Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: January 7, 2019 Guest: Annie Karni, Jack Jacobs, Nancy Cook, Rukmini Callimachi, Rick Wilson
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, the only American president with a background in TV has requested TV time tomorrow evening in the Oval Office. Amid spreading fear on the right that the President is losing this fight over the shutdown. And as the shutdown hurts actual American families.
Also here tonight, an update on the Mueller investigation. And we`ll talk about the chance that the President will try to block some of Mueller`s work from becoming public.
And the meeting two years ago this week with a guy who`d just been elected president in a high-rise bearing his name, which we now know might have set the high watermark for awkwardness. As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 718 of the Trump Administration, and we`ve added a second tally these days. This was day 17 of the partial government shutdown, which by the end of this broadcast will become the second longest in our history as a nation.
The President is now turning his attention to television, specifically going on television as he put it today to, "address the nation on the humanitarian and national security crisis on our southern border, Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern."
And just tonight, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, are asking, indeed, for equal time so the Democrats can respond.
In addition to his televised address, Trump plans now a trip to the southern border on Thursday. The big question is whether the President will use tomorrow evening`s speech to declare some sort of national emergency, and there is great disagreement over what powers that may grant him to try to build his own wall or steel fence along the southern border. He first floated the possibility last week and repeated it again yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re looking at a national emergency because we have a national emergency. Just read the papers. We are looking at it very strongly, but hopefully we can do it this way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Vice President Pence earlier today said Trump had not made up his mind about declaring a national emergency, but that the Office of the White House Counsel is looking into the legality of such a move.
Phil Rucker is standing by to join us is the co-author of the latest reporting in the "Washington Post" tonight. He and his colleague, Robert Costa write, "Such a move would be a fraught act of brinksmanship at the dawn of a newly divided government sparking a firestorm with House Democrats and certain challenges in federal courts. But Trump believes forcing a dramatic reckoning by executive action may be necessary given the democratic resistance and the wall`s symbolic power for his core voters, officials said." More on that in a bit.
Tomorrow afternoon, the V.P. and Trump`s head of homeland security will head to the Hill to tend to Republicans and here`s how fraught the politics are. Politico reporting tonight House Republican leaders fear increasing numbers of their own, their lawmakers, could cross the aisle this week to vote for Democratic bills to keep the government open.
Meanwhile, there are no new meetings scheduled between the administration and House Democrats coming off a weekend of no progress. And with the stalemate, the White House has come under fire for its claims about the number of known or suspected terrorists alleged to have entered the U.S. over and across the southern border. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to slip a specious number past Chris Wallace yesterday morning on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that roughly nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists come into our country illegally, and we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Wait, I know the statistic, I didn`t know if you were going to use it. But I studied up on this. You know where the 4,000 people to from, where they`re captured? Airports.
SANDERS: Not always.
WALACE: Airports. The State Department says there hasn`t been any terrorist they`ve found coming across the southern border of Mexico.
SANDERS: It`s by air, it`s by land and it`s by sea. It`s all the above.
WALLACE: They`re not coming across the southern border, Sarah, they`re coming and being stopped at airports.
SANDERS: They`re coming a number of ways. Certainly, I`m not disagreeing with you that they`re coming through airports. I`m saying that they come by air, by land and by sea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, today, our colleague here, Julia Ainsley reported, "U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants on the U.S./Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists according to CBP data obtained by NBC News." Six of them.
While we learned today that the Administration is taking steps to ensure that the shutdown will not affect the ability of the IRS to process tax refunds, we are just days away from the next payday for many of the 800,000 federal workers who will not see their checks. The president was asked about those workers this weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, can you relate to the pain of federal worker who can`t pay their bill?
TRUMP: I can relate and I`m sure that the people that are or the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do. But many of those people that won`t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I`m doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: But here now is the reality for so many families that just don`t have the ability to miss a pay period. Our colleague, Vaughn Hillyard spoke to one federal worker out in Colorado.
