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George W. Bush eulogizes father at state funeral. TRANSCRIPT: 12/5/18, 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Crowley, Greg Miller, Sabrina Siddiqui

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight the lengthening shadow of the Russia investigation and the question, how concerned should the Trump White House be about their former national security adviser Mike Flynn and how much he shared with the Mueller team based on how much he knew. And now we await the next court filing.

Today the President was one of five who have held the job and in ways both very real and unspoken he was the outsider at a service for a lion of his party.  Tonight we`ll look at this day of high emotion and genuine sadness in the nation`s capital.  The funeral for our 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, remembered as a peer, a warrior, a father, a grandfather, and of course as President.  As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters back here in New York.  And following this day that we will chronicle for you later when Donald Trump was one of five presidents present in one place, this was also day 685 of the Trump administration.  That meant the President and the members of his team have now had a full day to absorb the impact of the Mueller team`s latest court filing on Michael Flynn, which raises the possibility that this investigation has more tangents and involves more "associates`," shall we call them, than perhaps first thought

One of them long-time Trump associate, friend of 30 years, Roger Stone reacted to the news today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, LOBBYIST:  I think General Flynn is a patriot.  I think that they are trying to create some implication that he has testified against the President.  We don`t know that.  We don`t know that at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As we reported here last night, the Mueller team recommended little to no prison time for the former National Security Adviser.  Michael Flynn began cooperating with Mueller`s office a year ago after pleading guilty, you`ll recall, to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians a month before Trump`s inauguration.

Mueller revealed Flynn has provided substantial assistance in the Special Counsel`s investigation.  In just six pages team Mueller gave us some clues to that assistance, but extensive redactions, the fancy word for those black lines, underscore just how much of this investigation remains unknown.

Mueller says Flynn helped with at least three investigations, the Russia inquiry and two others. One is described as criminal, but details about it and the third case are blacked out.  As well as some of the information he provided in 19 separate interviews with law enforcement.

The document says Flynn talked about "interactions between individuals in the presidential transition team and Russia" but edits out those details.  It also notes that Trump`s transition team repeated false information from Flynn but it omits specifics.

An entire section on additional useful information that Flynn handed over to prosecutors also blacked out.  There is a mention of Flynn`s guilty plea, prompting other witnesses to come forward.  But again, no details.

Earlier on this network, Frank Figliuzzi, the former FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, explained to our colleague Nicolle Wallace why he believes Mueller chose not reveal certain information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  He`s reached a level of sensitivity, a level of targets that he does not want yet to disclose.  And that should have people at the White House very, very worried.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Notably, Fox News Legal Commentator, Andrew Napolitano, told Dan Abrams on SiriusXM Radio that these latest court documents may indicate a move against those close to the President.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DAN ABRAMS, SIRIUSXM RADIO:  Do you think that any of Trump`s inner circle`s now going to get indicted?

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS LEGAL COMMENTATOR:  Yes.  I don`t know who, but I do know that Donald Jr. has told friends he expects to be indicted.

ABRAMS:  Do you expect he`d be indicted?

NAPOLITANO:  Yes.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Michael Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced December 18.  The government is expected to submit two other key filings on Friday.  A sentencing memo on Michael Cohen will lay out details of his cooperation.

Also, we`re going to learn more about why the Mueller team shredded Paul Manafort`s plea agreement, why they`ve accused him of lying to the feds, something we`re told never to do.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night.  Maya Wiley, former Fed, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a professor at the New School.  Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Counsel to House Intel.  And Michael Crowley, White House and National Security Editor over at Politico.  Good evening to you all.

Jeremy, now that everyone`s had 24 hours for this to sink in, lay people, folks in the news media included, White House staff, what`s in here you think that gives them the most concern?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Well, these documents take us racing back to December 2016 and January 2017.  Those were the weeks just before the inauguration during which the Obama administration was trying to sanction the Russian federation for its interference in the election and Michael Flynn was on the phone with the Russian ambassador saying "Hey, about those sanctions don`t overreact, we`ve got your back as soon as Trump comes into office, we`re going to relax those sanctions."  And that in effect was the quid pro quo.  The Trump team got help from the Russian federation during the campaign, and now is the pay back.

