IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trump and Saudi business dates back. TRANSCRIPT: 10/12/2018, The 11th Hour w Brian Williams.

Guests: Jackie Calmes, David Fahrenthold, Rick Stengel, Ron Klain, Michael Beschloss

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: October 12, 2018 Guest: Jackie Calmes, David Fahrenthold, Rick Stengel, Ron Klain, Michael Beschloss

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight in a week that started off with a Supreme Court win, Donald Trump now watches as a scandal unspools surrounding the death of a "Washington Post" journalist exposing the complicated U.S. relationship, the complicated Trump relationship with the Saudi`s.

Plus, the fear in a number of races around the country that the fix may be in. Tonight we look at the charges of voter suppression in several states and why some places are making it so hard for some folks to vote.

And the Florida town that is 95 percent gone in the dire aftermath of the fourth worst hurricane in our recorded history. And now the most power outages are in North Carolina and Virginia, all of it as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 631 of the Trump administration. And again tonight, the President was performing in front of an audience at one of his rallies again tonight relying on the talking points and rallying cries that have come out of the ugly Kavanaugh fight and the notion the right is pushing hard that those on the left are part of an angry mob.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Monday night in the east room of the White House, we achieved a tremendous victory for our nation.

We proudly swore in the newest member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Did he get treated badly and unfairly or what?

From the moment Brett Kavanaugh was announced, an angry Democrat mob was on a mission to resist, obstruct, delay, demolish and destroy him. Republicans believe in the rule of law, not the rule of the mob.

The people of Ohio can save America from radical Democrats.


WILLIAMS: Good time to remember and let`s not forget it was a week that started at least in primetime Monday evening with the President`s apology on behalf of the nation as the family of the newest justice and the eight other sitting justices looked on.


TRUMP: On behalf of our nation, I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.


WILLIAMS: Now, five days later and tonight there are new polling numbers showing 41 percent of respondents say they approve of the new justice`s confirmation. That`s opposed to 51 percent who do not.

This week also brought in a new test for the Trump administration, Hurricane Michael laid waste to portions of Florida`s gulf coast. The storm hit the region just hours before the President held his second campaign rally of the week in Pennsylvania. There were questions about the President`s decision not to cancel the rally. And now, his administration is faced with the task of recovery, which no doubt will be watched closely, because tonight there are Americans who need food and water on an urgent basis. This is a reminder, federal storm response is neither symbolic, nor theoretical.

Tension with in the administration also competed for the Presidents attention, a number of reports indicate Trump is actually shopping for a replacement for his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He appears, however, to have decided to hang on to his Deputy Rod Rosenstein, at least for now.


BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: You know, the rumor is the day after the midterms, you`re going to fire him and you`re going to fire the attorney general.

TRUMP: Well, I actually get along well with Rod.


WILLIAMS: The President also revealed this week he`s losing a member of his Cabinet when U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley confirmed she`s leaving in January. She`s widely seen as a future Republican presidential candidate potentially a threat to the current President, something she seems clearly aware of.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: For all of you that are going to ask about 2020, no, I am not running for 2020.


WILLIAMS: Trump is also under increasing pressure following the disappearance of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey this week. Khashoggi who`s been critical of Saudi Arabia`s government vanished after entering the Saudi consulate there. Turkish authorities are convinced he was murdered.

Trump has boasted of his ties to Saudi Arabia`s king and he has taken some heat this week for what some saw as a lackluster response, let`s say, to the crisis. Today the President struck a somewhat different tone.


TRUMP: We`re going to find out what happened with respect to the terrible situation in Turkey having to do with Saudi Arabia and the reporter. This is a very serious thing and we`re looking at it in a very serious manner.


WILLIAMS: Amid everything else that was happening, perhaps the most enduring image of the week was the President and Kanye West together in the Oval Office at the Resolute desk.


KANYE WEST, AMERICAN RAPPER: Let`s not worry about the future. All we really have is today. We just have today. Over and over and over again, the eternal return of hero`s journey and Trump is on his hero`s journey right now.

