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Federal workers miss first paycheck. TRANSCRIPT: 1/11/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Jonathan Lemire, Shannon Pettypiece, Jon Meacham, Michael Schmidt, Barbara McQuade, Chuck Rosenberg, Frank Figliuzzi

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The breaking news we`re covering tonight.  A show stopper of a headline from "The New York Times" reporting that the FBI opened an inquiry into whether Donald Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia.  That`s a first for the American presidency.  That inquiry later became the Mueller investigation which now threatens his presidency.

Tonight, we`ll be joined by one of the journalists who broke the story.  Also tonight, we`re an hour away from the government shutdown becoming the longest in our history.  Trump says he`s inclined not to use his special emergency powers.  Some are preparing for weeks more of this and no one has any answers for the folks locked out of work or those like the air traffic controllers working without getting paid.

And a rare profile in courage has members of the House and Senate stay at work all weekend to try to solve this painful shutdown.  Just kidding, they`ve adjourned.  Most of them are headed home as we press on.  The 11th Hour getting under way on a Friday night.

Well, good evening, once again from our MSNBC News headquarters in New York.  Day 722 of the Trump Administration.  Day 21 of this government shutdown, now minutes away from becoming the longest in U.S. history.  More on that, ahead of course, but as we said we begin with a show stopper.

When "The New York Times" story came out tonight, one of the reporters on reacting to the news on television in real-time urged everyone watching to read the headline, to hear this headline and let it sink in just for a moment.  FBI opened inquiry into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia.

The story is the work of three journalists, one of whom Michael Schmidt will join us here in just a moment.  He and his colleagues write and we quote, in the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president`s behavior that they began investigating whether he`d be working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications.  Counterintelligence investigations had to consider whether the president`s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security.  Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow`s influence.

Article goes on to describe the agent`s thinking during this time and we quote, agents and senior FBI officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump`s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening investigation into him, the people said.  In part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude.

But the president`s activities before and after Mr. Comey`s firing, May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

And according to "The Times," one of those instances was a letter that Trump wrote with the help of senior aide, Steven Miller, before he fired Comey laying out the underpinning reasons for doing so.  The "Times" reported on that letter back in 2017 and notes that then White House counsel Don McGahn stepped in prevented it from being sent.

Now the second instance that troubled investigators, this one you`ve seen before.  It happened in plain sight as it was broadcast to a national audience.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I was going to fire Comey.  There`s no good time to do it, by the way.

LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR:  Because in your letter, you said I accepted their recommendation.  So you already made the decision.

TRUMP:  I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.  He made a recommendation.  He`s highly respected.  Very good guy.  Very smart guy.  The Democrats like him.  The Republicans like him.  He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.  Knowing there was no good time to do it.  And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.


WILLIAMS:  The Times denied also reports that the paper got access to testimony from the top lawyer at the FBI at the time.  Their general counsel, James Baker, the Times also had access to testimony from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.  Tonight, the White House has responded to this brand-new report with this brand-new statement and it goes as follows.  This is absurd.  James Comey was fired because he`s a disgraced partisan hack, and his deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI.  Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.  End of quote.

Let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Friday night.  One of the three reporters to the monumental "New York Times" piece tonight, Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize winning, Washington correspondent for "The Times", Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney, Eastern District of Michigan, Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney and former senior FBI official.  And with us tonight by telephone, Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI assistant director for Counterintelligence who worked for among others Robert Mueller in the past.

Mike, I`d like to begin with you.  What have you learned about this extraordinary step the FBI took, opening a counterintelligence inquiry into the president?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE TIMES WASHINGTONG CORRESPONDENT:  Well, sort of our collective understanding or conscience about the Mueller investigation, everything related to Trump has been about criminal obstruction.  Did the President obstruct justice and the information we had tonight shows that the investigation is much broader, at least initially it was.  It was looking at the president`s ties to this foreign adversary with Russia.  What was it?  What was that relationship all about?  Why was the president doing the things that he was doing?  That was the original focus of this.

