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Nick Ayers leaving White House. TRANSCRIPT: 12/10/2018, The 11th Hour w. Brian Williams.

Guests: Chris Megerian, Ken Vogel, Michael McFaul, Julia Ioffe, Glenn Kirchner, Nancy Cook

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: December 10, 2018 Guest: Chris Megerian, Ken Vogel, Michael McFaul, Julia Ioffe, Glenn Kirchner, Nancy Cook

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, is Donald Trump`s presidency in real peril? The White House appears to have no clear strategy, as questions mount over whether Trump would be indicted if he were not President, whether he`ll be indicted the day he leaves office.

Also tonight, she certainly stood out, a red-haired Russian who loved guns and the NRA and Republican politics. She is now an accused Russian spy, apparently cooperating with team USA.

And after dumping John Kelly, Trump`s first choice for chief of staff says no to the job. In an episode the "New York Times" says left the President feeling humiliated. As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.

Well, good evening, once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 690 of the Trump administration.

Tonight, there is news of yet another plea deal with this Russian connection. "New York Times" says, Maria Butina, an accused Russian spy who cultivated relationships with the NRA and powerful GOP conservatives, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. The plea deal includes cooperating with federal prosecutors. We will have more on this story just ahead in our broadcast.

But we begin with the President and the White House trying to deal with this new reality after the revelations made in Friday`s court filings from Robert Mueller and from the Southern District of New York. Part of DOJ.

Federal prosecutors in the Michael Cohen case have implicated Trump in a scheme to buy the silence of two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, during the 2016 campaign. That`s a violation of campaign finance laws because it would be illegal spending to potentially affect the outcome of an election.

This morning, Trump posted his defense in messages that included a huge misspelling that`s been talked about all day. It began by quoting Fox News, "Democrats can`t find a smocking gun trying to tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey`s testimony. No smocking gun. No collusion, Fox News, that`s because there`s no collusion so now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution, which it was not. But even if it was, it is only a civil case like Obama`s, but it was done correctly by a lawyer and there would not even be a fine. Lawyer`s liability if he made a mistake, not me. Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced. Witch hunt."

But veteran investigators know where there`s smock, there`s fire. And earlier today, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Frank Figliuzzi, offered this assessment to our colleague, Nicolle Wallace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: With regard to the Southern District of New York filing, let`s understand something. If Donald Trump was not currently the President of the United States, he`d be looking at an indictment in a matter of weeks, not months. In fact, he might already have been indicted if he were not President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And then came this. Tonight, 44 former U.S. senators from both parties have written an op-ed for the "Washington Post." They`ve all signed onto it. It`s addressed to the current U.S. Senate.

They write in part, "It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the constitution, our governing institutions and our national security. We are on the eve of the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s investigation and the House`s commencement of investigations of the President and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy, and geopolitical stability."

They go on to say, "we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self- interests not replace national interests."

These 44 senators, by the way, include names like Bradley, Cohen, Danforth, Dodd, Lieberman, Lugar, two Kerry`s, Simpson, and Weicker and so on. The "Washington Post" reports the toll the multiple investigations are taking on the administration.

And the growing concerns among Republicans, "anxiety is spiking among Republican allies who complain that Trump and the White House have no real plan for dealing with the Russia crisis while confronting a host of other troubles at home and abroad."

This goes on to say, "The White House is adopting what one official termed a "shrugged-shoulders" strategy for the Mueller findings, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the President tells them to believe. But some allies fret that the President`s coalition could crack apart under the growing pressure. Stephen Bannon, the former Trump strategist predicted 2019 would be a year of siege warfare and cast the President`s inner circle as naively optimistic and unsophisticated."

One of the authors of that article, Robert Costa, described the current dilemma inside the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: There`s a paralysis within this White House that`s pervasive about how to handle the Mueller investigation.

