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At least 59 people killed in California Wildfires. TRANSCRIPT: 11/14/18, 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Mimi Rocah, Michael McFaul, Bill Kristol

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, as an angry President makes bizarre new accusations about voter fraud and people wearing disguises to the polls and what`s required to buy groceries in America, the First Lady appears to have hit her target as a White House national security official is taken out.

Plus, the increasingly isolated President prompts warnings the U.S. is surrendering its critical role of global broker as other world leaders step up.

And class photo day for incoming members of Congress as the size of the blue wave becomes now more clear.  The parties pick their leadership teams for the perilous two years ahead as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 664 of this Trump administration, and there continues to be this avalanche of reports about the President`s personal anger and bitterness, following the midterms, a bad trip overseas, reports of new upheaval in the west wing.

Tonight the Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel, who is said to have repeatedly clashed with the First Lady`s East Wing staff, is out of the West Wing.  Officially, she`s being reassigned

According to the White House, "Mira Ricardel will continue to support the President as she departs the White House to transition to a new role within the administration."  That new role was not announced.

As for the other administration official said to be on her way out tonight, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is still on the job.  There was a Nielsen sighting today.  She was alongside Secretary of Defense Mattis visiting troops at the U.S.-Mexico border today, guarding against that caravan.

While all that was going on, the President was talking to The Daily Caller.  Asked about Nielsen`s future as a member of his Cabinet, he said, "I`m looking at things.  I haven`t made a decision yet.  I`ll be making a decision on Homeland shortly.  I will be making changes on various things."

Trump also spoke to the conservative website about his frustration over the Democrats` flipping the House and the ongoing Florida recount.  And we quote again.  "The Republicans don`t win and that`s because of potentially illegal votes.  When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles.  Sometimes they go it their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again."

He went on to say, "If you buy a box of cereal, you have a voter I.D. they try to shame everybody by calling them racist or calling them something, anything they can think of, when you say you want voter I.D.  But voter I.D. is a very important thing."

Now, if you don`t recall having to produce I.D. to buy groceries, if you weren`t alone.  And if you`re not familiar with people wearing disguises to your local polling place, you`re not alone either.  Soon after those comments were posted, White House reporters asked the President for facts to support his assertions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, you just said that people used disguises to cast illegal votes?  Do you have any evidence of voter fraud like that?

Do you have any evidence of voter fraud?  Why make that false claim without evidence?


WILLIAMS:  Still no answer to the cereal question.  Meanwhile, this man, the Mueller investigation, moving ahead on a number of fronts.  Mueller`s team appears to be focusing on whether long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone had contact with WikiLeaks and knew ahead of time about the release of those stolen Democratic e-mails during the campaign.

The "Wall Street Journal" reporting that the special counsel`s office is now looking into possible witness intimidation by Stone and his former friend Randy Credico.  Stone has claimed that Credico, this man, was a back channel to WikiLeaks.  Credico denies that.

And NBC News has exclusively obtained text messages from October 2016 between Stone and Credico in which they discuss WikiLeaks just six days before the release of John Podesta`s e-mails.

Stone, who has already said he expects to be indicted, was on Laura Ingraham`s radio show earlier today.


ROGER STONE, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR:  There is no evidence whatsoever of Russian collusion or WikiLeaks collaboration or any proof or evidence that I knew in advance the source or the content of allegedly stolen or allegedly hacked e-mails published by WikiLeaks.

I never discussed John Podesta`s e-mails in my tweets.  The allegation that I somehow knew in advance about the theft of his e-mails is patently untrue.


WILLIAMS:  Mueller`s team is also continuing to get information from former Trump Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates.  In court today prosecutors said they were not ready to sentence Gates because he is continuing to cooperate with ongoing investigations.

And the man Mueller is now reporting to, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, today received a ruling from the Justice Department`s own in- house office of legal counsel saying it looks good to them, his appointment is lawful and valid.  A good many others disagree.  They feel Whitaker has prejudged the Russia investigation and that his appointment in the first place is unconstitutional.

Today Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake tried to force a vote on a bill to protect Mueller`s job but was blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Flake holds the deciding vote, as you may recall, on a narrowly divided Senate Judiciary Committee.  He now says he won`t vote to advance or confirm Trump administration judicial nominees unless a vote to protect Mueller is held.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE, (R)ARIZONA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Well, the President has said that he`s not going to move on the special counsel.  But that`s not enough. when you have the attorney general fired and the oversight for the investigation moved to someone who has not received Senate confirmation, who has expressed open hostility to the Mueller investigation then there`s a problem.


