BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, we are hours away from the Mueller team revealing more. Details on why Manafort lied to the feds and specifics on the extent of Michael Cohen`s cooperation with them. Just as we learn tonight the Trump and Mueller teams are talking again.
Also hours from now, James Comey heads back to the Hill. House Republicans want to grill him on the FBI while they still can before the Democrats take over.
And what to make of the President`s appearance and demeanor at the Bush funeral. We`ll ask the author of a book on Donald Trump about the one man among the five Presidents who stood apart. As THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. This was day 686 of the Trump administration and we are now, as we said, hours away from another critical move from Robert Mueller and his team of federal prosecutors. Put another way, by this time tomorrow, on this broadcast tomorrow night, we will likely be pouring over and discussing two documents in chief.
One of them a sentencing memo for former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen of New York who is now working for the feds. The other is a document that should explain why the feds have gone and shredded the cooperation agreement they had at one time with Paul Manafort, who now faces big jail time.
We now know according to our friends at the "New York Times" that the Manafort team was telling the Trump team what the Mueller investigators were most interested in and asking about. Just days ago, the Mueller team revealed Michael Flynn had been providing what they called substantial assistance in the Russia inquiry.
Tonight our own Kristen Welker citing two sources is reporting that Trump`s lawyers have resumed discussions with team Mueller in recent days. This is the first time that it`s been acknowledged since President Trump submitted written responses to Mueller`s questions on November 20th.
This morning, Trump renewed his social media offensive against the investigation. He offered us this, "Without the phony Russia witch-hunt and all that we have accomplished in the last almost two years, tax and regulation cuts, judges, military, vets, et cetera, my approval rating would be at 75 percent rather than the 50 percent just reported by Rasmussen. It`s called presidential harassment."
Later this afternoon during an event at the White House, there was no sign of his frustration over Mueller`s inquiry. In fact, the mood seemed downright campaign rally-like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s actually six more, we want this.
I`ve actually never hurt, four more years. That`s an interesting -- we`ll go for six and then we`ll all be in very good shape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Four more years, of course, is an expression.
Meanwhile, a new article in the Atlantic paints a picture of a White House unprepared to deal with Mueller`s findings. Once his investigation is over, "According to a half dozen current and former White House officials, the administration has no plans in place for responding to the Special Counsel`s findings, save for expecting a Twitter spree."
You may recall that earlier this year Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani had promised that Trump`s legal team planned to put out its own report to counter Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARRETT HAAKE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Talk to me a little bit about this idea of a counter report you mentioned, and you guys want to put out your own report. Is that done to undermine Mueller`s credibility? What`s the purpose of that?
RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: It`s done to answer. It`s not going to come out until he puts out a report. Of course I think even the President`s enemies would imagine that his lawyers would put out a counter to an attack.
If you`re going to write a fair report, fine, write it. If you`re going to write an unfair report, write it, and we will combat it. We`re ready to rip it apart. And we`re ready to rip them apart if that`s what they want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that was May. And time has passed. And according to the Atlantic, "Giuliani said it`s been difficult in the past few months to even consider drafting response plans or devote time to the counter report he claimed they were working this summer as he and Trump confronted Mueller`s written questions."
This piece then goes on to quote Giuliani saying, "Answering those questions was a nightmare. It took him about three weeks to do what would normally take two days." That`s his lawyer talking.
Tomorrow, former FBI Director James Comey testifies behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee about the investigation into Hillary Clinton`s e-mails as well as his role in the Russia election meddling inquiry. Earlier this year, Comey described his initial conversations with Trump about Russia`s actions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Did he seem curious about Russian interference in the election about -- did he talk to you about efforts to try to stop it in the next round of elections?
JAMES COMEY, FMR. FBI DIRECTOR: He did not. In fact, one of the things we were struck by in our -- the meeting between myself and the leaders of the other intelligence agencies with the President-elect on January the 6th, before he took office, was he had no questions and I don`t think anybody else had any questions from his team as to what the future threat from Russia might be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Also there are new reports tonight that William Barr is the leading candidate to be the next United States attorney general. He has held that job before. He ran the Justice Department in the Bush 41 White House from 1991 to 1993. And in that job, Barr was formally Robert Mueller`s boss. He`s been a stalwart in Republican legal circles for years.
But as recently he said some interesting things about Mueller and Trump and Russia, all of it part of the discussion as we go along the tonight. And with that, let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Thursday evening.
Here in New York with us, Daniel Goldman, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. for the Southern District of New York, now a Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law. And down in D.C. as you can see our friend Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post."
