IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Roger Stone to be arraigned. TRANSCRIPT: 1/28/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Elliott Williams, Matt Zapotosky, Sabrina Siddiqui, Michael Steele,Peter Nicholas, Matthew Miller

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

BRIAN WILLIAMS:  Tonight a bombshell from Trump`s acting attorney general, he says Robert Mueller is close to completing the Russia investigation and says he look forward to the Special Counsel delivering his report.

And hours from now Roger Stone set to appear in D.C. federal court before a tough federal judge while the White House today had a chance but would not rule out a pardon for the long-time Trump adviser.

Plus a State of the Union back on the calendar.  Why Trump doubts any deal on his wall, and how the 2020 presidential field just got wider this past weekend. THE 11TH HOUR on a Monday night starts right now.

And as we start a new week, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here New York.  Day 739 of this Trump Administration.  Tonight, for the first time publicly Donald Trump`s Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker revealed Special Counsel Mueller`s investigation he says is nearly complete.  It`s not clear if Whitaker intended to make news about the Mueller inquiry today, as comments really came from out of nowhere late this afternoon and response to a question during an entirely unrelated press conference, his first ever as attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Before you came into your current role, you were publicly very critical of the special counsel investigation.  Now since you have received your briefings, is there anything you`ve seen or read that gives you concern about Special Counsel Robert Mueller over the investigation?

MATT WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  You know, I`ve been fully briefed on the investigation, and, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report, and I really am not going to talk about an open, ongoing investigation otherwise, but, you know, sort of the statements that I made where as a private citizen only with publicly available information.  And, you know, I am comfortable that the decisions that were made are going to be reviewed, you know, either through the various means we have, but right now the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Whitaker under the hot lights of the DOJ briefing room again for the first time in his tenure thus far.  It`s still not clear how much of that report the public will get to see.  Tonight the "Washington Post" is reporting Trump AG nominee William Barr, the man who is on track to replace Whitaker, should he be confirmed, has again refused to give senators a guarantee to publicly release Mueller`s report.  That revelation included in Barr`s written answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee which votes on his nomination tomorrow.  This could happen fast.

Now, senators Chuck Grassley and Richard Blumenthal pulls apart politically, and an Iowa Republican and Connecticut Democrat are pushing the same bill to guarantee that every special counsel report will be release directly to Congress and to the public effectively removing the attorney general, any attorney general from the process.

And as anticipation for this Mueller report grows, there is word that Michael Cohen will now testify before Congress.  He`s agreed to go.  This is an important distinction -- before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed door hearing on February 8.  Just a few days ago, Cohen decided to put off that public appearance before House Oversight on February 7 after what his spokesman said were ongoing threats against his family from the President.

And these new developments come as Roger Stone, the latest Trump associate to be charged by Mueller, is preparing to be arraigned tomorrow in federal court in Washington.

Reminder, he is accused of obstruction, witness tampering, lying to Congress, says he`ll plead not guilty.  Stone arrived in D.C. late today after a weekend of blasting the indictment as politically motivated and sending mixed signals about whether he`ll consider ever cooperating with Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR:  Any chance you`ll cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller if he asks?

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  You know, that`s a question I would have to determine after my attorneys have some discussion.  If there is wrongdoing by other people in the campaign that I know about, which I know of none, but if there is, I would certainly testify honestly.  I would also testify honestly about any other matter including any communications with the President.

JEFF PEGUES, CBS NEWS:  Is there a line you wouldn`t cross to protect the president?

STONE:  I`m not going to lie.  I`m never going to say anything that`s not truthful under oath or otherwise.  That`s the line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you willing to cut a deal with Mueller to avoid the case going to trial?

STONE:  I don`t answer hypothetical questions.  I have no intention of doing so, however.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The President now seems to be trying to -- wait for it -- distance himself from Roger Stone, his friend of 40 years, writing, "Roger Stone didn`t even work for me anywhere near the election. "It has been reported, however, that Mueller and his team are looking into phone and contact logs that show multiple calls between the then-candidate and stone back in 2016.

Today at the White House, the issue of possible pardons came up as it has so often before with Trump allies who found themselves targeted in this by Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALLIE JACKSON, MSNBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Has the President ruled out a pardon for Roger Stone?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I`m not aware of that.  I haven`t had any conversations regarding that matter.

JACKSON:  So does mean he has to conduct a pardon?

SANDERS:  Again, I`m not aware of any conversation even regarding that or a need for it.

JACKSON:  Can you guarantee that the President won`t pardon Roger Stone?

