Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: October 16, 2018 Guest: Zeke Miller, Jill Colvin, Malcolm Nance, Eli Stokols
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight Donald Trump takes some wild swings at several target in the new Oval Office interview. One of the reporters who took part is standing by to talk to us live.
And how many times have you heard this before, the President of the United States today called an adult film star "horse face". Sparking a social media war that is also a huge distraction from the unraveling Khashoggi murder and possible cover up by the Saudis. With the President complaining again tonight, the Saudis are guilty until proven innocent which he compares to Kavanaugh.
And he goes on to accuse his one-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen of lying about having been told to break the law by Donald Trump, all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Tuesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 635 of the Trump administration, and while the President had no public events on his schedule today, he certainly launched a few on social media.
And then for good measure this evening sat down for an interview with the Associated Press on a range of topics.
Zeke Miller, one of those three reporters who conducted the interview there in the Oval Office standing by to join us live.
Trump`s comments about the missing journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, are perhaps the most striking. Khashoggi disappeared two weeks ago at the Saudi consulate in Trukey. Trump told the A.P. on this, "I think we have to find out what happened first. Here we go again with, you know, you`re guilty until proven innocent. I don`t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way, as far as I`m concerned."
And here`s what he said in yet another interview today taped earlier to air tonight on "Fox Business."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It depends whether or not the king or crown prince knew about it, in my opinion. Not whether it happened but if they knew about it. If they knew about it, that would be bad. If they didn`t know about it, bad things can happen.
TRISH REGAN, FOX BUSINESS HOST: The decisions that you face as President.
TRUMP: Let`s hope we hear the proper answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Back to the A.P. interview. We talked about his party`s chances on the midterms. As we`ve he stepped up his presence on the trail of late today. He told the A.P., "He won`t accept the blame if Republicans lose the House in November, arguing that he is helping Republican candidates in the midterms."
He seemed to be hedging his bets in his conversation, again, with "Fox Business."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think we`re going to do well. Who knows? I mean, history shows the opposite, you know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: As we mention he was active on Twitter today, beginning with an attack on Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren who yesterday caused cringes in her party by announcing test results that show distant Native American ancestral roots. Quoting here from the President, "Pocahontas, the bad version, sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Warren is getting slammed. She took a bogus DNA test." He added just tonight, "Elizabeth warren is being hammered even by the left. Her false claim of Indian heritage is only selling to very low-I.Q, individuals."
The President then this afternoon move on to Stormy Daniels, "Federal judge throws out Stormy Daniels lawsuit versus Trump. Trump is entitled to full legal fees. Great, now I can go after "horse face" and her third rate lawyer in the great State of Texas. She will confirm the letter she signed. She knows nothing about me, a total con."
Daniels wasted no time firing back, writing in part, "In addition to his shortcomings, he has demonstrated his incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self control on Twitter again. Game on tiny."
Trump kept up the attack on Daniels even with adult present during the A.P. interview in the Oval Office. And we, "Trump did not back down from derisively nicknaming Daniels "horse face". Asked by the A.P. if it was appropriate to insult a woman`s appearance, Trump responded, you can take it any way you want."
In addition to that, Trump also weighted on the investigation into his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen who testified under oath that Trump was involved in planing the hash money payments to Stormy Daniels. Trump told the A.P. Cohen lied under oath and called his allegation, "totally false."
And in regular news, we also learned who will be replacing the departing White House Counsel Don McGahn. Trump told the A.P. that he has selected Pat Cippollone, a veteran of the Bush 41 Justice Department to be his new White House counsel.
With that, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Monday night. One of the reporters who interviewed the President today there in the Oval Office, the aforementioned Zeke Miller, White House Reporter for the Associated Press. Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post. And Jill Colvin, White House Reporter also with the Associated Press.
Zeke, we`ll start with you. And I guess, in the old days, you used to be able to go through Hope Hicks to avoid the Chief of Staff if you wanted to talk to the President. Did you go through traditional channels? Was this a vetted and official interview? And lastly, how did you find him?
ZEKE MILLER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPOTER: We were joined in the Oval Office by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, Communication Director Bill Shine, and Councilor to the President Kellyanne Conway.
This is, you know, this is -- the President was in fairly good spirits. This is capping a couple weeks where you see him receptive to the press, and we were, you know, grateful that he was able to sit down and answer a bunch of questions that we felt were important to our readers, the American public, and the world at large.