Phil, I`m going to begin with you on all things journalism. Former President Bush 41 has been buried.
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes.
WILLIAMS: The ceremonial part of this President`s week is over. And so on Twitter, in just the last two hours, we`ve had something of a late night fuselad, some of it perhaps linked to television segments we`ve watched airing on the cable networks tonight. What do you think is going on in there?
RUCKER: Well, Brian, I think the President seems to be signaling to the world some level of anxiety about the Russia investigation. He must certainly know about the deadlines tomorrow that you referenced in the opening of tonight`s show where we`re going to learn more details about, you know, how Paul Manafort lied to investigators and how Michael Cohen has been cooperating with investigators. Those are both issues sure to agitate the President.
And so it seems like what he`s doing is a little bit of prebutting here. He began at this morning, by the way, with that witch-hunt tweet, but has continued just the last hour with a series of tweets about the Russia probe and other matters.
WILLIAMS: So, Daniel, because lawyers love files, let`s -- you two are two counsel here in New York. Make two files. First file is going to be you. What to expect with this Cohen memorandum filing tomorrow, and please tell me it`s not going to be the dreaded black stripes of redaction.
DANIEL GOLDMAN, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRCT OF N.Y.: I wish I could tell you that, but what we have seen with the Flynn memo is Robert Mueller playing by the book, following DOJ policy, which is not to reveal any information about an ongoing confidential investigation. And the reason for that is not just because he`s trying to keep things close to the vest, but it`s to protect potential people who would be mentioned who are ultimately not charged, and have no way of vindicating themselves. So there is sound reason for doing that.
And I expect that in the Michael Cohen sentencing memorandum, we`re going to see the same things because if there is anything related to the Russia investigation through Mueller`s office, we know he`s not going to reveal any of that. And then from the southern district, and perhaps the New York attorney general`s office, there are no charges based on Michael Cohen`s cooperation.
The one thing I would point out is Michael Flynn got a motion for a reduction in sentence because he is a signed up cooperating witness.
WILLIAMS: Team USA.
GOLDMAN: Michael Cohen does not have the same agreement. I think in practical matters, it doesn`t really matter that much. In practical terms it doesn`t matter that much. The government will be forced and required to give an honest assessment of his cooperation of his truthfulness and what assistance he has provided.
But, again, Michael Flynn had a very low sentencing guideline range of zero to six, so he didn`t need much so to speak to get to zero. Michael Cohen has asked for 0, but his bottom end of the guideline range which the judge uses as the baseline is about four years. So he`s got a lot of wood to chop to get down to zero.
WILLIAMS: Could an atta boy well placed by the feds change that and really, you know, ultimately influence the judge?
GOLDMAN: Yes, absolutely.
GOLDMAN: And I would expect that he will get less than four years, but it depends a little bit on what is going to be and what we expect to be the redacted sentencing memorandum tomorrow. And to determine how much he`s given them. But I think -- I would not expect him to walk out without -- with no jail time.
WILLIAMS: To your former coworker in the Southern District of New York, Mimi Rocah, Mimi, you get to talk about this Manafort document that`s coming out tomorrow, what we might learn from it. And with toner already running terribly low in all of our newsrooms, are you going to tell me we`re going to see more of the black stripes of redaction?
MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: I don`t want to be 0 for 2 here, but yes, I think we are going to see more redactions in that filing as well.
ROCAH: Although, again, it`s hard to know how much.
I mean, look, the posture of this is that the government needs to be able to justify to the judge why they are not upholding this agreement that they had entered into with Manafort. So they need to show good faith. It`s actually not an incredibly hard standard to show. You know, in other words, it`s not just the government saying we don`t feel like it. It`s the government saying, he lied and here`s how we know it.
Now, if those lies are central to the heart of Mueller`s investigation, the Russia investigation, which I believe they are, because, one, that`s what makes them important. And, two, we believe that`s why Manafort was signed up. Then, you know, again, going back to the Flynn example, he`s not going to reveal that right now because that`s an ongoing investigation. Although it could be that there is enough that`s already out there that, you know, can use -- so, the purpose here is to show that Manafort lied, not to show evidence against other people. And so it depends a lot what the lies are about.
WILLIAMS: And Phil Rucker, to this reporting about the Trump legal team, - -
WILLIAMS: -- does it match up with what you know and have been able to learn? Because every so often we keep hearing, you know, they`ve hired a new candidate and they`re really going to buckle down. But it seems to me, every day in that legal shop must feel like the eve of Hurricane Katrina, especially now that we read they`re not prepared.
