BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, the President tries to sell a crisis that the facts tells us does not exist and he used the backdrop of the Oval Office do it. While this evening your federal government remains shutdown.
Meanwhile, attorneys for former Trump Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, accidentally reveal he shared Trump polling data with a Russian leading to a whole lot of questions about why someone would do that.
And another Russian in the news tonight, the woman in the Trump tower meeting was indicted today in a case that shows her connection to the Kremlin. All of it 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 719 of the Trump administration. Day 18 of this government shutdown. As you may have heard, the President was on television tonight, so were the Democrats. And we`ll look at all of it in just a moment.
But we want to begin with the latest revelations in this story that came roaring back earlier today. The Mueller investigation, specifically it`s what we learned in error from Paul Manafort`s lawyers, his legal team. The new details come in a document filed by Manafort`s lawyers. There it is. Some of the lines were redacted, blacked out.
The problem was all those details are revealed again by copying and pasting them into any sort of new document. So, mistakes happen, but this one revealed some pretty stunning news that Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a prominent Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik and lied about it.
The Mueller team and media profiles have described Kilimnik as someone with longstanding ties to Russian intelligence. As you see there, he`s a former Manafort partner.
Tonight "The New York Times" reports that, "Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign according to this person. Mr. Manafort asks that Mr. Kilimnik pass the data to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and who has claimed that Mr. Manafort owed him money from a failed business venture, the person said. It is unclear whether Mr. Manafort was acting at the campaign`s behest or independently, trying to gain favor with someone to whom he was deeply in debt."
Today`s filing from Manafort`s lawyers also says he and Kilimnik met in Madrid and that they may have discussed something billed as a Ukraine peace plan on more than one occasion which prosecutors say Manafort lied about as well.
Tonight, the "Washington post" reports, "Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, said the Madrid meeting took place in January or February of 2017, after the Presidential campaign was completed."
Today`s filing from Manafort`s legal team, mistake included, is in response, and this gets complicated to the Mueller team`s allegation that Manafort violated his cooperation deal by lying to the feds. You may recall Manafort was convicted of several felonies last summer, began cooperating with the government shortly thereafter.
There is also news tonight about that Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has her own ties to the Kremlin, and who was a key figure in that Trump Tower meeting of June 2016. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have charged her with obstruction of justice and a money laundering case which is separate from the Mueller inquiry.
This new indictment alleges she was, "intentionally misleading in fabricating evidence from the Russian government."
NBC`s Richard Engel, who interviewed Veselnitskaya earlier this year and explains the significance of today`s development.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: In 2016 when Veselnitskaya was in New York attending the famous Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others, she was also there helping one of her clients who was in New York being charged with money laundering.
What we uncovered was an exchange of e-mails in which Natalia Veselnitskaya was exchanging drafts of the official Russian government response to the U.S. Justice Department`s request for information. At the time, she never disclosed that she was helping the Russian government craft its official response. She was supposedly there just as a legal adviser, and it shows how deep her connections were to the Russian government, how deep her connections were to individuals very close to the Kremlin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On that note, let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Tuesday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times". Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor. Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at both the CIA and the Pentagon. And Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence. Welcome to you, all.
Frank, I`d like to begin with you. And I don`t mean to be cute, but how unusual is this Manafort matter? Do you think in the Mondale campaign, in the Reagan campaign, people were taking polling, some of it internal, and sharing it with foreigners, specifically a Russian? This speaks to motive. What do you think is going on here?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: I always like it when we accidentally learn things, Brian. Sometimes it`s the best kind of learning when knowledge falls into your lap and we get a little bit smarter about what`s up with the Trump campaign.
So today, we`re faced with a question. Why would the campaign chairman for President Trump be providing what must have been internal poll data? Why do I say must have been? The Russians don`t need to get public poll data from Manafort. They can read that in the newspapers.
So here is this kind of proprietary poll data going to a Russian that everyone believes is at least connected to the GRU. But in looking at his bio, I think he might have been a GRU officer at one time. And what would the expectation be? He`s not going to go home and stick the polling data on his refrigerator. He`s going to do something with it.
So imagine -- let`s play that out. You now are armed with where Trump`s doing well, where he`s doing poorly, what`s the expectation, what`s going on while this is all happening, the social media campaign, the hacking into the DNC, who did that, Brian? The Russian GRU. This is all coming together now.
WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance, is this, indeed, the most vivid evidence yet of let`s call it cooperation with Russians?
JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I think we`re getting very close to a conspiracy, but it`s always really important to say that it looks a lot easier on TV to be a prosecutor than it actually is. When you`re in a U.S. attorney`s office, or in the special counsel`s office, you have to be very careful that you have evidence of an agreement, that you`ve identified the statute, that the conspiracy is in violation of, that everybody that you can prove that you can attribute to them the corrupt intent necessary to move that conspiracy forward.
With those caveats, though, I`d say this news that Paul Manafort is sharing this information and also very importantly that he lied about it makes this look more and more like evidence from the conspiracy.
In my experience, particularly a defendant who comes in from the court and cooperates, a cooperating defendant, they will sometimes rarely tell you the truth as much as they can, but they have some areas of great sensitivity that they`ll lie about. Paul Manafort had a number of areas, five, that he continued to lie about, and they all seemed to center on his relationship with Konstantin Kilimnik, payments that he received, information that was transferred and we have to ask why? The answer looks like a conspiracy to try to influence the outcome of the election.
WILLIAM: Jeremy Bash, you have always told us to avoid the word, collusion, even the President has that kind of verbal tick about using it. He denies collusion every chance he gets. You have always told us, though, that what we should be chasing down is conspiracy. You heard Joyce just speak on the subject. Does this get us close to that?
JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: It could and I think it keep person in this conspiracy might be Oleg Deripaska who was one of Putin`s right- hand men, a prominent oligarch who, by the way, incidentally the Trump Treasury Department just recently relaxed sanctions on him and the Democrats in the House are investigating that matter.
Oleg Deripaska was going to be the ultimate recipient of this proprietary analysis by the Trump campaign. And as Frank pointed out, it could be use -- could have been used by the Russian federation to craft the social media campaign, to craft the campaign to dump the hacked e-mails of John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, and others. And so we really have to understand, unpack and investigate exactly why the senior-most person on the Trump campaign would be providing proprietary analysis to Putin`s right-hand man. This looks very much like a conspiracy, two people agreeing to commit election fraud.
WILLIAMS: So, Peter Baker, we had this whole conversation planned tonight then we saw your byline land in "The New York Times" and it answers the question, with all this kind of closing in, visually, what must it be like inside the White House? The President, after all, spoke to the nation at 9:00 Eastern Time tonight. I`m going to quote from "The New York Times" tonight the work of Peter Baker.
"Privately Mr. Trump dismiss his own news strategy as pointless." This is about the border wall. "In an off the record lunch," not so off the record anymore," with television anchors hours before the address, he made clear in if blunt terms that he was not inclined to give the speech or go to Texas, but was talked into it by advisers according to two people briefed on the discussion who asked not to be identified sharing details."
"It`s not going to change a damn thing, but I`m still doing it," Mr. Trump said, of the trip to the border according to one of the people who was in the room. "The border trip was just a photo opportunity" he said, but, he added, just during at his communication aides Bill Shine, Sarah Huckabee, Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, these people behind you say "it`s worth it."
Peter Baker, it`s kind of unbelievable that this was supposed to be the galvanizing effort. This was supposed to be the public fight that was going to at least get them through this week and this undermines that.
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, of course, he had been told again and again in this fight over the border wall and the government shutdown that he needs to get out there, make his case more and there`s no bigger platform for a President, practically, than the Oval Office address. This is the first time he`s used that particular venue to make an address in the primetime to the nation. But, clearly, as you just read, he`s not bought into this strategy. He doesn`t think it`s going it be useful. He didn`t want to give the speech. He was talked into it.
And he`s, you know, and he even said that to these television anchors. Now, the television anchors were off the record. They haven`t reported this. But, you know, you say that to a large group of people, particularly people, you know, who are visiting you from the media, you have to expect that that tone, anyway, is going to shape their understanding that even if it doesn`t get out the way it did tonight to my colleagues who helped report that.
So, you know, it shows his state of mind. This is not a -- he`s definitely into this fight, but he doesn`t particularly appreciate the strategy that his advisers are coming up for.
WILLIAMS: And that`s just one wing of the White House. The other wing is devoted to defenses of what we`re talking about here tonight.
Frank Figliuzzi, I want to go back to a line of reasoning you started and that is what we learned by accident. So the Manafort detail came in today because, of in effect, a computer era -- error. We also learned about the Veselnitskaya detail today. Is there a multipliers you use, that x times what we know equals what you imagine Mueller knows?