And I think, you know, if you look at the interview, if you read the interview, it`s in the cover of that. You can see in there some questions you have not heard the President answer, and hopefully made some news out of that.
WILLIAMS: You say -- the way you put it is absolutely correct. He is coming off what you could call a good run for his base and his party. But I also heard it argued tonight that with what he did just today alone on Twitter, it`s kind of the classic pattern of stepping on their own good news.
MILER: There`s certainly an element of that if you look at the President`s sort of political history where he does, you know, sort of the conventional wisdom sense, steps -- does step on his own news. But the way the President sees it in this election and he`s been very clear, and he was clear to us about that today, is that he views this referendum on himself and his policies and that, you know, for all of the Republican pundits and strategists who say he should stay out of this election and try to not to insert himself into these races and stay back and keep quiet on Twitter. He believes, you know, this is just like 2016 is what he told us. He feels that the electorate is like 2016 when he defied all the odds and all the prognosticators, and, you know, all the polls.
And he is now sitting now in the Oval Office. So there`s an element that you can see some of that, you know, the President drawing those parallels where he feels he`s going to insert himself and make this election about himself. He`s willing to engage in ways now to the run-up of the election the same way we saw him do two years ago where others in the party may cringe, the President seems very confident in his strategy here.
WILLIAMS: So Jill, however reminiscent it may be of Woodrow Wilson and FDR, just kidding, we have the President of the United States calling a porn star "horse face" today publicly and then doubling down on it. I want you to watch ask listen with us to the reaction today in the studio from Nicolle Wallace, lifelong Republican, aide in the Bush White House to the President and his choice of words.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NICOLE WALLACE, AIDE IN THE BUSH WHITE HOUSE: This is the kind of language that has come to define Trump`s presidency and his party which elected and continues to support and cheer a man whose public insults of women have included miss piggy, miss housekeeping, degenerate, slob, pig, bleeding very badly from a facelift, not my first choice, low I.Q., wacky, and of course, look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jill, how do you process it? How do you cover it with anything approaching the standards we used to use for your job?
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it`s definitely very difficult when you`ve got a president, you know, this is language that we heard from him very frequently as a candidate on the campaign trail. Those comments that are listed over there, you know, referring to Carlotta Fiorina for instance, one of his Republican primary opponent saying, why would anybody vote for someone with a face like that? So it`s something that we crumpled with now for a long time. It`s still adjuring to hear that language coming out of the President, seeing that from his official Twitter feed.
But what you can tell what the President here is that, look, he was able to win the election despite the fact that he made comments like this. And in his mind and in the minds of some around him, because he made comments like this, because he broke the mold, because he was willing to say what he was thinking, was able to create this impression that he was some kind of swaggering, tell it like it is kind of person.
And he believes that his base is going to stick with him even when, and maybe because he`s choosing to do things like this. That said, the President now is the leader of a party. He`s not just a candidate on his own. He`s the leader of a Republican Party that is about to have a very, very consequential election now in less than a month.
And when you`ve got voters across the country, especially those suburban Republican or independent-leaning women in these districts who are trying to make up their minds. They may be looking at the President here and saying, you know what, is this the party I want to send back to Congress?
WILLIAMS: Just a quick note to our viewers because we`re having electronic transmission problems where Phil and Jill are, even though they`re in our Washington facilities. They might as well be on the other side of the planet because we have long delays between my questions and their answers.
Having explained that, Phil Rucker, what is going on here? This had to be called a media blitz. He got close to 12 million viewers, which I`m amaze he already told us on "60 Minutes" Sunday night and then today`s round.
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes. Look, President Trump is trying to be his own -- his party`s best surrogate here in the run-up to the midterm elections. He wants to be everywhere all the time. He`s taking questions from reporters at every opportunity, on Air Force One, on the White House north lawn, in the Oval Office, and I think this is going to continue in the days to come.
We`re three weeks away from election day. And what we see from the President is he`s confident but he`s also pragmatist and defiant. And you know, as carefully as Senate and House and gubernatorial candidates have tried to tailor their final closing pitches to voters, what they`re realizing now is it`s really all about Trump. And that`s how it`s been in Washington for the last two years and that`s how it is on the campaign trail right now as voters in a lot of states are beginning to vote already early.
