Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: October 25, 2018 Guest: Chuck Rosenberg, Berit Berger, Eli Stokols, Anita Kumar, Doris Kearns Goodwin
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, more bombs had been found. This time targeting Biden and De Niro as authorities warn this may not be over, as investigators center on a Florida town in the hunt for possible leads.
Plus, the President`s opportunity to unite, he called for peace and harmony after all, then went after the media blaming America`s anger on fake news, warning the mainstream media must clean up its act fast.
We`ll look at what this unsettling time means for our country with the help of Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 644 of the Trump administration.
This scene may be symbolic of the mood on our country right now, at least some of the major cities as authorities hunt for whoever has sent parcels containing mail bombs.
Tonight in New York and L.A., police responded to calls for suspicious packages. All clear now, we`re happy to report at both locations. The California building they responded to houses some federal offices, including those of Senator Dianne Feinstein. So attention was heightened there, but again, all clear.
Also tonight, Miami-Dade police bomb squad and the feds have been searching aU.S. mail facility in Opa-locka, Florida. They believe some of those packages containing bomb sent to prominent critics of President Trump may have come through that mail facility.
Today three more packages were found. Two apparently intended for Vice President Joe Biden, the other for Oscar Winning actor Robert De Niro who has clashed with Trump. This is how we all heard about it this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The NYPD bomb squad is now on the scene of another suspicious package. This one in lower Manhattan, the Tribeca neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have breaking news in Delaware where officials have just recovered another suspicious device that was being addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the same time we know there`s other things going on, packages were in Los Angeles, in Maryland. And now we find something could be developing in Delaware.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That brings the number of confirmed suspicious packages discovered to 10 since Monday. As the nation was waking up to the news, this is what the President was thinking, and we, "A very big part of the," capital A, "anger we see today in our society as caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the mainstream media that I refer to as fake news. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream media must clean up its act fast.
More on that later on in this broadcast, but here is what we know about these latest packages. The one addressed to De Niro was sent to the lower Manhattan building where his restaurant and offices are located. Then two more found in postal facilities in Wilmington and Newcastle, Delaware, both addressed to Biden. Investigators say they now believe all the packages were sent through the mail. They say some were postmarked. Investigators also say all the devices appear to be made with 1-inch diameter PVC pipe and filled with explosive powder.
Broken glass apparently has been added as shrapnel, and electric circuit apparently a timer was taped to the side although its exact function isn`t yet known. None of the bombs detonated and investigators say they now believe some of them were unable to, and they are treating them all, however, as potentially deadly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES O`NEILL, NYPD COMMIONER: We have to treat them as, as live devices. This is a protocol that our bomb squad people use and it keeps everybody safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tonight the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, interviewed at the southern border for a Fox News broadcast, weighed in on the investigation with this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIRSTJEN NEILSEN, DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Any threat of violence cannot be tolerated by this country. And the way we look at this at DHS, you know, we have expanded our efforts. Hate is hate, violence is violence.
This is a clear attempt to undermine our democracy and our democratic processes. So we can`t stand for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: There has been considerable discussion about whether the President`s incendiary rhetoric and his attacks may be linked to the series of mailings. So far they are all critics of the President and targets of the President.
Today the White House Press Secretary was asked if Trump planned to make any changes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he going to stop insulting the people who received these bombs?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the President is going to continue to layout the contrast between Democrats and Republicans. And if you`ll let me finish I`ll answer it.
The President is going to continue to layout the and the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Americans have a choice to make and he`s going to lay that out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And just a few hours ago, one of the intended recipients of today`s packages had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, (D), FMR. U.S. VICE PRESSIDENT: My hope is this recent spat of, this who knows exactly what they were. But these pipe bombs being mailed, might wake everybody in my business up a little bit and realize that we have to begin to put this country back together again.
This division, this hatred, this ugliness it has to end. Words matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Joe Biden in Buffalo, New York tonight.
Let`s bring in our lead off panel for a Thursday evening. Chuck Rosenberg, Former Senior FBI Official, also happens to be former U.S. Attorney. Berit Berger, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and the Southern District of New York. And Eli Stokols back with us, White House Reporter for the "L.A. Times." Good evening and welcome to you all.
