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Democratic chances sink. TRANSCRIPT: 11/16/18, 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Daniel Goldman, Josh Gerstein, Jonathan Allen, Anita Kumar, Greg Miller, Jon Meacham

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, President Trump says he`s not agitated.  He says he`s answered Robert Mueller`s questions all by himself.  He just hasn`t turned his work in yet.  While everyone around him awaits Mueller`s next move.

Plus, the man with the steely but adoring gaze may seem like the most loyal sidekick, so why this report today that the President has been asking around about the loyalty of Mike Pence?

And news tonight from the Georgia election.  News on the recount in the Florida and another Democratic pickup in the House.  Steve Kornacki will have all of it at the big board as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Friday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York and you knew we would get here at some point.  This was, in fact, day 666 of the Trump administration.  And tonight as the President and his legal team await the next move of the Mueller investigation, the President seemed to indicate today he knows it`s coming to an end.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The witch-hunt, as I call it, should never have taken place, it continues to go on.  I imagine it`s ending now.  From what I hear it`s ending.  And I`m sure it`ll be just fine.

And you know why it will be just fine?  Because there was no collusion.


WILLIAMS:  Remember, it was just yesterday he called the inner workings of the investigation a "total mess."  The President also has been dealing with those written questions from investigators.

The "Washington Post" spoke with Trump`s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and reports this, "The President has met with lawyers nearly everyday this week in Sessions to review his answers including a four-hour session Wednesday and 90 minutes Wednesday night.  According to people familiar with the sessions, the questions, roughly two dozen focusing on five topics all pre-date Trump winning the 2016 presidential election.  Trump`s lawyers haven`t agreed to answer a larger set of questions that relate to Trump`s time as President-elect and as President, Giuliani said."

Today it was clearly important for this President to point out he has done all the work by himself.


TRUMP:  My lawyers aren`t working on it.  I`m working on it.  I write the answers.  My lawyers don`t write answers, I write answers.  I was asked a series of questions.

I`ve answered them very easily, very easily.  I`m sure they`re tricked up because, you know, they like to catch people.  You know, it was weather sunny or was it rainy?  He said it may have been a good it was rainy, therefore he told a lie.  He perjured himself.

OK.  So, you have to be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions.  But no it`s -- the questions were very routinely answered by me, by me.


WILLIAMS:  Trump was then asked if he submitted the responses himself.


TRUMP:  I haven`t submitted them.  You know, we just -- I just finished them.

As you know I`ve been a little bit busy.  But it didn`t take very long to do them.  And they were my answers, I don`t need lawyers to do that.

Now, you need lawyers for submittal and lawyers to go over some of the answers, but they`re not very difficult questions.


WILLIAMS:  Now, according to the "Washington Post, "Giuliani said the special counsel has not imposed a firm deadline but he added that Trump`s answers could be submitted Friday.  Another person familiar with the effort said they expect Trump to turn over the answers before Thanksgiving."

There was also new reporting tonight from the Associated Press based on multiple sources about what concerns the President the most these days, "For months Trump has told confidantes he fears that Donald Trump Jr. perhaps inadvertently broke the law by being untruthful with investigators in the aftermath of that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin connected lawyer according to one Republican close to the White House.

Trump has complained about efforts in the Senate by his longtime foe, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake to introduce legislation to protect the special counsel.  Additionally, Trump has told confidants in recent days that he is deeply frustrated by widespread criticism of his choice of Matthew Whitaker for acting attorney general.  The President also took note of news coverage of his former personal attorney Michael Cohen arriving in Washington this week, potentially to meet with Mueller`s investigators."

So that`s a lot.  There is also the news we reported here last night that because of an apparent mistake on a court filing, we now know the Justice Department has filed charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Josh Gerstein of Politico who will join us in a moment is the co-author of a new piece that says, the same Donald Trump, "who declared his love for Assange`s web site during the 20160 contest may have new concerns about whether the focus on Assange has a connection to Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s Russia probe."

In case you don`t recall, here is some of what Trump expressed about WikiLeaks in the closing weeks of the campaign.