SANDERS:  Again, I`m not going to talk about hypotheticals that are just ridiculous of things I haven`t talked about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The federal judge overseeing Stone case in Washington, Obama appointee, Amy Berman Jackson is also handling the outstanding D.C. case against Paul Manafort.  Well, today the former Trump campaign chairman learned the judge in his Virginia case, the one in which he was convicted, has postponed his sentencing indefinitely due to what were called unresolved issues in the D.C, proceedings.  And that`s all we know.  All of this is adding to dark cloud of the Mueller investigation now over this presidency.

Today there was a question about that during the year`s very first White House briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Roger Stone last week, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, are you concerned, is the President concerned that as more and more of his associates former aides are brought into this investigation, are indicted with guilt in this investigation, that this presidency is in danger?

SANDERS:  Not at all.  In fact, I think nothing could be further from the truth.  The more that this goes on, the more and more we see that none of this things have anything to do with the President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILIAMS:  On that note, let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Monday night.  Matthew Miller, former Chief Spokesman for the Justice Department, Elliott Williams, former Federal Prosecutor, Deputy -- former Deputy a Assistant Attorney General during the Obama Administration, Matt Zapotosky National Security Reporter covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post" and Sabrina Siddiqui, Political Reporter for "The Guardian."  Welcome to all of you.

Mr. Miller, I`d like to begin with you.  Were you as surprised by the Whitaker`s statement in the briefing room on a separate topic entirely as we were and do you believe it?

MATTHEW MILLER, FMR JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF SPOKESMAN:  I`m surprised that he said it.  I`m not surprised by what I think he revealed.  And I do believe it.  It was an awkward performance obviously by the acting attorney general.  You could see the sweat kind of dripping off his face.  You could see him stammering and truly mumbling and trying to, you know, try to get through that answer.  And I think what happens sometimes when you see people and there is situation like that, they let things slip out that they won`t mean to  I think that`s what he did.

But I do think what he said actually tracks with some other signs you`ve seen in the case.  We`ve, of course, had, there was a reporting by Pete Williams and Kim Delaney from this network that Mueller was getting close.  When Rosenstein announce or at least told the White House that he was intending to leave, I think he -- the people close to him made it very clear to reporters that he was going to leave some time in the near future but that he expected the timing of his departure to coincide with the end of the Mueller investigation and some of the final stages.

Then we`ve seen some pieces of evidence in the case itself with some witnesses being allowed, you know, have been -- their cooperation ending and their sentences brought forward.  We`ve seen some cases refer to U.S. attorneys.  I think it all does track that we are getting near the end of this and we may see, you know, one or two other additional indictments or may -- we may be done with indictments and just looking at a report, but we are at the very final stage, I think, of this investigation.

WIILIAMS:  And, Elliott Williams, what about you, for young man you know a thing or two because you`ve seen a thing or two, as they say on the commercial.  You`re a veteran of the Department of Justice.  Even civilians reacted to this news today thinking, well, they just picked up Stone, he hasn`t appeared in federal court and we can all name those other possible names that could be on next rounds of indictment.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, DEP. ASSISTANT ATTY. GEN. UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA:  But again, given the breadth of Stone`s indictment, it`s hard to see how much further they would go, for instance, with Roger Stone.  He`s one of the most significant figures here.  So, you know, I would second Matt`s point that it would seem we are getting close to the end here, and there aren`t many other people who could potentially face serious liability.

Again, back to this point about why Whitaker was making that statement in the first place.  It`s hard to take much seriously from Matthew Whitaker as a general matter, but also with respect to this investigation where he`s largely compromised based on the statements that he made prior to being named attorney general and based on, frankly, he`s failure to follow the advice of career officials as to whether he should have rescued himself.

So, indeed there is no clear evidence or no clear sign that he should have refused based on -- what we`ve saw today, which is these doubts about his impartiality or integrity overseeing the investigation.

And again, the rules on recusal with the Justice Department are that if there is even the appearance of impartiality that a senior official should recuse.  And so, you know, I was just a little trouble that he was out there regardless of the merits of what he said.  It`s just hard to listen to him now.

WILLIAMS:  So Matt Z, if you will, to borrow from the bachelor.  Could it be that Mueller has or he`s planning to spend off more cases?  Could it be that this an interim A.G. with an audience as they like to say, an audience of one who knows he may have weeks left on the job and said something pleasing today, the next A.G. can deal with it?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  So, I`ll address this sort of one at a time.  I do think Mueller seems to be in wind-down mode.  I just kind of peaked in to the Stone docu today just to confirm the time of his court appearance to borrow.  And I notice that there were two assistant United States attorneys from the normal prosecutor shop in D.C.  In other words, not Mueller team member.  They were assigned at a case right from the jump that`s the first time Mueller has, from the jump, had other assistant U. S. attorneys on it.