JEREMIAH MARTINEZ, FURLOUGHED FOREST SERVICE WORKER: It`s also not just an impact to the family because they see that their dad can go to work but they -- and it`s hard to say it. It really is. It`s a big impact. Excuse me. The feeling of uncertainty is hard.
VAUGHN HILLYARD, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Why is it hard?
MARTINEZ: Because you have to be strong for your kids. We don`t ask for handouts. It`s tough. It`s tough to wake up and have your wife reassure you that everything`s going to be all right. We`re people. This isn`t a game, right? I personally don`t care who`s right or wrong. We just want to work. Want to pay our bills. We just want to be and live our lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: That ladies and gentlemen is a federal worker. And with that let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Monday night, all three returning veterans. Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize winning White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post. Annie Carney, White House reporter for The New York Times, and Nancy Cook, White House reporter for Politico.
Phil, as emotional as that is and as abrupt a reminder to everyone watching that these are families, many of them, choosing between gasoline and childcare and food and medicine and those kinds of things because it`s hard to just take away a pay period or two, god forbid. I want to show you a bit of Sean Hannity`s broadcast tonight. Phil, we`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Drugs are pouring across our borders, leading to even more death and more destruction. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, violent offenders, without a doubt, this is a national emergency. It`s time to build the wall. The president is right to fight to protect American lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Phil, is it me or could he be possibly laying the groundwork for the President to declare a national emergency tomorrow night?
PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU OF CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST: Well, it`s not the first time, Brian that his show has been in sync with this White House. And I think he is very much helping the White House lay the groundwork for that. We saw that today. I was at a briefing at the White House this afternoon with Vice President Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen, and they must have said the word crisis a dozen, two dozen, three dozen times. That`s the takeaway. This is a crisis they`re trying to say.
A humanitarian crisis but more importantly they point out a security crisis and they`re using the numbers that Sarah Sanders tried to use on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace yesterday to build a case. You know, critics say it`s not true. That it`s not based on fact. But nonetheless, it is the case that they`re building. It`s the case I expect the President will build tomorrow night in his primetime address. And then he`s going to be visiting the border on Thursday. All designed around applying more pressure, ratcheting it up to try to get Congress to move on constructing this wall.
WILLIAMS: Annie, is this now the Trump`s -- the President`s last and only stand? I`d love to ask a loftier question, what do you think is going on?
ANNIE CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPNDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What -- the people I`m talking or expect are bracing this else for the possibility that he doesn`t declare a national emergency tomorrow. Democrats now think this its only way out of the bind. He didn`t expect to get here. The White House didn`t have a plan and didn`t expect to be here and he needs a way out.
If he goes that route, he -- it will be -- he will open himself to huge court battles and lawsuits. The primetime address, though, is something that the White House has been wanting to do for a long time, and looking for the right moment to do it, this Oval Office address. They`ve asked for eight minutes from the networks. It`s a different sort of form for the President. We don`t usually see him speak for such a short period of time on script.
So, if he doesn`t actually declare the national emergency tomorrow, I think Phil`s right, it`s part of this crescendo of crisis that the White House has been building behind closed doors with staffers over the weekend, with Democratic staffers, and Republican staffers on the Hill, with reporters today in a briefing, with this trip to the border later this week. They`re also trying to, you know, shore up Republican support who, fearing that Republicans could defect and vote for the House bill to reopen parts of the government. They want to create this growing sense of urgency about a crisis.
WILLIAMS: Nancy, as you know, this will be the President`s first address from the Oval Office as President. For all those who think such things are reserved on a need basis, I share from Maggie Haberman on Twitter tonight, basically echoing what Annie just said, "A former administration official messages that an Oval Office address was discussed during the tax push as a potential closing argument. It worried some aides that he would have no crowd to draw our energy from. Others said he`d done fine during the -- from doing -- done fine during the state of the union address, so they decided to reserve it for a moment or a crisis."
Well, Nancy, here`s your crisis. What`s your audience, is it wavering Republicans who, by now have forgiven talk of the wall and are ready to get behind steel slats?
NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, I think the audience is twofold, one is the general public. I think that Trump is speaking to his base. We saw that with, you know, Sean Hannity`s show tonight. But then too, really a lot of this crescendo as Annie and Phil have said this week is geared toward congressional Republicans. We saw Republicans this week like Senator Susan Collins or Senator Corey Gardner say that we should, they should, Republicans should pass a funding bill to reopen parts of the federal government while debating the wall. Those are people who are up for 2020.
And so, so much of this White House messaging is geared toward just keeping Republicans onboard and keeping them, you know, making sure to try to rally the public behind them and pressure the Republicans to stay in a bloc. They don`t want Republicans to start falling in line with the Democrats and suggesting that the funding bill should pass, and the shutdown should end.
WILLIAMS: Phil, you and I have many discussions at this hour of tonight on this President`s empathy challenges.
WILLIAMS: Having said that, he`s now talking about these regular folks. Upwards of 800,000 of breadwinners who get their check from the federal government. Eighty percent of whom live outside the Washington, D.C. area. Where, Phil, is he getting the notion that he enjoys high levels of support for his efforts in continuing this shutdown?
RUCKER: I have no earthly idea, Brian. The President has said multiple times now that many federal workers who are impacted by this shutdown have conveyed to him directly that they support what he`s doing, that they support the wall, that they support continuing the shutdown until he secures the funding for the wall. But there`s simply no factual basis in that.
We`ve heard from union leaders representing various federal worker unions say that that`s not the case at all. That many of these workers are suffering, as you saw in that interview with Vaughn Hillyard out in Colorado, and are impacted in negative ways by this. It`s not just the workers, by the way. We`re now into the third week of this shutdown and we`re starting to see impacts in communities. Impacts on people`s lives, you know, national parks are in real distress right now.
If there`s been a mishap over at the Housing and Urban Development Department that could jeopardize some people with their landlords, for potentially becoming evicted. There are other consequences as well. There`s been anecdotal evidence of long lines of TSA at the airport security checkpoints.
It`s unclear how much of that is because of the shutdown, but the longer the shutdown continues, the more impact you`re going to see around the country and the more jittery, I think congressional Republicans are going to be -- in terms of their allegiance to Trump and you might start to see more and more defections. And some key lawmakers in the House and in the senate begin to say, have we`ve had enough, let`s get on and re-open the government.
WILLIAMS: So, Annie, the guidance of I heard earlier tonight was seven to eight minutes. And, now on top of that, the Democrats have asked for equal time. What is your knowledge and/or speculation about the internal process? Is this going to be like a Stephen Miller plus the con shop operation?
KARNI: It`s notable that I`ve seen Communications Director Bill Shine kind of, who`s -- a very behind the scenes guy, putting his name out there say - - announcing that this Oval Office interview -- statement is taking place. So he wants to have some piece of that.
Stephen Miller actually has been taking a more behind-the-scene approach than you would expect on the issue where he`s considered the internal hardline immigration person pushing Trump in this direction. But over the weekend in meetings, at staff-level meeting meetings, he barely spoke according to people in the room. He wasn`t at the table. He sat against the wall. He only chimed in a few times, so he`s been quiet. But he`s -- in addition to being a policy immigration adviser, he is a speechwriter.
So, I assume he will be involved and usually these things are really group projects in the Trump White House whenever me gives a teleprompter address. It`s never really down to one author, it`s a group endeavor in the past.
WILLIAMS: Yes, and Mr. Miller`s coming off an unfortunate outing with Mr. Blitzer over on CNN.
Hey, Nancy, with -- considering the fact that elsewhere in our broadcast, we`re going to do an update on the Mueller matter, how much of this is just a terrific shiny object everybody can latch, hold onto, and takes away our oxygen for a couple of days?
COOK: Well, I think so much of is about that. It`s about Trump being able to control the message and the narrative coming off of, you know, a tough midterm. Now at this point, he`s facing the divided government, he`s facing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he`s facing Congressional Democrats who are promising a lot of oversight of his administration and the cabinet officials.
And Trump even last week we saw him during, as Democrats started to take over the House, you know, he trying to turn the attention back to himself. We saw that when he went out to the press podium on Thursday, to the briefing, himself. And so I think that that is a huge part of him trying to hijack the message this week and to create a sense of crisis at the border by both the southern border visit on Thursday, and by this address tomorrow night.
