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Record government shutdown entering 26th day. TRANSCRIPT: 1/15/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Nicholas Kristof, Donna Edwards, Philip Rucker, Jon Meacham

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.   

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, hints of more to come from Robert Mueller`s investigation as the man expected to become Mueller`s supervisor as the next attorney general promises to protect the Russia investigation, and he breaks with the president over whether or not it`s a witch hunt. 

Plus, what may be a very happy night at the Kremlin.  Brexit has blown up.  There are new questions over Trump`s commitment to NATO while we fight among ourselves. 

And about that shutdown.  This was day 25, and while more workers have been called back to the job including FAA and IRS, they still aren`t getting paid and no one is about to blink as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on a Tuesday night. 

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 726 of the Trump administration.  This was also day 25 of this government shutdown, it`ll be day 26 by the end of this hour.  More on that ahead. 

Tonight, we have new developments in the Mueller investigation, all involving people once close to this president.  Earlier this evening, the Mueller team did release its latest court filing laying out point by point what it says former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied about exactly after he began cooperating with law enforcement.  While entire paragraphs are blacked out between the redactions, there are multiple headings that say things like, "proof Manafort`s statements were false and misleading", relating to his alleged lies about contacts with suspected Russian as well as contacts with people in the Trump administration. 

Today, we also learn Mueller is not done with Manafort`s former business partner, Rick Gates.  In a joint filing, lawyers for both Mueller and Gates asked for another delay in sentencing because Gates "continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations".  To put a finer point on this, they would be sentencing Gates if they were done with Gates, but he`s apparently still being helpful. 

The "Wall Street Journal" reports tonight that Michael Cohen`s upcoming testimony to Congress is expected to be highly restricted to avoid interfering with Mueller`s inquiry.  We knew this was a possibility going into this February 7th appearance.  The journal reports, "He is expected to give an explosive recounting of his experience working for Mr. Trump.  His testimony is expected to focus on his life story, how he went from serving as one of Mr. Trump`s most loyal aides for more than a decade to publicly breaking with him last year and implicating him in two federal crimes." 

A person familiar with Cohen`s prepared remarks tells NBC News that he plans on describing Trump as "a madman".  The testimony will give you chills, according to this source.  Before these new developments tonight, Mueller`s prospective new supervisor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, William Barr, a former U.S. attorney general in the early `90s and Trump`s pick to be our next attorney general had his confirmation hearing begin today. 

A lot of the questioning dealt with the Mueller investigation and the lengths he will go to protect it.  Barr has also come under scrutiny for a memo he wrote to the Justice Department sent around town in Washington that no one had requested, because it questioned Mueller`s investigation into obstruction.  Well, today he stressed his support for the special counsel and the inquiry. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  I believe that it`s vitally important that the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation.  When he was named special counsel, I said his selection was good news and that knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly.  And I still have that confidence today. 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (D), SOUTH CALIFORNIA, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Do you believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt against anybody? 

BARR:  I don`t believe Mr. Mueller would be involved in a witch hunt.  I believe the Russians interfered or attempted to interfere with the election, and I think we have to get to the bottom of it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The issue of recusal also came up today.  Current acting A.G. Matt Whitaker who was critical of the Mueller investigation refused to recuse himself.  Here is Barr`s response to the committee. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Let`s imagine it`s the judgment call and the judgment by the career ethics officials in the agency are that you recuse yourself.  Under what scenario would you not follow their recommendation? 

BARR:  If I disagreed with it. 

HARRIS:  And what would the basis of that disagreement be? 

BARR:  I came to a different judgment. 

HARRIS:  On what basis? 

BARR:  The facts. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Barr was also asked about whether he would release Mueller`s report to the public.  His response to that appeared to suggest that not all of the findings would be revealed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR:  But it`s very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel`s work. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When his report comes to you, will you share it with us as much as possible? 

BARR:  Consistent with the regulations and the law, yes.  Under the current regulations, the special counsel report is confidential.  The report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general. 

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D) HAWAII, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  In spite of the fact that you want to be transparent, neither Congress nor public will get the Mueller report because that`s confidential.  So, what we will be getting is your report of the Mueller report subject to applicable laws limiting disclosure.  So is that what you`re telling us? 