TRUMP:  This just came out.

WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.

This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable.  It tells you the inner heart.  You`ve got to read it.

They`ve got to start talking about WikiLeaks.

The wonder of WikiLeaks.

We love WikiLeaks.  Boy, they have -- WikiLeaks.  They have revealed a lot.

WikiLeaks.  WikiLeaks.

Another one came in today.  This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.

Well, I love reading those WikiLeaks.

That came out of WikiLeaks.


WILLIAMSL:  Well, with that let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Friday night.  The aforementioned Josh Gerstein Senior Legal Affairs Contributor at Politico.  Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.  And Daniel Goldman, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU school of law.

Good evening and welcome to you all.

Joyce, I`d like to begin with you.  Do you take the President at scout`s honor that this is all his work.  That he just hasn`t handed it in yet?

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  I think it`s unlikely that the President answered the questions.  I suspect particularly coming off the sugar high that he had from the pre-midterm election campaign rallies that he was sitting down to seriously, thoughtfully, and methodically answer these questions was something that he didn`t want to do.  He might have drafted answers.

But the important thing, Brian, is has adopted this answers as his own.  He is on the record saying that these are his words and his thoughts and he didn`t need me help.  And if there`s anything in those answers that Mueller think has evidentiary value or is useful to him, they now belong to the President who has formally adopted them.

WILLIAMS:  Excellent point.  And so Daniel, if you`re representing Donald Trump and you hear the words he spoke today at the White House about this being his work product, just hasn`t been submitted, what goes on within you?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF N.Y.:  Well, I think Donald Trump is trying to navigate this very carefully as we`ve seen over the last many months when he is negotiating this.

What`s interesting to me is whether this is the first step or the last step.  In other words, according to Rudy Giuliani, and we always have to be circumspect when he speaks.


GOLDMAN:  This was only pre-election collusion questions, it didn`t relate to obstruction of justice investigation.  It did not relate to anything within the transition period.  And we know of a lot of meetings with Russians, Michael Flynn`s guilty plea related to that transition period for false statements.

So the question then becomes, is this all that he`s going to be asked?  Is Mueller going to accept this?  Or is he going to push for him to answer more questions with the threat of a grand jury subpoena on the back of -- on the heels of that conversation?

WILLIAMS:  Also Joyce, one more quick one.  If -- what`s the chance that what we`re watching is a President who has just came out of these sessions with his lawyers who have told him in fact how bad it is and also his new guy is over at justice who I presume has checked in with the Mueller investigation and may have told the boss how bad it is?

VANCE:  You know, it`s always been a mess.  It`s been clear from the point in time where Trump fired then FBI director Jim Comey.  That all was not going to go well with this White House.  And so leaving aside for a moment any of this pre-election collusion which Mueller seems to be in the process of gathering some evidence about whether it reaches the President or not, the President has in realtime in front of the American public engaged in collusion.

It`s very hard to see how he doesn`t understand that the only protection he has is to the extent that DOJ policy keeps Mueller from indicting a sitting President.  He may avoid formal indictment but Mueller can tell the story of Trump`s conduct through his indictments.  He`s issued these detailed indictments about hacking that have told a complete story.

There`s no reason to believe that Trump might show up as an unnamed, unindicted but clearly identified co-conspirator when Mueller issues his final package of indictments.

WILLIAMS:  So, Josh, you guys have led the way on the -- let`s call it the walls closing in reporting.  There is as I just kind of back-referenced, a lot of evidence of that this week.

JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SR. LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR:  Oh, yes, there`s a number of indications that people who are or were close to the President could be facing indictment shortly.  I also began to pick up other indications from forlks, officials close to the Mueller investigation that it was working its way towards some sort of crescendo.  I know that the President and the White House are describing it as moving towards a conclusion and that`s never what I picked up.  It was more along the lines that there was some sort of momentous kind of event expected in the weeks after the midterm elections, possibly an indictment, possibly a report.