They feel if they start to medal rhetorically even in the Mueller investigation, a White House starer could have to have a personal lawyer, maybe vulnerability when it comes to obstruction of justice. So everyone is trying carefully, letting the President be out there, tweet and do whatever he does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As we mentioned while all of this was unfolding this weekend the President announced his current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is leaving at the end of the year. Nick Ayers who served as Mike Pence`s chief of staff and who was poised to replace Kelly announced late yesterday he would not.

As the "Washington Post" reports, that`s left the President scrambling without a plan b. More on that coming up as well.

"The New York Times" reports that federal prosecutors are beginning to shift their scrutiny to the Trump family business. Tomorrow, Michael Flynn`s attorneys are expected to file their own documents related to his sentencing.

Also tomorrow, Paul Manafort`s lawyers will be back in court to respond to Mueller`s allegation that he lied during his cooperation agreement. And Wednesday, Michael Cohen will be sentenced by a federal judge. It`s a heck of a backdrop against which we bring in our leadoff panel for a Monday night.

From Ann Arbor, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. In Washington, Ken Vogel, Political Reporter for "The New York Times." And Chris Megerian, Reporter for "The Los Angeles Times."

Requesting your indulgence, everybody, if my voice lasts the hour. I`ve got this thing every other person has these days.

Barbara, let`s start with you. And something we heard Neil Katyal say about two hours ago on this network, Neil, the former acting solicitor general has argued 37 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Not given normally to hyperbole, but this got our attention about a possible course for this President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL OF THE U.S.: The card he has left to play is resigned and avoid a criminal trial. And I think that that`s going to become an increasingly likely possibility as the facts come out and as the American public realizes they got a guy in office who has lied to the American people, who has committed felonies, and is in deep violation of his oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed and uphold the constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, Barbara, you see, perhaps, why that got our attention and so many of these stories that we cover have a slow rolling kind of aftereffect. These are Friday`s documents we`re still talking about, after all. So as it has sunk in to you, what is the legal peril, in your view, for this President, near term and far?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, near term, I think that the statement that was made in the filing by the Southern District of New York is a very serious one that says that individual one, which we know to be President Trump, directed Michael Cohen to violate the campaign finance laws by making those payments to silence women. That is the kind of offense that is, number one, potentially criminal as a conspiracy or a solicitation, and also potentially impeachable.

The framers of the Constitution made it pretty clear that one of the grounds for which impeachment was appropriate was if a president was to procure the presidency by fraud. He should be stripped of the presidency if he was obtained fraudulently. And if President Trump deceived voters by violating campaign finance laws, which are designed to promote transparency in elections, by hiding the fact that he was making a payment in order to influence the election, that could be of an impeachable offense.

And then I think the other nugget in the Mueller filing that day that is so significant is that Michael Cohen is cooperating on matters core to the investigation and provided relevant and useful information. Of course, the core of the investigation is Russian influence and interference in the election and coordination with the Trump campaign. And so long term, that might be an even more significant problem for President Trump.

WILLIAMS: Chris, I was reminded tonight, you came to Washington to cover this investigation, and I`m curious where you put the balance of power right about now because to a lot of us, it seems right now, advantage feds like this is something less than a fair fight.

CHRIS MEGERIAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I would say absolutely. I mean, right now, President Trump faces more legal exposure than any other time in these investigations.

I mean, federal prosecutors in Manhattan have directly implicated him in a felony. I mean, there are questions on, you know, whether or not there could be, you know, even more trouble for Trump because of that. It`s difficult to prosecute these campaign finance crimes as we saw in the John Edwards case in 2012.

But I also point to the sentencing memo for Michael Cohen in the Mueller probe. You see more evidence of more Russian contacts and also in that memo it says that Trump directed Michael Cohen to reach out to the Russian government in 2015. You can see more and more things adding up of reaching out between Trump and the Russians.

