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Confirmation hearing for William Barr. TRANSCRIPT: 1/14/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Jeremy Bash, Cynthia Alksne, Robert Costa, David Jolly, Nancy Cook



ANDREW KIM, SPECIAL ED TEACHER:  Young lives.  We care about them.  We want them to succeed in their future.  We`re out here fighting for them.  Their future.  My sons and my daughter.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Los Angeles public school teachers get tonight`s "Last Word."  "The 11th Hour with Brian Williams" starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, America has entered new territory as our President is asked a direct question on camera, was he or is he working for Russia?  He also defends his one-on-one conversations with Vladimir Putin.

Plus, a high-profile hearings that get under way just hours from now.  Will the Senate confirm this man to run the Justice Department?  And by extension, the Mueller investigation?

And as the impact of the government shutdown deepens across the country, for example, as lines at the nation`s airports get even longer, as families get pushed into financial peril, the pressure grows on both parties to come up with a way out as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Monday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 725 of the Trump Administration.  And day 24 of this government shutdown, which will become day 25 by the end of this broadcast.

The stalemate over the budget that has cost 800,000 workers their paychecks entering week 4.  New battle could erupt tomorrow in Congress over William Barr, Trump`s nominee for attorney general who`s been critical in the past of the Mueller inquiry.

And this comes amid fallout from the new reporting about the President and Russia.  When last we spoke on Friday night, "The New York Times" had just broken a story that Donald Trump had come under FBI scrutiny, for possibly working on behalf of Russia.

Then on Sunday came the other story this one from the "Washington Post," this one revealing, Trump, quote, has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter, and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump spent the weekend fuming about the "Times" story on Twitter unleashing a barrage of attacks aimed mostly at the former leadership of the FBI, the day he went after the news media and we, "The fake news gets crazier and more dishonest every single day.  Amazing to watch as certain people covering me and the tremendous success of this Administration have truly gone mad.  Their fake reporting created anger and disunity.  Take two weeks off and come back rested. Chill."

It wasn`t all negative.  He then tweeted out his excitement for the event he was own route to, "Getting ready to address the farm convention today in Nashville, Tennessee.  Love our farmers.  Love Tennessee.  A great combination."  The problem was the event was in New Orleans.  The tweet was taken down this morning before leaving the White House for New Orleans.  He responded to the claim of the White House article that the "Times" article that he works for a foreign power hostile to the United States.


KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, yes or no, have you or are you now have you ever worked for Russia?  Yes or no?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I never worked for Russia.  And you know that answer better than anybody.  I never worked for Russia.  Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it`s a disgrace that you even asked that question.  Because it`s a whole big fat hoax.

WELKER:  Do you know if you`re currently the subject of a counterintelligence investigation?

TRUMP:  The people that started that investigation are McCabe, who`s a proven liar and was fired from the FBI.  Our Lisa Page who was forced to leave the FBI and her lover, Peter Strzok, who we got their text messages.  They started it because I fired Comey, which was a great thing I did for our country.

So, the people doing that investigation were people that had been caught that are known scoundrels.  They`re -- I guess you could say they`re dirty cops.  I have done a great service for our country when I fired James Comey because he was a bad cop and he was a dirty cop and he lied.


WILLIAMS:  The response from the President today was more direct than the one he gave Judge Jeanine Pirro on Fox News Saturday night.


JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, JUSTICE WITH JUDGE JEANINE, HOST:  Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia, Mr. President?

TRUMP:  I think it`s the most insulting thing I`ve ever been asked.  I think it`s the most insulting article I`ve ever had written.  If you read the article, you`d find they found absolutely nothing.


WILLIAMS:  The "Times" and "Post" stories raised concerns about the president`s past meetings with Vladimir Putin and now some House Democrats are considering issuing a subpoena to the interpreter for the notes taken during Helsinki meeting in July.  Right after that meeting, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta raised the possibility on this program that Russia might have some influence over Trump.


LEON PANETTA, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE & FMR. CIA DIRECTOR:  There`s no question that there is something here that intimidates the President of the United States.  Whether the Russians have something on this President or not, no one really knows.  But the way he behaves, there is a clear signal that the Russians have something on him.


WILLIAMS:  Today, Secretary Panetta reacted to this latest reporting on whether Trump was compromised by the Russians.


PANETTA:  I think there were legitimate questions that were raised by what the President did here.  Not only in the firing of Comey, and the fact that he related that to the Russian investigation, but also the other factors involved.