WILLIAMS:  So much to talk about as we bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night.  John Heilemann, MSNBC National Affairs Analyst, also co- author of "Game Change" and "Double Down" as well as co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime.  Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-Winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post."  And Mimi Rocah, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.  Welcome to you all.

Mr. Rucker, I`d like to read you a quote from your newspaper tonight.  We have such a stack of issues.  Let`s stack them back up and start at the start.  "The first lady`s decision to publicly advocate for the ouster of a senior member of her husband`s staff shows a new willingness on her part to weigh in on White House operations and marks a change from earlier in the Trump administration when she repeatedly played down her role as adviser to the President.  Ricardel`s dismissal also serves as a rebuke of John Bolton, known for his sharp elbows and ability to navigate internal tensions, who refused for weeks to fire his hand-picked deputy and worked in the past day to protect her."

May I add that Bolton is 10,000 miles away in Asia on a business trip?


WILLIAMS:  Phil, have we overplayed the hunger games aspect of this east wing/west wing drama, or do we have it about right?

RUCKER:  I think you have it about right, Brian.  It`s not just a hunger games drama.  But she is the number two national security official in the White House.  And with Bolton overseas in Asia she`s functioning as the top national security official until today, this afternoon when we learned that she would be leaving.

Look, she is, you know, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way in the West Wing because she has been John Bolton`s enforcer.  Bolton is famous through past administrations for being a bureaucratic fighter, for being able to manipulate the bureaucracy and amass power inside administrations.  And Mira Ricardel has helped him do that in the White House.

But it seems like the last straw was this run-in with the First Lady Melania Trump regarding the travel plans for her trip to Africa last month.  Ricardel noticed as the planning was taking place that the flight manifest for the first lady`s flight to Africa did not include a seat for Ricardel or for any other National Security Council official.

And that the National Security Council figures -- policy experts, rather, were told to fly commercially on their own to get to Africa and to meet up with the First Lady`s traveling party on the ground, which she interpreted as a real slight.  And that created a lot of bad blood between her and the First Lady`s office.  And then we saw that extraordinary statement yesterday where the first lady`s office said look, "We don`t think she deserves the honor of serving in this White House."

WILLIAMS:  Yes, that`ll probably do it.  John, let`s go to the next item in this with some personal news.  I was at my favorite shop around 3:00 p.m. on Sunday --


WILLIAMS:  Shop Rite.

HEILEMANN:  Oh, Shop Rite.  You`ve been in Shop Rite.


HEILEMANN:  :  OK, yes.  OK.

WILLIAMS:  Bought several makes of cereal.


WILLIAMS:  Sailed through check-out.  I now feel like I might have committed cereal fraud.  I was not asked for nor did I produce I.D.

HEILEMANN:  :  And when you say cereal fraud, are you talking about fraud related to cereal or many forms of fraud in the same place?

WILLIAMS:  Many brands of cereal.

HEILEMANN:  :  Serial fraud related to cereal.

WILLIAMS:  What do you make of the President`s comments on cereal purchases and on the wearing of a disguise to the polls?

HEILEMANN:  :  Well, I mean, look, it`s comical and absurd and ridiculous and has no basis in reality.  It`s a surrealist kind of hyper weird --

WILLIAMS:  But it`s our President, John.

HEILEMANN:  -- fantasy.  I know.  I understand.

But the President has made -- look, there are various levels of gaudiness to the absurdities of the things he says about voter fraud, but all of them are rooted in something that`s fundamental.

In some ways making the allegation that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote because there were three million illegal votes cast in the 2016 election --


HEILEMANN:  -- is no more or less absurd than the thing about the disguises and the grocery store.  It just doesn`t sound as kind of comical.  But they`re all equally absurd and equally insidious and equally baseless.  And all equally driven by the same impulse, which is to cast doubt on the validity of the system so that when the system turns against him if it does turn against him, when he loses an election, when he is standing for election, he will have laid the predicate down to say the system was rigged, somehow this was stolen from me.

That is what it`s all been about from the beginning in 2016 all the way through to now, is that moment he knows is coming, when he`s going to lose a vote and he`s going to say, "Well, I`ve been telling you for the last three years that this whole system is rife with fraud."  And now he`s making up increasingly kind of absurd versions of that.

WILLIAMS:  And counselor, you get us of course to Roger Stone.  This will make maybe the 15th conversation you and I have had about Roger Stone.  Does this get us where you thought we were headed, especially this aspect that he may be affecting witnesses?

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Right.  So we have talked a lot about Stone.


