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Trump talks to Reuters about Cohen. TRANSCRIPT: 12/11/2018, The 11th Hour w. Brian Williams.

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Chris Dodd, Clint Watts

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: December 11, 2018 Guest: Shannon Pettypiece, Chris Dodd, Clint Watts

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Also, tonight, we`ve just seen the court papers suggesting Mike Flynn avoid jail time entirely hours after Manafort`s lawyers asked for more time to make their case.

Plus, the argument that was televised between Trump, Schumer and Pelosi under the watchful eye of the V.P., the President said he`s proud to shutdown the government for his border wall.

And 44 former U.S. senators send a loud message in the "Washington Post" saying these are now dangerous times for the United States. One of the drafters of the statement, one of the 44, is with us as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 691 of the Trump administration, and tonight, the President is speaking out about the growing legal troubles now threatening his White House.

Trump spoke to Reuters news agency late today in an interview right there in the Oval Office. He said he`s not concerned about being impeached and he explained why. "It`s hard to impeach somebody who hasn`t done anything wrong and who has created the greatest economy in the history of our country. I think the people would revolt if that happened."

Trump also spoke about the revelations about Russians and their efforts to work with people in his inner circle. Quoting Reuters again, "Asked about prosecutors` assertions that a number of people who had worked for him or had business dealings with Russians before and during his 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump said, "The stuff you`re talking about is peanut stuff."

He then brought up his 2016 opponent. "I haven`t heard this, but I can only tell you this, Hillary Clinton, her husband got money, she got money, she paid money, why doesn`t somebody talk about that?"

Trump also had a lot to say about his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who`s scheduled to be sentenced to prison tomorrow. Cohen pleaded guilty to several charges, as you may recall, including campaign finance violations related to hush money payments he made to two women ahead of the election. Federal prosecutors say that payments were directed by Trump to cover up his affairs with those women.

Trump told Reuters those payments did not violate campaign finance laws. He said his former attorney should have known the rules. "Michael Cohen is a lawyer, I assume he would know what he was doing," Trump said when asked if he discussed campaign finance laws with Cohen. "Number one, it wasn`t a campaign contribution. if it were, it`s only civil and even if it`s only civil, there is no violation based on what we did, OK?"

Earlier this evening former U.S. Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal offered this rebuttal to Trump`s explanation.


NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: First he said there was no payment, there was no payment. Now he`s caught red handed. There`s a payment. So, now it`s, oh, it`s not illegal.

But as the memo from the Southern District New York prosecutors last Friday said, and these are career prosecutors, this is not Mueller`s team, it`s a felony and it`s really hard to come out with any other conclusion. The timing is a thing that`s the really big deal. This is right before the election, just a few days before, particularly with the Stormy Daniels payments.

And in one way of thinking about it, this is the most significant campaign contribution ever in the history of the United States. I mean, these two contributions very well may have swung the election.


WILLIAMS: So, there is that to consider. And just within the past few hours, lawyers for the former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, have filed papers of their own prior to his sentencing date next week.

You may recall that last week, the Mueller team recommended little or no jail time for Flynn. They cited his help with the Russia investigation. Flynn started cooperating last year after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russians. Flynn lawyers are now asking for, "a term of probation not to exceed one year, with minimal conditions of supervision, along with 200 hours of community service."

They also wrote, "As the government states, his early decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming within the Special Counsel`s office and cooperate."

There is also news tonight about Paul Manafort. A judge says Mueller prosecutors must offer more information about the alleged lies that Manafort told that led the feds to shred his cooperation deal. That case, what you need to know, has now been pushed to early January.

And on this busy Tuesday night, let`s bring in our leadoff panel. Julia Ainsley, NBC News National Security and Justice Reporter. Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. Attorney, in all places the Southern District of New York. Where have we heard that? Now a Distinguished Fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.

Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the "Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington week" on PBS. And Sam Stein back with us, Politics Editor for the Daily Beast. Good evening, and welcome to you all.

Because it`s most recent, Mimi, I`d like to begin with you on this Flynn filing by his lawyers. They write a little section in there that when the FBI was going over to the white house to talk to Flynn, in their telling, Flynn may not have been -- may not have had the warning repeated to him that a lot of folks go around knowing, that it`s a crime to lie to the feds.

