BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, Trump storms out of a shutdown meeting with Democrats and whether it was genuine anger or a straight up political stunt, tomorrow brings his photo op visit to the southern border. In the meantime your federal government remains shut down.
Rod Rosenstein leaving the Justice Department but a source close to the Deputy A.G. tells NBC News he won`t leave the Mueller investigation high and dry.
And tonight new reporting on the counterassault, the White House legal team and their plan to fight back against what`s about to be an exploding number of investigations. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.
And good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 720 of the Trump administration. Day 19 of the government shutdown. And there is no sign of a way out as talks collapsed again today.
Tomorrow the President travels to the U.S.-Mexico border to make his case once again for a wall, or what he now refers to as a barrier of steel slats. The meeting at the White House came to an abrupt end when the President left the room. Both parties then rushed to the microphones in the White House driveway to give their own after-action reports.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It`s cold out here, and the temperature wasn`t much warmer in the situation room.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The President walked into the room and passed out candy.
PELOSI: Our meeting did not last long.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I asked him to open up the government.
REP. KEVIN MCCATHY, (R) MINORITY LEADER: The President then turned to the speaker and politely asked her, "OK, Nancy, if we open the government up, in 30 days could we have border security?"
Pence: The speaker of the house said no.
SCHUMER: a few minutes later he sort of slammed the table --
REP. STEVE SCALISE, (R) MINORITY WHIP: Nobody slammed their hand on a table.
SCHUMER: We saw a temper tantrum because he couldn`t get his way and he just walked out of the meeting.
PENCE: At that point I think the President thought there was no longer any reason to be talking at this meeting.
I think the President made his position very clear today, that there will be no deal without a wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It went on like that for a while. The President offered his own account of the failed negotiations, writing this, "Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up. Are you going to approve border security which includes a wall or steel barrier? Nancy said no. I said bye-bye, nothing else works."
There are no new meetings scheduled. Late this afternoon the House started working on separate bills to try to reopen separate parts of the government. Eight Republicans crossed over and joined Democrats to pass one bill to reopen Treasury, keep the IRS running in advance of tax season. However, the shutdown is also testing Republican unity in the Senate.
Today the President went there to try to keep that team together. One Republican Senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, told reporters she did in fact challenge the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: I did suggest that there was some separation in terms of how long the shutdown would continue, that that folks are impacted, whether they`re in the State of Alaska or wherever around the country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you happy with how the meeting went?
MURKOWSKI: The meeting with the President?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mm-hmm.
MURKOWSKI: I wish that we`d had a little more clear direction as to how we`re going to get there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump himself was asked about the lawmakers who questioned his strategy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did any Republicans today in that meeting tell you that they want you to pursue a different strategy, that they want you to reopen the government?
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We talked about -- a couple talked about strategy, you know, a couple talked about strategy. But they`re with us all the way.
The Republicans are totally unified.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not declare a national emergency if --
TRUMP: Well, I may do that at some point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: One of the President`s best friends in the Senate, South Carolina Republican, Lindsey Graham, has formed a new working group to find a way to end the shutdown. Tonight he sat down with several senators from his party and Jared Kushner. But no Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: There`s a process maybe that will pay dividends in making sure the President gets his border security funding and can add some things to the mix that would draw some bipartisan support. And I`m somewhat hopeful that maybe there`s a way to get what the President wants in a fashion that would do the least amount of damage to the country as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Note there, he switched to calling it border security funding. The President`s inability to reach an agreement here to reopen government lies in stark contrast to his self-professed negotiating ability, which he touted in his book "The Art of the Deal" as well as on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There`s nothing wrong with walk -- some of the best deals I`ve ever made I walked away from like four times. OK. Like bye, bye, bye.
Who read "The Art of the Deal"? Everybody?
Remember this, when you negotiate, you always have to be prepared to walk away.
At some point you have to be able to walk away or you can`t make a good deal.
You may have to say to them, "I`m sorry, no good." By the way, the next day you`ll probably get a call. Come on back and let`s keep negotiating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: And we found this exchange which you may remember from exactly one year ago to this very day. Trump hosted the Congressional leadership. He sounded briefly like a full-on Democrat on the topic of immigration and had to be warned by a fellow Republican at one point not to agree with Dianne Feinstein.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I feel having the Democrats in with us is absolutely vital because this should be a bipartisan bill. This should be a bill of love. Truly, it should be a bill of love. And we can do that.