WILLIAMS:  With that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel on a Monday night.  Here in New York, Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, Cynthia Alksne, former Federal Prosecutor, veteran of the U.S. Justice Department, and at his post in D.C. tonight, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post, moderator of Washington Week on PBS.  Welcome to you all.

Jeremy, perhaps because we just heard from your former boss, I`d like to begin with you.  Have we just entered another new period?  We had the scene today of the President being asked on camera if he was working for the other team.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  It`s unprecedented, Brian, a word we`ve used often here over the last two years.  But what has really struck me as I thought about it over the weekend is that in the realm of a criminal investigation, there`s a beginning, middle and an end.  A threshold, do we open an investigation?  A middle, the investigation.  And an end, do we charge or not?

But with the counterintelligence investigation, the beginning is the threshold question.  The middle is the investigation.  The end, there is no end of a counterintelligence investigation.  Save for the idea that you have a policy respond.  By whom?  By the commander in chief.  What do we do as a democracy, what do we do under our constitutional system?  If the subject to the counterintelligence investigation, the counterintelligence threat, himself, is the commander in chief.  We have no playbook for this.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, again, to the evidence we see in plain sight, what we hear from the President, what he says on Twitter, does it all -- when he calls former FBI officials dirty cops, does it all go into the hopper that Mueller is presiding over?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Sure.  It goes in.  It may go in to look in to the obstruction when he threatens Cohen`s family essentially which is what he also did this weekend as father-in-law.  All of that goes into the hopper as we look to see -- in which investigation is he going to be charged.

I mean at some point, the Southern District of New York has to be charged and at some point we`re going to have to look at this Russia investigation, the obstruction and the collusion and the compromising behavior and his foreign policy behavior which is bizarre, makes no sense.  At some point, we`d all have to come together with Mueller and the American people have to find out about it.

I used to be pretty comfortable of the weight but I`m not anymore because I think it`s such a threat to our country.  People need to be able to trust their government.  We really do need to get this sooner rather than later.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, Greg Miller, with your newspaper wrote about the story of the President taking steps to conceal his communications one-on- one with Putin.  Earlier on this network today, he talked about what led him down that path.  We`ll listen to that, talk about it on the other side.


GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST:  People that I talked to who even worked for this administration, worked in this White House, said that they had deep concerns about what was happening in these conversations all along.  Didn`t think it was a good idea to begin with to have these meetings.  Let alone go into these meetings without staff, without a game plan, without a clear agenda.  And then to come out of those meetings between Trump and Putin, and have little to no insight into what had transpired.


WILLIAMS:  Robert, everyone is getting used to the new landscape.  This would normally ignite what we used to call the base of the Republican Party.

ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  And it would ignite Republican lawmakers.  Walking around the Capitol today, as senators returned to Washington, Brian, talked to many of them, pulled them aside for private conversations.  Some of them went on record to reporters like Senator Romney from Utah, saying he was taken aback by the President`s decision and how he handled the interpreter.  It`s out of the mainstream of how presidents in both parties have handled foreign policy.

Yet, most Republican senators told me the President still has the party in his grip so they don`t want to be outraged to an extent that would cause some kind of major rupture in the party.  But they are encouraging Bill Barr, the nominee for attorney general, to do what he did today, which is to say he will encourage the Mueller report to be released to the public, released to Congress.

These Republicans, as much as the American people, have questions about the President`s intent with these decisions.  Is it just an outsider, isolated President, trying to be protective of his own message or is there a different intent.  That`s what lawmakers are telling reporters as much the same way American people are raising their own questions.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy Bash, I want to play something for you from Carl Bernstein who used to write for the paper we now refer to as Robert Costa`s newspaper.  This is about Trump and Putin.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


CARL BERNSTEIN, POLITICAL ANALYST:  He has done what appears to be Putin`s goals.  He has helped Putin destabilize the United States and interfere in the election no matter whether it was purposeful or not and that is part of what the draft of Mueller`s report, I`m told, is to be about.


WILLIAMS:  I`ve asked you before on this broadcast, given your experience at CIA and Pentagon, especially, diminishing NATO that starts the list.  What a return on a minimal investment, if it`s all true for Putin?

BASH:  Resisting sanctions, undermining NATO and other international institutions as you noted.  Also, the President took the word of the former KGB spy master in Helsinki, Vladimir Putin, over the word of our own intelligence community.