Chuck, when you add this up, two presidents, a vice-president, secretary of state, first lady, member of Congress, an attorney general, sooner or later someone at the White House might start treating this as a more serious matter. How would you approach and how do you think investigators are approaching this case?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL: Well, I can assure you, Brian, that investigators are treating this as a very serious matter. Lots of resources are being dedicated to the forensic examination of the devices.
And what I call the street examination. Talking to people who may have seen something or somebody, following up leads that come in from the public, looking at tips, there`s a lot of folks working on this right now.
And I do want to mention one agency that doesn`t get a lot of credit, but should, folks in federal law enforcement know that the postal inspection service, the federal criminal arm of the postal service, the men and women who carry badges and guns and investigate crimes against postal workers, and crimes involving stuff mailed through our postal system. They`re a terrific agency, and I am sure that they are integrally involved in this investigation, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Chuck, I`ve heard that repeatedly from people like yourself who worked with them in the federal government. Have long maintained that sending a letter through the postal service, 50 cents for Manhattan to Honolulu is one of the great bargain of the world. Six hundred thousand postal employees, and yet this sub unit, this service, most civilians would never have any cause to know exist.
ROSENBERG: They really wouldn`t. You almost have to be part of the federal law enforcement community. I was a prosecutor to know about them. I had the privilege of working cases with them. They are like ATF or DEA or FBI agents. Highly trained, highly professional and very, very good at what they do.
And as a case like this one involved, something being sent through the mails, they`re the folks you want to turn to.
WILLIAMS: And of course, this means, Berit Berger, that these, these have all passed through the postal system putting a lot of those employees unknowingly at risk.
You investigated some bombing cases, I know, during your time with the Eastern District. I don`t want this to be taken wrong. We have a perverse blessing this case. We have a lot of evidence and a lot of hardware. We have a lot of these parcels intact.
BERIT BERGER, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF N.Y.: Right, which is an amazing tool for law enforcement at this point. They can, as Chuck was mentioning, they can look at the forensics, they can look at DNA, but they can also look at the actual devices themselves. We`re fortunate that they didn`t go off so they can look at all of the underlying materials that went into this.
So you mention the investigation we had in our case, the would-be bombers had actually used hydrogen peroxide and acetone to try to create this. Well, the FBI was able to go track down receipts and surveillance videos from these beauty supply stores that our would-be bombers were shopping at. That`s how sort of in the weeds they could get based on knowing what materials the bombers would want for this.
So I imagine the FBI is going to be doing the exact same thing here.
WILLIAMS: And no matter how careful this bomb maker, they`re covered in scotch tape. That`s kind of a DNA magnet. If a fragment, a hair, couple of skin cells fell out and into these parcels, that`s a lead.
BERGER: It`s exactly right. This is a treasure trove of evidence for law enforcement officials at this point.
WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, let`s talk about how seriously this White House has been taking it. You heard me -- when you sum it up and list these officials including but not limited to two of our former presidents, the President had a chance to mention their names in his rally last night, took a pass. Is there a disconnect between how shaken up some folks are in these major cities where this has happened, and the White House view of this?
ELI STOKOLS, LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: There certainly seems to be, Brian. The President hasn`t mentioned these people by name, the targets of these explosive devices. As far as we know, he hasn`t called any of them to share his concerns and make sure that they know that the President is working on this and that the government is investigating, hasn`t done any of that.
And very quickly, let it be known that he believes that in all of this, the biggest victim is himself. He believes that he`s being victimized by the national media. He`s blaming the media for creating a climate of division that has led to this.
His Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders this morning, stood outside the White House and said, you know, this is really not fair to put this on the President. You didn`t blame Bernie Sanders when a Sanders supporter went to a baseball field and shot up a soccer practice and ended up hitting Republican Congressman Steve Scalise."
Obviously part of the reason that you don`t blame Bernie Sanders for that is that Bernie Sanders wasn`t out there at rallies saying that the opposition party or the enemy of the people, that the media are the enemy of the people, he wasn`t out there celebrating violence against reporters saying that he`d like to punch protesters in the face. These are all things that this President has said and given voice to.
