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Julian Assange has been charged. TRANSCRIPT: 11/15/18, 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Schmidt, Sam Stein, Tamara Keith, David Fahrenthold

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: :  Tonight after days with his lawyers this week prepping answers for Mueller, President Trump unloads, slamming the investigation and the investigators.  His state of mind described as the worst it`s been since the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, a late indication tonight from the feds that something may be coming.  We will show you the late legal filing and go through what it might mean.

And a manual recount ordered tonight in the mess that is the Florida Senate race.  It`s a job big enough for Steve Kornacki at the big board as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Thursday night.

And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 665 of the Trump administration.

The President has unloaded a new barrage of attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Attacks on Mueller from this President aren`t new, but today`s were a new breed of unhinged and there maybe an explanation.  Our colleague Nicolle Wallace reports a source close to Trump tells her that, "His state of mind is the worst it`s been since the campaign and that among the West Wing staff there is a near universal sense of foreboding."

The new frontal attacks on Mueller also come a week after the firing of Jeff Sessions and the appointment of Matt Whitaker to run the Justice Department and heighten concerns, let`s not forget, that more indictments could be imminent.

Here is what the President wrote this morning, and we, "The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess.  They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts.  They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with answers they want.  They are a disgrace to our nation and they don`t care how many lives they ruin.

These are angry people, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for eight years.  They won`t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side." Switching to caps, "A total witch-hunt like no other in American history."

New reporting from "The New York Times" points toward one reason for this outburst.  Michael Schmidt is standing by to join us tonight, shares a by line on this piece with his colleagues Maggie Haberman and Eileen Sullivan.  It says the President spent three straight days this week sequestered with his legal team.  "Trump met with his personal lawyers in private meetings and worked to draft answers to questions posed by the special counsel."

"Washington Post" also has new reporting tonight on these questions from Mueller, "There are at least two dozen questions, all of which relate to activities and episodes from before Trump`s election, according to Giuliani and others briefed on the questions.  "There are some that create more issues for us legally than others," Giuliani said.  He said, some were unnecessary, some were possible traps, and, "we might consider some as irrelevant."  Giuliani said the special counsel has not imposed a firm deadline, but he added that Trump`s answers could be tomorrow."

We want to show you the headline on "The Post" story again because it also speaks to something of a victory for Mueller.  Today a federal judge refused to throw out his team`s indictment of a Russian firm alleged to have bank rolled efforts to influence our election.

The special counsel has also been focused on several one-time members of Trump`s inner circle.  Tonight we learned that Mueller`s prosecutors and attorneys for Paul Manafort are looking to delay filing a status report on Manafort`s cooperation or sentencing.  There may be a lot here, and we`re about to devote a segment to this next in the broadcast.

Yesterday, Mueller indicated sentencing for Manafort`s ex-business partner Rick Gates will be delayed because he continues to provide information.  On Monday, Mr. Trump`s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was spotted by an ABC News camera in Washington in the company of his lawyers, reportedly on route to see Mr. Mueller`s team.

Roger Stone and his allies continue to predict that they expect to be indicted at any moment.  While anxiety about Mueller`s next move may be growing at the White House, on Capitol Hill there is ongoing concern about the future of this investigation.

Outgoing Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, as we reported last night, says he`ll continue to push for a vote on a Mueller protection bill.  He`s already vowed to block Trump nominees awaiting a vote in the Judiciary Committee on which he sits.  Today some Republicans on that committee weighed in on Flake`s move.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you make of Senator Flake saying that he`s going to vote against judicial nominees until he gets a vote on the Mueller protection vote?

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R) IOWA, CHAIR. JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Since that bill came out of committee, I think it`s legitimate that the bill be brought up.  I`m not going to be in the forefront with Flake advocating that the leader do so and so, but I wouldn`t do anything to stop it.

SEN. LIDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I have a lot of confidence that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job.  As to the Mueller investigation, I am confident it is not in jeopardy.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R) LOUISIANA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I don`t agree with what he`s doing.  I don`t think the legislation that he and Senator Coons are proposing is either, a, constitutional, or, b, necessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  With that, let`s bring in our lead off panel on a Thursday night.  The aforementioned Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Price Winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times."  Sam Stein back with us as well, Politics Editor over at The Daily Beast.  Tamara Keith also returns to our broadcast, White House Correspondent for NPR.