But like I said, I`ve never had anybody really give me firm indication that this meant that the investigation was coming to an end or a conclusion more than it was coming to what could be a very pivotal moment and a very awkward and unpleasant moment for the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Daniels, what`s the chance that these written answers are completely unimportant to Mueller?  That he`s only asking out of a sense of duty and fairness to hear the President out and that he doesn`t need the President to make his case?

GOLDMAN:  I think there`s a good chance of that in the obstruction of justice investigation because even as we sit here we know most of what the acts are that he engaged to potentially obstruct justice.  The James Comey firing, you know, orchestrating Don Jr.`s lies about the June 2016 meeting.  That`s all out in the open.

And part of the reason that Mueller may decide I`m not going to subpoena him, I`m not going to pursue this is that on the obstruction angle it really is just an opportunity for Trump to explain his side, to give his defense.  And if he doesn`t want to do that, they`re not going to force it.

On the other front, on the conspiracy front, what we call collusion.  I do think they want to know what he knows because he doesn`t use e-mail.  So much of the evidence related to him at the top is going to be conversations, witness statements.

And one critical component of that is going to be what conversations did he have with Paul Manafort, who is now cooperating, was the campaign chairman.  So I think they would like to get those answers and maybe they decided, let`s short circuit this.  We`re not going to go into months of litigation, go into the Supreme Court about whether a grand jury subpoena is appropriate here.  We`ll do the written questions which is incredibly unique and unusual for prosecutors to do, but we`ll give him an opportunity to explain his story.

But you raise a good point because they`re not building their case based on Donald Trump`s testimony or answered to these questions.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Joyce, when he talks about this perjury trap he sounds positively Pescian (ph) at times.  Can an honest -- can an innocent man get caught in a perjury trap?  And there`s such a thing exist in your world?

VANCE:  You know, a perjury trap is the sort of unicorn that defense lawyers chase after.  No prosecutor who is worth his or her salt and every prosecutor on Mueller`s team is in that category uses it.  It`s a waste of time and resources and the sort of thing that doesn`t help build a case.

Mueller`s team, these are serious people, they want to build a case.  There will be no effort to trap the President or to play gotcha.  What they`ll actually be looking for here will be evidence of his intent.  It`s exactly what Dan says they`re looking for.

They`re trying to see if the President has exculpatory evidence.

Information that indicates that he`s not guilty or that might counteract some of the statements and evidence that they`re getting from people like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates who are cooperating.

Every target is given this opportunity to go into the grand jury and tell his side of the story.  Rarely do they accept it.  Trump`s status is sort of nebulous, he`s not really a target because of the protection that we`ve all talked about.  But still they`re giving him this opportunity.  And it`s really up to him to decide whether to seize or not.

To the extent that he`s a subject or a witness, Mueller is entitled to subpoena him.  So we`re going through this awkward proceeding where the President, again, underlines his inability to comply with the rule of law and insists upon his believe that he`s somehow above the law and doesn`t have to do what any other person involved in an FBI investigation would do.

WILLIAMS:  And Josh, into this flays the Julian Assange hand grenade mistakenly included in a filing last night.  But here is the story in our laps (ph).

GERSTEINB:  Yes, I mean, it revealed apparently due a cut-and-paste error that there was some court action apparently an indictment or some other charges against Julian Assange that were put under wraps, kind of serendipitous I guess for some folks that this would come out now.

But also putting, I think folks on both sides of the political spectrum in a bit of an awkward position.  You know, you have people who were stridently against Julian Assange who suddenly seem to be rallying to the side of WikiLeaks sort of like those clips you showed of the President during the 2016 election.

And then frankly, you do have folks on the left as well who were sort of defenders of Assange who said, maybe he is controversial in a unconventional kind of new journalist, but entitled to all those protections who are now out there rallying at the side of the Mueller probe and suggesting everybody involved should be brought to account.

And if Assange really becomes a significant figure, gets indicted in the context of the Russia investigation as opposed to something else it may be awkward for those folks to, you know, suddenly make an about-face in the public positions that they`ve taken.

WILLIAMS:  In the meantime we`re told, don`t play cynic (ph) bets as to whether or not we`ll see him face justice in this country.