And at the end of the day, he is saying that the media is responsible for the divisiveness in this country, even though it seems that the media is reflecting and telling the story of the President and his divisiveness. But that is just not something that this President is willing to accept.
WILLIAMS: Berit, I was moving through mid town Manhattan earlier this afternoon, and these days you see columns of police cars moving across town. Some of them emergency services. You don`t know, but there is just a heightened tenor and tempo. I`ve heard politicians call this domestic terrorism. In your view, do you think this matches the definition?
BERGER: I think it is domestic terrorism, absolutely. I think these were acts that were intended to intimidate, attempted to have a coerce of effect on the political dialogue. That being said, just because something fits within the definition of domestic terrorism doesn`t necessarily mean that if and when the person or persons were apprehended, that they could or should be charged with terrorism offenses. There is no specific federal charge of domestic terrorism.
And in fact, many of the domestic terrorism cases we think about are actually charged under other types of statutes. So I don`t know that it would ultimately be charged as that, but I think it would certainly fit within what we think of as the definition of domestic terrorism.
WILLIAMS: Chuck, there was a real story of heroism that emerged from this here in New York last night. Robert De Niro apparently employs some retired NYPD detectives, one of whom was at home at 11:00 o`clock at this hour last night watching the news, saw more of the description of the package, light bulb went off. He got dressed, went to work because he had recalled seeing an envelope come into the De Niro offices on Tuesday. He called the bomb squad. The rest is history.
Chuck, do a little profiling here. looking at these packages, and it`s important that they all be opened in the same place, and you don`t have different police departments tearing them open so we can glean as much as possible. What kinds of people, traditionally, have done something like this?
ROSENBERG: Well, lots of different people, from the mentally ill to, as Berit said, terrorists, and everyone in between. You have to be awfully careful here, Brian, as an investigator not to try and fit your facts into any preconceived notions. You have to be open to the possibility that just that anybody can do this. And good agents and good prosecutors and Berit was one of the best, know that you go into an investigation with that open mind.
So, as to that officer who remembered seeing something on television and then called the police department, Chris Wray put out a statement which I think is worth reiterating. If anybody sees something, even if you think it`s something insignificant, call. You never know what little piece of information might trigger an opening in this case. And don`t wait to call. If you think you have something of value to the FBI, let them know now.
Somebody somewhere must have seen something, and that is often the way that we resolve these cases.
WILLIAMS: And, Chuck, one of my greatest fears is one is these have already been delivered and maybe they`re sitting in mailboxes undiscovered, or like the De Niro office, they were sitting in a bin having already arrived.
ROSENBERG: Absolutely. That is a danger. And, so, an extra vigilance, an extra precaution is really called for here, Brian. But, again, lots of people might have seen something. And if one of those people right now is listening to your show, please call with information. That is always helpful to law enforcement.
WILLIAMS: Eli Stokols, to your point to this plot line of blaming the media, I want to run just a collection of that for you to make the point that the message is getting through, at least the Republican ranks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED CRUZ, (R-TX) SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: It`s the media doing what the media does, which, which is any narrative that they can twist against Trump they will do so.
MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: There`s a lot of blame to go around. And, yes, I think social media and mainstream media has a lot to do with why we communicate like this.
RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: What we have seen the media be unprecedented in their negative coverage of this President. The President is right in saying, "Let`s have civility in our news coverage, let`s have some fair minded news coverage in this country." And not have the bias.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Eli, I`d like to think thus far the media have pointed out the correlation between the list of bombs and the recipients, and what they have in common is they are critics of the President and targets of the President. This would be a really good time to keep tensions down.
STOKOLS: Right. And I think targets of the President is the most important thing. I mean, Maxine Waters, George Soros. The President a week ago at a rally insinuated that George Soros was potentially paying the people in the caravan, which he has made a central campaign issue. So, he is riling people up about this and the what aboutism that you hear from the White House and on down from Republicans is typical of the sort of explanations we`ve seen in other situations like this, where there is a lot of blame shifting and miss direction and saying, it`s actually the media`s fault.