Best believe, we are going to make America great.

TRUMP: He can speak for me anytime he wants. He`s been a great guy.

Smart cookie. Smart. He gets it.


WILLIAMS: On that, let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Friday night. Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Price Winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post". Jackie Calmes, White House Editor for the Los Angeles Times. And Cynthia Alksne, a career Federal Prosecutor and Former Assistant U.S. attorney, a veteran of the Justice Department. And having known her for about 25 years, I`m happy to say, she is a newly minted MSNBC Legal Analyst. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Phil, you get to go first that is, I`m going to ask you to have in this news cycle lean way back and have perspective over five whole days. What kind of a week was it for this President and this White House?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Brian, this morning I was talking to one of the President`s top advisors at the White House who joked that someone could write an entire book about this week. That there`s been so many ups and downs and so much happening starting with the historic Supreme Court fight that came to an end on Monday. That was a huge victory for the conservative movement, for President Trump. It was something he campaigned on and it`s something that Republicans are banking on helping them keep their Senate majority in the midterm elections three weeks from now.

But really, I mean, there are just so many highs and lows here. What we seen is the President just becoming so much freer and looser, he`s talking to reporters multiple times a day. He`s saying whatever is on his mind. The impact be dammed.

And you saw that extraordinary Oval Office moment with Kanye West, but then you see the serious international crisis that he`s facing with the disappearance and alleged murder, suspected murder of my colleague Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

The administration, the President has said he wants to get to the bottom of this but has not indicated that there is any retaliation in store for Saudi Arabia or any effort to push back, indeed the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is planing to attend that investor conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia next week.

WILLIAMS: Not so many companies have dropped their participation.

And Jackie, let`s talk about matters domestic. So a celebratory mood at the White House, a bill of grievances before every rally crowd, you had the Kanye moment. And yet, this storm rolls through the Florida Panhandle. Something that hasn`t been said often, we should go ahead and say, this didn`t hit a lot of ritzy areas. These are regular folks.

These are a lot of working poor folks and a lot of people for whom this was it. This was their peace of paradise on the Florida gulf coast on some of the prettiest coastline we have in this country. Is this susceptible to blow back? Because we are hearing interviews with people saying, we`re going to need food and water and it`s getting desperate.

JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE EDITOR: Well, the President has said that, you know, they`ll get everything they need and this is really Trump country there. And, you know, I think that he`s planning to go as soon as possible, but this week was really disconcerting.

The extent to which has Phil was saying that the President was so -- on such a high and there were all these moments, his 47-minute interview with Fox and Friends and the Kanye and Jim Brown lunch and three rallies, there will be a fourth one tomorrow in Richmond, Kentucky. He was in Ohio tonight. And then all of these, it`s like, you know, there is sort -- almost pro forma, just check the box reference to the hurricane victims where I think the current toll is 17. I hesitate to give a number because it`s rising.

And it`s really, you know, in someways I think to myself it`s good so many people don`t have power because they can`t see that the President and the President many of them support is seems to be thinking about everything else.

WILLIAMS: Cynthia, let`s start with a poll here because we so often do. Has the Kavanaugh debate made you more likely to support the Democrats or Republicans? What I`m getting out here is a gender gap among women, Democrats 40 percent, Republicans 24, a lot of no response here in this poll. But Cynthia, the question to you coming from the law as you do, was this party willing to sew the seeds of an increasing gender gap to get the victory on Kavanaugh?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it looks like that but that`s not really my lane. What I can say from a legal point of view as woman and as a legal person looking at it, there was a lot of stake here in this Kavanaugh appointment for women. There`s not only the -- whether or not women will be heard when they`re sexually assault, which apparently for the Republican Party they will not be. If it gets in the way of power and there is also the real threat to women in Roe v Wade, that you know, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote on the cases that came after Roe v Wade that had protected woman`s right to privacy and it does not appear that Justice Kavanaugh will vote the same way.