FIGLIUZZI: It`s exponentially greater in terms of what Mueller knows than what we know. But we are seeing the puzzle come together, Brian. We`re seeing the degree to which those around Trump were embedded, joined at the hip with Russia. So, let`s look at --
FIGLIUZZI: -- the female Russian attorney.
WILLIAMS: It happens to best of us (ph).
FIGLIUZZI: Whose name I have trouble with. Thank you. Indeed.
What did we learn today? We learned in a completely unrelated case that she felt so emboldened, so backed up by the Russian government, that she could draft a memo, draft a response, to the United States Department of Justice as if it was the prosecutor, the Russian prosecutor`s response. You only do that when you have the full backing and support of the Russian government.
So, if there was any doubt in our minds that the woman at that table, at Trump Tower, sitting with the President`s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman, was there as a co-optee of the Russian government, that doubt for me today was dispelled.
WILLIAMS: And for the record, I`ve heard they already gotten her name wrong twice in this very broadcast so far tonight. But, the night is young.
Hey, Jeremy, those of us lay people may have watched too many cop shows, but does the naming of Veselnitskaya and the attachment of this case to her now which cements her to the Kremlin, does that help the larger federal case if they want to now say, indict some of the Americans who chose to take that meeting and sit in on that meeting at Trump Tower?
BASH: But, in the interim step, Brian, would be if we see an indictment of the Russian government delegation attendees at that meeting. If we see an indictment of Veselnitskaya for attending that Rus -- that Trump Tower meeting or the others who were there with her that day, remember, this was a government delegation. This wasn`t just a lone lawyer with a case to talk about adoptions. She was there on behalf of the Russian federation. She was doing the Russian government`s bidding.
Today`s indictment of her in the unrelated obstruction case proves that point. If we see them go be indicted by the grand jury, and Bob Mueller brings charges against them, then I think we`re basically a half a step away from criminal charges or other significant charges being levied at the Americans who sat across the table from them.
WILLIAMS: And Joyce, let`s string that out. If you`re Trump or members of his legal team, what`s your number one legal concern right now tonight?
VANCE: You know it`s hard to say that the President could have only one legal concern at this point because all of the walls are closing in. Southern District of New York is responsible for indicting Natalia Veselnitskaya, and that has to be a concern for him, particularly on behalf of his son. It looks like the Trump Tower meeting will be a focus for Mueller.
And to your point, Brian, I think that this does help with that indictment because it establishes her longtime connection, not just a government lawyer, not just a Russian lawyer, but someone who was in the thick of things when this emlat was drafted in the case which is sort of an origin story for much of Russia`s efforts to relieve itself from sanctions. So, maybe that`s the primary focus. But, we still have the full range of Mueller`s activities.
Increasingly, there`s a press from the New York attorney general looking into the Trump organization canceling out the foundation. It`s just like all of the walls are closing in at this point.
WILLIAMS: And Peter Baker, finally, surrogates for this President are being asked when they go on television and talk about the speech tonight to stress the President`s empathy and this is where journalism comes in because now Americans get to hear these days what it`s like to miss a pay period for roughly 800,000 federal workers. Not only them, but contractors, but every restaurant that counts on federal workers to have a meal and all the vendors who serve that restaurant and all of their families. This exponential economic effect that is spreading across America. This President not -- may not know much from, you know, losing a pay period.
BAKER: Well, you`re right. This Friday is the pay period that federal workers look like they`re going to miss. This is 800,000 of them, half of them are working without pay. The other half are furloughed at home. Obviously as you say, they have family members and others who are affected.
And, you know, ultimately those people will be paid back once the government re-opens but for those who live paycheck to paycheck, that`s not a particularly satisfying answer. And you`re right you haven`t heard the President say anything sympathetic to their situation either tonight in his speech or in his previous comments. He says, "Well, they support me, they told me that they think this is an important fight and I should stick by it and they`ll eventually get made whole."
But, you know, he has not, you know, we expressed the empathy he did tonight for victims of what he says are illegal immigrants who`ve committed grisly crimes. He`s not expressed any empathy for the people who are on the other side of this fight, the government workers.
So it`s -- he does want to change the tone a little bit with his discussion about the humanitarian crisis, the front end of the speech. The back end of his speech became a lot like what we`ve heard before about the need for the wall and all of these horrific crimes that he says are responsible for a nonsecure border.