There are multiple instances and by the way the pullout of Syria which was, of course, what drove Secretary Mattis to leave the Pentagon, to resign.  There are multiple instances in which the President has shown that he has enacting the most obsequious, most deferential, most pro-Putin foreign policy in our nation`s history and the question has to be why.  And of course, maybe he`s a genius of American foreign policy.  I don`t think so.  Maybe they`ve got derogatory information on him.

I think a much more likely explanation are the financial ties.  The longstanding financial ties between the Trump organization and the Russian federation of, which the Moscow Trump tower project was to be Donald Trump`s salvation.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, going to find a creative way to ask you the question I always asks you.  Where is Mueller, what do you think he`ll be seeking next, who are you watching next?  When any of us go out in the wild, we are asked some version of this question.  I`m just asking it to you on television.

ALSKNE:  Well, I will tell you this.  Carl Bernstein says he`s told what`s going to be in the Mueller report.


ALSKNE:  I don`t believe that.

WILLIAMS:  You don`t think Mueller has suddenly decided --

ALSKNE:  I mean, Carl Bernstein is an icon.  You know, I think he`s a wonderful guy.  I`m sure he is.  But I don`t believe Mueller if anybody is leaking in Mueller`s operation, number one.

Number two, tomorrow when we`re looking at the bar, at hearings, there`s also a status conference in the Gates case.  Now, if Mueller is going to go forward on sentencing in Gates, we`re going to learn something about if he`s getting closer.  So that`s what I`m looking at tomorrow in addition to looking forward to spending time with you on the bar.

WILLIAMS:  We sure are going to do the latter.  Yes, Robert?

COSTA:  I was with Bob Woodward tonight and he made a point about how the luxury of time is the key to reporting.  And that Watergate took so long to unfold.  It wasn`t just the `72 break-in, it wasn`t until august of `74 that Goldwater and others in the Republican Party go to Nixon and telling me he doesn`t have the votes to survive an impeachment or a trial in the Senate.

Ad so the only point I would say is that there is an appetite to get the Mueller report, but these things have to play out.  The Republican Party may take its time coming to the facts of whatever Mueller concludes.  And it`s just its still early in this process.

WILLIAMS:  Well, we`ve hit all the big names except for Ben Bradley, and of course, we around here also have to live with our friends from "The New York Times," but with that, our thanks to Jeremy Bash, to Cynthia Alksne, Robert Costa.  Greatly appreciate you starting off our conversation tonight.

And coming up, how two days in Hamburg, Germany, in July 2017 could potentially unlock several questions central to Mueller`s investigation.

And later, the shutdown continues.  No end in sight.  There`s a new bipartisan group of senators trying to come up with something, but will they be able to sway the President holding out for a wall or a barrier or a fence.  "The 11th Hour" just getting started for a new week.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  And we want to dig a little deeper into this "Washington Post" reporting that says President Trump has concealed details of his meetings with Vladimir Putin from senior officials in his own administration.

Greg Miller doing the reporting that Trump actually took possession of his interpreter`s notes after a July 2017 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, with Putin, Rex Tillerson, and Sergey Lavrov.  The report also says Trump told the interpreter not to discuss what happened in the meeting with other administration officials.

Today, Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Foundation was among those pointing out how the President`s explanation of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting overlapped with his meeting with Putin in Hamburg.  On the morning of July 7th, 2017, "The New York Times" told the White House that it learned about the Trump Tower meeting with Trump campaign officials and Russians and asked for comment.  Later that afternoon in Germany, Trump met for two and a half hours with Putin, Tillerson and Lavrov.  This would be the meeting where Trump reportedly seized his interpreter`s notes.  The same evening, Trump again, spoke with Putin during a G20 dinner.  Putin`s interpreter was the only other person present.  We actually learned about that meeting about a week later.

The very next day, July 8th, 2017, as Trump was flying back from Hamburg, he dictated the misleading statement, the cover story, his son, Don Jr., would later release about the Trump Tower meeting.  That statement said the meeting, as you recall, was primarily about adoptions of Russian children.

Nearly two weeks later, July 19th of 2017, President sat down for an interview with "The New York Times" and he was asked about that second meeting with Putin back on July 7th.


TRUMP:  It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes.  Just talked about things.  Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.


TRUMP: Russian adoption.  Yes.  I always found that interesting because, you know, he ended that years ago.  And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because that was a part of the conversation that Don had with this meeting.