If you want to take that further step, I`ll take the heat. I don`t care. I don`t care. I`ll take all the heat you want to give me.
And I`ll take the heat off both the Democrats and the Republicans. My whole life has been heat.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: What about a clean DACA bill now?
TRUMP: I have no problem. I think that`s basically what Dick is saying. We`re going to come out with DACA. We`re going to do DACA. And then we can start immediately on the phase 2, which would be comprehensive.
FEINSTEIN: Would you be agreeable to that?
TRUMP: I would like. I would like --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.
TRUMP: I think a lot of people would like to see that. But I think we have to do DACA first.
MCCARTHY: Mr. President, you need to be clear though. I think what Senator Feinstein is asking here, when we talk about just DACA, we don`t want to be back here two years later. We have to have security as the Secretary would tell you.
TRUMP: But I think that`s what she`s saying.
MCCARTHY: No, I think she`s saying something different.
FEINSTEIN: What do you think I`m saying?
MCCARTHY: I think you`re saying DACA without security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: A year ago today. And with that let`s bring in our panel for a Wednesday night. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the "Washington Post," moderator of "Washington week" on PBS. Kimberly Atkins, Washington Bureau Chief for the Boston Herald and an MSNBC Contributor. And Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Hey, Robert, there is a deeply cynical scenario circulating in Washington tonight that calls for the following events to happen. President flies to the wall tomorrow, declares the state of emergency that was not in his speech last night. Some folks saw the White House counsel has been manifested for the Air Force One flight. Wondered why he`d need a lawyer on the trip.
State of emergency gets kicked immediately to the courts. The President`s able to say to his base, "Look at me, I declared this a state of emergency after all." Senate votes, government reopened by the weekend. Your thoughts.
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: At this point talking to White House officials tonight it is true the new White House counsel will be traveling with the President to the border. At the same time the debate inside of the West Wing remains active about whether the President will actually choose to declare a national emergency in order to take unilateral action.
Working with the White House counsel and others, he`s trying to explore other options. Why is that? Because he`s been advised that if he does declare a national emergency not only will it be challenged in the courts but many conservatives in the Republican Party will question this use of executive power.
So you`re right, Brian. Based on my reporting, he`s looking for an out. He`s looking for a way to signal to the base he`s going to the brink. But he`s not yet totally certain on doing that national emergency.
WILLIAMS: And your reporting on the walkout today, Robert, was it professional wrestling or was it Ali-Frazier or even Ali-Norton?
COSTA: I`d perhaps use the phrase political theater. This is a President who believes he needs to show as much as negotiate, he needs to show the Republican Party that he`s not going to take anything but a border wall. But the real story are the negotiations on Capitol Hill. His son-in-law Jared Kushner trying to see if there`s a way to get a wall in exchange for DACA, which the administration`s talked about before.
But the principles, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, they`re at this point not in any kind of intense negotiations with the President because he is more immersed in the sale to the country and the theater of it all the.
WILLIAMS: Kim, according to your reporting is there an off-ramp? Is there a braking point? Is there an upper hand to be had here?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, THE BOSTON HERALD CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER: It`s really tough for the President right now because he has sort of boxed himself in, as you pointed out. Even if the off-ramp is the declaration of this state of emergency, you do have some Republicans who don`t like the idea of expanded executive authority. If you recall with the last president that was one of the things that they complained about the most. And it puts them in the position to have to try to back up this President when he`s essentially doing the same thing.
I think Donald Trump maybe underestimated how difficult it would be to wage this battle for the wall now that Democrats are in control of the House. I think he actually believed that he could move them by demanding the wall or the steel structure or something else enough and they have remained unified in opposition to that while at the same time Republicans are beginning to peel as we get to the point where at the end of the week people will -- 800,000 federal workers will stop getting paychecks. You have folks like the National Guard going without pay. It`s a terrible look.
You have people talking about how that`s affecting them. People not having the services that they need at this point. It`s really putting more pressure on Republicans. So it`s hard to see exactly where he goes without facing some sort of backlash somewhere.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Jill. According to -- well, along the lines of those 800,000 Americans, you know this already. I want to share it with our audience. This is the President talking today about those federal workers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They all get their money. They`re all going to get their money. And I think they`re going to be happy.