BARR:  I don`t know what -- at the end of the day, what will be releasable.  I don`t know what Bob Mueller is writing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just to underscore there, we don`t know that there will be a Mueller report.  We don`t tend to know anything about the Mueller investigation in real time.  Despite Barr`s assurances of support for Mueller, he was also asked point blank about the future of the investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Are there any circumstances that would cause you to terminate the investigation or any component of it or significantly restrict its funding? 

BARR:  Under the regulations, Bob Mueller could only be terminated for good cause, and I -- frankly, it`s unimaginable to me that Bob would ever do anything that gave rise to good cause. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The two men are friends.  More on that in a minute.  Let`s bring in our lead-off panel for a Tuesday night.  Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the "New York Times", Maya Wiley, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, now with the new school here in New York.  And Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official. 

And Chuck, I`d like to begin with you.  Did Barr say enough?  Did he do enough to convince you that the Mueller investigation would be sealed, protected, walled off under his good care? 

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER SENIOR FBI OFFICIAL:  Yes, he did, Brian.  Let me explain why.  Though I don`t share his view on several matters of law that came up today, and while I imagine I don`t share his politics, I`ve always believed Bill Barr to be a man of integrity, a principled man.  He said the right things as far as I`m concerned in terms of Bob Mueller`s character, the nature of the investigation specifically that wasn`t a witch hunt which, of course, we know as well that he would do what he could to protect it, that Mueller would not be removed except for good cause as the regulations require, and that he, Bill Barr, couldn`t imagine Mueller doing anything that would rise to the level of good cause. 

Those types of statements give me great comfort, and I think Bill Barr undoubtedly will be confirmed to the job. 

WILLIAMS:  Maya, as I tried to point out, we`re all assuming there`s going to be a nicely bound 400-page report that`s easy for every American to understand.  What is this technical difference Barr seems to be hinting at that what he gets from Mueller may differ from what he releases to the rest of us? 

MAYA WILEY, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  Well, under the -- you know, I think Mr. Barr did a good job of being very clear about the regulation in his confirmation testimony, which is he basically said, look, I get a confidential report.  I then decide what`s releasable. 

Now, in theory, he could actually take verbatim everything that is in the Robert Mueller report and make it public.  He does have the power to do that.  So I thought he was being a little cute by half sort of suggesting that he -- that there was a requirement that it`d be something literally different.  I don`t read that in the rag. 

WILLIAMS:  Things like grand jury information would be sealed off from the rest of us, anyway. 

WILEY:  Certainly.  Certainly, there are things that he is right when he says there are regulations that may preclude.  I don`t know if there`s going to be something that they would say is national security, right? 

WILLIAMS:  Right. 

WILEY:  I mean, so certainly, he would have the obligation to go through that report to see if anything would be precluded from being made public.  I don`t think that answers the question, though, and I do differ a little bit with Chuck Rosenberg, which I don`t generally, but about how comfortable I -- I mean, it`s certainly true that, and I think clear, that Barr is saying he`s not getting fired on my watch.  If I thought that I was being directed to do something inappropriate, I would resign. 

I mean, certainly, those are comforting statements.  But remember that his memorandum actually stated that the president had very broad powers to start and stop prosecutions.  I mean, that`s literally -- so he didn`t distance himself at all from that statement in the memo which sets up the potential for if Bob Mueller says, in my report, I actually am recommending that there was abuse of authority here and actually obstruction of justice, and he says, I don`t think that that`s actually, you know, warranted.  He would have to write a report. 

But it doesn`t actually square necessarily with whether he will be in lockstep at all with Robert Mueller simply because he respects him.  So I think he was very creative and very smart in his answers.  I don`t disbelieve him in terms of his strong feelings about the law, but I actually think there are some things that should give us pause. 

WILLIAMS:  Peter Baker, some of our analysts today said there were two Bill Barrs at this hearing today.  There was the guy who wrote this voluminous memo that no one had asked for that was sent all around town, and the Bill Barr who said, you know, our life is pretty great, my wife and me.  We`ve raised a family.  I wasn`t looking for work.  So I guess it`s in the eyes of the beholder to decide that. 

