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Trump defends Saudi Arabia. TRANSCRIPT: 10/17/2018, The 11th Hour w Brian Williams.

Guests: Clarence Page, Christopher Shays, Katie Rogers, Sabrina Siddiqui

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: October 17, 2018 Guest: Clarence Page, Christopher Shays, Katie Rogers, Sabrina Siddiqui

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight the final article written by Jamal Khashoggi before he vanished from inside that consulate in Turkey, the topic of free press.

Meanwhile, President Trump still seemingly on the side of the Saudis.

Plus, Rod Rosenstein tonight defending the Russia investigation, calling it "appropriate and independent." We`ve got a former U.S. attorney standing by with more.

And this President is a lot of things, but subtle he is not. A day after publicly calling a woman "horse face" he`s talking about his popularity with college-educated women while placing himself between two women for the cameras to see, all of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 636 of the Trump administration. We are following some important developments in the Russia investigation front tonight. New information about Michael Cohen`s cooperation with investigators to some rare comments from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. More on all of that in just a moment.

But first, hours after President Trump insisted he is not giving any sort of cover to the Saudis over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi the "Washington Post" has just posted the last piece the journalist wrote, filed shortly before he was seen entering that Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The op-ed column is about, of all things, the importance of a free press in the Arab world. Khashoggi writes here in part, "Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications."

Tonight there are still many unanswered questions in his disappearance. Earlier today Turkish investigators searched the residence of the Saudi counsel general. Forensic experts used ultraviolet light trying to detect blood stains inside. The residence is near the consulate. It`s considered a critical site, as you might imagine, in this investigation.

At this point Turkey still has not released purported audio recordings that Turkish officials say prove Khashoggi was tortured and killed in the consulate.

Our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with President Erdogan in Turkey earlier today. "Washington Post" reports Pompeo received a firsthand briefing on Turkey`s allegation that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents but "he did not listen to an audio recording that Turkey says offers a gruesome rendering of the journalist`s last moments alive."

As we have reported here, Pompeo met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday, MBS, as he`s known. He is now being criticized, Secretary Pompeo is, for what you`re looking at. For being all smiles during their meeting while the cameras were present. After their meeting Pompeo told reporters the Saudis are investigating themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: He told me they were going to conduct a thorough, complete, transparent investigation. They made a commitment to, to hold anyone connected to any wrongdoing that may be found accountable for that, whether they are a senior officer or official --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did they say that Mr. Khashoggi was alive or dead?

POMPEO: I don`t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn`t want to either. And that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: He didn`t want to talk about any of the facts, nor did his hosts. Remember that point right there because earlier today Ned Price, a former spokesman for the National Security Council under the last presidency, appearing with Nicolle Wallace, saw that clip and quickly pointed out that is not the reaction we should expect from a U.S. Secretary of State.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NED PRICE, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: I think one of my former colleagues may have put it best when she said the fact that the Saudis didn`t want to talk about the facts, that`s to be expected. The fact that Secretary Pompeo, himself, didn`t want to talk about the facts that`s a travesty.

It looks like he was sent to Riyadh precisely, as you said, to shill for the Saudis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Just yesterday in that interview with the Associated Press the President said he`s concerned about a rush to condemn the Saudis over Khashoggi`s disappearance.

And then this morning at the white house the President was asked by a reporter if he is protecting the Saudis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m not giving cover at all. With that being said, Saudi Arabia`s been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. But if you look at Saudi Arabia, they`re an ally and they`re a tremendous purchaser of not only military equipment but other things.

When I went there, they committed to purchase $450 billion worth of things and $110 billion worth of military. Those are the biggest orders in the history of this country. Probably the history of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Trump was also asked about possibly sending the FBI to investigate Khashoggi`s disappearance and about that purported audio recording Turkish officials say they have.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE HOLLAND, REUTERS: We`re talking about a man who lived across the river in Virginia. Why not send the FBI in to figure all this out?

TRUMP: Well, he wasn`t a citizen of this country, for one thing. And we`re going to determine that. And you don`t know whether or not we have, do you?

HOLLAND: Well, I --

TRUMP: No. But do you know whether or not we`ve sent the FBI?