And interestingly, during that time, Brian, we learned that the reason Flynn was fired was because he lied to the vice President.  But we were never told at the time what in fact he told to the President-elect, then the President.  We can only surmise that if he was fired for lying to the Vice President he must have told the truth to Donald Trump.

And so Donald Trump knows the truth, knew the truth, that in fact Kislyak and Flynn were talking about this quid pro quo.  And if Mueller can establish that Trump knew about that, then that really puts the conspiracy of the quid pro quo right on the President`s doorstep.

WILLIAMS:  Maya, I`ve known you long enough to guess that we were probably the same kind of little kid.  Somebody says don`t look in that drawer, that`s an invitation to open the drawer.  Somebody blacks out lines of copy here.  What do you think and what do you want to know about the black lines here, redacted?

MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY:  Oh, I want to know everything about the black lines.

WILLIAMS:  I`m sure you do.

WILEY:  I just want to find the eraser that reveals everything.

WILLIAMS:  That would be a product.

WILEY:  And that would be a product.

WILLIAMS:  That`s an app we need to develop.

WILEY:  We may work on, that Brian, in our off hours.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  That`s fine.

WILEY:  I -- this -- the redactions tell you everything.  Meaning it tells you exactly what Frank Figliuzzi said, which is there is more coming.  Mueller is not showing his hand because he`s going to take more actions.  And because we know -- and he refers explicitly before the redactions, right, that this relates to the investigation around Russian collusion, that it touches the communications between Russians and high-level transition team members.  So we know that it gets us closer to connections to high-level Trump operatives.

And remember, just think about what we know about Paul Manafort, right?  Roger Stone helps Paul Manafort become connected to the campaign in the first place.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

WILEY:  It is at a time when we now know from Michael Cohen that he and Felix Sater were actively working on Trump Moscow and keeping Donald Trump advised.  And remember that we have Michael Flynn sitting at a table with Putin before he becomes formally engaged in the campaign but he knows Donald Trump.  He`s been paid to be there by R.T.,--

WILLIAMS:  R.T.

WILEY:  -- which the State Department has called a foreign agent because it is supported by Putin.  All of this, by the way, is happening, he is an informal adviser to the campaign in February 201, right?  He`s also advising on national policy.  He has a relationship to the Kremlin.  So you have to suspect that he knows about all the conversations that are underneath all of these things we already know about.  And I suspect that that`s part of -- or at least my guess would be that`s part of what`s in there.

And I think absolutely Donald Trump Jr. is someone who we know is very active in the campaign.  We know was very active in the Trump Tower meeting and trying to get e-mails.

So I think when you start to look at all of this together, more is coming.  If I`m in the White House, if I`m Donald Trump, I am losing sleep and I am dreaming stripes.

WILLIAMS:  OK.  So that`s why little kid Maya Wiley went into a career in law.  Mr. Crowley, you went into a career in journalism.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO SENIOR CORRESPONDENT:  Unfortunately.

WILLIAMS:  I heard it proffered last night that these redactions oddly show job security on the part of Mueller.  What the Mueller team is not doing is spewing their argument --

CROWLEY:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- in regular increments.  They have the confidence of a continuing investigation to say, "we know so much that we can`t share but trust us, this is going on."  To Maya`s point, that can`t give an air of confidence to the White House you cover.

CROWLEY:  No, that`s right.  You know, Brian, if, you know, if you have a dying man, he would want to unload all his secrets before his disease finally caught up with him and he was gone from this earth.  And wouldn`t stop talking, wouldn`t stop sharing his stories, turn on the tape recorder, I have all these things to record for posterity.  So the analogy applies to Mueller.

This is a guy who figuratively speaking in the investigative sense thinks that he has many days with him and that he is able to withhold information, that he doesn`t feel like for instance that attorney general, Acting Attorney General Mark Whitaker is about to find a way to shut down or limit his probe.  If he thought that was the case he would be trying to get much more information out into the public sphere knowing that if his probe was shut down his work may never see the light of day.