One thing there was not, fireworks, fisticuffs, not even a single protester.  What has your reporting revealed in the hours since?  Was it the way it seemed to us? 

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, I do think that you saw a Bill Barr today who was softening some of the things he had said publicly and even privately over the last two years of the Trump administration.  He took a more of an advocate`s kind of point of view in making public comments about the way things were going and the president`s power.  He, in the past, of course, even before the Trump administration had been a pretty outspoken advocate of the idea of pretty wide and expansive executive authority for the president. 

And I think you heard him today sort of presenting a pretty more measured accounting of his views, saying what he needs to say to the committee to reassure them that he is not going to be, you know, a tool of the president, but he`s going to be an independent, you know, administrator of the Department of Justice the way he was when he was working for the Bush administration back in Bush 41. 

So, you know, obviously, he`s presenting himself to a committee because he wants to win confirmation.  I think he`s saying things that are consistent with how he is planning to run the Justice Department at this point.  But there are going to be places where people are going to say, well, you said this then and now you`re saying this now, and they`re going to find some contrast to draw. 

WILLIAMS:  Chuck, you and I spoke about the following topic a little bit earlier today, but because of your years of service to the FBI, I wanted to raise it again.  Tonight, the opening headline on Fox News 10:00 p.m. hour was the FBI`s sickening war against Trump.  Last night, Gregg Jarrett, their legal analyst said, this is an all powerful out of control rogue agency and, frankly, it`s time that it be halted in its tracks, reorganized and replaced with a new organization.  It`s time that the FBI be halted. 

This is not about Fox News, this is about Senator Graham, the new chairman of this committee who opened today with an attack on DOJ and the FBI.  And my question to you is, how do you square this concerning this agency where you spent so much of your adult life? 

ROSENBERG:  I found those comments, both on Fox and by the chairman, despicable and disgusting, Brian.  I have stronger words, but I won`t use them here.  What`s happening, sadly, is an effort to undermine the men and women of the FBI. 

Look, and we discussed this earlier, when they are, you know, executing an arrest warrant or a search warrant, when they`re knocking on a door to talk to a witness, they need people to trust what they are and what they do.  Because what they are and what they do is protect us.  And so, to the extent that this constant drumbeat, this drip, drip, drip undermines them and their work, it`s deeply destructive. 

I`ll say one other thing.  The FBI I know, the FBI at which I worked both for Jim Comey and Bob Mueller is closely tethered to the rule of law and to the constitution.  In fact, in the counterintelligence world, it is the most highly regulated and the most closely supervised investigative work that they do.  So the notion that this is a rogue agency out on a frolic and detour is just nonsense, and it`s deeply hurtful and deeply destructive. 

WILLIAMS:  Maya Wiley, let me take the other side of an argument briefly and that is to make the point that for a Republican A.G. nominee of Donald Trump, this man today really did try to stake his claim to independence, and he went out of his way to say the right things regarding the integrity of the investigation.  If you`re Donald Trump, who has wistfully spoken of "Where is My Roy Cohn", might this be a case of be careful what you wish for.  You`re nodding.

WILEY:  I kept going back to the question of why does William Barr want this job, and I think he was getting some of these questions obviously today.  Which is -- you know, it`s incredibly powerful and important position, and who wouldn`t want to be the nation`s top lawyer.  And he`s been the nation`s top lawyer for a sitting president, and he has seen Trump`s behavior repeatedly towards the department he loves. 

I don`t disbelieve at all that William Barr loves the Department of Justice and is committed to it.  Not for a minute do I question that.  So it`s very, very hard to square how this relationship will play out if he is, in fact, confirmed.  Certainly I believe him when he says, I will resign before I am willing to do something that is completely wrong.  I am just concerned, though, how he will interpret that in conjunction with his read of vast executive power on the part of the president. 

And remember that we know that he deeply shocked that memo that he wrote --

WILLIAMS:  Yes. 

WILEY:  -- around Washington, including sending it to Emmet Flood, to Jay Sekulow and to Jared Kushner`s attorney.  It does seem like he wanted the job at least --

WILLIAMS:  You and I didn`t get a copy. 