I do see that as a sign that he`s preparing to hand off the Stone case to kind of the normal apparatus of the Justice Department.  He has used regular federal prosecutor shops on occasion and his work and assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia played a key role on the Manafort trial with the indictment of those Russians who Mueller alleged were involved in a social media influence operation.  A couple of D.C. U.S. attorneys or on that case though it`s a little more understandable why they would be on that case because no one is probably ever going to come back for that.  That could drag on for years.  Clearly Mueller isn`t going to stick around that long.

To address your other question about Whitaker, I`m kind of in Matt Miller`s camp here.  I think this was a slip-up.  I don`t think he went in there and I say this both from my observation of him and from reporting, I don`t think he went in there intending to make a big reveal and steal the thunder of his Huawei press conference.  I think he went in there and despite the fact he`s sort of TV trained, he`s a former CNN Legal Commentator, he slips up, he makes a reveal.

But I do think what he is talking about is true.  He is in-charge of the Mueller investigation now because he is the acting attorney general.  He said in that same answer he received a full briefing.  He`s certainly in a position to know if we`re close to the end.

Now, close to the end is kind of in the eye of the beholder.  They just indicted Stone.  There are some big things questions outstanding.  What do they do with Jerome Corsi who sort of publicly tore up the plea deal with them?  What`s the deal with this financial institution that is tied up in the Supreme Court?  There are some big question left to answer but I do think Matt Whitaker just kind of messed up today and revealed something he didn`t mean to which is Mueller is closer to the end than -- and he is to the beginning.

WILLIAMS:  And thank you for pointing out to our audience.  This was event of press briefing about a Chinese cellphone manufacturer, after all, and this was a question the A.G. took and answered.  So, Sabrina, part of the backdrop to this is Bill Barr.  We could be talking about a swearing in pretty soon.  It passes committee Mitch McConnell puts it on the docket, it`s done.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN:  Right.  The Senate Judiciary Committee is actively in the process of considering William Barr`s nomination and given Republicans still have control of the Senate, they can clear him with a simple majority vote, and certainly the Judiciary Committee is expected to advance his nomination in the coming week.  And I think Whitaker`s comments are significant because they, in many ways, tee up what is going to be the next front in this investigation, which is, once it concludes, Mueller will, of course, deliver a report.

And one of the concerns that Democrats have about Barr is he has not been willing to be clear on the circumstances under which he would make Mueller`s report public.  And there is a real question as to what he would do if the President were to try and invoke executive privilege.  And this ultimately depending on Barr`s handling of the matter is something that could end up in the courts, perhaps even make its way all the way up to the Supreme Court.

WILLIAMS:  Elliott, one more lawyer question for you since you`re House Counsel in this discussion.  There is no chance I can make this too complex as a layperson.  I keep hearing smart people on cable television all weekend say, "I bet they`re planning to come in with a superseding indictment to Stone that may be about obstruction or conspiracy or something like that."  If that were the case, would the feds ever say to him, "these seven counts were to get you in here, you may know what else we have on you, we`re working on that," that sort of thing?  Or does that only happen on movies?

E. WILLIAMS:  I think that only happens on movies.  There are all kinds of reasons you would supersede.  To some extent, you know, may be one of the - - some of the charges may have dropped away, they may have uncovered additional evidence that would present to him.  They may -- they`ll consolidate some charges.

So there`s all kind -- I wouldn`t read too much into that it`s just the -- the most recent indictment will be the one that they go with.  And so there will be superseding then.  Let me clarify some of the facts and it so for instance there might be information that, you know, wasn`t as detailed in the first indictment but the underlying information is the same.  But there`s all, you know, any number of reasons.  But to some extent, it`s an administrative thing so, you know, what you`ve seen on dragnet may not exactly be what you see tomorrow, yet, if another indictment comes in. 

WILLIAMS:  Thanks for dating me with the 1950s, `60s television series --

E. WILLIAMS:  Well you dated me by saying I was the young man so it --

WILLIAMS:  Well OK.  You know, is it a compliment in most people`s houses.  Hey, Matt Miller, both major newspapers were hard at work this weekend.  The New York Times, Washington Post, one did a list of contacts with Russians.  The other did a list of those who have lied about Russia.  The numbers per person are unbelievable and staggering.

We had a graphic compared -- prepared with them.  What`s behind it in your view?  What do you say to people who may know deep in their mind this is so not normal for a presidential campaign or a sitting presidency?

MILLER:  You know that -- the answer to that question really comes down to one of the main things at the heart of this investigation.  We see, as the Times, you know, detailed so well this weekend, other the just repeated number of contacts between people at senior levels, at mid-levels and junior levels of the campaign with or with any number of Russian.  Some direct intermediaries from the Russian government, some a little more tangental.  And then we see them repeatedly lied about it.  They lied about it publicly.  They lied about it under oath.  So they -- they lied about it to the FBI.