Roe v Wade will either be overturned out right or Roe v Wade will be so altered and what is acceptable as an undue burden will be so changed that you won`t even recognize it as a right to privacy in many states in this country. And women know that and that`s why the Kavanaugh win for the Republicans may not be a long term win for them because women are afraid of what the Republicans are giving them.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, let`s talk about the building behind you at the U.S. Capitol and specifically what`s going on. Your paper is reporting what may be a new whack at a new family separation policy. The Majority Leader in the House put forward a bill to fully fund the wall. Considered DOA when it reaches the Senate. What are Republicans doing in this period?

RUCKER: Well, I think, Brian, there are a couple things that play here. One is politically they`re trying to show the conservative base, the Trump voters, the thousands of people that turn out at these rallies that they are pushing forward, that they`re blowing ahead, that they are going to build a wall. It still remains the rallying cry at Trump`s rallies, build the wall.

But a lot of these decisions are going to be punted until after the election. The funding decision for example about whether there would be additional funding for the wall construction that President Trump wants is likely to be made in December during the lame-duck period session of the Congress. There could be fireworks there. So you know, lawmakers behind me may not want to plan their Christmas vacations just yet.

But these decisions are not going to happen right away impart because so many of the members, the senators are out on the campaign trail right now trying to win reelection.

And what you have in terms of the discussions at the White House about family separation is the President as well as Steven Miller, the senior policy advisor and immigration hardliner believing that separating children from their parents at the border actually has been an effective policy at decreasing the number of border crossings and so Miller is advocating internally according to my colleagues reporting for a new family separation policy that would go back in place even though it`s so controversial because he believes it works.

WILLIAMS: Jackie, one of our colleagues in the trade, Susan Glasser, first rate journalist and writer with "The New Yorker" has sat down as a kind of civic and repertorial duty and has watched all of the Trump rallies thus far this month. Six plus hours of television, I want to read to you her take away. "What the President of the United States is actually saying is extraordinary. It`s the hate and the sense of actual menace that the President is trying to convey. Democrats aren`t just wrong in the manner of traditional partisan differences, they are scary, bad, evil, radical, dangerous. Trump and Trump alone stands between his audiences and disaster."

Does that read about true to you, Jackie?

CALMES: Well, yes. And I`ve watched every one of the rallies but one and there`ve been, I think, tonight is the 35th if not tomorrow night will be, 35th since he took office.

And it is true. Sometimes I have -- you become so endured to them, that I have to remind myself especially by comparison with the other five presidents that have served while I`ve been a reporter in Washington and the other three that I covered myself, just how much the message is an us versus them, it`s not about a unite -- at the end he has some, you know, just throw away lines about it being one country, one people, but the whole bulk of the speech before that is more of a -- like I say an us versus them. And it`s pictures of dystopia if Democrats take over.

And there is not even much of an attempt of a sort of a lifting, an optimism about the future and unity. There are all the touch stones, you know, about the NFL players, the familiar villains. You know, he`s the hero as we did an analysis this week in the Los Angeles Times about it where he`s the hero. He`s also the jester and then there are all these villains and Democrats and, you know, like I say the NFL players. And it`s always somebody.

And it`s the same thing. And you have to be on your toes because we saw last week in Mississippi or was it earlier -- no, it`s last week in Mississippi, you lose track of time in the Trump administration where he made news by mocking Christine Blasey Ford in the way that he did.

And so, yes, it`s a very -- it sort of a depressing thing unless you`re an absolute Trump supporter, you know. And even some of them that we interviewed say, "Well, I don`t like everything he says but, you know, I like him.

WILLIAMS: Tonight he talked about Neil Armstrong planning the flag n the moon, but then added no one was there to kneel in protest.

ALKSNE: Right.

WILLIAMS: So Cynthia, let`s go back into your lane and let me ask you this, if you were hired by this White House to recenter them, to get them ready for perhaps for what is coming, knowing full well your former colleague Mr. Mueller as you do, what would you message to them be?

