Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: November 7, 2018 Guest: Jill Colvin, Donna Edwards, David Jolly, Jon Meacham, Rick Wilson
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MNSBC HOST: Tonight, Jeff Sessions is out of a job, fired. The morning after voters put Democrats back in charge of the House, his replacement, the acting attorney general, has already said the "Mueller investigation needs to be reigned in."
Then the President showed up at a combative news conference. The President ignoring the morning-after reality, calling the midterms "almost a complete victory." Then he goes after his fellow Republicans who didn`t support him.
And tonight he`s punished a network correspondent.
And about those potential House investigations, Democratic leaders say they know what they`re doing and they`ll do it right.
THE 11TH HOUR begins now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters. What`s left of our election headquarters here in New York? We have a lot to catch up on tonight.
This was day 657 of the Trump administration. And just hours after Democrats gained control of the House, the President forced out his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If the President was looking for a distraction after the election, he got one. And this could have serious ramifications.
Earlier tonight, the now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions left the Department of Justice to a round of applause. He was famously the first sitting U.S. senator to support Donald Trump. He was then relentlessly attacked by the President for taking himself out of the Russia case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m disappointed in the Attorney General for many reasons. And you understand that.
I am disappointed in the Attorney General.
He should have certainly let us know if he was going to recuse himself. And we would have used a -- put a different attorney general in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: But Sessions` replacement who will oversee Robert Mueller`s Russia investigation instead of the Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein is viewed as a Trump loyalist. Matt Whitaker, Sessions` chief of staff just saw him saying goodbye to Sessions at the car tonight, will serve as the acting attorney general. Whitaker is a former U.S. attorney. He ran as a Republican for senate in Iowa in 2014, but lost out to Joni Ernst in a primary.
Whitaker has been publicly critical of the Mueller investigation, writing in an op-ed, August 2017, "It is time for Rosenstein, who was the acting attorney general for the purposes of this investigation to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel. If he doesn`t, then Mueller`s investigation will eventually start to look like a political fishing expedition. This would not only be out of character for a respected character like Mueller, but also could be damaging to the President of the United States and his family and by extension to the country."
Whitaker also appeared on CNN in August of 2017 and said Mueller would be crossing a red line by looking into the Trump organization finances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: If Bob Mueller and his small U.S. attorney`s office, as I`ve heard it described today, does go beyond the 2016 election and get into Trump organization finances, unrelated to the 2016 election, and really unrelated to Russian coordination, if it even exists, I think that would be crossing a red line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker of the "New York Times" reports today, "Mr. Whitaker`s ascendants to the top of the Justice Department shows how much loyalty means to Mr. Trump. The President has long-regarded Mr. Whitaker as his eyes and ears inside a department that he considers an enemy institution."
Baker also points out that under normal circumstances, Rod Rosenstein, as the number two guy at justice, after all, would be in line to become the acting attorney general.
Earlier today, Whitaker released a statement that read, in part, "It is true -- "It is a true honor," rather, "that the President has confidence in my ability to lead the Department of Justice as acting Attorney General. I am committed to leading a fair department with the highest ethical standards that upholds the rule of law and seeks justice for all Americans."
No mention there of Robert Mueller`s investigation.
Earlier today, Frank Figliuzzi, the Former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence offered on this network a blunt assessment of the Sessions` firing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: I think we`re watching obstruction of justice play out right in plain sight. I fear there`s a quid pro quo, you do this, I name you acting attorney general, or I nominate you for attorney general. You take care of the special counsel investigation. And that`s public corruption.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That gets your attention. So does this? Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey of the "Washington Post" sum up the past 24 hours this way, writing, "Washington plunged into political war on Wednesday in the wake of a split decision by voters in the midterm elections, with President Trump ousting his attorney general and threatening to retaliate against Democrats if they launch investigations into his personal conduct and possible corruption in the administration. The rapid shift to battle stations signaled the start of what is likely to be two years of unremitting political combat as Trump positions himself for re-election."
As we said, it gets your attention. And let`s brick in our leadoff panel on this post-election Wednesday night, Jeremy Bash, Former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon. Former U.S. Attorney, Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor. And the aforementioned Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post" and moderator of Washington Week on PBS. And what a week it`s been already.
Robert, I`d like to begin with you. What is the book on Whitaker? What`s the book on how the President sees him? And I know you talked to Rudy in the last 24 hours. What did you learn?