ROCAH:  I think what`s new here is first of all this idea that -- not idea, the reporting that Mueller is looking at Stone for intimidating witnesses.

Because two things.  One, that`s an additional potential charge against Stone.  But it also goes to this point that we`ve talked about before with Trump and others, consciousness of guilt.

If Stone, which it seems from the reporting, is trying to get witnesses to adopt his version of the truth to, you know, make their story match his, well, why?  What is he hiding?

And you know, he is very good at going on T.V. and tweeting and making videos of him saying, "I didn`t know anything," and he keeps changing his story, though.  And every time something comes out in the reporting he discovers a new batch of texts that show that he really didn`t know anything in advance.

And you know, look, we can`t parse all the facts because we don`t have all the evidence that Mueller does.  But it is very clear that there are way too many coincidences here that don`t add up that Stone is going to have to answer for at some point, I think.  And we`ll just have to see what form that takes.

HEILMANN:  I`ll tell you one fact we can parse.  Roger Stone lies all the time.

ROCAH:  Yes.

HEILMANN:  He`s been a pathological serial liar through his -- many times throughout his entire career, though.  Going back 40 years in politics, Roger Stone lies about everything.

ROCAH:  Yes.

HEILMANN:  And so the point that`s the one North Star, home truth about Roger Stone.  And so I actually am kind of tired of this story.  I`m to the point where it`s like there -- he`s going to get indicted and then we`re going to find out what the whole evidence tells us.  But all of his assertions now are utterly worthless and completely in keeping with the fact that he lies about everything all the time.

ROCAH:  And one additional point on that, I think because we all say why isn`t he indicted yet, it makes me think there is more coming and it`s not just going to be about his lies and it might not just be Stone. right?  But we think there`s going to be a couple of people involved who get indicted.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  So Phil Rucker, you get us to the effort to protect Mueller.  And before we talk about it, I want to play you Lindsey Graham on this subject tonight on Fox News.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA:  This is a manufactured problem. President Trump is not going to fire Mueller.  Mueller`s going to be allowed to do his job.  And we need conservative judges on the bench, as many as we can, as often as we can get them.


WILLIAMS:  By the way, I feel duty-bound always to read this tweet from Lindsey Graham May 2016.  "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed, and we will deserve it."  It`s always kind of an evergreen that we keep in the hopper.

So Phil Rucker, what is the takeaway value for people who are legitimately concerned, Jeff Flake et al about the protection of Mueller?

RUCKER:  Well, Brian, they`re legitimately concerned that the President could at some point act to try to restrain or get rid of Mueller as the special counsel.  And that`s why they`re putting forward this legislation.  Flake and a number of Democrats, you know, want legislation that would create protections for the special counsel.  That has been shot down by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today.

And a number of Republicans who are loyal to the President say it`s not necessary because they take the President at his word.  But as you saw Flake say in his speech on the Senate floor today, it`s not enough to take this President on his word.  He has removed the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after more than a year of publicly complaining that the Attorney General was not loyal enough to him personally to protect him and insulate him from the Russia investigation.

So he`s clearly shown a willingness to act on personnel matters based on his sort of personal priorities on the Russia investigation.  And I think that`s why Flake and so many Democrats on Capitol Hill are concerned that he could be convinced or motivated to act one step further again in the future.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s put up the Paul Begala tweet from earlier today.  And John, this is germane.  I spotted this.  "You`re going to need scuba gear if you`re holding your breath waiting for Senator Collins to do the right thing."

Now, Begala is a Democratic operative just for factual sake.  But what Susan Collins and flake have in common is so many democrats run to them with a warm embrace to find it`s smoke, it`s a mirage.  And are we making the same mistake with Senator Flake, who has days left in the Senate, by the way?

HEILMANN:  Right.  Well, I think the main thing they have in common, Brian is, something they also have in common with Lindsey Graham, which is they`re Republican United States senators who have a bunch of ulterior motives for everything they do.

Lindsey Graham is on television saying these things because he ultimately wants some other job, maybe attorney general, maybe another job in the administration.  Susan Collins is afraid she`s going to get primaried by a Trump conservative so she votes yes on Kavanaugh.  She`ll never do the right thing in terms of trying to protect Bob Mueller.  And Jeff Flake in his closing days in the United States Senate is not -- is clearly looking down the road at some other thing he`s going to run for, perhaps running as an independent Presidential candidate against Donald Trump.