They`re thinking about "horse face," they`re thinking about, you know, Trump parodying on the cover story of Saudi Arabia. They`re thinking about whatever controversy he might ignite tomorrow or the next day. And it`s veering the election in different areas, but what you have is a President who is supremely confident in his own ability to direct his party`s message and to shape this election and to determine a winning outcome. He truly believes that I think, that Republicans are going to hold the Senate and that he can do what he can to stave off severe losses in the House.
WILLIAMS: Zeke, here`s the other side of that. Here`s a guy who`s been going out to all these rallies saying a vote for fill in the blank, a local candidate who brings me to your state, is a vote for me. And I`m not on the ballot but I might as well be. How do you square that with the answers you guys got out of him in the Oval today?
Look, if there`s a blue wave, it`s not on me?
MILLER: I mean, you really can`t square that, it is a bit f time and a distance by the President where he`s trying to sort of have it both ways. He wants to have, you know, he wants to reduce Republican base to turn out which does require, you know, he`s still the leader of the Republican Party, the most powerful surrogate they have on the campaign trail, so he has to say those things in the campaign trail, and in the Oval Office and the safety of the White House, and the political insulation of the White House. He`s going to have a different message.
And that`s likely the message we`re going to hear from him on November 7 if things don`t go his way on November 6. You know we`ve seen him over the last couple of weeks try out some of those different messages, whether it be criticizing the Fed for the state of the economy, whether it be the stock market drop of last week or the market recovery.
Somewhat today we`ve seen him make similar attacks at some republican messaging, Republicans who are running away from him in some vulnerable seats. All of those are by the president who doesn`t want to be blamed. We`re very likely to see a scenario on, you know, if -- should the Republicans lose the House on November 6, you`ll see the President come out on November 7 and, you know, with verbiage like his party was shellacked and that he`s going to change or somehow adopt as a result.
We`ll probably going to see the President double down the same like we`ve seen him double down in every, you know, in every context of the last three or four years in public political life.
WILLIAMS: So jill, does he think it maybe somehow base motivating to say publicly, "Look, if things don`t go well, it`s not on me." Does he thinks that`s going to get folks out?
COLVIN: You know what, I honestly think it`s much more simple than that. I think this is a President who does not admit to losing. I think this is a President who cannot comprehend the idea that he might lose. So, of course, if Republicans lose it`s not at all his fault. He`s been doing his job. He`s been out there.
You know, when he was on the ballot, he had Republicans. He was able to win. It must clearly be these other people`s fault, you know, if they can`t get their people out to vote for him.
On the flip side, if the Republicans do windup doing better than expected, if they do windup keeping the House, I am more than positive, I will, at this point actually I look into my crystal ball and I can assure you that the President will be out there taking credit, trumpeting his impact on voters just as he has in some of the primaries where he endorse candidates and they windup winning.
WILLIAMS: So, Phil, as we noted, he produces a ton of headlines today with no public events on his schedule. I mean, when you think about it, he called a fellow American citizen, someone`s mom, someone`s daughter, "horse face" today publicly. What this does is, in addition to any hurt it causes politically or personally, it does distract from this matter, he really shown he doesn`t want to have to deal with on a daily basis, and it`s the Saudi matter going on overseas, yes, but increasingly all around him.
RUCKER: Yes. And the Saudi matter, Brian, is not going to go away. Evidence is mounting that the crown prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia may have known about what happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and indeed, may have even ordered it.
The intelligence intercepts of the U.S. of the last several days have been that there was a plot to extradite Jamal Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi cover story seems to have been that that plot went awry, that this was an interrogation gone wrong. But the evidence seems to start to suggest otherwise, the things we`re hearing out of Turkey. They`re reporting tonight photographs of key figures in the crown prince`s inner circle who were there at the consulate.
What were they doing? What were they doing with a bone saw? It just doesn`t add up. And there`s a global outrage right now about what happened, about the cover-up in Saudi Arabia, demand for answers.
And the challenge for President Trump is he is not at the forefront of those demands. He seems to be taking the Saudis at their word. He seems to be repeating their denials to the American people and to the world.
And he has his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, there sent on a mission to demand answers and to raise concerns, and yet the photos that we saw out of Mike Pompeo`s meetings with Saudi officials are a lot of smiles and pleasantries and it seems like the allies getting along. And so it`s discord image with the outrage you see around the world, and I think that pressure is only going to end up increasing on Trump.
WILLIAMS: Three veteran bylines among our big three starting us off tonight, Zeke Miller, well done today, Zeke. Phil Rucker and Jill Colvin, well done tonight as always. Our thanks for starting us off this evening.
