Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: December 21, 2018 Guest: Annie Karni, Ron Insana, Donna Edwards, David Jolly, Josh Gerstein, Jon Meacham
KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST: That`s tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts right now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: One hour to shut down at midnight Eastern Time portions of the federal government will begin to close up shop. Half a million Americans will be furloughed as Trump holds out for funding for 200 miles of steel slats with a pointy top. It caps off a chaotic week right before Christmas with markets falling and the nation`s defense chief out due to erratic military decisions. THE 11TH HOUR on a Friday night begins now.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York, day 701 of this Trump administration. We are now less than one hour away from a partial government shutdown. Both the House and Senate have adjourned for the night. Those whose districts are close enough to Washington have already gone home and started their Christmas break.
No deal was reached after the big three White House officials, that would be son-in-law Jared Kushner, incoming acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Vice President Mike Pence went up to the Hill and did some shelled (ph) diplomacy trying to hammer out some sort of agreement on the Hill with Democrats and Republicans. Well, here`s how we got to the brink. Wednesday night, the Senate passed a short-term spending bill. The president said he would not sign because it didn`t include any money for his border wall.
Yesterday, the House added in the president`s 5 billion in wall funding, sent the measure back over to the Senate. Today, after a five-hour procedural vote delayed to allow senators to get back to Washington, including a Democrat from Hawaii who flew all the way home and all the way back, they finally agreed to open debate. However, the House version of the spending bill still does not have 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate, so it`s DOA. And right now on the darkest day of the calendar year, there is no plan to vote on the bill. The procedural vote narrowly passed 48-47, Vice President Mike Pence had to cast to break the -- tie breaking vote.
As of this hour, it`s not clear what any possible deal to reopen the government might look like or when, but we know both the House and Senate plan to reconvene at noon Eastern Time tomorrow. So the American people can take heart at that. 75% of the government, including the Pentagon, will still be funded after the top of the hour, but this partial shutdown means a number of key agencies will be impacted. They include Homeland Security, Transportation, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, the Justice Department, EPA, FDA, and NASA.
An estimated 400,000 federal employees will be working without pay, 350,000 are about to be furloughed or sent home. If you are traveling for the holidays, as you see the folks in blue shirts, please know that all those people working for the TSA are going to be working to keep our skies safe. They will not be getting paid. Members of the House Freedom Caucus including Chairman Mark Meadows, Congressman Jim Jordan have been urging the president to veto any bill that comes his way without money in it for his border wall.
Earlier tonight on Fox News, both members of Congress tried gamely to shift the blame to Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only reason we`re going to be headed to a shutdown here in a few hours is because Democrats don`t want to support something that will actually secure the border.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indeed, in just a few hours when it shuts down, the only person standing between really getting a deal and not getting a deal is Chuck Schumer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Tonight, the president posted a video on Twitter shot inside the White House trying to put pressure on Senate Democrats just ahead of the shutdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, it`s up to the Senate, and it`s really up to the Democrats because we need their votes. There`s no way it can pass without their votes. We`re going to have a shutdown. There`s nothing we can do about that because we need the Democrats to give us their votes. Call it a Democrat shutdown, call it whatever you want, but we need their help to get this approved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This morning, President Trump warned the shutdown could go on for a while, "If the Dems vote no, there will be a shutdown that will last for a very long time. People don`t want open borders and crime." Short time later he added, "The Democrats now own the shutdown." But this reminder, here was the president 10 days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know what I`ll say? Yes. If we don`t get what we want one way or the other whether it`s through you, through a military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: OK, fair enough. We disagree.
TRUMP: And I am proud. And I`ll tell you what --
SCHUMER: We disagree.
TRUMP: -- I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don`t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country. So, I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I`m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down, it didn`t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So with that, let`s begin tonight with the state of play at one axis of this and then the other. Hallie Jackson covers the White House. Garrett Haake covers Capitol Hill.
Hallie, first to you. I think most Americans regardless of party will regard this as a pretty pathetic chapter in our politics. How long is the White House willing to take this out?
HALLIE JACKSON, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Sounds like, Brian, based on my conversations with officials and sources here, the expectation is a lot of resignation, that this goes through until at least Sunday night at that point. Now, what happens after that, that`s the big question mark given that right now, I`m told things are really at this stalemate like we`ve been talking about for the past 48 hours, despite all that maneuvering you saw over at Garrett Haake`s end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The president, the White House wants more than $1.6 billion in border funding, border security, Democrats want to give less than that. That`s just where they are right now. So something`s got to give in order to get the government back open. I will tell you that just in the last couple of minutes here, Brian, it`s official. The Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney who also happens to be the incoming chief of staff signed off on a memo that has now gone out to all government agencies as of, I think, about 10:00, 10:30 here that says, yes, at 11:59, this is a shutdown.