WILLIAMS:  We`ve asked two of our guests to return to this segment to talk about this.  Jeremy Bash and Robert Costa.

Jeremy, you`ve spent a lot of your life`s work in this area.  What`s the story here?  Why isn`t this normal behavior?

BASH:  Well, the reason why you have staff that gets readouts of presidential conversations with foreign leaders is the staff and the senior aides can follow up, so when they go into the follow-on negotiations, say, with the Russian nuclear negotiating team, they actually know positions our President has taken and they can enforce some tough deals.

But if, in fact, our team doesn`t know exactly what the boss said or what he might have given away in a sensitive negotiation, then, in fact, the Russian team holds all the cards.  They know more.  They can hold the line, and they know that our President, for example, in this example, won`t back his own team up.

And so in effect, what the Russians have done by isolating Trump is they`ve essentially made him play for the other side.  Play for the other team.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, I keep wanting to ask you what Republicans think they`re preparing for.  And do you notice more and more kind of peel-away defections?

COSTA:  More and more you see Republicans raising concerns privately, sometimes publicly, but they also feel boxed in.  Brian, they tell me that when it comes to the Mueller report, they believe the President is breaking norm after norm.  He`s eroding these institutions, whether it`s the intelligence community or the Department of Justice.

But having dealt with him up close, they say the same thing I`ve seen up close as a reporter covering him.  This was someone, and it`s no excuse, someone who`s unprepared for the presidency and is known to tear up documents when he meets with congressional leaders, is known to ignore the process for almost everything.  Domestic policy, foreign policy, making decisions on the fly, going outside of the chain of command.

And so when they look at foreign policy decisions like that decision with the interpreter, they`re not surprised.  Stunned, but not surprised.  And with Mueller, they`re just hanging on hoping he doesn`t somehow fire the special counsel and they want clarity as much as anyone else, but they also know he`s the political beating heart of the GOP, and a party now that`s consumed by Trump, what is it without Trump?  They`re not really sure.

WILLIAMS:  Well, "The New York Times" is now on the board, as they say.  This was just handed to me.  Jeremy, we just talked about NATO.  I`ll read the first three paragraphs.  "There are few things that President Vladimir Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO.  The military alliance among the U.S., Europe and Canada that has deterred soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO.  The withdrawal of the United States.  Senior administration officials told "The New York Times" that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from NATO.  Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the President had set."  This is what we were talking about.

BASH:  And I`ve heard senior national security officials in Washington say that on the morning that this happened, on the morning that Trump actually threatened to pull out of NATO, the aides were e-mailing back and forth and actually looking up on Wikipedia, of all things, can the United States, in fact, unilaterally withdraw from this multilateral treaty and what, in fact, would be the repercussions?

And it was only because of the intervention by senior aides including John Kelly at the end of the day that the President didn`t go to the microphones and withdraw America from NATO.

But think about how much Vladimir Putin has achieved by getting an American president to the brink of destroying the one multinational coalition that has served as the primary check on Soviet, as you mentioned, and now Russian expansionism?

WILLIAMS:  And Robert, this dovetails with our conversation with you tonight that what qualifies as the mainstream Republican Party, people who would identify themselves as patriots who realize the post-war alliance has kept the peace largely on this planet, would normally come out forcefully and vocally about this piece?

COSTA:  At first, many Republicans thought in 2017 that President Trump, along with Steve Bannon, were these nationalists who were taking over the government.  Now, two years on, that idea has fallen away as Bannon has fallen away and others have left, and what they really are left with is a President who sees politics and foreign policy in the same prism he saw real estate, transactional.  He always believes someone else is cutting the corner, trying to play a scheme on him or the United States.

So he doesn`t think about things actually in those nationalistic terms in the way Bannon does.  It`s about the transaction.  If he doesn`t see the money coming in from U.S. allies, he`s prone to say to his own advisors, let`s just get the heck out of NATO and this has alarmed many within the administration.  But, again, stunned but not surprised by those close to him.

WILLIAMS:  You had something to add Jeremy?

BASH:  Well, just -- this is going to be a major flash point, Brian, between Congressional Democrats and the White House.  Because they`re going to want to talk to the interpreter, they`re going to want to see the interpreter`s notes, they`re going to want to talk to the Rex Tillersons and even the current Secretary Mike Pompeo about all of these issues.