And you take a look at social media. So many of those people are saying, "It`s very hard for me, it`s very hard for my family, but Mr. President, you`re doing the right thing. Get it done."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So Jill, you heard him say a lot of them are going to be happy. The optics, however, continue to look bad for the White House.
JILL COLVIN, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Absolutely. Look, his is a President who really seems to assess public opinion based on this echo chamber of his Twitter feed. He`ll pull up his phone, maybe look at his mentions and see that people are congratulating him. Well, that`s because many of the people who follow the President are supporters of his.
This is a situation that is going to be increasingly difficult with more and more pressure placed on the President as people across the country really begin to feel the impact of this shutdown. I think it`s unclear from some of the early polling now whether it will wind up that the American public will blame the President or whether they at some point will start to also attribute some of the blame to Democrats here just feeling like why can`t Congress get along, feeling like everyone in Washington is to blame. But both sides right now are continuing to dig in their heels.
My reporting aligns exactly with what Robert and Kimberly have both said here, the idea of an off-ramp trying to come up with some solution here. Understanding that Democrats are not going to budge the President, doesn`t want to budge. But his prime objective here is to try to make a win to show his supporters, to show his base that he is fighting for this wall. So they`re looking for ways for him to try to declare a victory without Congress actually allocating that money.
WILLIAMS: And Robert, your newspaper, Carol Leonnig on the scoreboard tonight with this piece saying the White House counsel is bringing on 17 additional lawyers as they go to the mattresses. Full disclosure, that would make it a minuscule small Washington law firm. But 17 is a lot in this case.
COSTA: Every reporter in town is starting to change their call list. It`s been Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani month after month, the President`s personal legal team has been what mattered in this story. Now the attention goes to the White House, how is Pat Cipollone, the new White House counsel, going to clash with House Democrats about subpoena power, about executive privilege. This is why the White House is beefing up. This is why the White House has always struggled with personnel. And it`s a turbulent administration for anyone to join.
But this is also the case of a century potentially for many lawyers in town. So there is interest in the conservative side of things to get in here and to be part of something that could be a historic fight with Congress.
WILLIAMS: Kim, dual question on optics. Number one, how does it look to be beefing up the legal payroll during a shutdown? Second, how does it look at the southern border now that it`s been leaked the President has questioned the trip and is not looking forward to it?
ATKINS: Yes. I mean, look, the White House legal staff had been understaffed for so long that it only makes sense that they`re bringing in people now that they know that the Mueller investigation might be reaching a crescendo soon.
Yes, maybe not the best time when you`re hiring lawyers at the same time other people aren`t getting paid. It just shows that this is something that they should have done before. But as to the southern border the President sort of protected himself in a way, sort of hinting out loud, off the record, that really he knew it would be reported, blaming his team, saying you know, "I really don`t want to go to the border, the address, the primetime address wasn`t my idea."
So, that if it was received poorly he could blame someone else and say that it wasn`t his idea. But the truth of the matter is it`s really hard for this White House to combat facts coming out of Trump`s own administration that border crossings are at an all-time low, that people who cross into the United States or overstay their visas, immigrants who are here legally or illegally are less likely to commit crimes. They`re trying to create a crisis and using every optic that they can possibly make to create that crisis. But the facts just don`t support it.
So, it could set up to be -- it could backfire tomorrow. We`ll see. We`ll see what the President says and how he portrays his trip.
WILLIAMS: Jill, this is also a tailor-made scenario for a kind of white knight to enter. I hesitate to use the phrase at THE 11TH HOUR to save this. Is anyone over there talking about a potential future bill of love?
COLVIN: I mean, look, this is something that Lindsey Graham has been talking about for weeks now and is clearly doing all that he can to try to get the President to embrace this idea of doing a broader immigration deal. You heard the President this morning, we heard from him a number of times today but he was at a bill signing this morning where he did talk about being open to the idea of a broader immigration bill but he told lawmakers in that Hill meeting today where he met with Republicans to try to rah, rah them and try to maintain support from them. And that he really wasn`t interested in going forward with this at this time.
He said repeatedly that he feels like it`s a better strategy to wait for DACA to make its way through the courts before actually moving on that. So I think that as much as Lindsey Graham would like to be the savior coming in here and trying to make his years-long objective come through that`s likely not going to happen.