HOLLAND: Have you sent the FBI?

TRUMP: I`m not going to tell you.

HOLLAND: Have you asked for this audio, video intelligence that the Turks --

TRUMP: We have asked for it if it exists. We have asked for it. Yes.

HOLLAND: But have you gotten it?

TRUMP: We`ve asked for it if it exists.

HOLLAND: Are you surprised that they haven`t turned it over?

TRUMP: No. I`m not sure yet that it exists. Probably does. Possibly does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Questioning there from our friend Steve Holland of Reuters.

The "Washington Post" has some new reporting about what`s going on inside the White House tonight. Robert Costa, Josh Dossy, and Phillip Rucker write, "In days of private phone calls and Oval Office huddles, Trump has repeatedly reached for reasons to protect the U.S.-Saudi relationship according to administration officials and presidential advisers. Trump has stressed Saudi Arabia`s huge investment in U.S. weaponry and worries it could instead purchase arms from China or Russia. He has fretted about the oil-rich desert kingdom cutting off its supply of petroleum to the United States. He has warned against losing a key partner countering Iran`s influence in the Middle East."

With all of that let us bring in our lead-off panel for a Wednesday night. Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Reporter for the "Washington Post." Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon. And Josh Lederman, Veteran of the Associated Press who is now National Political Reporter for us at NBC News.

Josh, I`d like to begin with you. Is there a sense as we come on the air since you last did a round of reporting on this story that the sides may be closing in on this man they call MBS?

JOSH LEDERMAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it all depends, really, Brian on how much the U.S. and other countries are willing to point the finger directly at Saudi leadership. Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and those around him. And how much evidence it comes forward that really indicates that this was something that was ordered from the top, that it wasn`t something that happened, a rogue operation that Crown Prince MBS only learned about later.

So far the President seems to be quite willing to buy the explanation from MBS and from King Salman, his father, that this was not something that was a sanctioned state-driven operation from Crown Prince Mohammed. But if there are intercepts from U.S. intelligence, if there are other indications that the U.S. has picked up that this was something that was plotted stuff that would really contradict that public line from the Saudis, that`s going to make it really difficult for President Trump, particularly if members of Congress who have been very aghast about this whole situation, if they have access to that situation. It`s hard to see how that kind of a cover story would hold up.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, a lot of business to get to. First, we should have pointed this out in real time as we`ve done the last two nights, this $110 billion figure the President`s using and the context he`s using it in, the "Washington Post" has repeatedly labeled it as "false."

Number two, Jeremy, I would like to play for you part of an interview with Former CIA Director Brennan. We`ll talk about the point he makes after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: If Khashoggi has disappeared from a hotel in Turkey or private residence or off the street, then I think there would be questions about what happened, who were these people. But in the consulate with these two airplanes that came from Saudi Arabia, royal airplanes that landed and individuals who entered Turkey on diplomatic passports and that were in fact associated with Mohammed Salman, it doesn`t seem like they tried to cover their tracks. And that`s what`s just so confounding about this whole thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So Jeremy, there`s a former CIA Director. It strikes me Pompeo, our Secretary of State is also a former CIA Director. But Brennan`s words don`t square with that scene we saw in Saudi Arabia. What do you think is going on?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think what John Brennan is trying to say is that it doesn`t really make sense for the Saudis to conduct an assassination in this fashion. There are frankly many other ways they could have done it including using proxies and surrogates. And so we don`t know exactly all the facts about what the initial intent of the operation was. But clearly because he`s dead, and I don`t think anybody seriously disputes that, and he died at the hands of Saudi officials who were sent by Mohammed bin Salman to conduct an operation. The highest leadership of Saudi Arabia bears ultimate responsibility.

And let`s not forget, Jamal Khashoggi, though he wasn`t a citizen, he was an American lawful permanent resident. He was a U.S. person. And I think we have to insist that the United States of America be part of this investigation. We can`t simply rely on the Saudis to do an investigation that`s, "transparent." That`s not going to happen. It`s not going to get us any closer to the truth.