And coming up, as we mention the President sticks up for the Saudis in the unraveling murder of journalist and permanent resident of the U.S.
And later the President warns a foreign country not to let their people come here, or as we call it, Tuesday on "The 11th Hour."
WILLIAMS: As we mentioned in a new interview with the Associated Press, President Trump criticized the rush to condemn Saudi Arabia over this missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump told the A.P. earlier today, "I think we have to find out what happened first. Here we go again with, you know, you`re guilty until proven innocent. I don`t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I`m concerned."
Meanwhile, a high level Turkish official told the A.P. today, the police searching the Saudi consulate found evidence that Khashoggi was indeed killed there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo actually traveled to Saudi Arabia and met with King Salman and his favorite son, the Crown Prince MBS, Mohammad bin Salman about Khashoggi`s disappearance.
A State Department`s spokesperson said, Pompeo`s meetings were direct and candid. When have they not described meetings that way? President Trump said earlier today, "Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the call and told me he has already started and will rapidly expand a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly."
The "New York Times" is reporting tonight several of the suspects identified by Turkey in the disappearance of Khashoggi had ties to the Saudi crown prince. "Times" report, one of the suspects was a frequent companion of the crown prince on foreign trips.
All this as one of the President`s closest friends in the Senate appeared on the President`s favorite morning program and said this about the Saudi crown prince.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey. And to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused. I was on the floor every time defending Saudi Arabia because there`s a good ally. There`s a difference between a country and an individual.
The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, here with us to talk about, Malcolm Nance, Author and a decades-long military veteran including Naval Intelligence, Special Office in the field in Homeland Security Domestically. And our go-to guy and all things economic, Ali Velshi, Co-Host of "Velshi and Ruhle", 1:00 p.m. Eastern weekdays. Also happens to be the host of MSNBC Live at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Basically anytime you turn on your television, you`re going to see some form of Ali Velshi.
So, Malcolm, we`ll begin wit you. What do you think the chances that rogue actors, rogue murderers was the way the President was briefed on this by his own intelligence agencies? And what do you think the chances that maybe the King gave him that phrase just prior to hanging up the phone?
MALCOLM NANCE, AUTHOR, "THE PLOT TO DESTROY DEMOCRACY": Well, the chance the U.S. Intelligence told the President that these were rogue actors is about zero. They don`t behave -- we don`t report that way, we don`t collect that way, and the overwhelming preponderance of even the most circumstantial evidence tells you that this was a high-level operation which could only be approved at the highest levels of their government because they were using royal flight aircraft, personnel from the royal guard, you know, which is essentially the secret service of the Saudi government, and close associates of the prince himself.
That Donald Trump got this phrase from the Saudis, that`s 100 percent. We know that he just cannot help taking on the explanations from people that he sees as his peers or his mentors.
And so in that case, I think that he is mimicking the Saudi position. He finds himself between a rock and a very, very hard place, and he is now defaulting back to the "we don`t know anything" position. That could also be false. Because from the very beginning of this story, there were many, many indicators that the intelligence community would have seen and that we would have scrubbed, not just against Saudi Arabia but against every country in the region, and our allies, and the President would have been informed within at least a day, if not minutes, of the moment that we recognized that there was a crisis.
WILLIAMS: Ali, two things. Thought one is, I try to be fair to our competition, I looked up at CNN tonight, they were running a banner headline, "Trump is strong with the meek and meek with the strong." So there`s that.
Number two, there is this. What I`m going to play for you, what the President always says in his justification to not be too harsh on the Saudis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: $110 billion they`re purchasing. It`s 500,000 jobs, American jobs. Everything is made here.
OK. So now people say, well, we want to have you end that order. Well, aren`t we just hurting our own country? Because here`s what`s going to happen, they`re going to say, hey, America won`t sell us the missiles. We`ll buy them from China or we`ll buy them from Russia. Ours are better, much better.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC CO-HOST, "VELSHI AND RUHLE": There is a lot in there.
WILLIAMS: He`s talking about a $110 billion order --
WILLIAMS: -- and a concurrent number of jobs somewhere in this country.
WILLIAMS: What`s the truth?
VELSHI: And so these orders don`t always match up to what ends up being sold to the Saudis. This is a $110 billion deal. The President likes to tout that as the biggest arms deal we`ve ever made. We don`t know what that actually working out to be in terms of the value of things that are bought from Boeing and Lockheed and Raytheon. We don`t know where the 500,000 jobs thing comes from, either.