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Brian, I`ve known Mr. Whitaker for about a decade, going back to his time in Iowa politics. Moderated his first debate when he ran for U.S. senate. Lost the Republican primary then in 2014 to now Senator Joni Ernst. He`s a conservative, he`s an ideologue, he is someone who has migrated towards the Trump wing of the Republican Party.
He`s close friends with Sam Clovis, a name some of us know because he`s been interviewed by Robert Mueller`s grand jury. But he has migrated toward the Trump administration, become Sessions` chief of staff at the Department of Justice. And he`s known for taking a tough line on the Mueller probe. Now he`s running the Department of Justice.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, I have so many questions for you. As a former U.S. attorney, would this have been an organic choice, if you searched through the government payroll, to name this guy in normal times, as acting attorney general, first of all?
JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: If we were only talking about just generic roles. The attorney general`s chief of staff wouldn`t be a completely unprecedented choice to take over, if you anticipated as President, naming another permanent selection in the not-too-distant future.
But what takes this out of the realm of the normal, Brian, are Matt Whitaker`s clear stands, clear enunciation of his view that the Mueller investigation should be limited. That makes this extremely abnormal and something we should all be concerned about.
WILLIAMS: Now, that`s my second question. Is that grounds for recusal? If you have issued an opinion, made it public, and you are suddenly then appointed to something overseeing that, is that normally grounds for recusal?
VANCE: So, recusal can be complicated, but it looks like Whitaker has real problems. And one would expect that the professionals at the Justice Department would advise him that he must recuse, if not because of an actual conflict of interest, then because of the clear appearance of impropriety in his taking over this investigation.
And a big part of that would be the fact that he had made pronouncements about how that investigation should be handled, before he was privy to all of the facts. In essence, prejudging it. There`s no reason that we can believe at this point that he can give the investigation a fair shake.
And what the American people here deserve is not an outcome predetermined by an ideologue, it`s justice. It`s the search for the truth so at the end of the Mueller investigation, we have a high comfort level that we`ve reached a correct outcome. We can`t get that with this attorney general at the helm.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy Bash, I`ve got to read this to you from Politico. "Democrats are even prepping a break-glass scenario in case there`s a Nixon-era Saturday night massacre during which Trump fires his current DOJ leadership and tries to shutter the Mueller probe in the process. If that happens, senior Democratic officials say Mueller would likely get an immediate summons to Capitol Hill for nationally televised testimony about his firings."
Jeremy, how would Washington react if that is end game here?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, if Whitaker moves against the Mueller probe, I think it is quite literally obstruction of justice. And in that case, I think what immediately shoots to the top of the agenda of the new House majority is calling Whitaker to testify under oath to explain whether he has had any conversations with the President of the United States about shuttering the Mueller probe.
And if he says he has, then that opens an avenue of investigation for Mueller to determine whether or not there has been an obstruction of justice. And once Whitaker is a witness, I think he would clearly have to recuse himself from any further oversight of the Mueller investigation.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, what do you hear? What`s going on behind the scenes in this investigation? And are we ignoring a critical word? And that is acting? Are there lists of permanent candidates being drawn up in the West Wing?
COSTA: There are lists being drawn right now, Brian. The President is looking through some names, thinking about possibly some U.S. senators who could be on that list. Thinking about federal judges, retired and current federal judges, people who could get confirmed.
For the moment, Matt Whitaker is there, a former federal prosecutor in Iowa, who he sees as an ally. But he has to pick someone who can actually be the attorney general.
Maybe it could be Whitaker, talking to a few White House officials, but it`s probably going to be someone with a bigger name, a bigger profile who can get Senate confirmation.
He`s thinking also talking to Giuliani today, Mayor Giuliani, he says that they need to make a decision after the President gets back from Paris, after his weekend trip.
About the interview with Robert Mueller, are they going to do it or not? And if they don`t, will they just provide written answers by mid-November?
WILLIAMS: Joyce, I have to say, this got our attention today. Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York who was fired by the President just put this out on Twitter today. Three words, "It`s danger time." Do you concur with that?
VANCE: I think Preet`s absolutely right. We`re at -- I heard Neal Katyal call it earlier today "the beginning of a constitutional crisis." And it certainly seems like this sets it in motion. It is a very dangerous time. We need to protect the Mueller investigation.
This new acting attorney general really needs to strenuously be encouraged by everyone who has the ability to encourage him to recuse from this investigation. Otherwise, we`re in dangerous territory.