And the question, I think, is why do they lie about it?  Are they lying about it because they know it`s become a massive political scandal and they`re just trying to keep either trying to limit the political damage?  Or do they lie about it because there is an underlying crime, this under oath, this conspiracy or collusion that we talked about a lot that they`re really trying to protect to keep investigators from uncovering.  And that really, you know, is one of the central questions of this investigation.

And I think though we don`t know the answer to that question yet, at the end of this investigation, we may see, you know, a big criminal charge around conspiracy or we may not.  This may be the end of it.  And if this is the end of it without a criminal charge, I think the question for the American public is, you know, is direct criminality the only bar of appropriate behavior by which to judge the president and the people around him, or should we also take a look at, you know, whether the president violated his oath or the office with the way he handled himself with this respect to this investigation?

Is it OK that he and all the people around him lied about it repeatedly at the public whether or not he committed a crime?  I think as we get to the end of the investigation, those are going to be some of the big questions for Congress to deal with and ultimately for the public to deal with.

WILLIAMS:  So Matt Zapotosky, is that a wide lie about Russia.   Is that the bumper sticker in your mind as you make your rounds every day, as you sit down to write on deadline?

ZAPOTOSKY:  Absolutely, and I think that is what Mueller is driving, but I think we`re also starting to prepare for the possibility that, again, Mueller is nearing his end game, and maybe what we`re seeing is it.

I mean, people are complicated.  We may never get a satisfactory answer to the question of why did these guys all lie if there is some fact that they`re hiding that they`ve successfully kept hidden.  I suppose we would never know that.

And I think there is a third possibility that Matt didn`t mention is which is they lied because they`re liars, and there is no explanation other than that and that`s tough to get at.

I would say as we near the end here, though, feel like every development in the Mueller case, we`ve always asked ourselves, reporters, commentators, everyone, has always asked themself, what is next?  What does this tell us?  What does this tell us about what it means for Trump?  What is next for Mueller?

At some point there is going to come a time when this is it and it doesn`t necessarily have to end with the president in handcuffs as I think many people on the left side of the aisle want.  People can just sort of assess how significant this stuff is in and of its own right.  That`s one of the reasons I think we wrote that story about all the lies.

This is a really important investigation in American history.  We`re sort of looking at foreign influence, Russian influence in a presidential election, you know, by the Russians telling successful foreign influence in our election.  And there were all these people who either pleaded guilty or were charged with lying or obstructing that investigation.  That`s significant just by itself.

So even if we just end here today, I think there is a lot to be reflected on, and that`s sort of one of the reasons we wrote that story.  And probably one of the reasons "The Times" sort of addressed all these contacts between people in the Trump world and Russia, because that`s significant in and of its own right, too.

WILLIAMS:  So Sabrina Siddiqui, take us home.  So we learned today that Cohen will testify but behind close doors.  That means that we`ll have a several minute delay learning what he said while the Democrats get to the door and talk to the cameras in the hallway, to be quite honest about it.

But most urgently, Roger Stone in court tomorrow.  No cameras inside because its federal court but we will have courtroom artists at work.  I doubt he`ll leave the room with the Nixon wave this time.  He`s up against a very tough, very smart Harvard Law School judge appointed by Barack Obama.

Give us a preview of what we might be talking about this time tomorrow night?

SIDDIQUI:  Well it`s always hard to say with someone like Roger Stone who has such a bombastic personality.  He certainly made the case that he is going to be loyal to the president, and the president himself has sort of dangled or sent signals, I should say, that if you -- you may be rewarded for your loyalty with a pardon.  So there`s certainly some incentive for Roger Stone to hold his ground.

The one thing that`s important to remember about Stone is, as the White House says that he didn`t really hold an official title in the -- for most of the campaign, in many ways he has been Donald Trump`s longest serving political adviser.

They have known each other for decades in New York.  It was Roger Stone who over the years tried repeatedly to convince Donald Trump to seek the presidency.  And so, you know, his involvement, of course, is really key especially because WikiLeaks was the conduit for a lot of these hacked emails -- hacked Democratic Party emails to be released to the public.

And the question really is, when you read that indictment from last Friday, who exactly in the Trump campaign was Roger Stone reporting back to, according to those communications that were part of those documents.

WILLIAMS:  Sabrina Siddiqui, thank you as always.  Thanks as well to Matt Zapotosky, to Elliot Williams, to Matt Miller.  Really appreciate you all starting us off on this new week.

