostensibly campaigning tonight, he would be in more trouble than he is. I mean, it`s a very tight race. He could be defeated.
But he`s still in the race because this is a midterm election year. And Democrats have consistently had a difficult time turning out their voters in a midterm election year compared to a presidential election year when their minority voters and single voters, especially young single women just don`t come out in midterm election years. They`re hoping that will change a bit this year, but especially for Latino voters who are so important in Nevada and in Texas where liberals have big hopes for Beto O`Rourke, it`s just very hard to mobilize them.
Now, that ad, though, you can see, the ones they really need are women. You`re a Wall Street Journal NBC Poll showed that the biggest drop, the reason for the decline in Kavanaugh`s standing with the public and the reason he`s under water is because women, especially older women, suburban women, have turned against him and seniors, and those are the people that the Democrats are aiming for with ads like that one.
Eugene, I want to read you some quotes that are present day members of the Senate about Dr. Ford. Senator Graham, "I`ll listen to the lady, but we`re going to bring this to a close." Senator corker, "I mean, I can`t imagine the horror of being accused of something like this." Senator Hatch, "I think this woman, whoever she is mixed up." Senator Heller, "We got a little hiccough here with the Kavanaugh nomination. We`ll get through this and get off to the races."
Someone in our newsroom tonight said 1965 called wants their quotes back.
ROBINSON: Exactly. And, you know, every quote is up there on that screen except boys will be boys, which is the despicable attitude that sort of underlies some of those comments. And, you know, just to remind everyone, you know, if you attempt to rape somebody when you`re 17, that should have consequence. And 17-year-olds are arrested and charged and tried as adults in this country every day, and this sort of underlying notion that, well, he was just a kid, that`s just vile.
WILLIAMS: You hold up a grocery store at that age, you`re doing time for it. Eugene Robinson, Jackie Calms, our thanks to you both, two returning veterans joining us tonight.
And coming up, a year ago tonight the lights were out in Puerto Rico. It was in a dire state of emergency. We`ll get an update tonight on the last year of the island`s recovery when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Way too many Americans in Puerto Rico are still recovering after Hurricane Maria devastated the island a year ago today. According to the now official death toll, nearly 3,000 people died from the storm and its aftermath. Tonight some, as you know, are still without power or running water.
Reporter Ray Villeda with our New York television station WNBC filed our report tonight from San Juan.
RAY VILLEDA, WNBC REPORTER: Brian, good evening to you from old San Juan. I want to show you the stark contrast we`re seeing this September compared to last September. For one, you can see the lights on here. There are tourists back in San Juan, which is very important because as you know, tourism is a vital part of the economy, not just for the city, but for the island.
Look at what`s here in old San Juan in the center. There are pictures of what happened here one year ago. A car into a house, you can see the wires down, electricity has been an issue for the last year. And while much of it is back on, if you talk to folks who live here, they will tell you that it is spotty. Whenever there`s a passing storm, power sometimes goes depending on the city that you`re in.
We flew with the National Guard this week. They flew us through different parts of the island over the mountainous region. It`s there they spent a lot of time in the last eight months. Eight months was how long their recovery mission took. They tell me now they`re in a mission of being prepared, being prepared because of course we`re in the hurricane season.
Today here in old San Juan, there was a vigil just up the hill here. A vigil to remember those they lost, the thousands of lives lost, and to embrace the future. Here, everyone is talking about recovery, how the recovery is going. A recovery, they say, that is still very much underway.
Reporting from old San Juan, Puerto Rico, I`m Ray Villeda. Brian, back to you.
WILLIAMS: Ray, thank you. Kudos by the way to our NBC TV station here in New York. They have opened up a news bureau in San Juan, they`ve sent reporters like Ray, like Darlene Rodriguez back to Puerto Rico regularly, not just because of the large population of Puerto Ricans here in New York, but because it`s a story vital to all of us.
Coming up after our last break, a wall the president saw that he really liked and a suggestion he made to the Pentagon. Both when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, we submit without comment two comments by the President this week that didn`t get a whole lot of attention. The President has made it clear, as you might have heard, he`s frustrated over the lack of funding for his wall and the giant spending bill making its way through Congress. Republicans don`t really think he`ll shutdown the government over it, but they aren`t really sure either.
He mentioned the border wall in the most unusual context this week. It was during his interview with Hill TV. He told the following story about his visit to the new Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on the anniversary of 9/11. "They built this gorgeous wall where the plane went down in Pennsylvania, Shanksville, and I was there, I made the speech. And it`s sort of beautiful. What they did is incredible. They have a series of walls. I`m saying, it`s like perfect. So, so we are pushing very hard."
Separate topic, same president. There is this from an upcoming book on the Trump presidency because, after all, it`s been at least a week since the last one, this new book written by Washington Post National Security Correspondent Greg Miller. In it he writes about Trump`s now famous visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on the first full day of his presidency where he was shown video of two drone strikes.
"Shown a strike in which the CIA delayed firing until the target was a safe distance from a compound with other occupants", Trump asked, "Why did you wait?" And when Trump noticed that militants had scattered seconds before another drone attack, he said, "Can they hear the bombs coming? We should make the bombs silent so they can`t get away."
Title of this new book gets your attention. It`s called the "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia, and the Subversion of American Democracy." It is out October 2nd.
That is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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