WILLIAMS: Joyce, I must say, I also heard John Dean today, and I`m going to ask you to explain this in lay terms. He theorized that Mueller has done some Trump proofing of his own investigation, including but not limited to potentially delivering sealed indictments to a senior federal judge and saying, in effect, "hang on to these in case anything happens to me or us." Can you speak to that?
VANCE: So that sounds a little bit nefarious. The process is really a little bit more pedestrian. It`s not unusual for federal prosecutors to seal indictments. There are a lot of reasons. Sealing is just a mechanism for keeping an indictment secret until you`ve actually been able to arrest the defendant. So a lot of the time, we`ll do that for safety considerations.
Here, Mueller could have had the grand jury issue indictments, sealed them. They would then be in position of the clerk of the court, but not made public, not unsealed until such time as defendants were arrested or Mueller`s prosecutors directed the clerk that it was time to unseal them. That seems like a very likely possibility to protect the investigation.
But also, there are 93 U.S. attorneys offices out there. They may have pieces of this case. And once those cases are out in the wild, it`s very hard for main justice to put a complete stop to them.
WILLIAMS: Yes. Well-put. Hey, Jeremy, I`m old enough to remember a about a year ago, I`m going to play you this clip from Lindsey Graham and we`re going to talk about what happened to Lindsey Graham since then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, what happened to Lindsey Graham, do you think, in the intervening months?
BASH: I think he`s auditioning for jobs. I think he`s potentially auditioning for the job of attorney general and maybe even for the job of Secretary of Defense if there`s a vacancy over at the Pentagon. And he`s clearly decided that he`s going to cast his lot in with Trumpism and President Trump and he`s abandoned the principles that he took that you noted in that interview, in which he said that if the President fired the Attorney General, which is exactly what happened today, that would be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.
WILLIAMS: And Jeremy, this is a question I`m going to ask other of our guests tonight. Can you think of Republicans who would be willing to cross the aisle and work with Democrats if they feared an effort to come after Mueller, to come up with something that, again, Trump-proofs the Mueller investigation?
BASH: I think it depends how it`s crafted. I think something that explains that the Mueller investigation is a national security investigation, that they requires a full and complete assessment of the facts, then perhaps there are some Republicans of conscience who would do that, who would join with the majority in the House and pass a bill, pass legislation along that lines.
But honestly, Brian, I`m not too optimistic that any such bill would pass and I don`t think the President would sign it.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa -- yes, go ahead.
COSTA: The person to watch, Brian, Senator-elect Mitt Romney of Utah. He was one of the rare Republicans who issued a statement today in light of the Attorney General`s firing and he said, "You have to protect the Mueller investigation."
Does it become more than a statement in the coming weeks from Senator-elect Romney? Does it become an actual speech, an actual statement, talking on television, talking to his colleagues in the upper chamber? Does he become someone who could be a counterweight or does he go the same way as Senator Graham, a Republican who is on the Trump train, going along with the President.
WILLIAMS: Great point to end on. Romney was almost alone among prominent Republicans in saying that on social media today. It`s why we had these three guests start us off tonight. Our great thanks to Jeremy Bash, to Joyce Vance, and to Robert Costa. We really appreciate it.
And coming up, before President Trump fired Sessions, he held the longest solo press conference of his presidency. It was over the top and off the rails and has tonight resulted in the punishment of a cable network correspondent.
And later, about last night, the wins, the losses, the surprises. And two folks who had the good sense to get out of Congress while the getting was good. We`ll deliver their verdict with us here this evening, as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Wednesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do you expect that when the Democrats take over the chairmanship of all of these important committees you`re going to get hit with a blizzard of subpoenas on everything from the Russia investigation --
TRUMP: Well, then everything is going to come -- OK.
ROBERTS: -- to your cellphone use, to your tax returns?
TRUMP: Ready? Then you`re going to -- if that happens, then we`re going to do the same thing and government comes to a halt. And I would blame them.
If they do that, then it`s just -- all it is, is a warlike posture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Not even a thinly veiled warning to the Democrats there, roughly 12 hours after their party regained control of the House, it came during the President`s longest solo news conference to date. 87 minutes. He also tried to paint last night`s election results as a big win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I`ll be honest. I thought it was a very close to complete victory.