Now, what this does is allows us to see the world the way that the FBI agents saw it right after Comey was fired.  They had just had the deputy attorney general provide a rationale to the president that was not the president`s reason for dismissing the FBI director.  The president, as you just played, comes out and says the things he said.  He wanted to say things to Comey about the Russia investigation, the letter, which he was stopped from.

The FBI is not sure what is going on.  They know there`s a massive Russia investigation here.  They know there`s this steel dossier with accusations about Trump.  They know that there`s a long standing relationship that Trump has with Russia.  There is all these things going on and they decide to go forward with the monumental historic decision of opening up a counterintelligence investigation into the president.  Is the president tied to the adversary?

WILLIAMS:  And Frank Figliuzzi, our thank you for joining us by telephone tonight.  Cut through all of the other Russia coverage.  The stories that may make people think this is just part of the daily norm and remind people how important, how notable this is, as you put it on the air earlier tonight, that there was an investigation file with Donald Trump in the subject line.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  Yes, this is unprecedented, Brian, and I think what`s most sobering about this, knowing the standards that are required to open a case, right, that this is not something done in a vacuum.  If you`re going to look into the President of the United States, you`re going to the Department of Justice.  You`re showing them your evidence.  They are concurring with your concerns and they`re allowing you to pursue this line of inquiry.

To open even a preliminary inquiry in counterintelligence, you need to have a reasonable suspicion that someone is or may be an agent of a foreign power or is being targeted by that foreign power to open a full investigation and you say, well, we don`t know whether this was a preliminary or full, but let`s remember that this appears to have turned into this Special Counsel inquiry and if that`s true, it certainly looks like it turned into a full.  Although we can`t be certain.  The standard for a full inquiry is specific and arcticulable facts that someone is or may be an agent of a foreign power.  This is sobering stuff.

WILLIAMS:  Chuck Rosenberg, a statement from Rudy Giuliani, if it was a counterintelligence investigation and it obtained any evidence, it would have to have resulted in some action being taken or they are imperilling our national security.  This shows how out of control they are.  They being the Feds, the FBI.  Chuck, does he have it right there?

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL:  I`m afraid not, Brian.  And a shocking development, he doesn`t have it right.  Counterintelligence investigations are hard, they`re cumbersome, they`re complex and often take a very long time.

The outcome doesn`t necessarily mean we will see it in court, like a criminal case, which we`re all used to.  This other part of the FBI does its work, mostly in secret, as Frank well knows.  And we could use the fruits of that investigation for a whole bunch of things that the public will never see.  It may inform our diplomacy.  It may inform our countermeasures.  It may inform the judgment of senior national security leaders about the capabilities of a hostile foreign power.

So, whatever Mr. Giuliani may be talking about and it`s at not at all clear from what you just read.  He is not talking about counterintelligence investigations at the FBI that I know of, it`s a ridiculous statement.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Barbara, as a veteran former fed, what sticks out to you most?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, it is Frank has said, I mean in the truly extraordinary that the Chief Executive of our nation, the Commander and Chief of our arm forces was someone who was considered the target of a counterintelligence investigation.  That fact alone is extraordinary.

But one thing that I think is quite likely is that, you know, we have all these public facts that we know.  It is quite likely that the FBI had additional facts as well that caused them to make this decision to open this investigation.  I can imagine that agents were extremely reluctant to open an investigation against the President of the United States and would do so only after extreme scrutiny and very high level approval.

And so there are certain things that we know, the triggering event perhaps, the firing of James Comey and the statements that President Trump made to Lester Holt.  But quite possibly, there are additional facts unknown to the public at this point.

WILLIAMS:  Mike, I have a bunch of lighting around questions for you, some of which came up in our conversation just now.  Do we know for a fact that this all became slid into, morphed into, what now know is the Mueller inquiry there any other subsets of an FBI inquiry that may still be independently open?

SCHMIDT:  You know, it`s our understanding as we report tonight that this was all taken in by Mueller.  You have to remember this happens on a very short period of time.  Comey`s fired in May of 2017 in the days after of this investigation started.  Several days later it comes out the Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into Mike Flynn, his former national security adviser, following day Mueller`s appointed all of this stuff goes to Mueller.