Mulvaney writes in his memo something different than what the president said this morning, he said, I hope that this will be of short duration, this lapse in appropriations, although the president said earlier this morning, that he thought as you point out this could last a very long time. The president has since changed his view in a video that was tweeted out earlier this evening. The president said, I hope that this shutdown will not last long, but right now, nobody knows really how you get to a solution on this. Again, somebody`s got to back off one of their demands. Right now, signs point to the president needing to do that given where the leverage points are. But we`ll see how this goes over the next couple of days.
Here`s the thing, Brian, logistically, and you know this, the impact of a weekend shutdown just practically, that has less of a real person impact on those federal workers that you`re talking about than, for example, a weekday shutdown. Neither is good. Nobody likes either, I get that, but just logistically, that`s the case. So what`s the difference between a weekend shutdown and a weekend plus two holiday days shutdown? Pretty much nothing, right?
When you look at Christmas Eve and Christmas if it goes that long, except for one thing. The location of Donald Trump because normally, over Christmas Eve and Christmas, he is down in South Florida with his friends and with his family because, remember, the first lady is going to be at Mar-a-Lago for the holidays regardless of where the president is at that point.
And so, if the president is getting frustrated that he`s not able to travel, that may end up creating some wiggle room here. It may not. I`ll tell you, I ran into Mick Mulvaney a little bit ago and he and Jared Kushner and the vice president were on their way back just by happenstance and he said, yeah, we`re still talking. So, the conversation is happening. Conversation`s not enough to get the government back open.
WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely right. Garrett Haake, over to you on Capitol Hill. I`m told by a reliable source that building is virtually empty. Everybody`s checked out and gone home, correct?
GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brian, it`s pretty much just me and the statues at this hour. Compared to the last two shutdowns we saw, there is a noticeable lack of urgency here. I mean, we`re less than an hour away from a shutdown. Both Houses of Congress have gone home. Senators were told, go ahead and go home. We`ll try and give you 24 hours notice before we even bring you back. And we`re only going to bring senators back, they were told, if there is a big picture deal to do.
Right now, a couple of things are clear here. There is no plan and no deal in the offing. Mulvaney telling Hallie that there are still conversations may be true, but that`s the sum total of where we got in this entire day today. The House passed their C.R. last night, their continuing resolution, with $5 billion for the wall. The Senate today approved only that there are not -- not only are there not 60 votes for that in the Senate, there aren`t 50 votes for that.
So, we`ve at least started the process of good faith negotiations here on the Senate side of things, but there`s no sign that that ends anytime soon. I think Hallie`s right. I think if we shut down tonight and we will, the prospect of this gets solved on Saturday or Sunday or going into Christmas gets much more difficult. And how do we get out of this is still a completely open question. I mean, I cannot emphasize this enough. All the posturing done by House Republicans in particular earlier in the week and by the president were to prove a point. There is no solution on the table right now.
So, we find ourselves going back to talking about the things that were discussed earlier in the week and last week as possible solutions. You might remember there was this discussion about this $1.6 billion number to fund the Department of Homeland Security as part of a bigger deal that would include money for a border security. There`s been a noticeable lack of agreement around the definition of a wall here when I talked to senators and House members. I could almost see a scenario here, you know, the president`s been talking about steel slats. He did it again in that video you played here, where everybody just agrees to disagree about what makes a wall, and Democrats say, we`re not giving any wall money. We`re just giving border security or fencing money.
The president says, aha, but see, this is the wall we`re talking about. And that`s where we go. I mean, that`s how far off the rails the conversation has gotten here. So, I think we are a long way from a potential solution here.
WILLIAMS: Fifty minutes away from the scheduled time partial shutdown of the government. Hey, folks, thank you very much. Hallie Jackson over at the White House, Garrett Haake, as you can hear in the all but empty U.S. Capitol. We`ll check in again with you both.
And with that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel for this Friday night before Christmas. Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times", and Annie Karni is back with us, White House reporter for the "New York Times."
Annie, run through just the roughest list of the headlines we are dealing with as this week comes to a close and we note which of those stories the president has chosen to cast his lot with?
ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: This is a big part of why we`re talking about the border wall, I think. First of all, we have Mattis`s resignation that is the secondary story now, but one that roiled the White House, concerned aides, concerned the international order about where the guardrails are now on Trump`s presidency. There`s the Mueller investigation hanging over him. That`s progressing, and Democrats are going to take over in January leading to oversight hearings.