WILLIAMS: Starting us off on a Tuesday night, some of our very best returning veterans. Peter Baker, Joyce Vance, Jeremy Bash, Frank Figliuzzi, thank you folks, all of you for coming on.
Coming up, John Brennan joins us to react to the President`s Oval Office address tonight and this so-called crisis at the border.
And then later, two political veterans from opposite sides of the aisle come together on this broadcast on this big news night, James Carville, Michael Steele, will both join us as THE 11TH HOUR continues on a Tuesday night.
WILLIAMS: In his first ever live address from the Oval Office during his presidency, tonight, President Trump repeatedly claimed the United States is facing a crisis on our southern border during his pitch for a border wall. Now, it`s the same thing we heard, the same word we heard, from his Vice President Mike Pence this morning, hours before the President`s remarks tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.
This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul. Democrats in Congress have refused to acknowledge the crisis. To every member of Congress, pass a bill that ends this crisis.
MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The President will speak about this crisis on our southern border.
To end this crisis at our border, what we really need is for the Democrats to come back to the table and start negotiating.
What the American people expect Washington to do is work together to solve this crisis at our southern border. And it is a real crisis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: As you might imagine, they`re pushing that word crisis.
With us tonight from Capitol Hill in Washington is the former Director of the CIA, John Brennan. These days, he is also our Senior National Security and Intelligence Analyst.
Director Brennan, knowing what you know and given your experience in the region, your experience with the federal government, what maddens you the most of what you heard tonight?
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, it`s the fabrication of a crisis and that Mr. Trump is just using this as a way to justify his holding hostage the funding of the government and the shutdown of the government. And his continued presentation of a fraud, the American people, about what is happening along the border.
I worked terrorism for many years. I was the Homeland Security adviser from the first term of the Obama administration, and I can`t recall a single case of a bona fide terrorist attempting to sneak across the southern border. This is not what we -- our experience has been. And the misrepresentation of the facts, I think, is really doing quite a disservice to the American people.
So I wish that Mr. Trump would be able to realize that the wall that he has presented is something of his own making in terms of keeping this government held hostage to this campaign pledge that he made.
WILLIAMS: I want to shift our focus to what we learned earlier today about Paul Manafort. Trip to Madrid, meets with a Russian, former partner of his, apparently asks that Intel be passed on to another prominent Russian. How not normal, how unusual, is this? Even given your life`s work.
BRENNAN: Well, I think we`re going to be seeing more and more examples of just how unusual it was for a number of individuals who were associated with the Trump campaign to be consorting with Russian citizens, officials, entities. And I do think that what has come out today just underscores the thoroughness of Bob Mueller`s investigation. And how he has meticulously recreated the facts and we`re going to be seeing more of it.
But the fact that Mr. Manafort and others were working in this manner with Russian officials, again, I think just highlights the importance of making sure that we understand fully the extent and depth of this interaction between U.S. persons and Russians during and in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election.
WILLIAMS: Speaking to how unusual this is, do you have faith that the common practice in American politics has been and will continue to be, if you have an interaction with someone like a random Russian who, perhaps, wants to develop a relationship with you, wants something from you, your first step is to pick up the telephone and call the FBI?
BRENNAN: Well, absolutely. Particularly, if you are working with the government or if you have some knowledge, information that is of interest to a foreign service, but particularly if a Russian seems to be trying to befriend you and it seems unusual, to say the least. Do not even pursue this independent of some type of cooperation or consultation with the federal authorities. And the FBI is the appropriate agency to talk about this.
The Russians are very clever. Their intelligence services can be very, very sophisticated, but unfortunately, there are too many individuals, American citizens, who take the bait and swallow it hook, line and sinker. And unfortunately, I think we`re seeing examples of individuals who are pursuing their own personal agendas and opportunities for personal gain as they pursue these Russian overtures.
WILLIAMS: A friend of mine with a lot of experience in federal law enforcement uses as an adage that you can take what you think Mr. Mueller knows and probably double it and come up with what Mueller actually knows and has. What is your level of confidence, your degree of certainty that that is true?
BRENNAN: I would might even say not only double it, but maybe triple it. I do think -- looking back over the last two years, which is when the investigation started, 2 1/2 years ago in fact, there has been a lot that has been now uncovered by the Special Counsel`s office that has not seen the light of day and I give them a lot of credit for keeping the lid on the information. And as the indictments come out, and as the court proceedings go forward, we`re going to be learning more and more about this and that`s why I think Mr. Trump is so nervous and so worried about what is coming out because he knows exactly what happened and the extent to which he and people close to him may be vulnerable as a result of what it is that they might have done during that period of time.