But this is an area where the president again under our constitutional system has the most power and probably the most prerogative to say, hold it right there, Congress, I`m not sharing this sensitive information with you, only I can dictate American foreign policy.

And here, Brian, we don`t have a real remedy for it other than the "I" word, impeachment.  If the Congress of the United States thinks that American foreign policy has been corruptly obtained, obtained for improper, maybe illegal purposes, that`s the impeachment issue that the Democrats in the House will have to grapple with.

WILLIAMS:  And Robert, before we lose you, let`s take just a minute to talk about the dome behind you, and Congress.  Friday night`s broadcast, Congress had been adjourned.  Lot of folks leaving town.  The speaker of the House wanted it passed along to members of our audience that she did not leave town.  She stayed and stayed on duty in case there was a phone call from the other end of town about solving this government shutdown.  The federal government, 800,000 workers, and, again, all the contractors who rely on their business, out of work and out of money temporarily.  How, in your view, does this end, Robert?

COSTA:  I just posted my story tonight with my colleagues about all this, and the real story, in short, is that the same exasperation and alarm that people are talking about with the President on Russia, the investigation, foreign policy, is being expressed by both Republicans and Democrats on domestic policy.

Twenty-four days into this shutdown, just as people don`t -- they are not really sure how to interact with the President on the Russia question, they`re not really sure how to interact with him on this shutdown.  The Democrats say we`re not negotiating on the wall until this government`s re- opened.  And Republicans today talking to them at the Senate, they`re scrambling, they`re trying to do something.  But they also know the President just won`t budge and the President`s defiant, amid all of this.

And so Leader McConnell is telling Senator Cornyn and others, we`re not going to even bring something to the floor to give our senators now because the President is not going to sign it.  There`s no inside game here where they`re whispering among each other about cutting some kind of deal to bring to the floor.  At this point, they`re paralyzed. That was the political paralysis was the story today.

WILLIAMS:  Also in that local paper we have here in New York, because the Democrats want credit for staying in town and staying in the game, they write that while about 30 Democratic lawmakers, most of whom are members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, spent the weekend at an annual winter retreat in Puerto Rico.  Ms. Pelosi spent the entire weekend in Washington.  According to a spokeswoman.  Noted.

Jeremy Bash, Robert Costa.  Gentlemen, thank you, both.

And coming up, the President`s fix to become the next attorney general fields questions from senators.  Just over 10 hours from now.  We`ll preview William Barr`s confirmation hearing and what it could mean for the above subject matter, the Russia investigation writ large.



WILLIAM BARR, TRUMP`S NOMINEE FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I`m honored that the President has selected me for the position of attorney general.  It`s not a position that I pursued.  I never thought I would be named attorney general or nominated to be attorney general.


WILLIAMS:  Long time ago, we were all younger then.  William Barr speaking during his first confirmation hearing back in 1991.  He`s had the job before, and now has been nominated to be attorney general for a second time, and tomorrow, day one of his confirmation hearings before the senate judiciary committee.

The "Associated Press" reports tonight that Barr sent White House lawyers a copy of that memo arguing the President could not have obstructed justice by firing ex-FBI Director James Comey.  Barr sent that memo while still in private practice months before he was chosen by Trump for Ag.

Meanwhile, NBC News has obtained a copy of Barr`s prepared remarks.  In them, he plans to tell senators, "I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.  I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the Special Counsel`s work.  For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can, consistent with the law."

Brings us to our next guest who we heard from earlier.  Cynthia Alksne is back with us.  As we mentioned, former federal prosecutor.  Importantly, who was appointed under William Barr?  So we got any potential bias out on the table.

What does he need to do or say tomorrow in addition to these prepared remarks?  What signal does he need to send to the majority of the American people who want to know what`s in this investigation?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, first of all, I don`t think it`s good enough to say we need to know the results because Giuliani`s already announced they want to edit the results.  So the results have to come from Mueller.

The American people need to know what does Mueller think?  Not what does Giuliani think, not what does the White House think, what does Barr think?  They need to know what Mueller thinks, and we have to, in the next couple days, nail him down on that.

He can`t have any it depends on the meaning of "is," we can`t have any of the gamesmanship.  He has to directly say he`s going to let us know exactly what Mueller thinks and he`s not going to edit it.  I think that`s really important.

WILLIAMS:  Is that up to him?

ALKSNE:  Sure.  That`s up to him.  He`s going to be in control.  Absolutely.  Now, there are some things he has to do.  For example, there will be grand jury material which is secret by law.  That has to come out.  I think everybody`s going to give him that.