WILLIAMS: And Ken Vogel, a couple things for you, first of all, this letter by 44 former members of the U.S. senate, as we say, that gets your attention. So did this. Another reaction by Frank Figliuzzi during our 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time hour. This was about the President`s ability to carry out the tasks of office right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FIGLIUZZI: I no longer have any confidence -- I didn`t have any to begin with, but now with the filings on Friday, that this President can act in the national interests and not in his own self-interests. I don`t think he`s capable anymore of making unilateral decisions that are truly solely in the national interest when it comes to Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Ken, for example, there are a whole lot of folks who believe that Russia is preparing a move on Ukraine right now. They`re loading up missile systems and armor. Visible on satellite photos. Are we a player on that -- on good footing?

KEN VOGEL, THE NEW YORK TIMES POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the Trump administration isn`t. It`s sort this anachronistic scenario we have where we talk about the President separate from the administration. But it is true that for the duration of the Trump presidency and even during the campaign, we did have questions about whether Trump was willing to stand up to Russia even before we knew a lot of these allegations that were a led bearer by Mueller and the Congressional investigators over the last several months. But the administration has, in fact, been tough on Russia and has been in Ukraine`s corner, steadfastly, providing it with lethal arms, you know, issuing additional sanctions against Russian oligarchs including some who are very close to Vladimir Putin, like Oleg Daraposka, really unprecedented sanctions, in fact.

So, you know, whether the administration is prepared to deal with this, it appears as if that there are -- continue to be Russia hawks in the administration who are setting policy even as Trump has this sort of less aggressive rhetorical stance. And, you know, even apologetic rhetorical stance toward Russia.

On the letter from the 44 former senators, it`s notable there that they are talking about this fraught geopolitical moment and the President`s ability as Frank Figliuzzi sort of raised the skepticism about the President`s ability to navigate this fraud geopolitical situation when the issues that we`re talking about where the President faces the most legal exposure, thus far, are not related to Russia. T hey are these campaign finance violations.

And so while that is compromising and potentially poses a problem legally as well as in the Congress with potential impeachment, it is not necessarily raising any more doubts than we already had about the President`s ability to stand firm against Russia in the face of its aggression toward its neighbors.

WILLIAMS: So, Barb, we have three court matters this week by my count. We`ve got Manafort, Cohen, Flynn. What`s your pleasure in terms of which one you think may be the most revealing?

MCQUADE: I`m not sure. I think that Manafort situation is kind of interesting because in that one he`s going to actually have to tell the judge why he believes he was truthful in his statements. So that might be the one where we get the most substance and find out more information.

But the allegations that Robert Mueller has made about his lack of truthfulness go to some very interesting things including his relationship and his dealings with Constantin Kalimnik, this is someone that Mueller has said is affiliated with Russian intelligence and it talks about the fact that during this cooperation, Paul Manafort continued to lie about their relationship.

And remember, Constantin Kalimnik was involved in communications with Paul Manafort where he talked about how can we use my new position on the campaign to make ourselves whole? Let`s talk to the Russian oligarch and see if he wants a private briefing about the campaign. Those are some of the kinds of things that go to the core of this Russian influence and interference in the election including the change in the GOP platform to be more favorable to Russia.

And so I`d be very curious to hear his take on why he believes he was truthful. We might find some little tidbits of information that come out of that.

WILLIAMS: Yes, the presence of Russians at the GOP convention in Cleveland is an oddity that continues to stand out in our recent history.

Hey, Chris, I know that federal judges have never reached out to you and said, which questions can we answer for you this week in open court, but if you had the chance, what are the questions you have that you would like answers for this week? We have three federal court opportunities.

MEGERIAN: Well, I really wished they would call me and ask me because I do have a lot of questions for these people.

WILLIAMS: I`m sure.