And of the options of what the president has to talk about right now, talking about fighting for funding for the border wall might be his best option. It`s knocking out the other headlines out of the news, so that might be -- you know, he doesn`t have a lot of good options to choose from. This isn`t a great one. But it might be the best of the batch for him right now.
WILLIAMS: And Peter Baker, here`s the acting chief of staff. Here`s the vice president and the president`s son-in-law going up to Capitol Hill, going from office to office. A, do you think they had the authority to negotiate? Do you think they were confident that their word would hold when it was brought by the president? And B, do you think any strategy is at work here, or is everyone just looking to the boss for the next move?
PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, those are two really good questions. I think the problem for any kind of negotiation involving Vice President Pence or Jared Kushner or Mick Mulvaney is exactly that because the people on the other side of the table don`t know whether or not a deal cut in that room would hold longer than the five minutes it took to call the White House and hear what President Trump had to say.
We`ve seen just this week alone the president was demanding $5 billion for the border wall. He wasn`t going to give in unless he had that. Then suddenly, they were backing up, and said, well, we`re going to look for other agencies to fund the wall and in fact signaling a, you know, a bit of a retreat, then with the complaints of the conservatives on the House side, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and so forth, suddenly he was strong against rejecting the very measure that Ms. McConnell, his close ally through a lot of issues, had just pushed through the Senate on a unanimous vote.
So, it`s a real problem in negotiation, if you don`t think the other person on the other side of the table can necessarily stick to the strategy. And you`re right, the question is, what is the strategy because it doesn`t seem like there`s an obvious end game at this point.
WILLIAMS: Annie, you note the president and others have already in this hour as well has changed the definition of what we`re talking about already. He, tonight, offered the wording slat fence, which just rolls off the tongue.
Let`s also talk about his influences. You`ve got Jordan. You`ve got Meadows. You`ve got Coulter. You`ve got Limbaugh. These are the people, the voices he hears right now that seem to be steering him.
KARNI: These are the voices that seem to have been what changed the plan from Wednesday and Thursday to where we are now where Republicans on the Hill thought that he would sign the original bill that the Senate had come up with. And that`s another point about Jared Kushner being one of the people who went down to the Hill today to negotiate. He`s a trusted adviser of the president, as is Ivanka, two of the closest people to him. But the president knows that those two don`t represent his base.
So for Jared Kushner to be the one in that room when the president is really concerned right now about him losing the base on this and trying to stay strong doesn`t make him necessarily the strongest negotiator for the president on this particular issue when he is being influenced by these hard right talking heads on television and members of the Freedom Caucus who are trying to project to him and tell him, you`ve got to keep your base and stay strong for the wall that you promised for two years.
WILLIAMS: Peter, it is difficult, let`s all agree, for this president to find people to hire who have not uttered a bad thing about him in the past, and proof of that arrived today. This is a recording of the new, again, acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney talking about Trump and the border wall issue in 2015.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: The fence doesn`t solve the problem. Is it necessary to have one? Sure. Would it help? Sure. But to just say build the darn fence and have that be the end of an immigration discussion is absurd and almost childish for someone running for president to take that simplistic a view.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Peter, that`s not going to go over well.
BAKER: No, you`re right. And there`s already some consternation in the Oval Office over another comment that he made back when he was -- Mick Mulvaney made back during the 2016 campaign when he said that he didn`t particularly like Donald Trump after the Access Hollywood tape and he was going to vote for him only because he was better than Hillary Clinton.
I think those -- you know, you see how those quotes come back to haunt Republicans who are trying their best to work with this president, and yet the president obviously still, you know, holds those against them when they come up. He might not have been aware of this particular recording. He is now, I presume. And my guess is Mick Mulvaney`s going to hear something about it.
But, you`re right, so many of the Republicans who could possibly serve in this White House or administration at one point or another were not for President Trump. This -- the pool of people who were for him from the beginning and had the background to help him out in some of these key positions is relatively small, and it`s getting smaller. Jim Mattis out the door, Ryan Zinke out the door, John Kelly out the door, Jeff sessions out the door. More perhaps to come.
WILLIAMS: Two of the "New York Times" very best helping us to start off our hour of coverage, Peter Baker, Annie Karni, we appreciate it. Thank you.
And coming up for us, Wall Street just wrapped up its worst week since the financial crisis of `08 a decade ago. Ron Insana is here in the studio, will tell us why this is happening, and just perhaps where it`s going.
And later, the struggle to try to keep the government open may be a hint of what`s to come. Two former members of Congress with us tonight to offer up some New Year predictions. THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Friday night before Christmas.
