Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: September 25, 2018 Guest: Nancy Cook, Christopher Dickey, Bill Kristol, Eli Stokols
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, President Trump takes on a Kavanaugh accuser and says Democrats are playing a con game while Republicans schedule a committee vote over Kavanaugh`s nomination the morning after we`re due to hear from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Plus, Donald Trump made a claim today that he`s used to making at his rallies where it gets cheered. Today before the U.N., it got him laughed at.
And the urgent and renewed effort to protect Robert Mueller from the man he`s investigating. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a busy Tuesday night.
Well, good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 614 of the Trump administration, which is getting a new assist tonight in its effort to quickly move from controversy to confirmation or so they hope for Supreme Court nominee Federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Tonight, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a vote on Kavanaugh to take place Friday morning. That would be one day after the hearing in which he and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford who has accused him of sexual assault are both testifying.
The committee which has a majority of 11 Republicans, all men, has hired a woman attorney to question Ford and Kavanaugh. Just moments ago the Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley confirmed what "The Washington Post" was first to report tonight that the committee has, indeed, selected Rachel Mitchell, an Arizona County sex crimes prosecutor. Mitchell is officially the Sex Crimes Bureau Chief for Maricopa County, Arizona, of Sheriff Joe Arpaio fame.
While all of this is going on, Brett Kavanaugh is also facing another allegation related to sexual misconduct. Deborah Ramirez told "The New Yorker" that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her when they were freshmen students at Yale. An attorney for Ramirez had a call scheduled today with staff members of the Judiciary Committee but he said tonight only the Democrats took part in the call. Kavanaugh has firmly denied both women`s allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I`ve never sexually assaulted anyone in high school or otherwise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Today, President Trump took a much more aggressive tone attacking the Democrats and going after Kavanaugh accuser Deborah Ramirez.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it`s horrible what the Democrats have done. It`s a con game they`re playing. They`re really con artists. They know he`s a high-quality person. They don`t believe it. It`s just resist and obstruct.
Now a new charge comes up and she said, "Well, it might not be him, and there were gaps" and she said she was totally inebriated. And he was all messed up. And she doesn`t if it was him, but it might have been him. Oh, geez, let`s not make him a Supreme Court judge because of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: While Republicans have asked Ramirez to turn over evidence she might have. Tonight her attorney told Rachel Maddow that he is indeed still trying to reach that full committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN CLUNE, ATTORNEY FOR DEBORAH RAMIREZ: We had a number of e-mail communications back and forth. And every time we try to set up a phone call with them and they end up pushing the phone call back. They keep on kind of changing the rules of how they want to go forward. And every time that we talk about it -- want to talk about how that`s going forward and just discuss it on the phone and they push it back.
So, I mean, it`s hard to see that they`re really interested in getting the information that Miss Ramirez has. Something clearly occurred. Our client disclosed to her mother and her sister 35 years ago about what happened. There`s plenty more people that need to be contacted that if there`s going to be a real investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, another report out tonight from the "Washington Post" says three of Kavanaugh`s Yale law school classmates who endorsed him in an August letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee are now instead calling for an investigation into the allegations from these two women. Amid all of this, there is the increasing pressure to get to the full Senate vote on Kavanaugh.
On that point, here is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: We`re going to be moving forward. I`m confident we`re going to win. Confident that he will be confirmed in the very near future.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have 50 votes to confirm judge Kavanaugh?
MITCH: I believe he`ll be confirmed. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: McConnell and Senate Republicans would like to have that full vote next week. All eyes are now on key Republican swing votes like Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who indicated that she thinks an investigation into Dr. Ford`s allegations is still warranted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: That an investigation would certainly, certainly clear up some of the questions that are out there. But as I understand how the process works, it is not for the Judiciary Committee to make that ask. So I`m operating under a level of a process that is in place that we are working within and under.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: A somewhat different tone tonight from her colleague from South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY CMTE.: They knew about this in July. They sat on it. We have an allegation that`s collapsing. This is an allegation 35 years old. This vote will be Friday. And unless something new comes out that gives veracity to a 35-year-old claim they don`t have today, I`m moving forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Three veteran journalists to lead us off on a Tuesday night, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post." Carol Lee, NBC News National Political Reporter. And Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the "Associated Press."