Josh Gerstein, Joyce Vance, Daniel Goldman, our great thanks for starting our broadcast off on a Friday night.

GERSTEIN:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, why the President might be polling those around him about his own V.P.

And later, the President gets about as much wrong as you can get wrong about the California wildfires.  He`s preparing for his trip there.

THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Friday night.



MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to thank you, Mr. President.  I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting everyday for the forgotten men and women of America.  Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more and we are making America great again.


WILLIAMS:  Vice President Mike Pence has shown he knows how to love all over Donald Trump.  With his words, yes, but often with just a look.  So it was odd to read the reporting today from the "New York Times" about Donald Trump starting to question the loyalty of Mike Pence.

"In recent weeks with his electoral prospects, two years from now much on his mind, Mr. Trump focused on the person who has most publicly tethered his fortunes to him.  In one conversation after another, he has asked aides and advisors a pointed question, is Mike Pence loyal?  Trump has repeated the question so many times that he has alarmed some of his advisers.

The President hasn`t openly suggested dropping Mr. Pence from the ticket and picking another running mate.  But the advisers say those kinds of questions usually indicate that he has grown irritated with someone."

A white house spokesperson said the President absolutely supports Pence.  So what are we to make of this moment from -- just a week ago when the President was asked about his potential running mate in 2020?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will the Vice President be your running mate in 2020?

TRUMP:  Well, I haven`t asked him but I hope so.  Where are you?  Mike, will you be my running mate?  Huh?

Stand up, Mike, please, raise your right hand.  No, I`m only kidding.

Will you?  Thank you, OK, good.

The answer is yes, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you sir.

TRUMP:  That was unexpected but I feel very fine.


WILLIAMS:  Well, here to talk about all of it Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent McClatchy Newspapers, and Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter.

Jonathan, I didn`t doubt the reporting when I saw it today.  I found it curious.  You being smarter than me took it seriously, why?

JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, you know, Brian, I don`t agree with you on the -- your theory about smartness.  But I take it seriously -- this would be the Trumpiest maneuver of all time to number one publicly ask Mike Pence to be his vice president again and then a week or two later dump him.  Most presidents would look at something like that as an admission that they had made a bad decision in the first place, the public relations disaster ensuing from that they would see as a bad thing.

But Trump likes to fire people or at least likes to have other people fire people.  And so I think he might be looking for something to jazz up his ticket going into 2020.  He obviously just got his hat handed back to him in terms of the House elections.  He watched governor and senator races in those big key, the 2016 states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan turn to Democrats.

So, you know, this is a moment where I think he`s looking for someone.  The big question is who would take that on?  Because it`s a big risk for somebody with a future in terms of looking at their political career.  The name Nikki Haley comes up.

I think she`s somebody who is seen as a likely potential Republican candidate in 2024.  It`s not clear to me that that would be a good move for her.

WILLIAMS:  And Anita there, is this from Politico on all -- just another portion of the palace intrigue inside that West Wing.  Chief of Staff John "Kelly, working to convince the President that Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is not to blame for a recent surge in arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border that has enraged Donald Trump, according to two sources familiar with the conversations.  Nielsen has other supporters including Secretary of State Pompeo who have told Trump that Nielsen cannot control the border crossing rate."

So we have this going on and the President, Anita, saying he largely likes the people in his Cabinet.

ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, he does say that but he also said that he was going to look at shaking up the Cabinet or shaking up the staff once the midterms were over.  And so people have been waiting.  Obviously he has his firing of Jeff Sessions happened immediately after the election.  And now there`s a lull and everybody is kind of looking at each other wondering who is going to be next.

With the DHS secretary, we`ve been hearing for months, for a long time that the President has been unhappy with her.  But she does have a lot of supporters in the administration like, you know, number one, John Kelly.  So she has stuck around and has been around but everyone sort of feels like she`s probably the next one.  But, you know, the President has said, well, he hasn`t made a decision on it.  And so now everybody is just kind of waiting to see what happens.