But you know what, in this administration who knows? We have had some very interesting moments and some very interesting story lines happen. You know, today you`ve got the President offering candy to lawmakers and then staging this dramatic walkout. I don`t want to predict, you know, what`s going to happen in the future.
But I think tomorrow`s border visit will be especially interesting. It will be the third time now that the President has paid a visit to the border. And we`ll see what he does there, how he reacts.
COSTA: Brian, real quick, when I`m at the Capitol this week, people in both parties keep talking about off-ramps, that the President needs a deal, he needs some kind of off-ramp, whether it`s unilateral action or not. But talking to White House officials, you get the sense that maybe he doesn`t want an off-ramp, that governing by chaos, constant war with the Democrats, it reminds him of just before the midterm elections focusing on this so- called caravan coming up from Central America and making that the central issue, that the President actually enjoys this brinksmanship, this constant fight. And the longer this goes on the more comfortable he is, not uncomfortable.
WILLIAMS: Yes. It was remarkable to watch that caravan apparently dismantled just after the election.
Robert Costa, Kimberly Atkins, Jill Colvin, the reporting doesn`t get any fresher than our big three tonight. Thank you so much for starting this off with us.
And coming up, new reporting on Rod Rosenstein`s expected departure as Deputy A.G. We`ll have the best reporting tonight about how far along Robert Mueller might be.
And later, as pressure builds to end this shutdown, Will McConnell come down on the side of his flock, his fellow Republican senators.
Bill Kristol with us tonight as we continue on a Wednesday evening.
WILLIAMS: as we said, as you no doubt heard, the man in charge of the Mueller investigation preparing to resign. Rod Rosenstein, a Harvard- educated career Justice Department lawyer, expected to step down on his own terms, but apparently will not leave Robert Mueller high and dry. This is according to NBC News reporting today, "A source close to Rosenstein said he intends to stay on until Mueller`s investigative and prosecutorial work is done. The source said once Mueller`s work is done special counsel`s report to the Justice Department would follow a few weeks later and Rosenstein would likely be gone by then."
The timing of all of this unclear and there`s reporting all over the map regarding how far along that man might be in his investigation. If confirmed and hearings start next week, the incoming A.G., William Barr, would oversee the Russia investigation even though he wrote in a now famous and unsolicited memo that the Mueller investigation was ill conceived and "Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction."
Well, with us to talk about all of it tonight, the Attorney Neal Katyal. He served as the government`s top lawyer before the Supreme Court, Acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration in that capacity. Argued 37 cases before the Supreme Court. Perhaps most notably he`s a veteran of the DOJ, where he drafted the special counsel regulations under which Mr. Mueller was appointed.
Counselor, thank you very much for coming back on our broadcast as always. What do you make of the Rosenstein departure? do you think too much has been made of it? Do you think anyone`s really going to harm a hair on Mueller`s head?
NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLOCITOR GENERAL: I think it`s pretty significant and worrisome. So Rosenstein is the kind of key man under the special counsel regulations because the special counsel regulations say that the attorney general, or if the attorney general is recused the acting attorney general supervises the investigation. And by all accounts Rosenstein has let Mueller do his job unimpeded, taking the investigation where it leads and so on.
But the attorney general, or the acting attorney general, has a vast suite of powers under the special counsel regulations. He can, for example, stop any investigation, stop any subpoena or calling of someone. He could say you can`t indict a certain person, whether it be Don Jr. or Jared or even the President. And most notably he could try and block the final report about the investigation from the public and from Congress.
And so those are all tools that the attorney general does have. They`re subject to some limitations. But as we think about Rosenstein departing and we think about being replaced by currently this acting attorney general, fake attorney general Whitaker, you know, and now Barr, both of whom campaigned or auditioned for the job of attorney general by writing opinions or giving speeches or giving media interviews in which they say Mueller is a problem. I mean, this is I think very, very unseemly, to have someone like that supervising this investigation.
WILLIAMS: Does that mean we`re going to have a sessions-like conversation all over again if Barr is confirmed, if he`s already prejudged the investigation? Should he recuse himself from anything to do with the Russia investigation?
KATYAL: I do think that that`s going to be a very serious question. And notably Whitaker, the current acting attorney general, went and sought advice from the Ethics Office at the Justice Department. Those are people i worked with all the time. They`re career people. They`re totally respectable. And very diligent in what they do.