RUCKER: Yes, Brian, you know, there`s a quote in the Atlantic story from I think a former White House official who said the strategy is basically, Jesus, take the wheel. And that`s been the strategy all along through this presidency for almost every issue among the staff. And it certainly is so with the Russia investigation.
And there are a couple reasons for that. One is that the political staffers, and the sort of normal policy staffers in the White House don`t want to have anything to do with the Russia probe. They are trying to keep their distance. That`s by design. They don`t want to implicate themselves. They don`t want to create any sort of legal exposure and result in them having to hire a lawyer or get subpoenaed or anything like that.
So a lot of the decision making and the communication strategy having to do with the Mueller probe is limited to people in the counsel`s office and the President`s personal attorneys. But the reporting is absolutely right and it matches up with what I`ve been hearing.
I spoke to a number of Trump allies today who said they`re very concerned that the President does not seem to be taking seriously the threat from Mueller in the months to come, coupled with the threat from Democrats as they take over the House of Representatives and start launching investigations, including potentially into the President`s businesses, into his family, potentially trying to get his tax returns. There are a number of issues ahead on the horizon and the President doesn`t seem to have all the lawyers, all the sort of war room strategists and operatives in place that his allies would like to see.
WILLIAMS: Daniel Goldman, the new talking point that`s in vogue in all the cities serviced by Amtrak on the East Coast is this. The 20 or so memos, sentencing documents, charges, that`s going to be the Mueller report. It will be told in chapters, and not a la Ken Starr, a bound book that is distributed to the media at a D.C. press conference. What say you to that?
GOLDMAN: Well, I think there`s going to be more indictments --
WILLIAMS: And that would be part of it, too.
GOLDMAN: Right. And so Robert Mueller has demonstrated that he -- his indictments are lengthy and detailed, and perhaps include information and evidence that`s not necessary to support the charges, but he takes the opportunity to present a narrative.
And so if Roger Stone is indicted or Jerome Corsi is even indicted, particularly Roger Stone if they`re really looking at him for collusion, which it seems they are, they`re going to paint a broad brush in explaining a lot of the evidence. So you`ll have that.
In terms of the report, we can expect it to address obstruction of justice for sure because that`s really focused on the President almost singularly. And then the question just remains is, what else is there out there not worthy of being charge but should go in the report?
And under the Special Counsel regulations that`s kind of up in the air as to how much they should put in there and why they -- because they are supposed to say why they are declining prosecution against individuals. So, it could be more than just simply the President. It could include other people they decided not to charge.
The big thing about these memos, just real quick, is they are court documents. They are under seal to us right now, but they will not remain under seal forever. And so the -- Mueller can use these memorandum as a way of making sure that the public will eventually learn about some of the evidence that he has.
WILLIAMS: Mimi Rocah, the Trump team and Mueller team were reporting tonight are talking again. Do you think that`s a serious endeavor?
ROCAH: Well, first of all, I mean, I assume talking again, the source of that is Trump`s side because we know Mueller`s side doesn`t talk. So I`m always skeptical when something --
WILLIAMS: What on earth would be? Yes, exactly.
ROCAH: Right. Why would i be skeptical?
But, you know, we do know that he turned in answers. And as much as we can know anything that Giuliani says, and it would make sense that Mueller would come back. I mean, you don`t just, you know, this is why the whole written format is so awkward because you don`t just hear an answer and say, "OK, thanks, bye." You have follow-up questions, and I`m sure they have those.
So I think it is possible that they are going back to him with further written questions. Trump knows a lot more now, as we all do, than he did when he answered them the first time. So, I think there is a bit of going through the motions here. There has to be, you know, of letting Trump have his say, because there`s a lot more out there now, and Trump has to be clued in that Mueller knows more than I think Trump thought he knew.
WILLIAMS: Or perhaps are there any answers you`d like to revise since you answered the questions.
With our great thanks tonight on a Thursday evening to Daniel Goldman, to Mimi Rocah, to Philip Rucker, really appreciate you coming on. We now understand this part of the story.
And coming up, what we can learn from the President`s behavior this week. We`ll talk to the man who literally wrote the book on Donald Trump.
And later, new reporting this evening the President is ready to nominate his replacement for Nikki Haley at the U.S. It appears this one is going to be controversial. Stay tuned. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Thursday night.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. This has been a challenging week for President Trump. And as we`ve been saying, it`s not yet over.