We don`t know if anything specific to the President that still exists outside of the Mueller investigation except for of course, Michael Cohen.  Something that was born out of the Mueller investigation that was sent to New York and is completely different than the Russia questions.  Completely different about payments to, you know, adult film stars.  So, all we know is that this went with Mueller when Mueller started.

WILLIAMS:  Did the President -- is there any evidence that he became aware in real time that he was the subject of an inquiry?

SCHMIDT:  No, and he wouldn`t if the inquiry was going according to form.  Obviously, there`s no book on how to investigate the President as a nation (ph) of a foreign power but as the President`s lawyer said tonight, he did not -- they did not know anything about this.  This was something that was new to them and they actually use that as a pointing.  Look, you know, this was really a problem we would have heard about it.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, I have a question for you.  What beyond Trump`s own words and behavior?  Again, some of it as you and I always discussed happened in plain sight as we watched.  What beyond that obvious evidence would there be?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well Barb touched on this and that is the really well founded theory that the bureau would not be opening such a case and convincing DOJ to allow it without something more than just be kind of public bizarre behavior of the President.  So, understand that the FBI is privy not only to the most sensitive intelligence of our intelligence community but also to allied partners and their intelligence collection, so what does that mean?  Human sources, signals intelligence, intercepts, wiretaps of foreign officials.

All of that likely was part of this predication to be concerned enough to open a case, counterintelligence case to determine whether the President has been co-opted and/or was working for foreign power.  My gut tells me there`s much more to this than just the public antics of the President.

WILLIAMS:  Chuck Rosenberg, I have one for you.  Every night here, I try to watch all the cables, CNN, Fox News, part of the job.  And tonight watching Fox News, they seem to devote most of their coverage to illegal immigration, various discussions of that.  Then they came a time they did report this New York Times story.  And Tucker Carlson said the following in the camera that may give us an indication of an early defense strategy here.  We`ll play that and talk about it on the other side.


TUCKER CARLSON, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT" HOST: So, if you`re keeping track at home and get a pen and paper because this was worth remembering.  This is why you should never criticize the FBI.  You think it`s your birthright as an American, you can do it.  I wouldn`t try it though.  They might open an investigation into you without your knowledge into something appalling maybe it`s beating your wife, maybe its dealing fight (ph) on the kids.  Maybe it`s betraying your country in some alliance with Vladimir Putin.  You don`t need to have done it.

But once they investigate you, they can always leak, I don`t know, two years later they were investigating you for this crime that you didn`t commit or at least they found no evidence you committed.  At least you never charged you for it with sources supposed (INAUDIBLE) it doesn`t matter because you`re instantly discredited.  Don`t criticize the FBI.  Very unwise.


WILLIAMS:  Chuck Rosenberg, your response.

ROSENBERG:  Yes, that`s a deeply and profoundly troubling statement, Brian.  Here`s why.  And it`s not just because I work there and I know the ethos of the place and the men and women who care deeply about the rule of law.  Remember too that the FBI and its work is overseen by the Congress, by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, by the Executive Branch through, you know, the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, there`s lots, and lots, and lots of people, oh, and by the way, federal judges too, will oversee the work of the FBI.

So, it`s a deeply and profoundly troubling statement.  It completely misapprehends what the FBI is and who the men and women are who work there.  It is really, really a bad thing to feed to the American people.  It begins to erode the trust that we need to have in our institutions of government, including at the FBI, including at times like this.

WILLIAMS:  To our guests -- most of our guests are going to stay with us and continue to cover this lead story.

Michael Schmidt, we thought it was in the interest of good journalism since you`ve had a -- let`s say a more eventful day than the rest of us, to thank you for your work tonight, which has spurred this conversation.  Thank you very much for being a part of our broadcast.

We`re asking Barbara McQuade, Chuck Rosenberg, Frank Figliuzzi to stay with us.

And when we come back, more on this breaking news that the FBI opened an inquiry into the president of the United States.  And later, as we said, we`re just moments away from a new record.  When the White House and Congress has done nothing to avoid breaking.

"The 11th Hour" just getting started on this busy Friday night.


