Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 21, 2018 Guest: Michael Schmidt, Jeremy Bash, Matthew Miller, Annie Karni, Ron Klain, Josh Gerstein, Jon Meacham
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight we`re covering the bombshell from the New York Times, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein reported to have considered invoking the 25th Amendment, suggested wearing a wire to record the President. He has issued a second denial tonight and Donald Trump reportedly already asks advisers if he should fire him.
Plus, Christine Blasey Ford`s attorney late tonight asking for more time in her decision to testify after the President lashed out at Ford on Twitter for not reporting the alleged assault when it happened. And the Trump about-face today on declassifying those documents in the Russia investigation. THE 11TH HOUR on a Friday night begins now.
Good evening once again from our NBC News Headquarters in New York. Day 610 off the Trump administration. There is an avalanche of news as America heads into yet another weekend. We have just learned that attorneys for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford have asked Senate Judiciary Committee members for more time to decide if she will testify about her accusation against Supreme Court nominee and Federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh. We`ll have much more on that still developing story just ahead.
The other story we`re covering tonight, this explosive report from the New York Times about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, he, of course, the one in charge of the Mueller investigation. Times reporters, Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt report that Rosenstein considered secretly recording President Trump and even discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump. Goldman and Schmidt write, "Mr. Rosenstein made these suggestions in the spring of `17 when Mr. Trump`s firing of James Comey as FBI director plunged the White House into turmoil.
Mr. Rosenstein made the remarks about secretly recording Mr. Trump and about the 25th Amendment in meetings and conversation with other Justice Department and FBI officials. Several people described the episodes in interviews over the past several months. The people were briefed either on the events themselves or on memos written by FBI officials, including Andrew McCabe., then the acting bureau director.
The article continues, "None of Mr. Rosenstein`s proposals apparently came to fruition. It is not clear how determined he was about seeing them through, though he did tell Mr. McCabe he might be able to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, then the secretary of Homeland Security, now the White House Chief of Staff to mount an effort to invoke the 25th.
The Times report adds that Rosenstein was serious in raising the idea of wearing a wire himself to secretly record the President somehow and that he mentioned it on a different occasion. Justice Department officials tell NBC News that Rosenstein`s remarks were not meant seriously according to a senior DOJ official at a meeting on May 16 of 2015, "Rosenstein was arguing with Andrew McCabe about the President", according to a senior Justice Department official.
"Well, what do you want me to do, Andy? Wear a wire?" Rosenstein asked at the meeting which also included FBI lawyer Lisa Page and four career DOJ officials, according to the senior official. This official and a source who was in the room characterized Rosenstein`s remark as sarcastic.
Another person in that meeting tells NBC News that Rosenstein was making a serious comment, and the aforementioned senior DOJ official also tells NBC News that there was a brief mention of the 25th Amendment with -- in a note written later by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and that Rosenstein did not raise the matter.
Tonight, Rosenstein released this statement. "I never pursued or authorized recording the President and any suggestion that I have ever advocated for the removal of the President is absolutely false." Andrew McCabe`s attorney has also responded to the Times` account which cited his memos. In a statement that reads in part, the attorney says, "McCabe gave all his memos, classified and unclassified to the Special Counsel`s Office, a set of those memos remained at the FBI at the time of his departure late January of `18. He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained those memos."
McCabe, you recall, fired earlier this year after relentless attacks by the President in an apparent effort to discredit the bureau`s work on the Russia investigation. During a rally in Springfield, Missouri, earlier this evening, the President had this to say about federal law enforcement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Just look at what is now being exposed in our Department of Justice and the FBI. Look at what`s going on. Look at what`s going on.
And I want to tell you, we have great people in the Department of Justice. We have great people. These are people I really believe you take a poll. I got to be at 95%. But you have some real bad ones. You`ve seen what happened at the FBI. They`re all gone. They`re all gone. They`re all gone.
But there`s a lingering stench and we`re going to get rid of that too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On that note, joining us to talk about it by telephone, Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Correspondent with the New York Times and happens to be coauthor of this Times article in question.
So, Michael, you chose to focus on these eight days in 2017. Remind us how alarmed Rod Rosenstein was at that period and what heightened his alarm?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Rosenstein was unnerved. He played a significant role in the Comey firing. He provided the memo the White House uses the rationale for it saying that Comey has too harsh on Hillary Clinton and had handle that investigation incorrectly.
Then Rosenstein was being criticized sharply for basically helping create what was believed to be a fake story about why they fired him, and Rosenstein sort of lost it. He became unnerved. He was very emotional. He was very upset. He said things that were at times irrational and didn`t really add up with what was going on around him.