WILLIAMS:  And John, in the strange bedfellows, bed persons area, we have one George Conway, kind of universally agreed to be an esteemed attorney in Washington.  He was rumored to be taking a Justice Department role early on as the campaign became the presidency.  He did not.  He has said the following aloud.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


GEORGE CONWAY, ATTORNEY:  Man, I`m thinking, I`m watching this thing and you know it`s like the administration is like a -- show in a dumpster fire, and I`m like, I don`t want to do that, I don`t know.  And then it`s like -- then you`ve got the Comey firing and then you`ve got him going on T.V. saying, "I had Russia on my mind."  And it`s like "Oh, no."

And then it`s like -- then you know I`m driving home one day from New York and it`s like Robert Mueller appointed special counsel.  And then I realized this guys is going to be at war with the Justice Department.


WILLIAMS:  Reminiscent of the classic "Friends of Saddam" sketch on "SNL."  John, what do you make of that?

ALLEN:  You know, first of all, obviously their marriage is between them.  However the point of tension here between Kellyanne and George Conway is interesting because it points out something which is Kellyanne understands politics as well as anybody in this country, George Conway is an expert on the rule of law.  And in this situation, those two things are in conflict.

And one of the things that has protected our republic for generations is that politics and the rule of law have worked in concert.  And so that tension point that we spill out -- you know, that`s spills out as we see these two characters working in the public sphere is something very important, I think, for Americans to consider.

WILLIAMS:  Good point, well made.

Anita you have been among those reminding our newsroom that the President is eventually going to go down to Mar-a-Lago.  One is tempted to ask what could go wrong.  But explain to our good viewers what tends to happen when the President is in Mar-a-Lago?

KUMAR:  Yes, this is a precarious time for the President, time of year, really.  So next week is Thanksgiving, he`s going to go to Mar-a-Lago for five plus days where he will be with some aides but not nearly as many aides as he is in when he`s at the White House.  He has the flight down and the flight back.

Next he`s going to go -- right after that he`s going to go to Argentina.  So the long flight down there for a quick foreign trip.  And then he`s back at Mar-a-Lago for two plus weeks around the holidays.  So this is a time where he`s going to be in the plane.  He`s going to be away from his aides.  He`s going to be thinking about his staff, what he wants to do, he`s going to be fretting about things and he`s going to be tweeting.  So anything really can happen in the next few weeks.

WILLIAMS:  As we`ve say, what could possibly go wrong?  Anita Kumar, Jonathan Allen, much obliged to both of you for joining our Mary band this Friday night.  Thanks.

Coming up, 10 days after the midterms and the Georgia`s governor race has been called.  Steve Kornacki back at the big board tonight with that and the races that remain wide open.



STACEY ABRAMS (D), GORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE:  Let`s be clear, this is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true, or proper.  As a woman of conscience and faith I cannot concede that but my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy.


WILLIAMS:  The Democrat Stacey Abrams announcing earlier tonight that she is ending her campaign to be Governor of Georgia but refusing to go quietly.  In an at times fiery speech, she accused her opponent Brian Kemp of pinning his hopes for victory on voter suppression in Georgia.

And it should be noted in fairness that as Georgia`s secretary of state, he was in a position to do just that.  NBC News has since called Kemp the apparent winner of this race.  President Trump congratulated Kemp on his victory in what we`ll call an atypically magnanimous message.

"Congratulations to Brian Kemp on becoming the new governor of Georgia.  Stacey Abrams fought brilliantly and hard, she will have a terrific political future.  Brian was unrelenting and will be become a great governor for the truly capitalized wonderful people of Georgia".

It appears tonight that Florida Senate race is nearing the end of the road there back at the big board for us, night Steve Kornacki our National Political correspondent.  Hey, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Brian.  Yes and we may finally have clarity in the sunshine state so in this recount, the manual recount in the senate race in Florida playing out.

Of course, Nelson has been trying to overcome that 12,000 vote gap against Scott.  The manual recount statewide going to continue until Sunday.  They won`t release a final total then.