We don`t know for sure that that`s the case, but I think it`s a reasonable hypothesis.  So the more redactions, the more I think we can infer that Mueller`s feeling confident, he`s not feeling like he`s about to get sacked or that Whitaker is about to quietly muzzle him.

I would say that as far as understanding these redactions, Brian, I think tonight we have a little more clarity.  So there are three categories.  There are three investigations that Flynn cooperated with.  One is the basic 2016 election interference by Russians and whether the Trump campaign colluded.

Another is a criminal investigation about which no other details were offered.  And a third one, no details whatsoever offered.  We don`t know if it`s criminal.  We don`t know if it`s counterintelligence.

It appears to me based on reporting by the "New York Times" that this second one, the criminal investigation that was not described, involves Turkish lobbying in Washington that Flynn appears to have been party to.  His firm took a large amount of money from basically what looks like a cutout for the Turkish government.

Among other things he published really a pretty sleazy op-ed in the "Hill" newspaper --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

CROWLEY:  -- just after the election, going after a prominent sort of Turkish you might call him "dissident."  It`s complicated.

But the point is, Brian, that the "New York Times" has reported that investigation has been handed off to federal prosecutors in Virginia.  The way I read between the lines, both in that "Times" story and going back and looking at the indictment, I think that probably is that second category.  So we still have the one mystery category about which we could posit all kinds of theories.  We just don`t know.

WILLIAMS:  And like all of the guests on our broadcast, Jeremy Bash, we have learned when Mr. Figliuzzi speaks we usually sit up and listen.  I want to share with you another comment he made today to Nicolle Wallace.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FIGLIUZZI:  Look for this mystery criminal case to possibly involve another country meddling with the election and Flynn having knowledge of it.

Based on what`s already been reported about certain lines of questioning, look for Saudi, look for Turkey to be subject to investigation on the degree to which they tried to assist the Trump campaign and/or meddle with the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So Jeremy, just a different version of what Michael was saying.  And I love how cavalier we`ve become.  Just assuming the first category is oh, that time when Russia hacked into our Presidential election and we`re under an ongoing electronic attack as we have this conversation.

So Jeremy, what do you make of Michael`s analysis and Frank`s?

BASH:  Well, there are two categories of things we don`t know.  One, it might involve other countries trying to meddle in the election like Turkey or others or engaging in foreign influence operations in Washington.

But there`s another category of things that may have been redacted that may be things that Mueller knows about to include specific conduct by Donald Trump or his inner circle that really go to the heart of whether or not there was an agreement between the Russian federation and the Trump team going into the election and during the transition.  And if it`s that latter category, I think that`s where of course is more relevant for the ultimate Mueller report.  It`s more relevant for ultimately what Congress will look at when they look at all of this conduct in totality.

WILLIAMS:  So Maya, give us a preview of Friday.  The documents coming out.

WILEY:  Christmas coming early.

WILLIAMS:  What we might learn and I guess a subcategory, what you clearly hope to learn.

WILEY:  So, I think that it`s going to be very interesting to see how much information the Mueller team decides to disclose tomorrow.

WILLIAMS:  So we could get more of this?

WILEY:  We could get more of that.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

WILEY:  Or we could get a lot more information that helps shed light on some of the things that may be implicated in this document.  Now, obviously, and it may go somewhat to this question about how much is Mueller hiding his hand because he`s got a lot more work to do and he`s protecting that investigation, which I think is clear.  I think that`s true.

WILLIAMS:  Excuse me, but by telling us what Manafort lied about, that could expose --

WILEY:  Exactly.

WILLIAMS:  OK.

WILEY:  So he may say -- now, because this whole question of Whitaker and whether or not there are efforts from Trump appointees --

WILLIAMS:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  -- to make it much more difficult for Mueller to do his job is going to be implicated to some degree, right.  We expect he will say a lot more about Manafort.  At least I would, because he`s got to demonstrate to the court why Manafort should get treated pretty harshly, right?  And we have seen that he has no compunction about -- he has no problem doing that.