WILLIAMS: Can we call this a chaotic week in Washington, perhaps, coupled with fears of a government shutdown about to become real after the top of the hour sent the stock market into something of a free fall. The Dow fell another 400 points again today. This is just this week, that graphic, and it made it the worst week on Wall Street in a decade. Nasdaq has now officially entered a bear market.
With us here to talk about it, CNBC senior analyst and commentator, Ron Insana. Ron, how bad is it?
RON INSANA, CNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Bad enough, Brian. I mean, as you said, the Nasdaq`s in a bear market. The Dow and the S&P 500, two other major averages, are down 18% from their highs of the year. They`re down 8% for the year-to-date, so this is either, however you want to characterize it, a serious correction or a bear market in stocks, something we really haven`t seen for quite a number of years.
And again, a lot of it`s predicated on these concerns about Washington, concerns about interest rate policy, trade policy, and a whole host of other things that are really out of the hands of Wall Street decision- makers and found squarely in Washington.
WILLIAMS: And that was my next question, any of the triggers, any of what`s causing this, and I`m sure a government shutdown doesn`t help --
INSANA: Not at all.
WILLIAMS: -- any of it controllable?
INSANA: Well, if the Federal Reserve were in fact to decide not to raise interest rates going into 2019, and John Williams was interviewed by my colleague Steve Liesman this morning, he`s the president of the New York Federal Reserve. And he said interest rates next year are not set in stone. That the Fed -- if financial conditions deteriorate, stock market falls more deeply, credit markets get disrupted or we see signs of serious slowing in the economy, the Fed may not raise rates again at all.
Now, that boosted the market early this morning by 400 points before we started to sell off in the middle of the day. Part of it on the shutdown, part of it Peter Navarro, the president`s top trade adviser came out and said these negotiations with the Chinese over trade that will begin in January will not be easy, and that sent us to the lows of the day.
WILLIAMS: We have all kinds of folks watching tonight. We`ve got young folks and old folks and rich folks and not so rich folks. Is there a bit of advice that is convertible no matter who you are in life?
INSANA: Yes, time is the element here that`s most important if you`re an investor. If you have down payment money in the market now, it should never have been there in the first place. If you have 10, 20, 30 years to retirement, you ride this out just as you did in 2008, just as you did in 2000, just as you did in 1994 and `95, 1987, other notable periods where we`ve had big market downdrafts.
If you don`t need the money and it`s put away for retirement, you can -- I wouldn`t ignore this, but you don`t have to worry nearly as much about it. If you`re closer to retirement, if you`re closer to needing the money, I`ve been recommending almost all year that people raise cash because this has been an environment that`s been notably difficult since February.
WILLIAMS: You are aware that telling people to ride it out is easier than actually riding it out.
INSANA: Absolutely. There`s a huge emotional component to investing, and it really depends. I mean, for really young people, and you know, my retirement age as a tail-end baby boomer is officially 67. They`re not going to retire until they`re 70. So you`re talking to somebody in their 20s. They`ve got close to 50 years to sock away money. You don`t pay attention to this type of stuff.
If you`re on the other end of this and you need to pull money out, you make those types of moves into safer investments. Look, we can be in a bear market, a garden variety bear market down 20% in the major averages, maybe a little more. This could go on for a number of months before the repair work is done. We do need positive catalysts to get the market out of this funk. We need the Federal Reserve to stop raising rates.
My personal bet is that they`re done even though they don`t know it yet. I would bet that if we get a compromise of some kind, that`ll relieve some pressure on the market. We do need some progress on trade, and we will, at some point, need to deal with burgeoning federal budget deficits. That`s not an immediate problem for the market, but we need to get these other obstacles out of the way to get a meaningful rally in the stock market these days.
WILLIAMS: Always a pleasure, Ron Insana, thank you very much for stopping by.
Donald Trump has been more than happy to take credit for the stock market when it`s been surging, but "The Washington Post" now reports, and we quote, "The president has complained to aides about how unfair it is he is blamed for the market`s slide. And that, "the lower market drops, the more the president worries that he is losing his most potent argument for reelection".
For more, let`s bring in Donna Edwards, former democratic member of Congress representing the great state of Maryland and a former Republican member of Congress from the state of Florida, great state of Florida, of course, David Jolly, who left the GOP in October just to make it official.
Congressman Jolly, just for the sake of fun add to this discussion of the markets, a shutdown coming up in less than an hour.
DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Sure, and look, markets don`t like uncertainty, and they`re going to be looking in the next year where can they find stability, where`s the additional juice, if you will, that was already spent in the tax bill. But the uncertainty of a government shutdown always rattles the markets. We know that.