All right, Mr. Rucker, you get to go first. Why this woman as the outside counsel in a city with a greater than average number of lawyers, many of them very accomplished, many of them carrying the double "x" chromosome.
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Brian. I think the Senate Judiciary Republicans did quite a search to try to find her. We don`t know exactly why they selected her but I can tell you a little bit about her background based on the reporting that my colleagues at the "Washington Post" have done tonight.
She`s had 26 years of experience prosecuting sex crimes in Maricopa County which is the county that includes the Phoenix Metropolitan area. Why is Phoenix important? Well, Senator Jeff Flake is one of the four Republican senators. He`s from Arizona. The four Republican senators who are seen as wavering in their support for Judge Kavanaugh. So there`s an effort clearly to try to win his vote.
But more importantly, this is a woman who`s had a lot of experience prosecuting sex crimes. She`s been in the courtroom questioning both victims and people who are accused of these crimes. According to some interviews that my colleagues did with some of the other lawyers who faced her in court, she has a pretty good reputation there. She is a registered Republican. So she`s not coming into this with political dependence necessarily. She is going to be working for the Republicans.
And she is a Republican, but she is regarded in Maricopa County, Arizona, to be relatively fair and direct in her questioning. And clearly has experience in these issues.
WILLIAMS: And Carol Lee, we should be clear, this is all fraught. I`ve heard cable news types say that Kavanaugh better have a better game than he rolled out during the interview because he`s going to have to roll with questions. Can`t always land back on his talking points.
And this attorney is going to, we can guess, be very aggressive with Dr. Ford in her questioning. So it`s all a fraught atmosphere.
CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It is, and it`s going to be much a bigger spectacle than we`ve seen in quite some time in any sort of hearing like this. You know, what she does that the Republicans really want her to do is change the dynamics so that they -- you don`t have 11 men questioning a woman who`s accusing somebody that they have already mostly, the majority of them, said that they would support and have cast as sort of a done deal.
They didn`t want that spectacle and so now they`ll have this woman, new woman, questioning her, but she is, you know, it will be interesting to see how the Democrats respond to this because she is someone who was hand selected by the Republicans. And, you know, it could wind up being one more data point in this what has turned into a bitter partisan fight to -- between the two sides to either get Brett Kavanaugh to somehow derail his nomination or to jam him through as the Republicans would like.
WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, let`s talk for a minute about those who have psychoanalyzed this President down to why he might have run for the presidency. Some people theorize it was getting laughed at, at the Correspondents` Dinner being the brunt of Obama`s jokes.
Well, it happened today at the U.N., there`s no mistaking what happened there. Then you get to se him less than two hours afterwards. It was your question he was answering today when he went after this woman who has come forward, this second victim making the allegations. And then we got to see his reaction.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That`s right. We thought the headline of today would have been that laugh. You know, his address to the general assembly today at the United Nations, the second time he`s done this. Within the first -- seconds of his remarks he talks about how -- he says his administration perhaps the most successful to that point of any presidency. And it was a slow rolling but very distinctive, very loud.
WILLIAMS: Because of the translation --
LEMIRE: That`s right.
WILLIAMS: -- coming over the headphones.
LEMIRE: Exactly right. The translation have rolled through the crowd. And as everyone heard it there, all the dignitaries, and the world leaders, they began to laugh. And you saw the President in a rare moment where he was obviously flustered and then tried to cover it up with a joke. So we thought that`s where today was going.
A short time later, the press pool which I was part of today, were taken to a bilateral meeting between President Trump and the President of Colombia. And after -- there are sort of perfunctory remarks, he took some questions from us. And I asked him after he answered one or two that was sort of pertinent to Colombia, I asked him about Kavanaugh and the interview last night on Fox. And it was -- it switched.
LEMIRE: And he clearly was teed up and he wanted to talk about it.
And in our reporting, this is something that`s been building up within him for several days. That he initially when these allegations came out against the justice, he was sort of able to separate it from the sexual misconduct claims made against himself during the campaign. But that has changed in recent days. "The New Yorker" article on Sunday, in particular, sort of enraged him. He has told people around him that he thought it was flimsy, it was thin, it was the media and the Democrats out to get him.