All right, Michael, is this what it seem Donald Trump comes out of the concentrated for him Sessions with his legal team and in plain English, learns just how bad it is, and then goes on a rant on Twitter?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDET:  Well, there is a big issue here which is that they have been trying to get written responses to Mueller for several weeks now.  The President`s lawyers thought it would happen by Wednesday.  It still hasn`t happened.

The President`s lawyers have had the questions from Mueller.  They`ve known the topics for many, many months.  Why is it that they can`t give the written responses to Mueller?  What`s the problem with the answers?

Does it incriminate the President in a certain way?  Why is it that he can`t answer them?  And that is the question tonight.

What has caused this delay?  The negotiations over the interview began 11 months ago.  We are still here today, waiting for some resolution of it.  You have to wonder when Bob Mueller says, "Enough is enough, I need to go get a subpoena to compel the President to answer these questions."

WILLIAMS:  And, Michael, I keep wondering aloud on this broadcast.  What is the big deal here, are we really putting that much credence in written answers that are going to be the work of lawyers anyway?  This is not the President with a legal pad in the residence, just slaving away at it by night.

But as a part two to that question, what period of time would this cover?  Why would these answers be so fraught?

SCHMIDT:  These are supposed to be questions about Russia.  The Mueller wanted to sit down and interview the President.  He made this concession and said he could accept the answers in writing.  And he said, "I will pass on the obstruction questions for now.  Please answer the Russia ones."  So, he`s already giving the President a little bit here and all the President has to do is provide the written responses which have been typed out by his lawyers.

The question is, what is the hold up here?  Why is it that they can`t do that?  They have known the exact issues for so long.  There`s nothing really new here.  There may be a few new questions at the end and a few wrinkles.

But this is a process that has continued to drag.  And behind it all is the fact that the President has said he really would like to sit down with Mueller.  But you have to remember, it`s the President`s lawyers that are holding him back from that because they don`t trust that he`ll go in and tell the truth.  They think he`ll increase his political exposure.

So we`re sitting here, you know, there`s all this speculation about other things Mueller may do.  But at a very simple level, the President still has not answered questions and laid out his case to Mueller about Russia.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Sam Stein, our friends and fellow enemies of the people at Politico report it this way.  "You can see it in Trump`s body language all week long," said a senior Republican official, in touch with the White House.  It led me to believe the walls are closing in and they have been notified by counsel of some actions about to happen.  Folks are preparing for the worst."

Sam, does that jibe with your reporting?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR:  Yes, there was for about a month and a half this reprieve from Mueller talk.  Mueller following the President beforehand didn`t make any public announcements.  Made no notable public moves in the lead up to the election.  And that was sort of a sugar high period for Trump.

He was on the campaign trail a lot which is what he loves to do.  He`s in front of adoring audiences.  He was talking up a red wave.  And then things just sort of came to a head.  The election didn`t go as well as he wanted it to obviously.

And he`s now faced with the possibility of having a very sort of inconsequential lame duck.  And then this whole Mueller thing coming to a head in a way that is going to be incredibly problematic politically for the rest of his term.

So he is stewing in the White House.  He is not happy with how things are going.  He`s vented on Twitter more than he had been.

And the question, as Michael has been trying to get at, what exactly is prompting this specifically?  Is there a new development?  Why can`t they answer these questions?

There was nothing on Fox News, for instance, this morning about the Mueller investigation, which is usually what sets him off.  And so something clearly is happening behind the scenes.

You have all these things happening in the periphery, for instance.  And you noted Michael Cohen being in D.C. the fact that Rick Gates is still a cooperating witness.  That clearly are triggering moments.  But we don`t know exactly why the President acted this morning the way he did.

WILLIAMS:  Tamara, you know what were doing here, we`re kind of relitigating and investigating the sound and the fury as is so often our job.  And while we`re tempted to go back through the President`s Twitter tirade today and say, "You know what?  Mueller didn`t serve Obama for eight years.  He served for four."  And for the record, his last two Senate confirmations were 98 to nothing because two were absent and 100 to nothing when those two were back for FBI director.