I really believe that we have a chap chance to get along very well with the Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Despite that right there, sounding eager to work with the opposition and offering support to Nancy Pelosi as the next House speaker, he had placed a call to her last night, there was another obvious message. He`ll go after any Democrats who come after him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They want to do things. You know, I keep hearing about investigations. They can play that game, but we can play it better. Because we have a thing called the United States Senate. They can look at us and we can look at them. And it`ll go back and forth and it will probably be very good for me politically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was part of our day at the white House. And here to talk about it wih us tonight is Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the "New York Times" and Jill Colvin, White House reporter for The Associated Press.
Jill, are they putting up ramparts in the West Wing? Is sunny going to the mattresses? Is this for real and is this just going to be what it`s like?
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think that this is very much a preview of what we are going to see going forward. I mean, this performance from the President, it`s hard to know where to begin because there was just so much here.
WILLIAMS: Oh, we`ve got more of it, too.
COLVIN: From the President, going out there, claiming that he had near- complete victory, suggesting at one point that he`d have to think about whether it was better for him to have lost the House than to have won by a couple of seats. To standing up there and actually going after, mocking by name a number of House Republican members who lost their races, because, he said, "they hadn`t been aligned closely enough with him." There was just so much to unpack in there.
But this, what you`re talking about here, going after Democrats, really putting up this threat, saying, "if you`re going after me, we`re going to war. I`m not going to be working with you and I`m going to blame you for not working for me." I think it`s very much a preview of what we`re going to see in the months coming forward.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, let me take you back hours, writing about Jeff Sessions and particularly the topic of loyalty, which piqued my interest. Because on issues so important to this President, like immigration, Sessions was way out there in front, he was beyond a loyal puppy dog of a member of this Cabinet. So it leads you to believe, because this was predicated just on Russia, what`s the worry there?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the worry, of course, is that an Attorney General who should have at least some autonomy to oversee investigations that involve people close to the President will, in fact, actually be an agent of the President. That`s what President Trump has made very clear he wants in that job. He`s been - - he hasn`t bothered to disguise that.
He said up-front, again and again and again, that the reason that he wanted Jeff Sessions to be there was to oversee the Russia investigation and protect the President from what he calls a "witch hunt and a hoax." And the fact that Jeff Sessions recused himself was the cardinal sin that could never be forgiven.
So, we have to assume that Whitaker, now the acting attorney general, understands that and understands what his mission is, as the President sees it and how will he will respond to that is something that we will, obviously, be covering, I think in these days and weeks to come.
WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin mentioned that things got a little wild at the White House today. We`ve put together some, but not all of it in a montage. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Are you worried --
TRUMP: That`s enough. That`s enough. That`s enough.
ACOSTA: Mr. President, I was going to ask one of the -- the other folks --
TRUMP: That`s enough.
ACOSTA: Pardon me ma`am.
TRUMP: I`ll tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In Jim`s defense, I`ve traveled with him and watched him, he`s a diligent reporter --
TRUMP: Well, I`m not a big fan of yours, either.
When you report fake news -- no -- when you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NEWSHOUR: -- you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalist. Now people are also saying --
TRUMP: I don`t know why you`d say that. That`s such a racist statement.
ALCINDOR: There are some --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, just some of the greatest hits of what we witnessed. And obviously that first clip, Jim Acosta from CNN, a young White House intern trying to grab the mic from him tonight has resulted in the press pass of Jim Acosta being pulled at the White House. He can no longer get on the White House grounds.
And in their statement, as a justification, they said that "Jim Acosta placed his hands on a young woman, just trying to do her job, as a White House intern and they stand by their decision."
Jill Colvin, I did see Joe Lockhart, former Clinton era press secretary say tonight, he was complimenting CNN on their restraint, because they have not redone their coverage, they`re not leading all hours with their own correspondent, Jim Acosta, they`re staying on the story, which is the firing of Sessions and the result of the midterms, just in case, just in case this is a giant distraction.
COLVIN: Yes, when that story broke, I think Anderson Cooper was just about to start, and I know a lot of us tuned in to see what CNN`s response would be and they waited until well into the show to have Jim Acosta come and talk about what had happened. I think that`s an acknowledgment of the fact that we know.
Look, this is an administration that has long had a very tense relationship with the press. Even during the campaign, the President, then candidate, was revoking reporters` press credentials, banning numerous outlets from "The Washington Post," to Politico, from covering his events.