In that period of time, he discussed two things that we found particularly interesting. One of them was about wearing a wire, and the other was about the 25th amendment. For us, this provided a window into what was going on at the Justice Department at this crucial time, as the Justice Department made the ultimate decision, the extraordinary decision of appointing a special counsel to investigate the president of the United States.
WILLIAMS: Michael, how long have you been reporting out this story? Weeks? Months?
SCHMIDT: We`ve been looking at this issue for months. This is something - - this is sort of the time, time forgot. The period has been overlooked because it ends with Mueller being appointed and the story goes an entirely new direction. But we`ve been looking at this for months and trying to figure out what happened there. And when we felt comfortable with the information that we had, we moved forward with our story.
WILLIAMS: In light of Rosenstein`s second denial, the statement we quoted just a few minutes ago was statement number two put out subsequently tonight. Because it`s all about context, are you certain you and your coauthor that you got the context right on serious versus sarcasm?
SCHMIDT: Yes. And there`s a particular reason why. In the meeting Rosenstein was asked are you serious? And he said, "Yes, I am." And then proposed wiring up FBI officials who were going in to meet with the president to be the FBI director.
Now, other folks have gone for the notion that was sarcastic, it was just a joke, but Rosenstein also brought it up later in the day. Those two pieces of information led us to a point where we said, "Look, this was a serious thing, and that`s the reason we wrote the story the way we did."
WILLIAMS: Michael Schmidt, coauthor of tonight`s story in the New York Times, that is our lead story on this broadcast tonight. Thank you so much as always, for joining us.
We want to, with that, bring in our lead-off panel on a Friday night. Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, and Matthew Miller, former chief spokesman for the Justice Department.
Jeremy, I would like to begin with you, quoting "The Washington Post" tonight, we`ll put it up on the screen. This statement came after White House officials pressured the Justice Department to issue a more forceful denial according to an adviser who spoke to the President. The President asked advisers, Friday, if he should fire Rosenstein and some of those around Trump sought to sway him not to make any decision Friday night.
During those discussions the President said he did not trust Rosenstein or McCabe, the adviser said. What`s your takeaway from all of this at this hour, Jeremy? And what are, if anything, are you expecting to see tomorrow over the weekend?
JEREMY BASH, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, CIA: Yes. I think we got pretty close tonight, Brian, to a Friday night massacre. And people have been saying all night that the President now has the justification he needs to fire Rod Rosenstein. And I think it`s an important to say no, he does not.
This was information about conversations that happened during one meeting or a series of meetings on one day in May 2017 before the Mueller investigation was kicked off, before any of us knew about the Trump Tower meeting, before the indictments of Manafort, and Gates, and Papadopoulos, and Flynn., and before the indictment of senior Russian officials who interfered in a 2016 election.
And I actually would argue, Brian, that if anything, Rod Rosenstein`s view of the situation probably has grown darker as the conspiracy has unspooled and as the obstruction has unfolded. And I think even more so tonight more than ever, we need to have an independent investigation that`s led by Bob Mueller and that`s protected from political assault from 1,600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
WILLIAMS: All right, Julia Ainsley, let`s talk about one Rod Rosenstein, that had not been for this era we`re leaving with. He likely would have just retired as a career public servant at the Justice Department with what was considered a terrific career having gone to Harvard Law School after all. Derided by the President as Mr. Peepers, he is then put in this awkward position providing the cover story for the firing of Comey. That he was somehow mean to Hillary Clinton, then the awkward of appointing Mueller which sends the President off, the awkward position of being a potential witness. And then speaking of awkward positions, maybe nominating himself to play Donnie Brasco in the same movie.
So here we are. Tell us about the Rod Rosenstein you`ve been reporting on.
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Brian, I`ve been reporting on him for sometime where the first time I ever spoke to Rod Rosenstein, he was a US attorney in Maryland. We`re talking about gang violence. That was a position he loved to be.
And then he got thrown into the spotlight in this job. And I`ve been following kind of the evolution of Rod Rosenstein, especially speaking to people close to him at the Justice Department and in legal circles in Washington.
And at this particular time that Michael Schmidt and his colleagues have focused on, he was incredibly vulnerable, especially to the criticism of people who he wanted respect from. These are people who were very critical to his decision to fire Jim Comey and he immediately felt the need to appoint the special counsel in order to vindicate himself. And he thought that history would prove him right that he made the right decision to fire Jim Comey.