WILEY:  I can`t believe I didn`t get nominated. 

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Peter Baker, share with our viewers the gist of the piece you wrote tonight regarding an interaction you had with Barr in, I believe, 2017. 

BAKER:  Yes, this came up at the hearing today.  He was asked about a quote and a story that I wrote in 2017 quoting him.  It was a time when the president was calling on the Justice Department to open investigations into Hillary Clinton and his political foes.  And I actually reached out to all of the living or at least most of the living former attorney generals to see if they thought that that was appropriate or not. 

He was the one who answered me.  He says, look, there`s nothing wrong with a president calling for an investigation.  It depends on the circumstances of it.  And he said that -- you know, in an e-mail to me, he said that, for instance, he thought there was more of a basis for investigating the Hillary Clinton Uranium One issue that has been raised by conservatives than there might be on the collusion alleged against President Trump.  And that became an issue today at the hearing. 

He remembered the quote somewhat differently, and so I went ahead and pulled out the e-mail that he had sent and put it on Twitter just so everybody could judge exactly what he said word for word, and people can determine for themselves what they believe he meant.  What the Democrats are seeing from this is, well, look, he`s buying into what the Fox News people say about Hillary Clinton and saying minimizing the possibility that there`s a collusion, you know, predicate for this investigation that Bob Mueller is running in this e-mail.  What he`s saying is, no, that`s overreading what I was saying.  I don`t have any political knowledge of the uranium situation.  I was just making an argument that there are lots of things out there and a lot of things that the Justice Department could or could not investigate. 

WILLIAMS:  I can`t thank our big three enough for being with us tonight after this long Tuesday from Washington to New York and points west.  Peter Baker, Maya Wiley, Chuck Rosenberg, our thanks. 

And coming up for us, the news from London that is likely making Vladimir Putin very happy. 

And later, day 25 of this shutdown stalemate.  No end in sight.  All Congress could seem to agree on today was Steve King.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on this Tuesday evening. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Important developments over these past 24 hours, as we said, that are likely to have pleased Vladimir Putin.  It was just last night at this time, our friends at "The New York Times" reported President Trump discussed pulling the United States from NATO on multiple occasions last year. 

Major parts of the United States government, as you`re aware, remain closed tonight as the longest shutdown in our history is about to enter its 26th day.  And tonight, our closest ally across the Atlantic is regrouping while it decides on nothing short of the future of its economy and culture. 

Earlier today, the British Parliament resoundingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May`s plan for Britain to leave the E.U. while it was expected to fail, not like this.  Not by a margin of 230 votes, making it the most lopsided major vote in the modern history, i.e., post World War I of Great Britain.  After today`s vote, May called on members of parliament to find some sort of a path forward. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  It is clear that the House does not support this deal.  But tonight`s vote tells us nothing about what it does support.  Nothing about how -- nothing about how or even if it intends to honor the decision the British people took in a referendum parliament decided to hold.  And people, particularly you citizens who`ve made their home here, and U.K. citizens living in the E.U., deserve clarity on these questions as soon as possible. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  No one quite does understatement like the Brits.  "The New York Times" reports tonight that with no clear consensus forward, more radical solutions are gaining momentum.  "One group of lawmakers is campaigning for a repeat referendum, which could potentially reverse the decision to leave the E.U.  Another favors leaving the bloc as planned on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement, the so-called hard Brexit." 

In light of today`s news, we are so fortunate to have with us tonight, Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The New York Times." 

Nick, for members of our audience who may not understand its importance, why is it important to all Americans what happened in the House of Commons today? 

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, OP-ED COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  So, if Britain pulls out with a hard Brexit, then there will be disarray and a huge blow to the British economy and to the European economy at a time when those economies, and indeed the world economy, are weak.  And that is going to have ramifications across America as well and around the world. 

But beyond that, you know, the European Union was put in place not fundamentally just as an economic measure, but really as a security architecture to avoid a repeat of the two world wars. 