Leaving that aside, Tamara, beyond sound and fury, how did the Trump agenda advance so far this week?

TAMARA KEIRH NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  You know, to be honest, he actually did do something this week, and it`s funny, he isn`t talking about it. You know, it could definitely still hit a snag but there was this announcement of a bipartisan deal that the White House is on board with regarding criminal justice reform, something that has been worked on for years and now President Trump is signing onto it.  There definitely is some push back up on Capitol Hill, but there is also a bipartisan coalition.

But instead of taking the victories or the near victories where they are, President Trump spent the morning tweeting about Mueller.  And if you go back in his Twitter history, he took a two-month reprieve from tweeting the name Mueller and now he`s back.  And he`s sort of brought back the greatest hits in these tweets.  These tweets could have been tweets from two months ago or six months ago.

WILLIAMS:  And you`re so right.  In the criminal justice reform community, this is a huge banner headline, lead story week on top of the ballot initiative that Floridians passed, but no attention is being cast on it by the White House itself.

Hey, Sam, how close are we to the not so well marked intersection between dysfunction and paralysis?

STEIN:  And that feels like the sort of existential question of the Trump era.  How close can you get to paralysis?  Two things, one is inside the White House, things are pretty bad.  It`s not quite of a war like, but it`s pretty close.

There`s a sense that, you know, any attempts to bring order to the chaos have completely fallen apart.  There is an expectation that more senior members will soon depart.  I talked to one former top White House official who sort of laughed at the idea that John Kelly had any control of what was going on underneath him.

And we even saw the first lady take a bit of an assertive role here in staffing matters which is something you normally do not see out of the East Wing.  So that`s one element of chaos.

And then the other one is what`s happening on the Hill.  You know, obviously the Senate is going to remain in Republican hands and Trump will use that to continue to stack the judiciary in this country.  But he and his team know that life is going to get miserable for them come January.

The Hill -- sorry, the House will be overtaken by Democrats.  They are going to launch numerous probes.  And even if the Mueller investigation were to be stopped by the newly installed attorney general, Hill Democrats can subpoena the Mueller findings.  They can try to pickup where he left off.  It might not be the same, but Trump is looking at the prospect of two years of continuous investigation into some of the most sensitive political and personal matters and it`s agitating him and his staff.

WILLIAMS:  And Tamara, back over to you for this Senator Flake effort.  How real is this?  Is this something of consequence or as a Democrat would ask, is it more real than that FBI investigation and the lead up to the Kavanaugh confirmation?

KEITH:  Well, yes, he and Senator Coons were able to extend things by a week on the Kavanaugh confirmation, and then Senator Flake voted the way he was planning to vote all along, which causes some amount of skepticism of this effort.  If this is going to work, if he`s really going to force this, he`s going to need a Republican friend or two, at least.  And it`s not clear exactly where those votes would come from.

And one thing that sort of pushes off this coming to a head is that the Judiciary Committee has punted on a bunch of nominees for a week.  So there is a week to see if this actually sticks.

WILLIAMS:  And Mr. Schmidt surrounded by fellow scribes, I know you would never giveaway company secrets.  But what triggering event in the next 24 to 48 hours, what thing are you looking for or waiting for and be honest?

SCHMIDT:  Well, I mean, I come back to the questions.  When will he answer the questions?  Why, what is the hold up here?  Why has it taken so long?

He`s essentially been given extra time for the test and been able to look at the textbook and he still doesn`t want to fill out the answers.  And that is, that is as a journalist sitting here, is a curious thing.  These are well established issues that everyone else has come in and answered questions about.  All of his advisors have come through and talked to Mueller.  He still has not done that.

On top of that, he knows that -- in his head, he believes that if he completes the answers and completes the interview, it gets closer to the end of the investigation.  So the longer that he puts this off, the longer that the investigation will go.

WILLIAMS:  To our friends Tamara Keith, to Sam Stein, to Michael Schmidt who I know is still at the office after 11:00 on a Thursday night, our thanks for starting off our conversation with us this evening.