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY. SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Right. So it`s interesting, actually. What they actually say in the memo is that he wasn`t warned about the penalties of lying to the FBI. So it`s not entirely clear to me whether they`re saying they didn`t tell him it was a crime, or they didn`t tell him how much trouble he could be in, but that argument really doesn`t go very far. I mean, this is, you know, the former director of national intelligence, I mean, he`s a military man. As you say, most people on the street would know it`s a crime to lie to the FBI.

And also, you know, in defense of the FBI, we`ll say this was a counterintelligence investigation at this point. I mean, they were trying to figure out what were the Russians doing talking to Flynn. What was Flynn doing talking to them and what else is going on? And you know, you`ve had many people in the FBI who have testified about how the investigation began. And that was their main focus at that moment.

So it wasn`t, hey, let`s see what criminal acts, you know, Flynn has committed. But the real, you know, sort of crux of this is, Flynn has now pled guilty. He was caught red handed lying. I mean, that`s very clear. He is not debating that. He is trying to sort of appeal to the sympathies of the judge with that argument.

WILLIAMS: But the upside is it does count how much you cooperate, how enthusiastic you are. Do you bring others into the circle of team America?

ROCAH: Absolutely. And then those, you know, Flynn gets an a-plus in those categories. I mean, he, first of all, as he says, as everyone has said including the Special Counsel, he cooperated early and he seems to have cooperated fully, right? I mean, he put two feet in the door. We have, you know, Manafort who went in and out.


ROCAH: We have Cohen who seems to have had one foot in the door, one foot out. Flynn jumped in. He gave them documents, he says. He gave them electronic evidence. This is all very intriguing to know what`s in those. And he met with them 19 Times.


ROCAH: That`s not just about one phone call. That`s how much trouble the President is in. And people around him and whoever was involved in what was behind that phone call. Why were they talking about sanctions and what was on the other side of, perhaps, a discussion about relieving sanctions? What else -- what were the Trump people getting out of it?

And I think that`s what 19, you know, sessions could be spent talking about.

WILLIAMS: So Julia, you hear the creek of that door the counselor just opened. It goes to point central, which you and so many others have been trying to run down, motive. Why did Flynn lie to the FBI? Are we any closer tonight to knowing that?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NTL. SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I think what`s clear here is that the prosecution is trying to get into so many different conversations that Flynn had with the administration. And part of that motive might be was he counseled before he had those conversations with the FBI? Did he tell anyone?

Did he tell then-White House Counsel Don McGahn? Did he tell the President, himself, or chief of staff that he was going to have these conversations? Did they counsel him on how to answer?

It seems from what we laid out, got tonight, these 170 pages I have in front of me here that they are trying to show that this was just a really casual conversation. They`re leaving out whether or not he was counseled, but we can bet that through 19 conversations with Flynn, that`s there.

Another thing that jumps out to me, Brian, trying to figure out, you know, why you would have anything this thick, why would they need all of that to respond when Mueller`s team isn`t asking for sentencing? They actually want the judge to go easy on Flynn as compared to some of these other witnesses who haven`t been fully cooperative.

And it seems clear, it`s because they know the judge they`re dealing with. That Judge Sullivan is known sometimes to be widely independent, who wouldn`t necessarily follow the advice of prosecution and not incarcerate someone just because the prosecution says not to. So they`re going into his character. That`s the piece here I just flipped to where they talk about something Michael Flynn did when he was 13 is years old --

WILLIAMS: Yes, I saw that.

AINSLEY: -- and saved two children from a free-rolling car. I mean, things that seem to have nothing to do with this, but they are trying to build the character of a man. But it is difficult to get away from the other things we know about Michael Flynn. And particular an investigation that is ongoing in the Eastern District of Virginia about his dealings with Turkey.

WILLIAMS: You touch on an interesting issue which is my long held contention we all should have bought stock in toner companies before this case started. We`d all be on an island in the Caribbean by now.

Julia, to quickly switch gears to where you were when I last saw you outdoors this afternoon, outside the Manafort matter, what did you witness in court?

AINSLEY: It was interesting, Brian, it was just 30 minutes, a pretty quick scheduling conference. I talked to Manafort`s lawyer, Kevin Downing on the way in. And he said, "I don`t expect much news from this, this will be routine." But what was not routine and what was unusual about it is that the defense wasn`t ready to say whether or not they agreed with that scathing filing last Friday from Mueller`s legal team that said that Manafort had committed crimes and lies that put him in breach of their plea agreement, that he lied about his conversations with the White House and with Russians this year. This isn`t before he was charged. It was during the middle of that.