And they said to Whitaker evidently, "Don`t do this." And he went ahead and did it anyway.
And so I don`t have any confidence in the Trump administration`s new person to do anything different because their modus operandi has been to basically blow off the ethics and do whatever it takes to protect the hide of Donald Trump. And you know, Barr`s memos are really good example of that. That is a memo that I actually think many of my first-year law students would have done a better job. Barr is a very smart man, but that is a willful, deliberate document designed to give the President a get out of jail free card.
WILLIAMS: I have to get you on the record about this Manafort news. This was the story yesterday. I heard you on a lesser network tonight, made me laugh out loud, when you said "who among us hasn`t passed voter Intel on to a Russian overseas from inside a presidential campaign?" You were kidding, obviously. What do you think is going on here?
KATYAL: Well, it`s hard to know, Brian, but boy, it sure does seem really significant. The idea that the President -- Manafort`s not just some guy on a campaign. He`s the President`s top campaign official, the number one, numero uno. And he is taking secret campaign information and giving it to the Russians. There`s something, you know, or the Ukrainians, you know, there`s some dispute about that. But either way it is highly unusual, and I can`t really make much sense of it except to think that, you know, this is part of an orchestrated plot to feed information, big data information to the Russians to allow them to help the campaign.
Now, maybe there`s some other explanation. He`s obviously entitled to presumption of doubt. And so reasonable doubt and all the other criminal protections, but it sure looks suspicious.
And there`s one other thing that`s important, which is Mueller himself thinks this is suspicious because Manafort had pled guilty, you know, months ago. And then Mueller found out about these lies, about the Ukrainians and about this voting information and revoked to the plea deal. And so he found that, you know, to use the legal word, material to the overall investigation.
And so there`s something here. We don`t know exactly what. But boy, it looks terrible for Manafort. And I suspect it looks bad for Donald Trump.
WILLIAMS: Until we meet again, I suspect, surrounding the Barr hearings as early as next week. Neal Katyal, it`s always a pleasure having you on. Thank you.
KATYAL: Always. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: And coming up, with these latest developments in this Russia investigation it`s a good time to ask, how much does Robert Mueller really know and to what end?
Two people who know a lot about that standing by to talk with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: There has been a lot that has been now uncovered by the special counsel`s office that has not seen the light of day. 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Former CIA Director John Brennan on this broadcast just last night on the status of this investigation. Over the past few days we`ve learned more about what Robert Mueller is perhaps thinking, especially after Paul Manafort`s lawyers made an electronic slip, let`s call it, and failed to properly redact part of a court filing.
According to the documents Manafort is accused of sharing 2016 campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik he`s a Russian, a former Manafort associate with alleged ties to Russian Intelligence.
Last night we highlighted at "New York Times" report that said Manafort wanted Kilimnik to pass the information along to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin. Today the "Times" issued a correction to their story, saying Manafort wanted the data sent instead to two Ukrainian oligarchs, not Deripaska. We hope you`re following along.
The "Times" reports those Ukrainian oligarchs had "financed Russian aligned Ukrainian political parties that had hired Mr. Manafort as a political consultant."
Meanwhile, President Trump`s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for good measure told Reuters today that Trump won`t answer any more of Robert Mueller`s questions. Giuliani said "As far as we`re concerned everything is over. We weren`t convinced they have any questions they don`t know the answer to. They could try to subpoena him if they want but they know we would fight that like hell."
With us for more Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer prize-winning Washington correspondent for the New York Times and Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor and veteran of the Justice Department who has worked with Robert Mueller among others over the years.
Hey, Cynthia, nothing to see here. This is done all the time. A campaign chairman hands over polling data in a foreign country to a foreign country, i.e. Russia. What do you make of Manafort`s lawyering, first off? And does it tell us anything about where Mueller is along the way?
CYNTHIA, ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the lawyer is terrible. I don`t think there`s any question about it. Not only do they not know how to do a simple filing. But the lawyering from Jump Street for Manafort has been terrible.
If you remember back when he was first indicted, that there was a choice to have basically one trial or two and to split it into two jurisdictions and they picked two. Well, that was dumb because that`s like saying let`s play Russian roulette twice instead of just once. That was bad lawyering.