What we don`t know is how much some of the things that Flynn may have talked about that was valuable may also go to some of the aspects of what Manafort has been lying about, right?  Because he made very clear that Manafort was not forthcoming, that he`s going to come for Manafort because Manafort didn`t live up to the agreement, to the cooperation agreement.

But now he`s got to trick (ph) because he`s got to say enough to make it clear in court, which means I think a lot redaction.  I think it means a lot of redaction so I don`t know that we`re going to learn as much as we would like, but then you`ve got the Michael Cohen piece as well.

Michael Cohen also, because as we talked about earlier, coming forward, --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

WILEY:  -- creating the clear public record that Donald Trump was actively pursuing business opportunities.  Remember, up till June 2016 when Trump publicly as a candidate as early as February 2016 said he had absolutely no business dealings with Russia.  So all of this is going to tell us more.  It`s not -- we`re still going to have a lot of questions.  But it will be interesting to see how much is redacted versus how much actual information we get.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, imagine this conversation we`re having and you`re inside the Trump White House and you know Friday is coming on the calendar, you can see it, it`s circled, and you don`t know what it`s going to hold.  Or Monday of next week or Tuesday and so on.

CROWLEY:  It`s unbelievable.  And by the way, the President has been operating without a full-time White House counsel for the past --

WILLIAMS:  Oh, yes, there`s that.

CROWLEY:  -- couple of months.  Politico reported yesterday that the new White House counsel will finally be starting on Monday, has hired up some deputies.  But they are really behind the eight ball.  They are understaffed in that office for dealing with this onslaught.  Never mind the Democratic House investigations that are coming their way.

And you know, it`s interesting to see the President`s legal team such as it is.  Rudy Giuliani has offered some public commentary in the last couple of days that really, you know, he seems extremely confident.  It looks to me to be whistling past the graveyard.  It`s kind of hard to figure out Rudy`s game here.  But he just seems to be, you know, kind of shrugging everything off, making a joke about it.

He gave one of my reporters a comment last night that frankly I found completely incoherent.  You can look it up on Darren Samuels` Twitter feed.  Very strange formulation.  Literally didn`t make any sense to me.

And so throwing all these things, the White House doesn`t know what`s coming.  But also, do they really think they`re prepared for what might be coming?  Or even for the worst case scenario?  Do they have their arms around this? Do they have the legal eagles who are ready for this fight?  I think there`s a lot of evidence that they don`t.

WILLIAMS:  Perhaps because two of the best lawyers were here with us on our broadcast tonight.  With thanks to Maya Wiley, with thanks to Jeremy Bash and Michael Crowley.  Appreciate you helping us start off our conversation on a Wednesday night.

And coming up, closer look at the 18-day period between the warnings to the White House to fire Michael Flynn, the actual firing of Michael Flynn, the chain of events that set off that has us where we are tonight.

And later, while it`s true that politics took a back seat as five living presidents gathered in one place, that front row was an environment all its own as the nation watched.  "The 11th Hour," as we said, just getting under way on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY YATES, FMR. ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the Vice President and others.  And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the National Security Adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  All these months later that sure gets your attention.  That was the warning that former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates delivered to the White House less than a week into the administration.  But Michael Flynn then stayed on the job for 18 more days.  It wasn`t till the "Washington Post" made public Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador and lied about it that Flynn was fired.

And in many ways that is what led us to where we are right now today.  With us now one of the reporters who broke that story, Greg Miller, Pulitzer Prize-Winning National Security Correspondent for the "Washington Post."  He`s a man who quite literally wrote the book on this subject.  Greg Miller`s the author of "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia, and the Subversion of American Democracy."

Greg, I want to quote your own work to you, which I know you won`t object to, to bring us back to this period of time. From your book, "Flynn moved through inauguration weekend with oblivious elation.  Two days later McCabe, Comey`s deputy, called Flynn at the White House.  McCabe said the bureau needed to speak with him, proposed sending a pair of agents over, and asked whether Flynn wished to have an attorney present.