But I think what you`re seeing here is also an acknowledgment that the President often uses these fights that he picks with the media to distract from certain story lines that he doesn`t want being covered and what is the news tonight? It is his decision to ask for Jeff Sessions` resignation and the White House knows that if they push these buttons and they go after the press, the press is going to react and respond, as you`ve seen tonight, and that that will change the direction of the coverage.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, I`ve been a hard pass holder twice in my life. The first, dare I say, as a White House intern in the late 1970s. Second time, mid 1990s as White House correspondent. You`ve been a hard pass holder for many years. It is difficult to remember seeing one pulled, losing privileges to come on to the White House grounds for something like this.
BAKER: Yes, no, exactly right. I got my first hard pass 22 years ago and I don`t remember anytime, anytime the reporters had his pass or her pass pulled because of the way they do their job. This is a new, new step. It`s one that`s obviously very troubling.
And look, you know, i think Jill`s exactly right. This is what they want. If they think that Jim Acosta is so unfair to them, why did the President call on him? He called on him because they wanted to have the confrontation. They want to have this be the scenes that people see and they say, and as they see, he`s standing up to the unfair press.
Why did he go after Yamiche Alcindor, who did nothing but ask a very serious, very sober question of him and he didn`t even wait for her to finish before he starts calling her a racist. So, this is what he wants. This is what this White House wants.
And I think the problem for the press is, we have to be careful not to play into it. The story shouldn`t be about us. It should be about Jeff Sessions, it should be about the President of the United States, it should be about the elections from yesterday. And instead, we`re talking about this kind of an action.
But it is the first action that they`ve taken that I remember that directly punishes a reporter since, you know, since taking -- there were one or two other times that they kind of came close to that. They excluded a reporter from one particular pool spray and so forth. This is a big deal unfortunately. And is in fact going to be something we talk about in the days to come more. And we have other things we should be.
WILLIAMS: And let`s say a word on behalf of this White House intern in question. She very gamely had to deal with a highly uncomfortable circumstance. She did not come to work at her unpaid job this morning thinking she was going end to up part of a news story. She tries politely, at first, and then she goes in to grab at that microphone, putting her in an awfully uncomfortable position, as well.
Well, tomorrow -- yes, Peter?
BAKER: Yes, it`s an awkward situation all around. No question. She didn`t do anything. She was trying to do her job. But you can clearly see from that video that Jim did not put hands on her the way they are implying.
BAKER: He somehow, you know, rudely assaulted her. He specifically said, "pardon me, ma`am." He was not -- you know, you can say whatever you want about his behavior, but the truth of the matter is, the White House shouldn`t get to decide who chooses -- sorry, shouldn`t get to decide who covers them based on whether they like a reporter`s behavior or not. That`s not the way it works.
WILLIAMS: Important points to make here tonight. With our thanks to Peter Baker and Jill Colvin, two veterans of "The Beat," we appreciate you joining us after another long day
And coming up, we`ll ask two veterans of Congress to help us understand just what it is we`ve witnessed over these past 24 hours. And it`s only been 24 hours, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Carlos Curbelo, Mike Coffman. Too bad, Mike. Mia Love, but Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. And Barbara Comstock was another one. Peter Roskam didn`t want the embrace. Erik Paulsen didn`t want the embrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That was extraordinary. President Trump today calling out, name checking, trolling, by name, the Republicans who didn`t want the embrace and lost their House races. Democrats locked up the House majority in last night`s midterms, picking up at least 28 seats, while the Senate remains in Republican control.
The Democrats also flipped control of seven governorships. Stacey Abrams in Georgia is still hoping to make it eight. Republican Brian Kemp declared victory, but the NBC News decision desk still ranks this race as too close to call. And Abrams has not conceded, notably.
And while Jon Tester of Montana snuck out a victory while most Americans slept last night, the big Senate race in Arizona is also still undecided, as is the big Senate race in Florida. Seems like we were just talking about these race, oh, I don`t know, last night.
Here with us to discuss it, two of our favorite returning veterans, two former members of Congress, Donna Edwards Democrat of Maryland, David Jolly former Republican of Florida. And Congressman Jolly, because of your former Republican affiliation, I have to start with you. Have you ever seen anything like that, from a President calling out members of his own party by name?
DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: No. And name checking members who had just lost, who had served and served honorably. Look, those were the words of a very small man. And politically, he name checked people who lost because of Donald Trump. Not because they didn`t embrace Donald Trump.
Those were the victims of Donald Trump`s last two years in office. And particularly in the last six weeks of the birthright citizenship issue, the caravan issue, and one of the important things I find fascinating today, Donald Trump has tried to reset the narrative that somehow this was a great night for Republicans. It was not.