WILLIAMS: John Brennan, always a pleasure to have you on the broadcast. Thank you for staying up with us tonight. We really appreciate it.
BRENNAN: Thanks man.
WILLIAMS: And coming up for us, fact checking what the President insists as this crisis at the border. And now the political fallout from what we`ve heard just tonight, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It`s also what our professionals at the border want and need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So did you catch that there? No longer a wall, it`s a barrier. That also the first we`ve heard that it`s the Democrats asking for a steel barrier. We have no indication that that is true. The President`s remarks tonight aren`t likely to bring democrats any closer to agreeing to pay for that barrier.
Trump and Vice President Pence will meet with Republicans up on the hill tomorrow, and then congressional leadership is also expected to go down to the White House to keep it even tomorrow afternoon.
With us to talk about it tonight, Julia Ainsley, our NBC News National Security and Justice reporter. Julia, you`ll never say this, so I will. You have broken aspects of this story within the last 72 hours. Few people know it better than you and the question is, what stood out to you in the President`s presentation and wording that he really should be flagged on that we should flag our viewers on?
JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: I think what`s interesting is the fact that Trump actually pivoted tonight in some ways. His administration and he, himself, has been doubling down on the terrorism threat coming across the southern border.
And as you know, NBC News fact checked that and they started to walk a lot of that back. We saw Vice President Mike Pence tell Hallie Jackson earlier today, if you can believe that was all in one day, that it was a terrorist, it was special interest aliens.
Tonight we actually didn`t hear those numbers. We really didn`t hear a lot about terrorism. Instead, the President made an appeal to a humanitarian tone. He wanted to say that it`s really in order to say women and children who are coming across the border that we need to build a wall, but I think we really have to kind of fact check the logic around that.
When you build barriers, it is known that those deterrents force people through more remote and desolate and dangerous areas when they`re trying to cross. We saw this in the `90s when Bill Clinton began to build barriers around cities like San Diego.
More people went to more remote areas and there were more deaths in the deserts. So it`s hard to imagine that building a wall could increase the way we treat people more humanely in any way. He also said that women and children are the victims, and as we know, this administration is in talks with Mexico right now that would force asylum seekers, the majority of whom are women and children, to wait in dangerous cities at the Mexico border.
At the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexico border for months or even years until they`re granted asylum. So I had a hard time following that logic. The one thing I will say, though, Brian, is that it is not that we are at record levels. We`re certainly not at an emergency level, if you look back over the last two decades or even back at the last administration of border numbers.
I think that`s the number one thing people should keep in mind but these numbers have risen since Trump came into office and that is something that he`s going to try to bring up over and over again of the reason why.
And we need to be look at the reasons as we go along. And really what we`re hearing most of the time is that because of the violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. And we didn`t hear him address that tonight or how he plans to address those situations there.
WILLIAMS: One of our experts covering this story on an ongoing basis, Julia Ainsley, always a pleasure. Thank you for staying up with us and joining us on the broadcast tonight.
AINSLEY: Thanks Brian.
WILLIAMS: And let`s talk about the politics of all it, with us for that James Carville, Veteran Democratic Strategist who worked for multiple political campaigns including both Bill and Hillary Clinton.
And Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, former lieutenant governor of the great state of Maryland. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. I see just in the last few minutes we`ve had a thank you note from the President of the United States who is saying on Twitter, "Thank you for so" and there`s multiple Os, the way some people do, "So many nice comments regarding my Oval Office speech. A very interesting experience."
What tells me we`ll hear more about that interesting experience? James, where do you put the politics of all of this right now in the wake of the President`s speech tonight?
JAMES CARVILLE, VETERAN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don`t think anything happened tonight. I mean, we had a remarkable night. We had a President that gave a speech that didn`t want to give the speech. We had networks that covered the speech that didn`t want to cover the speech.
We had Democrats that responded to the speech that didn`t want to respond to the speech. And the value of your news judgment was justified when the first ten minutes of your program, you talked about Mueller and not this speech.
If this the political effect of this is less than zero. He doesn`t have support for it. The Democrats are not going to be for it. It changed nothing and he knew that. He was complaining about having to give the speech when he was having lunch with the news people today. He was complaining about going to the border.