And so they aren`t even sure whether they agree with that or not. They may not even push back against it. Now they have until January 7 which is a much longer timeline than we were expecting, in order to figure out what kind of evidence the prosecution has and to talk with their client, which raises questions has their client, Paul Manafort, been completely forthcoming with them?

WILLIAMS: OK, Mr. Costa, on the eve of the Cohen sentencing, and let`s remember in keeping with custom, I believe Cohen will be given the chance to stand and speak for himself tomorrow in federal court. Here is the President dismissing these payments as a civil matter. I`m four feet away from a former fed who would say she`s not having it, it`s a felony what you`re talking about. Does anyone in that White House, do you think, agree with Donald Trump?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: At this point, people inside of this White House are concerned about the Mueller report, which they don`t know much about, and with regard to Cohen and the association with the possible felony, as we saw in the sentencing document, they believe House Democrats are now not just a foil, they`re a counterweight in the power of Washington. And that House Democrats could use that fact, that part of the sentencing memo, to begin impeachment proceedings at some point in 2019.

Of course, they`re going to continue to investigate Russian interference in the election, but this puts the President in a tough not only legal position but political position as House Democrats are about to take power. That`s what Emmet Flood and the White House counsel`s office is focused on as much as Robert Mueller.

WILLIAMS: And Sam, you are traditionally my take-a-step-back guy and in that role, let me proffer this. Take a step back, the President was asked about his own impeachment today and answered the question. What does that say?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR: A lot, actually. We`re not -- Democrats are not even taking over the House, so they haven`t begun proceedings, but already we`re at the point where Trump is talking about the possibility.

Now, to be generous to Trump, there is certain political upside for him and his team to constantly evoke the possibility of impeachment, if only to keep the base engaged.

But on the flip side, as Robert was just saying, as Bob was just saying, we don`t have the Mueller report. We`ve had dribs and drabs, we had some filings that hinted where they`re going. But we have nothing evident from the Mueller report in terms of its finality. We don`t have the finality to what Cohen was talking about and what the SDNY is looking into. We haven`t even begun congressional investigations.

And the Senate intelligence investigation into Russian meddling hasn`t concluded, either. So if Trump is at this juncture openly talking about the prospects of impeachment before any of these real investigative findings have been produced publicly, then he is in for two years of utter political hell. And we could be in a situation which, in fact, the Democratic base is pushing the party to go far further than party leadership is willing to go.

WILLIAMS: So, Mimi, short term, tomorrow, in a federal courtroom where I am sure you have experience speaking to a federal judge, Mr. Cohen, do I have that about right, is going to be given the opportunity to make a statement prior to sentencing? And do you expect any surprises out of that?

ROCAH: Absolutely, he will be able to speak. That`s a right by law, actually. And his lawyer, I expect actually his lawyer probably to speak usually more than the defendant himself. You know, my guess is Mr. Cohen will express regrets and, you know, things that we`ve all heard him sort of do publicly.

I don`t think we`ll necessarily learn anything new factually. Although one thing to sort of look for is the judge in a sentencing can adopt the factual findings that are in what`s called the presentence report that the Southern District of New York has referred to in its brief.

And once the judge does that, if he does, which i expect he will, that`s something Congress should think about because then you have a federal district judge having adopted the fact finding that has now been laid out by the Southern District of New York, right? So first we had Cohen saying Trump was in on this with me.

Then we went to the level that on Friday of the Southern District of New York, career prosecutors, not special counsel, but an office that has prosecuted Democrats and Republicans at the federal and state level, you know, this is what they do every day. They said individual one, Trump, is in on it. If the judge adopts the findings of the presentence report, then you essentially have a judge saying, "I`m adopting, I`m agreeing with those findings."

It`s not as powerful as a trial or anything like that. It`s a different standard. But I think it`s something that Congress should consider, you know, and sort of take into account if they were to go to impeachment.

WILLIAMS: That is a great point that I have heard nowhere else.

Robert Costa, concern level among Republicans?

COSTA: At the Capitol today, Brian, spending a few hours around the Senate, you hear Republicans looking with alarm at the way the President, at least privately in conversations with reporters, some alarm in how the President`s handling Pelosi and Schumer and that exchange in the Oval Office. And they also believe that this White House is just not prepared when it comes to Robert Mueller or the House Democrats.