Think about it this way. The week starts with members of this own party breaking with him over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Then Trump had to spend yesterday morning sitting next to people he has personally attacked while listening to testimonials about a former president`s enduring legacy as a heroic military veteran, as the consummate public servant in the modern era of this country, and as a family man.
Peter Baker of "The New York Times" reporting on Trump`s mind-set says the President has been, "Snappish with aides most of the week according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end, but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the President called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain`s death."
Trump ended his night last night tweeting out his 50 percent approval rating in the most recent poll.
And, of course, tomorrow brings more Mueller memos as we have been talking about and more uncertainty.
Well, with us tonight Tim O`Brien, the executive editor of Bloomberg opinion, more importantly he wrote the book on this subject. He`s the author of "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald." I have wanted to have you on for so long.
TIM O`BRIAN, BLOOMBERG OPINION EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: So, let`s put him on the couch and let`s begin with the following tableau. He walks into the National Cathedral. The other presidents are seated.
He is wearing his overcoat. He takes it off and hands said crumpled overcoat to the young marine officer who was acting as his escort. Then, of course, he sits down and so much ink has been spilled over the last 24 hours on those he did and did not greet. What is going on there?
O`BRIEN: You know, I think, and this is, you know, putting him on the couch, so we`re both sort of speculating here. But I think clothing for Donald Trump is armor. Why didn`t he just leave the coat, the over coat in the back of the seat and he`s worn the same outfit since the 1980s. You know, it`s almost like he`s been cryogenically frozen in the late 1980.
WILLIAMS: It`s a logo. It`s a look that he -- it`s a look to project.
O`BRIEN: And I think the looking was to reject is powerful fortune 500 CEO. That`s his approximation of -- and of course it`s almost a cartoon, a cartoonist version of that, but it alternately gives him security and it`s also I think it forces -- it allows him to keep people at a distance.
And that`s really the interesting thing about him because for all of the bluster and all of the bravado and the bragging, he`s a deeply insecure person. And so these costumes he wears insulates him from that. And I thought it was extraordinary at this event in the National Cathedral with all of the pomp and circumstances involved in it, he couldn`t just strip that off and leave it be. And then he ends up sort of crumpling it and giving it in the hands of the surprise military attache.
WILLIAMS: And when the reading started it`s been said he did not participate in the service at all. Then there was just his -- the way he carried himself while seated.
WILLIAMS: His hands together, he was rocking at one point. It was impossible to listen to the eulogies and not take some of it as a kind of comparison to the sitting President. It was not intended that way. I`m certain. But what -- people thought he looked petulant. People thought he looked angry at the content of the eulogies.
O`BRIEN: Well, you know, first up let`s look at what was being said about George Herbert Walker Bush. What we think said was regardless of what side of the aisle he resided on politically, whether you thought his policies were successful or failures, at his core this was a decent man who lived his life well, who was considerate of the people he did politics with. He loving to his family members and had a long and successful marriage with his wife.
Almost every one of those points is not a description of who Donald Trump is. And he had to be sitting there being very aware of that because it wasn`t just John Meacham`s eulogy, right?
O`BRIEN: Right. Alan Simpson gave a beautiful recounting --
WILLIAMS: Mulroney about the states man --
O`BRIEN: Yes, and talking about trade policies Trump has overturned. So he`s sitting there and he has to know at some point in the future whenever that occurs, he`s going to get a state funeral and it`s likely these same sorts of things aren`t going to be said about him.
And so I wondered, watching him, where does that go, you know? In his mind as an adult man in the world right now. And my estimation of where it goes is probably nowhere. Donald trump is 72 years old. He is not somebody at this point who is going to change.
You know, Liz Smith, the Gossip columnist once said to me, she had a great Texas twang. And she said, "You know, honey, all you ever really have to know about Donald Trump is he`s a 72-year-old growing old."
And he really is. And one of the reason he hasn`t involved is he was born into great wealth. That insulated him from having either some of the hard lessons of life or learning from mistakes that many of us do. He then graduated out of that into celebrity hood through "The Apprentice" and his T.V. presence. That gave him another layer of insulation.
And now he`s in the White House. He has this magnificent third layer of insulation from reality. And he doesn`t have to really suffer the consequence of his mistakes and shortcomings.
WILLIAMS: I was going to say about Mueller.
WILLIAMS: I have a buddy who was a corrections officer in New York State for many years. People who don`t know the prison system may not know. They are not armed when they are among the inmate population. And he always said, when I ask him, "What was the lesson of all those years you spent inside with the inmates?" He said, "Never corner a man."