And we saw that explode today. In remarks that the White House aides have been trying to get throwing themselves at him to prevent him from saying. They felt that that if he were to go on the offensive against the Kavanaugh accusers, it`s the worst thing that could have happened to the Republicans` cause to get him through. But he wanted to say -- he called the woman "inebriated," he called her "drunk." He said that there were gaps in her story, basically said that she was not credible and that -- it was very clear that he views the "Me Too" prism not through the of women who feel like they`ve been wronged, but rather the powerful who were facing these accusations.
And he said today in response to my question, the idea that there would be people who wouldn`t want to do these jobs, men who wouldn`t want to be politicians or Supreme Court justices because of the risk of facing these accusations. And I think that clearly shows the level of concern in the White House, the President, himself, heading into Thursday`s hearing.
My sense of it is they didn`t necessarily love Kavanaugh`s interview last night. They thought they were glad to have some new footage out there. They were glad to have him a little bit on the offensive. But they wanted more passion. They wanted more fire. And they`re worried how he`ll stand up to the Democrats` questions on Thursday.
WILLIAMS: That goes to my question for Phil Rucker. And Phil, I want to read you two things from social media tonight. First, first of all just before we came on the air, Donald J. Trump, "The Democrats are playing a high-level CON GAME in their vicious effort to destroy a fine person. It`s called the politics of destruction. Behind the scene, the Dems are laughing. Pray for Brett Kavanaugh and his family."
And then there`s someone you and I both know, Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times," "Trump is sounding somewhat fatalistic about Kavanaugh in private discussions. Annoyed by the interview and talking repeatedly about needing to see how the hearing goes before knowing what can happen next."
So, Phil, as you`ve been reporting, some cracks in the armor here.
RUCKER: Yes. Certainly, Brian. I think one thing going on here is you can`t separate the Supreme Court nomination fight from the midterm elections that are now just six weeks away in November. The Republicans face an enthusiasm gap with the Democrats who, you know, all polling evidence shows are much more enthusiastic about voting.
And what Trump and other Republican leaders are doing right now in these days is to use the fight over Brett Kavanaugh as a rallying cry for the conservative base. So something that can unite Republican voters, Trump voters, give them a common enemy. In this case the media and the Democrats who they believe are running a smear campaign against Brett Kavanaugh. And give them a reason to feel energized and united. That`s why I think Trump is using the phrase, or the wording, rather, "Pray for Kavanaugh and his family." It`s a call to arms, if it were, to his base.
In terms of Trump`s private thinking about Kavanaugh, remember, he`s never had much of a personal relationship with Brett Kavanaugh. This was not somebody that he really knew much before the interview process to consider him for the Supreme Court. He doesn`t feel much personal loyalty to Brett Kavanaugh. He just wants a good conservative justice to be confirmed, to win, in Trump`s words, and to get onto the court.
And if there comes a time where it`s politically expedient for Trump to basically dump Kavanaugh, to force Kavanaugh to withdraw, and sub him in with a different nominee, I think the President would be perfectly fine doing that. Kavanaugh`s boosters in the White House are, you know, Counsel Don McGahn, chief among them, but Trump, himself, is not loyal to Kavanaugh.
WILLIAMS: Carol Lee, I always make this point, our two states that anchor our country to the north, to the east and west, are Maine and Alaska. And you have Collins and Murkowski, interestingly. Today, a lot of the interest shifted to Senator Murkowski of Alaska who dared to say that she might think an investigation is the best way to go here.
LEE: Yes, and that is -- has sent some the Republican leadership into a bit of a scramble.
LEE: And I think if you look at the Kavanaugh`s interview with Fox, I mean, theory is that that interview was aimed at shoring up the base but also sending a message to the senators that the base, the Republicans are with this nominee and they need to get onboard. They`re under a tremendous amount of pressure to -- from, you know, everywhere from the, you know, Mitch McConnell to President Trump.
And I think the problem that Kavanaugh has when it comes to President Trump is not only as Phil particularly laid out, the President doesn`t have a relationship with him, he also doesn`t like people who don`t perform well.
LEE: And, you know, he even said, himself, today that Kavanaugh was not on his footing.
LEE: And so I think that`s partly why you see him taking this more -- a little bit -- there`s been some distance. And his remarks today, frankly, you know, they were more in line with where he would want to be on an issue like this. But they also were, you know, Trump -- very Trump version of what the Republicans decided they were going to do which is double down on Kavanaugh after that second allegation came out.