WILLIAMS:  We are back tonight.  In this segment, we have no other charge aside from continuing to discuss the breaking news that started us off tonight.  The headline from "The New York Times" is bracing the FBI opened an inquiry into whether our president was secretly working on behalf of Russia.

And a reminder because we sometimes lose our perspective with the daily barrage of Russia stories, just the mention of this allegation is, of course, a first for the American presidency.

We have the very best in the business standing by to continue our conversation.  Barbara McQuade, Chuck Rosenberg and Frank Figliuzzi is with us on the phone.

Barbara, we learned Mr. Rosenstein planned to stay according to NBC News reporting until to in affect to see the Mueller investigation and statement through.  Do you think anything we`ve learned today and tonight does anything to jeopardize that trajectory?

MCQUADE:  I don`t think so unless President Trump panics in some way.  And we`ve seen his very strong statement from Sarah Sanders, he`s spokesperson, on Comey a political hack and McCabe a chronic liar.

And so it seems likely that Rod Rosenstein would want to stay the course, you know, he`s been there for about two years and I`m sure it feels like 20 for him and in some ways, can`t get out soon enough.  But I think that he is a loyal steward of the institution of the Justice Department and wants to be there as long as it`s within his choice and his power to do so.  I think he`ll stay unless somehow President Trump wants to fire him before then.

WILLIAMS:  Chuck Rosenberg, does any of this impact Chris Wray ability to continue to do his job day after day as FBI director?

ROSENBERG:  It really shouldn`t.  And for some of the same reasons that Barbara just articulated regarding the deputy attorney general, Chris Wray is an institutionalist, he`s following the rules.  By the way, this wasn`t opened on his watch.  Although I`m quite confident knowing Chris Wray as I do, that if they have the facts and they have the information, he would have done the exact same thing.

You know, something you said earlier, Brian, I think is really important and I want to reiterate it, given the barrage of daily news.  If you just take a moment to think about the fact that the president of the United States had a counterintelligence investigation open to determine whether he is being targeted by a foreign power or an a -- or whether or not he`s an agent of a foreign power, that is absolutely extraordinary.

It doesn`t tell us what the answer is.  We don`t know where this will lead.  But I cannot imagine in all my years on this planet having a president of the United States being the subject of a counterintelligence investigation.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, you heard what Chuck said in the previous segment, you heard what Tucker Carlson had to say in the previous segment.  It is obvious that some of the backlash will result in the fact that they`re going to -- they`re going to come after your former colleagues, a lot of the folks here still in touch with at the FBI.  Give us a reality check on morale on how you think they`ll -- they`ll fare.

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, my first response when I saw this reporting was that I -- I just wish it hadn`t happened, you know, to be honest with you.  And I`m - - I`m a huge champion of freedom of the press and this need to get out in the public service.

But I also know that we have a president that is mercurial at best.  And I`m concerned that he`s going to react in a way to this as we`ve already seen, some communication from the White House tonight, that causes him to act out against Special Counsel Mueller and to Rod Rosenstein before it`s time, before they`ve done their job.  And that`s troubling to me.

The other thing we`ll keep hearing is this notion of deep state.  This notion that there`s a conspiracy somehow, that there`s a rogue FBI or was a rogue FBI.

And I think it`s important for the American people to understand the counterintelligence and intelligence work in the FBI is by far the most regulated part of the FBI.  And there are agents who don`t even want to work counterintelligence because you got to keep the rule book in your top drawer.  I lived as a counterintelligence agent with the attorney general guidelines in the top drawer of my desk, and refer to them daily until I memorized entire portions of them.  That`s how heavily regulated this is.

So any notion that some agent can willy-nilly open the case on the president of the United States is just misguided.  The level of review, the Department of Justice review, the number of lawyers that would have to have touched this and allow it to happen is almost immeasurable.

So, I want to try to dispel that notion, that there would have to be multiple points of failure, multiple people in the conspiracy to even open this case and it`s just wholly unrealistic to think that happened.

WILLIAMS:  We are so grateful to our guests tonight to Michael Schmidt, of course, for starting us all off, to Barbara McQuade, to Chuck Rosenberg, to Frank Figliuzzi, our thanks.