But today it started and finished in the critical county of Broward County, heavily Democratic, massive Broward County.  And again, the issue we`ve been talking about, in Broward County, it really is the ball game in this Senate election.

It`s the undervote.  If you look at the Senate race in Broward County, total number of votes that were cast in Broward, if you looked at the governor`s race, same ballot, total number of votes cast, that`s an undervote there of more than 26,000.

The contention from the Nelson campaign, the reason why there was still some suspense is this race was, they said hey, there were votes cast, 20,000 plus of them in the Senate race the machine didn`t read and the manual recount they said, would catch that, the other possibility as we said, it was the ballot design, it was Senate race being buried under this column of instructions.  Did some voters just miss it?

Well, they opened up the ballots today, they looked at all the under votes and guess what?  Basically people missed the race.  They didn`t vote in this race.  They were true undervotes and so therefore it looks like when this is certified that giant leap in votes that the Nelson campaign had been banking on just not going to be there for them.

And of course, we mention this, you say this race was missing, keep this in mind, the federal commission that gives advice to states on how to run their elections they said in their report that vertical instruction treatments cannot share column space with contests on ballots.

In other words, what Broward County did, the Federal Commission that gives best practices and guidelines said do not do this because people will miss the race, it looks like though that`s the bottom line there, in Florida.

Meanwhile, quickly on the House side there is one more call we can tell you about tonight from NBC News.  More votes coming in the 45th district of California, an Orange County district.  Republican incumbent Mimi Walters, NBC News now says she`s fallen short, she`s has been unseated.

Democrat Katie Porter wins that seat.  It brings the net gains for Democrats now in the House up to 36, 36 is the current net gain for Democrats Brian.  And it could still climb a little bit higher.

WILLIAMS:  Unbelievable.  All of it tonight from Florida all the way out to California.  Steve Kornacki, our thanks.  Thanks very much for coming on.

Coming up for us, the CIA reaches a conclusion on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.  We`ll talk to one of the reporter who broke the story tonight about what could happen next.  We`re back with that after this.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back, our CIA has formally concluded what intelligence officials had long suspected.  The Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  That is according to a source briefed on the assessment.

The "Washington Post" broke this story and adds this detail, "The CIA examined multiple sources of intelligence including a phone call that the prince`s brother Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi and the that Khalid told Khashoggi that he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so.

Turkish authorities say Khashoggi was murdered almost immediately after he entered the consulate and his body was dismembered.

According to the "Post," the CIA doesn`t know the location of Khashoggi`s remains.  According to the people familiar with the agent`s assessment.  The Saudis have denied Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was connected in any way.

With us tonight to talk about it, one of the reporters who broke this story tonight, Greg Miller, Pulitzer prize-winning national security correspondent for the Washington Post.  He`s also the author of acclaimed new book "The Apprentice, Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy."

Greg, welcome back to the broadcast.  Give us the overview, what leads the CIA to this assessment?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think that it`s important to note that this assessment isn`t just based on what we have been seeing coming out Turkey in Turkish government for several weeks now.

There is independent intelligence that the CIA is weaving into its own assessment here, it`s own collection efforts.  The material gathered by other governments as well as its profile of Mohammed bin Salman in the way he operates.

And the way an operation like this would have to go down in a system like the Saudi government so it`s a combination of all these things.  And I think it`s interesting and important that the CIA attaches high confidence to this assessment.

WILLIAMS:  On top of your usual work and your beat and your life`s work.  What have you learned in reporting this story about our eyes and ears, including that of our allies overseas.  About our intelligence capability?

MILLER:  So there is -- one of the interesting things and we try to get at in the story here is that the U.S. intelligence agencies had information in their databases that they were able to pull up, able to surface after Khashoggi disappeared that let them go back and find conversations that nobody had taken note of at the time that showed that the Saudi royal family was trying to lure Khashoggi back to Riyadh, trying to bring him back into the kingdom.

When that failed they turned to this alternate operation which led to his death on October 2 in the consulate in Turkey.

WILLIAMS:  And let me raise a hypothetical.  If the White House is not excited about drawing heat on the crown prince and they want to find wiggle room, can the CIA stand behind this finding of high confidence?  Is that their way of saying we`re about as sure as we can be?