Flynn knew this was about Kislyak and must have assumed the bureau had a transcript.  But the retired general also had a misplaced confidence in his ability, whether in combat zones or in Washington, to make his way through perilous situations.  "No," Flynn said about needing a lawyer.  Send them over."

I want to show what the General Barry McCaffrey tweeted today about his guess as to where this hubris from Flynn came from.  There it is.  "He totally went off the rails.  His fury at being fired by the Obama team, target fixation," only a military guy can come up with that, "target fixation on terror threat, too much time in the dark world.  A superb combat intel officer."

Greg, is that about as good an explanation for the period of hubris that you uncovered?

GREG MILLER, AUTHOR, "THE APPRENTICE":  It`s true.  It is.  It`s a perfect summation. And i think it`s why -- i look at Flynn as one of the few figures in this sordid Russian drama who you can sort of see as having fallen from some grace.  I mean, this is not a story in which we have a lot of key players who are exactly symbols of patriotic rectitude.

But Flynn is a guy who has rose through the ranks in the U.S. military to become a three-star, multiple tours Iraq and Afghanistan.  Critical contributions to those conflicts in the aftermath of 9/11.  And then did an astonishing turn even to many of his closest associates and friends after leaving government, after retirement.

Really I think became bitter at his -- at how he was sort of shown the door by the Obama administration at the end of his career and turned on the Obama team which in his mind included Hillary Clinton and of course Flynn goes on to lead those "lock her up" chants notoriously at the Republican National Convention.

He goes to Moscow, appears alongside Vladimir Putin at an event staged by the Russian propaganda channel R.T.  And, you know, starts trying to scrape together money from dubious sources including getting himself involved in taking payments from Turkey that now appear to be another target of a federal investigation.

WILLIAMS:   So the only time Trump and Obama meet at the White House, maybe the last time they spoke before today`s handshake, Obama --

MILLER:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  -- warns Trump "don`t hire this guy."  What did Obama know?

MILLER:  Well, I think at that time Obama didn`t necessarily see Flynn as somebody who was going to be mixed up in this Russia investigation.  He knew Flynn as somebody who hadn`t done very well.  I don`t think anybody in the Obama team really took any pleasure in having to remove Flynn from his last job in government, which was as the director of the defense intelligence agency. But there were lots of concerns about his ability to manage that big organization and how things were going.

Why he was so fixated on things like Iran and trying to find links to Iran in activities and terrorist networks that really most analysts didn`t think were there.  They just think he wasn`t suited for that job.  And that he wasn`t really suited for that kind of service in Washington.  As good as he was as an intel officer in the military, in combat zones, in places like Baghdad and Afghanistan, it just didn`t work very well when you tried to put him in a civilian environment like the DIA. or perhaps a senior job at the White House.

WILLIAMS:  Well, as your colleague David Ignatius has written today, it looks like he has come all the way through the looking glass and made this complete circle.  And his column today complements your reporting.

Our thanks to Greg Miller for returning to our broadcast.  And again to our audiences, his book is "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy."

After a break coming up for us, we knew it was going to be emotional, and it was, but it was the awkwardness of today that we couldn`t predict until it played out in real time.  We`ll have that when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He showed me what it means to be a president who serves with integrity, leads with courage and acts with love in his heart for the citizens of our country.  When the history books are written, they will say that George H.W. Bush was a great president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  It was moments like that today, a personal and emotional eulogy by a former president about his father, the former president.  And it was the sense that a rare kind of peace prevailed for a time in Washington today.

All of those things led to this.  From Susan Glasser, who covers Washington for the "New Yorker." and "What does it tell you that the feel-good events in Washington these days are funerals?"  The front row at that service was a lot of things.

It was a monument to our continuity of government and our democracy.  It was a rare gathering of presidents and their spouses.  And it was straight up awkward for all the obvious reasons.  Starting when the president entered and took his seat, took off his coat, shook hands with former president Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama.  And that was it.

Zero interaction between Donald Trump and the Clintons or for that matter Trump and the Carters.  Phillip Rucker of the "Washington Post" describes the tableau this way.  "Trump took his seat on the aisle next to his wife, with three past presidents and first ladies seated to her side.