And coming up for us, our coverage continues.  The night`s other major story, your government remains shutdown and it`s about to set a record as such.  Federal employees left with no income for no fault of their own and no end in sight, when we continue.


WILLIAMS:  Almost exactly 30 minutes from now, the current government shutdown will become officially the longest in our history.  Today, hundreds of thousands of federal employees missed their first paycheck as frustration and now real financial peril are growing across our country.  We should note, both the House and the Senate have adjourned for the weekend after making no progress in ending the stalemate.

Earlier today, President Trump held a border security round table at the White House.  Again, made a pitch for his signature project.  President told reporters declaring a national emergency is the easy way out and Congress needs to approve funding.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The easy solution is for me to call a national emergency.  I could do that quickly and the absolute right to do it but I`m not going to do it so fast because this is something Congress should do and we`re waiting for the democrats to vote.  They should come back and vote.

They want to go home.  They`re probably home by now.  And Nancy and Chuck and all of the folks that could settle this thing in 15 minutes, I used to say 45 minutes, now I say 15 minutes, it`s so simple.  We need money for a barrier.


WILLIAMS:  New reporting from the "Wall Street Journal" reveals the shutdown could continue for weeks to come over, as you heard the President call it a barrier.  Michael Bender writes, "Trump`s aides have started preparations for the State of the Union speech, discussing how to use the January 29 address if the shutdown remains in place.

Meanwhile, the White House office of management and budget is preparing for the shutdown to continue through the end of February.

NBC News has spoken with federal workers around this country who are not being paid during this shutdown.  One of the FAA inspectors, Curtis Calabrese told us aviation safety should not be use as a bargaining chip in Washington.


CURTIS CALABRESE, FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR:  Personally, yes, I`m absolutely frustrated.  I wished, I hoped that the Department of Transportation would be funded.  I would hope that the FAA would see -- FAA inspectors as essential employees because what we do is absolutely critical to the national airspace.

I would much rather be doing my job and just not get paid and get a paycheck later than not work at all.  I think we`re doing a disservice to the American people.  I don`t think it`s moral to use aviation safety and the safety of the American people as a bargaining chip.


WILLIAMS:  As appropriate a federal worker as any we could have spoken to today.  Trump`s good friend in the U.S. Senate Lindsey Graham on top of urging to declare the emergency and build the wall or barrier also says he doesn`t know how this is going to play out.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  The national emergency idea is one way to try to get the wall built.  It`s got its own problems.  Just pick and so I don`t know how this move is going to end.  The best route is for Congress working with the President to solve this problem.  I don`t see anybody here.  I`m going home.  I`ll be back Monday.


WILLIAMS:  There you have it.  And with us to talk about it tonight, Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press.  Shannon Pettypiece White House correspondent for Bloomberg.

All right, Shannon, you have the most proxy, the closest to that disaster of a building behind you.  That was just breathtaking at the end of Lindsey Graham, nobody here and I`m going home.


WILLIAMS:  What happens next?  How does this end?

PETTYPIECE:  I don`t think anyone knows and yes, that building behind me has been dark and empty for hours now.  I mean, the White House did not think they were going to be in this position.  Around the Christmas holiday, they thought, OK, Democrats are going to come back with a counter.

They didn`t.  They went home for the Christmas holiday.  The White House thought, OK, when they come back, we can start talking, when Pelosi takes her leadership position, they`ll start negotiating.  When it gets closer to this first paycheck, the federal workers are going to miss, OK, then Democrats will start negotiating.

Democrats aren`t budging and the White House isn`t budging either.  The White House did not think they were going to get here and now I don`t think they know where to go.  They spent the week sort of doing these public relations campaigns, the visit to the border, the national address, the round table, the President coming out and talking to reporters about the national emergency that he could declare.

It did not move the needle at all.  So I think the White House is really out of tricks in their bag and yes, they don`t know where to go from here.  One way they could go is either the national emergency or they could make a counteroffer to Democrats, maybe it`s not $5 billion for a wall.  Maybe its $2 billion like the Vice President tried to offer before the holiday break.