WILLIAMS: A U.S. person I might add employed by Ashley Parker`s newspaper. And Ashley, about the President, this advice he`s getting right now, do you think it is of the kitchen Cabinet variety or actual, and what do you make of how he`s communicated his specific choice of words these past couple of days?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think there`s a recognition in the White House as of now at least that whatever happens is going to be driven by President Trump. And while there`s certainly advice behind the scenes, they`re taking their cues from the President who, as my colleagues reported, privately has been sort of searching for a way to protect that U.S.-Saudi relationship and frankly publicly has been offering a number of tells as to where he`s headed. That ranges from mentioning that Khashoggi is not a U.S. citizen, from talking about the strategic importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, of likening it to a guilty until proven innocent rush to judgment a la Justice Kavanaugh. I mean, anyone who follows this President knows the direction he would like to go in.

There may be other factors as more news emerges, as the American Intelligence Community offers an assessment that may make it a little bit harder. But the White House understands where the President wants to go. And so far the people who are sort of closest to this, the Secretary of State, John Bolton, Jared Kushner are also sort of squarely aligned behind him with this idea that the Saudi relationship is an important relationship, especially in terms of isolating Iran, combating extremism in the Middle East, possibly getting a peace deal. And so he`s hearing from a lot of people a little bit of what he wants to hear.

WILLIAMS: Josh, that word "relationship" covers a lot of ground. And they know it as well. How much of this do you think can be reduced to the simple equation of Trump and money?

LEDERMAN: Probably quite a bit of it. The President has not been shy. He was actually was noting about pointing out the major financial interests that the U.S. has in having a close relationship with the Saudis, with these major arms sales that the President says creates all kinds of jobs in the united states.

But I also think that we have to realize that while the reaction to this kind of transactional approach of the President in Washington has been pretty universally terrible that there may be a lot of people out in the country, Trump voters in particular, who are not internationalists, who think that the U.S. has spent too many days over the last many years telling other countries what to do and prioritizing those kinds of issues above the issues that really matter to the United States` bottom line, to what is best for our country.

And that there may be some credibility that the President has when he says, "Look, this was not somebody that was directly -- we were responsible for taking care of and that the U.S. should prioritize some of its own interests even in this really terrible case." You know, there are hundreds of people that have died in Yemen, innocent civilians, women, children at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition there. The United States has not pulled our support for Saudi Arabia there because we have other interests and that may be how the President and some of his supporters see it in this case too.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, somebody looking at this story tonight and kind of summing it all up said to me why isn`t the President on team America? Why is this happening?

And to you, I guess, given your resume and experience what kind of advice do you think he`s getting from the professionals? And I guess the intelligence community can only do so much. If the boss wants to ignore the briefer, then that`s a problem.

BASH: I think what national security professionals are saying is that Saudi Arabia is a cornerstone of American foreign policy objectives in the Middle East and it`s also possible for something else to be true, which is that this heinous murder was conducted with the blessing and knowledge of the highest levels of the Saudi government. Both statements can be true.

And we can pursue our interests and work with Saudi Arabia in the future to push back on Isis and Al Qaeda and the Jihadi elements and also Iranian extremism, but we can`t let this moment pass where we`re going to make an important statement about American values, American principles, and not just simply put profits over our principles.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, you`d be forgiven for fearing that Rudy Giuliani had been placed in witness protection the last couple of weeks. I thought he was going to show up at a three-bedroom home in Nevada. But he has been solidly MIA, I think you`d agree, until, that is, the "Washington Post" and your colleague`s named Costa, Rucker and Dossy, got him on the record on the Saudi matter.

I`m going to read it to you. "Giuliani said that Trump is not naive about Mohammed`s authoritarian moves to consolidate power inside his kingdom, recalling that the President privately expressed concern about the crown prince`s methods after he jailed a number of critics and royal family members last November. "I know the bloom is off the rose with the crown prince," Giuliani said. The President way back then started to have a more complex view of him."

So some people have kind of distilled that into he was naive until he learned later how bad he was.

PARKER: Well, one thing is just to the witness protection program point, that Giuliani often doesn`t weigh in on the one issue we`re all desperate to hear from him on, which is what`s going on with the Mueller probe. But you can often get him on a number of other issues that don`t actually fall into his purview and which is not necessarily professionally emboldened to speak on.