WILLIMS: Jonathan, you`re going to get the last word after we see this clip. Another moment that didn`t sit well with some folks during the interview of Kavanaugh, possible instance of Brettsplaining (ph) when a question was directed to his wife, Ashley, about an investigation. He took over the answer. We`ll see it and talk about it on the other side.
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MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Do you believe there should be an FBI investigation into these allegations and that a pause should happen and, you know, sort it all out? If there`s nothing to worry about, nothing to hide, why not have that process, Ashley? Then I`ll ask you that, Brett.
KAVANAUGH: I mean, I`ve said all along, and Ashley, too, I want to be heard. I was first interviewed last Monday, the day after the allegation appeared by the committee staff, under penalty of felony, and I deny this categorically and unequivocally and I said twice during that -- I said I want a hearing tomorrow. Last Tuesday. A week ago. I want an opportunity, a fair process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: You and I have both seen the mash-ups, repeated use of some of the answers he returned to repeatedly in this interview.
LEMIRE: Yes, I believe it was 17 times he said "We want a fair process." Yes, that`s not great. This is something that -- it`s sort of in a moment encapsulates what Republicans and the White House have been nervous about, about this whole process, is the idea of they know they`re on very shaky footing with women voters. Particularly these suburban voters who are going to be so essential and crucial during the midterm elections.
And to have, you know, to have this moment, question asked of the wife, the judge steps in and takes it for her. Certainly there was plenty of people I talked to in the last day or so who suggested that wasn`t great. The people -- the reporting I`ve done the last 24 hours or so since that interview aired, you know, the White House certainly was - they were glad he was out there. They pushed for it. This is sort of their more aggressive stance.
They felt like for a few days they had totally see that the media landscape to the accusers. And, you know, fearful of the sort of drip, drip, drip, drip, of allegations. In fact, I talked to a Senior White House official in the last day or so who said that our biggest enemy here is time. The longer this goes, the more there can be these sort of allegations, true or not. And that`s going to damage Kavanaugh.
And they obviously want to force this forward as quickly as they can. The President, himself, according to our reporting, wasn`t thrilled necessarily with that interview. He was glad it happened and certainly he was part of the audience that Kavanaugh was supposed to sort of not just sell voters but also sell the President, that like, hey, stick with me. Trump called him before the interview to say, "Hey, I am with you." And he certainly doubled down the support today.
But, you know, as always that Donald Trump, so much of this is how you play on television and the vibe that we`ve gotten is it was sort of a mediocre review and they are nervous. They`re nervous how he`ll hold up against a far more, you know, far more scrutiny and far tougher questions on Thursday.
WILLIAMS: And considering cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, it was certainly a precedent that federal judge sought out a camera in this case.
Our thanks, Phil Rucker, Carol Lee, Jonathan Lemire. I really appreciate tonight`s conversation.
Coming up, the President of the United States clearly taken aback when the audience laughed at him at the U.N. He later insists that was the plan all along.
And later, as Rod Rosenstein`s job hangs in the balance, a renewed push to protect that man and his investigation. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Tuesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMPS: In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America`s so true. Didn`t expect that reaction, but that`s OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: During the first few minutes of his speech to the U.N. general assembly, President Trump actually drew laughter, as you just heard, from his audience of world leaders after heaping praise on his administration. This is a claim he makes to huge cheers and without challenge at his rallies. He learned today this audience knows better.
Among the headlines from the rest of the President`s U.N. speech, he firmly rejected globalism and continued touting his own America-first agenda. He said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would review foreign aid to countries now saying only countries who respect the U.S. and who are our friends would receive assistance.
President also went after Iran, telling U.N. members that the world`s leading sponsor of terrorism can not be allowed to possess the planet`s most dangerous weapons. President also praised the progress that he says he`s made with North Korea. He thanked Kim Jong-un, notably, for his courage but added more work has yet to be done.
Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, summed up Trump`s remarks today in a piece he wrote for Axios, "President Trump`s speech at the U.N. general assembly on Tuesday morning depicted a United States under siege. President Trump put his America-first doctrine forward as a model not just for the United States but for other countries. He advised them to embrace nationalism over internationalism. Trump set out patriotism as incompatible with globalism."
Following the President`s 34-minute speech, he told reporters the remark he gave that generated laughter that was intentional.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you think your speech went today?