And so in these last days when it doesn`t really count but he wants to be remembered as having taken a stand against Donald Trump on principle, he now do these things in a kind of grandstanding way.  They`re all transparently political in my view, of all three of them.  And I hate to be cynical on this show because I know you value idealism --


HEILMANN:  -- and altruism here.  But I have some -- I have just a small sack full of cynicism applied to all three of those characters.

WILLIAMS:  Mimi, don`t pay any attention.  He`s so cynical.

So, Mimi, the in-house office of legal counsel at the Justice Department says "General Whitaker looks good to us."  What are we to think that?

ROCAH:  Look, it`s disappointing in the sense that I think it`s wrong, but it`s not entirely surprising.  This is the same office that said that the first travel ban was legal and that didn`t work out so well in the courts.  So --

WILLIAMS:  Aren`t they career people, though?

ROCAH:  Well, they are.  Although the author of it is someone who is kind of a Republican -- I don`t want to say operative, that`s too strong of a word.  But he`s on the Democratic -- Republican side.  And, you know, the point is that look, I think there are many stronger arguments that it is unconstitutional, his appointment.  There are still very good arguments that it`s not lawful under the statute, which was the main argument that the OLC memo addressed.

But the real point is, it`s just wrong.  I mean, you know, Walter Schwab has a great article that came out today where he said, "You know, look at the last President who got rid of someone to impact an investigation of him was forced to resign."  Trump has now done this twice, with the FBI director, with the Attorney General.

And then he`s installed someone who has said already "Oh, I don`t think he committed any kind of conspiracy or collusion."  He`s prejudged it without knowing all the facts.

I mean, if that isn`t a reason to get a President to resign, forget about criminal prosecution, you know, I don`t know what is.  And so the fact that the Republicans are silent on this and that this is being allowed to happen, whether or not you can come up with some legal, technical legal argument about why it`s okay, it`s just not the right -- it`s wrong.

And, you know, there`s so many other questions too about Whitaker.  I mean, I think this whole question with him and this company that he was a part of, if we weren`t so exhausted from talking about everything else we could spend, you know, 20 minutes on that.

WILLIAMS:  I promised everybody so many topics, so little time.  That`ll have to bring a halt to our first segment.  With our thanks to Philip Rucker, to Mimi Rocah and the cynical John Heilemann, always ready to play.  Thank you all very much.

Coming up, as the House Democratic majority grows, the Republicans choose their management team for when they report to work as the minority.

And later, a judge is about to decide whether the White House had the right to pull a network correspondent`s press pass.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Wednesday night.



SEN. MITCH MCCONELL, (R) KENTUCKY:  We`re here this morning to welcome our six new Republican senators who will allow us to continue our majority.  And we`ll be heading across the way here shortly to collect the leadership team for the next two years.  Good morning.

TED BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Governor Scott, do you still contend that there`s fraud going on in Florida with this recount?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right, everyone, thank you very much.

KASIE HUNT, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Is this picture going to be outdated by tomorrow?


WILLIAMS:  That was Florida governor Rick Scott on Capitol Hill today.  He has declared himself the winner of the Florida Senate race, posed for photos there with the Majority Leader, even as the statewide recount continues tonight.

Incumbent Senator Bill Nelson has filed a lawsuit to extend tomorrow`s deadline.  And a judge is also considering his request that thousands of provisional ballots be considered.

In Congress the midterm shift in power means new leadership in the House.  Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, will now be the top Republican, replacing the outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan.  He easily defeated a dark horse challenge by Trump loyalist Jim Jordan, the Congressman from Ohio.  More on him in a bit.

Democrats won`t vote on their leadership until January 3rd.  Nancy Pelosi has remained confident she will become the new speaker despite some behind- the-scenes moves to push her aside.

According to Politico, "Pelosi vowed Wednesday morning in no uncertain terms to vanquish her opponents."  Our own first read puts it this way, and we, "Democrats are stuck between the option of an unpopular Pelosi who`s problematic for many of the House freshmen who just won and the option of no real plan b."

Meanwhile, Democrats have officially picked up three more seats in the House since we last spoke.  In a late call tonight NBC news is reporting Harley Rouda has ousted California incumbent Dana Rohrabacher.  And Josh Harder is the apparent winner in District 10 outside San Jose.  In New Jersey Andy Kim has been declared the winner in the state`s 3rd district, leaving just a single Republican representing the state of New Jersey in their delegation in Washington.

With us tonight for more, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the "Washington Post" and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.

Bob, a lot to react to there.  But, let`s talk about House leadership on the Republican side.  Tell the folks about the back and forth between Congressman McCarthy of California, Congressman Jordan of Ohio, and the role Donald Trump is playing in all this.