WILLIAMS: "Always leave a man an out. Even the slightest crack, so that they feel they`re not cornered because cornered people get desperate." Does Donald Trump feel cornered by the Mueller investigation?
O`BRIEN: I think Donald Trump certainly feels cornered by it. One of the best barometers is when he starts unleashing tweet after tweet, describing the investigation as a witch-hunt, stepping right up to it, I would think of as an investigative reporter, as witness tampering.
WILLIAMS: In plain sight.
O`BRIEN: In plain sight. And, in part, it`s because his unsophisticated and ignorant. He hasn`t really -- he has never been in the kind of legal vice he is in right now. Never in his whole life.
He`s had the SEC come close to him. He`s had the FBI in Atlantic City with organized crime investigations. But he hasn`t had a veteran prosecutor like Robert Mueller with a team of 13, highly talented people who are content not to be in the press and who are content just to take out their notebooks and make little check marks and file papers and move the legal ball forward. And he doesn`t really know how to handle that.
He`s ill equipped legally. He got Emmet Flood in the White House, he`s a good attorney, but then he has this odd Greek chorus of Rudy Giuliani and Alan Dershowitz out there battling. And that`s not a legal strategy. That`s performance art.
And the problem here is Donald Trump is a performance artist who is now getting pushed into a corner by Bob Mueller. And I`ve thought for quite sometime now the real trigger here will be if his son Don Jr. gets indicted or if Jared Kushner gets indicted. If he gets a whiff of any of those things, he`ll lash out. I think it`s highly likely he`ll try to fire Mueller.
WILLIAMS: I -- well, we`ll see. I tell people go back and look at the opening sequence of "The Apprentice" for all those years. The iconography, the way he carried himself, the music, and in some of it in some way it`s a key to understanding who he is.
Tim O`Brien, our thanks. And again, this book is called "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald." Thank you very much for coming on our broadcast.
O`BRIEN: Thanks, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And coming up, James Comey is being summoned back to the Hill tomorrow. Republicans want him behind closed doors. While Republicans still get to decide such things in those committees, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.
WILLIAMS: As you see there, we have some breaking news here for just a moment. Our friends over at CNN who you`ll recall already this year were caught up in those mailed out pipe bombs had been victims of something else tonight, and that was at first a credible threat that they had a bomb in the building.
CNN was in the midst of their live programming tonight. They switched back to tape of Anderson Cooper from an earlier hour. Our own Jonathan Dienst, a veteran investigative reporter with our NBC Station here in New York WNBC, has been on the story tonight. And has the latest that we do know about this. Hey, Jonathan.
JONATHAN DIENST, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, WNBC: Hi, Brian. Basically the police are telling us that it was an unsubstantiated telephone threat to the Time Warner Center. The caller with a southern accent had claimed there were five bombs placed around the building.
The security staff at the Time Warner Center just made the decision to evacuate as a precaution and call police in. We are told the security staff did their own preliminary search as police were responding and found nothing. But as a precaution, the NYPD bomb squad and officers are now searching that building to make sure everything is safe and in order.
And as you know, an evacuation was ordered and CNN was sort of forced to go outside and begin reporting from the street versus in their studios as a result of this unsubstantiated telephone bomb threat.
As you know, media companies and lots of businesses and places experience these kinds of bogus threats or threats -- we shouldn`t call it bogus yet. Police tell me they are expecting what`s called an all-clear soon, but that has not come in yet because it`s a big building and they need to search all of it.
But as of now, there is no evidence of any actual devices. The search is ongoing. And, again, this appears to be the result of a telephone threat. And given the age and time we live in, you can`t ignore any of these threats. You have to take them seriously and that`s what`s being done at this hour.
WILLIAMS: All right, Jonathan Dienst, WNBC TV here in New York, with a thorough reporting on the state of play. This is as he said Columbus Circle, a matter of blocks from our headquarters here at 30 Rock. Something else Jonathan said that`s absolutely correct.
Members of the NYPD attach to the joint terrorism task force have for a long time now had permanent posts outside all the known headquarters buildings of media companies. Added complication here, it`s the holidays.
They have a lovely high-end mall in that Time Warner Center. A lot of pedestrian traffic, so hopefully the all-clear will be sounded. The police tape will be cut. The lights will be turned off. And things will return to normal across town at CNN.