They see the vacancy for chief of staff. They see the new White House counsel just getting his footing. And they wonder where`s the plan for the Republican Party looking ahead to 2020.

WILLIAMS: And, Sam, directly off the point Bob just made, there`s no replacement for chief of staff publicly identified yet. President says a lot of people want the job. All evidence to the contrary. President today owned a potential government shutdown. As Steve Schmidt would say, where`s the rigor in the West Wing and is this peril destined to increase?

STEIN: Yes, I think it is. You know, it`s fairly abnormal for someone heading into a shutdown fight to claim ownership of a potential shutdown. In fact, he tried to do the opposite. This is an unconventional President.

I asked a senior House aide -- House Republican aide about that. He said, "Well, it wasn`t good for him to say that."

And I think Trump has a tendency to do this type of stuff. He doesn`t think conventionally. He doesn`t think politically necessarily. He thinks gutturally.

And that can be appealing to a lot of people, certainly was to some Republicans today. But it also can position yourself poorly in these types of high stake negotiations. That certainly what his lawyers have thought going into a potential sit-down with Robert Mueller. It`s part of the reason why they haven`t let him do that. They`re afraid of what he might say, it might be a perjury trap.

But I also think it matters in negotiations over things like a government shutdown. What he did today will hurt the Republican Party`s position going into the next couple weeks and he could do something like that in other fights going forward.

WILLIAMS: Our great thanks to our front four tonight. Finally in from the cold, Julia Ainsley, Mimi Rocah, Robert Costa, Sam Stein, thank you for starting us off.

And coming up, today`s confrontation inside the Oval Office including Pelosi`s power move, let`s not forget, it was thrown open for press coverage. Was it a calculated mistake? And did the President just give away his bargaining position?

And the young enchanting Russian firearms enthusiast who sure seemed to make friends quickly in America, she`s now agreed to tell the feds exactly what she was doing from mother Russia. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Tuesday night.



DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So a lot of wall has been built. We don`t talk about that, but we might as well start because it`s building -- it`s being built right now, big sections of wall. And we will continue that.

And one way or the other, it`s going to get built. I`d like not to see a government closing, a shutdown. We will see what happens over the next short period of time, but the wall is a very important thing to us.


WILLIAMS: So the President there saying a lot of wall has been built, repeating a claim that NBC News and others have repeatedly debunked. There is no new wall being built along the U.S./Mexico border. just repairs to existing fencing.

Trump`s statements today about a possible government shutdown also set the stage for an unprecedented on-camera showdown with the President and the Democratic leaders in the Oval Office.


TRUP: If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, i would have them in one session, would be done.

NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, then go do it. Go do it. Let me just say one thing. The fact is, you do not have the votes in the House.

TRUMP: Nancy, I do. And we need border security.

PELOSI: Well, let`s take the vote and we`ll find out.

TRUMP: Nancy, Nancy, we need border security. It`s very simple.

CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We do not want to shutdown the government. You were called 20 Times to shutdown the government. You say I want to shutdown the government. We don`t. I mean, because you --

TRUMP: You don`t want to shutdown the government, Chuck.

SCHUMER: Let me just finish, because you can`t get your way.

TRUMP: The last time you shut it down, you got killed.

SCHUMER: Yes, let me say --

TRUMP: You want to know something?

SCHUMER: You said it.

TRUMP: OK. You want to put that on me.

SCHUMER: You said it.

TRUMP: I`ll take it.

SCHUMER: OK, good.

TRUMP: You know what I`ll say? Yes. If we don`t get what we want one way or another, whether it`s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call, I will shutdown the government.

SCHUMER: OK, fair enough. We disagree.

TRUMP: And I am proud.

SCHUMER: We disagree.

TRUMP: And I`ll tell you what, I am proud to shutdown the government for border security, Chuck.


WILLIAMS: Lot of folks who watched said in the immediate aftermath it was kind of like watching something that would happen if the press wasn`t in the room. The White House characterized what you just saw there as constructive dialogue. That`s a good chestnut. But NBC News has learned that behind closed doors, Pelosi went and reported to fellow Democrats that were Trump, the wall is, "like a manhood thing for him as if manhood could ever be associated with him."

According to the "L.A. Times," one administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Trump appeared upset after leaving the meeting, flicking a folder and sending its papers flying out. "The aftermath of that meeting was not pretty," the person said.

Well, with us to talk about it, Shannon Pettypiece White House Correspondent for "Bloomberg". And we have talked Robert Costa into a few minutes with us.