First was the President Trump said was illegitimate, Barack Obama.  Then the first lady he called a profligate spender of taxpayer dollars, Michelle Obama.  Then the president he called the worst abuser of women, Bill Clinton.  Then the first lady and secretary of state he said should be in jail, Hillary Clinton.  And then the president he said was the second worst behind Obama, Jimmy Carter, and his wife Rosalynn.

Put it this way.  It was a cloudy, somber day in D.C. and there was no shortage of shade in that front row.

With us for more, Kimberly Atkins, Washington Bureau Chief for the "Boston Herald." Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for "The Guardian".

Good evening and welcome to you both.  Kimberly, I want to start with graciousness and a clip I want to show you that`s already been around the world.  George W. Bush on the day they are preparing to say farewell to his father comes over to that row of presidents and he delivers in short order a cough drop to Michelle Obama, continuing a joke that started at the McCain service when he reached into his pocket and gave the former first lady a cough drop.

She later joked that it was old.  And he said yes, we`ve got a lot of those in effect still kicking around the House.  Well, today, again, on this day that they`re gathering for the memorial service for his father, he thinks to do that in addition to greeting everybody in the first row.  That was graciousness.  We didn`t see a lot of that from everybody.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON HERALD:  Yes.  And it`s really extraordinary that again, at a funeral we see someone, a former president, a mourning son, take the time to have in his hand a little gift to share a warm moment to honor this friendship that he has with the former first lady that bridges a number of divides including political.

And that seems so foreign in the current Trumpism of Washington, where politics aren`t just polarized, bitterly polarized, but really personal and can get very nasty.  And everything that was said, positive moments like that and positive remembrances of the 41st president, even if they weren`t delivered to be a repudiation of Donald Trump, it felt like it because it was just so different from everything we`ve seen in the last two years.

WILLIAMS:  Sabrina, it`s true.  Every word that was spoken made you think of it.  Every word that wasn`t spoken made you think of it.  The director who kept cutting to the front row and the 45th President made us think of it as we were watching.

Here`s what our mutual friend Jonathan Allen, long-time print journalist and author who`s now working with us, compared this to.  "The differences between Bush, the patrician dedicated to public service, civility and international cooperation, and Trump are endless.  But at the root of it all, Trump finds darkness in people, while Bush saw points of light." Sabrina, your reaction.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN:  Well, this certainly wasn`t intended to be like the memorial services for the late Senator John McCain, where there was a very clear effort to rebuke the Trump era of politics and his tenure over Washington.

But even so, every time there was a remembrance of 41, of the humility, of him as a gentleman, of the way in which he understood the gravity of the office of the presidency, there was an undeniable contrast to the incumbent president.

You saw the contrast from the moment that President Trump walked into that -- into the cathedral and took his seat next to the Obama`s.  And a lot of the tension frankly was of his own making.  And Phil Rucker laid it out in his article indeed that he was sitting next to his predecessor, whose legitimacy he questioned by leading this crusade, demanding the birth certificate of the nation`s first black president.

He repeatedly called for the jailing of his political opponent, of Hillary Clinton.  And he continues frankly to do so with the lock her up chants that continue at his rallies today. So one thing that is distinct about President Trump is that yes, other presidents have in the past attacked their political opponents but he has continued to do so.

Nothing about the office of the presidency has changed just how visceral the nature of his attacks are.  And so, that was very much reinforced by the tension that you saw in that front row today.

WILLIAMS:  I was just going to add that the President retweeted that artwork showing Obama and Hillary among others behind bars just a few days back.

Kim, we had the great Nancy Gibbs as part of our coverage today, known among journalists as the record holder for the largest number of cover stories ever written for "Time" magazine.  She`s also the magazine`s former editor.

And she`s written a book on the presidents club.  And as she pointed out again today, she`s so right, that club of presidents, that rarefied club is the only club where the members don`t pick the members.  We do.  It`s the ultimate kind of high-end box of chocolates in that way.  And that was the box of chocolates we had in that cathedral today.