But I think that view from the President -- of the President is also one that a little bit applies to his son-in-law Jared Kushner. There was a sense that they both started off very naive in terms of viewing this crown prince as a reformer, making a point of going to Saudi Arabia on their first foreign trip there.

And while yes, there may have been some moments that sort of raised the President or Mr. Kushner`s eyebrows about just what is actually going on in the kingdom, I think when you look at a key moment like this there are a lot of people who would still argue that a bit of that naivete is at play or at least that they have not sort of translated that more complex view of the kingdom into tangible action that a number of people including Republican members of Congress and the President`s own allies like Senator Lindsey Graham would like to see.

WILLIAMS: Yes, we`re going to talk about those Republican members of Congress later on in our broadcast.

Tremendous thanks to our big three for starting us off tonight. To Ashley Parker, to Jeremy Bash and Josh Lederman, appreciate it. Thank you, folks.

Coming up for us, Rod Rosenstein speaking out in this rare interview with the "Wall Street Journal." What he`s saying about the Mueller investigation and job security.

And later, the President says when it comes to college-educated women he`ll have their vote. He says he offers them what no Democrat can.

THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The man in charge of the Russia investigation is again defending its integrity and his. In a rare interview with the "Wall Street Journal" Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said, "I committed I would ensure the investigation was appropriate and independent and reached the right result, whatever it may be. I believe I have been faithful to that."

As for his relationship with President Trump, his prospects for, say, continued employment, Rosenstein went on to say, "The President knows that I am prepared to do this job as long as he wants me to do this job."

Meanwhile, here`s how Trump characterized the Mueller investigation, appearing on Fox Business last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: First of all, there was no collusion, there was no Russia -- do you think I`d call Russia, I need help in Idaho, I need help in Iowa. Oh, let`s call Russia. It`s a con job.

Our Justice Department and FBI played right into their hands with this stupid investigation or whatever you call it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Also tonight, a day after the President called his former personal attorney a liar and nothing more than a P.R. guy, NBS News is confirming Michael Cohen was back to talk to federal prosecutors in New York just today. Sources say it`s part of his ongoing cooperation with the Mueller effort.

And finally, today was White House Counsel Don McGahn`s last day at work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While his departure was expected, we didn`t know it was official until "The New York Times" broke word of it tonight. And it`s notable for this reason. Remember, McGahn has spent over 30 hours talking to Mueller`s investigators.

With us tonight to talk about it, Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.

Joyce, first off, Rosenstein, one doesn`t get to the conference room on the fourth floor of the Justice Department by accident. Obviously, this was by invitation, by prearrangement. It`s the "Wall Street journal." Why now? And did you find any more notable quotes in what he said?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: It`s very unusual for a Deputy Attorney General to sit down and give the press sort of a free-ranging interview that`s not related to a specific case or policy that`s being announced. So I think it is curious. One might easily ask the question why he did it today. I don`t really discern a clear answer to that question looking at his comments, but it`s good to see him hitting hard and firmly maintaining that the investigation is independence and that it will reach a result with integrity.

WILLIAMS: One of the best reporters covering this White House, Maggie Haberman of the "New York Times," appeared on our competition over at CNN tonight. And because this reporting is hers, we wanted to share it in her own words. She`s talking about something specific she has noticed about the President`s communications just recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He had taken a break from agitating about this. He had not tweeted the words "witch hunt" for a month. And the way it had been described to me by several people close to him was, a, he personally believed that Mueller was winding down, for whatever reason. And we don`t know why. But that he believed that, number one.

And number two, he also believed that all he could do was rock the boat. And yet here you had him doing it again this week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So Joyce, do you believe that, part one and part two, where do you think, I know you`re asked this all the time, where do you think the Mueller effort is?

VANCE: It did seem like someone took the President`s phone out of his hands for a couple of weeks. You know his Twitter feed was conspicuously silent and not using the term "witch hunt" and not trying to call out individual employees at the FBI and the justice department who he was offended by. So that seemed actually to be a positive development.