But you can`t have Mueller writing a 400-page report and then Barr and Giuliani writing a 20-page executive summary and think that`s acceptable.  It is not.  And so he`s got to be very clear, there can`t be any wiggle room in that.  That`s one thing he has to do.

Another thing he should do is say I`m going to submit myself to the ethics people at justice, and then I`m going to do what they say because that`s not what happened with Whitaker.  Another thing he needs to do, he needs to say, not only am I going to give the report to the American people and I`m going to let it go through, I`m not going to interfere.

Remember, Whitaker talked on CNN about his gamesmanship ideas, about, well, we could just strangle it financially, we could just not approve this, not approve that, or travel or indictments or subpoenas.  He has to promise he`s not going to do that.  He`s not -- he`s going to give us the results.  He`s not going to interfere.  And he is going to submit to ethics and abide by what the ethics people say.

WILLIAMS:  This is where we come back to the fact that he is your former boss.  And at the end of the day, as you`ve said on this broadcast, you regard him as an institutionalist.

ALKSNE:  I do.

WILLIAMS:  Who believes in the rigger and good work of the Justice Department in the end.

ALKSNE:  I do.  Maybe I`m being naive.  When you get to the Justice Department, you get a big certificate and the attorney general signs it and it`s a big deal.  He signed mine and I`m proud of it and i just hope, I so love my Justice Department time, and I love looking at that Kennedy statue and I love being walking, click, click, click, in my high heels in those marble halls.

And I just think it gets to you.  And he`s an institutionalist and there`s no -- there`s no other way to look at it.  Look, the Democrats don`t have the votes to stop him.  He`s going to be the next attorney general.  Just get over it, everybody.

That`s what`s going to happen because the republicans don`t buck Trump.  So he`s going to be the attorney general.  All we can do is to try to box him in to protect the Mueller investigation.  And then there are all kinds of other side important issues that are happening.

For example, the overview, the oversight of police departments around the country that was happening with consent decrees in the Obama administration, Sessions has blocked all that and cut it all off.  He did that right before he left.  We need to go back to that.  Excuse me.

There are a lot of important legal issues that we can talk to him about, too, but the most important thing is the sanctity and the purity and the independence of Bob Mueller.  And all we can do is hope that happens.

Now, also know, Bob Mueller was the head of the criminal division under Barr.  They know each other.  These are not strangers.  They trust each other, they like each other.  And so, I`m also hopeful that my impression of Mueller which is full of respect and admiration, that is also rubbed off on the attorney general and that he will respect and leave Mueller alone.

WILLIAMS:  I`m going to ask you to say all of that again tomorrow morning when you join me for our coverage.  Cynthia, what a pleasure.  Thank you very much.  Cynthia Alksne here with us in New York.

And coming up, the government shutdown could soon be a month old.  How does this story end?  How does this story end?



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only.  The Democrats will not fund border security, our safety, our national security.


WILLIAMS:  No end in sight to this shutdown.  Coming up on day 25 at the end of this broadcast.  Hundreds of thousands of federal workers now going without pay.  And for some of the contractors and vendors who serve those employees, this is money they will never recover.

The President confirmed today he rejected that proposal put forward over the weekend by Lindsey Graham, one of his best friends in the Senate, to temporarily re-open the government, get it up and going again for three weeks.  Democrats in the House have proposed two more bills to get people back to work.

Tonight, a bipartisan group of senators met to talk about a path forward, but none of it matters until the President gets onboard and leaders in the Senate don`t appear to be any closer to any compromise.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER:  Speaker of the House has decided that opposing President Trump comes before the security of our borders.  So here we are, Mr. President, day 24 because the Speaker of the House has decided that enforcing our own laws is now immoral.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (R), MINORITY LEADER:  President Trump started this shutdown.  He`s the person continuing it.  The fact that President Trump refuses to consider our proposal means that he`s holding the government and the American people hostage as a political tactic.


WILLIAMS:  Let`s talk about it.  With us here in New York, former Republican member of Congress from the State of Florida, David Jolly, and in D.C., Nancy cook, White House reporter for a POLITICO.

Welcome to you both.  Congressman home-field advantage.  You get to go first.  How does this end?

DAVID JOLLY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN:  This is a different shutdown scenario than we`ve seen.  Democrats are doing something very intriguing that we haven`t seen particularly during two years of Donald Trump`s administration.