The important thing, Brian, is to keep the facts straight here. A lot of political arguments are going to be made, most of them only half true. It is not whether we build a wall or not, it is whether there`s 5 billion or 1.6 billion. The Senate`s provided 1.6 for physical pedestrian barriers 65 miles of a wall. It`s the president that kind of moved the ball during the summer to say, make it $5 billion. And so we`ve got to keep him honest on that going into this. Who knows how this ends. I think it could go just a few days, but the question is, how long do they punt for. Is it really February? Because you don`t do anything if you punt on February. I think eventually they give in and punt for the full year.
WILLIAMS: Donna Edwards, I think for a lot of people, the notion of federal employees is ephemeral, it`s distant. It doesn`t include them or their families. Your congressional district on the other hand, you know from federal employees. So, let`s take a single mom, two kids, works for the Commerce Department. She`s going to be told not to show up for work Monday on top of that, she`s going to be told she`s been furloughed. This has a real personal cruelty to it. They always do.
DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSOWMAN: Well, that`s true, and actually, I remember the shutdown in 2013, and it was over a period of a couple of weeks, and I remember constituents calling my congressional office who weren`t able to continue to make payments to their child care center to keep their spots. There were small businesses that were really struggling because now there was nobody to buy coffee in the coffee shop or to take their clothes to the dry cleaners.
This really does have a real-world effect, and even if you can then, you know, at the end of the day make federal workers whole, it doesn`t erase what happens in those couple of weeks when mortgage payments are due, when tuition right now is coming due for the spring semester. And, you know, when you think about the 700,000 federal employees who were impacted, even though 350,000 of them are going to be working without pay, the others are going to be furloughed, and it damages the economy. Back in 2013, the damage was almost $25 billion to the economy, and so this really does have a significant impact.
WILLIAMS: With our thanks again to Ron Insana, both of our guests have agreed to stay with us over the break. When we come back, we`re going to show you how the president is changing the terms of the argument on the fly.
Again, our shutdown is about 32 minutes away.
WILLAMS: We are back. Our guests remain with us, Donna Edwards and David Jolly both former members of Congress, and I wanted to share with our audience what we have seen and heard from our president today and tonight.
First on Twitter he put out this imagery of what it is he`s actually thinking off on the border along with a Customs and Border Patrol vehicle there in the foreground, and you see the picture of the pointy things at the top of those slats or posts in the fence.
Then tonight the White House issued this video. It is in effect a propaganda video. The president was not available to reporters or questions today, but increasingly they`re putting out these videos often from the Rose Garden.
This one was recorded indoors, though he is speaking in a semi shout, and in addition to the menacing looking video of menacing looking people looking like they`re trying to break into our country, you`ll hear the changing definition of this barrier he`s fighting for on our southern border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s very dangerous out there, drugs are pouring in. Human trafficking, so many different problems including gangs like MS-13. We don`t want them in the United States. We don`t want them in our country. The only thing that`s going to stop that is great border security. With a wall or a slat fence or whatever you want to call it.
(ENG VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So David Jolly, build that slat fence I guess not as effective a chant at rallies and wait until you see the blooper tape of various people in my line of work trying to say slat fence quickly this weekend into next. What do you make of it?
DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: Here`s what he`s actually doing, the definition matters because what the Senate agreed to with the additional 1.6 billion says the wall has to be consistent with the historical designs of a pedestrian barrier. In other words, these fantasy walls that the president likes to showcase don`t qualify under the Senate language, so he`s actually pivoting and giving in to the Senate definition.
But, you know, Brian, the opportunity that`s being missed right now and frankly for Republicans to show they can stand up to the president is this. The only dispute right now is over the Homeland Security budget. What you read at the top of the hour is correct, they`ve already reached an agreement on agriculture, on commerce, on state, on justice, on transportation, on housing and urban development. The House and Senate could pass those by voice vote right now, give them to the president. This partial shutdown would drop to less than 5% of the government.
All of Donna`s former constituents could keep going to work, but the president is using this just to play a game over a wall that he promised, but the facts aren`t there to support what the argument he`s making.
WILLIAMS: Of course Donna, people were already tweeting tonight just asking how wide are drugs and the implication being that a slat fence, of course, is not the impenetrable wall he campaigned on.
DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, that`s true. Look, I`m just so tired I think as many Americans are of the president and this fantasy of a wall. I mean, the fact is that the president`s party, the Republican Party controls the White House, the House, and the Senate.