I don`t think anybody -- any network executive was happy about the choice they had to make, and happy that they covered this, and don`t actually don`t think that the Speaker Pelosi or Leader Schumer were very excited about responding to it, either.
It just -- it completely unremarkable event. I hate to -- for me to invite you on your show about a news thing and say I just don`t see anything there. I think the person that came on before made a good point, he seemed not to be talking about terrorism, he wanted to protect African-Americans and Hispanics and women and children and that usually is not where he comes from. Maybe that`s something significant.
But I really didn`t see anything tonight that tells me there`s any kind of change politically. I defer to Chairman Steele and see what he says.
WILLIAMS: All right. Chairman Steele. I`ve never heard a more natural toss to another guest. And by the way, James, we do the inviting. You come on at any time. You can say whatever the hell flies into your mind, that`s --
CARVILLE: I appreciate it, Brian. I think the news judgment was right on. Not much of an event.
WILLIAMS: I`m busting to talk about the Clemson victory last night. But anyway, Michael, Mr. Chairman --
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, you know --
WILLIAMS: It`s been said that the reason this isn`t coming up in the Senate, that McConnell is covering this with his body because he may not have the votes to protect this President`s flank. What`s the level of discomfort among members of your party?
STEELE: It`s high. It`s very high. I think he`s -- I think that`s perfect analysis. He doesn`t have the votes to protect this -- President`s flank. In fact, you`ve got Republicans now up to three and while folks would say that`s not a lot, it`s a big shift to have three of those senators, the latest being Lisa Murkowski, coming and moving away from the President on this issue.
I, you know, one of these rare moments, I`m in agreement with my buddy, James Carville. This was a nothing -- this was the quintessential definition of a nothingburger speech tonight. It was -- in one sense interesting in that it lowered expectations.
I mean, it just kind of -- it kind of took the air out of the argument because the President, maybe it`s the teleprompter thing. I don`t know. But he just kind of gave this almost monotone approach to it. There was the vim and vigor, it wasn`t the urgency of the moment.
If there`s such a crisis, then you would think particularly whenever you sit behind the resolute desk, Brian, to give a national speech that`s covered by all the networks and the cable stations, you`ve got urgency, you got a reason to be there. I don`t think anyone got a sense of what that urgency was or why he was actually doing it.
WILLIAMS: James, you shouldn`t have to answer for all advance people, all political types and both parties, but tell me why responses are so bad tonight, this Chuck and Nancy visual tonight launched 1,000 memes while they were still talking.
There was an American gothic me. There was -- your mother and I are very upset you stayed out so late me. And someone has to account for Bobby Jindal, his guest appearance in "Gone with The Wind" and for Rubio drinking water. But this visual from tonight goes down in the pantheon. What is the problem with responses, James?
CARVILLE: They seldom, if ever, work at the State of the Union, it usually get some young person to respond. They tried that with Jindal. That didn`t work very well. I don`t think they wanted to do it. I don`t think they should have done it.
And I guarantee you at the staff meeting tomorrow morning, somebody is going to get, chewed out pretty good. I just don`t think -- the only good thing about it, didn`t matter. They could have given the get this burger address and it wouldn`t matter. He didn`t want to be there. I`ve been more excited about colonoscopies in the U.S. in the speech tonight. He didn`t want to be there.
WILLIAMS: Well, we`ve now completed our journey through the human body. Hey, Michael, the first thing people said on social media tonight was, it looked like the Democrats only had the one podium. These two people, both of great station and accomplishment, are sharing this little tiny modest wooden podium.
STEELE: Yes. Again, I looked at that, I tweeted and I thought it was me. Dems, don`t do that again. You don`t -- I don`t know what they were trying to accomplish here. Certainly, the message was lost in the visual, but Jim is right, I mean, didn`t really matter in the end because nobody wanted to be doing what they were doing tonight. And that`s the bottom line.
I think tomorrow, federal workers should be even more concerned about their situation and whether or not this government is prepared to really do anything about it in the short term. And that -- all the memes and the visuals aside, that`s the seriousness of this, 800,000 individuals and their families are being impacted because of nothing but politics and a lack of conviction and courage to do the right thing.
WILLIAMS: Michael, you`re right. People are already choosing between gasoline, medicine, food, childcare, and that`s the part of this that ain`t right. Both gentlemen have agreed to stick around.