They`re ignoring the President.  And it`s working.  The numbers confirm that the American people are suggesting Donald Trump is responsible for this.  Democrats are being very disciplined.  Now, they also are leaning in and passing responsible legislation.

I think tomorrow they`re going to pass more legislation, push it over to McConnell and keep the government open, but they`re not responding to the President`s rants.  He`s having to scream into his pillow, into his Twitter account right now.

And it really is a model for Democrats going forward.  They have to be very careful, though, because they can`t be seen as not being the adults in the room.  If they have to engage with the President on border security, specifically, explain why they`re opposed to the President`s border security plan, they have their own.

There`s a saying in politics, if you`re explaining, you ain`t campaigning.  And they have to be very careful about that, be the adults in the room.  Try to keep the government open.  Let the President throw his tantrums and ignore him.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy, you reported White House aides over the weekend were in the dark about how the President plans to proceed and if he has an off-ramp in mind, did that change at all today?

NANCY COOK, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO:  No, it really didn`t.  And I feel like the off-ramps that were presented last week to him sort of seemed to be discarded.  So there were ideas about taking money from disaster funding.

There were ideas about taking money from the army corps of engineers.  But Trumps outside advisers, political advisers and folks in the White House are very worried about the hit that Trump could take politically and even the idea that he posed last week about declaring a national emergency has largely been discarded.

So we`re sort of back at square one with no real ideas and the President`s also made it very clear that he`s sort of the last arbiter of that and he`s really undercut other White House staff including his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and the vice president when they`ve tried to present other options to congressional leaders.

WILLIAMS:  Congressman, you just said to me during the break, you come from a coast guard state.  Let`s talk about the part of this shutdown that oddly has hit the Department of Homeland Security disproportionately hard.

JOLLY:  Yes, shutdowns get defined by these very human moments at some point.  And they`re very hard to predict.  There`s not a sympathy for Federal employees.  There should be.  There`s not a natural sympathy for traditional bureaucrats, the swamp as Donald trump likes to call it.

There are sympathies for matters of security.  People who are trying to fly.  For instance, if TSA says we can no longer provide for the security of the traveling public.  But your coast guardsmen and women tomorrow, I believe, will be the first day they go without pay.  They`re on a different pay cycle than Federal employees who missed their first paycheck last Friday.

If you`re talking about those young men and women serving in the United States coast guard, particularly in communities that are coast guard communities, that`s a human story.  And so in shutdowns, you look for that moment that can change the narrative and which leader, which political leader, which party steps up and says we`re going to fight for those people?

WILLIAMS:  And the basic question continues, if you get in trouble out on the water tonight?  Who are you going to call?  It`s going it be the United States Coast Guard that arrives by helicopter or vessel to help you out.  Let`s just pause our conversation here.  David Jolly, Nancy cook, have agreed to stick around.

Coming up, this all-out political war.  That`s what the White House should prepare for according to new reporting.  We`ll talk about that and more when we come back.


WILLIAMS:  Welcome back.  We alluded to this before the break.  Here is how "The New York Times" this weekend summed up what Donald Trump is now facing and we quote.  "With Democrats now in charge of the House, the Special Counsel believed to be wrapping up his investigation, news media outlets competing for scoops and the first articles of impeachment already filed, Mr. Trump faces the prospect of an all-out political war for survival that may make the still unresolved partial government shutdown pale by comparison."

Remaining with us, David Jolly and Nancy Cook.  Nancy, to you, first, is there a realization among the people who have west-wing exchanges and offices that they are, in fact, looking at a titanic battle ahead of them?

COOK:  Absolutely.  And the shutdown is honestly just sort of this extra cherry on top.  I think that many White House aides really thought that 2019 would already be a tough year given the era of divided government we face.  The Democrats are quite eager to investigate Cabinet officials, investigate the President`s finances, request his tax returns.  The Mueller investigation is really heating up.  There are all these bombshell Russia stories.

And then on top of that you basically have this government shutdown that they can`t figure out how to end politically.  And I think this is just sort of the beginning of a really long 24-month slog for the White House.  And you have to keep in mind that they`re also starting to turn their attention to 2020.  A bunch of White House aides have left for the campaign or are starting to think about leaving for the campaign.

So it`s just an amazing pressured situation for the President.  And he is really isolated at this point.  There`s not a lot of people in the White House, not a lot of aides he feels comfortable with or he feels like he can trust.  And I think that that also adds to the pressure.