Later he changed a little bit. He wasn`t quite as vulnerable, quite as emotional as Michael described. He kind of got his backbone back. We saw that this summer as he started to speak up, started to stand up against the President several times, coming into the Oval Office of the FBI Director, Ray in solidarity showing that they were going to protect the identities of people in a lot of these memos that the Justice Department had used to justify the Mueller Investigation.
He stood up for the department and for the FBI, and for that the rank and file have thanked him. Now he is again in an awkward position because as we go to the 2018 midterms, Rosenstein could be in a position where he would have to tell Robert Mueller whether or not to publicly charge someone who could be close to the Trump inner circle and then be in violation of this kind of unwritten but very much understood rule of the 60 to 90 day rule of how close you get to an election that could be interfering.
So Rosenstein could again be in an awkward place, but it`s really important to realize that the Rod Rosenstein that we saw at that time isn`t necessarily the Rod Rosenstein that we know today.
And so Jeremy is absolutely right. The President would be looking at a different Rod Rosenstein if he chose the comments he made in May of 2017 adds validation for firing him now.
WILLIAMS: And, Matt Miller, Jeremy just made the point we may have come very close to a Friday night massacre. If this were ESPN, this piece of video I`m going to show you would be number one on the count down. I want to show you this. This is Sean Hannity tonight on Fox News directly to camera and speaking to just one viewer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX BUNESS NEWS ANCHOR: I have a message for the President tonight. Under zero circumstances should the President fire anybody, these actors tonight, and I`ve had multiple sources confirming this, and more information coming.
They are hoping and praying that the President does just that. They`re hoping he gets mad, that he gets sick and tired of it, and that they can turn this politically into their equivalent of a Friday night massacre.
The President needs to know it is all a setup. He needs to know that regardless of whether he steps in or not, and I would argue he should definitely should not. The deep state tonight is crumbling from within at this very hour.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Matt Miller, longtime deep state member, what do you make of it?
MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER CHIEF SPOKESMAN, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: Brian, I think we`re in trouble when Sean Hannity is the voice of reason. The conspiracy theory got sort of at the end of that about what`s behind the story, I think that`s pretty far-fetched. But I think what you see there is a little bit of panic from someone who knows the President well, that knows how the President is likely to react to a story like this. He`s going to be angry.
I mean, you couldn`t really engineer a story in a lab more likely to enrage the President when you have suggestions, number one, that someone who is in his administration, who he expects to be absolutely loyal broach the idea of wearing a wire in the Oval Office. And number two, broach the idea of trying to remove him from office.
That is likely to set the President on fire. And remember, the President has been back and forth with Rosenstein for a long time. Last summer he tweeted out that, you know, that he couldn`t believe he was being investigated for firing the Director of the FBI by someone who told him to fire the Director of the FBI, a clear reference to Rosenstein. There were worries then he was going to fire that relationship seemed to improve lately.
He told that the President told The Wall Street Journal a month ago that Rosenstein was fantastic now. So they`ve been kind of off and on over the years, and Rosenstein has clearly tried to pull the President back from making some really harmful decisions that would hurt national security by you know releasing classified information and other things.
But if you look at this story today, you know it very much has to put Rosenstein in danger. When the President gets back from this trip he`s on, when he gets back to Washington, has time to sit and stew over the weekend and start tweeting over the weekend. You have to wonder if you know how -- if Rosenstein can survive this.
WILLIAMS: It may be worse. He`s going to Bedminster, New Jersey but more on that later. And, Julia, I have a highlight for you. This got our attention. This happened on Nicole Wallace`s broadcast this afternoon. Someone we all know, Frank Figliuzzi, a veteran of the FBI was talking in the moment as the story broke about what this may mean for the time remaining over target for the Mueller team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE AT THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: I have to tell you, their time is shrinking. They have an even shorter shelf life today because I believe this is going to eventually result in Rosenstein`s removal, Sessions` removal, perhaps even faster than we realized, and that means that Mueller`s tenure is very limited.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Julia Ainsley, we have to remember things are moving fast. That is a viewpoint that many people will hold going into the weekend.
AINSLEY: Yes, that that`s absolutely right, but I think that Robert Mueller did something smart here, and the he actually broke up a lot of pieces of this investigation and put them in Attorneys` Offices around the country. We know that SDNY, the EDNY, Eastern District of Virginia. These are places where pockets of this investigation already have branched off.
Michael Cohen holds a lot of that when he goes to Manhattan Federal Court. And so, even if Rod Rosenstein overseeing Mueller, if both of those two people keep people in all of this investigation and then the fight for the truth disappears overnight, there are enough documents put in US Attorneys` Offices around this country that the President cannot get to.