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  The race for the Republican House leadership position was really a race between Trump allies Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy, who was going to be the most influential Trump ally on Capitol Hill.

It was a powerful statement tonight for Leader McCarthy to become now the minority leader to lead House Republicans, to beat Jim Jordan from Ohio so soundly in a leadership race.  It`s a statement to the whole House GOP conference that McCarthy is in charge, Paul Ryan is heading for the exit.  But Jordan still trying to be a player, wants to be ranking on the Judiciary Committee, to be right up there against Jerry Nadler of New York.  But McCarthy hasn`t made any promises to Jim Jordan.  At this point nothing is guaranteed in terms of the committees.

WILLIAMS:  Meanwhile, look at the incredible shrinking Republican Caucus from California.  I was reminded tonight there are 53 seats in Congress in one state, in California.  Forty three now Democrat, eight Republican, two undecided.  That`s unbelievable and it`s the power base of Kevin McCarthy.

COSTA:  When you look at the map of California, it`s just like what you saw in New Jersey in the midterm elections.  A suburban wipeout.  And for McCarthy, who comes from the Conservative area in the Central Valley, Bakersfield, California, those Conservative seats are safe.  But how safe?

You look at Orange County, a real devastating run for Republicans this year.  And you see California continuing to turn left and McCarthy wasn`t able to stave off those defeats.

WILLIAMS:  Now, there`s an old political bromide, and there are many of these, you know them all, that midterms take out the moderates.  They often leave both sides standing.  So you get the extremes, the righties and the lefties.

Having established that, let`s talk about Nancy Pelosi.  It is odd that the Democrats have picked up all these seats, there is now talk that Pelosi should be out.  The Democrats in the Senate lost seats.  You don`t hear that about Chuck Schumer.  So what`s going on in the House?

COSTA:  At this point the most interesting development is Marcia Fudge, a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from Ohio, which is notably also the state where Tim Ryan, the chief Pelosi foe, is from.  She has said she could be interested in a bid for speaker, picking up on some of this discontent among House Democrats.

But talking to Pelosi allies tonight, Brian, I was roaming around Capitol Hill at all these new member gatherings.  Pelosi`s confident, her allies tell me she`s "on fire."  She believes she remains the consensus picks, that the moderates like Tim Ryan and others, they grumble but they don`t have a plan and in politics you need a plan.

Look at the Freedom Caucus when they try to take out Boehner or Ryan.  If you go to the floor, you`d better have a plan or else that person, like Pelosi, she`ll continue to hold the gavel.

WILLIAMS:  This is why for good reason our money is always on the reporting of one Robert Costa.  Thank you so much for coming on the broadcast after a long day at work in that building behind you.  We appreciate it.

COSTA:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, Donald Trump`s growing isolation on the world stage on the problems it could bring.  We will talk to a career diplomat about it when THE 11TH HOUR continues.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  France is clearly not happy with comments President Trump made about their French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, which happened to be the Third Anniversary of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Trump criticized Macron`s call for a European army and his recent condemnation of nationalism, saying in part, "The problem is that Emmanuel suffers from a very low approval rating in France, 26 percent, and an unemployment rate of almost 10 percent.

He was just trying to get on to another subject.  By the way, there is no country more nationalist than France.  Very proud people and rightfully so.  Make France great again."

Earlier today a French government spokesman offered this response to our president.  "Yesterday was November 13.  We were commemorating the murder of 130 of our people.  So I`ll reply in English.  Common decency would have been appropriate."

This all follows Trump`s lonely weekend in Paris during which he was reportedly in a very angry mood and half the time looked it.  The trip prompted "Washington Post" Opinion Columnist David Ignatius to write in part, "Trump set the NATO alliance wobbling from the day he took office, raising doubts about the United States` continued readiness to pay for other countries` defense.  Europeans spent the year trying to make nice but they seem to have gotten the message.  The United States isn`t a fully reliable protector anymore."

Well, here to talk about all of it.  America`s changing role on the world stage.  A veteran diplomat, Michael McFaul.  Our former U.S. Ambassador to Russia.  Ambassador, I started with a foreign correspondent earlier this week by asking the standard question.  What are they saying about us over there? And to your mind what are they saying about us over there?

AMB. MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  I think David gets it right.  In the beginning they`re trying to make good to think that they could court him and everybody thought flattery works with the President.  But two years in they`re not finding that works.

So they`re thinking about going their own way.  And let`s be clear.  They`ve been talking about a European army long before President Trump.  So that`s not something new.  But to say it the way they did when he was there was striking to me.