And coming up for us after our first break, the wording in a legal filing to the feds tonight and what it could mean for developments in this Mueller investigation as soon as tomorrow.  We`ll go through it.

And later, a federal judge called Florida the laughing stock of the world. Tonight we`ll look at the numbers, the vote counting that this federal judge just might be right.  The THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway this Thursday night, snowy Thursday on the East Coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We are back.  Let`s get to what we mentioned at the top of the broadcast.  An important development in this Russia investigation this evening, and it could shed some light on what`s next.

Earlier tonight, Robert Mueller`s team and lawyers for Paul Manafort notably told the court they want more time before filing a status update for Manafort`s case in Washington, D.C.  We have a very smart lawyer on stand by to explain all these words.

Instead of updating the court on a possible sentencing date tomorrow, they now want to wait until December 26th.  The court filing said the delay will allow both sides to, "provide the court with a report that will be of greater assistance in the court`s management of this matter."

After reading this news earlier tonight, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and currently a member of our team of legal analysts, Daniel Goldman, wrote this on Twitter.  "Reading tea leaves," and we love when he does that, "Manafort`s cooperation is relevant to something that will happen in the next 10 days.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, I`m betting on indictments tomorrow.  Could just be Stone, but could be more, too."

Well, with us to talk about it, Maya Wiley, who also happens to be a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, currently a professor at the New School here in New York.  And Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence who in the past has worked for Robert Mueller.

All right, counselor, how do you read this court filing?

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF N.Y.:  A tantalizing tidbit for those of us waiting for the main course.

WILLIAMS:  And those of you who can understand the language used in court filings, what gets your attention in that verbiage?

WILEY:  The primary thing, as Dan said, is that first of all, you have both sides agreeing that they need more time.  Remember that we have Manafort who has pled guilty before that court, is cooperating.

What it`s telling us is that he is still providing information that`s useful.  They want to probably indict, as Dan says, and the question is who.  And that Paul Manafort has been useful in that process, and that`s why it will be more helpful to the court for them to be able to share where they are and what that means for sentencing.  Because, remember, that for sentencing, it`s the judge that decides what sentence Paul Manafort will get, but it`s the federal prosecutors who decide how they position him and what their recommendation to the court is, and that is all about his cooperation.  So this really does tell us something is about to happen.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Frank Figliuzzi, reminding our viewers that Roger Stone is the former business partner of Paul Manafort, same question to you about the importance of what came out tonight.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Yes, Manafort knows a lot.  He knows a lot about Stone.

And, Brian, I`m trying very hard not to jump to conclusions and let the imagination run wild.

WILLIASMS:  Oh, go ahead, Frank.

FIGLIUZZI:  I agree -- no, I agree with Maya.  I think -- and with others.  I think something is afoot.  What is it, right?  This begs the question, what is it that`s going to transpire in the next several days that is going to give the court much greater insight into the level of cooperation of Manafort and why would both sides agree to this delay?

This is unlikely to be a negative slap against Manafort and a lack of cooperation, but rather it`s probably going to -- those days are going to permit the Mueller team to point to some indictments and say, "Manafort did this."  He helped us with this.  Here it is.

They`re not ready to tell us what that is yet.  They`re not ready to tell the court yet, but it`s coming.

WILLIAMS:  And, Frank, I thought of you today during the President`s Twitter tirade.  It was mentioned on Nicolle Wallace`s program, as we`ve mentioned it repeatedly on this program.  If in a laboratory you sat down to make the human antithesis of Donald Trump, you would come up with Robert Mueller in terms of bearing and propriety and decorum and service and duty, honor, country, discretion, all of that.  What are your thoughts regarding the way the President spoke to him and treated him today?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, I think that Mueller is sitting back and just taking this all in.  I actually think there`s some legal significance and prosecutive significance to what we`re seeing that the President do with regard to Mueller.  I think that the team, the special counsel team is recording, documenting all of the public outrage and tirades and tweets, and it`s all going on a time line as to what happened when, what triggered this, whether or not this involves witness tampering or intimidation.