MEGERIAN: I`m most interested in the Mike Flynn memo from his defense attorneys. One of the open questions from me is why did Flynn lie to the FBI, why did he mislead other members of the administration about his communications with the Russian ambassador? So this is a chance for his lawyers to kind of explain, are they going to say that somebody told Mike Flynn to lie? Are they going to say that he had another reason to do this? You know, how much narrative are they going to put on what we already know about what Flynn has done?

WILLIAMS: And, Mr. Vogel, this search for a chief of staff in the West Wing, this was not a good look for Donald Trump over the weekend, and he knew it. General Kelly is taking his leave after what four decades of service to the United States, but the new guy said no, literally said he wants to spend more time with his family. What do you think is going on and is this the new person who takes this job, is this a potential subpoena magnet?

VOGEL: Absolutely. And we`ve seen exposure to both of Trump`s chiefs of staff. Nick Ayers, the gentleman you mentioned who turned it down who`s Mike Pence`s chief of staff currently, very smart dude, has had a meteoric rise through politics. He has accumulated a fortune of tens of millions of dollars as a political consultant with some other investments. He knows that this is something that will attract intense scrutiny and potential hinder his earning potential and his career trajectory in the future and so he bowed out.

I think that is evidence that it`s going to be tough to get a top-tier political operative who understands Washington and understands the way that all these forces from the Congress and the potential impeachment, to the Mueller investigation, could weigh on both the President, the presidency, and the chief of staff. That`s not exactly a super appealing job prospect for a lot of folks in Washington.

WILLIAMS: Great thanks to our big three back to work Monday night broadcast. To Barbara McQuade, to Ken Vogel, to Chris Megerian, thank you all very much.

And coming up, if Putin had nothing to do with Donald Trump`s election, why were more than a dozen Trump insiders talking to the Russians during and after the presidential campaign?

And later the search for the President`s next chief of staff, as we said, gets complicated. THE 11TH HOUR just getting under way on a Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Welcome back. The "Washington Post" is out with a new report highlighting just how many Trump associates had contact with Russians during the 2016 campaign and transition. The number is up to at least 14. Look at those faces.

According to the "Post" which reviewed public records and interviews, the list includes three Trump family members, two business associates and nine members of the campaign, "Again and again and again over the course of Donald Trump`s 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family members and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit. Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peace-making sit down with Vladimir Putin and offered to broker such a summit."

This report comes days after Robert Mueller revealed in a court filling that Trump`s former attorney Michael Cohen was in contact with a Russian national who could offer the campaign, "synergy on a government level."

With us to talk about all of it, Ambassador Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia. And Julia Ioffe, a Russian born American journalist who has covered Putin for years and these days as a correspondent with "GQ."

Ambassador, your childhood in Montana, mine in New Jersey, over the course of an average American life, maybe you`d hear one or two Russian references, most of them having to do with James bond movies in an average American life. One or two contacts with Russians in a campaign is maybe coincidence, what do you make of 14 people?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I`m rather unusual. I`ve had lots of contacts with Russians for a long time after I left Montana. Not in Montana. But there are two things that are very striking about this lis list.

On both sides, the Russian side and the American side, there`s lots of Americans and lots of Russians involved in this, right? Number one is just the quantity of the contacts and the number of different places. That suggests a lot of probing to me on the Russian side.

But, two, is the quality and the substance of the contacts. What are they talking about? They`re not talking about a U.S./Russian bilateral relations.

They`re not talking about U.S. policy in the Middle East and Russia policy in the Middle East at least to the best of our knowledge so far. Those are the kinds of contacts you might see from time to time, you know, during a campaign cycle with foreign policy elites from both Moscow and Washington. This list is not that. They were talking about other things for sure.

WILLIAMS: Julia, what strikes you about the 14 who we are showing on the air?

JULIA IOFFE, GQ CORRESPONDENT: So, I think what`s interesting is that for the most part, we knew about all of these contacts. We`ve just read about them in, you know, dribs and drabs over the last couple years. When you see them all put together, it does, you know, it makes an impression, and I think what we know from a lot of these contacts is there was some freelancing going on, on the Russian side. There was some government- directed outreach going on.