The other thing that was striking to me, I traveled with President Obama to many of these kinds of summits over the course of my time when I worked at the White House.  There was always a giant demand to get on his schedule, right?

We use to have duke it out, who is he going to meet with.  It was striking to me that nobody seemed to want to meet with President Trump.  He was just sitting there as you said alone.  He had one major bilateral (ph).  That was with President Macron.

WILLIAMS:  If we are a nation alone increasingly because he is increasingly a President alone, if that follows, who wins?  Who benefits from that?

MCFAUL:  Well, first I think it`s very dangerous that we`re alone.  I want to make that clear.  The withdrawal doctrine of the Trump administration pulling out of the IMF treaty, pulling out of the Paris peace -- climate accord.  Pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.  Pulling out of the TPP, the trade deal, in Asia.  That makes us weaker.

And what drives me nuts about the President is he somehow thinks by pulling out makes us stronger.  That`s not the history of the last seven decades.  By being engaged, by being a leader, that makes us stronger.  But what happens in the vacuum I think in the short run it`s great for Putin.  Putin loves this in Europe.

The NATO allies tweeting at each other and arguing with each other.  That`s good for him in the short run.  And the long run I think the big winner is China.

WILLIAMS:  And when you look at this President on that stage, his reluctance to mark World War I, the first day of his visit.

MCFAUL:  Why go there if you`re not going show up?

WILLIAMS:  Apparently because of precipitation.  The next day he made this appearance, but the kind of duty and honor of the American presidency that he is not going along with.

MCFAUL:  Yes.  I would say two things about that.  One, his job is to advance American national interests when he engaged with other countries.  And when I see trips like this, I look at the score sheet and I say what American interest was advanced?

When I look at other ones.  Helsinki summit.  I go back to other ones.  It just doesn`t seem like he puts that at the top.  The other thing, he`s representing the United States of America.  He`s not there as Donald Trump.

And I as an American, I want him to show up.  I want him to show the honor to those veterans killed in action.  What could be more important for us?  That is his job.  It`s not just for him to travel and do what he wants.  He`s representing our country, the United States of America.

WILLIAMS:  Finally, please lay bare all of your electronic communications with your former colleagues.  I`m kidding.  But what are your friends in the diplomatic service saying, the people who make the work go and make our embassies go and actually carry out U.S. policy on the ground?

MCFAUL:  Well, of course they don`t like it.  They need a leader that shows up and that advances their interests, right?  When I was the head of the Moscow embassy, we had something called deliverables.  So when a senior person comes, especially the President, you want to get tangible things done.

Again, continuities apparent that we got anything done from this trip to France.  Some complain that he`s not at the Asia summits right now, right?  He didn`t go to the ASEAN summit.  Obama used to show up for that all the time.  He`s not going to the APEC summit.

President Xi`s going to be there, right?  Winners and losers.  He`s showing up because he knows it`s important.  But a part of me thinks, well, may be it`s just better if he doesn`t show up because he doesn`t really want to participate in that.  Maybe the vice president will do a better job.

WILLIAMS:  To our viewers a reminder, this is all in the ambassador`s book on this topic.  Thank you so much.

MCFAUL:  Yes, thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS:  Always great to see you.

MCFAUL:  Coming up for us, a banned White House reporter gets a surprising ally in his court battle to be reinstated.  That story when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Tonight, we have an update on CNN`s lawsuit against the White House after the President ordered the secret service to revoke the hard pass, the press pass of White House reporter Jim Acosta.

After hearing arguments from both sides the federal judge overseeing the suit said he will decide by 3:00 p.m. tomorrow whether to temporarily restore Acosta`s access.

In that interview with the daily caller today President Trump weighed in.  "We`ll see how the court rules.  Is it freedom of the press when somebody comes in and starts screaming questions and won`t sit down?  I really think that when you have guys like Acosta, I think they`re bad for the country."

Here`s another reminder of the exchange that led the White House to pull Acosta`s pass.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, if I may ask one other question, are you worried --


ACOSTA:  Mr. President --

TRUMP:  That`s enough.

ACOSTA:  The other folks -- pardon me, Ma`am, I`m -- Mr. President.

TRUMP:  That`s enough. 

ACOSTA:  Mr. President, I had one other question if I may ask on the Russia investigation.  Are you concerned that you may have --

TRUMP:  I`m not concerned about anything with the Russia investigation because it`s a hoax.

ACOSTA:  Are you --

TRUMP:  That`s enough.  Put down the mic. 