MILLER:  It is.  That is exactly what that language is intended to signal and you`re right, this puts the White House and it puts President Trump in a very difficult position I think, because they have been trying to find ways to minimize this to try to minimize the possibility of Mohammed bin Salman direct involvement in it but the agency is in a tough position, right.

This is what it has learned.  This is what its analysts believe and this is what those analysts have told congressional committees just this week.  They can`t tailor that message to Congress and have a different version go to the White House so they`ve told Trump these same things and it will be interesting to see how the White House reacts in the coming days.

WILLIAMS:  In our closing seconds, having read your book, I`m just so curious to hear from you, having written the book on all things Russian, what it is you`re looking for, listening for, waiting for perhaps in the coming days?

MILLER:  I think we`re just -- we`re waiting to learn so much from Robert Mueller.  Every indictment that we`ve seen from the special counsel has told us something really new about Russia`s interference in 2016 and its relationship to figures in Trump`s inner circle.

And I just think that that will continue and we`re bound to learn remarkable new things as new indictments arrive.  I mean, we thought that would happen this week and it hasn`t but I expect we`re going to see those sooner than later.

WILLIAMS:  Greg Miller of the "Washington Post," always a pleasure.  Thanks for returning to our broadcast.  We appreciate it.

And coming up, the President preparing to visit California after a tragedy he has blamed on California.  When we come back.


CHRIS WALLANCE, FOX NEWS HOST:  California.  The purpose of your trip tomorrow?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Just to see the firefighters.  Nobody`s ever seen what`s going on over there and now they`re saying there could be as many as 600, this just came out before we met, could be as many 600 people killed.  Up by 400.  It`s incredible what`s going on and burned beyond recognition.  They can`t even see the bodies.  It`s incredible.


WILLIAMS:  President Trump heading to California tomorrow as you said just to see the firefighters and his interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News to air Sunday.  The President confuses there the number of missing people, which had stood at 600, with the number of fatality which is sadly stands at 71.

Since that interview, the number of missing has now grown to over a thousand.  He also returns to his theme of blaming California.  It was, after all, his first response to these fires.  Remember he`s apparently been led to believe its bad management of state lands.  Today he seemed to blame the fires, at least in part, on a lack of preemptive raking of underbrush.


TRUMP:  I was watching the firemen the other day and they were raking areas, they were raking areas where the fire was right over there and they`re raking three, little trees like this at nut trees, little bushes that you can see are totally dry.  Weeds and they`re raking them.  They`re on fire, that should have been all rake out -- You wouldn`t have the fires --

WALLANCE:  What about the argument that it`s climate change that it`s dryer, it`s hotter and that`s contributing to it.

TRUMP:  Maybe it contributes a little bit.  The big problem we have is management.


WILLIAMS:  That should have been raked out in advance.  We should note the head of the firefighters` union called the President`s mismanagement charges irresponsible, reckless and insulting and their Pasadena local told the President directly you are wrong.

Only three percent of California woodlands are run by the state of California.  It`s just one chapter in this Presidency but it`s enough to discuss tonight with Pulitzer prize-winning author and Presidential Historian Jon Meacham.

His latest work is "The Soul of America" and as far as we`re concerned, he is so John, talk about Presidents and empathy.  I heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders interviewed by her dad tonight on Fox News say that this trip to California -- and this was notable.

She said this will be one of the hardest trips of the presidency thus far.  As if she was trying to apply qualities of he motion and empathy to her boss.

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR "THE SOUL OF AMERICA":  Yes, I`ve always been careful not to rush to judgment and to say that there`s no way the President will change or grow in office because our greatest presidents have, in fact, changed and grown and you never want to be -- shut yourself off from the possibility of redemption and growth.

But I think we`re pretty much past the possibility of redemption and growth here.  The president who we remember, the ones we want to commemorate, the ones we want to immolate, are the ones who have in fact, signaled that they cared about what was unfolding in the country, what was happening to our people.