And in a broader sense, what we`re seeing right now being challenged is this architecture that a bunch of very smart strategists put in place 70 years ago.  The U.N., the -- what became the European Union, trade organizations, NATO, to try to prevent global chaos and further wars. 

And you sort of alluded to this early on, but Russia and China have been trying to undermine this architecture all along because they`ve worked so much to the American advantage and to the west advantage over the decades, and now they are being dismantled by our own side. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes, indeed.  I don`t want to get too cute about this in a TV way, but why isn`t this a great night to be in the Kremlin?  The NATO alliance talk of the U.S. pulling out, our longest alliance, the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K.  American upon American, our politics lay is broken by the side of the road, all of these things together. 

KRISTOF:  That`s right.  And both Russia and China have made the argument that, well, democracy may look nice but it fundamentally doesn`t work, it doesn`t lead to efficient outcomes, it doesn`t lead to a nation`s strength.  And indeed, you look at Britain and a country in an economy on the abyss.  You look at America, where government is shutdown and it is in complete chaos.  You look at France, Italy, both huge problems of their own. 

Germany is -- has a much weaker leader or is about to assume a weaker leader, and they`re more able to make those arguments now than they were a year or two ago.  And I -- you know, for those of us who think that we fundamentally do have the right kind of government and the right structure, it`s really sad to see our side enabling Russia to make those arguments more compellingly in ways that will disadvantage our government and disadvantage our economy and our societies perhaps for years to come. 

WILLIAMS:  The one scientific experiment in American history that we reference more than any other on this broadcast is the famous frog boiling experiment. 

KRISTOF:  Yes. 

WILLIAMS:  The slow death of our friend to frog, it`s my contention that we`ve yet to grasp the impact of the headline Friday night in your newspaper that an American president because of his actions and words did enough to trigger an inquiry on whether or not he was a witting or unwitting tool of a hostile foreign power.  When do you think that`s going to start sinking in to the rest of us? 

KRISTOF:  It was so staggering to even -- to see that in the newspaper.  I mean, I Instagrammed it because it was so incredible to see that.  But at the end of the day, I mean, whether it`s witting or unwitting, it`s the case.  I mean, there is no doubt. 

I don`t know whether President Trump thinks he is doing this on behalf of the Kremlin, but his policies are clearly benefiting the Putin -- and if Putin wanted to create arguments to undermine the U.S., to undermine Britain, to undermine the western order, then he would be seeking to shutdown the U.S. government for a while.  He`d be seeking to support the Brexit campaign or he should be seeking to undermine the U.N.  He`d be seeking -- he`d be talking about withdrawing from NATO and collapsing this NATO that has stood up to Russia all along. 

So he`d be doing pretty much exactly what President Trump has been doing.  Is that witting, unwitting?  I don`t know.  But is it serving Putin`s interest?  Absolutely. 

WILLIAMS:  While all these days feel like days of consequence, this one especially, we`re so happy to have you.  Thank you. 

KRISTOF:  Good to be with you. 

WILLIAMS:  Revisiting our broadcast, Nick Kristof from "The New York Times". 

Coming up, as airports close more security lanes, thousands of furloughed FAA staffers are called back to work but without pay.  An update on today`s attempts to end this record-long shutdown.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  While Republicans are feeling the heat, Trump some but he seems impervious to people`s pain, which is just disgusting.  But our Republican colleagues in the Senate are, and more and more of them are beginning to scramble.

Our argument is simple.  Open the government.  Three words to Trump, McConnell and the Republicans.  Open the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Chuck Schumer appearing on this network tonight, day 25 of the longest shutdown in our history.  Talks remain stalled.  House Democrats today boycott a White House invitation and negotiate.

Our NBC News political unit reports at this way, "Moderate House Democrats declined President Donald Trump`s lunch invitation Tuesday because they were on the menu.  Trump`s strategy, White House officials say, is to make an end run around democratic leaders and cut a deal that builds the wall and opens the government".

President Trump maintains he won`t sign anything that doesn`t include billions for his wall, which he now calls a barrier.  Also today, a federal judge denied a request to pay air traffic controllers and other federal workers who remain on the job.

That ruling came down even as some furloughed workers at the IRS, tens of thousands of them in the FAA, are being called back to work with no pay.