And as I understand, that was a direct strategy from Robert Mueller. He wanted to be sure that with the political pressure that he has seen mounting for sometime, it`s not like tonight is the first time that we`ve seen anything like this. It`s just certainly ramping up the pressure. He wanted to make sure that the investigation, and the documents, and communications and all the witness testimony he`s gathered would be safe and the US Attorneys Offices rather than in main justice, which seemed to be under peril.
WILLIAMS: Literally important point to make. And, Jeremy Bash, I want to take you way back in history to this morning, and the President`s rather stunning decision that got swamped as often happens with all the other news to reverse himself on the declassification of documents and communications including text messages from DOJ and FBI. What do you know about this? What can you infer about this?
BASH: Well, some of us who watched this story unfold foresaw a prince patriotic rebellion of sorts by the career professionals inside the intelligence community and the Justice Department that saying, "Mr. President, declassifying our nations most sensitive secrets for political gain is not the way we run things around here. It`s dangerous to national security and it`s not going to happen on our watch." They pushed back and for the first time it appears they actually have won over the President.
The President had to back down embarrassingly I think with his tail between his legs and say, "Uncle, I think the professionals have to be yielded to in this one rare instance."
WILLIAMS: And, Matt Miller, I`m duty bound to end with this question to you. If someone breaks glass over the weekend and if Rosenstein gets fired, what chain of events does that trigger, and most immediately who takes over?
MILLER: The live session to DOJ, for this will go next to the Solicitor General, got the name of Noel Francisco, a career member the conservative establishment here in Washington. He`s a government`s chief lawyer on these cases before the Supreme Court.
A very conservative lawyer, I don`t know him to be on principle lawyer. And it gets to this point that it`s one thing for the President, if he`s going to move on Bob Mueller to fire Rosenstein or to fire Sessions and try to take control of the probe, the next step is much harder for him to accomplish, finding someone who will carry out an obviously illegitimate order.
He either fire Muller or to somehow circumscribe the probe to prevent it from going forward, from pursuing lines of inquiry. That`s a very tough thing to do, and it`s especially tough thing to do, because I don`t know who on the President staff is going to help him do that.
Don McGahn who`s been talking for 30 hours to special counsel, he`s not going to want to touch that. I don`t know the legal parallel they are putting in. It`s hard to see John Kelly touching that. And I don`t how the President pulls that off all on his own or who on his staff, you know, that knows the Justice Department and knows the kind of, you know, ins and outs on how to maneuver that kind of thing, but actually help him do something that is that difficult to pull off. And what would be a time of great political peril and you know a real uproar in the country.
WILLIAMS: To our viewers and guest tonight, thank you for riding with us. We`re covering a number of topics in real time. Julia Ainsley, Jeremy Bash, Matt Miller our big three on a Friday night, I can`t thank you enough for your contributions to the coverage of these stories.
Coming up for us, what happens to tonight`s deadline for the accuser of a federal judge? Our up-to-the-minute coverage continues. And later, are we waiting for a shoe to drop at the Justice Department this weekend? THE 11TH HOUR getting under way on a Friday night.
WILLIAMS: As we`ve reported earlier tonight, lawyers for Brett Kavanaugh`s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, asked the judiciary committee, forgive me, for one more day to decide if she would testify next week. As we`ve reported, Dr. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party back in the `80s. It`s an allegation Kavanaugh has denied.
Republicans on the committee had set this deadline for 10:00 p.m. tonight for Ford to respond to a counter offer they issued earlier today on the conditions of her testimony. Chuck Grassley, the chairman said in a statement tonight, "If Ford did not respond by the deadline, or she decided not to testify, committee was going to go ahead and schedule a vote on Kavanaugh on Monday."
On Thursday, Ford`s legal team laid out some requests of the committee before she would testify.
Now, earlier today in what has already become a public negotiation, Republican sent counteroffer to Dr. Ford that said, "The hearing would be Wednesday." Ford would testify first, followed by Kavanaugh. There would be no other witnesses called. And an outside counsel would do the questioning.
Ford had asked for the hearing to take place on Thursday. She wanted Kavanaugh to testify first. She had asked for a Mark Judge to be called as a witness. She had also asked for senators to do the questioning.
The committee agreed the sum of her requests like not having to testify without Kavanaugh present and making every effort to guarantee her safety.
For the most part President Trump has held back in attacking Dr. Ford over her allegation against Kavanaugh. That ended this morning when we read this. "I have no doubt that if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local law enforcement authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time and place."
Meanwhile, put all of this talk of another hearing to the side for a moment as Mitch McConnell apparently already has. Here is what he promised his audience today at the value voter summit.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: You`ve watched the fight. You`ve watched the tactics. But here`s what I want to tell you. In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the United States Supreme Court.