And you`re just not going to see anything different than that. There are not going to be very many calls from Republicans on the President to be actually unifying.
The President himself at his rally in Wisconsin last night kind of gave a wink and a nod couple of times to the crowd, aren`t I being nice right now? He was basically telling them, the calls for unity, is "being Presidential," that that was a put-on, that that was an act, it was temporary. And, so, you`re just not going to see Republicans try to correct that because they are completely bought in to what is sort of an election season campaign approach that is all about sowing division, driving that wedge, complaining about Democrats, portraying them as a mob, and they`re not going to step back from that. They believe that it`s about winning and losing.
The President himself measures things in terms of wins and losses. Did he regret insulting Senator Cruz? No. He said the other day, "It worked out nicely for me because I won." Did he regret mocking Christine Blasey Ford? "No," he told Leslie Stahl, because it turned out that Kavanaugh was confirmed. This is about wins and losses, not moral leadership for this President.
There is an election less than two weeks. That is the focus for him, and for Republicans. You`re not going to see a change.
WILLIAMS: Berit Berger, quick last word. You know the feds, you know how good they are at this. Do you think we`ll get resolution, we`ll get a suspect or suspects soon?
BERGER: Absolutely. This is the kind of occasion where the FBI, the law enforcement partners they`re working with, this is where they shine. They do incredibly well in this. They rally their national resources. Effectively, I would be shocked if we don`t have somebody in custody soon.
WILLIAMS: Let`s not forget the folks at ATF who do this for a living of course.
Another serious night on our hands. We couldn`t ask for three better contributors to start off our conversation. Our thanks to Chuck Rosenberg, to Berit Berger and to Eli Stokols.
Coming up for us, more on the split reaction from the Trump team calling for unity, for peace, for harmony, right before blaming the media for the nation`s anger.
Later, Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin is here for some perspective on these days we`re living through. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s called out the media, does he acknowledge he also has a direct role to play?
SANDERS: Look, there is a big difference between comments made and actions taken. The President is certainly not responsible for sending suspicious packages to someone. No more than Bernie Sanders was responsible for a supporter of his shooting up a Republican baseball field practice last year. The idea that this is at the hands of the President is absolutely ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Anyone else notice the White House driveway passes for the new White House briefing room. They have a perfectly nice briefing room right inside the structure. We haven`t seen much of Sarah Huckabee Sanders on camera much in recent weeks. But today the White House Press Secretary defended the President`s comments blaming the media for anger in America.
Just last night at his rally in Wisconsin, he called for all sides to come together in peace and harmony. His words. following news of these explosive devices have been mailed to top Democrats and to CNN.
Peter Baker and Jeremy Peters of "The New York Times" write, "Upset the critics linked a spate of pipe bombs targeting his adversaries to his own angry messaging, Mr. Trump abandoned the scripted call for a national solidarity he issued today before and lashed out at perceived enemies for fomenting the toxic political environment they say he has encouraged."
Earlier today, former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt said, "To find the parallel to what we are witnessing right now this week, you`d have to go all the way back to 1865."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We haven`t seen anything like it since the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. This was a mass assassination attempt, including two former presidents, a former vice- president of the United States, a former attorney general of the United States, a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
The person who is responsible for sending bombs to all of those people is the person who mailed the bombs. Donald Trump did not mail the bombs, but he created the atmosphere where a sick person would look at those individuals and see an enemy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Boy, that`s saying a lot. Anita Kumar is with us, White House Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers and the aforementioned Jeremy Peters back with us, Political Reporter for "The New York Times."
Anita, Steve Schmidt has this way of focusing the mind. And when you hear it in those words, when you hear the list of recipients of these packages, it really focuses the mind. Question for you is, is the White House political operation just continuing to go forward unabated? We had Wisconsin last night. President`s got North Carolina tomorrow night. Are these parallel universes?
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, I don`t think you`re going to see the President stop campaigning. He`s going too be, as you mentioned, campaigning in Friday and Saturday, and I can expect him to be campaigning every day for the -- till the, you know, till the election, November 6.