Now, back to the broadcast we had planned, and more of our coverage of contemporary politics, let`s take you to a moment. This was June of 2017. It sets up our next conversation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: It`s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation. I was fired in some way to change or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Some of former FBI Director James Comey`s testimony before Congress, that was, again, June 2017, one month after he`d been fired by the President. Tomorrow, that man, Comey, returns to Capitol Hill to testify behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee.
Now, Comey originally wanted to testify in public. He told them publicly, you want me? Let`s throw open the doors to coverage. But there was a short legal battle about that. He agreed to speak with the committee in private once the Republicans promised that a transcript of his remarks would be released. So no secrets here.
The former FBI director will also be allowed to speak publicly to the media after the meeting if he so chooses. The committee members want to hear from Comey about the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton`s e-mail server and Russian election meddling.
"The New York Times" puts it this way. "House Republicans are trying to leverage the short time they have left in power to question Mr. Comey and make a case that the nation`s top law enforcement agencies -- the FBI and justice department have been tainted by partisan bias against the President.
Well, with us to talk about it tonight, Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former FBI official, and Mieke Eoyang, an attorney, former staffer for the House Intelligence and Armed Services Committee.
Welcome to you both back to the broadcast. Mieka, because of your experience in the House I`d like to begin with you with a very simple question and an honest question. What is to be gained here?
MIEKE EOYANG, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE STAFFER: Yes, for the Republicans what they`re trying to do is ask Comey questions behind closed doors. Now remember, a number of Republicans on the judiciary committee have announced they`re retiring so they are not politically beholden to anyone.
The question is are they going to use this opportunity to get to the truth of Comey`s testimony, including obstruction of justice, or are they going to be continuing to politically posture? Because it`s behind closed doors, the chance of posturing is much lower.
WILLIAMS: Chuck, do you view this as a serious pursuit and another way of asking that question is what`s left to ask? What`s left to know?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL: No, and nothing. Let me explain that, Brian. Jim Comey testified exhaustively about the Clinton e- mail investigation. You played a clip from that. I can`t imagine there is a single question that wasn`t asked and answered, with respect to the Russia interference portion of his testimony or that investigation, two things to note.
One, it`s ongoing, so there`s really not much very much he can say about it because whether in private or in public, the transcript of this private hearing will be made public. And, two, he`s been gone for more than 18 months.
So if you want to know what`s going on in the election interference investigation, don`t ask Jim Comey. Ask folks who are at the FBI right now. This is political posturing. There`s nothing to be gained. And it`s a waste of everyone`s time, it`s a bunch of bantam weights getting in the ring with a heavy weight.
WILLIAMS: Mieke, I want to show you a clip. Jim Comey is a very good lawyer, University of Chicago Law School educated. But these days in Washington, lawyers have lawyers. So, Jim Comey has a lawyer who went on this network and said the following. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID KELLEY, JAMES COMEY`S ATTORNEY: What`s really interesting, you have Congressman Gowdy who spent several years trying to get an investigation, spent tens of millions of dollars on Benghazi and came up with nothing. In a fraction of that time Bob Mueller has come up with upwards of 30 indictments. So, I think that is an interesting dynamic to these hearings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Mieke, do you think that`s a fair argument, is that a fair point, a fairway of looking at this?
EOYANG: Yes, I think that that`s right. That Chairman Gowdy on the Benghazi hearings was going after something where there was no there-there. However, with Special Counsel Mueller, he has spent his time looking for things and he has come up with a lot because where there is smoke there was in fact a lot of fire here.
And a number of convictions and indictments that he`s brought shows you that this was a real serious problem. Now, Gowdy, after he announced his retirement, started complaining about some of the witch-hunt tactics of his colleagues and said he wanted to get back to being a regular prosecutor.
He has a chance to show that he`s actually interested in rule of law. He`s interested in stopping obstruction of justice tomorrow, and it will be very interesting to see when Director Comey comes out of that meeting, what he says about how Gowdy was.
WILLIAMS: Chuck, you may have heard my complaint earlier that there is a toner shortage crisis going on in American newsrooms because of dreaded black stripes of reduction. This is by way of asking you for a preview, where to set our sites.
We have these two different releases tomorrow. Tell me, they`re not going to have black stripes on them. But please tell me what they may contain.
ROSENBERG: I can`t tell you they won`t have black stripes, Brian. Here`s why. If it`s public, it won`t contain sensitive information. If it`s sensitive information, it won`t be made public. Look, these sentencing memoranda are filed all over the United States in federal court every day in advance of sentencings.
Now many of them are concern a defendant`s cooperation and ongoing investigations. If that`s what we have here and I assume we do. It`s not going to be all that interesting. There`s going to be a lot more black ink on the papers that you`re reading tomorrow, Brian, than you might prefer.