Democrats won the House. This was an historic night for Democrats. And I think if Democrats are feeling any lament, that pit in the stomach, is that they were hoping that maybe this morning we were a different nation than we thought we were yesterday.
The reality is, 50 percent of the country voted to stay on the same path. 50 percent of the country said, we want to be a different nation. It is a tough moment. But Democrats won the United States House of representatives and that is the most historic thing that happened last night.
WILLIAMS: So Donna Edwards, if you`re a moderate Republican, and I swear we can find some, some day, if you`re a moderate Republican running for reelection in the House and you`re trying to tell your constituents, I believe in covering pre-existing conditions, maybe you`re pro-choice and you`re trying to make that case that you`re independent, moderate.
The President comes along, as David is saying, and makes it about an invading army from the south and fear and loathing and suddenly you get caught up into that down-ballot.
DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN (D), MARYLAND: Well, and this is at the President`s hands. I mean, very clearly, these particular members suffered because the President of the United States embarked on that journey.
And when I look at some of those members, they were going to be tough races anyway. There were really good Democrats who were running against them, but the President made it even more difficult for them. And so anybody who thinks that Donald Trump is going to stand with them, not happening. Donald Trump only stands with himself. And today, and I have to associate myself with David Jolly, he was very small today.
WILLIAMS: And if you`re Congressman Curbelo in Florida, when your time in Congress comes to an end, you have to kind of unspool your congressional office and your district offices and employees need some love and in addition to mispronouncing his name, this is what he gets.
EDWARDS: Well, it`s true. And I have to say, in this intervening period and given what happened with attorney general, former Attorney General Sessions today, there`s no reason whatsoever that these particular Republicans shouldn`t align themselves with Democrats in the House, right now in this intervening time to protect the Mueller investigation.
WILLIAMS: Now David Jolly, here`s the question. For the democrats, should last night`s results be about pre-existing conditions more than, can we get his tax returns, who should we subpoena, who`s going to crack down on these committees?
JOLLY: It should be both. The exit polling questions did not combine everything we needed to know. They said, what`s the number one issue? Is it health care, taxes, or immigration? But we also separately said, are you trying to send the message to the President?
The overwhelming message was, they`re trying to send a message to the President of the United States. I think that for two years, we`ve talked about holding this President accountable. And Democrats in Congress truly have to do that. If they don`t, they might lose the most energized part of their base.
And frankly, it`s a calling of history. We are living in a moment where 24 hours after this election, the attorney general of the United States has been fired. The only people inside the beltway that will hold this President accountable are Democrats and if they fail to do so, then they will not be able to say, we stood up to this President. They must do so.
WILLIAMS: How to tell these are former members of Congress? The civility in our conversation tonight. We`ve asked them to stick around. We`re just going to get in a break.
And coming up, Sessions is out. All eyes on Mueller. Congressional leaders say they have a plan "B." we`ll talk about that when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNITICUT, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It is a "Break the glass" moment, an attack on our democracy and it should precipitate exactly the kind of firestorm that we saw in the wake of the Saturday night massacre under Richard Nixon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says that the firing of Sessions has him working on a plan "B" to protect and preserve the work of Robert Mueller. And Congressman Jerry Nadler, New York Democrat who will be running the House Judiciary Committee come January released a statement demanding key officials preserve all relevant documents related to Sessions` dismissal.
He added, "The firing of Jeff Sessions will be investigated and people will be held accountable. This must begin immediately and if not, then a Democratic Congress will make this a priority in January".
Our former members of Congress, Donna Edwards and David Jolly are still with us. Congressman Jolly, can you name a Republican or Republicans in the U.S. Senate who will cross the aisle and work on the Mueller preservation act of 2018?
JOLLY: No, because they would have done so already. And I credit Mitt Romney and other Republican senators who at least suggested today that the probe should continue. But honestly, I believe that Mitt Romney is going to be the next Jeff Flake of the United States Senate, because there`s a difference between saying "We need justice to prevail" and actually doing something legislatively about it.
It`s why the importance of Democrats taking the House matters. In the House rules package on January 3rd, House Democrats can form a special select committee to convene its own investigation and if Mueller has already been fired, they can subpoena Mueller to be a witness.
Eventually, House Democrats will get a Mueller report. I think we`ve seen from Republicans inside the beltway, particularly in the United States Senate, they`re not going to do a single thing about this.