You know they felt like yesterday at the White House that when CNN issued their statement, sort of pushing back on the President`s comments, and I think Sarah Huckabee Sanders as well, they felt like that statement was over the top, that it just overdid it. And that they could go back to their message of the long-time strategy of pushing back on the media. That was the message that kind of did it for them. That statement from CNN.
And they felt like, OK, they overdid it, so we can go back to bashing the media. The thing that`s been working with their base, the thing that they`ve been talking about, you know, for months and months since they`ve been there in the administration, and talking about all these campaign rallies. The other thing is that you saw a lot of Democrats also, you know, agree with the media or agree with CNN and so they went back to pushing back on the Democrats, this angry mob. So, they`ve gone back to the same strategy that they`ve had from the very beginning.
WILLIANS: Jeremy, you and Peter Baker quoted John Brennan, who tweeted this today, "Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror." This is directed at the President who called Brennan a low life and pulled his security clearance. "Stop blaming others. Look in the mirror. Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies and encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act, try to act presidential. The American people deserve much better. By the way your critics will not be intimated into silence."
So that`s John Brennan, who as I said last night doesn`t scare easily, former head of the CIA, long-time overseas station chief for the CIA. But Jeremy, when he turns around, who is with him? And would we know it if this were going to be a turning point?
JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I would not expect a turning point at all, Brian. I mean, what was it? Twelve hours it took the President to abandon his calls for --
PETERS: -- reconciliation and national unity before he was out seeing a victim in all of this, that victim being himself? So, no, there is not really going to be another Donald Trump, and I don`t know that there is going to be one for the remainder of his presidency. This is the guy that was elected and he`s going to stay that way.
I think what we have to come to terms with and expect from now on is -- if we don`t already -- is in situations like this, we don`t have a unifier. We don`t have an empathetic leader like we have had in these moments of national trauma where Bill Clinton spoke to the nation after the Oklahoma City bombings and said that he rejected the voices that foment paranoia.
The problem right now is that those voices are in the President`s ear every day. The President often gives platform to them. Sometimes the President himself is that voice, and that`s really what`s different about our political culture at this moment.
I will add that when Bill Clinton spoke out against those angry paranoid voices after the Oklahoma city bombing, it was widely assumed that he was referring to people like Rush Limbaugh, who angrily reacted after Clinton spoke. Well, yesterday, what Rush Limbaugh did, 25 years later, was come out and say that these bombings were likely a Democratic ploy.
WILLIAMS: Yes, saw that. Noted that on our broadcast last night.
And the notion you just gave voice to is actually our last segment tonight, looking at other presidents at other moment in our history.
Anita, this is what happens when Sarah Sanders, when the White House talks about this President and his relationship to acts or words of violence, I`m going to play for you Sarah Huckabee Sanders and then we`ll come out of that and I`ll play for you the President in Montana.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: Look, the President condemned violence in all forms, has done that since day one, will continue to do that. But certainly feels that everyone has a role to play.
TRUMP: And, by the way, never wrestle him. You understand that? Never.
Any guy that can do a body slam, he is my guy.
He is my guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Body slam, of course, in that case was a journalist. Anita, those are those two disparate elements are hard to reconcile.
KUMAR: Yes. I mean, Sarah is right about one thing, which is the President sometimes does do what she`s saying. He does occasionally on certain -- in certain moments, after a mass shooting, yesterday briefly, you know, after a hurricane, will say something that she would call presidential, that unites the country. But it`s for about five, ten minutes, right? It`s for maybe an hour.
And then most of the time he`s the person you just showed or just played in the rally. So, I mean, it just -- it goes back and forth. And obviously, the times where he`s uniting the country is much less frequent, right? So he`ll say one thing, and then he`ll go right back to talking about, you know, body slamming a reporter, or, you know, locking her up, or any of those other things. And so it`s hard to reconcile those things. It`s hard to believe him when he can go right back to saying something else.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, you`ve got this other colleague there at the times named Maggie Haberman who tweeted this tonight. "Trump`s tweet this morning wasn`t a one-off. This is about the southern border and the caravan and immigration. He is looking at closing the border entirely as a pre- election effort to stoke his base. Not clear that this would ever actually happen, only that the White House will likely drive it till November 6th".