WILLIAMS: I will say he is exploring the space, first his first visit to the Press Room, now his first Oval Office address. What could come next? Our thanks for our starting three on a Monday night. It`s already been a long week. Philip Rucker, Annie Karni, and Nancy Cook. Greatly appreciate the three of you helping us start our broadcast off.
And coming up as we continue, the move, the President and his team are reportedly considering to bloc parts of the final Mueller report from becoming public.
And later, are we witnessing a complete reversal of what the President just said, was our new Syria policy? Our troops, last we knew, were on their way home. Tonight, not so fast. The 11th Hour getting started on this Monday night.
WILLIAMS: Welcome back. New reporting from Bloomberg reveals the White House could try to bloc some of Robert Mueller`s final report to prevent it from being shared with Congress and the wider public once it`s been completed.
Shannon Pettypiece, a frequent guest of ours and one half of a byline tonight reporting that Mueller may submit his findings to the DOJ as early as February, more on that in a minute. And quote, "Democrats who now control the House have said they`ll demand that the department hand over the report and that they intend to make it public. The White House may counter by asserting, you guessed it executive privilege to prevent key findings from being turned over."
President Trump`s attorney Rudy Giuliani spoke to Fox News after the Bloomberg piece was published this morning. He said, "We prefer that as much of the report as possible is public. We believe a selective release would be problematic," but Giuliani did not rule out the White House invoking executive privilege. Saying further and we, "We will enter that review process with no preconceptions about blocking material but until our team reviews the report, we cannot waive executive privilege."
Well, here to talk about all of it is our friend, Maya Wiley former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, these days a professor at the news school.
Counselor, I have a number of questions for you. First of all, the calendar, when you hear that month, February, in a report, do you put much stack in that? There`s a lot you and I have discussed night after night here that hasn`t happened yet among the realm of the expected things in the Mueller investigation.
MAYA WILEY, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: It`s very difficult to know what`s going to happen and when --
WILLIAMS: I knew you were going to say that.
WILEY: -- and when it`s going to happen. You knew I was going to say it, because it`s true. And the reason it`s true is because we don`t know all that. Robert Mueller knows, right?
And we don`t know it -- what we do know is that there are criminal investigations, we don`t know what they`re about. They were in the Michael Flynn sentencing memo where he said thankfully Flynn cooperated quite well, had deep, deep knowledge and history into relationships with Russia, said that quite explicitly, but also said that there were two other criminal investigations, lots of redaction. We don`t know what it`s about, right?
So, what -- we can imagine is can Robert Mueller give a partial reporting if he chooses to on some aspects? He could. It`s certainly within his purview to decide to do that. Would he? I don`t know. I don`t know how he would necessarily benefit from doing that. Particularly in the political climate he`s been forced to operate in. But who knows.
WILLIAMS: But I`m just a guy here, I`m not a former fed like you. I hear that the Mueller grand jury has been extended for six months. That gets my attention. That is an indicator that we`re not done with you folks yet and we got some more work.
WILEY: That`s right. I mean, we knew that he wasn`t done by the sentencing memos. Like I said, Michael Flynn, I`m going to go back to Michael Flynn because I think that sentencing memo, you know, it seems like a long time ago now, was not very long ago.
Michael Flynn is not going to be sentenced before March. He`s got to do an update on that. But we know that there are investigations even in the reporting over the last month, we`ve seen new indications that, of contact between Paul Manafort and of course a former Russian arms dealer --
WILLIAMS: You know, there`s that.
WILEY: -- who -- there`s that. I mean, there`s -- we know that he`s saying Manafort did not fully cooperate and we`re going to have filings about that. But it really is the fact that there are investigations that are criminal in nature and that are redacted in documents that have been filed before the court and we also know that he`s fighting about documents and evidence from company, A, which is controlled by a foreign government that is fighting him on delivering those documents.