So, Shannon, Eli Stokols over at "The L.A. Times" reported the President was angry at Schumer for not keeping eye contact when he was making his points playing at times to the pool cameras in the room, this from the most camera-aware President of the modern era. And evidently the white house staff was concerned. Did the boss just give away his bargaining position on the wall? What`s your reporting?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was this great moment, I mean, and it`s interesting you mentioned that, the way the President can kind of find his lens and sort of, you know, producer for Chuck Schumer there. But at that end, you could see, I think, the President lose his cool a bit and like you said, give away his hand and give the Democrats exactly what they wanted, was for him to say, "Yes, I will shutdown the government, blame me, I would be proud to shutdown the government over the wall.` This is the Trump shutdown, which Nancy Pelosi came into that meeting trying to brand it as and the President went right along with her.

And you can see the expression on Schumer`s face when Trump starts going down that path of saying, "I`ll shut the government down, I`ll do it, blame me, it`s all on me." It`s like he says, "Well, I got what I came here for. OK, we can wrap this thing up and go home. It`s your shutdown, Mr. President."

WILLIAMS: You`re so right, Schumer does everything short of a fist pump and thank you for that sound bite, Mr. President.

Hey, Bob, you`ve been around this President for years going back well before he was President. You and I have remarked that at rallies, he`ll use the phrase, "our people," meaning his base. Trump people, not the American people as a whole. Is that his same kind of calculous when he talks about "people would revolt if I were impeached" or people would support, he believes, a government shutdown? Is that his base he`s talking about?

COSTA: It is his base. And when he has this kind of news conference, this discussion play out in front of the cameras, when he uses that sort of language in a Reuters interview, it underscores the President`s political strategy which is always to rouse his political base to keep them with him. He wanted to have the Democratic leaders captive, talking to White House officials today. He wanted to be seen as combative on behalf of immigration policy.

And it`s important to note the feeder here is this fight, this clash among the three of them. But remember, hours later Pelosi back on the phone, Leader Pelosi back on the phone with President Trump, discussions continued after the cameras left between Schumer, Pelosi, and the President.

This is a President who wants to signal to his base he`s fighting, even if the ultimate deal is to do some kind of border security that doesn`t reach the $5 billion threshold. So if he doesn`t get the $5 billion he wants, he wants to be able to say, "I fought."

WILLIAMS: OK. Shannon, you know this better than I do. Shutdowns are real. Somewhere there`s a CDC researcher who has to put down his experiment and go home. Somewhere there`s a forest ranger in the high sierras and she`s on overnight fire watch and she goes home, trying to support three kids before Christmas. They`re real when you`re a federal employee. Is there any support that you can measure for this, this notion of a shutdown over a border wall?

PETTYPIECE: People within the White House, they say that the President doesn`t really seem to understand yet the optics of a shutdown. And I think there`s people within the White House, too, who don`t understand the optics because they haven`t really been through it before.

But the timing of this is particularly bad from an optics perspective. You mentioned Christmas there. Funding runs out on December 21st. If the government shuts down, that means, you know, a number of federal employees who are impacted by this won`t be getting a paycheck right before Christmas.

You have the President who is planning to travel the two weeks at the end of the year to his Mar-a-Lago estate right around this time. You can imagine the secret service agents, the dozens or hundreds of secret service agents who may not be getting a paycheck down there protecting him if this government shuts down.

And then if this goes on long enough, you have a real impact on the economy. The federal government is the largest employer in America. So, I mean, it`s a potential if it does drag on for a while, you could have an economic impact.

So, i mean, this -- it sounds tough, and the President gets to look combative and, of course, his base, they want that wall. This wall is so important to them. But, yes, as you said, a government shutdown is real and there`s real implications for it and the optics will be very bad, not to mention what it means to real people`s lives a the this time of year.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, last word.

COSTA: This is a President who`s been through shutdowns before and this is also a Democratic leadership that is confident and they also cut deals with the President before. We forget sometimes about the budget deal in 2017.

So as we head into divided government, this is indicative of the kind of drama we can expect, but these are all dealmakers in some capacity. All three of them sitting there in that room playing to their own political bases and their behavior and conduct and messaging, but they also want to keep this government funded despite some of the language. The President may say he wants to shutdown, but he also knows he`s facing a lot in early 2019 with Robert Mueller and everything else.