Whether or not that means that the President believes that this investigation is coming to a conclusion, it`s tough to say. But one thing that I know from my years in DOJ is oftentimes people who are looking at an investigation from the outside and concluding that it will wrap up a certain way, that there will be indictments, that there won`t be indictments, those people are often sadly mistaken when the final results are released from the grand jury.

It`s very difficult to predict these results from the outside because we don`t know all of the evidence that Mueller has available. We don`t know if he thinks that there are gaps in the evidence that makes it difficult for him to indict additional cases or potentially he`s sitting on the mother lode and could really be looking at a full-blown series of indictments that would sort of shoe in a serious way to this idea that there was collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russian interests.

WILLIAMS: That`s why we so often use the iceberg example here. We are unsure.

VANCE: Exactly.

WILLIAMS: Judging it from what`s visible and the business end of this thing is way underwater for good reason.

Joyce Vance, it`s always a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on tonight.

VANCE: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up, a veteran of politics, a veteran of journalism weighing in on the political implications of all of this when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The whole thing is so disgraceful. So it continues. It`s a witch hunt. It`s nothing more than a witch hunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: President Trump, as you`ve heard, again on defense over this Mueller investigation in a week that saw him heavily criticized for his response to the disappearance of this journalist in Turkey.

With us to talk about it all, Clarence Page, veteran journalist, columnist for the Chicago tribune, and former 11-term republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, who left Congress as the last Republican member of Congress from New England, from `07 to his departure in `09.

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE: So sad.

WILLIAMS: I know. Well, but you got up off the canvas and here you are. So Clarence, what do we think the President -- who do we think is advising the President on this Saudi matter?

PAGE: That`s a good question here, because he has been very defensive toward the Saudis. Protective, one might say, in trying to find excuses for not pressing more firmly against the Saudi regime and investigating this particular homicide really is what it looks like that is what`s happened to Mr. Khashoggi. Our colleague, a part-time columnist there at the "Washington Post."

And it`s sort of a controversy that has pitted the President against the more humanitarian-minded foreign policy experts in the House and the Senate who want to see that this administration exert some kind of pressure, some kind of punishment.

Mr. Trump is trying to avoid that. And he may be primarily advised by his own experience with the Saudis as having a number of private business relationships. That was his first big overseas trip when he became President.

He`s always had a close relationship with the regime and trying to make it closer. And it raises a lot of serious questions about how he really feels not just about the Saudi regime but also how he feels about the whole issue of human rights in our foreign policy.

WILLIAMS: So Congressman, you`ve got the Russia thing going on in the background. It`s a constant in the Trump presidency. You`ve got the Kavanaugh matter, seen as a total through the uprights victory for the White House at least.

Then along comes this Saudi matter, truly out of nowhere. How big do you think this will loom in the Trump administration writ large and how do you think it`s playing around the world?

CHRISTOPHER SHAYS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN (R), CONNECTICUT: It`s huge, and it should be huge. I mea, this president doesn`t understand what makes America great. And what makes it great is our willingness to speak out for a man that was brave and yet naive and deserves all the respect we can give him and all the clout we can muster to confront the people who did this.

WILLIAMS: And what would that look like, as we say, in normal times?

SHAYS: Well, I think it will be ugly, but I think it has to happen. When Lech Walesa, that Polish leader, came to Congress and addressed Congress, he said when I climbed over that chain-link fence I knew there was one place in the world would know what I did and I was willing to do it because of you members of Congress and because of your government.

WILLIAMS: Clarence, the media blitz we`ve seen, the President just in the last few days, what do we have, "60 Minutes," we have Associated Press, we had Fox Business, we had another availability or two today. Are we to assume he`s driving it?

PAGE: Well, he`s very concerned about the upcoming midterm elections for very good reason, because it looks like the Republicans are -- a 4 out of 5 chance they`re going to lose control of the House. The Senate appears to be safe for them.

But Mr. Trump in the past hasn`t been that great about campaigning for other people. He was terrific on campaigning for himself, and his endorsement does carry a lot of weight with Republican voters or those who are on the fence who would vote Republican if you could roust them out of their homes to go to the polling place.