But as one Obama administration official told me shortly after leaving the White House, the Russians were basically throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick. I think what`s brilliant about this piece is we`re seeing all the spaghetti on the wall, some which ended up not sticking, but when you see all of it up against the wall, it does, like I said, make an impression.

WILLIAMS: So, Ambassador, let`s say the Russians were freelancing and let`s say this was not their best effort, but what about the American side, what about rigor and diligence and what`s supposed to be kind of muscle memory? You pick up the phone and you call the FBI. Are you forever staggered by the shortage of that?

MCFAUL: Yes. And I want to pick up the spaghetti metaphor for just a minute to remind our viewers that that`s what the Russians do all the time to gather intelligence. You know, remember when we -- I was in the government when we arrested the illegals back in 2010. There was about a dozen of them, Russians, living as Americans. And everybody kind of laughed about it. They`re like, oh, they didn`t do anything, they didn`t report.

Well, that was a giant investment by Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to play and wait to see what might pay off in the future. And when I look at this constellation of actors, that`s exactly the game plan I see.

On the American side, I see naivety, I see incompetence. Even on the Trump Tower, like, you know, I know a little bit about how business deals are done in Moscow from my time working there. If I were advising somebody about how to do a big business deal in Moscow, my first instinct would not be to call blindly Mr. Peskov who works for Vladimir Putin, his spokesperson.

So I see a lot of people kind of experimenting and trying to cash in on the notoriety of Mr. Trump. And remember, almost all of them never expected Trump to win. So they were trying to use a moment when they could to advance their own personal interests. At least that`s, to me, the theory that is most plausible to try to explain this pretty deep, complex web of contacts.

WILLIAMS: Yes, that`s an important point that we need to keep repeating.

Julia, I know you traveled recently to Russia. Is this the talk of the town? The Mueller matter?

IOFFE: You know, it`s actually hard to be up right now. I`m about eight hours ahead.

WILLIAMS: Oh, boy. So you just came back.

IOFFE: Yes. But it actually, you know, I agree with Mike, I think that on both sides, there is a very good nose for opportunity, and both sides are very short on scruples. So it was sort of a match made in heaven.

As for whether Moscow is talking about this, they`re not. You know, if you see Mueller`s name floated in the news, in the state news, it is about how crazy he is. You see it kind of mirroring the witch hunt narrative that you see on Fox News or you see recently news items that Donald Trump might be impeached not because of his contacts with Russia, but because of his contacts with, you know, his preferred woman of choice, which is seems to be porn stars and playboy models.

WILLIAMS: Oh, look at the time, as they say. Our thanks to Ambassador Michael McFaul, to Julia Ioffe. Thank you both for joining us as you so often do, when the subject is Russia.

And coming up, a potentially big development in yet another case involving, wait for it, a Russian national. This one with flaming red hair and a gun trying to influence American politics. When we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: As we mentioned, "The New York Times" is reporting accused Russian agent, Maria Butina, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent.

Butina was arrested in july for allegedly conspiring to infiltrate political U.S. organizations, including the NRA, in an effort to push Moscow`s agenda.

Matthew Rosenberg of the "The New York Times" reports it this way, "The deal which now must be approved by a judge stipulates that Ms. Butina must cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in exchange for what could be a short prison term or possibly a release after having already spent five months in jail".

As a felon, she will most likely be deported after her release, as was made clear in court filings laying out the deal that were obtained by "The New York times". Back in July 2015, back before we knew any of what we know today about Russian involvement, President Trump called on her first when she raised her hand at a political event in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA BUTINA: I`m visiting from Russia. So my question --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin. Good friend of Obama, right?

BUTINA: If you would be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics especially in relationships with my country? And do you want to continue the politics of sanctions that are damaging of both economy, or you have any other ideas?