WILLIAMS: There goes the toner. And, Mieke, do you concur with this ongoing theory, that the Mueller report just might be nothing more than the sum total of all the documents related to all the charges that Mueller comes up with?
EOYANG: I think it`s very clear that Mueller is putting a lot of the information that he has out through these indictments. These are speaking indictments. It`s not just facts essential to proving the case, but broader context than that.
I think we won`t know for sure if there is additional information until we see the final indictments. And the question is, is he really getting close to wrapping up, or is there a lot more that they have, in fact, uncovered over the course of this investigation?
We have not actually seen that much about the Trump organization`s finances, about what has been involved with the conversation that Trump family members have had about these Moscow towers projects.
Those are not people who are protected under the constitution from indictment. Those are people who Mueller could charge, and we have not seen those yet and we don`t know much about their involvement at this point.
WILLIAMS: Chuck, very quick, last word about the question I asked Mieke, could that end up being, in effect, the Mueller report?
ROSENBERG: I think there`s going to be a report. Mieke is right, these are speaking indictments. But I think there`s a lot more words to be spoken and I think you`re going to see indictments, plea agreements, and in the end a report.
WILLIAMS: Two terrific lawyers and long-time guests of this broadcast. We sure appreciate it. Chuck Rosenberg, Mieke Eoyang, thank you for coming on tonight.
And coming up for us, the report today that the Trump Administration may reach back to the presidency of Bush 41 for the next attorney general when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Well, as we said we have a lot of news to cover tonight. The attorney general under President George H.W. Bush who was just laid to rest, may be in line to be the new attorney general.
The Washington Post first reported William Barr is the leading attorney general candidate in Trump discussions. According to this report, a person familiar with the discussions said Barr is a really serious contender and possibly the front runner for the job, but stressed it was impossible to predict Trump`s pick definitely until it was announced publicly.
Supporters are hoping that Barr could sail through the Senate while others are pouring over his recent quotes about the Trump presidency. The Washington Post journalist Aaron Blake sums them up in his Twitter post.
"What William Barr has said, more Clinton probes need, uranium one more worthy of investigation than collusion. Comey firing was a-OK. Mueller team`s donations are too left leaning. It`s OK for Presidents to request specific investigations".
Now, Barr was there just days ago on the steps of the U.S. Capitol alongside some big Republican names when the body of President Bush, his former boss, arrived to lie in state in the rotunda. Barr is a New Yorker by birth who worked first for Ronald Reagan before 41 made him attorney general.
With us to talk about all of it, Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR and Catherine Lucey, White House reporter for The Associated Press.
All right, Tamara, you go first. This is, in your view, the real deal or a lighter than air trial balloon?
TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, one Trump insider I talked to today said he wasn`t convinced that this is going to stick because President Trump likes loyalists. He likes people he knows. And he doesn`t know Barr.
Now, who knows, maybe that person was just someone who wanted someone else to be the attorney general. That`s kind of the way it works around here. The caveat that comes with all of these trial balloons is, until the President tweets it, it`s not a done deal.
WILLIAMS: All right. With that as our North Star, Catherine, it is -- this is a strange one because Barr is one of the pillars of the GOP legal establishment in Washington. He is a Brooks Brothers enthusiast and a horn rim glasses enthusiast.
He looks the part. He`s got the resume for the part. The problem is some quotes recently about things like the man who used to report to him, Robert Mueller, the Russia investigation, and that`s what`s giving people a tough time figuring this one out.
CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. And I think the thing we really have to go back to is, we just don`t know how serious this is until President Trump makes an announcement. We know he is a contender, but there`s been a couple people they`ve been talking about and we have to see how this is going to play out.
Certainly Barr is someone with a long legal record who`s viewed -- some highly thought of in establishment Republican circles. Some of these comments are really going to be poured over by Democrats, but also by people inside the White House as they try and figure out how he would handle things like the Russia investigation going forward.
WILLIAMS: There is also terrific grainy video of some prominent democrats today praising him in hearings on the Hill years ago.
Tamara, you do have me thinking that one of the kisses of death, one of the this President uses is sometimes to say, I didn`t know him before this. So you never want to be on the payroll and then have him remind the Press Corp that you are new to him.
KEITH: We could be getting some of those reminders tomorrow about Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. Of course, he did know them. But, yes, this is a case, if you go back to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he was one of the first people to endorse President Trump, the first senator to endorse President Trump.