We should probably say, Jeremy, as a viewer`s guide, closing the southern border, its 2000 miles long. It is likely if we called home every deployed member of the U.S. military, we still could not close the southern border. It appears to be a shiny object, but, Jeremy, this could be the next topic they`ll roll out.
PETERS: A shiny object perhaps, and a prelude to the arguments I expect to hear from the President and his allies in Congress in the months ahead to build his wall, to get the funding from the Congress for that.
So, yes. This is really, I think, an effort to gin up the base before the midterms. The President can close down segments of the border, sure. We saw Reagan do that, George W. Bush did that at certain ports of entry after 9/11.
This President, however, is fond of talking of using the military to execute border control operations, and that`s something that it`s not clear he has the legal authority to do. What`s more, as my colleagues pointed out in their piece tonight on Trump`s plans, his talks of shutting down the border, whatever that means, there certainly would be legal action that would follow any steps the President took along these lines. So I don`t think this is concrete by any stretch of the imagination yet.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, friends. Great conversation tonight. Anita Kumar, Jeremy Peters, always a pleasure.
And coming up for us, Trump`s approval rating technically at the highest it`s been all of 2018. But is it on the move? Just in the space of these few days and with just 12 days until the midterms, can he keep that number there? Steve Kornacki at the big board when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Twelve days until voters cast their ballots except for those voting early. A new evidence the President is casting a long shadow over these midterms. New USA today Suffolk University survey finds 43 percent of registered voters say they`ll be casting their congressional ballots to show their opposition to Trump. Thirty percent say they will be voting to show their support for the President.
Our National Political correspondent Steve Kornacki is at the big board with us tonight. Steve, I have a feeling a lot of numbers are on the move this week.
STEVE KORNACKI, NBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is -- we`ll give you what may be the single biggest variable to keep in mind over the final 12 days of this midterm campaign. And put it up right there, it`s the President`s approval rating.
Let`s put this in some perspective. In early September, if you average together all the approval rating polls that were out there about Donald Trump, just after Labor Day, this is where he was sitting on average. 40.6 percent. That was kind of a low ebb for him here in 2018 when he was sitting at 40.6 percent.
Democrats were getting very optimistic about the November midterms, about the idea of a giant wave, may be even about the idea of the U.S. Senate.
Now, around the time of the Kavanaugh controversy and into this month, he started getting poll numbers, approval ratings that have gone up. So, if you look at it right now, according to real clear politics, his average approval rating today sat at 44.7 percent.
Now you say that`s not a great number by any historical standard for a President. It isn`t a great number but it`s a key number because Republicans have been saying all year that if this number, his approval rating can be in the mid 40s, 45 percent, 46 percent, somewhere right around there, they think that could be just enough to help them hold onto the House.
Keep this in mind. 44.7 percent, this is basically the high water mark and the average for Trump`s presidency. Go all the way back to the very beginning, this is week two, the closest thing to a honeymoon he had, 47 percent.
But otherwise, look, 44.7, is about as high as it`s been. So this is a question, his handling obviously of the crisis we`re looking at right now, what is that going to do to public opinion? Is there going to be some kind of a drop here? If there`s a drop just of a couple points over the final weeks of this campaign, that could be a very big difference in terms of Republicans having a chance to hang onto the House, and Democrats starting to talk about a bigger wave again.
Does his support stay steady? Does it even go up a few points? I think it may be the single biggest variable to watch in the closing two weeks of this campaign, Brian.
WILLIAMS: You are so right. Right at the end of that graph is the X factor, and there`s the unknown. Steve Kornacki, that`s why we ask you to come on during the late shift to give us the latest numbers. We so appreciate it. Thanks.
And coming up for us, why Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin is calling this week yet another opportunity missed for Donald Trump when we continue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maxine Waters and Hillary Clinton are especially complicit. President Obama and Vice-President Biden have said divisive things. Everyone is guilty. But the point is that the burden is on the President. He has to say, this is incredibly dangerous, and he has to cool it down. Blaming the media is not good enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Frequent guest on this broadcast, A.B. daughter (ph) appearing on Fox News, plenty of strong reaction today, the President`s response to these ten explosive devices now sent to some of his most vocal critics, basically the leadership structure of the last government in charge.