ALKSNE: My message to them would be to not agree to answer questions, written questions because while the written questions that Mr. Mueller sent to them, you know, they are actually being filled out by Giuliani. They`re not really being filled out by Trump. But they may serve some purpose should there be an interview down the road. That would be one thing.

The other would be to have the President not fire Sessions and Rosenstein.

And the final thing would be never agree to an interview with Mueller. My guess is that`s going to come to ahead at some point in, you know, November or December, late November, December.

And if Mueller does subpoena the President that`s going to go to the Supreme Court and it may turn out that this last week with Justice Kavanaugh rising to the court is going to be a pivotal swing vote on whether or not the subpoena is enforced. My guess would be with Kavanaugh there, it`s not and that`s sort of a different thing than we thought originally. You know the cases that came out of the Nixon administration might lead one to believe oh, well, the President is not above the law and he has to compile with the subpoena. But the Nixon case has all have to do with tapes and documents and this is a different situation because it`s about testimony.

So I would say that`s three things. Don`t answer questions and don`t fire people and get ready to fight the subpoena.

WILLIAMS: Can`t thank you enough. Our big three tonight, Philip Rucker, Jackie Calmes, Cynthia Alksne, thank you so much for starting off our broadcast and conversation.

And coming up on a Friday night, closer look at this Trump-Saudi money connection that dates back decades.

And later on it`s becoming a struggle as we said for survival in the hurricane hit parts of the Florida Panhandle as the storm damage, now stretches from there clear to the Atlantic Ocean of the coast of Virginia.

"The 11th Hour" just getting started under the gaze of Thomas Jefferson on a Friday night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you reevaluating your relationship with Saudi Arabia?

TRUMP: Well, we`re going to find out what happened with respect to the terrible situation in Turkey, having to do with Saudi Arabia and the reporter and nobody knows quite yet. Nobody has been able to put it all together.


WILLIAMS: The President repeating that claim that nobody knows what happened to the missing journalist but new reporting paints quite a different picture. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey but not seen leaving.

A Turkish official told NBC News Friday that Turkey`s government is 100 percent confident that he is dead and was killed by some mixture of 15 Saudi`s who were in Turkey for a short amount of time.

Like so much of what he says which falls outside the norms for U.S. presidents, Trump has done business with the Saudis for years that colors his remarks. Trump himself touted the successful relationship on the campaign trail.


TRUMP: I like the Saudis. They are very nice. I make a lot of money with them. They buy also a lot of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me, millions and hundreds of millions.

Saudi Arabia and I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me, they spend 40 million, 50 million. Am I supposed to just like them? I like them very much.


WILLIAMS: David Fahrenthold, who`s standing by to join us writes this along with his colleague at the "Washington Post", Jonathan O`Connell, "Trump`s business relationships with the Saudi government and rich Saudi business executives go back to at least the 1990s. In Trump`s hard times, a Saudi prince bought a super yacht and hotel from him. The Saudi government paid him $4.5 million for an apartment near the United Nations."

And more recently "The Post" reports, "Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 last year to reserve rooms at the Trump`s hotel in Washington. Just this year Trump`s hotel in New York and Chicago reported significant upticks in bookings from Saudi visitors."

Here to talk about all of it, the for mentioned , David Fahrenthold, Politzer Prize Winning "Washington Post" Reporter who covers the President`s businesses and conflicts of interest. And Rick Stengel, Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, also happens to be Former Managing Editor of "Time Magazine." Gentlemen, good evening to you to both.

David, what should folks know about the depth and breath of this President`s relationship with Saudi Arabia and individual Saudis.

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, THE WASHINGTON POST REPORTER: Well, the most important thing to know is that it, it goes back a long time and it continues even now. President Trump still owns his business even while his in the White House and his business while it has taken some losses and done poorly in some areas. And one of the best news for it in the last year or so has been an increase in business from Saudis.

You mentioned that the D.C. -- the Trump`s hotel in D.C. and in New York and in Chicago, all those places report significant spending by Saudi. So it`s not just that he`s known them a long time and sold them an apartment 20 years ago, they`re pumping money into the businesses now which benefits his pocketbook right now.