WILLIAMS: And however much he tried to talk past her, a lot of people talking about the boss move that Pelosi, the cagy veteran, pulled in the Oval Office today.

COSTA: Right out of Baltimore.

WILLIAMS: There you go, Shannon Pettypiece, Robert costa, our thanks to two of our favorite returning veterans.

And coming up, 44 former U.S. senators from both parties have now publicly warned the nation, "We are entering a dangerous period." One of the 44 with us when we come back.



LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: We have just seen a perfect example of how not to govern the country. To confront each other that way and to have everybody yelling at one another, I think has just sent a terrible message to the American people about how our democracy functions in Washington.


WILLIAMS: That`s from a guy who knows, former CIA Director, former White House Chief of Staff, former Defense Secretary, longtime congressman, Leon Panetta. Right after seeing what unfolded in the Oval Office this afternoon.

How to govern, also the concern of a bipartisan group of 44 former U.S. senators. So many faces we had to put them up on a wall. As we first reported last night, the group came together to write an op-ed for the "Washington Post" warning that the nation is entering a dangerous period.

"We`re at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and national security interests are at stake and the rule of law and the ability of off our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld."

Get`s your attention, one of the co-signers of that opinion piece, a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Senate where he served the people of Connecticut as did his father before him, former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

Senator, tell us how this came about. I understand you are one of the drafters.

CHRIS DODD, FORMER U.S. SENATOR (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, Brian, it`s nice to be with you.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for being on here.

DODD: Speaking with Chuck Hagel, a good friend of mine, a former Republican member of the Senate. And we were having a conversation, I think, in fact, we discovered that many of our colleagues independently were having with each other.

And in that conversation thought maybe we will just draft a statement and see if there`s any interest among our former colleagues. Democrats and Republicans, to join us by adding their name to it and expressing our concerns, which you`ve described at the outset of this interview.

And, frankly, it happened very spontaneously. In fact, I want to begin to apologize because we didn`t reach every former member of the Senate. I was using old e-mail addresses and cell phones. It`s been almost ten years since I served.

And so, we tried to reach as many as we could. And frankly, it didn`t require any conversations in most of the cases. The responses were very quick to the people we did reach and said, add my name, I want to be a part of this.

And again, I think it`s had deepening concern. Most of us, by the way, would tell you, Brian, historically, are very reluctant to engage in the kind of day-to-day debate that the present Senate has to deal with.

We respect the fact that it`s a difficult job and they don`t need to be lectured by their former colleagues. So it`s only with a rare degree of concern such as this moment has provided that we decided to speak out collectively. I`m honored to be part of that. I thank Chuck Hagel for the conversation. I`d take the next two minutes to describe all the people on it, with some wonderful colleagues. Democrats and Republicans.

WILLIAMS: Well, let`s just say it`s a hell of a list, Mikulski of Maryland, to Simpson of Wyoming. Because you were a longtime member of Foreign Relations, I want to play this for you. This is Frank Figliuzzi the veteran of FBI CounterIntelligence. He said this yesterday. It`s about his doubts on this President`s ability to function the tasks of office.


FRANK FIGLOUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSITANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: 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-interest. I don`t think he`s capable anymore of making unilateral decisions that are truly solely in the national interests when it comes to Russia.


WILLIAMS: Senator, when you hear that, given his resume, it`s chilling.

DODD: Well, it is, and that`s the concern. We stayed away from recommendations. We`re not going to form a caucus. We made a statement, and I think if you go back and look historically, the Senate has played a pretty important role, not because there were large numbers expressing themselves.

Margaret Chase-Smith, the great Senate Republican senator from Maine was the one who really led the charge to begin with on the Joe McCarthy era. You had Barry Goldwater who went down to the White House and told Richard Nixon his time was up.

Bill Cohen, of course, was in the House but he was one of six people. Only six people. Six Republicans that spoke up and said they were going to support the articles of impeachment. So it`s not the number of people, although I`m impressed that 43 of our colleagues who were aware of all this joined in.

But it sometimes just takes a moment like this maybe to remind each and every one of us, not just colleagues in the current Senate of the United States, that at moments like this, there`s becoming too much of a tolerance almost for what we`re seeing day in and day out. Much of you saw today in the description of what happened on this discussion about the budget.

And that really worries many of us. So this was the rationale for us, and I think it`s having some effect. I hope it does. And maybe convince people, maybe in the administration, we`re getting precariously close to a major constitutional crisis. And I`m very worried and my colleagues are that moment could be arriving rather quickly.