TRUMP: I think really well. It`s gotten good reviews certainly and I think it went very well.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In terms of the laughter. What do you feel about that?
TRUMP: Oh, it was great. Well that was meant to get some laughter. But it was great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With us tonight, Christopher Dickey a Veteran Foreign Correspondent in the Paris-based world news editor of "The Daily Beast" and Nancy Cook, is here with us in the studio, White House Reporter for Politico who was at the U.N. general assembly covering today`s speech.
Nancy, the laughter is a little bit hard to watch. It is certainly a first, certainly a first for an American President. And as we said, it was slow rolling because all the members are waiting for the translation in their headphones. What was it like to be there for that?
NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well just to set the scene, you know, it started very -- it happened very early in the speech. And so it was basically two or three minutes in. And it started out just really as a murmur. But it happened sort of throughout the whole big cavernous room.
And then Trump basically said, well I didn`t expect that reaction. OK. But then the laughter really crescendoed and it was more so.
But my takeaway from the feeling in the room was really just that Trump "A" seemed a little flat and low energy compared to how he normally is. He, himself, didn`t seem very engaged in what he was saying. And then the Diplomats and the Heads of State that were listening to him also didn`t seem engaged.
You know, Republicans in Washington really roll over for him a lot. They give him a free pass. They don`t want him to tweet at them. These Diplomats were not having it and they were not buying his shtick or his foreign policy speech. And at the end they gave him, you know, a very polite, muted, clapping, but otherwise a lot of the policy ideas he was talking about was just met with silence.
WILLIAMS: Christopher Dickey, what does the response to the President say about the international view of the U.S. these days? And I can`t help but notice, the unusual background behind you in Paris and think about the celebrations there in V-E Day. The country, the United States went overseas, we had a lot of help, to save from Nazi tyranny, the post-World War II global design that the United States with a lot of help drew up. It leaves us in an unusual spot.
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, THE DAILY BEAST WORLD NEWS EDITOR: Well, I think first of all, if we`re going to talk about the laughter at Trump, he wants to persuade us that they were laughing with him and they were laughing at him. They were looking at an emperor, a would-be emperor, who has no clothes reciting a list of accomplishments that are not really solid accomplishments at all.
When Macron, President Macron of France, responded to all of that, almost point by point one of the first things that he did was to talk about the effort to establish a world order. He harked back to the problems after World War I, the horrific war that ended on November 11th, a 100 years ago, and said, "You know, look the Wilsonian idea, President Wilson`s idea of building a world order out of that failed. We can`t let that fail again now with what we tried to create after World War II."
And Trump is seen as a direct threat to that by encouraging nationalism, by encouraging the kinds of forces that led Europe and the world to two disastrous wars in the last century. He may be leading the world to new chaos and new disasters in this century. And that`s what nobody wants to see. So they laughed at him, but they don`t think this is a joke.
WILLIAMS: Well, Nancy, that gets your attention. As did today`s remarks on Iran. Much has been said about John Bolton the veteran Neocon, he, of course, is now the national security adviser and what tells me we`re about to hear a full-on campaign against Iran?
COOK: Well, it was interesting because Bolton`s speech really, you know, was very hawkish toward Iran. Separately, you know, in a bilat meeting with the Colombian President, Trump gave a really different response. He was asked if he could see Iran going on the same trajectory as the relationship with North Korea. And he said, perhaps.
So trump was presenting sort of a mixed view on Iran I thought it was very, you know, hawkish during the U.N. general assembly speech, but then in a much smaller setting he did sort of leave open, you know, the door for some sort of relationship. I don`t think the Iranians are buying it, though.
WILLIAMS: Christopher Dickey, it is possible that all the prognostications we make on this broadcast, on this network about the midterms are going to be thrown out the window because maybe, just maybe, the Russians already have their hands in all of the state mechanisms. Who knows? All we know is we`re under continuing electronic attack though no mention of Russia, no mention of Putin in today`s speech.
DICKEY: No. There was one brief mention, but only to criticize Germany for depending on Russian energy. But no mention in all that talk of sovereignty about the greatest assault on American sovereignty that we`ve seen in recent memory, maybe in my lifetime. 9/11 was not as big an assault on the core sovereignty of the United States. It`s what Russia did by directly interfering in the elections of 2016.