So that`s been an important driving force for him. It hasn`t been important enough for him to study that much about who the candidates actually are and the issues that they`re working on. He`s not a detail man. We know that.

In the past he hasn`t had to be. But his main function right now as far as he`s concerned is promoting the -- not just his own administration but the future of his ability to function as President and to try to keep that conservative majority that he has in both Houses.

WILLIAMS: Congressman, I keep checking the museum of natural history here in New York to see if there`s an exhibit called moderate Republican and see who they`ll choose to be on the other side of the glass. But it`s that desperate for moderate Republicans like yourself.

As far as I know you, everything in you constitutionally wants to vote on the Republican column. If you were hired to go into the White House and make the case for this President, how does he pull you over onto his side? How could he do that?

SHAYS: He can`t. He can`t.

WILLIAMS: It`s done and dusted?

SHAYS: No. I mean, when he calls Hillary Clinton a crook, I think he`s a crook. When he calls Ted Cruz a liar, I think he`s a liar. And when he closes his eyes to this brutal, terrible, gross murder that took place, premeditated, and doesn`t care, I mean, how do I feel he could reach me in any way?

But understand, this is a President who wants to conquer and divide. He doesn`t want anyone in the middle. You`re either with me or you`re against me. That`s the way he likes it. And so, what he`s done very cleverly, he`s made the Democrats more extreme.

I mean, frankly I wouldn`t want to vote for a Democrat. I mean, as a general -- as a party. I mean, what do they offer? Because no one`s coming and talking with each other. No one`s meeting in the middle. No one`s trying to solve problems.

I mean, there`s an article in the back page of the "Times" about an $18 trillion deficit. When times are good -- my parents wanted their four boys to go to church. And I remember one of the stories of Joseph saying to the pharaoh these are good times, save for the good times because there will be seven bad years.

We are in good times. We`re not only not saving. We`re deficit. I mean, this is a country in peril.

WILLIAMS: That is the wisdom you hear from a veteran journalist and an 11- term veteran of the House of Representatives. Our thanks tonight to two of our friends, Clarence Page and Christopher Shays.

And coming up, the President insists college-educated women as a category want what he can offer vis-a-vis our current conversation. But the polls, however, are saying something else.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRISH REGAN, FOX BUSINESS ANCHOR: -- women, let me ask you about that. If you look at the poll numbers, if you look at the poll numbers, they`re not -- they`re not liking you. So how do you overcome that right now?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With the women, they want security and they want financial security too. If they don`t go out and vote, then they have themselves to blame because they`ll lose wealth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: With the midterms now 20 days out the President who yesterday called a woman Horseface and did so publicly on Twitter said this today. "College educated women want safety, security and health care protections very much along with financial and economic health for themselves and our country. I supply all of this far better than any Democrat for decades actually. That`s why they will be voting for me."

Trump standing with women, especially those with college degrees, has been an issue since the presidential election when he captured just 37 percent of that group`s vote in 2016. Recent polling is showing that Trump and the Republicans have not won over a majority of women. Just 33 percent have given their approval of Trump.

When it comes to Congress, 60 percent of women prefer Democrats to be in control as opposed to 32 percent. A lot of numbers in there unaccounted for of course. Preferring Republicans.

With us tonight to talk about all of it Katie Rogers, White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for "The Guardian."

Sabrina, I want to show you something provided you can see it there in your studio. We`ve put together a graphic of 17 different frames, largely the same scene. This is the cabinet room, west-wing of the White House.

We have highlighted the lower right and colorized it for a reason. Of the 17 cabinet meetings the only one we could find where the President is flanked by female members of his cabinet was today.

Now, do you think that would have any relationship to his now famous use of the word "Horseface" yesterday?

SABRINA SIDDQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, it`s certainly true that this is a President who lacks diversity in his administration and that is extended also to the representation among women. He has a history of making comments that are insulting or demeaning toward women, often of course as we know commenting on their physical appearance.

And it`s certainly true that to some extent it`s been baked into the perception of who he is, a slim majority of white women helped propel him to the White House and voted for him despite the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he bragged about groping and kissing women without their consent.