ACOSTA:  Mr. President, are you worried about indictments coming down in this investigation?  Mr. President --

TRUMP:  I tell you what.  CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them.  You are a rude, terrible person.  You shouldn`t be working for CNN.


WILLIAMS:  You put it that way.  Let`s talk about this with two of our friends, Eugene Robinson is back here with us.  Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post." and Bill Kristol is back with us.  A veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations and editor at large of the "Weekly Standard."

Eugene, the part of that that I don`t think has received enough press is the rally-like walk he takes adjacent to the podium and then comes back.  He does that at his rallies during pauses.


WILLIAMS:  And I think he was just getting his head straight.  So your organization, my news organization, Fox News have all joined together and submitted friend of the court briefs.  What do you think should happen here?  What do you think will happen here?

ROBINSON:  Well, look, the principle I think is clear.  Whether you like Jim Acosta or CNN or whether you like his style or even if you think he was rude, no president, no public official should get to decide who CNN sends to cover the White House, should get to ban a specific reporter because he doesn`t like the questions, he finds them inconvenient, he finds them too pressing.

That`s not the way this is supposed to work.  And so it doesn`t surprise me that many news organizations including those that compete against CNN have jumped in with friend of the court where you saying no, this is not acceptable, because if it happens to them it can happen to us and we can`t tolerate that sort of thing.

Now, as to what will happen, I don`t know.  I don`t know the legalities of this.

WILLIAMS:  Bill Kristol, you continue to be so much fun to follow on Twitter, whether it`s press freedoms or the purchase of cereal.  On this question specifically, I`d love you to weigh in on what you believe should happen in federal court.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD:  And I`m not sure about the legal arguments or where the other, but I do think this trend that politicians get to choose who covers them, and the White House is different, it`s the President, so there I think is much stronger ground for saying there has to be some procedure, presumably someone can misbehave so badly that he or she can be deprived or press pass.

But surely there would be a formal -- some kind of complaint, to the person would have a chance to make his case.  I mean, this is not the President doesn`t arbitrarily get to decide who covers him.  But a colleague of mine, Adam Rubenstein, was kicked out by Steve king of his election night gathering.

That`s I guess technically a private gathering at a hotel room.  But the general sense that people don`t -- there`s a general devaluation, let`s say, led by the President obviously of the importance not just of a free press but a press that has access or gets a chance to really report on what`s going on.

WILLIAMS:  Eugene and Bill have agreed to stay with us.  We`re just going to call a brief pause.  And we`ll take a break.  And we`ll continue our conversation on the other side.



TRUMP:  Working together with my administration over the last two years, these members have reached a bipartisan agreement.  Did I hear the word "bipartisan"?  Did I hear -- did I hear that word?  That`s a nice word.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump at the White House today praising the importance of bipartisanship.  The announcement signaling his support for prison reform legislation, backed by both parties, but not a single Democrat was at the event.

This comes on the heels of an op-ed on bipartisanship written by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the Democrats he wrote, "Will they choose to go it alone and simply make political points or will they choose to work together and actually make a difference?"

As we discussed earlier, McConnell rejected a bipartisan effort to protect Robert Mueller today.  And Democrats over the last 24 hours have been quick to remind everyone of the name Merrick Garland.

Still with us, Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol.  Eugene, how high are your hopes for bipartisanship of all things in these next two years?

ROBINSON:  Not terribly high.  There are some issues on which real progress could be made.  We see prison reform.  It would have been nice if they`d had some democrats at the announcement.  But in fact it was -- the legislation was being pushed by Democrats and worked out by Democrats and Republicans.

Great thing.  Sentencing reform is something that there`s bipartisan support for.  Of course, infrastructure.  There are several things that could happen.  But what does this President do?  What is his one political move, its driving wedges.

And I just can`t imagine that with 2020 approaching, Donald Trump is going to be able to resist doing the one thing he does really well in politics and that`s driving wedges and so I don`t see him embracing Democrats and singing Kumbaya for two years.

WILLIAMS:  And Bill, let`s turn to Congress.  We heard Jeff Flake today.  We have seen him for moderates and Democrats.  He has been more of a kind of theoric (ph) break on the power of Donald Trump than actual.

Come the new Senate, are you looking to Mitt Romney who would have a very wide lane, all his own to travel if he chose to be the guy, the Republican who went up against this President and this  White House?

KRISTOL:  Yes, I think the bipartisanship has to come from Congress, primarily.  There will be a Republican Senate and Democratic House that builds a certain incentive or certain necessity really to work together a bit.  I think Mitt Romney can be a very major figure.