And coming up, as the President prepares for his delayed State of the Union address, the possibility of yet another shutdown looms.  Let`s not forget

And later, what more we`ve learned since that loyalty test two years ago that Comey talked about.

How one of our guests seized the pieces in the Russia investigation are starting to come together thanks to something a former New Jersey governor said.

The 11th Hour just getting started on a Monday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Twenty five after the hour, how about a moment of Zen?  This is how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed they were back in business this morning.  Look at this, it`s beautiful.  The imagery of the sun rising and then heading west across our country from the stunning Ghost H.D. satellite.  The caption, "We are back up and running this morning.  Thank you for your patience".

Well, in fact, hundreds of thousands of federal workers returned to work today now that the federal government is back opened after the President ended the stalemate with no money for his wall and no promise for wall money.  Temporary reopening is only good until February 15.  An interview with the "Wall Street Journal", Trump said he wouldn`t rule out another shutdown calling it certainly an option.

And the, "He doesn`t believe congressional negotiators will strike a deal over border wall funding that he could accept and vowed that he would build a wall anyway, using emergency powers if need be".  Trump also lashed out a conservative commentator, Ann Coulter, who called him a wimp for caving on the wall.  And he got back at her by calling her hostile.  That earned him a rebuked from a host on one of his favorite cabled news programs his go to Fox and Friends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX & FRIENDS HSOT:  I don`t think the President cares the way too much about people in the media.  He`s president.  He`s not a candidate.  He`s got to make some tough decisions and he`s not an absolute monarch.  There are times when you have leverage.  There are times you don`t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMNS:  I hope he wasn`t watching Bill Maher Friday night because Ann Coulter continued on Bill Maher.  Kilmeade`s comments come a day after Trump criticized two Fox News anchors by name on Twitter, "I never thought I`d say this but I think John Roberts and Gillian Turner at Fox News have even less understanding of the wall negotiations than the folks at fake news CNN and NBC".

In the meantime, the State of the Union is back on the calendar.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Trump to address the nation from the House floor on February 5.  Trump has accepted.

With us to talk about all of it, and it`s a lot, Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, and Peter Nicholas, who is important tonight, because he is the White House Reporter for the "Wall Street Journal".  And he was the last journalist to speak to this President by phone.

Mr. Steele, home field advantage counts.  You`re here, I`ll ask you this.  What was it all about, the shutdown probably cost the American economy $11 billion.  Rough math, that`s about twice the money of the President--

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  That`s for the wall.

WILLIAMNS:  -- that`s I was asking for--

STEELE:  Right.

WILLIAMS:  -- in the meantime.

STEELE:  Yes, yes.  Someone does--

WILLIAMS:  And if you`ve lost Fox News.

STEELE:  Well, there are two things.  You`re on two points.  One is that the idea that this was such an emergency we had to spend these resources, but it cost us more to do nothing.  And the President never calculated that because he thought for sure that everyone would just fall right into his lap or he would be able to bully them into a position.  Nancy Pelosi became the wall he didn`t anticipate.

The second piece, when you look at Fox, that`s a matter of exasperation which you heard from Brian Kilmeade was exasperation.  Because there is so much and so much time left in the hours of the day to defend and explain or ignore what this President says or does.  And I think you`ve seen now more and more the folks over the Fox giving to the point where it`s just not good business.

And it does impact credibility after a while.  You start to lose audience.  And those things are sort of that point.  Again, the President didn`t calculate.  He can`t control it.  And so, that`s why you see the tweets that you see.

WILLIAMS:  So, Peter, I know it was a telephone interview, but I`ll ask you nonetheless because they are still atmospheric sort of kind of thing and you`ve spoke with him before.  How did you find him and this threat of shutting down again maybe used emergency powers?  Was that crocodile in nature or did his voice sound real?

PETER NICHOLAS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Well, I found him, first of all, very willing to talk and in no hurry at all to get off the phone.  I mean, he seemed happy to discuss these things.  He said he was taken it back by images of some of the hardship that workers, furloughed workers, were enduring.  And he said he did not want to see people suffer any more than they were which was one of the reason why he wanted to bring an end to the shutdown.  And the other reason he said was it was just futile.

He thinks it was making the point that Democrats he said are under the control of radicals.  And, therefore, negotiations were fruitless.  And so he was going to put his hopes in this bipartisan committee that`s now meeting, although he was not at all optimistic about that. He was saying there is less than a 50-50 chance that they would produce anything that he could accept.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, I`ll have to show you the polling that our news organization has traditionally always done with the "Wall Street Journal," and it`s the benchmark category, is our nation on the right track or the wrong track, and boy, are the President`s numbers under water, 63-28.

I`m going to use two words to you, Mr. Chairman.  Down ballot.  Republicans running next time around for everything: Senate, governor, House, state legislature, town council.