ATKINS:  It was.  I mean, it`s extraordinary that there were five living presidents all together in that cathedral today brought together to honor a former president as well.  And just seeing, again, them interacting with each other or not interacting with each other, as was the case with President Trump, is something truly extraordinary.

These are individuals who are in a very, very select club in the experiences that they have shared in leading this nation.  And to see the awkwardness that was there just not -- just because of the personal and very nasty differences that they have had and the things that President Trump has said about them.

But just knowing that the whole spirit of the ceremony today seemed to hit some of them differently than they hit President Trump.  I mean, at times he was sitting with his arms crossed and very squared off and seemed as if he was uncomfortable to even be there in this moment.  It was just extraordinary to see.

WILLIAMS:  Mostly there was a lot of wisdom in that Forrest Gump.  Hey, Sabrina, I`m coming to you after a break.  Both guests have agreed to stay with us.  We`ll take that break.

And coming up, one of the pillars of the Republican Party reportedly being shrugged off by the party`s current leader.  More on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Our goal is to bring government down to the balanced budget.  It can`t be done overnight.  They didn`t get this way overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The American people by about 80 percent believe that balancing the budget is a moral issue, that it`s a question of whether or not this generation`s politicians get to dump debt on the next generation`s children and grandchildren to pay for this generation`s promises.  That`s fundamentally wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We believe that hard-working taxpayers in this country deserve a break in this country.  And that means Washington takes less money from them and we also spend less here.  That means we have to get our fiscal House in order to prevent a debt crisis in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So you might recognize those three republican fiscal conservatives speaking about a key plank, a key underpinning of the GOP platform and party.  The Daily Beast is reporting President Trump isn`t much concerned about the deficit because "He won`t be there when it blows up." according to this report.

And we quote, he has repeatedly shrugged it off, implying he doesn`t have to worry about the money owed to America`s creditors, currently about 21 trillion, because he won`t be around to shoulder the blame when it becomes even more untenable.

Remaining with us are Kimberly Atkins and Sabrina Siddiqui.  Sabrina, how do you explain this to the Trump base?  Because if Newt Gingrich is right this is a moral issue.  The Trump base is as engaged as any citizen in this issue because this one we all have a share in.

SIDDIQUI:  Well, certainly this flies in the face of what fiscal conservatives have long argued and prioritized frankly when it comes to reducing the national debt.  But some of that went out the window, frankly, last year when Republicans passed the tax bill that was signed into law by the President that balloon the deficit.

And the fact that the President is dismissive of the debt because he won`t be around to clean up this mess when we reach the point of crisis just reinforces that he`s first and foremost concerned with himself and his own legacy as opposed to the impact of his policies.

The question of course is what if anything he might be willing to do to address this issue when the new Congress takes shape in January.  Some Republicans have signaled that they believe the problem is popular government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid and social security, touching those programs will of course be a non-starter with Democrats.

So the question is, is the President willing to cut a deal with Democrats or is he going to break from his campaign pledge and try and go after those government programs which of course are broadly popular with the American public.

WILLIAMS:  Kim, I know you`ve given a lot of thought and written a lot of words on this president`s ability, propensity to ignore facts in favor of politics.

ATKINS:  Yes.  And I think that this is an example of that.  I mean, look, everyone with a household knows that a way to pay down debt, to do that you either have to earn more money, and you certainly have to stop running up that debt.

And it seems that the President either doesn`t realize that that -- that`s an oversimplified example of exactly how the budget works as well or he doesn`t care, as this article suggests.  But that`s a fact.  He keeps saying that growth will get -- will help balance the budget, and that`s just not how things work.  It`s the same way that he denies that climate change exists because it`s not politically expedient to him.

It`s just -- it seems like another example of that because he wants to put forward proposals like building a wall, like doing other things that`s going to cost a tremendous amount of money and doesn`t really want to think about how it`s paid for or thinks that`s some other president`s problem down the line.

WILLIAMS:  Two journalists who in fact know how things work.  Kimberly Atkins, Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you both for returning to our broadcast as always.