It was bad lawyering to double cross Mueller with this joint defense agreement. It was bad lawyering to have a joint defense agreement that wasn`t even written down. The list of what the bad lawyering is long when it comes to Manafort.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Schmidt, what do you believe the practical impact of the Rosenstein departure will be, and do you believe it has actual impact on the safety and security and sanctity of the Mueller investigation?
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, for whatever Rosenstein has done here, it does seem like he has kept Mueller intact. And he has prevented the president from firing him.
And that I think to many is a fairly significant accomplishment considering how much the President did want to end this investigation, talked about it and tried to undermine it. Now, if he`s gone, what does that mean? Would Bill Barr be someone that would look at the world that differently than Rod Rosenstein has? Probably not.
They`re probably going to see things the same way and approach the President`s incursions on the investigation the same way. Or at least that`s how many people on Capitol Hill would hope they would.
So I`m not sure that there will be that big of a difference here if Rosenstein goes because I think Barr would be there. I assume there will be some overlap between them that Rosenstein will stay on for some time after Barr comes on.
WILLIAMS: And Cynthia, if you`re in the rabbit Warren of offices that Mueller has assembled, if you`re on the inside how do you think they view the departure of Rosenstein? Do you think there`s any fear they`re losing their air cover?
ALKSNE: I don`t know. I mean, I certainly fear it because Barr -- well, first of all, Barr is much better than Whitaker. Let`s just say that.
ALKSNE: Whitaker`s an embarrassment to the department. And I was appointed under Barr. So I have sort of some softness for him. He`s institutionalist (ph) so I feel like there`s some hope there. On the other hand, this memo that he wrote to get the job is of some concern.
He also has and OLC memo that`s of some concern. And then we find out today he`s refused to meet with Senator Klobuchar, saying he can`t do it because of the shutdown, which frankly is a ridiculous excuse since he had time to meet with four Republican senators.
And that concerns me. That he is going to be more political than he should be. And we`re just going to have to hope that in the Senate hearings the Democrats can get him to agree to submit to the ethics review and to promise to follow what the ethics people say.
And that`s what we`re going to have to hang our hat on because my guess is he will be confirmed and we`ll have to go from there. This business about the -- Rosenstein staying until the end of the investigated and then prosecutorial time is hard to really understand. There`s just so much in front of us that it`s hard to understand how Rosenstein would stay that long. So I`m concerned that Barr`s going to take over pretty soon.
WILLIAMS: Mike, do we all assume that Rosenstein turns right around and is a witness for the Mueller investigation?
SCHMIDT: Well, Rosenstein has been a witness, if not the first witness for Mueller, because Rosenstein was part of the Comey firing. If you remember, Rosenstein helped concoct the rationale which turned out to not be the President`s rationale for why they got rid of Comey.
And Rosenstein is later interviewed as part of the special counsel`s investigation. It was Rosenstein who wrote a letter that provided the reasoning for the firing and Trump who wanted to send his own letter sent a very scaled-down version of it because Rosenstein had written it anyway.
So he`s been involved in this from the beginning. The interesting thing about Rosenstein is that he continued to oversee the investigation even though he was a witness. Now, he will remain a witness. The question is, is that were there other interactions that happened between him and the President since he was last interviewed by the special counsel`s office?
I`m sure the President said a lot of things to him about the investigation in the months since then. We know the President has obviously agitated publicly and privately about not only Mueller but the investigation in New York into Michael Cohen.
Would someone like Rosenstein also be called up to Capitol Hill? Would he be brought up there after he leaves government and asked to speak about his relationship and interaction with the President? Would the White House trying to stop that and exert executive privilege?
I mean, these are all things that could come up with Rosenstein going forward. But from the beginning he`s been sort of the first witness.
WILLIAMS: Cynthia, take 30 more seconds because I feel you left us hanging. You`ve fully disclosed that you were appointed under Barr. Do you think at the end of the day he`s a guy who does the right thing and feels the weight of the Justice Department either on top of him or behind him?
ALKSNE: I know I might be a naive fool, but I can`t help but think that he`s an institutionalist. When you`re a part of the Department of Justice, with the exception of Whitaker, who I don`t include, and you walk into that building, there is a draw and an honor and you go into the courtyard and there`s the Robert Kennedy statue and you`re looking at it.