STEELE:  It`s ugly.  It`s really ugly.  And that number is stunning when you consider the overall state of the economy.  When you consider that -- yes, there`s talk of recessions and there are some things you need to be concerned about at the edges at this point, but by and large, people when they look at the economy have a good feeling about where the economy is versus where it`s been.

So to have a 63 percent negative approval with respect to the direction of the country is more about the President than anything else.  How does that translate?  You put your finger on it.  When you started into this next cycle beginning this year, in the off-year elections for some state legislative that number materialized in those down ballot races to the negative where Republicans are going to lose seats that they currently have.

And we saw a preview of that in my home state of Maryland where our very popular, very successful Governor Hogan won a second term by double digits but we lost eight legislative seats in the process, we lost three account executive races.  That`s because the voters decided I like this governor but I don`t like Republicans.

And that`s the problem the party is going to have.  They may identify one or two Republicans on any ballot that they like, and they`re going to stick with him because his doing good.  They`re not Trumpers, they`re not all the crazy.  But any other Republican out there is pox in their houses.  So we`re sending a message that measures up to that 63% negative.

WILLIAMS:  So Peter, about those numbers that are two news organizations collaborated to poll in the field, talk to audience, members of our audience who don`t get to talk to the people who leak on the inside and people who work in this west wing of this administration.

Is that a degree of being under water on right track, wrong track, is that apparent in the conversations you have with them?  For example, where is the President going to get the lumber to put through this state of emergency and ram through these funds?

NICHOLAS:  It`s interesting, though, to talk to the President about just this issue.  We were talking about what his agenda might look like in the next two years before the election campaign really kicks in.  And he was saying that he`s not at all optimistic that he can get anything accomplished with his Congress, particularly with the Democratic-controlled House.

He said what they`re likely to do is to try to expel him.  I said, is there a chance an infrastructure deal passed?  And Democrats like infrastructure.  The President said he`d like to repair roads and bridges and tunnels, too, but he said he thinks their main agenda and priority is pushing him out of office presumably through impeachment.

So it was a pretty depressing message in that sense, that he just didn`t think or there would be anything constructive that would happen.  But he did say that he thinks that his popularity in the country is still high.  He thought he was very confident that he was going to win reelection.  He said the only reason the Democrats going to be doing this aggressive kind of oversight is because they can`t beat him at the polls in 2020.

WILLIAMS:  Every once in a while around here, we ask about infrastructure, especially those of us who spend any time in the Lincoln tunnel.  Michael Steele, Peter Nicholas.  Gentlemen, can`t thank you enough.  Terrific conversation tonight.

And coming up for us, Steve Kornacki is back at the big board this morning tracking a new twist in the race for the White House.  Don`t miss it, it`s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER CEO OF STARBUCK:  I`m seriously considering running for president.  And if I do, I will run as an Independent.  Now, the word independent is just a designation on the ballot.  If I run for president, I will run as an American under one banner, the American flag.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Former CEO of Starbuck`s, Howard Schultz, says he`s now, as you heard, seriously considering a run in 2020 as an Independent, and as we learned vidly and graphically tonight, not everyone is on board and excited by the prospect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHULTZ:  I wanted to clarify the word Independent, which I view merely as a designation on the ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don`t help elect Trump.  You egotistical billionaire --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So that happened at event here in New York.  Tonight, Trump himself seemed to troll the coffee king on Twitter today saying Schultz "Doesn`t have the guts to run."

And former New York City mayor and potential presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, who as you can see is an animated speaker, put out a statement that said in part, "An Independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the President.  That`s a risky refused to run in 2016 and we can`t afford to run it now".

Schultz is even getting push-back from people in his own home state.  This is the official Twitter page for the Washington State Democrats.  They shared the photo of a Starbuck`s cup with "Don`t do it, Howard" written on it.

Our National Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki is back at the big board tonight with more on what a Schultz 2020 bid might look like, and more on a hat that landed in the ring in Oakland, California this weekend.

Steve, first to Schultz, I got to say I don`t think i heard a single person today say publicly this is exactly what our country needs, go get him.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, you certainly hear a strong message coming there from Democrats, from folks on the left telling him not to do this.  The question that always comes up when a third-party candidate makes noise about running that question of will this candidate just be a spoiler, hurting one of the two major candidates?

Take a look here.  You see, these are basically the Independent candidates that have made a mark in modern presidential elections, and you always heard in the run-up to each one of these elections, you heard that fear from one side of the other go all the way back to 1980.