But those are two routes that, as far as today, they haven`t indicated they`re willing to take.

WILLIAMS:  When do the people get to declare it`s a government emergency and get some of these federal workers families their paycheck?  Jonathan Lemire, your reporting tonight is that the President didn`t like what he saw this week.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:  No, there`s obviously tangible real world results we`re seeing.  Today, federal workers received pay stubs that had zeros on them.

They receive paperwork that`s in zero, there`s no money there.  And for with for a lot of workers, that`s going to really add up.  Bills aren`t going paid.  Debts are going to grow but White House is certainly concerned about those optics, a lot of those pictures were in Tweeter today, government workers tweeting the images of those pay stubs but more than that, this week.

The President had to be talked into the border trip.  He told aides and network anchors and after (ph) the meeting that he thought it wouldn`t move the needle whatsoever.  He was also very unhappy with that Oval Office speech.

For months now had told people around him that he didn`t like the imagery of the Oval Office.  He thought it was flat.  He didn`t like that straight ahead camera view.  He thought that presidents we`ve watched give those addresses before seemed sort of lifeless.

WILLIAMS:  No live audience.

LEMIRE:  That`s right.  And we know he responds best when interacting if not with a rally crowd but at least other reporters that he can joust with.  So he preferred other rooms but he was talking to that moment saying the seriousness of this event, your making your case, do the Oval Office.

Since then, and according to our reporting he told several people around him, he really hated it.  He felt Mr. Donald Trump describing himself, he thought he seemed boring.  So you could tell how unhappy he was there and this is a real debate inside the building.  What to do about the national emergency.  Should they do that?

He publicly called for that today.  He said he wants Congress to afford, that is according to people we`ve talked to, the President`s preference but there is growing momentum to issues some sort of national emergency.

He`s being urged by some on the hill to do the same as well, just because they want to move forward.  If this is tied up in the courts, it`s off their plate and the government can reopen.  I mean the President`s perspective, if there`s a legal battle, it continues to fight over the wall.  He`s told people around him, through him the fight, might even more important than the wall itself.

WILLIAMS:  And Shannon Pettypiece, we keep hearing of more defections among the Republicans, Republicans splitting off from the majority but it don`t mean a thing if Mitch McConnell doesn`t bring it up for a vote.

PETTYPIECE:  And Mitch McConnell has been very absent from this whole debate.  I mean, I think the Democrats have tried to be absent.  They will come out and respond and comment on the meeting but Mitch McConnell is nowhere to be seen.

I`m pretty certain he`s left.  I went back to the home state over the weekend.  So there is not leadership coming from the Senate.  You have the Democrats who are doing their own thing in the House.  The White House is really at a loss of what to do, but theoretically, the Senate and the Congress could end this all.

They could pass a bill.  The President could veto it and the Senate could override the veto.  So there is something that Congress could do here.  But of course, this President has such control over the Republican Party, Donald Trump is the Republican Party at this point.

The midterms made that very clear.  Many members of Congress who went out against him who are no longer there.  So unless that dynamic has fundamentally changed in the American public`s mind and maybe it will after another month of this but I don`t think we`re there yet and people at the White House don`t think we`re there yet.  So, they can`t look for the Senate or Congress to solve this.

WILLIAMS:  Lemire, give me what I like to call 30 seconds of Gail Sheehy.  The President`s well chronicled kind of deficit of feeling.  Does that play a part in this?  That he is not as susceptible where empathy is concerned to some of these horror stories we`re hearing, from the families of members of the coast guard having to choose between food and medicine and gasoline and housing?

LEMIRE:  Time and time again, the President has shown a really lack of empathy with it comes to say responding to national disaster.  We all remember the Puerto Rico when he was tossing paper towels like basketballs to the crowds, some strange comments when he went down North Carolina with the hurricane, using whose boat come up on their lawn?

What we`re seeing now is more of the same.  He`s always struggled to connect with through regular people.  We`ve heard his stories.  He keeps claiming that federal workers are telling him that you should stay with the course.  The wall`s important.  Don`t do this.