The targets include two former presidents, a former vice-president, former secretary of state, former first lady, former FBI Director James Comey was invoking George Washington today when he posted this. "Example, whether it be good or bad, has a powerful influence. And the higher in rank the officer is who sets it, the more striking it is".
Doris Kearns Goodwin, Presidential Historian and Author, here with us again tonight, she`s written bestseller of course about both Roosevelt, about the Kennedy`s, about LBJ, about Lincoln. Her new book, so timely, so relevant, right now to this era we`re living in Leadership: In Turbulent Times.
Doris, I`d accuse you of selling books. It`s as if someone knew you`re going to have a book on the market to hand us such turbulent times. You were viewing what we`re witnessing just this week as another opportunity missed for this president. Why?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, AUTHOR "LEADERSHIP: IN TURBULENT TIMES": Well, crisis is always a time when you need to mobilize the people behind you. It offers you an opportunity, old Abigail Adams said great necessity calls forth great virtues.
So he had a chance, I think. I`m just listening to Steve`s numbers on the upswing. Suppose he had really used this crisis to reach out first naturally emphatically to the people who have been targeted. That`s what you do. That`s what an emphatic person would do, during any kind of battle when Lincoln was lost, the union was lost, he would go and talked to the soldiers.
He knew they wanted him to be there. And I think we should have seen him reach out to all of those people. I mean, secondly, then, he should have really thought through, I think, how do I respond to this kind of crisis?
You have to decide, this is a big moment. And he could have really decided whether to go to the rally or not, whether to give a speech from the White House. Maybe going to the rally was a risky but good decision if he could have kept the rally behind his real talk about unity and if he`s gotten angry at the people who did this and they respond to him.
But instead even that night he undercut it and said, as if he were joking. They made me do this almost. And then, of course, the next day it`s all under done. So that that sense of wanting, this country wants the healing of these divisions.
When the President could have spoken that way, suppose he shouldered some responsibility and said "I`m responsible, they`re responsible, we all have to stop this together. That`s what you want in a leader, somebody to take the responsibility. But it was them that did it, not him.
WILLIAMS: I thought of you today and your writing about Lincoln when I heard Steve Schmidt cast it in that way. Looked at differently, this was an assassination attempt, the likes of which we haven`t seen since 1865.
GOODWIN: Right. I think people sometimes forget that it wasn`t Lincoln only who was the attempted assassination person. It was Seward and the vice-president. It was the entire leadership structure. They thought if they could lop off the whole of it may be the confederacy would have a chance again. That`s in John Wilkes booth`s head.
So here we have a leadership structure. This is huge even if turns out that these bombs weren`t lethal enough, nobody knew that at the time. You have to remember what we were we knew that night that could have been the end of the lives of these people or they could have been hurt.
And that`s when you need a leader to step up. He comes out of the picture frame somebody one said and that`s when the leader have to come out on the front lap and that`s what the bully pulpit is. You educate people. You give them consolation, and you make them feel empathetic with what`s happening.
WILLIAMS: On the day a bomb arrives at CNN here in New York, the President blames the media for our troubles. I`m asked this all the time, but I`m not a historian, you are. Has there been this anti-media a President -- obviously Nixon is the nearest, I guess, modern era example.
GOODWIN: I don`t think so. I mean, I really don`t. Certainly not the entire tenure of the President so far.
WILLIAMS: To weaponize.
GOODWIN: And to make them the enemies of the people. Again, in my dreams, I imagine that he was going to come out and say an attack on CNN is an attack on the free press. I mean these are the things imagine him saying.
But instead he blamed the media once again. I mean it`s those people, it`s not him. Those are the moments, when if you can take responsibility for something and he could say we`ve all been involved in this high rhetoric, and it has to stop, people would have loved that.
And I think the base would have gone along with that. He must have made a decision however, that they might not have and it`s the base that he cares about. It`s the base that put him into election. It`s the base he loves and may be he though it would somehow undo them if he`s fighting -- not people fighting that are enemies as he made them all along. But what a sad decision, what a great decision it would have been the other way.