Now, we`re coming up with new elections. There`s more interference. And yet, our president isn`t talking about Russia because deep down, he thinks probably the Russians helped get him elected and his is an illegitimate presidency. And that scares the hell out of him.
WILLIAMS: Christopher Dickey actually managed to look awake at 5:30 in the morning where the Arc de Triomphe looks beautiful as usual behind him. Christopher, our thanks to you. Our thanks to Nancy Cook for joining us here in New York as well.
When we come back, the campaign now underway to put up the guardrails to protect Robert Mueller. That and more when we come back.
WILLIAMS: A reminder that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is still in charge of the Mueller investigation for now. There`s been rampant speculation that he will be fired when he meets with the president on Thursday, but according to new reporting from the "The Wall Street Journal" tonight, "Trump has told advisers he is open to keeping Rod Rosenstein on the job and that the president`s willingness to hear out Mr. Rosenstein signaled to advisers that he harbors doubts about whether the top official, in fact, sought to have him ousted from the Oval Office."
"Washington Post" adds, "Two White House officials said that Trump is unlikely to fire Rosenstein until after the election." Well, what could go wrong then? The uncertainty over Rosenstein`s fate is prompting a renewed push by Democrats on social media, especially for legislation protecting the special counsel. A bipartisan bill that would do just that has yet to come to a vote.
Let`s start off, at least, talking about this with our studio guests tonight. Eli Stokols, White House reporter for the aforementioned "Los Angeles Times" and Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, editor at large for "The Weekly Standard." Gentlemen, thank you both for coming in.
Bill, does it -- when we say that Rosenstein could keep his job until right after the midterms, does that make it any better that he would be fired immediately after the midterms?
BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes, no, that`s a good point. Everyone takes some solace if Trump won`t do anything until November 7th.
WILLIAMS: What --
KRISTOL: He fires Sessions and Rosenstein on November 7th, the day after the midterms, where are we then in terms of the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation? I don`t know that Trump would fire Mueller or shut it down. But I`ve talked to people who have experience with these investigations. There`s a lot Rosenstein appears have done to remove obstacles that might exist to allow the southern district of New York to coordinate with Mueller, to approve certain things that might be controversial. You know, the search of Michael Cohen`s office and stuff.
Different person in there with authority over the investigation, doesn`t need to shut it down or dramatically, you know, go against Mueller. He just needs to slow walk some things. Be more cautious. And suddenly an investigation that seems to be moving with considerable speed and success could get, you know, some obstacles in the way.
WILLIAMS: Eli, do you believe any of these predictions about what will or won`t happen on Thursday?
ELI STOKOLS, LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No, I mean, what`s the point in making predictions? And, you know, you can talk to all the aides you want, but until the president is in the room and he makes the decision, you don`t know what he`s going to do. I would say just based on past behavior, with this president, remember how agitated he was with Rex Tillerson and the secretary of state was someone he could have fired and there wouldn`t have been a huge impact on an investigation. Something he could have done easily and he still waited to do it for a long time.
My sources tell me that the president over the weekend after the story came out wasn`t fixated on the Rosenstein story. More concerned with what was happening with the Supreme Court nomination fight over Brett Kavanaugh. And I think, you know, the reports came out yesterday about Rosenstein`s fate, but the president who never really likes to fire people face to face had that opportunity to get rid of him yesterday when he was up in New York. Could have had John Kelly do it. Didn`t do it. Said I`m waiting for all the fact. This is not always a president who needs to have all the facts before deciding.
I think if you just step back from all these things you see a reluctance, I think the president over the weekend had been in a place where he felt like, OK, if I`m going to do this, I`m not going to do it now. And it seems like he`s still in that place. It`s impossible to predict what he`s going to do but I think, you know, you talk about what happens on November 7th and afterwards. You know, come January, you could have Democrats in charge.
So if he waits until after the election, he could have a new majority, at least in the House, possibly the Senate, ready to start a lot of investigations, making it even harder for him to do. And I think all of these things, the Republicans reluctance to pass legislation to protect Mueller, all the chaos, that just makes the likelihood of a Democratic controlled House and perhaps Senate all the more greater.
WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol, tell the good folks watching about this group you`re part of, your silly obsession with the rule of law and as an ancillary matter, an effort to protect Robert Mueller.