Saudi Arabia is the buyer -- the biggest buyer of U.S. arms for a reason. Saudi Arabia is actively involved in wars, including one in Yemen, but they`ve got little proxy wars going on all over the place. They have depended upon American hardware and software for decades.
WILLIAMS: It`s their whole setup.
VELSHI: It`s their whole setup. That`s how their pilots are trained. That`s how their soldiers are trained. They are not in the position to swap them up for Chinese missiles and Russian missiles. So that`s not true either.
The bottom line is we are in a stronger position than Saudi Arabia is in our trade relationship. There wasn`t time, remember back in 1973 the oil embargo when we were not but we are now because the United States is one of the biggest producers of oil in the world. Canada is as well. And between those two countries, we can supply all of America`s energy needs. We are in a position to say to Saudi Arabia, look, things have to stop or you have to find a new way to do things.
The problem is twofold. One is, we don`t typically do that with Saudi Arabia or other governments that engage in human rights violations or press freedom violations. And two is that, this particular administration is more closely tied to the Saudi government than any in history.
So between those two things, the President may not be in a position to act in the Americans` best interest in this particular instance, so he`s acting in the Saudis` best interest.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Malcolm, listen to the following. A guy who knows from Saudi Arabia, long-time chief there, former CIA Director John Brennan on the situation there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think ultimately this is going to come out. And it`s very important for us to maintain the relations with Saudi Arabia. And if it`s Mohammad Salman who is the cancer here, well, we need to be able to find ways to eliminate the cancer and to move forward with this relationship that is critical to regional stability and our national security interest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Malcolm Nance, what kind of customers are we dealing with who might have flown in there on a private plane who plays for the Saudi team?
NANCE: Well, what we`re talking about is a 15-man special operation`s team. And the Turkish have been to identify down to seven individuals, six of whom are part of the royal guard and special operations forces of Saudi Arabia and one was a forensic pathologist. Actually, very famous in Saudi Arabia, who is also a courtesan of Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
So, John Brennan is right in his assessment that this story is not going to go away if it turns out that it happened on the explicit orders of Mohammad bin Salman. But that is going to be problematic. I`ve sit in day one with these guys, that`s their sort of courtesan world where they sit around, they drink tea, they discuss things, and orders are never explicitly given. It`s sort of along the lines of who will rid me of this, you know, try to meddlesome priest.
They say things like, we have a critic. I really don`t like what he says. And the other one will say, "halas," which Arabic for it`s finished, it`s taken care of. And it will be taken care of and the problem goes away.
So, whether we can actually pin this on a direct order from Mohammad bin Salman, it will come from intelligence. And no one knows better than John Brennan. As you said, he was CIA Station Chief in Saudi Arabia, and the things that were not said to him, in front of him, he collected in intelligence behind their backs.
WILLIAMS: Sounds like it`s Arabic for paulie, you won`t be seeing him anymore.
Now, let`s talk about, Ali, the finances and what Trump said the day on Twitter. "For the record, I have no financial interest in Saudi Arabia, or Russia, for that matter. I don`t know why they (ph) put n there. Any suggestion that I have is just more fake news of which there is plenty."
What`s the truth there?
VELSHI: The truth is at 9:15 a.m., the President made my job a lot easier today, because that is about the easiest tweet to prove false.
WILLIAMS: Hasn`t he brag on the --
VELSHI: Oh, he talked about it. He talked about the business that he does with Saudis. He says they do a lot of business with me. There are several examples going back into the 1990s with a prince who has now had a falling out with the royal family, but he was --
VELSHI: Prince Al-Waleed. He got Donald Trump out of a pickle by buying his yacht. He got him out of another pickle for $325 million by buying him out of the Plaza Hotel. In 2000, I can`t remember the year. The Saudi government, not the prince associated with him, the Saudi government bought an entire floor of one of Donald Trump`s buildings across from the United Nations.
WILLIAMS: As one does.
VELSHI: As one does. That just in the past. And most recent history both in New York and Washington, we`ve seen remarkable increases in revenue from the Trump hotel from the Saudis who have come here to lobby. They spend more money on lobbying than pretty much any other country.
And in his hotel in Chicago, 168 percent increase in revenue -- rental revenue. So the President`s enmeshed with the Saudis in many ways. Now the technicality about whether he has any businesses in Saudi Arabia, that doesn`t exist.