TRUMP: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin. OK? And, I mean, where we have the strength. I don`t think you need the sanctions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And earlier today, because he was hot today, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, Frank Figliuzzi, offered this analysis of what Butina`s cooperation might mean.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK FIGLOUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSITANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: This opens a can of worms that could shed a whole lot of light on Russian money flowing to more than just a campaign or the presidential candidate, but rather, perhaps, others in Congress, House, Senate members, the whole connection to the NRA, if she`s cooperating on a high level, there`s a whole other aspect to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As he said. With us to talk about it, Glenn Kirchner, a former federal prosecutor who`s worked in the past with Robert Mueller and back with us because it`s really important to hear this woman out on this subject is Julia Ioffe who as we`ve established is running eight hours ahead of us having just returned from Moscow.

So, Julia, I`ve heard, and listened to you speak about this before. You profiled this woman. For people anxious to compare this to a streaming series, this is not "The Americans." This is not an effort to run silent, run deep, and fully assimilate.

She was living here as a Russian woman representing some right to bear arms organization where that is not a right in Russia. I`m tempted to say this is more Neaflix (ph) than Netflix, but please, tell us about the woman you`ve come to know.

JULIA IOFFE, GQ CORRESPONDENT: I met her when she was part of a fringe advocacy group, one of the many groups that grew out of the pro-democracy protests of 2011/2012, a lot of civic opportunity from Russia for the first time in years after Putin had kind of scorched the field of potential political opponents or even any kind of civic activity, and she wanted Russians to have the right to bear arms the way Americans do, which given the way Russians drink is kind of frankly a horrible idea.

I thought this would make an interesting profile subject and I even went shooting with her. I was a terrible shot. She was not. I should have known better. Turns out my nose for spies is wanting.

WILLIAMS: And she just -- she was just worming her way into American society. She found a receptive audience, Julia, correct, at the NRA? And that got her an introduction to Donny Jr., to several Republican prominent senators and at least one Wisconsin governor.

IOFFE: Yes, I think what`s interesting about her is that as we discussed in the previous segment, the Russians who are doing this either at the explicit direction of the Kremlin, or freelancing trying to get the Kremlin`s attention and trying to get favors from the Kremlin by saying, hey, look at me, I`m doing a great job, don`t you want to hire me or give me some juicy state contract because I`m doing such a great job over here?

It`s interesting that her lack of scruples lined up perfectly with the lack of scruples on, frankly, one side of the political spectrum. I don`t think it`s a coincidence that she was able to worm her way into one of the most ostensibly loudly chest-beating American organizations that there is.

WILLIAMS: Glenn, this is unbelievable. Her attorney contends that she`s been kept most of the time in solitary, which has a way of working at the mind, but this would be highly unusual. Correct me if I`m wrong, spies don`t flip. We usually send them home as part of an exchange, correct?

IOFFE: Well, I don`t -- I think the jury is still out on whether or not she was a spy. I think even people kind of that I`ve spoken to in the kind of very hawkish on Russia Democratic camp feel that she was more akin to a lobbyist, perhaps, than to a spy. And that the charges on her might be a little bit more shaky.

WILLIAMS: OK. That was noted. So Glenn, I`ll amend my question. People in this role, do they tend to flip or are they given a one-way ticket on Aeroflat (ph) or Delta?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Brian, I was keenly interested to see today`s reporting when we learned that Butina was going to plead guilty. I have to admit, my first thought was she probably won`t be cooperating with the prosecutors who are handling this case.

That is that the U.S. attorney`s office for the District of Columbia, though they`re undoubtedly working closely with the special counsel`s office. Then when I saw the reporting that she would be fully cooperating, I thought, boy, that has a couple of important implications.

Certainly for the investigation, it looks like she was operating a pretty successful influence campaign using the NRA to, perhaps, make her way to high-level politicians. So the first thing I thought is that, depending on just how wide a net Bob Mueller or the U.S. attorney`s office in D.C. casts.