The president has been offered $1.6 billion to use for his slat fence or wall or whatever it is that he wants to call it. He`s refused to take that, and the reality is that he is not going to get any more today than he`s going to get in January, than he`s going to get in February, and so he may as well just take the deal that`s on the table, pass the Senate bill, sign it into law, keep the government open because otherwise it`s just as he said. He owns the shutdown. He`s proud of owning this shutdown, and it`s going to carry, you know, federal workers and others who rely on federal services, put them in a lunrch right at the holiday season.
This is just so reprehensible. And so, you know, let`s get on with the semantics and get this done for the American people. Again, they controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House. They should put the votes together, put the bill on the floor, and get it done so that people can enjoy their holidays.
WILLIAMS: On the Friday night before Christmas, our thanks to both former members of Congress, Donna Edwards, David Jolly. We really appreciate you coming on tonight.
And coming up for us, it`s been another one of those weeks when it`s tough to follow all the new legal twists involving the Trump family and things like the Mueller investigation. We`ll get you back up to speed when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The judge said are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty, and Michael Flynn said yes, your honor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s buying assets for himself using the money from a theoretically independent charity.
They could be moving towards charges against Roger Stone who, as you mentioned, is such a significant figure in the history of Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt Whitaker today stands on a conflict of interest cliff. He has a choice to make.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just a reminder all the things you just saw were from this week, a pivotal week for the many legal challenges involving and facing this president, his family, and associates. There were major developments on a number of fronts. Michael Flynn, he was supposed to be sentenced but instead, a federal judge went after him for what he`s done, urged him to cooperate further with the feds, and now Flynn has to hope he doesn`t get jail time at his now postponed sentencing in March.
The president was forced to shut down the charitable foundation in his name, which is being sued by New York`s attorney general. The House Intel Committee this week voted to turn roger stone`s official testimony over to the special counsel`s investigation.
We learned that last summer Trump`s nominee for attorney general, William Barr wrote an unsolicited and an unusual memo to the justice department criticizing Mueller`s investigation. Another Mueller critic, the acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker has decided not to take himself out of the investigation.
And NBC News has reported Mueller is nearing the end of his inquiry and may submit his report by mid-February. Here with us tonight to talk about all of it Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs contributor for "POLITICO" and Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor who has worked with among others one Robert Mueller.
All right, Josh. Is it too soon, do you have any perspective to be able to give us a damage assessment thus far this week? We`ve got after all, 20 minutes left in it.
JOSH GERSTEIN, POLITICO SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it was a sort of head spinning series of developments that came fast and furious throughout the week and really seemed to drive the president into a tweeting frenzy and certainly coupled with all these other things going on involving the government shutdown and the reaction to his comments on Syria, you can only imagine why we started hearing these phrases about the president being in a tail spin. I think it wasn`t just one issue, it was this put together with all of these other things.
And I think, you know, in terms of going forward in the next couple of months, what you mentioned about Bill Barr`s memo I think could be very problematic for his nomination to be attorney general. I mean, it leaves me wondering are there 53 votes next year in the Senate to confirm this man given the, you know, extreme skepticism and this sort of jihad if you will he seemed to go on against Mueller`s investigation.
Will Republicans just line up and vote for this man despite that, and how do you address that at hearings? I really have my doubts about what his prospects are for confirmation in the wake of this memo being released.
WILLIAMS: I`m told further it`s just very unusual to receive an unsolicited memo if you`re the justice department.
Hey Glen, I want to read you this reporting. This is by CNN tonight citing multiple sources. We at NBC have not confirmed this, but I`ll read it to you. Trump has at least twice in the past few weeks vented to his acting attorney general angered by federal prosecutors who referenced the president`s actions in crimes, his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to, pointing to articles he said supported his position, Trump pressed Whitaker on why more wasn`t being done to control prosecutors in New York suggesting they were going rogue. Giuliani could not confirm the conversations with Whitaker but says the president views the Southern District of New York prosecutors as out of control.
Glen, a reminder for our viewers, we have an attorney general who has not been confirmed but the U.S. Senate. Isn`t reading this sort of thing going to get Whitaker -- I know he is a fed, but a visit from the feds?
GLENN KIRSCHNER, FORMER FEDRAL PROSECUTOR: You know, Brian, on the one hand this is really a remarkable development, and on the other hand it is par for the course. You know, when you look at the long list of potentially obstructionist acts by the president starting with him asking Comey to lay off Flynn, arguably an obstructionist act, then firing Comey for not laying off Flynn, arguably another obstructionist act.
Then his incessant complaints about Attorney General Sessions not sufficiently shielding him from these investigations. If not an obstructionist act, certainly a look inside the mind of Donald Trump as to what his intent is when he`s taking all these other acts self-preservation.