With us tonight to talk about it, Donna Edwards, former Democratic Member of Congress representing the great state of Maryland, and Phil Rucker, Pulitzer prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for the "Washington Post."

Phil, any movement, any off-ramps that you know of?

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, WASHINGTON POST:  None, Brian, and that`s the problem facing both Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, and they`re growing exasperated because they know that it`s possible to get out of this shutdown quickly.

They can pass the spending bills that already cleared the House and sort of table a debate on border security, but that`s not something the President will tolerate or support.  He`s demanding his border wall funding, and of course Democrats will not tolerate that.

And what we have now is a stalemate where neither side seems to be talking to the other.  There has been no negotiation between the White House and Democratic congressional leaders in several days now.  I`m not sure any is on the agenda tomorrow, at least with the leadership.

And so federal workers are here in the crosshairs, and lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned that there is no end in sight.

WILLIAMS:  Congresswoman, I`ve heard otherwise smart, able people say only half in jest that if you want to end this, what it would take would be the TSA not coming in to work.  Pick a day, tomorrow, strangling U.S. air transportation.  That would get everyone`s attention.

When Chuck Schumer says that the Republicans are impervious to people`s pain, why can`t that label start to be applied to your party?

DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN (D), MARYLAND:  Well, here`s the thing.  I think, first of all, Federal workers really do believe in the work that they do.  And they don`t want to act responsibly.  The responsible thing to do is to pass the spending bills that have already passed.

And I think, frankly, there are Republicans increasingly hear them who are rumbling, and it`s going to compel Mitch McConnell to bring those bills up for a vote.  And then do the legislative work.  If the President doesn`t want to sign the bills or wants to veto those bills, he can do that, but the federal government will open because those bills will have passed the House and the Senate.

I think there would be an override of that veto.  There is an off-ramp here, and the off-ramp is to open government by passing the spending bills.  Negotiate later if you want to over border security.  Democrats continue to offer up border security whether its technology or personnel and smart ways to do border security.

And so this notion that somehow Democrats have not kept that on the table is really just wrong, and there are not going to be Democrats who break with the democratic leadership because Democrats are actually united in the call to open government and provide smart border security.

WILLIAMS:  Phil, it`s not like Congress can`t agree on anything.  They agreed to condemn the racist language of Steve King.  He`s already been stripped of his committee assignments.  I want to play for you a clip from a radio interview he gave tonight.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA:  We reached a place here now where I`m pretty comfortable with this.  I mean, I`m at peace in my soul with this, and I`m confident that, what I have done has been true and right and just and honest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right.

KING:  And much of those folks over there, I don`t condemn anybody, especially not to eternity, but I would -- I`m very comfortable standing before God and answering to all of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Phil, he is barely hanging on to a congressional seat in Iowa.  Is this story over, do you think?

RUCKER:  I don`t think it is, Brian.  He`s been condemned this week over those racist remarks, but that`s not the first time that Congressman King has made racist remarks like this.  I`ve been covering him for years, including on the campaign trail in Iowa.

He is always a flamboyant speaker, and he has made racist comments before and Republican leaders have sort of turned the other way when he`s done.  So this is the first time they`re really confronting it head on, condemning him in the Congress today.

We`ll see if there`s going to be any more disciplinary action, if perhaps there is any sort of move to seriously pressure him to resign or somehow expel him.  I`m also curious to see, frankly, when President Trump is going to weigh in on this.

He was actually asked earlier this week about these comments, and he claims to not be aware of them despite all the many hours we know he watches cable television.  He somehow missed all the reporting on Congressman King`s remarks.  But he probably has not missed it now, so we`ll see what he has to say the next time he`s asked.

WILLIAMS:  Donna, to Phil`s point, Steve King was Steve King, when you were in the House with him.  He`s been Steve King the same guy for many years.  Do you think this correctly can be converted into shining a brighter light on the President`s choice of words and ideology?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think there certainly is a link between the President and Steve King.  I mean, there`s really virtually no daylight between some of the remarks that the President has made and Steve King.

And frankly, I don`t think that the action that was taken today on the House floor, while a motion of disapproval is important, I think it`s time for Steve King to leave the Congress.  This is not about a choice of free speech.