But there are a plenty of other people who can step up here, who have been cowed a bit or just haven`t seen much point in sticking their head above the rim parts.  Lamar Alexander (ph), plenty of people who`ve been around the Senate who are serious people who really should, I think, liberate themselves from the President, liberate themselves from the extreme of their party, same with the Democrats.

I talked to a fair number of young members coming in, both the Democrats and the Republicans.  There were more Democrats obviously and I do think they are coming not simply to be rubber stamps for leaders but to try to get something done.  So, you could have back bench rebellions may be led by elder statesman like Mitt Romney against the partisanship of the leadership of the President.

WILLIAMS:  I have to ask a question that may reveal me as a lily livered good government type but during the McConnell, Harry Reid years, it was so much about the game.  It was so much about the inside game between those two guys and when I hear observers of House Democrats say that Pelosi has probably got it because she`s got the votes.

Is any one asking if she would be the best look, the best leader, the best national Democrat for this two-year period?

KRISTOL:  And I think, I don`t know what the Democrats are.  A Democrats are soft position there.  They have an experienced person to have as leader in a situation where the Republicans control the Senate.  So I can see if I were refresher Democrat, I would think is this time for a change to get rid of the whole trio even if their 70s and a fresh face might look better?

Maybe that two more years.  I got to think at some point Nancy Pelosi assures people that may be she`ll serve for just two years that she`ll promote for younger people into leadership and I suspect she then wins the fight to be the Democrats to be the speaker, speaker is an important job.  Not just the leader.

So, I mean I don`t now.  I mean, I personally closer to some of the rebels there, Seth and others but I can see why if you`re coming into the House now, you think maybe this -- we want to make change but maybe for this one or two years, we want to keep Nancy Pelosi.

WILLIAMS:  And Eugene, Rachel Maddow tonight, she noted without taking sides did note the disparity.  The Democrats gained seats and what`s the discussion, should we kick Pelosi aside?  The Democrats lose seats in the Senate, no one is questioning Chuck Schumer`s leadership.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Look, Nancy Pelosi, is extremely experience.  Lord knows she knows how to corral (ph) a caucus.  She know how to count votes, she will get stuff done as speaker.  At some point, Democrats do need younger faces.  Younger people as the face of the party, as the future of the party. 

WILLIAMS:  There is no shortage of them.

ROBINSON:  Well, there`s no shortage of them but who?  The challenge to Pelosi is coming from opposite ends of the party.  There are moderates who are saying no.  We have to moderate.  This is how we`re going to keep our majority.

This is how we`re going to challenge Trump.  We`re going to get disaffected Republicans and we`re going to get independents on this or what.  There`s a strong movement however on the left of the Democratic Party that`s also critical to Pelosi for not supporting Medicare for all and rearranging ICE and all those issues.

So how do you bridge that gap and I don`t see a figure in the party, a younger figure, a younger rising star who bridges those two quite different ways of thinking about the future of Democratic.

WILLIAMS:  Bill Kristol, I can offer you 15 seconds to get the final word.

KRISTOL:  I think you could have Nancy Pelosi as speaker and she could give a lot of the younger members including fresh one members, a chance to get on TV, to be spokesmen and women for the party at particular issues.  There are way he could have may be the best of both worlds for the Democrats.

WILLIAMS:  And to both gentlemen, as always, our thanks.  Always one of our favorite segments to Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol, much appreciated.

Coming up for us, a late update on the west coast when we continue.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go again tonight, the hellish images that continue to come out of California this evening and the word that most of the over 100 people listed at missing after the largest fire in the north called the camp fire, most of them are senior citizens.  A lot of seniors lived in paradise, California, the town that was destroyed in about eight hours.

This is now confirmed to be the worst and deadliest wildfire in a century.  Officials tonight raised the death toll on fires across the state to 59 people.  The search for missing persons and for remains is both urgent and dire.

Families looking for loved ones are hampered by the lack of infrastructure, power lines and cell phone towers burned down in the fires.  Roads remain closed so getting around and getting word out is very tough.

There is also the smoke.  This satellite view shows those Santa Ana Winds that blow it out west, out and over the pacific.  Then the smoke gets picked up by the prevailing weather pattern, the jet stream takes it from the west to the east across our country where as far east as Chicago, it still stands out and traces of that smoke make their way up and over New England and out over the Atlantic.

As the saying goes, it`s a small world and that much smoke from a historic fire has to go somewhere.  That is our broadcast on this Wednesday night.  Thank you so 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