KRISTOL: Yes. Well, I think they go together.
KRISTOL: And we have a little group, Republicans for the rule of law.
WILLIAMS: Imagine that.
KRISTOL: Yes. And look, what`s really shocking is this legislation. Four Republicans voted four judiciary committee, 7 against 14-7. Normally, in the old days when government kind of ran the way you sort of read about in the textbooks, if a bill gets reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by 14-7, the majority leader brings it to the floor. And there are amendments and debates and maybe it doesn`t pass then it goes to the House. And it`s just -- McConnell just won`t bring it to the floor. We don`t need it. We`re sure that the president is not going to fire Mueller or impede the investigation.
I do think one reason he won`t do it, perhaps, on Thursday, though, is that I do think there are enough Republicans who really would be outraged that Kavanaugh`s confirmation would be put in even more doubt and there would be a real backlash of a kind that even Trump understands would not be helpful to the Republicans and to him going into the last four, five weeks of the campaign.
WILLIAMS: That`s exactly where I`m going to call time-out and continue on that thread with both gentlemen right after this.
WILLIAMS: Resuming our conversation, Eli Stokols and Bill Kristol remain with us here in our New York studios.
Eli, the scenario Bill just laid out of the firing of Rosenstein, what Republicans do you see standing up being willing to die on that hill to protect Mueller?
STOKOLS: I don`t know how many. I think there may be a handful of them. There may be some of the ones like the Jeff Flakes and Bob Corkers of the world and then perhaps Richard Burr, you know, somebody who`s had a role as a chair of a committee that has been pretty sort of nonpartisan in his approach to that.
But I just -- it remains to be seen. I mean at every point, we have watched this play out and we have said, you know, when Mueller was appointed and all the Republicans were saying Mueller is a great guy, you know, impeccable credentials and a lot of those same people have now, you know, basically taken the president`s side. And so every time you expect people to sort of step back from politics and do something that is motivated not by political interests but national interests, a lot of times they`ve been disappointed.
KRISTOL: It is amazing, the bill we discussed McConnell hasn`t been brought to the floor. I think today in all the news also came out the Bob Corker pushing a bill to try to curb some of what the president has been doing on tariffs and advance what has been a traditional Republican for free trade view. That bill is not coming to the floor. And then the Election Integrity Act that Senator Langthorn from Oklahoma was pushing, which he also, I mean to his credit, it got bipartisan, was working with Senator Klobuchar on (INAUDIBLE) too. So even these tentative baby steps I would say of trying to be bipartisan, of trying to do things that the president doesn`t quite approve of, have all died in the Senate.
WILLIAMS: When the Election Integrity Act doesn`t have support, you start to worry a little bit. Bill, I thought of you when I read our friend, Susan Glasser who writes at "The New Yorker", a very simple tweet tonight. She just said, "No doubt what this U.N. speech will be remembered for. That time the U.N. general assembly laughed at a U.S. president." And I thought of you because of all that you stand for and the Republican politics and globalism you have witnessed, what a moment we witnessed today. Say nothing of the message in his speech.
KRISTOL: Yes, terrible. I mean I`m for an American president taking on the U.N. or parts of the world community --
KRISTOL: -- in behalf of American values and interests. And you can do it in a dignified way and make your case and say many of you don`t agree with me, you can do that on Iran, for example. But yes, to get laughed at is bad and to be laughed at justly when you`re claiming, what did he claim, that his administration was one of the most successful in American history in the first two years.
WILLIAMS: Forgetting the marshal plan for a moment.
KRISTOL: It`s just terrible. And Eli had a good point what we`re talking. You should make your point.
KRISTOL: -- what another thing he didn`t mention in the speech.
STOKOLS: Oh well, I mean, you know, he mentioned Russia one time obviously in the speech and that was about energy independence. There was no mentioning of Theresa May is here taking about Russia poisoning people on British soil. And no mention of that, no mention of the interference in the election. But you know, the other thing --
KRISTOL: You said Bolton and --
STOKOLS: Well, Bolton and Pompeo yesterday had been briefing reporters and saying on the record that Russia has been acting against U.S. interests in a number of places. That somehow did not make it into the speech but I think, you know, the world, this is just year two of seeing Donald Trump at the U.N. And to have that reaction, to be so used to his antics, his behavior, his hyperbole, the bragging, to just laugh and kind of roll your eyes, I mean that`s where the world is at with this president.