WILLIAMS: You have about 60 seconds remaining. If you switch teams and the President hired you and said, look, there`s stuff in this Mueller stuff I don`t want out. How tough an argument is it to make executive privilege arguments?
WILEY: It`s ridiculously tough. And what I would say is thanks, I have a job. So, you can`t hide behind an attorney, slink behind counsel to avoid scandal.
The reality here is that we have the Richard Nixon case in which Richard Nixon said executive privilege, I don`t have to turn over these tapes. And the Supreme Court said, well, yes, you do. The strongest argument you could make for executive privilege is if, say, you had a national security concern.
In this instance, the investigation, itself, is about whether or not we have to have national security concerns including about the behavior, potentially, of the United States President. I think it`s a tough one.
WILLIAMS: First I`ve seen you in 2019. Happy New Year.
WILEY: Happy New Year.
WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for coming on as always. Maya Wiley.
And coming up for us, figuring out U.S. policy toward Syria and ISIS which may depend on which Trump administration official you choose to talk to, the President or the guy on his team. That story when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We`re back and we`re getting a series of mixed messages, we`ll generously call them that, from the White House, on President Trump`s planned troop withdrawal from Syria.
After saying last month that troops would be coming home now, Trump said last week they would be returning over a period of time. Then on Sunday, everything seemed to change. His national Security Adviser John Bolton laid out conditions that could leave U.S. troops in Syria for quite a time.
"The New York Times" puts it this way, "Mr. Bolton making a visit to Israel told reporters that American forces would remain in Syria until the last remnants of the Islamic state were defeated and Turkey provided guarantees that it would not strike Kurdish forces allied with the U.S. He and other top White House advisers have led a behind-the-scenes effort to slow Mr. Trump`s order and reassure allies including Israel."
President Trump was not happy with this report in "The New York Times." We know that because of what he posted earlier today and we quote, "The failing "New York Times" has knowingly written a very inaccurate story on my intentions on Syria. No different from my original statements, we will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary."
So let`s be careful here to review what the President has said about pulling American fighting men and women out of the fight against ISIS in Syria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So our boys, our young women, our men, they`re all coming back and they`re coming back now. We`re going to be removing our troops. I never said we`re doing it that quickly. It`s done.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long is the pull-out period?
TRUMP: Well, it`s going quickly.
And we have won against ISIS. We`ve beaten them and we`ve beaten them badly. We won`t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long?
TRUMP: We won and that`s the way we want it and that`s the way they want it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, let`s talk about it, shall we? With us to do that, retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, decorated combat veteran of Vietnam, he`s 1 of 74 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
And Rukmini Callimachi is back with us, a veteran "New York Times" Foreign correspondent. We are always so happy to have you here in New York because you cover dangerous places for a living. So we`re thrilled to have you on the broadcast. Give us the reality check. How sizable is ISIS, and how much of a threat do they exist to us?
RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: So, it is true that the territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria is almost completely deleted, erased, but we are making a mistake of thinking that territorial control equals the strength of this group.
WILLIAMS: Because we see the maps have taken turf.
CALLIMACHI: The maps have taken turf. But we have to remember that this is a group that for the first decade of its existence did not look (ph) very much land at all and yet was incredibly deadly. According to three independent reports that have just been put out including by the Pentagon inspector general, the troop force of the Islamic state just in Iraq and Syria is between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters.
To put that in perspective, the last time that the U.S. declared defeat over this group was in 2010, and at that point, the CIA estimated just 700 fighters.
WILLIAMS: So, Jack, I know you have seen what a withdrawal from an area of operation looks like. They bring in modern shrink wrap and actually wrap up Humvees and choppers and MRAPs to ship them home.
Luckily, this hadn`t gone that far. What is going on, do you think, among members of U.S. military?
COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, they certainly have made plans to do so, but you`re right about the fact that you can`t just pick up and leave. Among other things, we don`t want any of this equipment to fall in the hands of people who shouldn`t have it. I mean, we`ve done that before, by the way, left precipitously.
WILLIAMS: We saw them driving our vehicles when ISIS first arose.