Then you have him firing Attorney General Sessions and installing what can only be called a lackey in Matthew Whitaker as you say not confirmed, and now as if all of that isn`t enough, he`s lashing out at Whitaker for not reining in the Southern District of New York prosecutors with respect to letting Michael Cohen plead guilty to campaign finance violations that implicate. The president.
You know, nobody can accuse the president of learning from his mistakes. It is -- you know, I think you can describe this as sort of an obstruction jamboree by President Trump, and all of this, I think, is going to be of keen interest to Robert Mueller who it sounds like is anxious to issue his report and perhaps drop additional indictments, but he needs to catch his breath and catch up with the ongoing potentially criminal activities of this president.
WILLIAMS: Josh, I`ve heard a lot of lawyers on television trying to be polite saying of Whitaker his legal pedigree would not have landed this job in an organic search for the next attorney general. So in plain English, is this kind of story that CNN is running tonight the reason Whitaker is in the job to kind of complete Glen`s point?
GERSTEIN: Yes, I think it is. I mean, clearly signals were sent behind the scenes that he was going to be very amenable and potentially malleable to the interests of this president, and it dovetails with the issue of the memo to Barr. Remember the president`s lawyers a memo from Barr, the president`s lawyer had that memo, so people in the president`s inner circle were well aware that Barr had these views and had not just had the views and mentioned it to somebody over coffee or something like that, but had gone out of his way to express them to folks at the justice department.
So it does appear that there`s some kind of litmus at the time test the president is using here for people he`s going to select for these roles at the justice department. It does seem, though, to me that, you know, what he`s looking for in these officials may be the opposite of what at least some folks in the Senate would be looking for in these officials, and I do think that that will come to a head sometime in the next few months.
WILLIAMS: Hey Glen, this NBC News reporting came out yesterday saying that Mueller was likely to have a report ready by February. We had someone you know on the broadcast last night, Cynthia Oxney (ph) who said no way, no how. Cynthia`s rarely shy. She said there`s way too much work yet to be done. A, do you believe the reporting, do you concur? And B, is there a possibility -- I guess nothing constrains him from writing some sort of interim report?
KIRSCHNER: Well, Brian, having prosecuted with Cynthia back in the `90s I`m loathe to disagree with anything she says. Here`s my take on that. I know that Ken Dilanian and Pete Williams and some others had reported that all of a sudden government officials are being told to brace for a possible Mueller report being issued as early as mid-February.
I think if there is a report that`s going to drop in February, let`s not confuse that with additional indictments that are also likely to drop. The two are not mutually exclusive. I think we have been awaiting a Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi indictment for quite some time, and you know, the more I see of Bob Mueller`s investigation, it`s sort of the classic bottom up investigation where he`s building that pyramid, and he has had the -- you know, the Flynns and the Manaforts, the Papadopouloses and the van der Zwaan, and others Cohen plead guilty as he worked his way up the pyramid. But there is still the top of the pyramid, and there others up there left to be dealt with, the president himself, his son, his son-in-law, Kushner.
So I think if Mueller is preparing to issue a report, it may coincide with additional indictments that he drops. And, you know, the big ticket question is does the president become an indicted co-conspirator in a conspiracy indictment, an unindicted co-conspirator, does he not make an appearance at all and is only the subject of a report that ultimately will be released to Congress.
You know, it really is anybody`s guess. But I think we were all so surprised by this mid-February prediction. But if the reporting is accurate, you know, we could see something sooner rather than later.
WILLIAMS: Those are some potent possibilities you mention there. Gentlemen, we needed updating on all of this tonight, and you succeeded. Our thanks to Josh Gerstein, to Glenn Kirschner. Really appreciate it.
Another break for us. Coming up, let`s see the clock says we`re just about 10 minutes away from the latest abject failure of political leadership as we count down to this partial shutdown. We`ll go back live to Capitol Hill and the latest from the White House on what is transpiring or what`s not happening at this hour.
WILLIAMS: We are back with minutes to go until this partial government shutdown. You see the clock in the corner of the screen. Let`s go back to Capitol Hill, our correspondent Garrett Haake. Garrett, about lawmakers over the next 24, 48, 90 hours, it`s always been true, it`s not fair. If you`re a senator from Maryland, you can be home every night. Brian Schatz is a senator from Hawaii, he had flown home already for the Christmas break, posted a picture of his 17-minute visit with his wife and two children, got back on a plane to come to Washington. Are they all now in suspended animation? Can they leave?
GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Consider that the ultimate end of the year mileage run for Brian Schatz getting back to Hawaii, and turning around and coming back to D.C. The short answer is Brian, yes, the senators were told they could hit the road tonight when the Senate adjourn. They were told that they get some kind of notice as much as 24 hours before they come back.