For example, Brian, we heard the President respond to a question about who his next A.G. might be with a response about how great Whitaker is.  Well, you know, that`s very interesting because it seems to be a signaling that if we get this right, if Whitaker gets this right, I am talking about him in the context of my next attorney general.  And in the next breath, the President says the Mueller investigation is unlawful.  It`s illegal.  It shouldn`t be happening.

So there`s insight there that has significance for the Mueller team. They are recording it, taking it all in.  But you`re right, we`re talking about a man of professionalism, restraint, dedication to mission, national interest over self-interest.  That`s what Mueller is all about.

WILLIAMS:  And, Maya, where the protection of Robert Mueller comes in, I want to play for you Lindsey Graham has now met with the new acting attorney general, and he had this to say afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAMS:  We talked about, you know, regular order regarding the Mueller investigation, that there is a process for special counsels.  The deputy attorney general and goes up to the attorney general, and that he`s committed to following regular order.  I don`t think he`s going to do anything unsavory.  I have a lot of confidence that Mr. Mueller will be allowed to do his job, and that the legal process that was in place before Mr. Whitaker arrived will be followed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did he express any concerns with the way that the investigation is being handled or is being run?

GRAHAMS:  He says as far as he knows -- no, not at all.  He didn`t say anything out of bounds, no concerns at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Little tough to hear there, but we get the gist.  And, Maya, I`m tempted to ask you, what could go wrong?

WILEY:  Oh, what could go wrong, Brian?  Well, first of all, we have an ethics problem.  This is flat-out a situation in which Mr. Whitaker has to recuse.  He just does.  In fact, if he doesn`t recuse, we are essentially saying that our ethics code and the ethics code for the Department of Justice doesn`t mean anything.  And that`s really devastating for our legal system.

We should not have a public that has questions about what the highest law enforcement officer in the land is doing in that job and whether or not he`s violating any of our norms around how an investigation is being handled.

But secondly, you know, I just -- I`m struck by the fact that Lindsey Graham is sort of saying, he said he won`t do wrong, I believe him.  Because Donald Trump also said repeatedly, Putin has said to me repeatedly that he is not meddling in U.S. elections, and I believe him.  Well, that`s not good enough.  It`s not good enough.

We, as the American people, and certainly our senators, should not take someone who has made public statements to the contrary on their word that they will not do anything wrong.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, as they say in the news business, I`ve just been handed a late-breaking piece of news.  Time stamp on this is 11:19 p.m. Eastern time from the "Washington Post."  Zapotosky and Barrett shared byline.  "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal.  Prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing, a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets."

Again, this came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange, but assistant U.S. attorney apparently mentioned this in passing inside another case.  So, Frank, what`s the significance of this development to you?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, this has deep meaning also for me personally because I was in Washington at headquarters when the entire intelligence community was wrestling with what to do with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.  And that the great debate about whether we should even treat him as a foreign power, that they were doing that much damage to us.

So, what`s the significance?  Look, I said before on your show, Brian, that I think the strategy for Mueller is to tell us the story of a corrupt President through the indictments of others.  And if indeed Mueller has anything to do, and we don`t know that yet, through this breaking news, that if he has anything to do with the indictment of Julian Assange, then we may well see the story told through that indictment.

Understand that our intelligence community has WikiLeaks covered like a blanket as if they are a foreign adversary.  So when Trump sees questions he doesn`t like to answer, he might be realizing that Mueller has so much more on the classified side than anyone ever realized.  And maybe, just maybe that is technical coverage of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and their role with the Russians in the release of e-mails during the presidential campaign.  We have to wait and see.

WILLIAMS:  It turns out we asked the right guest about the news breaking at 11:19 Eastern time tonight.  With that, our thanks to Maya Wiley, to Frank Figliuzzi for being a part of our interesting conversation here.

Coming up, new reporting on the other Donald Trump of interest to Robert Mueller when come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you scared that you could go to jail?

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  I`m not because I know what I did and I`m not worried about any of that.  That doesn`t mean they won`t try to create something.  I mean, we`ve seen that happen with everything.  Again, I`m not. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  That was Donald Trump, Jr., in September.  But with mounting anticipation that fresh Mueller indictments are coming any day, there is renewed focus now on the President`s oldest son.  Don Jr. was responsible for arranged that Trump Tower meeting the Russian who promised dirt on Hillary.