JACOBS: Yes. And so we`re not going to do that again. So, although they -- the troops have received a warning order, and plans are afoot to withdraw, the plans are to do a phased withdrawal and that will take, even if the order were given today to leave, it would take quite some time. So it`s just planning at this stage.
WILLIAMS: Rukmini, when we hear Bolton next to Netanyahu, I have to say he sounded like every American we`ve grown up listening to especially where U.S. policy on ISIS is, where he wants it to be. The whole world is watching, though. What do you think the world is making of what we`re going through?
CALLIMACHI: Well, I think, Brian, it`s just as you said, it`s mixed signals and think it`s especially confusing for our Kurdish allies who at this point in time are trying to figure out who they can trust and who they can make a deal with.
The only deal that makes sense for them really is with Assad regime. Turkey is out to get them, Russia and Iran are unreliable partners and the fear now is that with these mixed signals, they might miss the boat and not make a deal in time as they wait thinking, oh, maybe the U.S. will stay.
WILLIAMS: Jack, I know they are task oriented, battle hardened, a lot of them, all volunteers but this has to affect the U.S. military and all their dependents here who maybe thought they`d be home this spring.
JACOBS: Yes, but it`s bad for morale, there`s to doubt about that, but I think the problem is that it`s really bad for military planning and for national security and the result of it all is that when the President, because the President makes such a habit of saying things which then get negated by one of his people, the problem is now that anything the President says has a tendency to be ignored by world leaders.
The President says we`re leaving. The very first thing that happens is that Bolton goes over to talk to Netanyahu who is probably having something of a meltdown, recognizing that we were going to leave him open to the Iranians.
I think the real problem is how, not just how the United States is perceived, but how we are able to execute our plans in the world arena and from now on, I don`t think anybody in the world arena is going to believe anything the President has to say.
WILLIAMS: When we have the two of you on next, I want to talk about how you can bomb out an idea, bomb an idea out of existence and whether or not that can ever be accomplished. Rukmini and Jack, thank you both very much for being with us on the broadcast tonight.
And coming up for us, the government shutdown has members of the President`s own party on the defensive as their leadership now tries to keep them collected and together. We`ll talk about all of it beneath the Capitol dome when we come right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I can`t speak for Senator McConnell, but I would like to see him bring the House-passed bills to the Senate floor. We could re-open much of government where there`s no dispute over issues involving certain departments like Ag, transportation, housing, interior. Let`s get those re-opened while the negotiations continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It`s not just Senator Susan Collins, fellow GOP senators, here they are, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, Lamar Alexander, Pat Roberts, have also called for the shutdown to end while border negotiations continue.
Indeed, Pelosi and Schumer want to pass bills that open the government in a piecemeal fashion. If it sounds like a coalition there, perhaps, but it`s very important to note all of those senators are either up in 2020 or leaving the place in their rearview mirrors.
Politico reports Republican lawmakers in the House have one number in mind, 55. "That many Republican defections, coupled with all House Democrats, would reach 290." "290 yes votes, a veto-proof majority.
House Democrats can`t overcome Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell`s refusal to bring up their bills, but such a vote would signal the house can override a Trump veto, a major blow to the President and his allies." who best to talk about this than Rick Wilson, a proud Floridian, proud never Trumper.
He`s a veteran Republican Strategist whose views about the President are, perhaps, best encapsulated by the title of his book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies." welcome back to our studio.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you, Brian.
WILLIAMS: What I just said there, that kind of a coalition makes, do you mind what the motives are behind the members as long as there are, let`s call them, common sense members who say let`s get this show on the road?
WILSON: Well, I think they`re starting to act out of the base political response that they understand that this is hurting them. That they`re up for a re-election or their legacies are up for judgment and they know the shutdown is hurting and they know that we`re about to hit the point where the economic statistics for January get recorded, and they`re worried they`re going to take the blame for a market crash that comes out of a shutdown that continues to cause all this economic disruption.
They`re worried that the whole Republican Party`s been redefined as having a fight over a stupid wall that will never be built. And they`re taking all the political damage from this and so that coalition may be expanding, it may be larger than we know at this point.