But now he is of course the president of the United States and you do have that significant gender gap that Republicans face well into the double digits. These kinds of comments, Horseface, come on the heels of the very contentious Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle which also was -- polling showed women overwhelmingly disapproved of.

So there is the potential for the President`s comments and demeanor to exacerbate the party`s problems when it comes to women voters with less than three weeks till the November midterms.

WILLIAMS: So Katie, coming off the point Sabrina just made and coming off yesterday which we will just not consider a day of outreach to moderate voters, do you think the President at bare minimum can count on the voters he had in 2016 to come out in 20 days?

KATIE ROGERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely. I mean, Republicans close to the President I talked to today, Republican Pollsters. I mean they`re really making it clear that the President used the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process to animate voters who wouldn`t necessarily have come out to vote down the Republican ticket because the President was not on it.

He has somehow animated voters who wouldn`t have otherwise come out to say yes, you know, I`m freaked out by what the Democrats did during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process. I think that the President is riding high because he knows that he can stick to this game plan of I`m only going to reach out to people who already reach -- are going to reach out to me. He`s not going to be a moderating force with three weeks to go until this election. I think that is very clear.

WILLIAMS: So Sabrina, what about moderates, independents?

SIDDQUI: Well, I think that it`s true, the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation battle did energize voters on both sides of the aisle. But there was one survey I believe by the "Washington Post" and ABC that found 58 percent of women after Kavanaugh`s confirmation did not think that he should have been sent to the highest court in the land.

And so there is a real question as to how that might play itself out at the polls. And I think when the President continues to use derogatory terms to talk about women at this particular moment in time when Republicans would rather he stay on message insofar as he has one single message to appeal to voters, I would be looking at those independent or even Republican-leaning women in the suburbs.

And whether or not those who reluctantly voted for him in 2016 now have had nearly two years to see that what you saw is in fact what you got, that there really was no moderating shift when it comes to the president nearly two years into office.

WILLIAMS: And Katie, about that building behind you, the U.S. capitol, what about the grown-ups? What about the Republicans elected to seats in the House and Senate? Can they still be expected, same level of support even given what we`ve witnessed over the past 48, 72 hours?

ROGERS: Yes, I mean, I was talking to -- I talked to Newt Gingrich a couple hours ago by phone just saying hey, does this move the needle, is this a political problem? I mean, Republicans will say what this President has done is unbecoming of his office.

But the President in his tweet today reaching out to college-educated women, I mean, he has a problem. He will have a problem with them. But he is resting on a strong economy. He`s resting on good jobs numbers.

And ultimately that is what Republican grown-ups, as you say, that is what is going to ring the bell for them and for their voters. And that`s what their gamble is, to alienate people who might have gone toward the middle or gone toward a more moderate decision. I mean, he`s not going to go for that. He`s going to go for people who already support him.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I`m looking at the headline in the "Washington Post" about the word he used yesterday. It says he chooses his base over the women who could swing the midterms. So we`ll see about all of it. 20 days to wait to get the results.

To Katie Rogers, Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you both very much for coming on. We always appreciate it.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: And coming up this evening, it is a seat held by the same Democrat for over a decade in a blue state. So why, you may ask, are Democrats spending millions in a hurry in these final weeks before the midterms to hold on to it?

Steve Kornacki has it all at the big board for us when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: This is obvious. For the Democrats every Senate race in this midterm election 20 days from today is critical. That would include in a race in New Jersey, blue state where the party was once considered a lock, right now it`s an unexpected dog fight.

Republican Bob Hugin is looking to unseat Democrat Bob Menendez has release a controversial ad, reviving unproved and allegation against the Senator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: When will we as a society begin to believe women? To trust women?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What a hypocrite. What about the underage girls who accused you, according to the FBI?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Jersey`s Bob Menendez is being force to deny allegation that engaging with prostitutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So Menendez says the stop is called "Desperate and blatantly flase ad. He called Hugin his opponent the slimiest of slimeballs. The "Washington Post" headline is this, there`s still no evidence Robert Menendez slept with underage prostitutes. A new attack ad says it anyway.

Let`s talk about this race because it`s importance tonight. It put Steve Kornacki our National Political Correspondent at the big board.