And also those who were able to learn from experience.  Woodrow Wilson said, even before he became president, that the president of the United States by law and custom has the capacity to be as big a man as he can.

President Trump has repeatedly turned out to be as small as he possibly can.  He points fingers instead of opening his arms.  He fails, I think, repeatedly to rise to the occasion.  He never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  I suspect this weekend will fall into that pattern.

WILLIAMS:  You know the story and I`ve discussed it with Michael Beschloss on this broadcast.  Post hurricane Louisiana, no power, Lyndon Johnson climbs on a berm with a flashlight in his hand, shines it up from his chin and says to the people, within the sound of his voice this is your president.  And that was a kind of the custodial role, the bigness of the job in a small venue.

MEACHAM:  Johnson also said that nothing opens the soul of a man the way the presidency does, that all the concerns, all the cares of the people become his cares and his concerns.

George W. Bush really became president on that Friday in September after the attacks.  He gives that very formal, remarkable speech in the cathedral, and then he flies to ground zero and standing on the rubble and is among those first responders.

And if you talk to President Bush about it, it was very much about wanting to prove to those men and women, who were covered in the soot of death, that he was with them.  And he found his voice.  President Trump has simply -- I don`t think he`s really tried, honestly.  There`s certainly no evidence he has.  He may simply be incapable of performing that empathetic role.

WILLIAMS:  And what if he becomes defined by and cannot outrun or outgrow a basic fear of what`s coming?

MEACHAM:  Well, it`s going to get worse.  It`s as if King Lear had an iPhone, but that may be unfair to King Lear, I think as things unfold.

WILLIAMS:  I think he had an android, but I`m not sure.

MEACHAM:  Or Cordelia did anyway.  They didn`t take it away in time, which I suspect other people have tried.  We`re entering a very, a fascinating phase here.  Director Mueller is out there, clearly part of the drama of the past eight days or so has been that the President`s team received these interrogatories so they got the first sense of what director Mueller might have.

Mueller showed his cards for the first time privately.  And we`ve seen even more erratic behavior.  So I don`t think it takes a great deal of genius to guess that we`re in for an even rougher ride.

WILLIAMS:  Jon Meacham, it`s always a pleasure, thanks so much for adding your voice to our Friday night broadcast.

Coming up for us, an honor only the President gets to bestow.  Today it was Donald Trump`s turn to do the bestowing when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  The last thing before we go tonight is about one of those honors a president gets to bestow.  The presidential Medal of Freedom was established by John F. Kennedy and while it`s presumably supposed to speak for all of us and award those consensus people who deserve awarding, it pretty much gets to be the President`s choice because as we always say elections have consequences.

The rules are pretty close on who gets to qualify as an awardee.  Those who have made a meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Trump`s first class of honorees today included doctor and megadonor Miriam Adelson wife of megadonor Seldon Adelson of Las Vegas.  Former NFL players, Roger Staubach and Minnesota State Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, Senator Orrin Hatch, and some people who aren`t around, Elvis, Babe Ruth, and Justice Scalia.

It was interesting at times, most notably, when the President ad-libbed whether it was about Orrin Hatch, about Antonin Scalia in front of his widow, or finally about Elvis Presley.


TRUMP:  Senator Orrin Hatch, a great friend of mine, he liked me right from the beginning and therefore I like him.  That helps.  That`s the way life works, right?

The second recipient we honor today is one of the greatest, truly was one of the greatest jurists ever to serve our country, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, joining us for this ceremony is his wife Maureen and their nine children.

And Gene, John, Katherine, Mary, Clare, Paul, Matthew, Christopher and Megan, you were very busy, wow, I always knew I liked him.

Our final medal of freedom, the king of rock `n` roll, the true king, you have to say that, Elvis Aaron Presley.

That was Elvis.  That was idea so give me a little -- a little song.  I`d like to hear the rest of the song.  I don`t know why they cut it off so short.  They have no promotional ability, that`s why.


WILLIAMS:  Our promotional President of the United States to end our week and that is our broadcast on a Friday evening.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Have a good weekend and 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

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