So, my friends keep the faith. Don`t get rattled by all of this. We`re going to plow right through it and do our job.
WILLIAMS: We have two guests with us tonight to talk about all of it. Annie Karni, White House Reporter for Politico and Ron Klain who among other things was Chief of Staff to two Vice Presidents Gore and Biden, Chief Counsel to the committee we`re talking about, Senate Judiciary, and led the legal team that shepherded through the nomination of Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. Ron that`s all the time we have, thank you so much for coming.
RON KLAIN, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRES. BIDEN: Thank you very much, Brian.
WILLIAIMS: Actually, Annie, I`d like to begin with you on the journalistic side. And that is the state of play tonight. McConnell`s comment, which chilled so many people on the other side politically, and the President`s comments on Twitter turned out to be consequential.
ANNIE KARNI, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think that chilled is the exact right word for McConnell`s comments and I think that was almost the purpose. Their best bet for having Kavanaugh`s confirmation going through is that Dr. Ford does not come forward and testify, does not her story decides that it`s not worth it to her.
And comments like Mitch McConnell`s are designed to make her think that it doesn`t matter if I come forward. This is going to be quote, unquote "plowed through." This is terribly costing personally and what`s the point, really? So, it was I think has a chilling effect, that`s what I`ve heard people interpreted that strategy is.
And President Trump finally, you know, after a few days of restraint on this issue, I`m really saying we`re going to get at the time, we need following counter Kellyanne Conway`s lead on saying we`re going to let this woman tell her stair. We need to hear her story.
His tweets this morning were more in line with what the general public has come but expect would be his original, take judging by how he`s dealt with other people who he is supported who have come under fire for these kinds of allegations. Roy Moore, other people that he usually does not believe the woman. And this was the first time he cast out on her story. It all creates an atmosphere which makes her perhaps much more scared to testify which is what the Republicans are hoping for.
Another -- Just one more political angle here is that Grassley now has to decide does he give her an extension of a day that she`s requesting or does he call for the hearings on Monday. We`ll have to see. And if he does call for hearings, is there another avenue she takes her story for that could be a curve ball for them, a TV interview, I don`t know. But that`s something he has to factor in too.
WILLIAMS: Wow. Leave us with that question at the end of her comments. That`s why we have Annie Karni on tonight. All right.
Ron as apolitically as you can, are these deadlines, in fact, absolutely arbitrary? What would normal look like if such a thing existed, and what do we make of the quote from the majority leader that these things done undusted?
KLAIN: Yes. I mean, here we are in THE 11TH HOUR, which is one hour more than Senator Grassley`s deadline. And it`s a complete arbitrary deadline. You know, a reporter pointed on twitter tonight said over the past few months there have been hearings involving high tech executives testifying before congress and congress delays those hearings for weeks at a time to accommodates the schedules of those executives.
And Senator Grassley says, he`s not willing to wait a day for Dr. Ford to testify. So that is arbitrary. It is very hard to defend. And I think if they go forward with this vote on Monday that Grassley has threatened, history is going to judge very harshly judiciary committee. Twenty-seven years ago as Chief Counsel to Judiciary Committee during the Thomas Hill hearings, I really thought nothing could ever make the judiciary committee look worse than those proceedings. But what the judiciary committee is doing right now saying they`re going to vote on a Supreme Court nominee without hearing from his accuser is actually ghastly compared to that.
WILLIAMS: Annie, you did get our attention with the fact that there are avenues open to Dr. Ford that don`t involve sitting at a polished wood table in that committee room. The optics are all over the place. This is so fraught depending on who kind of has the leverage at any given time and who the committee hires as the outside questioning counsel for starters.
KARNI: Right, and that`s what she`s resisting. She wants to be questions by the senators themselves. Also the optics of how she staffs up is really interesting. I was told by Democratic operatives there`s been a desire to keep her away from progressive activists. She didn`t come through politics, they told me they`re not saddling her with too many Democratic strategists could make it more political and turn people against her.
She did make one hire that I reported this week of Ricky Kleinman, who`s a longtime Democratic operative. I`m sure Ron claim -- probably knows her from working together. She worked for Biden. She worked for Clinton. She worked for Ted Kennedy with the first investigator that Anita Hill tell her story to. So, she is advising Dr. Ford right now.
I don`t know that they`re anywhere near her wanting to go public with a TV interview. I`m just saying she has some maneuvering up her sleeve to that the Republicans need to think about.
WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, there are a couple Republicans who make the hearts soar however briefly of moderates and liberals. Their names at least on my list germane to this conversation, Collins, Murkowski and Flake. And you`re hearing people ask because their quotes have been all over the map. Which Collins, which Murkowski, and which Flake do you think will show up at the end of the day?
KLAIN: Well, as you say, Brian, the hearts flutter and the hopes that they will do the right thing, but most often they don`t. And so we`re going to have to see in this case. I think Senator Murkowski is the one most likely to opposite the Kavanaugh nomination both because she`s pro-choice, and because Native American groups, which are important to her in Alaska, have come out against Kavanaugh because of his position on programs that benefit Native Americans. That kind of leaves Collins and Flake as key votes for Mitch McConnell.
Now, he said today they were going to plow through, and so maybe he has their votes in his pocket, maybe not. But that is really what it comes down to is what does Senator Collins, what is Senator Flake do.
WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, and indeed, I saw that tweet from "The New York Times" journalist tonight saying committees have been far more accommodating to the heads of Google and Facebook in scheduling hearings than they have in this instance. Our thanks to Ron Klain and Annie Karni, terrific conversation. Thank you both for coming on.
Coming up for us, President Trump says there`s a lingering stench at the Justice Department. That`s what he told the crowd tonight in Missouri. He is back home, Newark Airport in New Jersey where he will spend the weekend at his New Jersey golf resort. We`ll talk all about it when we come back.
(COMMERCIAL B REAK)
WILILAMS: A bit of breaking news on the committee front. As they say, this just handed to me. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the committee has responded on Twitter. He writes at 11:27 p.m. Eastern Time tonight, five times now we have granted extension for Dr. Ford to decide if she wants to proceed with her desire, stated one week ago that she wants to tell Senate her story. Dr. Ford, if you changed your mind, say so, so we can move on. I want to hear your testimony. Come to us or we to you.
The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley and that`s the state of play as of 10 minutes ago. This controversy over this Kavanaugh nomination is not the only storm this administration is dealing with tonight.
Earlier you heard the president describing the lingering stench at the FBI. You don`t hear that often from a president. He told his cheering crowd in Springfield, Missouri, tonight he would be getting rid of that stench. The drum beat grows against the Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. It`s been getting louder even before the president spoke.
So far Republicans on the Hill have remained curiously silent, a lot of them, but a lot of commentators from the president`s network of choice have been making it very clear where they stand along with Trump family members. As of this hour Rosenstein appears to still have his job.
For more on the state of play tonight, we are joined by two returning veterans, Josh Gerstein, senior white house reporter for Politico, and Jonathan Allen, veteran journalist and author and NBC News national political reporter.
So Josh, if we can take out the subset of Trump allies on or affiliated with Fox News, what are you seeing and hearing from Trump allies about what we`ve watched transpire post-this "New York Times" story?
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think part of the sort of internal feedback loop that you`re hearing come through the comments you played earlier from Sean Hannity is a suspicion that what is going on here is you have to remember who was in the room at the time of these conversations last May with Rod Rosenstein.
At that time I think there was less tension among the members. But you`re basically talking about justice department camps of Trump appointees and career people at the FBI. In the time since those meeting have happened those two camps have basically gone to war with one another. In fact, Rosenstein ordered the firing of Andy McCabe, and Andy McCabe is also now under criminal investigation for possibly charges relating to statements that he made to investigators about various events at the FBI.
So, there is some thinking in the Trump camp and in the Justice Department camp that this is some kind of a plot to try to provoke some sort of chaos that perhaps if an inferno ensues, some people might be able to escape under those circumstances. That`s what I think may be fueling the kinds of comments that you heard from Sean Hannity tonight. I think perhaps a more organic reaction from the Trump folks is that they would be delighted to see Rod Rosenstein leave because somehow that would bring an end to the Mueller investigation.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan, serious question. The president`s choice of weekend venues Bedminster, New Jersey, does it presume or predict any type of behavior?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Not necessarily. I would say it`s a place where he`s very comfortable where he often brings close allies and advisers in to talk to him, a place where he`s made a lot of decisions before. But, you know, he`s planning to be in Bedminster long before this story broke today.
You know, I think his state of mind matters. The degree to which he`s watching cable television at any given moment matters, and the messages he`ll get from folks like Sean Hannity who say this is a trap, don`t fire Rod Rosenstein, I think will also matter.
WILLIAMS: And Josh, the scenario under which -- by the end of this weekend, this blows back more on Jeff Sessions.