I think in 2016, there were eight registered Trump companies in Saudi Arabia, all of which were withdrawn by the end of 2016. So maybe the tweet is talking about something very specific and technical, but Donald Trump has more involvement and is more enmeshed with the Saudis than any president in American history.
WILLIAMS: Take a half day, go home early, will you?
VELSHI: I would take that.
WILLIAMS: Two of our favorites to talk about this complex topic. Malcolm Nance, Ali Velshi here with us in New York. Gentlemen, thank you both.
And coming up, more from the President`s AP interview, including his effort to try to diminish the role of his long-time personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. He`s now calling him a PR guy. We`ll see how that will go over.
WILLIAMS: The President is lashing out against his long-time personal lawyer and a guy who was a loyal friend, it should be pointed out. As we mentioned in that wide-ranging AP interview late today, Trump accused Michael Cohen of lying when he testified under oath that Trump directed him to break the law.
That`s in reference to hush money payments Cohen said he paid out at Trump`s direction to cover up for extra marital affairs. But Trump went even further, dismissed the man who once famously said, he`d take a bullet for Donald Trump as "Nothing more than PR person who did small legal work".
Trump`s attack come just one day after the Vanity Fair report reveled Cohen has spent more than 50, 5-0 hours talking to the Mueller team and investigator here in New York. Cohen`s attorney responded to us on Twitter tonight "Under oath Michael Cohen acknowledged and took responsibility for President Trump`s bad behavior. Trump calling anyone a liar is a compliment."
Well, with us to talk about it, we have our own counsel, Maya Wiley a former assistance U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York, currently a professor at the new school here in New York. And Eli Stokols is back with us as well, White House reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Counselor, to begin with you, is Trump painted into a corner where he has to call Michael Cohen a liar now?
MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSITANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Donald Trump had two choices. Either he comes out and says, yes, I had the affair, yes, I directed the payment, or he calls Michael Cohen a liar. Those are really his only two choices.
WILLIAMS: You make it sounds pretty clear.
WILEY: It`s pretty clear, because either Michael Cohen is telling the truth or he`s not. So, I don`t know that Donald Trump had much of a choice. Remember the whole saga here starts with, in January, Michael Cohen saying, "Didn`t happen." by February he`s saying "Wasn`t illegal." then by April Trump is saying, "I didn`t make any payments. You have to talk to my personal lawyer Michael Cohen."
By May you have Giuliani on his first day on the job actually implicating the President and what appears to be a campaign finance crime by saying it does wasn`t illegal. I mean that the whole story is muddled from beginning to end. But that doesn`t help either of them.
WILEY: I mean the truth is Michael Cohen doesn`t come out looking like the most credible person. Nor does Donald Trump, but there is so much evidence that Michael Cohen was a fixer for Donald Trump and so many accusations around playoffs, related to Donald Trump including that tape recording, if you remember, about Karen McDougal.
WILLIAMS: With Lanny Davis played.
WILEY: With the Lanny Davis played. So, certainly there`s a lot of indication that this was the relationship between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. What stands up in court of law is a different story, but we know Michael Cohen story but we know Michael Cohen has been talking to investigators.
WILLIAMS: As former Fed, you know what you Feds can do to people. Eli Stokols, can Trump distance himself any more from Cohen? He has obviously just decided he`s going to weaponize this witness.
ELI STOKOLS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Yes. I mean, he`s decided that this is the response to all of the investigations, to fight these legal battles in the Court of Public Opinion and to just trash everybody who`s coming after him, and now that includes Michael Cohen.
Of course, as Maya said, the credibility of both of these guys is not that great, but if you just take what the President said today to the AP, Michael Cohen was not a PR man. The idea that Donald Trump would even let anybody do PR for him, as we`ve seen in the last couple weeks is laughable.
This guy does his own PR. Michael Cohen was the fixer behind the scenes doing the dirty work of paying people off and getting bad stories to not appear in print, and things like that. He was very round in with this operation, the Trump Tower for years and years.
He knew everything that was going on, was often in the room with the President. Another thing that the President told the AP today that was straight up false was the fact that Michael Cohen pled to things in court that he did for himself, not things that he did for President Trump.
The reality is both things are true. He did plead to various fraud with his taxi company, banking fraud, but he also pled to election fraud, to an election crime with the FEC, and that was related to being directed, as he said under oath, by Donald Trump to pay off two women during the campaign.