According to a new Politico report, he has told friends in recent weeks he believes he could be facing charges from Mueller.  "Half a dozen people in contact with the White House and other Trump officials say a deep anxiety has start today set in that Mueller is about to pounce."

Don junior maintained a high profile on the campaign trail despite initially saying he would focus on running his father`s real estate empire.  In a new profile, David Fahrenthold writes, "It`s not clear where he`s headed.  The President has often worried aloud about the possibility that Mueller will seek to indict Trump Jr. as he moves toward the conclusion of his probe.

But the son shows no sign of pulling back.  Here to talk about it, the author of that piece, David Fahrenthold Pulitzer prize-winning Washington Post reporter who covers the President`s businesses and conflicts of interest.

David, let`s talk about this still young man who Jimmy Kimmel humbly suggests we all refer to as D.J. T.J.  Donald Jr., what was Don Jr. before, and what is he now?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Before his father ran for president, he was sort of kind of a mini me for his father.  He was doing all the things that his father did, but for a much smaller audience, and sort of at a much lower level.

So, Don, one great example his father announced one of his engagements, engagement for the second marriage on national TV to Regis and Kathie Lee.  Don Jr. gotten engaged at a mall in Short Hills, New Jersey in exchange for a free diamond ring.

He`d always been sorts of seeking fame but always kind of in the background, never quite reaching when his father`s had.  He`s father ascension to politics has kind of given him a new opening, a new chance to become a political hero for some.

He`s still in his father`s shadow, but the shadow is a lot bigger and given him a lot more room to roam.  We looked at all the things Don Jr. said he was going to be while his father was in office.  He was going to be a businessman.  He was going to be a conservationist.  He was going to be sort of be uniter for the country.

And found that really hasn`t done many of them.  What he`s done and said is kind of returned to the role as his father`s mini me and that was occupied greatly on the campaign trail.

WILLIAMS:  Everyone knows the broad confines of the Trump Tower meeting by now.  I`ve heard it said any meeting where you need a Russian interpreter probably should have got your attention if you`re running for President.  What kind of real legal exposure do the experts tell you he may face?

FAHRENTHOLD:  Well, I should caveat this.  That anything involving the Mueller investigation, there`s a huge capacity to surprise us.  Mueller has done a lot of things that we didn`t see coming.  But what we can see now, the legal questions for Don Jr. are, a, that he accept a thing of value?  That`s the legal standard here that matters.  A thing of value, or did he solicit a thing of value from a foreign national.

In this case that would be opposition research on Hillary Clinton.  Did he violate the campaign finance laws by soliciting a thing of value from the Russians?  The second thing would be did he lie about that?

In subsequent investigations in front of Congress or maybe in front of the FBI, did Don Jr. lie about what he had done in the Trump Tower meeting?  We don`t really know how Mueller is going to interpret either one of those questions, but you think both of them have to be true, both of them have to be bad for Don Jr. to produce some kind of indictment.

WILLIAMS:  Donald Trump, Jr., has cultivated an image out on the road and across this country.  He is proudly a part of the hunting community, including but not limited to majestic animals on other continents.  He has drawn big applause in front of kind of like-minded audiences.

Your article takes pains to point out that he`s been a brand extension for his dad.  He`s been valuable on the trail, but compared to his siblings, some people diminish him.  There is a killer quote in here that you have as a pull-out quote.

"I`ve never been in a meeting where somebody said, let`s check with Trump Jr. before we make a move", said a White House official who declined to be named to comment on internal discussions.  That`s telling.

FAHRENTHOLD:  That`s right.  So Ivanka, his sister, who had always been sort of the golden child in the business days before Trump ran for office, she obviously is a really important role and her husband Jared Kushner also has really important role in the White House.

Eric Trump the younger son has sort of taken the lead in running the business.  That leaves Don Jr. kind of in between.  So he has taken on this role as kind of a brand extension on the campaign trail.  The question is, we tried to look back and say look at all these places he went, sort of stumping for his father in Montana, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, place that`s were important in the Senate battle grounds and where he went out and sort of used his credibility as a hunter.