WILLIAMS:  David Jolly, let`s talk about Steve King, Republican of Iowa who tonight was stripped of his committee assignments because of what`s been widely branded racist language from him.  Before you and I talk, let`s listen to Mitt Romney, the freshman U.S. Senator on the subject of this Republican member of the House.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH:  Well, Steve King`s comments are reprehensible.  They have no place in polite society, certainly no place in the Republican Party.  And they should have no place in the United States Congress.  He ought to resign and move on and let someone else who represents American values take his seat.


WILLIAMS:  So Congressman, that got my attention, first of all.  Second of all, what can you do in Congress beyond your voting card if you have no committee assignments?

JOLLY:  Not much.  They can`t kick him out of the party.  They can`t rescind his election but they can say you`re not going to be a part of the Republican Caucus.  We`re not going to put you on any committees.  And in Iowa that matters if Steve King is no longer on the agriculture committee.  He is already being primaried.  He very well might lose.

But Brian, Mitt Romney is right.  Republican leaders tonight were right to punish Steve King.  But if it rings hollow for a lot of American people it`s because of this.  Political leaders, Kevin McCarthy, Mitt Romney are defined not by the decisions they make when it`s easy like Steve King`s matter.  But when it`s hard, Donald Trump.  The reality is this is a party that`s refused to confront their own president because it`s hard.

During the campaign, Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a racist xenophobic bigot, but now he`s his chief defender.  We`ve seen Donald Trump engaged in xenophobia.  He talks about immigrants from African, asshole countries, Central Americans invading the United States, bringing crime and disease.  Just this weekend insulting Native American heritage.

We know the Charlottesville story, the Donald Trump`s attacks on the social justice advocacy work of communities of color, people of color, NFL players.  And so for Kevin McCarthy, for Mitt Romney, for others, the words tonight really do ring hollow if you`re just hitting Steve King and you`re not facing the elements within the party that gave Steve King permission to say the words that he said.

WILLIAMS:  And Nancy, a tributary off that point, Steve King is not an enigma or a mystery or a riddle.  People have known the guy and what he stands for and what he has said.  Why these comments, why now?

COOK:  Well, it`s fascinating to me that it`s happening now.  I think it`s some of the first backlash that we`re potentially seeing against this type of rhetoric, which David`s right, the President himself has sort of leaned on in the past.  I think that what has happened is that, King saw a much closer election result than he ever had before.  The margin that he won by was much smaller, excuse me.

And then the other thing was the Republicans faced huge challenges during the midterms.  They faced huge losses among suburban women in diverse comments.  They were basically wiped off the map out of California.

Kevin McCarthy is still holding onto his seat, but I think that Republicans are realizing now that there is political risk to these type of views even if Steve King has held them for a long time and they`re realizing that politically they need to distance themselves at least for now heading into 2020 for the future of the party.

WILLIAMS:  Two of our longtime favorites helping us out on a Monday night, David Jolly, Nancy Cook, really appreciate it.  Thank you both for coming on.

And coming up, the shutdown cuisine.  There it is at the White House.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, the President welcomed the NCAA college football champion Clemson Tigers to the White House today.  Cameras were there for the preparations and the odd juxtaposition of the White House domestic staff lighting the candelabras on tables filled with fast food.  The President in his overcoat later posed for this photo with said fast food, a blink and looking on.

As he later explained, he says he paid for the meal himself because the government shutdown has thinned out the ranks of the staff.  Putting aside for the moment the debate over fast food and its merits, its tastiness or its appeal to college students, to the President`s opening remarks we go.  And as you`ll hear, as some have already pointed out tonight, he seems to see a woman`s place as salad making.


TRUMP:  So I had a choice.  Do we have no food for you because we have a shutdown?  Or do we give you some little quick salads that the First Lady will make along with the second lady.  They`ll make some salads.  And I said you guys aren`t into salads.

Or do I go out Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, do I go out and send out for about 1,000 hamburgers, big macs.  So we actually did.  We bought a thousand.  Burger King, all American companies, Burger King, Wendy`s and McDonald`s.

We have big macs, we have quarter pounders with cheese.  We have everything that I like, that you like.  And I know no matter what we did, there`s nothing you could have that`s better than that, right?


WILLIAMS:  Donald Trump welcoming the Clemson Tigers to the White House today.

And that is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week together.  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