WILLIAMS: Maya, I want to play for you something that came out of the "Fox Business" interview that aired tonight. This is about at first Trump`s sit down with Putin and you`ll see how it comes back to you. So we`ll both watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about meddling. I said, no more meddling if you did meddle. I said, no more meddling. To which he said, I didn`t meddle, I didn`t meddle.
In terms of meddling, Obama was told in September just prior to the election that Russia was trying to meddle in the election. He didn`t do anything about it. He didn`t even say anything about it. He only brings it up after the election. That should be your investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So counselor, as you know, here`s the truth. Obama`s intelligence chiefs came together and put out a document because they didn`t want to overplay it to look like they were trying to affect an election, but they didn`t want to ignore it.
The document got underplayed in press coverage because something else happened that day, the "Access Hollywood" tape, and then the Wikileaks started raining down on all of us. So if you`re arguing due diligence, the previous administration would argue they did what they felt they could do.
WILEY: Well, the other big distinction that Donald Trump misses in this whole conversation is, it isn`t a crime if the Obama administration didn`t do anything. They obviously did something.
WILLIAMS: Nor is it a question that the Russians did.
WILEY: Right. So first of all, Donald Trump is saying, Putin swears he didn`t, right? That`s one of the things we heard from the President. But at the end of the day, this is a question about whether any U.S. laws were violated.
There is no question that the Obama administration didn`t violate any laws by how they chose to handle a diplomatic issue. The question for Donald Trump is whether or not he or anyone in his campaign actually engaged in a conspiracy with Russian foreign nationals to impact the election, whether they got a thing of value. And I use that language explicitly because that is the language of the law in terms of the Clinton e-mails.
Remember that President Trump, at the time when he was candidate Trump, in July says, hey, Russia, get those 30,000 e-mails, and that`s actually a day in which they start trying to hack Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. So the idea that we`re comparing apples to apples here is they`re just two separate orchards. One involves the law and one just involves diplomacy.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Eli, give me just enough to make people check the L.A. Times website every 10 minutes. Give me 30 seconds on what you`re hearing about the special counsel.
STOKOLS: Well, I`ve heard that the special counsel is obviously being pretty quiet now through election. But that they maybe nearing an end game, that they may be possibly more indictments coming, possibly things that will rattle the President because they will come very close to home in terms of his family.
And that they`re getting things in order here at the end stage because they`re sort of in report-writing mode as we hear it at this point. Just given the timing of the election, the likelihood of the President may be making a change with the attorney general after the election, and certainly bringing in a new general counsel.
It seems like everybody is preparing here as we head into the end of the year for the end game with these investigations.
WILLIAMS: And that, ladies and gentlemen, gets your attention, as do our two returning veterans. Maya Wiley, Eli Stokols, Our since thanks for coming on tonight
And coming up, President says it won`t be his fault if the Republicans lose the House. We`ll ask Steve Kornacki where the few races stand right now that we`re looking at when we come back.
WILLIAMS: So what have we learned tonight? The President says in the event of a blue wave, it`s not on him. And we`re exactly three weeks to go, our Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki, back at the big board tonight, tracking some races in some very red places. Hey, Steve.
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian. Yes, it`s interesting because we`ve been talking so much about Democrats and that energy they`ve got in those suburban areas. That seems like if anything, maybe it`s increased after Kavanaugh.
We`ve been talking about Republicans may be solidifying some of their more traditional areas they were at risk. But we want to tell you tonight about a third type of district, the wild card, the place that you can`t he really categorize it and make any sense of it, and yet it`s in place.
So three districts I want to take you through, House districts here where Democrats seem to have a shot, and if you look at it on paper, you say, why would that be? Remember, they need a net gain of 23. So every wild card they could actually pick off could make a big difference.
Let me take you to one right here, the 27th district of New York, Western New York just outside Buffalo. You may know this name, Chris Collins, the Republican incumbent, first Republican in Congress to endorse Trump two years ago.
He`s now under indictment, and so what does that mean? This district that Donald Trump carried by 25 points in 2016 with Collins running under the cloud of an indictment, look at this poll just out today. He leads but only by three.
Democrats with an opportunity. A couple months ago you never would have said that in this district. How about Utah`s 4th district, Utah one of the most red states in the country, and yet today look at this, Mia Love, the Republican, tied there.