It pulls you in and it brings you such pride. And I am just hoping against all hope that he will summon that energy because I think he`s going to be there and we need him to be honorable.
WILLIAMS: I imagine we`ll be talking to you both surrounding the hearings of Mr. Barr next week. In the meantime, can`t thank you enough. Michael Schmidt, Cynthia Alksne for returning to our broadcast.
And coming up, it`s barely a week into the new Republican Senate. The new Republican Majority. And yet already there are cracks, divisions from within. It has to do with that barrier in the southwest. Our discussion with a man who knows after this.
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJOIRTY LEADER: We`re all behind the President. We think this border security issue is extremely important to the country. We appreciate your leadership on it.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Republican Party is united, but there are cracks starting to appear in the facade.
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SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Many of us did express our views, and there were some of us who urged compromise. This cannot be allowed to go on forever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Our next guest shared the following on Twitter today. "The government will be open by the end of the week. As Mitch McConnell bows to the wishes of his colleagues and to political reality and cuts a deal with Pelosi and quietly takes great delight in throwing Trump under the bus."
With us now the author, Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, director of defending democracy together, and Editor-at- Large of something new, The Bulwark, organized around what used to be known as conservative thought, launched along with another frequent guest of ours, Charlie Sykes. Mr. Kristol, thank you very much for coming on. It`s great to have you. Tell us how this ends.
BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK, EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, obviously I don`t know. I do think that the pressure on Republican senators from actual constituents, interest groups, that people in their states, businesses in their states who either get paychecks from the Federal government, have contracts with the Federal government, depend on dealings with Federal agencies just to get work done in the normal course of events will mount and Friday`s a big day.
That`s the first day 800,000 government workers miss their paycheck, their direct deposit to their bank account. That`s a pretty big moment. And people start to say what is going on here? And I think maybe Democrats feel some of the pressure. Why don`t you give them the wall and get us back to work.
But I think the easier argument to make is let`s have a debate about the wall in the normal course of events. Why is the government being closed? Why is it being held hostage to the wall? So I guess I`ve always thought Pelosi doesn`t have much incentive to move. Trump doesn`t have much incentive to move.
McConnell is kind of the missing figure in the middle. Senate Republicans at some point presumably respond to their constituents and not just to the desire to support Trump. Now, maybe their constituents just want them to support Trump.
But I suppose some of them do. And maybe they just stick with that. But I think that`s the weak point sort of where the pressure really gets felt. I was on the hill a little bit this afternoon and I talked to a couple of people on the Republican side, and I think beneath the surface they are beginning to get the phone calls from -- not just from liberals, from businesses, from the chamber of commerce, from the agriculture people in their district saying we can`t really function very well with the Federal government shut down.
WILLIAMS: I want you to listen to something and we`ll react to it and talk about it afterwards. This got by a lot of folks today. This is Mike Pence on Rush Limbaugh`s radio show today.
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MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We couldn`t be more grateful for your voice on the airwaves of America every day. Everything we`ve accomplished over the last two years, rebuilding our military, reviving our economy, setting a record for conservatives appointed to our courts, America`s growing at home, we`re standing tall on the world stage.
You`ve played a key role in that. And Rush, we don`t thank you enough, but thank you for all that you`ve meant to this movement, and to the progress that we`ve made in this country.
WILLIAMS: Bill, as television interviews, our interviewers are fond of asking, how does that make you feel?
KRISTOL: A little yucky, I guess. But a little bit -- too obsequious -- more obsequiousness than we needed I think there. Think about what the vice president said because it`s very revealing. These last two years we did all these wonderful things.
It reminds one, Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress for the last two years. They had the ability to pass legislation in the House whenever they wanted really. And in the Senate with 51 votes on -- when they needed to do that on budget reconciliation they passed the tax cut that way.
They confirmed judges with 50, 51 votes. They changed the filibuster rule, the Supreme Court justices. They could have gotten the wall. If it was a priority, if it was one of the three or four things that Mike Pence would have mentioned there as the top agenda items, they could have done it. And they didn`t.
And that`s the deeper lie I think, underneath all the little falsehoods and lies and questions about terrorists at the border and all the scare stories and all the arguments on both sides, this was not a priority of the President for the last two years.
If it had been, it would now be -- those $5 billion would have been appropriated. He never chose to make it such a priority. In December Mitch McConnell came to him and said hey we`re just going to pass the same budget with 1.6 billion and he said fine.