Steve King can have his free speech outside the Congress of the United States.  He has brought real disrepute upon the Congress, repugned the Congress, and I think the Republican Party needs to cut him loose.  Otherwise it`s like a cancer that continues to grow on the Republican Party.

The Des Moines register today, in fact, called for his resignation.  This is the first time that an Iowa Democrat has not -- or an Iowa representative has not served on the agriculture committee, which is important to Iowa.

He is not serving the citizens of his congressional district.  I believe it`s time for him to leave, and then he can have all the free speech he wants.

WILLIAMS:  Really important point about the committee chairman, committee memberships.  Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Phil Rucker, our thanks for you both for coming on this Tuesday night.

Coming up for us, another dark night in early 2019 with shadows now cast clear across the Atlantic.  We`ll ask the historian Jon Meacham what it might take to repair a paralyzed government, a damaged alliance, when we come back.

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WILLIAMS:  Despite hundreds of thousands of federal employees going without paychecks due to the shutdown, despite the stories of genuine hardship in just about every community in America, it`s not enough to get anyone in our government to move.

The great divide in American politics has brought us the longest ever government shutdown, and so we are fortunate to have back with us tonight the Pulitzer prize-winning author and historian Jon Meacham whose latest work is "The Soul of America," as I remind him all the time.

So, take your pick.  The story this week that the President has discussed exiting from NATO.  Speaking of exits, there is the failure of Brexit and a huge question mark over our special relationship.  And then there`s the fact that our government is paralyzed.  Please.

JON MEACHAM, AUTHOR "THE SOUL OF AMERICA":  Everything is working out great.

WILLIAMS:  Yes. 

MEACHAM:  Yes.  I think, would then the worries would be most about the shutdown is one of the main reasons Donald Trump is president is because of an erosion of trust in the institutions that built NATO, that gave rise to the martial plan, that won the Second World War.

The Gallup found the highest percentage of confidence in the Federal government.  Do you trust Federal government to do right thing some or most of the time.  It was something like 77 percent in 1964.  It`s now at 17 percent and falling.

And you have this, I think the sense that the world`s collapsing, and people -- when the world`s collapsing, what you hope people they do is they reach for order.  What they reached for in 2016 was they reached for more chaos.  And I think the big question for every political leader who is not named Trump is what can we do, what can we say persistently to make the case that these institutions are worth defending.

WILLIAMS:  So, that helps answer another question I had.  Does this shutdown -- the `94-`95 Clinton shutdown is kind of hazy in history.  Is this the shutdown we remember for all the wrong reasons?  Also subset question, how are we ever going to attract people to work in government jobs again?

MEACHAM:  Its --

WILLIAMS:  It can be a noble calling, as you know.

MEACHAM:  Absolutely.  I think the interesting thing about `95-`96 was that was a big idealogical question, right?

Basically Clinton in some ways said to Gingrich, all right, you all say you don`t want government.  Let`s close it down.  And Gingrich did it and they adjudicated it and the country decided they wanted the government.

So we found ourselves in that kind of centrist position.  This is very specific, right?  I mean, there`s this -- and Donald Trump has the remarkable capacity to make things peripheral central.  It`s why he`s President again, is that he has -- he manages to dazzle us and distract us from the big questions we face.

The fight over this particular border, this particular wall, I don`t think is going to turn out well for him because ultimately the country knows, whether they know it intellectually, I think they know it in their bones that we have always done better the more widely we`ve opened our arms.  And that`s not a liberal point.  Fundamentally it`s a 19th century conservative point.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

MEACHAM:  It`s the "Wall Street Journal" speak free ideas, free men, free flow of goods.  If you believe in Adam Smith, you believe in an open world.  You believe in let`s get out there and compete.

I was thinking the other day about the first time George H.W. Bush went back to the White House.  You were probably covering it.

Right this June of `93.  It was to sell NAFTA.  And it was Ford, Carter, Clinton and Bush.  And Clinton gets up by protocol and goes first and gives this marvelous synthetic explanation of why globalization, added (ph) perfect.  And 41 gets up and says, what we`ve just seen once again why he`s here and I`m not.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

MEACHAM:  Think of that picture.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

MEACHAM:  Carter, Ford ran against each other.