But those folks are all more of the problem-solving centrist types of Republicans that seem to be in short supply in Washington today. But, they`re having a natural political reaction to this.
WILLIAMS: What can happen if the President declares a national emergency? I don`t want to lump you in my generation, but people in our approximate age grew up knowing from a national emergency --
WILLIAMS: -- especially if you were born during the Cold War.
WILSON: He has the right to declare a national emergency, but it is going to be one more thing where Trump has destroyed a guardrail. He`s destroyed another standard that we don`t want to destroy.
He`s done one more thing that breaks down the boundaries of executive power which conservatives used to say that they were very, very interested in making sure the executive didn`t have too much power. Especially with Barack Obama, if you recall.
But, the scope of what he can actually accomplish in terms of constructing the wall and using resources and money for it is much more narrow from my reading of the situation than this sort of magical thinking that`s going on inside the Trump White House right now where I can declare it, I get $25 billion and there`s a wall.
WILLIAMS: I want to read something I put in front of you and that`s Robert Costa`s last tweet, Mr. Costa has been doing by Twitter thread what is as good as a top-ranking newspaper article as any. "My top Trump administration sources say they see little downside to going all-out now on the wall. Rallies their voters, tests the mettle of the Democrats, gives POTUS a chance to be seen as fighting on his signature issue ahead of a likely rough year of probes and battles with House Democrats."
This is not your first rodeo, and I have watched you on television debating this topic and saying flatly to some of your fellow Republicans, there`s not going to be a wall. Mexico`s not going to pay for it. There`s not going to be a fence, you can`t even get the right of wage you need --
WILLIAMS: -- for the property. So what does this President`s position not get and how does he get out of this?
WILSON: Well, he has trapped himself in the worst political box canyon I`ve ever seen. There`s no chance he`s going to go along the border and using eminent domain build this fantasy wall. We`ve all known it from the beginning.
We`ve all known this was part of a big con by this President of part of his base that are credulous and that believe that there`s actually going to be a physical barrier and that`s going to change their lives and stop the brown horde, or whatever it is they think.
Donald Trump has to submit in this thing, he has to give it up. He has to walk back from it. Now, that`s very difficult for him to do because this was the definitional promise of his campaign, but there is no option.
If the Democrats hold their line and I think they`ve got every motivation to do so, and I think Nancy Pelosi`s House coalition is absolutely rock solid on this, if Chuck Schumer holds firm, there`s no out, there`s nothing Donald Trump can do and shutting down the government, he can`t tweet his way out of the economic damage it starts to do, he can`t go on Fox enough times and talk to Sean enough times to make this go away.
These are actual damages being -- the economy`s accruing because of a shutdown that he said he would take credit for, that he caused, that he created and that he sustains.
WILLIAMS: What about the down-ballot damage, to your line of work, your life`s work that`s going to result from this? Perhaps you saw the results of the last midterms and how many Democrats came out. What about the damage this could be sowing?
WILSON: Well look, we`re going into a 2020 election season that`s pretty much already under way, not only the presidential level but in the Senate level and congressional races will start to come into shape pretty soon.
This climate, if we cause this economic damage to the stock market and to the economy more broadly, unemployment figures more broadly, this damage will ramify out across the next year, year and a half so Republicans will go into 2020 and it will look like, it will make 2018 look like a picnic.
They`ve got one person to blame for this and one person to point to for this and it`s Donald Trump and this idea you`re going to wish it away or tweet it away is just pure fantasy.
WILLIAMS: We`ll pause right there. Rick`s going to stay with us. We`ll come back after a break and I will ask him which 2020 Democrat poses the most credible threat in his view to one Donald J. Trump of New York. Stay with us.
WILLIAMS: Yikes, I just realize this a new morologist (ph) will have a field day with the fact that the number of days we are away from the next presidential election is 666, but who in the crowded field will be most credible threat to President Trump? That was quick change of topic wasn`t it?
Senator Elizabeth Warren as you may know spent the weekend this past weekend just hanging with friends in Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden according to this headline sees himself as the Democrats best hope. He`s expected to announce his decision by the end of the month.