They did it with voice votes. Suddenly he reversed himself because partly if people like Rush Limbaugh. And suddenly now we`re supposed to pretend that this $5.6 billion magically is a necessity, a priority, an imperative for the U.S. to commit to and not just -- and right now. Not sort of let`s have a normal budget appropriations debate over the next several months.
Let`s see what number we come up with. Let the Republican senate pass 5.6 and send it to the House. No. It has to be done now. Suddenly. After having not been done for two years.
WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol has agreed to stick around with us over the break. And when we come back, we`ll show you what Trump has had to say about concrete walls before he was President, way before it became a barrier of steel slats.
TRUMP: Don`t give up. Don`t allow it to happen. If there`s a concrete wall in front of you, go through it, go over it, go around it, but get to the other side of that wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: President Trump back in `04, choosing the metaphoric example of a concrete wall during a commencement speech, which brings us back to our conversation with Bill Kristol. Bill, I heard somebody say a week ago if this wall gets diminished any further, we`ll have to call it a freedom ditch.
And secondly, here`s the only hole in your argument, it seems to me, what do you tell the Trump base? Do you -- do you ask them to kind of change their chant at rallies, build that barrier of steel slats paid for indirectly by Mexico via a slightly altered NAFTA agreement over hundred years?
KRISTOL: I think a lot of the Trump base is so supportive of Trump, if says, look, we ended up with the good deal. We`re working to get some concessions over the next several months from Congress. They would accept it.
I got a text in the break, someone said, well, that was a good argument you made, Bill, about how if they cared so much about it, why didn`t they do it in the first two years? Why is he picking this fight now?
And I think the reason is, think what`s happened in the last couple of months. The election results. The markets getting very, very shaky. Jim Mattis resigning as Secretary of Defense, along with the Syria decision and the real deep criticism of the President`s conduct of foreign policy. The Mueller report looking imminent.
I think this is a cynical, really cynical political move by the President to bolster his base. He knows even it`s not a majority of the country. He probably doesn`t even help him electly but maybe it solidifies his base for even rougher seas ahead, especially with the Mueller report coming.
I think that`s what he`s doing and that`s what makes it hard for him to really get out of this. He almost prefers to maybe lose fighting than cut a deal. It`s why the question, again, comes down to be Senate Republicans. Do they stick with him in what they all know is a totally cynical political maneuver?
WILLIAMS: Either we`re texts the same person or only smart people are watching. I just got the same thought extended to me in the same commercial break. Bill Kristol, always a pleasure. Thank you very much for coming on our broadcast, as always.
And coming up for us, what do all these aircraft currently in the skies over our country have in common? They`re all being kept in the air and will land safely tonight, in part thanks to Federal employees working without pay.
That when we come back.
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, a request that you spare a thought for the families who are missing a pay period, not getting paid, not just because they work for the Federal government or depend on government work.
Consider this astounding headline in "The Washington Post" today. This has to do with dependents, coast guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown. Employees of the U.S. coast guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion, to get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog walking or serving as a mystery shopper.
This is all part of a five-page tip sheet that was put out by a coast guard support group. It contained the comforting notion that, "Bankruptcy is a last option." and a reminder here, this is our coast guard first responders on the water, the people who tonight are interdicting drugs, saving scuttled vessels and people in trouble, and now their families are in trouble.
Here`s what else is in trouble, there is no money for food inspections at the FDA. Trying to buy a home? The IRS is unable to verify tax returns for buyers and sellers. Hundreds of immigration judges have been furloughed, creating a backlog for those seeking to legally enter our country.
As you look at those flights currently over the U.S. tonight, and this is live, remember that TSA lines are threatening to grow at airports, and remember that over 14,000 air traffic controllers are on the job. They`re working in the towers without pay.
The flights are fine. They came back. The U.S. could lose its AAA credit rating. The NTSB won`t be investigating some of the accidents, including one in Florida last week that killed seven. U.S. marshals, including ones guarding the drug Kingpin El Chapo here in New York aren`t being paid, and the National Weather Service forecast models are not getting attention they need for accurate forecasting nationwide.
As like we to say, what could go wrong. That is the broadcast for tonight. Thank you so very much for being here with us. And 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