John Anderson, a Liberal Republican ran as an Independent.  The Carter, White House, Jimmy Carter who was terrified that Anderson was going to draw all of his votes from Carter.  But at the Carter campaign in the fall of `80 we`re in campaign saying don`t waste your vote, don`t waste your vote.  In the end Anderson drew just a little bit more from Carter than from Reagan.  But it turned out Carter just had so many bigger problems than that.

That election was a landslide.  Perot in `92, there was a lot of talk which candidate was he going to spoil it for.  The exit poll ended up showing though he drew evenly from Bush and from Clinton.  It wasn`t a spoiler there.  He was a shadow of himself in `96.

In 2016 you saw Gary Johnson, the libertarian, Jill Stein, the Green Party Candidate.  They were just a symptom each one was of the unpopularity of Trump and Clinton, the two major party candidates, really when you look for this spoiler effect.

In 2000 it ended up being sort of a perfect example of it.  Ralph Nader got 93,000 votes in Florida.  Al Gore only lost Florida by 537 votes.  Also, by the way Pat Buchanan, there was that whole issue with the butterfly ballot folks who -- it seemed in confusion voted for him.

So, in that very narrow circumstance, you can clearly see where third party had the effect.  But look, when it comes to the question here of Schultz and what effect he would have.  You heard it there.  The Democrats, they say he splits the anti-Trump vote.  And Trump got a majority disapproval rating right now.

The Democrats say, hey, those folks are going to content to vote against Trump.  Don`t give them more than one option.  Only give those folks one option.  They`ll all vote against Trump.  That will be it.  Trump will be out of office.  That`s certainly a theory that Schultz would complicate that.  Put the other theory out there because these things don`t always.

The history of these third-party candidacies is they don`t always land the way conventional wisdom says they will.  Here`s the other theory on Schultz though, does his candidacy end up this offer a home for what we called a reluctant Trump voters?

Remember these folks from 2016.  Traditionally voting Republican did not like Donald Trump.  Look through a lot of the campaign like they wouldn`t vote for Trump but in the end they sided with him because they couldn`t do it.  They couldn`t go and vote for Hillary Clinton.  Didn`t really think they had a viable third party option.

Hey, if you put somebody with the kind of money, kind of business, background.  Schultz says in the race as an Independent candidate, does that become a home for those reluctant voters?  So that`s the other theory there.

And very quickly you do mention Kamala Harris.  The switching subjects here, that Democratic race Kamala Harris getting in the race.  You can see here she`s running at nine percent in the most recent poll.

The big question mark, though, it is Biden, it is Sanders.  In this most recent poll more than 40 percent of the Democratic vote is with him.  We don`t know if Biden is going to run.  We don`t know if Sanders is going to run.  And you can see what a big question mark is when they`re gobbling up that much of the early support, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  I was just told of all our friends and contributors on this broadcast.  Its former Republican, former Congressman David Jolly who came out publicly in support of Howard Schultz today.  Steve Kornacki, thank you, as always, for that segment.

And coming up, how one of our next guests found a clue in Chris Christie`s new book not even technically out yet that may explain one of the most famous stories to emerge from the embattled Trump White House thus far of all.  We`ll have that for you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does the President ask you repeatedly to be loyal to him and you responded you would be honestly to be loyal, which is I think your way of saying, I`ll be honest and I`ll be the head of the FBI and Independent, is that fair?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR:  Correct.  I tried honest first.  I tried to hold the line, hold the line, it got very awkward.  And I then said you`ll always have honesty from me.  He said, honesty, loyalty and then I exceeded to that as a way to end this awkwardness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Two years ago, yesterday, that former FBI Director James Comey had dinner at the White House.  The dinner, during which he says the President told him, I need loyalty.  Few weeks later Trump and Comey would meet again and would talk about the investigation in the former National Security Director Michael Flynn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY:  It was an active investigation when on Valentine`s Day I was in the Oval Office for the first counterterrorism briefing of the new President.  And at the end kicked everybody else out saying he wanted to speak to me alone.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And what did he say?

COMEY:  He said he wanted to talk about Mike Flynn.  And then in substance in that conversation, he asked me which I took as a direction to let it go that he`s a good guy.  I hope you`ll let it go and I didn`t let it go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Stay with us here.  That conversation took place one day after Flynn had been fired for lying to the Vice President initially about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador during the transition.  Flynn eventually pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about those contacts.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who at one time was a member of the Trump transition team, is out with a new book.  It is out, I guess, right after midnight, first thing Tuesday.  It`s called "Let Me Finish."  And in it, Chris Christie writes, Trump believed Flynn`s firing was the solution to ending the Russia problem and inquiry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST, "GOOD MORNIGN AMERICA":  You`re having lunch with the President and Jared Kushner after he`s fired Michael Flynn they thought it would end the Russian investigation?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR:  Yes.  He said, listen, Flynn is the only guy who spoke to the Russian apparently.  And he said so, I think this is going to end it and I just laughed.  And I said, Mr. President, its unfortunate that I have to tell you this but having done this myself for a living we`re going to be talking about this on Valentine`s Day, February18.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  And of course as we now know Chris Christie turned out to be right, we have asked DOJ veteran Matt Miller to hang around for the better part of an hour to come back on and tell us, why Matt did you pay close attention when you heard Chris Christie say that, a detail about a lunch?  Chris Christie, his wife Mary Pat Christie in the White House.