We`re going to pause our conversation. Just long enough to have a break. We`ll come back and continue with Carville and Steele. I fear a cable show may be on the way with that very same name.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year. Vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress. The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: What`s notable there is what wasn`t included. The mention of his promise that Mexico would pay for the wall. That`s gotten a little hazier. He`s using the word, indirectly. This was Steve Schmidt on that very idea on this very network earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER GOP STRATEGIST: We see here the con man being exposed. The people have come to see the wizard, and the wizard has promised them the great wall of Trump paid for by the Mexicans, but at the moment, for the unveiling of the wall, it appears to be an invisible one. And where are the pesos? Where are the Mexican pesos that the American people were promised would pay for this wall? There are no pesos.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, you heard the man, James Carville, Michael Steele, remain with us. He can coin a phrase, James. Are the Democrats doing -- as you look at the Democrats, how they`re behaving, how they`re handling this issue, this President, what they have ahead of them, are they doing everything right or do you see fault?
CARVILLE: Yes, I love serg. I usually agree with him, but he`s been exposed a con man a long time before this. I think the Democrats -- look, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, they don`t -- it doesn`t -- they can`t agree to anything. The Democrats are not going to vote for this. Trump stands up there in December and says that if there`s a government shutdown, blame me.
They`re not going to go along with this. They never did. He couldn`t get a Republican Congress for two years to go along with this. On December the 19th he said he would sign the bill, they were going to pass in the Congress to keep the government open. Then Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, went crazy and he had to change his mind.
As if they`re going to change on this thing. Of course they`re not going to change. I`m sorry, serg, with Trump was a con man and fraud a long time before he came up with this goofy idea, whatever he is. After December 19th.
WILLIAMS: Well, I`m glad you settled on the word, goofy. Knowing the alternatives.
CARVILLE: I was trying. I know, I was struggling, man, I could have -- I could have got myself in trouble if I said what I really thought.
WILLIAMS: I have enjoyed my visits to Louisiana. Hey, Michael --
WILLIAMS: How do you sell this continued idea of a border wall? There was this off-the-record lunch with television anchors today. Only problem with that is it`s on the front page of "The New York Times" that the President said he didn`t want to give this speech and he doesn`t want to make this photo op trip later in the week. How do you turn around, then, and sell this as they have to tomorrow with a straight face?
STEELE: Well, because the question you have to ask yourself is who`s he, quote, selling it to? He`s not selling it to the broader audience of Americans who are genuinely concerned about their neighbors and family members who are directly impacted by this.
He has to -- he has to continue to make sure that that very small corner of the room that is the remainder of this base, stays sufficiently behind him, as was already referenced. When you`ve got two very strong conservative voices on radio and television and on social media taking him to task, that`s the kind of hurt he doesn`t want to feel. That`s the noise he doesn`t want to hear.
And so all of this is about making sure that -- they stay somewhat placated, but here`s the rub. At some point, you got to pull the trigger on something. If Nancy Pelosi is saying there`s nothing coming out of the House that`s going to have a wall in it, all right, and if the Senate leadership, Chuck Schumer notwithstanding, says you don`t have the votes, what`s he going to do? Where does he go?
And at some point does that base say, wait a minute, I get the bravado and I get the idea of the threat of the emergency, but what are you going to do? Are you going to pull the trigger? And I think that, if nothing else, will force him to actually take those steps to making emergency call on this and then at that point, Brian, all hell breaks loose.
WILLIAMS: James, can you name a Democrat or a handful of them who exist as the most logical, most feared threat to this President?
CARVILLE: Well, I think it`s going to emerge, you know? There`s a lot of new people in. There are people added, going to be a lot of Democrats running for President and, boy, I`m watching closely to see who can articulate what the party stands for.
But most of all, who is going to be able to win that election in 2020? That`s going to be the critical issue for Democrats around the country. I mean as 2016, this party is still traumatized. And 2018 proved we can win and we got to go after them in 2020.
And our standard bearer has to be somebody who cannot just win votes in Democratic states, but they got to -- we got Senate seats we`ve got to be competitive in North Carolina and Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, Colorado, God knows what else we got, so we got to put together a strong team in 2020 and win elections because look what the cost of losing the last one is.
It`s just -- it`s hideous what we`re having to go through as a country. And hope we don`t have to do this again, so all people are running.
WILLIAMS: With 15 seconds remaining, our viewers won`t mind if I ask you, do you agree that Clemson would have beat any team in college football playing as they did last night and probably in addition my beloved New York Giants?