But yet the White House has not been able to provide any concrete examples of those instances.  The AFL-CIO  would you come to, came on "Morning Joe" the other day ad said that he`s talked to thousand of -- he and his staff talked to thousands of the union workers.

None of them said had sold to president that would happen.  This seems to be a case where he`s doing this through a political ends and not able to sort of connect people on a human level, so the stories that you just saw of suffering, people who`re having trouble making ends meet, at least to this point, they`re not really having any impact in the Oval Office.

WILLIAMS:  We want to thank Jonathan Lemire, we want to thank Shannon Pettypiece and sometimes have Gail Sheehy on the broadcast.  Appreciate you guys joining us on a Friday night.

Coming up, the unprecedented position this President is in right now.  Under investigation, presiding over a government, unable to function.  Jon Meacham is here with us to talk about that.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  As we continue to cover this bombshell reporting in "The New York Times" tonight, it is worth stressing this detail and we quote, "Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president`s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security".

No guest we`d rather have tonight, Pulitzer prize-winning author and historian Jon Meacham.  His latest work is "The Soul of America."

Jon, I was going to tell if you`re going to clear those better angels of yours for takeoff, remember, the air traffic controllers are working without salaries.  I have racked my meager brain to think of situations that this country has been in, President we have had, anything like this.  I have whiffed and we`re looking to you for historical perspective.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  Well, all I got and it`s not much is the last days of Nixon when James Schlesinger, the Secretary of Defense, is reported to have issued orders saying that any military command that came from the White House had to be cleared by him.

He was worried about tanks coming to the city.  Worried about Nixon barricading himself and fighting it out.  And that`s about it.  We`re in a remarkable place where, and there`s many problems with Woodrow Wilson, but Wilson, before he was president, obviously, at Princeton and gave a series of lectures at Columbia about the presidency and said that the President by law and custom can be as big a man as he can.

And I think what we`re seeing again and again and again is that the incumbent is proving the President can be as small a man as one can.  Whether you look at all of these different fronts and you have the sort of emergency conversation which is deeply important and complicated, but we`ve really never had and if we have, it`s classified and lost to history at least so far.

A president of the United States who is considered to be possibly an asset of a foreign government.  This is what the founders were worried about in the 1790s.  The Jeffersonians worried that Washington and Hamilton might be British agent.  Washington, Adams and Hamilton worried that Jefferson might be a fiend to agent.

But that was kind of a fevered political atmosphere.  There was no FBI to investigate it, and I think the report on "The Times" tonight has, if anything could possibly elevate the stakes of our current moment, that did it.

WILLIAMS:  Our viewers know we turn to you.  We turn to Michael Beschloss to ask this very question and ask you intellectually, the turn on a dime and tell us how this will be viewed years later.  I think this one, even you, could have some migration and your thinking tomorrow morning, next week, looking back at this headline in "The New York Times" tonight.

MEACHAM:  The whole story about Russia or Trump and Russia as he himself wonderfully called it is this slow-moving unfolding story.  The worst possible scenario here is we`re like the Titanic steaming through the North Atlantic and we know the iceberg is there, we`re not sure how big it is and the Carpathia won`t answer our distress calls.

I think that`s kind of where we are.  We don`t yet know how we`re going to view this because we don`t know how it turns out, but we have some of the best people in America trying to figure it out and I think my understanding of "The Times" story is that the counterintelligence investigation was essentially taken over or merged into Director Mueller`s.

And once again, we`ve seen, I think the two most important people in America right now are John Roberts, as the swing vote on the Supreme Court now and Bob Mueller.

WILLIAMS:  I say to you and our viewers, please don`t move.  We`ll continue our discussion right after this break.



RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I`ve spoken to the shining city all my political life, but I don`t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it.  But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, god blessed and teaming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.  A city with free ports that Hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.


WILLIAMS:  Note his mention there of walls.  That was the 1989 farewell address.  Ronald Reagan from the Oval Office 30 years ago today.

Still with us, the historian and author, John Meacham.  There is the current occupant of the White House, his address from the Oval Office this week.