And as much as he hates to be laughed at, you know, this is the result not of elites looking down their noses although that`s the reaction that he will have and that would bind him to his supporters, but this is just the response to Trump`s actions and his behavior and his approach to the world.
WILLIAMS: I looked at the German delegation. They were shaking their heads and laughing at different times. Unbelievable day here in New York at the U.N. too. Eli Stokols and Bill Kristol, our thanks as always for joining and spicing up our conversation.
Coming up, a very big name in this country is behind bars tonight. That story when we come back.
WILLIAMS: The man once regularly referred to without irony as America`s dad. Bill Cosby is spending tonight behind bars where he will spend each night for the foreseeable future. And the Pennsylvania courthouse this afternoon, an American icon suffered a final fall from grace. A judge handed out some long delay justice for dozens of women who say he assaulted them. The 81-year-old Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. That`s his mug shot. The judge who sentenced Bill Cosby called him a sexually violent predator adding Cosby`s time had come. NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk filed this report late today from Norristown, Pennsylvania.
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STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Bill Cosby led away in handcuffs. A searing a image of a man once adored and celebrated now on his way to prison. The 81-year-old sentenced to three to 10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple employee, Andrea Constand in 2004. Meaning. he cannot seek parole until he served for at least three years.
KEVIN STEELE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Finally, Bill Cosby has been unmasked and we have seen the real man as he`s headed off to prison.
GOSK: The defense team fought for home arrest because of the comedian`s age and health, but Judge Steven O`Neill was not convinced basing his verdict, he said, on the seriousness of the crime and Andrea Constand`s own words. She described the night of her assault in the statement to the court. "I couldn`t move my arms or legs. I couldn`t speak or even remain conscious. I was completely vulnerable and powerless to protect myself."
Constand testified in the trial and the retrial was in court for both verdicts and again this week for the sentencing.
Today when she was asked to react, she just smiled and shook her head. For many of the more than 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct ranging from verbal abuse to rape, this sentence is vindication.
Is it relief today?
VICTORIA VALENTINO, COSBY ACCUSER: Yes. I think it is. I think it`s going to take time for us all to process. Right now, we`re just caught in the throws of the emotion, you know, tears and laughter and nervousness, and confusion.
GOSK: Cosby also now classified as a sexually violent predator. After prison, he asked to register as a sex offender, meet with police four times a year, report any change of address and get counseling. Cosby had denied the dozens of allegations against him from the begin. This case the only one that led to criminal charges. After court today, his spokesman blasted the process.
ANDREW WYATT, BILL COSBY`S PUBLICIST: This has been the most racist and sexist trial in the United States.
GOSK: The defense team says it will appeal, but now, Bill Cosby will have to fight back from behind prison walls.
Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, Norristown, Pennsylvania.
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WILLIAMS: Coming up, the resistance to a polarizing politician plays out in a very public way in Washington last night. The story tonight when we come right back.
WILLIAMS: The last thing before we go tonight, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, it can be said clinically and without bias, he is a polarizing figure. Just to establish how he is viewed by some members of his own party, there is this from "The New York Times." Part of a conversation between opinion writers, the following note is from the conservative columnist Bret Stephens.
This is on Ted Cruz. "He is like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-galloon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife, by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson`s character in "The Shining." Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because "New York values." Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that`s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he`s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he`s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that`s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected. Otherwise, you might say I`m his number one fan."
Again, that was Bret Stephens on Ted Cruz. And this has been a bad time to be Ted Cruz. He is in the race of his life with the very human seeming Democratic Congressman Beto O`Rourke in Texas. And to tap it off, Cruz is on the judicial committee which is why he is being targeted by protesters which is why this happened in a restaurant in Washington last night.
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CROWD: We believe in survivors. We believe survivors. We believe survivors.
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WILLIAMS: Because these tactics work both ways and because the secretary of Homeland Security was also heckled out of a restaurant, there was a roundly negative reaction to that video today, mostly among people who cannot imagine getting shouted out of a restaurant during dinner for two. There is a time and a place.
For his part, Beto O`Rourke said it was not right what happened in that restaurant. He says the Cruz family deserves to be treated with respect.
That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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