But President Trump didn`t have, like, a long-standing rapport with him, and ultimately he didn`t get along with him. He didn`t feel like he could trust him. He felt like he hung him out to dry and he should have picked a real loyalist.
Now, are there people out there -- is he willing to go with Barr because lots of people are telling him he`s a really good lawyer, or would he want to go with someone who is more of a loyalist, more someone who he knows from New York or from Palm Beach, or who he goes way back with.
WILLIAMS: I wanted to mention this story because we did mention it in one of the breaks prior, and that is that multiple sources are telling NBC News the President is expected to announce his intention to appoint former Fox & Friends co-host Heather Nauert as the United States ambassador to the U.N.
Nauert has not diplomatic experience but she has been serving as the State Department spokesperson since living Fox News to work for the Trump administration.
Catherine you get this one. What do you make of this? What it say about the Fox News relationship with the administration, what it say about the view the President may have of this U.N. job here in New York?
LUCEY: Well, The Associated Press also has confirmed that it`s expected to happen. As with our previous discussion, we should also prefaces with saying that politics expected to happen until he actually tweets its happening. We have to wait on it.
But, yes, Heather Nauert is someone who caught the attention of the President, is thought highly of by a lot of people in the west wing, and is one of a number of people with Fox experience who have prominent roles in his administration.
She`s really viewed as someone -- she has no real -- prior to this job, did not have any major foreign policy experience, and has really has been view as having some meteoric rise in the State Department, despite, a strange relationship with the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
She was well thought of by the west wing and was really elevated in his, after he was removed from that position. So, she`s well liked by the President. Yes, she`s the Fox influence is widely felt throughout the west wing.
WILLIAMS: Tamara, I want to remind you by playing a piece of video what the President thought of what the current occupant of the office of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has done for and with the job. We`ll talk about this on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think she`s helped make it a much better position if you want to know the truth. I think it`s become maybe a more glamorous position than it was two years ago. Maybe I wonder why, but it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, under Nikki Haley it`s become a more glamorous posting, Tamara. Does that help?
KEITH: Well, under Nikki Haley, she negotiated to have it be a cabinet- level position. Now, if Heather Nauert is the pick as NPR has also confirmed that she`s expected to get the nod from Trump, will she have negotiated to maintain this as a cabinet-level position, or would she report to the secretary of state as has been more traditional for that role?
That remains an open question. But one of the reasons it was so glamorous, not just because Nikki Haley is a former governor of South Carolina, is because it was a higher ranking position. It was also just a very interesting relationship that she had with President Trump where she would go out and say things in speeches at the U.N. that took a harder line than President Trump was publicly taking on North Korea or on Russia certainly.
And she sort of had the leeway to do that in a way that other cabinet members did not have that leeway. Unclear how the relationship will be different with a different person in that role.
WILLIAMS: Two terrific reporters we`re always happy to have on this broadcast. Tamara Keith, Catherine Lucey, thank you both so much for stopping by again tonight.
To our viewers, a quick note. The story we reported on cross town, our friends at CNN, they happily have been given the all-clear, stand down at CNN center in New York.
Another break for us, and coming up, it was the way he wanted to travel, the final 70 miles of his journey. We`ll have that when we continue.
WILLIAMS: The last thing before we go tonight is the scene that unfolded in Texas today. A funeral train carrying former President George H.W. Bush to his final resting place, the last 70 miles from Houston to college station was by rail.
The locomotive number 4141 has been an exhibit at his presidential museum since Union Pacific gave it as a gift to 41 back in 2005. His casket was placed behind glass in a retrofitted baggage car that allowed everyone along the way to see it as it passed.
It resulted in this stunning still photo. And along the way, thousands of Americans came out, young and old, police officers, civilians, veterans, families with children in toe, on overpasses and on rail sidings and in towns large and small.
People came out, as they did for Lincoln in 1865, as they did for Eisenhower`s trip home to Abilene, Kansas, almost a century later. There was a final farewell church service today where James baker struggled while speaking about his friend of over 60 years. They met as young men, and they were together at the end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES BAKER III, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We rejoice, Mr. President, that you are safely tucked in now. And through the ages, with God`s loving arms around you, because our goal, George, was to have had you as our president and as such a friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So tough to watch. Gray (ph) skies and rain seemed to match the sadness of the Bush family because they arrived at this final and again very public stop. The late patriarch, the former president now rests in a clearing behind his presidential library alongisde his wife of 73 years. And that is our broadcast for this Thursday night. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night 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