WILLIAMS: Donna Edwards, same question.
EDWARDS: Well, I have thought for a long time that if Democrats regain control of the House, that clearly they have subpoena power, they should do their investigations and oversight, but they have to walk and chew gum at the same time. Do policy on one hand --
WILLIAMS: We talked about that last night.
EDWARDS: -- but also to make sure that there`s accountability. But that`s in January. And so this time between now and January, really, the ball is in the court of the Senate. And today Mark Warner issued a statement, an affirmative statement for Bob Mueller, but we didn`t hear a statement from Richard Burke.
WILLIAMS: I heard you say that on the air. That was vital.
EDWARDS: Yes, it`s really important. Because in previous other instances, they have joined together in issuing those statements. And so it`s going to be an important moment, both on the street for activists and advocates to be out there pressing the issue, and I know that there are a lot of those actions going to go on, but also right now, this time between now and January 3rd is really critical.
And I would not put it past the President, given what he`s done today that just go full boar. And we have to be ready for that. At the same time, we have to make sure we`re not just focused on every investigation. And what I heard Nancy Pelosi say today, again after she said it last night, she articulated a policy agenda, but she also emphasized that the House of representatives was going to reclaim its constitutional authority and its constitutional role.
And I think Americans are going to look forward to that.
WILLAIMS: All right. We`ll go on that message, to go off into the good night with our thanks to Donna Edwards and David Jolly, former Democrat, former Republican member of Congress.
Coming up for us, asked about the deep divisions in the country, the President says he`s the moral leader who can heal the country, when we come back.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you see your role as a moral leader?
TRUMP: Go ahead, please.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, how do you see your role as a moral leader.
TRUMP: There`s so many people. I`m sorry. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a moral leader, though?
TRUMP: I think I am a great moral leader and I love our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump again in the White House today, while claiming to be a great moral leader, Trump refused a chance to reset politics and apologize for the dismissive rhetoric we have heard over the past month. We`ll he`s been out on the campaign trail.
Great subject to talk about tonight. And with us to do so, Pulitzer prize- winning presidential Author and Historian, Jon Meacham. His latest book is "The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels." and Rick Wilson is back with us, a proud Floridian, and a proud never-Trumper, a veteran Republican strategist who has written a book slightly different in tone from Jon`s, it`s called "Everything Trump Touches Dies," where all the better angels are done by the end. Book. Gentlemen, welcome --
JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAL & BIOGRAPHER. Do you think you were being a little subtle with the cover?
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I tried to make it something that people could really draw their own conclusions on.
WILLIAMS: So I get home from work last night, more appropriately, this morning. And of course, you can`t come down right away, so you do what every good American should do, you turn on MSNBC. 4:00 in the morning, you`re here with notes on a shirt cardboard. And I`m thinking, does Beschloss do this? No, he`s got neat little notebooks. But God love you for putting the hours.
MEACHAM: Beschloss has that pencil box he carries around. It`s just terrible.
WILLIAMS: So I know we could be in the middle of a multi-day story here, but where does history put what we witnesses today?
MEACHAM: Well, which hour?
WILLIAMS: Yes, right. Well, that`s right. There`s the midterm results. Then, oh, by the way we fired the attorney general.
MEACHAM: And in between you had what, an 85-minute tour de force.
MEACHAM: Press conference.
WILSON: Or tour de force
MEACHAM: Where you go. Yes, exactly. That`s why your cover`s better. That`s good. Where he`s asserted moral leadership. And then, of course, pulls the reporter`s hard pass tonight. One of the things that things that -- my book is fundamentally, my thinking on this is fundamentally optimistic.
We have been in extraordinarily difficult times before. Doesn`t mean we should relax but doesn`t mean we can`t learn from how we survive these errors before. I had a list of three things, though, that would push me past where, as we say in the south, where the buses run.
One is moving an election, possibly, trying to fire a judge and revoking a press credential. And so, check on one of the whoa moments. I think in terms of, there are echoes of Watergate, obviously. In both the egotistical performance in the east room today, and in the assertions of executive power in the face of a potentially hostile Congress.
This feels more and more like Andrew Johnson. And his opposition to the reconstruction legislation of the Republican Party, in accepting the verdict of the civil war, which will the party wanted to do, Johnson did not. And we ended up with an impeachment.
WILLIAMS: So, Rick Wilson, in your view, what happened today?