Somebody who knew these places from his days as a hunter to sell his father and his father`s candidates.  It`s hard to look back and said that Don Jr. really swung any of those races either way.  The places he seemed to put the most emphasis was Montana and a Democrat won there.

WILLIAMS:  Yours is among the by lines we are always looking for and it`s always a pleasure to have you on.  David Fahrenthold with the Washington Post.  Thank you so very much.

FAHRENTHOLD:  Thank you. 

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, for us tonight.  The ballot counting in Florida continues now by hand.  Steve Kornacki is here at the big board to break down the latest on what we know when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Busy night already, and as promised, we have updates in the ever-tightening race for Florida Senate seat.  Because current Governor Rick Scott currently leads Senator Bill Nelson by less than a quarter of a percent, the Florida Secretary of State has ordered that manual recount.

The results are due no later than noon Sunday.  This comes as Broward County -- and take a moment to let this sink in -- Broward County missed the deadline to turn in its machine recount results by two minutes.

The ballot confusion across the state led a federal judge to say Florida is, quote, the laughing stock of the world election after election, and we choose not to fix it.  The judge gave Florida voters an extension until Saturday to fix any mismatched signatures on mail-in ballots.

Farther up the eastern seaboard, Democrats have notched yet another flip in the House.  This time in Maine.  Jared Golden toppled Republican Bruce Poliquin, the last remaining Republican House member from New England.

Democrats currently have a net gain of 35 seats.  This is their largest gain since 1974.  We have another way to show you what that means in terms of historic midterm elections.  In the lifetime of most of the people alive in this country today, back again at the big board for us, Steve Kornacki, our National Political correspondent.  Hey, Steve. 

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Brian.  Yes, there are more on the way for Democrats it looks like when it comes to House gains.  Let`s show you where things stand right now.  You mentioned that net gain of 35.

The blue are all their pickups.  There were three Democratic seats that Republicans picked up.  But here, the uncalled races and you mentioned the milestone in New England with Republicans being shut out.  Here`s another place where Republicans are now on the verge of being shut down.

It is shockingly Orange County, California, the cradle of modern conservative Republicanism.  Here, one of the uncalled Orange County races, the Republican incumbent Mimi Walters has fallen behind by more than 6,000 votes.

The Associated Press, I should say, has now called this race for her Democratic challenger, Katie Porter.  Our decision desk has not gone that far yet, but you can certainly see where this looks like it`s going.  That would be a Democratic pickup in Orange County.

And that would leave only one Republican seat left in Orange County, which is this one, the 39th district.  And look what happened there tonight.  Every night some more votes are being reported out here, and tonight for the first time, the Democrat Gil Cisneros has taken the lead over young Kim, the Republican in this district.

Cisneros now leads the trend, clearly favors him.  The trend favors Democrats in these late voting races.  If this holds, and if the 45th district holds, there will be zero Republican members of Congress from Orange County, California, Bastian of Reaganism once in the next Congress.  That would be another major milestone.

A couple other races uncalled still.  Democrats could be at about 39 seats when this all shakes out.  Probably a few more days from now.

Also in Florida, you mentioned the fiasco there with the various recounts going on at county level.  Basically here`s the deal.  They went through the machines, as you mention.  Broward didn`t end up getting it`s in in time, but the major issue in this race remains Broward County, and what accounted for, you see Bill Nelson did extremely well here.

Gigantic Democratic county, 26,000 fewer votes cast in this race for the U.S. Senate in Broward County than in the race for governor.  On the same ballot, 26,000 more had the governor race checked off, not the Senate race.

The Nelson campaign continues to insist this was a machine error.  That when you have a manual recount which has now been triggered, which is now as you mention is going to happen, that that will reveal Nelson will get upwards of 10,000 more votes, probably more than 10,000 more votes and it could reverse the statewide outcome.

If they are wrong, though, if it is that design issue we talked about, Bill Nelson is plum out of luck it would look like, because again his gap here statewide, 12,600 votes now and change.  The idea of that changing clearly, you saw how little it changed in the machine recount.  Unlikely a manual recount is going to reap any kind of shift of that magnitude.