WILLIAMS: And to our audience, while the news so often is dark and grim that we cover at this hour every night, if you`re looking for the companion volume to what we`re witnessing every day, it is Doris` new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times. It`s always a treat to have the author here in the studio with us.
GOODWIN: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Thank you so much, Doris.
Coming up, when the President is on the phone, who`s listening on the other end? A lot of security and intel professionals fear the answer to that question. We`ll get the story from Andrea Mitchell when we`re right back.
WILLIAMS: As you may have heard today, President Trump is responding to this new report on foreign governments eavesdropping on calls made from his iPhone. The original headline in "The New York Times" certainly got our attention last night.
"When Trump phones friends, the Chinese and the Russians listen and learn." After that, the President picked up his phone and pushed back on Twitter, writing, he rarely uses a cell phone. But as many were quick to note, the tweet itself said it was sent from an iPhone. It`s also hard to tweet from a land line. A further look at the story tonight from our own Andrea Mitchell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDET: A President who is never far from his phones, tweeting constantly and calling friends from a personal phone not secured by the government. Could foreign spies be listening in?
Tonight U.S. officials tell NBC News they have been concerned for months that President Trump has been discussing sensitive information on his nonsecure iPhone with people like Sean Hannity of Fox News, and now "The New York Times" reports the Chinese and Russians are routinely eavesdropping.
NBC News has not confirmed aspects of "The New York Times" report. According to the Times, the President also calls fellow billionaires like Steven Schwarzman, and Steve Wynn, big campaign contributors with major holdings in China and contacts with China`s government. As a candidate, Mr. Trump regularly attacked Hillary Clinton for e-mailing on a private server.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Her server is easily hacked by foreign governments, perhaps even by her financial backers in communist China.
MITCHELL: President Obama reluctantly gave up his beloved Blackberry when he took office. Eight years later, joking about the government replacement.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The phone doesn`t work. You can`t play your music. So basically it`s like, does your 3- year-old have one of those play phones?
MITCHELL: Today President Trump called the Times report a fake story, tweeting, I rarely use a cell phone. And when I do, it`s government authorized. I like hard lines. But former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman tweet, he always used his personal iPhone in the White House for calls even after being told over and over again about the security risk.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This would be a gold mine in order to know how to influence him. What it is that pleases him, how you would deal with him in a negotiation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our friend Andrea Mitchell for that report tonight. Another break for us.
And coming up, a look back, as we mentioned earlier, at other times when we`ve looked to our presidents during unsettling times in our country, when we come right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The media also responsibility to set a civil tone at you stop the endless hostility and constant negative and oftentimes false attacks.
Normally I discrete they want socialist take over. Now, I said once a socialist take over. I`m trying to be nice, OK, right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was last night in Wisconsin.
Last thing before we go tonight. The President there noting how he`s been forced to changed his delivery, what he says and how he says it. After we learn that bombs were delivered to two former presidents and a number of other prominent recipients.
We hear everyday these days how this President and this presidency has toss out the norms of the past, the norms of the office. And if you can remember all the way back before the Trump era, then perhaps you remember how presidents spoke to the nation, how they exercise their custodial role as Stuart and protector of the people, including those times when President have had the comfort and reassure Americans during unsettling times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it. When problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation and the responsibility is fully my own.
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know it`s hard to understand that sometimes painful thing like this happen. It`s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. So a part of taking the chance of expanding man horizons. The future it doesn`t belong to the fainthearted. It belongs to the brave.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let there be no room for doubt. We will find the people who did this. When we do justice will be swift, certain and severe.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are a kind of nation, a compassionate nation. We`re a nation of strong value and value life. Our government is doing everything we possible can, protect the lives of our citizen, everything.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I updated leaders of Congress in both parties and we reaffirm that on days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats we are Americans united and concern for our fellow citizens. Make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this. We`ll find out why they did this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Some of the moments we remember from presidents past all of them on days we would rather forget.
That`s our broadcast for this Thursday night. We thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
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