WILSON: I think we saw our President today who recognized that playtime is over. And the easy -- the easy backstop he had with the Republican Congress, that acted a lot more like they were, junior managers at a Trump resort somewhere, and not like a coequal branch of government, that`s coming to an end.
And the fun part`s over. And he recognized today with the move against Jeff Sessions, that the Mueller investigation now will be something that he will have to face head-on. He won`t have Devin Nunes running out to the cameras or Jim Jordan running out to the cameras to pretend they`ve discovered some shocking new revelation at the FBI.
This is going to get very real, and the legal consequences are going to be very high. So, he`s trying to flail around before the music stops and find a way to protect himself for 2020, and to hold onto this office. I think we saw a man under a lot of stress today and with the revelation, he was an angry -- it was an angry discursive press conference.
WILIAMS: It was angry.
WILSON: This was not a man who had a tight control over his temper today, and I don`t think that this is the last we`re going to see of this version of Donald Trump, which is a very rough and edgy version, which is kind of frightening for a President. You always hope that Presidents will assume that mantle of that office and not just let their ego run wild. And we saw an ego out of control today.
WILLIAMS: Both gentlemen have agreed to stay with us. We`ll continue this conversation right on the other side of this break.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, when asked if his language is dividing this country, the President rejected that idea today, and instead, he wanted to focus on Republican victories last night.
Still with us to talk about all of it, John Meachum and Rick Wilson. Rick, did you ever think in your lifetime, in a lifetime in Republican politics, that you would view Democrats taking power in the House as a necessary check on the power of a Republican president?
WILSON: If you`d said this to me three years ago, I would have laughed. I would have said, that`s absurd. But right now, look, I would have loved to have a Republican majority that took their job seriously, as a coequal branch of government, with an oversight responsibility inside the system that has survived for two centuries, balancing the three branches of government in their coequal nature.
But right now, without the Democrats having taken the House, no matter what the other impacts idealogically come out of it, they`re at least going to provide oversight. They`re at least going to provide a fire break between a President who is at least authoritarian curious, and they`re at least going to provide some way for the American people to know that this guy can`t run roughshod in Washington.
WILLIAMS: And John, can you name, or, is this lofty stuff of the past, one, two, members of the Republican Senate who would consider walking across the aisle? I promised to ask all our guests this question tonight, to do the Mueller Protect Act of 2018 and Trump-proof this investigation. Is there anyone you can name?
MEACHAM: I have not talked to him about it. I would like to think that Lamar Alexander.
WILLIAMS: A name I`ve read.
MEACHAM: Who has spoken about, no attorney general should be confirmed who would not guarantee the independence. So I think that would be a possibility. I think Bob Corker, too, short-timer, but, I give you the two Tennessee guys, but I do think there`s something in the DNA of a border state that lends itself to that.
WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson, what, in your view, happened writ large last night? When I saw that Kansas had elected --
WILLIAMS: A Native American lesbian Ivy League law school educated, former MMA fighter, and those aren`t four people, that`s one person --
WILLIAMS: I knew we were going to be covering an interesting night.
WILSON: We really did have an interesting night. I think the most consequential thing last night came out of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, these states that Donald Trump won out of that blue wall, where Democrat candidates swept in congressional races in suburban areas and where the governor`s races went to the Democrats.
That should be a sharp signal that the President`s trade wars aren`t working out for those folks, and that his shtick here without Hillary Clinton as his foil, may not wear as well as they think. I think it`s a big warning, some big red flag for 2020, which I think is driving a lot of the very angry and eccentric behavior we`re seeing today.
WILLIAMS: John Meachum, 45 seconds of brilliance. Do they face peril, the Democrats now, concentrating now more on subpoenas and hearings and tax returns than pre-existing conditions?
MEACHUM: I think there`s a conventional wisdom phrase out there, can I double down and weaponize, which we should avoid using, that people can walk and chew gum at the same time. And I think if it falls within the constitutional duty, it`s not what Senator McConnell called presidential harassment today, which is a really interesting phrase.
I don`t think there`s any coordination with the White House, because I don`t think they`re capable of it, but for him, for McConnell to have introduced that phrase in the morning and then that afternoon, for the Sessions announcement to come, you did -- that does give you an insight into a mindset that`s going to be much more about the imperial presidency than checks and balances.
WILLIAMS: They`re tell me, we have to go. I do so reluctantly. Gentlemen, what a treat it`s been to have you both on the broadcast.
WILSON: Thank you, sir.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END