So it really comes down to that under vote in Broward County.  Is there something to it with this machine issue or is it what it looks like it really might be, and that is ballot design and a small but significant chunk of voters in Broward just not seeing the race on their ballot, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Unbelievable.  Some day maybe we`ll fix our elections.  In the meantime, the midterm goes on.  Steve Kornacki at the big board tonight.  Our thanks as always.

And coming up for us, the Trump White House issues sanctions against a number of Saudis for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  Not on the list is that man, the crown prince.  More on that when we come back.

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HEATHER NAUERT, SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT:  Today in conjunction with the department of the treasury, we put out a statement as did treasury, imposing sanctions on 17 Saudi Arabian individuals for serious human rights abuses resulting from their roles in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

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WILLIAMS:  That is important right there.  Sanctions issued by the Trump administration for the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi come on the same day that the results from the Saudis` own investigation are made public.  And we`ll let you draw your own conclusions on how thorough that investigation was.

Our Chief Foreign correspondent Richard Engel has our report on the latest developments.

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RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  Saudi prosecutors allege today when Washington Post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi walked into that Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi agents waiting inside, were only supposed to bring him back to Saudi Arabia.  That killing him was an on the spot decision that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew nothing about.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SAUDI ARABIA:  I believe that any rational thinking person will recognize that you sometimes -- things -- mistakes happen.

ENGEL:  Saudi prosecutors will seek the death penalty for five of 11 suspects indicted for Khashoggi`s murder.  But Turkey doubts the alleged Saudi hit team which reportedly brought a bone saw with them just winged it.

Multiple U.S. officials have told NBC News the U.S. intelligence community believes it`s inconceivable the crown prince had no connection to the death while one official tells us tonight the Saudi explanation is, "A great work of fiction".

But the question tonight, will the Trump White House accept the Saudi explanation.  The State Department is calling it a good start, but critics say this is just the accused hit men becoming the fall guys.

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WILLIAMS:  Our thanks to Richard Engel for that report there.  This is important, too.  Khashoggi`s former employer, the Washington Post, released a statement after today`s developments calling for an independent investigation.  They write in part, and "From the start the Saudi investigation has been an effort to shield those ultimately responsible for this heinous crime when there is every reason to believe that it was authorized at the highest levels of the Saudi government.  It is impossible to have confidence that we have gotten to the truth when the purported investigations were neither transparent nor independent, and when evidence continues to be withheld."

The statement from the Washington Post.

Another break for us.  And coming up, big trouble tonight an ocean away.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  From Downing Street, this is ITV News at 10:00 with Tom Bradby. 

TOM BRADY, ITV NEWS REPORTER:  Good evening from Downing Street.  Still home to Theresa may for now, at least.  This famous door has been the backdrop to many a drama over the years, but few in modern times can match what is playing out now for sheer visceral edge of your seat tension.  Where will it all end?

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WILLIAMS:  Well, that`s what we`re here to talk about.  Last thing before we go tonight, if this is one of those nights for our viewers, we admit they happen when, after listening to us for an hour, you go to sleep fearing for our republic, tonight we suggest that you look at things in the U.K.

This is about Brexit.  And while we may never know if the vote by the people of the U.K. to leave the European Union was, in fact, the first successful election infiltration by the Russians, barring a fresh vote, the will of the people stands.  And as headline writers have become fond of saying, breaking up is hard to do.

Theresa may is in big trouble tonight, as is her government, as is that compromise plan she has presented to get Great Britain out of the E.U. by next March.  She may face a vote of no confidence.  She may lose her leadership.

Today she suffered a big loss when her Brexit secretary, the guy in charge of making it happen, resigned.  Just as the last Brexit secretary resigned just four months ago.  Britain`s break away may not get through parliament, while the British pound got pounded today.

And while just over three months remain, it is possible that this plan to break away is indeed breaking apart.  As everyone needs to remember and as a brand-new "The New York Times" three-part video series superbly spells out, the Russians "end game" is to split us apart.  The allied nations that they see as their enemies, the allies, like the U.S. and the U.K. that are currently dealing with divisions from within.

That is our broadcast on this Thursday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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