WILLIAMS:  Continuity.

MEACHAM:  And it represented -- now, somebody on the other side of the economic equation is going to say to us, easy for you guys because you`re not struggling.  Fair enough.  But ultimately if you look at this in the sweep of history, prosperity leads to reform, reform leads to what Jefferson called the pursuit of happiness.

WILLIAMS:  We`ll pursue a final question with Jon Meacham on the other side of this break.

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WILLIAMS:  We are back with the historian and author Jon Meacham.  I`ll put it this way, our fathers` generation went to their graves probably believing that white nationalism was at least defeated in their time.  And wouldn`t roar back and be a thing again in this country they loved.  How wrong they were.

MEACHAM:  How wrong they were.  Persistent theme comes out largely out of the lost cause mythology that developed right after Appomattox (ph).  In fact, in January of 1866, so the surrender was barely the leak, was barely dry.  Richmond journalist named Edward Alfred Pollard wrote something called "The Lost Cause: A new Southern History of the late War."  There was no old history.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, great.  Thank you very much.

MEACHAM:  What he was arguing was that we lost slavery so therefore we have to carry on this battle by other means.  And it reads like Steve King could have talked about it.  It`s about, "We have to fight against consolidated government," which was there term for centralized government.  This is about white supremacy now, not slavery.

And within the last -- within the quarter century, right, 55 years ago in my native region we lived under functional apartheid.  So it took the work of Lyndon Johnson, it took Dr. King, it took Rosa Parks, it took John Lewis, it took this remarkable protest far from the centers of power to reach the centers of power.

But there is something in the American character and certainly in the European character that this flames up, and it`s why it requires eternal vigilance because if you don`t stomp it out in the beginning, it gets bigger.

WILLIAMS:  By way of thanking you, it`s not lost on us that this would have been the 90th birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had he been allowed to live old enough to brush gray hair.  Give me 30 seconds on what he might have been like in old age.

MEACHAM:  Oh, we know Taylor Branch has the great lines that he called Dr. King a 20th century founding father, a modern founding father.  And what he did in terms of nonviolence and in that speech in August of `63 called on us in the same way Lincoln did in Gettysburg to really fulfill what Jefferson laid out.

I think, he died on the cool side of the mountain.  He was focused on Vietnam.  He was focused on economic justice.  I think he would have been frustrated and I think -- but I know we`d be a better country if he had continued to lead us.

WILLIAMS:  Sure would have been nice to know the answer to that.  Jon Meacham, always a pleasure.  Thank you, sir.

MEACHAM:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, the men and women who are on watch tonight.  They have our back.  The problem is the government is not currently behind them.

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WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, a proud history interrupted.  This was the message today from the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz.  "Today you will not be receiving your regularly scheduled paycheck.  To the best of my knowledge, this marks the first time in our nation`s history that service members in a U.S. Armed Force have not been paid during a lapse in government appropriations".

He goes on to say, "Stay the course, stand the watch and serve with pride.  You are not and will not be forgotten."  There are 40,000 men and women on active duty in the Coast Guard, total payroll of close to 90,000.  Their motto, "Semper Paratus" is always ready and they are.

They have fought in all of our wars.  They are ready right now, wherever a vessel is foundering, wherever people are in peril from drug interdictions to high-sea rescues, they are there from Guam to San Juan from San Diego to Corpus Christi to Portland, Maine, to the top of the Mississippi.  They are on duty at this hour.  They own the water.  Their skilled aviators own the skies.

Here`s a stat for you.  After Katrina, the U.S. Coast Guard saved 33,000 people.  They have never needed saving themselves, yet at Coast Guard stations across our country their neighbors are stepping up.  There are food banks open, bake sales, people are making donations, serving free meals.

The Red Cross, get this, is actually helping distribute aid to Coast Guard personnel and families in need because their families are hurting because Washington is fighting, and from the FDA to the TSA to the IRS, the families of federal workers are suffering through no fault of their own.

That is our broadcast on a Tuesday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END