WILLIAMS: To our audience, those are serious words from 1 of 44 very serious former United States senators. We urge everyone to read the piece they have drafted together.

Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat, Connecticut, thank you, sir, so much for coming on the broadcast.

And coming up for us, Putin today claimed he doesn`t know this Russian woman, the woman with the red hair and the many firearms and the many Republican and NRA friends. When we come back, the story of Maria Butina, the Russian infiltrator now cooperating with team USA.


WILLIAMS: Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with federal prosecutors and that is unusual. It`s according to a plea agreement obtained by NBC News. She`s going to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the law governing foreign agents in the U.S.

We should point out Butina is accused of being an agent of Russia, not a spy. That`s a significance we`ll get to in a moment. According to the documents, Butina will admit to conspiring with an unnamed American to act at the direction of a Russian official to, "Establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics for the benefit of the Russian federation."

The Russian official directing Butina reportedly was Alexander Torshin. He recently and suddenly retired as deputy governor of the Russian central bank, whereabouts unknown. And today we heard from a highly trained veteran Russian spy, Vladimir Putin, said with a straight face and he rarely has any other kind that he asked around and nobody seems to know anything about this Butina woman.




WILLIAMS: Here to talk about it Clint Watts graduate at West Point, army veteran which is important after the game we just saw, but most importantly for us, a veteran of the FBI and our National Security Analyst.

His past research has focused on Russian influence operation and he happens to have written the book on the subject called "Messing with the Enemy".

You were smiling while the former spymaster was talking. You heard him say he asked around --


WILLIAMS: -- at work and no one seemed to know this, quote, girl. Do you not believe that?

WATTS: Yes. It seems like he also didn`t know anything about a couple guys visiting churches in the U.K. and then people were poisoned.

WILLIAMS: They were just were door (ph) columns, that`s all.

WATTS: Yes, I mean he works really hard to make sure everything gets done and doesn`t know anything about it. Plausible deniability is baked into everything the Russians do.

WILLIAMS: Who was she really?

WATTS: Yes. And so, what`s important to note in this is active measures influence campaigns run by the Russians usually have three characters. You brought up the first one which are directed agents which is what we typically think of. This is the TV show, "The Americans." These are spies that are dispatched into the United States.

That`s not what she was. There are two others that they tend to employ. One is a useful idiot. This is an unwitting agent that`s doing things often times for ego or money. They don`t realize their advancing Russia`s cost.

But then there`s what`s called the fellow traveler. These are people who like Butina. Butina goes, she builds relationships. They`re usually at three levels. State to state, this is with state officials, party to party such as the National Rifle Association and then people to people with key people, those three levels.

She then leverages those to advance Russia`s foreign policy positions inside the United States. And you can see that very detailed in the sentencing memos.

WILLIAMS: At 3:00 a.m., when were in this studio coming to grips with the Trump victory, she was e-mailing the home office saying I await further instructions. Do you think she could believe her good luck that based on so little time and investment here in this country? She`s got pictures with Senator Santorum of Pennsylvania, the governor of Wisconsin. She`s met Donny Jr. already. She`s got friends in high places including the NRA.

WATTS: Yes, somebody who looks like me sure isn`t getting to meet all those people, I tell you that. She moved right through every circle that she needed to move through. She`s got documented evidence.

What we should remember, too, is it isn`t always directed, so oftentimes when you`re in this position, it is a value to push back to the Russian government, to push back to Mr. Torshin and say I have developed these relationships, how can I use them to bring about my own power with the Russian government in so it goes both ways. We sometimes forget that in influence circles.

WILLIAMS: It`s rare, I`m told, that an agent decides to flip and work for team USA. Is she really going to tell us who was paying her, who she reported back to, what the task was?

WATTS: Yes, there`s probably a tremendous amount we don`t know, and there may be a lot we never know. What`s interesting about this, this is a separate case. It was being run basically as a foreign counterintelligence case.

WILLIAMS: Away from Mueller.

WATTS: Away from Mueller`s team. I`m sure they`re using all of this as part of their investigation. But that means in that foreign counterintelligence, it may be to their benefit to not reveal everything out in the public.

We`ve gotten a little bit use to that with these Mueller filings. They`re very descriptive and they say a lot. She probably is finding out right now that the U.S. investigative services have known about her for a very long time and they know a whole lot about her.