And coming up, the gratitude and the grief that were expressed today in memory of a life well lived.  When we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  We wanted to take a moment to look at the moments we witnessed today inside the national cathedral.  An extraordinary send-off for our 41st president.  For starters, it`s not unusual for presidents to eulogize former presidents.  It`s a bit more unusual when the son of that president was president himself.

There were aching emotional moments.  There was real laughter at times.  There was a palpable feeling that an era has ended.  But mostly, there were tributes to an extraordinary life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR:  His life code, as he said, was tell the truth, don`t blame people, be strong, do your best, try hard, forgive, stay the course.  And that was and is the most American of creeds.  An imperfect man, he left us a more perfect union.

BRIAN MULRONEY, FORMER CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER:  Let me tell you, that when George Bush was president of the United States of America, every head of state in the world knew they were dealing with a gentleman, a genuine leader, one who was distinguished, resolute, and brave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This man, who changed all of our lives, who changed our nation, who changed our world, left this life for the next.  It was a beautiful end.  It was a beautiful beginning.

ALAN SIMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR (R) WYOMING:  He was a man of such great humility.  Those who traveled the high road of humility in Washington, D.C. are not bothered by heavy traffic.

He never lost his sense of humor.  Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life.  That`s what humor is.  He never hated anyone.  He knew what his mother and my mother always knew, hatred corrodes the container it`s carried in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To us, he was close to perfect.  But not totally perfect.  His short game was lousy.  He wasn`t exactly Fred Astaire on the dance floor.  He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived.

He recognized that serving others enriched the giver`s soul.  To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.  Through our tears, let us know the blessings of knowing and loving you, a great and noble man, the best father a son or daughter could have.  And in our grief, let us smile, knowing that dad is hugging robin and holding mom`s hand again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Toughest part of the day to watch, without question.  And after a flight west, the former president will be laid to rest at his presidential library at Texas A&M University in college station, Texas.

Just because it`s part of the background and context for the day, I want to show you that the President has ended his day, his last tweet of the day, with his 50 percent approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll.  That is the last we heard from Donald Trump on this Wednesday.

Another break for us.  And coming up, it`s the "L" word that 41 famously despised.  But why not ask those who served him what they thought should be his legacy, as we did.

We`ll have that when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  There he is.  Last thing before we go tonight, one last look back at President Bush 41, especially through the eyes of those who served alongside him.  Back in 2011, to mark the 20th anniversary of "Desert Storm," I visited the Bush presidential library out in Texas, and I sat down with the former president, his former Vice President, Dan Quayle, his Secretary Of Defense, Dick Cheney, his Secretary Of State, Jim Baker, and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.

And I asked them all to talk about the legacy of their former boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  For the record, how should history properly remember your best friend?

LT. GEN. BRENT SCOWCROFT, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.):  I think as a superb leader, perhaps the best grounded for his job of any president we`ve had.

JAMES BAKER III, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I mean, if you look at all of the administrations throughout history, Democrat or Republican, you`ll see that in the national security apparatus, it often times a lot of fighting and backbiting and leaking and then stab, backstabbing, we didn`t have that.

GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEF OF STAFF:  Each and everyone of us knew that we had dear friend.  He was in my corner and in the corner of everybody in this room at this table.  He was that kind of guy.  A great commander in chief, a great president and a great friend of each of us.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER BUSH SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  There was never a time when we went to the president and made a request that we thought was necessary for the conduct of the war that he ever turned us down.  He backed us up every single step of the way.

DAN QUAYLE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  I always told my kids, if you want a role model, President George Bush is.  And here is something I found interesting, being in the world of politics for a very long time, he heard a lot of bad news.  He`d get upset, at times, with everybody probably around this table.  I never heard him raise his voice.  He always had a very calm matter about him.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These guys are friends.  And so, they`re putting a good shine on it.  I try not to get mad or yell or scream.  And I had a table to do it my way.  I mean, it`s better to lead by bringing people along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And so, with that, 41, the way he wanted to be remembered and the way he is remembered, by all those who were at his side, also, by the way, you couldn`t see it, but Barbara Bush was sitting just off camera for our entire interview because she said she wanted to hear what they were going to say about her husband.

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

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