John, there were Democrats that election night when Jimmy Carter lost in tears because they thought that our country was ruined and we were going to be the laughing stock of the world.  Then came Ronald Reagan, and in a country where unless you`re a scallywag, we tend to look affectionately back on our former presidents.

The question is to you, did people in real-time look at this guy, his farewell address and say, you know what, that`s just a shining example of what we want our president and our presidency to be?  Or has it been fuzzed up in history along the way?

MEACHAM:  Well, there`s a difference between something being fuzzed up and our seeing it more clearly, and I think that a lot of times with presidents we had this with Truman, we had this with George H.W. Bush, mountains tend to get a little bit larger and we judge them more effectively the farther we are away from them.

President Reagan left office pretty popular.  We tend to forget Iran- Contra.  We tend to forget that, as you say, there was this quite compelling or at least widespread view that he was, as he put it, somehow a combination of the mad bomber and Ebenezer Scrooge. 

And you`re right, people -- people thought the presidency itself in the late 1970s had become diminished.  Remember, we had the equivalent of four one-term presidents from 1960 to 1980.  Lost one to assassination, one to Vietnam, one to Watergate, President Ford lost to President Carter and then President Carter loses to Reagan.

So we had five presidents in 20 years.  There was an op-ed, Lloyd Cutler, White House Council for Jimmy Carter wrote a piece in "The Washington Post" saying the presidency was now too complicated for any one person and then along came Ronald Reagan.

And whoever -- disagree with him, but he certainly proved that the office itself in the right hands could be a force for good.  The speech that night remarkably 30 years ago, we`re now as separated as far from that speech as he was Eisenhower leaving Washington, which makes us all field old, I think.

That night it was seen as a kind of grace note.  The old boy was having one more turn on stage and that -- in the paper, though, in "The New York Times" that day, Bill Sapphire, a conservative, had a column saying Reagan had had a good first term but we wish he hadn`t had a second term.

So he was not a Rushmore-like figure.  What`s so remarkable to me about this speech, written by our friend and colleague Peggy Noonan is that you realize it should be with Eisenhower and Washington`s, that his argument for openness, for big heartedness, for all the pilgrims, from all the lost places, hurleding through the dark places towards home.

You realize he was warning us in that Reagan esque way that we had to open our arms and not clinch our fists.

WILLIAMS:  A terrific point and part of the reason the American people and all their affection routinely rank Ronald Reagan among the top ten favorite presidents in their lifetime.

John Meacham, thank you very much.  Have a good weekend, sir.  We`re lucky to have you after a night like tonight.

Coming up for us, we all heard the President`s words this week, but we will show you how one organization heard his Oval Office address in a different way.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight has to do with the President`s prime time address from the Oval Office.  And, again, with the pace of news these days, with just the headline we`re dealing with tonight, it may seem like it was weeks ago, it was just this past Tuesday evening.

The President used vivid language to describe what he referred to many times as this crisis at our southern border.  Well, the organizers of "March For Our Lives" were watching that night.  Their goal, as you may know, is stop gun violence, especially in our schools, and they have done a recut of the President`s speech using his words but they`ve taken out any references to the border.

They want us to imagine that he was talking about the crisis of gun violence.


TRUMP:  My fellow Americans, there is a growing humanitarian and security crisis.  All Americans are hurt.  More Americans will die than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.  Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed and thousands more lives will be lost if we don`t act right now.

This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart, of the soul, of our broken system.  This is the tragic reality.  This is the cycle of human suffering.  This situation could be solved.  Hopefully we can rise above politics.  To do nothing and continue to allow innocent people to be so horribly victimize.

So sad.  So terrible.  Imagine if it was your child, your husband or your wife whose life was so cruelly shattered and totally broken.  Pass a bill that ends this crisis.  This is just common sense.


WILLIAMS:  Again, that`s from the organizers of "March For Our Lives," what they view as the crisis worthy of an Oval Office address.  As edited to make their point, posted by the organization on social media.

Midnight Eastern Time now seconds away and with that the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

With that, that is our broadcast for a Friday night and for this week.  Thank you so much for being here with us.  Have a good weekend.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

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