GERSTEIN: Yeah, it`s totally possible, Brian, that we could see that. I mean he`s always, I think, been in more jeopardy than Rosenstein. We`ve seen the president`s public frustration come out with Sessions again and again. He`s now at the point of openly mocking the man`s speaking habits, his accent and mannerisms, which is a pretty extraordinary, going well beyond simply saying you don`t like the conduct of a cabinet official or you think you may have made a mistake in hiring him, we`re down to protracted personal humiliation.
The think I do find fascinating is also just how many times Rod Rosenstein seems to have gotten crossways with the White House and escaped from that situation, it almost is sort of a movie-like situation where he`s been dangled again and again over the piranha tank by a very, very thin thread and we turn away for a moment and somehow he`s wriggled out of it.
And so, I think to count Rosenstein out here would be a mistake. He`s a real veteran bureaucratic operator two decades or more in the justice department. And he`s used to moving around the bureaucracy. And each time including with this situation with the documents the president ordered declassified earlier in the week seems to have somehow miraculously diffused the situation.
WILLIAMS: And Jonathan, just one last word on the state of play in Kavanaugh. The latest piece of news as we just read, the chairman has responded. The chairman we should warn people who read the actual tweet, is a big fan of abbreviations, not so much punctuation. The president on Twitter this morning kind of launched this whyidntreport hashtag movement that people have been adding to and adding to by the hundreds of thousands today. So the fever pitch couldn`t be greater heading into the weekend.
ALLEN: I think as long as Dr. Ford wants to testify, it`s an untenable position for Senate Republicans to try to deny her the ability to do that or to force her to be there on one day versus another day in the same week. I think, you know, the more you hear the president talk about this, the more you hear Senator McConnell talk about this, the more you understand that a lot of Republicans regardless -- I think lot of the Republicans who are looking at this are saying regardless of whether or not this is true, he should be confirmed to the Supreme Court.
The problem for them is that may not necessarily be true for Senator Collins, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Jeff Flake, and maybe others. You know, Shelley Moore Capito, the senator from West Virginia is an alumnus of Holton-Arms, the same school that Dr. Ford went to, and is been getting pressure from fellow alumni there to consider the show. There are a lot of senators who`ve been pretty quiet on it and I don`t foresee a situation where Dr. Ford wants to testify and is not able to do that or, you know, has that possibility closed off to her.
WILLIAMS: And as we come to an end of this segment, I`m told the chairman has just tweeted again. We`re now going to read the second tweet in just a few minutes from Chuck Grassley. Judge Kavanaugh, I just granted another extension to Dr. Ford. Well, there`s your news, to decide if she wants to proceed with the statement she made last week to testify to the Senate. She should decide so we can move on. I want to hear her. I hope you understand. It`s not my normal approach to be indecisive.
So there you have it. Apparently this one-day requested extension has been granted. This is the only news we have to go on, abbreviations and all. Our thanks to Josh Gerstein, our thanks to Jonathan Allen. Another break for us. We`ll be right back after this.
WILLIAMS: With us tonight to talk about everything we have witnessed today and discussed on this broadcast this evening, our friend, the Pulitzer Prize winner author and historian, Jon Meacham. His latest book, "The Soul of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels".
Jon, we are friends and we because we`re friends, we can engage in good- natured ribbing. OK, Mr. Morning in America, Mr. Better Angels, tell us how we`re better off after just what we`ve covered today and tonight and assure people there`s a light at the end of this tunnel.
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: We`re at least getting closer to the end of the tunnel. You know, there are three tribute areas this week when you think about it. There`s the Senate, Supreme Court tributary, where the Republican Party has to decide whether it values the rule of law and fairness over the most raw kind of grab for power in the form of a supreme court seat. And we`re amazingly watching this unfold on Twitter tonight where the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is talking to a Supreme Court nominee on social media, which is not exactly what James Madison had in mind, but there we are. So we have that tributary.
We have the tributary of the deputy attorney general according to "The New York Times" talking about the 25th Amendment, which is not as you know the first time we`ve heard this conversation. Though it seems like three years ago, it was about a week ago we had an anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" talking about it.
And really, the 25th Amendment is code for disability (ph) of the president of the United States himself. The third is when we don`t know much about if anything, the third tributary and that`s whatever Bob Mueller was doing this week. And that continues to be a remarkably important part of this presidency.
The reason I remain essentially optimistic is the constitution was designed for moments like this. It was designed for moments where a demagogue may be in power or passion might Trump reasons where one branch may try to run off with another branch, and we have and it is pretty clear this is what`s driving a lot of the Republicans in the Senate right now. We have the prospect of all the rest of us being able to weigh in on this and about two months time. Less than that at the ballot box. And so, this is a stress test but we are all in this together.