WILLIAMS: Rick, remember the night of the glowing orb in Saudi Arabia and the dance of the swords. How unusual was it that of all the places on the planet, all our allies, this was his first overseas trip as U.S. President. How unusual does his reaction continue to be to this crisis what may be this scandal compared to the way our presidents used to respond to things?

RICK STENGEL, FMR. UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Yes, it was an unfortunate first choice of a place to visit. And, you know, the Obama administration i was part of had lots of problems with the Saudis. President Obama, remember called them "free writers," right?


STENGEL: Which is what a president does when he wants to be tough on people. It`s an odd choice. Now part of this comes from this alliance supposedly of the two princes. You know, Mohammed Bin Salman and Jared Kushner, they see similar things in each other.

And the problem is that we`ve always tried to get beyond the transactional relationship with Saudi Arabia. Trump points to the buying billions of dollars of weapons for us. But what we always wanted to do and is say, "Yes, you can have these weapons but you have to reform, you have to make progress."

And Salman has made progress, right? Allowing women to drive, opening movie theaters. But he`s also has this indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen.


STENGEL: And the imprisoned of his fellow princes without due process and extracted money from them. He`s a very, very mixed bag and our job should be to try to get him to be more modern and progressive, not to indulge these kind of maniacal activities that he is engaged in.

WILLIAMS: David, other than perhaps earning you another Politzer, how would this conversation be modified if we have in hand the President`s tax returns?

FAHRENTHOLD: We`d certainly know the nature of the President`s business relationship with Saudi Arabia. What we know now comes from our reporting, comes from, you know, the things we found through talking to investors in Trump`s hotels. There`s no systematic accounting, at least publicly from the Trump organization of their business with the Saudis or with any other foreign government.

So if we had the President`s taxes, if we had more details from the Trump organization about their foreign customers, we`d be able to evaluate this. Right now we`re sort of groping around the dark. We know a little bit of it but there could be more we don`t know.

WILLIAMS: Rick Stengel, you were in the communications business in the private sector and the public sector. By how much does what we`re hearing from this President calling out this missing journalist as not being an American citizen? By how much does this differ from the norms that we are used to from our presidents?

STENGEL: Nothing like it. I mean -- by the way, the status that Mr. Khashoggi had is the same status that his mother and father in law had --

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Thank you --

STENGEL: -- until two months ago.

WILLIAMS: -- thank you for --

STENGEL: And they have constitutional protections as well. So this is so far outside of the norms of never mentioning human rights of this -- the thing that`s disturbing is the people who are saying that Mohammed Bin Salman who`s not that sophisticated looks at the attacks that Trump does on journalists calls them enemies of the people and things, well maybe I`ll get rid of this journalist and obviously President Trump won`t care very much because he regards them as enemies of the people.

WILLIAMS: A good point. Gentlemen, can`t thank you enough for adding to our -- understanding the story and our conversation tonight. David Fahrenthold, Rick Stengel, greatly appreciated.

And coming up for us, the campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, is calling for her opponent to resign from his current day job. We`ll explain all of it when we come back.



STACEY ABRAMS, GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Brian Kemp has been an exquisite architect of voter suppression for the last decade. This isn`t about me. This is about them and this is about us. And they cannot let him steal their votes.


WILLIAMS: And that is the Democratic candidate for governor in the State of Georgia, Stacy Abrams, calling for her opponent to step down from his current day job. Brian Kemp, who as secretary of state also happens to be in charge of the election he is running is being sued. A coalition of minority groups accusing Kemp of trying to suppress minority voters.

The A.P. first reported 53,000 registrations are on hold with Kemp`s office and nearly 70% of those affected are black. It`s all because of the state`s so-called exact match law.

"The New York Times" explains it this way. Individuals can be purged from voting roles if their submitted information has even trivial differences from their government identification such as an entry error or dropped hyphen. According to the lawsuit, the law imposes a substantial, unwarranted, and disproportionate burden on Black, Latino, and Asian- American voters and denies them equal opportunity to register and vote in Georgia elections.