CARVILLE: They might -- Buffalo and Oakland and Arizona and a couple of other teams. Look, that`s impressive. That catch that guy made with one hand, these receivers were unbelievable. That quarterback was. My hat`s off to that Clemson team.
But I`m going to tell you, if we get these two kids and they meet, and I think we got a good shot at them, we`re going to have the best recruiting class in the country. It`s not going to be the tied in about two years in a championship game, that`s not going to be Clemson tigers, it`s going to be the LSU Tigers. (INAUDIBLE) that, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Always a plug for LSU. Happy New Year, both of you gentlemen.
CARVILLE: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Great to have you back on the broadcast. James Carville, Michael Steel. Thank you.
Coming up for us, President Trump claims it is a crisis at the southern border. We will ask a former federal drug czar when we come back.
WILLIAMS: We are continuing to analyze the President`s Oval Office address this evening. Where the word of the night clearly was "crisis." this idea of a crisis at our southern border.
We wanted to hear from an expert about what actually constitutes a crisis for this country. There are few Americans more qualified to ask. General Barry McCaffrey. A retired U.S. army four-star general. Heavily decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and the gulf war. His decades of service to this country include the title drug czar.
He was the director of the office of National Drug Control policy under President Clinton. Also the U.S. joint military commander for the Latin America region.
General, I just want to play for you a snippet from the speech when we come back, I`d like you to react to it. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Our southern boarders a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which flood across from our southern boarder. More American die from drug this year then were killed in the entire Vietnam War.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: General, any problem with any what you just heard?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL POLICY: Well, Brian today was one of the more name (ph) days in American government. I`ve seen recently, a couple thoughts. First of all, they`re really isn`t much of a new crisis at the boarder, that just nonsense, boarder control is better than this than in years.
We fortunately invested heavily in technology. We got 700 miles of obstacle and barrier plan in place. We got a lot more boarder patrol officer, secondly there`s -- you should not characterize the southern boarder as a national security threat, it really isn`t, that`s not where terrorism comes. It mostly home grown.
And then finally, in terms of the drug issue, clearly we got a enormous problem with drug addiction in American. Pick a study you believe, 16 million of us have a chronic substantive problem, alcohol, heroin.
By the way, the most dangerous drug recently is fentanyl, which is mostly coming to the U.S. by U.S. postal service from China, although we`re trying to address that now. Most of the drugs that due come into the country through the southern boarder can come into the force of entry.
But very low volume, a requirement to smuggle methane and phentermine (ph) and cocaine and heroin in the U.S. So, tonight`s presentation by both the President and the Democratic push back neither one them want to talk about the wall.
The wall and the solution all they`re saying their problems.
WILLIAMS: General, I wanted to put on the screen a picture that our friend Michael Beschloss put on his Twitter account tonight. It shows President John F. Kennedy comparing to address the nation from the Oval Office.
And there are so many interesting elements of this picture. Central right (ph) is the Presidential seal on the easel. They would take a live picture of that as the introduction to the speech. Look at the desk taped down with felt because acoustics. Looks like a pool table, those old steamed powered early teleprompters. The President speaking into it`s a fabulous photo.
At propel (ph) of that your opinion of the President use of the backdrop of the Oval Office tonight. I know you and I are both spent time in that room and your proximity to power for decades for your life, probably still means that like you get a little weaken the knees when you walk into that very unique American space.
MCCAFFREY: Well, Brian, I think all you have to say about this tonight`s address is that the President himself made fun of his own staff on a background or briefing to the news media, it just unheard of. It made fun of tomorrow`s visit to the boarder as a photo op.
And it`s not going to change anything. So, you got to ask yourself really what`s going on. The President in a terrible box here. Again, no national security crisis, no real crisis at the boarder.
By the way, walls and fences and barriers due work on protecting particularly the eight major by national cities on the boarder. On boarder control, there`s not question about that. And there`s also no question that the Mexican cartels and central American gangs are a massive criminal threat in America, that doesn`t have anything to do with the 11 million hardworking migrants here in this country growing our food and building our buildings.
WILLIAMS: General Barry McCaffrey, that`s why it`s always a pressure to have you on the broadcast. That`s going to be our last word for tonight. General, we thank you very much. We thank the folks at home.
That`s our broadcast on a Tuesday night. Thank you so much for being here with us. Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END