WILLIAMS: And should this federal judge become Justice Kavanaugh, not for the first time with someone get to the high court with a problem in how they got there?
MEACHAM: No. And I suspect and this is not a partisan point. But if Judge Kavanaugh becomes Justice Kavanaugh between now and the first week of November, I think you`re going to see even more Democratic lawmakers joining Congress in January.
WILLIAMS: All right, well put John Meacham, I take back everything I said about you. Thank you so very much for joining us to sum up another week which is still as we prove playing out right at the midnight hour here in the east. Jon Meacham with us tonight.
Coming up, a political ad as this president is fond of saying the lights of which we have never seen before when "The 11th Hour" continues.
WILLIAMS: Things got a little heated in Dallas, Texas tonight. Republican Senator Ted Cruz, Democratic congressman Beto O`Rourke met in their first debate this evening, the race to represent 28 million Texans in the U.S. Senate has attracted national attention because it`s close and because it`s a red state. Ted Cruz was forced to insist it has not caused him his dignity to support Donald Trump after all the insults of the campaign including to Cruz`s wife and father.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: After the election in 2016, I faced the choice. Donald Trump had been elected president and we had an opportunity, an opportunity to do something extraordinary. I made a conscious choice to do the job I`ve been elected to do which is to represent 28 million Texans. I got a responsibility which is to fight for every person here and every person in this state. And so I have worked hand in hand with the president on substance and we have delivered remarkable victories.
REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D), TEXAS: The average citizens from both parties and independence alike. Wonder where our junior senator is, when you have a president who may or may not have tried to collude with Russia in 2016 but to quote the conservative columnist George Will on that stage in Helsinki as he defended Vladimir Putin instead of United States of America. That was collusion in action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Senator Cruz has led in most recent polls but with only 46 days to go, the race is closer than expected. Earlier today, the Cook Political Report shifted their rating for this race from the lean Republican category officially to a toss up, and that`s significant. A (INAUDIBLE) act poll from this week shows Senator Cruz up by nine points over Congressman O`Rourke.
But an online, Reuters Ipsos poll also released this week shows O`Rourke up by two on Cruz. For the Dems, O`Rourke has been on something of a fund raising bonanza. $9 million just over the web, just in the month of august according to the latest reporting on Politico.
All of which brings us to the last thing before we go tonight. And it has to do with our politico divisions. While they are not new to the Trump era and while its worth remembering there were households in the country where Lincoln`s name there not be not mentioned same with FDR and Clinton and Obama and plenty of others, we haven`t quite seen a president`s ability to split families and friendships quite like this.
Case in Point is a campaign ad that went up today. It`s an attack ad no doubt is designed to take down incumbent Republican Congressman Paul Gosar from Arizona who is running for his fifth term. Gosar is a dentist by trade and politically he is a thorough Trumper. He rather famously theorized Charlottesville was the work of the left and maybe even by George Soros. He`s pro-life. He`s anti-dreamer. He`s called me Comey and Rosenstein treasonous.
The ad is for his Democratic opponent Mike Brill (ph). What makes it unusual among attack ads is Gosar is being attacked by his six siblings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of this is pleasant for any of us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s horrible to have to do this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To speak up against my brother, it brings sadness to me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not just about Paul. This is about their family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think my brother has traded a lot of the values we had in our kitchen table.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn`t be quiet any longer nor should any of us be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to stand up for our good name. This is not who we are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s intervention time. And intervention time means you go to vote and you go to vote "Paul Out."
T. GOSAR: My name is Tim Gosar.
J. GOSAR: My name is Jennifer Gosar.
G. GOSAR: Gaston Gosar.
JOAN GOSAR: Joan Gosar.
GRACE GOSAR: Grace Gosar.
D. GOSAR: David Gosar.
JENNIFER GOSAR: Paul Gosar is my brother.
T. GOSAR: My brother.
GRACE GOSAR: My brother.
JOAN GOSAR: And I endorse Dr. Brill.
GASTON GOSAR: Dr. Brill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Brill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Brill
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I whole heartedly --
T. GOSAR: Endorsed Dr. David Brill for Congress.
DR. DAVID BRILL (D), ARIZONA`S FOURTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CHALLENGER: I`m Dr. David Brill and I approved this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You don`t see that kind of thing too often. Probably not a terrible idea to reach out to your siblings over the weekend to make sure they are still on board especially those of you running for Congress.
Well, we`ve reached the end of another action-packed week in the news business and in sports, congratulations to Cleveland Browns fans everywhere.
That is our broadcast on a Friday night and for this week, have a good weekend and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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