Secretary of State Kemp there in Georgia called this lawsuit a false attack. Let`s talk about it with Ron Klain. He has lived the live in the law, former chief of staff to V.P.`s Biden and Gore, former chief counsel to Senate Judiciary had a hand in the selection and confirmation of no fewer than eight justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. That`s why we`re always happy to have you on the broadcast.

Ron, let me start off with the naive question that in 2018 and in democracy that runs on votes and voters, why aren`t we doing all we can to remove barriers to voting?

RON KLAIN, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRES. BIDEN: It`s a great question, Brian. Ours is really the only democracy in the world that puts all these barriers up that requires people to register in advance of voting that purges people from the registration roles that allows partisan election officials, both Democrats and Republicans to run elections as opposed to neutral elections experts.

And then we have the craziest feature of all. Not only do have partisans running these elections, they get to run the elections even when they are candidates like Mr. Kemp in Georgia who is the Republican Secretary of State and the Republican nominee for governor is going to decide who gets to vote in the election that he`s running it. That`s a crazy system.

WILLIAMS: We got a direct request from the folks who run the social media site called Election Land about this Georgia race. They write today voters in Georgia, if you are one of the people whose been removed from the roles, your status saying pending on the SOS site, you can still vote if you bring your ID and the name matches. Here is where we come in. Media, please include this in your stories and ensure your headlines are not misleading but that`s what it`s come to, Ron, and also, walk us through what is going on in North Dakota where Senator Heidi Heitkamp is running for reelection.

KLAIN: Right. Similar situation there. The Republican legislature of North Dakota passed a law that said that if you`re voting address is a P.O. Box, you`re not eligible to vote and that disproportionately affects Native Americans who live in remote areas in the state and usually get mail at P.O. Boxes. And so it`s going to disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans.

They were the margin of victory for Senator Heitkamp last time, and it was after that election that this law was passed. I mean, again, we`re the only democracy in the world where candidates try to win elections, not by getting most votes but by making it hard for voters to vote. And it does have a big racial impact. If you`re African-American, you`re six times as likely to have to wait an hour or more to vote than if you`re white in this country. That`s the poll tax of the 21st century.

WILLIAMS: So naive question number two, don`t we have a justice department for exactly this but is even that machinery at DOJ gummed up bipartisan politics?

KLAIN: Well, I think there is two answers there, Brian. First of all, from 1965 to 2013, changes in voting rules in states that had a history of discrimination had to first go to the justice department to be approved before the changes like what we`re seeing in Georgia could be implemented.

But in 2013 the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote got rid of the system called preclearance and now state and local election officials can just keep changing the rules to suppress votes. That`s one problem. So, the justice department`s role in reviewing changes was wiped out by the Supreme Court.

People can still go to the justice department. The justice department itself can bring claims to challenge these but that`s where politics comes in. The Trump justice department is not going to go to court against a Republican Secretary of State in Georgia to get this exact match law thrown out.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, I know you`re on this. Will you please do us the favor of coming back on and updating us on the story between now and the midterms?

KLAIN: I will, Brian. One more thing, everyone should check to see if they are registered to vote. Go to, got to You can check and see if you`re registered. In most states, there`s still time to register if you`re been wrongly kicked off the rolls.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, returning to our broadcast tonight. Thank you so much for coming on, Ron.

KLAIN: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, the history lesson Trump gave the folks at his Ohio rally tonight. We`re going to run it past presidential historian Michael Beschloss. This ought to be interesting.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because, you know, if you have, like, let`s say one of the normal presidents walk in, we`ve had a lot of normals. And some great ones. You`d have, what, 300 people show up.


WILLIAMS: President Trump tonight in Ohio, a state that has given us eight U.S. presidents reminding the crowd at his rally he is, shall we say, different from other presidents? Trump also spent a fair amount of time offering up his take on a story about Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant of Ohio. Here is just a part of that.