The key here Utah, this is a state as red state go, very Trump-phobic. I think you can say remember Evan McMullin the third-party candidate. In Utah he got 25 percent of the vote a couple years ago. Trump`s worst primary state, this the least conservative district in Utah.
Mia Love in trouble out there. On paper doesn`t make sense. West Virginia is third. Trump won this district by 50 points in 2016. It`s an open seat. Richard Ojeda. He actually voted for Trump in 2016, Sanders before that, strong local appeal.
There`s an ancestral Democratic roots here, Democrats could be in the mix. Actually this is an old poll today. Ojeda is down. I should say this is the wrong poll. But there`s a new poll out today for Monmouth that has Richard Ojeda trailing by a couple of points, but very much in the race here.
And finally the flipside, we should just mentioned there this unexpected pick up opportunities. But here`s one Democrat that will be slam dunk. Open seat in Florida 27th, Clinton won it by 20 points. Dana Cottrell, the Democratic nominee there.
There`s a poll going on right now. She may be in some unexpected trouble against a popular local Republican, so that`s a wild card that could break the other way for Democrats, Brian.
WILLIAMS: You know me, we could fill the entire hour with this, as far as I`m concerned. Keep coming back, keep bringing back some fascinating districts and numbers. Steve Kornacki, it`s always a pleasure. Thank you, sir.
Coming up for us, the President`s warning to a foreign country to keep their people away from here, when we continue.
WILLIAMS: In Sunday`s interview on "60 Minutes," the President did not deny the possibility of reinstituting its policy of family separations. The policy that we recall led to over 2,500 children being separated from their parents and being kept in tent cities during the hot summer months or converted big-box retail stores.
A new court filing from last night, a court-ordered filing, I should say, shows that of the original children separated, the government has released over 2,000 from the office of refugee resettlement. According to their report, there are 66 children proceeding toward reunification or another form of discharge but are not eligibility at the moment.
Another 178 of them in government care are considered ineligible for any kind of family reunification. Unclear what the next steps are for those children. This comes as news arrives of another large group of migrants making their way to the U.S./Mexico border.
The story we told you earlier was coming. Estimates show there are around 2,000 people traveling from Honduras through Central America. Reacting to that news, President Trump threatened to cut aid to Honduras this morning, writing, if the large caravan of people heading to the U.S. is not stopped and brought back to Honduras, no more money or aid will be given to Honduras effective immediately.
By the time Trump sent that message, the caravan was already as far as Guatemala. Hours later, Trump went on to include both Guatemala and El Salvador on his list of countries at risk of losing aid. As the migrants get closer, Mexico says it will screen them at their own boarder with Guatemala and will only allow those through who legally qualify to continue.
Coming up, it happened 50 years ago today. It has lived on every day since.
WILLIAMS: The last thing, before we go here tonight, 19 years before the birth of Colin Kaepernick and 50 years ago today, two brave young American athletes engaged in a singular act of protest. It has lived on since as one of the most iconic images in sports of the modern era.
The year was 1968. And in America, it was tumultuous and violent. Assassinations took from us a Kennedy and a king. The Vietnam War was the defining issue while issues of race and poverty led to riots and flames in American city streets.
Against that backdrop, two American runners finished first and third in the 200 meter sprint at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. Tommie Smith and John Carlo and make a very bold statement. They removed their shoes on the medal stand that symbolize poverty and they wear beads to symbolize the scourge of lynching`s. And to symbolize the black power movement, they chose to raise their fists and bowed their heads during the national anthem.
One right fist and one left because one of them forgot to bring the pair of black gloves so they split a pair. Boos rained down upon the men. They were forced from the games. They were ostracized by some of their fellow athletes and by sports organizers.
Both men went on to have brief NFL careers and later struggled with financial difficulties as a result of their actions. A footnote, the Australian guy on the medal stand who finished second was criticized for doing his part to back them up because he chose to wear the badge of the Olympic project for human rights, which the two protesting Americans were a part of.
Well, these days, Smith is 74, Carlo is 73. The debate has shifted from raised fists to taking a knee. Now, there`s a museum devoted to the scourge of lynching in this country. Poverty remains a wrenching problem, of course. And the protest this time was led by a man who had a brief but spectacular NFL career, who has the public support of one of the biggest brand names on the planet, 50 years after the gesture seen around the world.
That is our broadcast for a Tuesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. And good night from NBC News headquarters hear in New York.
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