And the Senate, in particular, the House -- both of them are gabbling in tomorrow at noon, but we expect attendance to be extraordinarily light, basically a performance (ph) session. But especially in the Senate, they felt a little bit burned by the president. Remember, they had passed this C.R., this continuing resolution by a voice vote. And they had been assured by the vice president that this was something that the president would backed, people left town thinking they were good to go for Christmas break, only get yanked back here to Washington.
Now the deal is, I`m told by a couple of these senators that they will not be brought back unless there`s the deal that the president will back, that the paperwork is drawn up, that everything is assured, and there will be a vote.
There`s just no trust left, and a lot of miles for some of these western senators. We broke the record today, Brian, for the longest vote ever in the United States Senate, just by a couple of minutes. In parts of some of these western state senators, Patty Murray from Washington, Tom Udall from New Mexico could get back just in time to give the thumbs down and vote this thing down.
WILLIAMS: Unbelievable, your democracy at work. Garrett Haake at work late in the Capitol tonight. Garrett, thank you. And for some historical perspective, just how bad this is, our nation turns its lonely eyes to Pulitzer Prize winner author and historian, Jon Meacham. Jon, I`m hoping you can summon those better angels you are found to talking about books will be written about this period. It`s been a couple of weeks since your last one. So, write me the first paragraph on what we`re witnessing now.
JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR, "THE SOUL OF AMERICA": Well, I think, to go high dork, since it`s Friday, you know, Walter Bagehot who is one of the founding editors of the economist magazine, wrote a very important book in the 19th century on the English constitution, defined government in two ways. He said there are two functions, the dignified element, and the efficient element. And dignity in Britain of course is the monarchy and efficiency is the parliament. In America, of course, we`ve combined the two in the presidency and the system as Madison and the Framers put it together.
Where we are at the moment, it seems to me after a remarkably chaotic even -- in context of the time, it`s a remarkably chaotic five, six-day period, is we know the dignified part is not there in this era. At this point, the efficiency part is also collapsing. So, between the stock market, the withdrawal from Syria, Secretary Mattis` resignation, now the shut down, you have a kind of confluence of forces that I think going to create enduring political problems for the president. Because he has been propped up, in many ways, by this odd combination of conservative populism and the enabling of prosperity-minded upper middle class and middle class Americans who might sometimes think of as 401(k) Trump supporters.
But as they begin to look at those 401(k) numbers at the end of the year, they begin to see a falloff, they`re going to reassess their support for this remarkably unconventional man and his remarkably inefficient era.
WILLIAMS: What do you think this week has done to the study of the presidency and presidential leadership, specifically?
MEACHAM: You know, character is destiny, we know that. We know that Lyndon Johnson was able to do things because of who he was, Franklin Roosevelt was able to do things because he was, Ronald Reagan was able to do things because who he was.
President Trump, I think when we talk about the presidency, we will talk about the role of the personal on the political. And what you`ve seen here, in about two minutes or less at this point, the government of the United States is going to partially shut down because we have a president of the United States who has a personal ideological, although largely opportunistic commitment to kind of border wall, and he`s unable and unwilling to use that as a bit of traditional bargaining leverage to get some kind of larger immigration deal.
So, this is vanity projects of the president is driving the rest of the system into the ditch. And so, when we talk about the presidency, when we talk about the nature of political power in the country, we always have to go back to the character of the person we send to the pinnacle of power. And this is another exhibit of how his character is not commensurate with the challenges of the office.
WILLIAMS: Jon, in 30 seconds of brilliance, anything to compare these videos to that he is issuing from inside the White House, containing again kind of a propaganda video within them?
MEACHAM: No, not really. We had an Office of War Information during World War II, we`ve certainly trafficked in telling the national story. But that`s the difference. We have told the national story before. This is not about the nation, this is about him. He doesn`t see us as a country. He sees us as an audience, and sees himself as the entertainer in chief. And I think the show is wearing incredibly thin.
WILLIAMS: Jon Meacham with us tonight to offer some historical perspective. We`ve been watching the clock in the corner of the screen. Jon, thank you very much for letting us now your view of exactly where this leaves us in terms of history.
To our audience for this hour, thank you for being here with us. We are live of course here at NBC News Headquarters, and our coverage is going to span over the top of the hour, because the top of the hour of course brings us the partial government shutdown, both sides of the leadership unable to reach a solution earlier today. So, we`ll be back in just a moment with that.
And thank you for being here with us. We`re live from NBC News headquarters here in New York. We will join "THE RACHEL MADDOW" program shortly.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END