TRUMP: And one day, it was looking really bad. And Lincoln just said, "You," hardly knew his name. And they said, "Don`t take him, he`s got a drinking problem." And Lincoln said, "I don`t care what problem he has. You guys aren`t winning."

And his name was Grant. General Grant. He started to win. Grant really did -- he had a serious problem, a serious drinking problem, but man was he a good general. And he`s finally being recognized as a great general.

But Lincoln had almost developed a phobia, because he was having a hard time with a true great fighter, a great general Robert E. Lee. But Grant figured it out.


WILLIAMS: Grant is finally being recognized as a good general. We are so lucky to have the perfect person to get to the bottom of this story. With us tonight, NBC News Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss. And we have the very best news for patriots and lovers of American history alike and that is, that Michael`s new book is out. The result of years of work on his part. It is called "Presidents of War." It is now available wherever you buy books.

Michael, I know he didn`t get that story out of one of your books because I read them all. What do you make of -- who is talking to him and what did you make of what he heard?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think the -- I`m glad at least he`s talking about a historical figure. It`s not quite the way it happened. And I think maybe Grant was recognized a little bit in the past, not just these days.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I had heard his name before.

BESCHLOSS: Once or twice. I think we`ve even discussed it.

WILLIAMS: I`m on page 526, which is this much book, and thank you for this book. I`m enjoying it thoroughly.

BESCHLOSS: Delighted.

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about presidential power and the right to start or escalate, if not the right the ability to start or escalate a conflict. And what I know to be your concern right now in 2018.

BESCHLOSS: Well, the idea of the founders was that it should be done by Congress in a war decoration, haven`t been any of those since 1942, presidents can in a way get involved into wars almost single handedly and almost overnight. And my worry is with a modern president and Donald Trump is president that he may be tempted at some point to lurch towards war because he knows that that can help a president who has an election ahead of him and 2011, 2012, President Trump Before he was president would tweet predicting that Barack Obama would start a war in order to get elected in 2012. Very bad idea for a president to be thinking that way.

WILLIAMS: As luck would have it, this last page I read last night, 526 has a vineta (ph) scene, Johnson meeting with Eisenhower. Interestingly, JFK always referred to Ike as general because as supreme allied commander, JFK, a young navy man served under Dwight David Eisenhower in World War II.

Johnson is talking to Ike about the problem he`s having in Vietnam. Ike says, by they way, be willing to use whatever weapons you have, hit them from the air including but not limited to tactical nuclear weapons, and I`m thinking what is it that leaves these presidents hardened by war? What do they have in common? What`s the after effect? Anything shared by all of them?

BESCHLOSS: Well, you know, you`ve got exactly -- you`ve gone exactly to the essence as usual, Brian. As you know, this book is about nine presidents who were involved in major wars all the way back to 1807. And there are a lot of things that they do have in common, a lot of them have emotional break downs, they almost all have strong lives. They almost all turn to religion. Lincoln for instance late in the civil war met an old friend of his surprised he became so religious. And Lincoln said, "I don`t know how you could get through the traumas of war without being religious." Lady Bird Johnson told me that during the days of the Vietnam War she thought that her husband Lyndon might become catholic.

WILLIAMS: Did FDR in effect give his body, his life to the war effort and coming out the other side?

BESCHLOSS: He absolutely did. The last couple years at World War II Franklin Roosevelt was suffering from advanced cardiovascular disease that got worse and worse and the result was that he died early had he not been a war president probably wouldn`t have happened. Same thing with Woodrow Wilson who suffered a stroke a year and a half before the end of his presidency was almost entirely paralyzed and unable to function. These war presidents do not go through this experience without an enormous cost.

WILLIAMS: I know this book has to come to an end and I`m sad about that part but this topic doesn`t. And it seems to me we leave off with this new nature of war that we`re in. One of them we really can`t see, the war against terrorism. And the other, our longest now in history still going on tonight with the brave souls, young men and women in uniform in Afghanistan.