Steve, of course, we`re seeing the media campaign, because we`re living in the media market. We`re also seeing the war on lawn signs. A lot of Menendez in the northern part of the state, a lot of Hugin in the southern part of the state, we should point out Hugin is a former pharma executive and has becoming a formidable candidate.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And for Democrats a New Jersey Senate race it`s kind of supposed to be like the extra point in football, it just happens, not much suspense.

There is some suspense here. You see a new poll out, Menendez still leading this race up seven points here. But you want to know how worried Democrats are, your top Super PAC is pouring $3 million in this race stage just announced. That is money they do not want to spending in New Jersey, in the final weeks of the campaign.

It`s this ad. It`s also the fact that Menendez just a few months ago had a hung jury in a federal corruption trial. Look, he`s ahead in poll, but look at these underlying numbers for Menendez, this is what makes Democrats nervous, his personal favorability in this poll the New Jersey 36 percent of people with a favorable view, a majority with unfavorable view.

Normally, these would be poisonous, toxic, and Menendez would be a political goner. Why do Democrats still think he has a chance? Why he still in the race, why is he still leading in this poll? It`s very easy. Donald Trump approval rating in New Jersey right now is 33 percent.

And so the thought here for Democrat is there`s going to be a lot of voters that go into the polls and they essentially hold their nose. It`s a blue state, Trump is very unpopular. They go to the polls, they see Menendez`s name, they don`t like him personally, they may not like the corruption scandal around him.

But they`ll say got to vote for a Democrat against Trump. The other thing, that may save Menendez in this race. Look, this is the voting history for Senate races. We say it`s like an extra point for a democratic Senate candidate in New Jersey.

Look at this, going all the way back to 1972, that`s the last time a Republican won a Senate election in New Jersey Clifford Case a liberal Republican back in `72. It`s been all Democratic since then. So, this is sort of the ultimate test, Brian, I think for New Jersey and its allegiance to Democrats in races for the U.S. Senate.

Because Bob Menendez, in almost any other circumstance, I think he would be losing this reelection campaign right now. But could the poisonous unpopularity of Donald Trump in blue state of New Jersey save Menendez?

Democrats certainly nervous enough to putting some big bucks into this race right now though, we can say that for the very least.

WILLIAMS: Really important stuff from a man who we all admit will be the busiest man in television 20 nights from now. Steve Kornacki, Steve, thank you, as always. And allow me to do this. Steve`s new book, "The Red and The Blue," the 1990s and the birth of political tribalism is just out and available now.

And coming up, again, tonight, the year 1968 is in the news. There`s something about that 50th anniversary that makes people take a fresh look at our past. That story, when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, last evening, if you watched, you know we talked about 1968. And tonight`s final story comes from that year as well. If you had a loved one in the fight in Vietnam, they faced greatly increased odds of being killed or wounded during `68. The year of the Tet Offensive, the year of the worst single battle of the war, the fight for the old city of Hue, along the once beautiful stretch of the Perfume River.

It was over 10,000 people who died in the end, and when it was over, there wasn`t much of the city left. The story of the battle is superbly told in painful detail by author Mark Bowden, who give us Blackhawk down. His newest book is "Hue 1968."

The battle for Hue is in the news today, because the nation has a brand new Medal of Honor recipient. John Canley, is a retired Marine Corp Sergeant Major, a rank that meant his job was to care for his men and lead them at all cost and he did.

It is estimated that in the seven straight days he spent in combat in Hue, despite his own wounds, he saved at least 20 men, often while exposed openly to enemy fire. At one point he just stood up on the battle field and went to work.

He was originally awarded the Navy Cross, along with his Bronze Star and Purple Heart. But more and more marines came forward and talking about his actions in saving their lives. It was upgraded, you might say, effective today, to the Medal of Honor.

Born in Arkansas, he lives in California now, he`s 80 years old, and seems about half that. And consider this, Sergeant Major Canley is the 300th marine in our history to receive the Medal of Honor, 58 of those came for combat actions in Vietnam. As of today, there are now 74 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

And so that is our broadcast on a Wednesday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END