Kamala Harris Democrat of California also expect making an announcement after finishing a book tour which is beginning and kicks off tomorrow.
In this headline tonight, certainly start plenty of rumors "Democrat Beto O`Rourke plans solo road trip, "That sounds a little sad" to meet voters outside Texas" bring a friend of a family member.
With that we bring back Rick Wilson Republican Strategist. What person or persons in that party, perhaps some that we did not mentioned post the greatest threat to maybe the pre-Trump Republican Party, Rick Wilson`s Republican Party?
WILSON: I think the difficulty for the Democrats right now is picking a candidate that balances out their desire to check off all of these ideological boxes and a candidate who can get up in Donald Trump face and mess with his head and is great on television.
If I would advising the Democrats, I would advise them to find a candidate that`s fantastic on television and knows how to communicate and knows how to talk to people. And in that respect and you`ve got a field of 394,000 Democrats right now all thinking about running. It`s going to win itself out pretty quickly in terms of the vote.
The fund-raising side of it and the communication side of it. If Joe Biden was five years younger, this game would probably almost be over already because he`s populist and engaged. He`s good communicator, he`s good scraper, he`s a good fighter.
But a lot of these other folks are pretty untested candidates right now. I mean Beto O`Rourke has loss --
WILSON: -- one state wide race.
WILLIAMS: And for losing (INAUDIBLE).
WILSON: And won a couple congressionals. That`s lovely, he`s a got big base right now but campaigning is a hard road test. Campaigning is always something that once you collide with reality in the campaign. It shakes off the initial like golden buzz.
I think it was Warren experienced that this week. I mean her stock was pretty overpriced given what happened to her this week. The national polling with Democrats, he`s somewhere in 7th or 8th or 9th place depending on which poll you look at.
After running a big rollout and having all of this ideological creed, so the difficulty for Democrats, like I said, is going to be to balance out which one of these guys offers up -- meets their ideological tests and can go out and run a good campaign and be effective on television against Donald Trump.
That`s where this is going to get fought out. TV and social media, earn in social media are going to be the terrain of this campaign. I think the money will matter but it`s not going to be as important as it used to be.
WILLIAMS: I didn`t hear a name, but I`m not going to hang that around your neck. I met your food taster earlier. Lovely. Rick Wilson, thank you so much for visiting us.
WILSON: As always.
WILLIAMS: I appreciate it greatly.
Coming up, a number of anniversaries that got our attention this week. One of them about that man.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. Let`s talk about two anniversaries this week. The first one is thanks to our friend, the historian Michael Beschloss who pointed out tonight this was the cover of "Time" magazine 30 years ago this week. 30 years.
The copy reads, this may turn you green with envy or just turn you off. Flaunting it is the game, and Trump is the name. We should point out that both Trump and Time are still around 30 years later. Admittedly, one of them has slimmed way down in this new era. The other one is named Trump.
In checking our own archives, we discovered this week is the two-year anniversary of the now famous meeting in Trump tower. Not the meeting with the Russians, but the meeting with our combined Intel chiefs that were there to brief the new President elect.
The meeting where FBI Director Comey was left behind to tell Donald Trump there was this thing, this dossier kicking around including some salacious details. Comey recounted the meeting in his book and in interviews.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I started to tell him about the allegation was that he had been involved with prostitutes in a hotel in Moscow in 2013 during a visit for the Miss Universe pageant and that the Russians had filmed the episode.
And he interrupted very defensively and started talking about it, do I look like a guy that needs hookers? And I assumed he was asking that rhetorically. I didn`t answer that and I just moved on and explained. I said I`m not saying that we credit this. I`m not saying that we believe it. I`m just saying it`s important that you know.
And also the FBI`s role is counterintelligence and so we do a defensive briefing, whether or not something is true just to let the person who might be the target of a leverage effort, of an effort by an adversary to gain advantage of him know, no, that we have this information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: James Comey there recounting the meeting about the dossier that arguably remains at or near the center of all we cover here night after night, now two years later.
That is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start off a new week. Thank you so very much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END