WILLIAMS: Five months of reported solitary confinement as we said last night has an effect on the mind. Clint Watts, the very best guest to take our questions on this topic. What tells me we`ll be talking about this more along the way? Thank you very much, for being with us.

Coming up, why today was an important anniversary for a combat veteran whose name we mention every night on this broadcast. His story when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Today is the 50th anniversary of a consequential event in Robert Mueller`s life. Though it`s honestly hard to know if it looms large to him or if Mueller himself even pause for a moment to noted today.

Fifty years ago today, as a young marine lieutenant, look at that photo, Robert Swan Mueller III led his platoon to take the high ground on a patch of Vietnamese dirt known to the Americans who fought for it as Mutter`s Ridge.

The journalist Garrett Graff documented the battle for a profile in WIRED magazine earlier this year. We`re indebted to him for that. And writes, "Even nearly 50 years later, the date of the operation remains burned into the memories of those two fought in it, December 11th, 1968".

Graff spoke to a number of survivors at the firefighting, including Marine David Harris. "Mueller realized quickly how much trouble the platoon was in. That day was the second heaviest fire I received in Vietnam," Harris continues.

"Lieutenant Mueller was directing traffic, positioning people, and calling in air strikes. He was standing upright, moving. He probably saved our hide. The battle atop and around Mutter`s Ridge raged for hours, with the North Vietnamese fire coming from the surrounding jungle."

"We got hit with an ambush, plain and simple," Harris says. "The brush was so thick, you had trouble hacking it with a machete. If you got 15 meters away, you couldn`t see where you came from."

Graff goes on to write, "As the hours passed, the marines forced the north Vietnamese to withdraw. By 4:30 p.m. the battlefield had quieted". As his commendation for the Bronze Star later read, "Second Lieutenant Mueller`s courage, aggressive initiative, and unwavering devotion to duty at great personal risk were instrumental in the defeat of the enemy force and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

In May of last year, during a Commencement Address in Massachusetts, Robert Mueller spoke about his service in Vietnam and how it impacted his life.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: And so I do consider myself fortunate to have survived that tour in Vietnam, and I learned a number of valuable lessons from that tour. And perhaps because of that, having survived, I`ve always felt compelled to try to give back in some way. And I`ve been lucky to spend the better part of my professional life in public service and to benefit from the intangible rewards that come from such service.

The lessons I learn as a Marine has stayed with me for more than 40 years the value of teamwork, sacrifice, discipline, life lessons I could not have learned in quite the same way elsewhere.


WILLIAMS: Robert Mueller added to that Bronze Star with a purple heart which he was awarded following a combat bullet wound. And as a marine, he took the rare step of completing U.S. army ranger school.

He`s the important part, this man we talk about every night on this broadcast, this taciturn, diligent and discreet lawyer and public servant was at one time a highly trained and highly effective infantry warrior and leader of young men.

We`re back with more, right after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would do it immediately. We would get it passed very easily in the House. We would get it (INAUDIBLE) passed in two seconds. It doesn`t matter though, because we can`t get it passed in the Senate, because we need ten Democrats --


WILLIAMS: So last thing before we go tonight has to do with what you just saw. The comic depictions of the tableau we saw in real time in the Oval Office today. Vice President Mike Rushmore (ph) Pence, who in real life truth we told is a guy talkative enough to have once been a radio talk show host back in Indiana. People forget that.

Was today, instead, a still life during the Chuck, Nancy, and Donald word explosion in the Oval Office. Today the loyal Vice President complete inability or unwillingness to make sounds, he`s almost total lack of physical movement launched 1,000 comedy memes, including the off the cuff reaction of Steve Schmidt and other guests appearing with Nicolle Wallace on this network this afternoon.


NICOLLE WALLACE, NBC NEWS: What`s Pence doing? He`s incredible, look at that look at that. I know we need to get to commercial. Look at this. Look at it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you sat on that on a commercial airliner, what happen is all the flight attendants will have a meeting up front to decide which one is going to check his pulse?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike Pence looks like he`s at a strip club. I mean, he looks horrified. He just like --

WALLANCE: I want whatever he`s taking. That some kind of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What`s amazing is, he can keep his entire body so perfectly still. We see slight movement in the head.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Incredible, did he say anything?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Incredible posture.


WILLIAMS: A day in the life of the Vice President. That`s our broadcast for tonight. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.