It certainly could be that money passed from Russia through the NRA into the coffers of politicians. So that could pose a problem for any number of people. The second thing I thought is, I wonder if we`re going to see in her plea agreement any indication that the government will be offering her what`s called an "S" visa.

I will say often that`s referred to as a snitch visa. That`s not exactly what it means, but it is for witnesses who cooperate with the government in criminal prosecutions, and it allows them to stay in the country for at least a period of time after they complete their sentence because you have to believe that if somebody flips against Russia.

It would not be all that good for their health if they made their way back to Russia and ordinarily after serving a sentence like this, someone like Maria Butina would be deported.

So I`ll be interested to see the exact details of the plea agreement when it`s dropped tomorrow.

WILLIAMS: We could easily do the entire hour-long broadcast on this one topic. For a while there, we threatened to. But Glenn Kirchner, Julia Ioffe, thank you, both, for taking part in this conversation. Absolutely vital to have you both on.

Coming up, after months of speculation, John Kelly leaving the White House. The problem is, so is the young man slated to replace him. A look at the short list of contenders to be the next chief of staff when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Using unusual language, CNN Tonight is reporting the President is, and we quote, "Super Pissed" that his candidate for chief of staff went sideways, at least for the minute. Trump announced this weekend, John Kelly is out.

He will leave at the end of the month and the new guy was going to be Nick Ayers, the 36-year-old Chief Of Staff to Mike Pence and, perhaps, the only person in the west wing who reminds people of a young Mike Pence and a young Donald Trump both at the same time.

The press release announcing Ayers was written. He was the rumored heavy favorite of Jared and Ivanka. Then Ayers turned it down. Here`s how "The New York Times" put it. "One former senior administration official called it a humiliation for Mr. Trump and his adult children, an emotion the President tries to avoid at all costs."

Nancy Cook of Politico standing by to talk to us had this to report. "With Ayers out of the picture, Trump now faces the challenging task of finding a chief of staff who is both capable of doing the job and, perhaps, more important, willing to step into the west wing`s hornet`s nest."

One person being considered for the job, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows is pushing back against this idea that no one wants the job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: He`s got a number of people who`d gladly serve in, you know, in his administration, and so any narrative that would suggest otherwise is just not accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: With us to talk about it tonight, the aforementioned Nancy Cook. White House reporter for Politico. So, Nancy, is the President looking for a quality hang or a sycophant, a best friend, or a superb manager of paper flow and personnel?

NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: I would say all of the first qualifications that you mentioned and less of a manager. The President really wants someone who will let him do what he wants to do, call whomever he wants, sort of not have a ton of process in the White House, and that`s really how the President likes to run things.

He likes to run things where he is a spoke and everyone else is sort of part of a wheel that`s coming into that hub. And that`s how he likes to structure power in the White House. So he doesn`t want someone, despite what he may say publicly who`s going to come in and try to monitor his phone calls, monitor his access to people.

That`s just not what has succeeded in this White House so far.

WILLIAMS: I hope you are prepared to break a huge development on this broadcast tonight when I ask you the big question in Washington for the past 24 hours. A 36-year-old guy actually unironically uses the phrase, "I want to spend more time with my family." what happened with Nick Ayers? What`s the real story?

COOK: Well, it`s fascinating because my reporting shows that Trump actually offered Nick Ayers the job of chief of staff on election night and so that was almost a month ago, and they informally talked about it at a party in the White House residence.

Melania Trump, the first lady, was standing there. It seemed like a done deal and basically they were just waiting for a way to have General John Kelly leave in a graceful manner. That`s what a lot of White House advisers were really cautioning and the President not to fire by tweet a four-star general.

What happened in the interim is that Trump and Nick Ayers had a number of conversations including one this weekend about what the terms of the job would look like. Ayers told the President and Kelly and Pence that he really wanted carte blanche to fire people.