BESCHLOSS: Yes, and that is so emblematic. As I say in the book, you know, through this 200 years our soldiers on the battlefield are uniformly heroic. You know, great people all the way through. The problem is you don`t always see that kind of leadership in the Oval Office and often times as I write about, you will have presidents trying to get us involved in war based on a false pretense like the sinking of the main. We fought the Spanish turned out the Spanish weren`t behind it. Lyndon Johnson went to Congress asking them for a resolution for a Gulf of Tonkin incident unprovoked attack on an American ship and an attack that never happened. That is not presidential leadership at its best.

WILLIAMS: I want to make sure everyone sees this cover in my hand. There it is and there`s the author, our guest tonight, our good friend, Michael Beschloss. The book is "Presidents of War". Always a pleasure my friend. Thank you very much for coming on.

BESCHLOSS: Me too. Thank you so much Brian, really appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, an entire town all but gone. Damage that stretches for miles and across state lines from the gulf cleared to the Atlantic, an update tonight on a terribly destructive storm this week when we continue.


WILLIAMS: It may be days, even weeks before we know the full extent of the damage from Hurricane Michael and the road to recovery from this is going to be years. As expected, the death toll continues to rise at least 14 now in the southwest confirmed dead. Five of those confirmed as far north as Virginia. This is the scene right here in Roanoke today where torrential rain caused flash flooding in much of the state.

Back in Florida again tonight, rescue crews are just now reaching parts of this damage, and searching for survivors. A lot of the attention has been focused rightfully so on that town in Mexico Beach that was the point of landfall for what we now know was the fourth strongest hurricane in American history.

The estimate is the town, as the local folks knew it is now 95% gone. That`s according to the fire chief. Look at this. This is imagery of Mexico Beach before and after the hurricane and adding to the grim sight of the after photos, the brown standing water, the brown vegetation, all of it killed by the influx of salt water. The governor of Florida today calling it unimaginable destruction likening the scene to a war zone.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: It`s like a bomb went off. It`s like what you see on TV. If you look places like Syria where everything got blown up.


WILLIAMS: Here is why things are becoming desperate tonight, why our fellow citizens need help badly and quickly. For those who stayed and survived the storm, there is no food, no phones, no power. Some of those who survived are still unable to tell their loved ones that they made it and they are still here. Many of those who either chose to ride it out or had no other choice have said they regretted it and they assumed at the height of the storm they would die.

Coming up, remembering a brave American woman and a name from what we used to call the space age when we continue.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight has to do with the departure of a brave woman from American life who gave more than her fair share to this country.

This weekend many of us will be going to see the new movie "First Man" about the life and accomplishments on Neil Armstrong who won the Apollo XI mission in the summer of `69 became the first man to walk on the moon.

As the movie trailer already shows us, the film is going to deal with the death of the crew of Apollo I. That was to be the first mission of the new Apollo capsule. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed while in the capsule and on the launch pad by a flash electrical fire. There was no emergency hatch. They couldn`t get out. And then the 100% oxygen environment in the capsule they likely died in seconds. Their deaths were a national tragedy and a huge blow to the space program.

Gus Grissom like his friend Neil Armstrong was a veteran he flown combat missions overseas, both were Purdue educated engineers. Grissom was the second American in space. One of the original Mercury VII. And likely would have been the first man on the moon had he lived.

Betty Grissom famously said that as an astronaut`s wife, she already died a 100,000 deaths by the time she lost her husband, Gus. But she always suspected negligence because he had no way to escape from that capsule. Left (INAUDIBLE) his two sons as a single mother, she sued North American Rockwell. The manufacturer of the space capsule for negligence.

They later settled for $350,000 even though the investigation found design flaws. The lawsuit broke the code of silence suffering by NASA wives. And Betty Grissom was shand and ostracized. Betty Grissom raised her family and survived by her two sons or two grandchildren and a great grandchild.

She died this past Saturday at her home in Houston. And keeping with the quiet life, she led an old age. She died while sorting the laundry. Her neighbors were worried because she hadn`t been out to pick up the mail. She showed great bravery in life because her partner in life, her brave husband Gus has been taken away from her.

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