MATT MILLER, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF SPOKESMAN:  Well, the key thing is because that lunch was on Valentine`s Day, as he said, the day after Mike Flynn was fired.  And it came just a few hours before this meeting that Jim Comey recounted in that conversation with Nicolle Wallace where the President cleared the room and asked Comey to back off the Flynn investigation.

And I think it`s critical because the key question about the President`s activity that day has always been his motive.  Why is it that he was asking the FBI director to back off the investigation?  Was he just trying to help someone who he really thought was a good guy not with it -- and not exert any pressure which is what the President`s defenders say?

And even Comey in his congressional testimony said that he didn`t think the President was trying to end the Russia investigation, he was just trying to end this piece with respect to Mike Flynn.  Well, maybe that was the case but now when you look at it in context to this lunch, it seems more like the President the day before had taken a step that he quite naively, as Christie pointed out, thought would end the Russian investigation.

He then has lunch with Jared Kushner and Governor Christie, Christie tells him, "No, you`re wrong, that`s not going to end the investigation".  And a few hours later, he goes with this meeting with Comey and then quite clumsily takes another step that he thinks might end in the Russia investigation.  I think his catch his actions and that meeting with Comey under an entirely different light.

WILLIAMS:  And in 30 seconds, take nothing away from you can we assume that has been part of a white board time line in the Mueller offices four months now?

MILLER:  They may not have known about the Christie conversation, because it was just for reveal today.  Although, I think that he may have earned himself an interview with the special counsel, but I think now, you look at the President`s time in and office.

And now you have the series of actions, he will point an Ag who be think will end the investigation, he recuses himself.  He fires Flynn in it investigation that doesn`t work.  He pushes Comey, that doesn`t work, he fires Comey, that doesn`t work, and he has been the summer after that, casting about trying to end the special counsel investigation.

It this long history, of the President taking a number of steps trying in the investigation and I`m sure that`s what the special counsel has been looking at.

WILLIAMS:  Well, Governor Christie has earned himself a meeting -- an interview on this broadcast, Wednesday night.  We`ll bring that to you.  And ask him about this and Matt Miller we`re indebted to you for sticking around.  Thank you very much.  We`ll back with more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  A right quick before our last thing tonight, we have some reminders for you, we try to do this from to time to time especially for our time shifting viewers and we have a lot them.

You can watch us anytime you please, download the MSNBC app on your phone, just click on the show and it plays, if you`re on the move as many if you are right now, you can listen live each night.  SiriusXM satellite radio, we`re also available as a Podcast.

So, there is really no reason why you`d ever have to miss a single broadcast of THE 11TH HOUR which continues right after this with a humanity-restoring moment from the Texas today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, no veteran should be buried without anyone in attendance.  It`s thanks to the fact that enough of us American share that very basic belief that fellow veterans and civilians from all walks of life showed up today to make sure that a Texas veteran was not be all alone at the time of his last final farewell.  Not much has known about Joseph Walker, he was a U.S. Air Force vet who died of natural causes.

Back in November, he was 72 years old.  He joined the military when he turned 18.  He served from 1964 to 1968 during the Vietnam War, received an honorable discharge at an unknown rank.  And after a long delay, when the Central Texas State Veterans` Cemetery announced funeral plans for Walker this past weekend, they said they didn`t expect anyone to attend.

He had no next of kin, he was classified as an unaccompanied veteran.  But it turns out, he had hundreds of people who he never knew, who considered him their brother, after word got out, mostly on social media that there was even a chance of a vet being buried without anyone there to bear witness.

Here`s what happened, traffic backed up, because all kinds of people showed up from neighboring Killeen, Texas and far beyond.  It ended up being a warm service, and a fitting send-off.  The flag from his casket will be kept for 90 days.  If no family member comes forward to claim it, it will be flown above the cemetery, in honor of Joseph Walker, who stood up for his country when he was needed just as complete strangers stood up for him today out of respect and to show their thanks of a grateful nation.

That`s our broadcast on this Monday night as we start this new week.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Happy Monday, thanks for being here.  There`s a lot going on tonight and there`s a lot going on coming up. 

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