He really wanted to be able to run the west wing exactly how he saw fit but he only wanted to do it for a fixed amount of time. And the President wasn`t willing to agree with that. The President wanted someone who could stay through 2020 and really help with his re-election campaign.

And it`s remarkable that a 36-year-old political operative would be given this opportunity and still not want it. I think that says a lot about sort of the mood in the White House right now.

WILLIAMS: And Nancy, I`m sure some people just look at this job and consider it, as we said earlier, a subpoena magnet.

COOK: It absolutely is. Reince Priebus has had to hire a lawyer and has been interviewed by the Mueller investigation. General John Kelly has sat down with them. So many White House aides have had to hire lawyers, on government salaries. They don`t make that much money. They`ve had to hire these high-priced lawyers because they`re sort of swept up in this.

And that`s going to continue to be even more so a possibility as the west wing empties out and as you`re trying to sort of control the President, urge him not to talk about the special investigation whenever he wants.

This is a really hard job in any circumstance, but just facing the Mueller investigation, Democrats taking over the House, and the re-election, it just seems like an insurmountable task to a lot of people and contrary to what representative Meadows says, there really aren`t a lot of people who want to take the job at this point.

WILLIAMS: Nancy Cook, we`ve learned from your reporting yet again. Thank you so much for sharing what you know on our broadcast. Nancy Cook from Politico.

Coming up, former FBI Director James Comey`s most outspoken comments yet on the coming 2020 election.

We`ll have those when we come back.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I can`t see what the end of the Mueller effort looks like. I don`t know what form it will take. I don`t know what they`ll conclude. So, I can`t say in that respect, I can tell you that all of us should use every breath we have to make sure that the lying stops on January 20th, 2021.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That was last night at one of the great venues for conversation in New York, the 92nd Street "Y" here in Manhattan. Our own Nicole Wallace, the former Communication Director in the Bush 43 White House sat down for a lengthy conversation with James Comey.

The former FBI director spoke candidly about the Russia matter, and the Mueller investigation, among other things. And along the way he raised a lot of red flags about his former boss, the current occupant of the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: I hope Donald Trump is not removed from office by impeachment. Because it would let the country off the hook, and it would drive into the fabric of our nation a third of the people believing there was coup.

And we, in a moment of inflection, where we all get off the coach and say that is not who we are and in a landslide read ourselves of this attack on our values. And, if we, in a way short-circuited that with an important, legitimate process with the constitution, I worry that we wouldn`t -- we would letting ourselves off the hook, and we wouldn`t have the moment of clarity that we need in this country.

That said, if the facts are there, and the legislative two Houses of Congress think it`s appropriate, that`s fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: James Comey here in New York, just last night.

Coming up for us after another break, trouble on the Thames, where today, things got rough. When we come back.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, is everything you need to know about Brexit. As of tonight, right now Brexit appears dead in the water, along with perhaps the political career of the Prime Minister Theresa May.

While the voters indeed spoke. It`s the talks in the years since about how to break away from the E.U. that have broken the Brexit process. And indeed, the voters may vote again. Theresa May announced today the vote scheduled for tomorrow is off because she admitted her side would have lost badly.

She`s now off to Brussels for more meetings with the E.U. They have said they have no interest in rearguing the deal. This remains such a big deal for Great Britain, especially at a dicey time for other European nations. There have been protest in the streets and raise voices in parliament.

Well, today, a liberal member of the House of Commons did this. He took matters into his own hands by attempting to remove the mace from the chamber.

Now, the mace is basically a gold crown on a five-foot gold stick. But, tip of the hat to "love actually," it`s so much more than that. It represents the authority of the queen in parliament and without the mace in the room they can`t meet and pass laws.

Cooler heads prevailed, the mace was put back, and the member was suspended. And BBC viewers saw none of this because their network policy forbids broadcasting protests.

That`s our broadcast on a Monday night as we start this new week. Thank you so very 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