Trump gives new interview to New York Times. TRANSCRIPT: 1/31/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Peter Baker, Berit Berger, Clint Watts, Jeremy Bash, Jacqueline Alemany, Alan Gomez, Bill Kristol

REP. BARBARA LEE, (D) CALIFORNIA:  And that`s evidence-based.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Congresswoman Barbara Lee, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

LEE:  My pleasure.

O`DONNELL:  Barbara Lee gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, President Trump speaks to "The New York Times."  He calls the negotiations over his wall a waste of time and he calls the presidency a big looser for him financially.  That`s just the start of it.  We got the reporter who interviewed him standing by with more.

Plus, the President said he never spoke to Roger Stone about WikiLeaks, that comes not long after a Mueller revelation that the feds have found a ton of material from Stone`s computers and devices and this case just got longer than first expected.

And yesterday, he said his own intelligence chiefs need to go back to school.  Today, Trump says they were misquoted, even though we can see and read their sworn testimony that was nothing like their boss` view of the world.  All of it as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening, once again, from our next NBC News headquarters in New York.  Day 742 of the Trump administration.  And "The New York Times" just published an interview with the President who sat down with reporters Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker.  Peter standing by to join us on a moment.  President talked about a wide range of topics many of which we`ll cover here tonight.  But we begin with his comments on Roger Stone, his longtime political adviser, friend of 40 years who was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last Friday.

The "Times" reporters write that Trump, quote "brushed off the investigations that have consumed so much of his presidency, saying that his lawyers have been reassured by the outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that the President, himself, was not a target.  Mr. Trump said, he never spoke with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and the stolen Democratic e-mails it posted during the 2016 election, nor did he direct anyone to do so.  No, I didn`t, I never did, he said, of speaking with Mr. Stone on the subject.  Did he ever direct anyone to get in touch with Mr. Stone about WikiLeaks?  Never did.  he repeated, I`ve always liked -- I like Roger, he`s a character, Mr. Trump said, insisting that the FBI agents charging a house like they did at 6:00 in the morning, I think that was a very sad thing for the country."

Earlier today, we got a new picture of the full scope of the special counsel`s investigation into one Roger Stone and in plain English, they have a ton of potential evidence to sort through.  Today, the Mueller team argued for a delay in the federal statute that guarantees defendants a, quote, "speedy trial.  Mueller`s court filing called the evidence the government now has involving Stone, quote "both voluminous and complex.  It is composed of multiple hard drives, containing several terabytes of information consisting of, among other things, FBI case reports, search warrant applications and results, e.g., Apple iCloud accounts and e-mail accounts, bank and financial records and the contents of numerous physical devices, e.g., cellular phones, computers and hard drives.  The communications contained in the iCloud accounts, e-mail accounts and physical devices span several years.  The government also intends to produce the contents of physical devices recently seized from his home, apartment, and office.

Again, in other words, that`s a lot.  There is so much they need more time to go through it all.  The FBI gathered much of the material when agents raided Roger Stone`s home.  During his arrest in Florida predawn last Friday.  Earlier today, Stone was asked about what was seized and about Mueller`s latest court filing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It says the evidence against you is voluminous and complex.  Does that scare you at all?

ROGER STONE, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  My attorneys have agreed to that.  It is so voluminous and complex that a speedy trial is literally impossible.  So we stipulated to that in the hearing before the magistrate and both parties agreed to that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  Prosecutors have charged Stone with obstruction, witness tampering, and lying to Congress about his efforts to get hacked e-mails from WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.  The White House has said that charges have nothing to do with Trump and Stone says he`s not guilty.  Since his arrest, Stone has been vocal about the treatment he received at the hands of the FBI agents who took him into custody.  Allegations, which as we mentioned, have drawn the attention of Trump as well as Republicans in Congress.  On top of saying he won`t bear false witness for his friend of 40 years, Donald Trump, Roger Stone has also given somewhat cryptic responses when asked about potentially cooperating with Robert Mueller.  He addressed both those issues earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STONE:  I was not read my Miranda rights.  I was brought out of the house.  I was handcuffed.  I was standing in the street wearing a Roger Stone did nothing wrong t-shirt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You actually said you won`t bear false witness against the President.  So that mean that you are ruling out cooperating with Robert Mueller? 

STONE:  This is a question that I will have to refer to my lawyers, ultimately.  All I can tell you today is I will tell the truth. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Have you talked to the President since the raids? 

STONE:  I have not. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  Stone will be back in court tomorrow.  There`s a lot of speculation this judge is going to issue a gag order against him, which he has said he may fight. 

Also, tonight, a new poll giving us a snapshot of how the public views Trump allies and campaign operatives.  All of them caught up in Mueller`s dragnet.  This is a new Monmouth University Poll finds that 62% of Americans believe President Donald Trump was aware that people associated with his campaign like Manafort, Cohen, even Stone, tried to mislead government investigators or Congress. 

Same poll finds that just over half the public, 51%, say the Mueller investigation should continue while 45% say it`s time for it to be over. 

With all that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel for a Thursday night.  Clint Watts, former FBI Special Agent and member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, he also happens to be the author of "Messing with the Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians, And Fake News."

Also with us, Berit Berger, Veteran Federal Prosecutor, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney with both the Eastern District of New York and for good measure, the southern district of New York.  And in Washington tonight, the aforementioned Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times."

Peter, you get to go first.  First of all, you`ve conducted several interviews with this man.  I heard your colleague, Maggie Haberman, who was in the Oval Office with you, in a telephone interview tonight say that in one way this felt to her like one of the more traditional interviews he`s given as president.  My word, not hers.  Do you concur? 

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Yes, think that`s right, in a way.  You know having done -- as you say this in the past, you can walk out of an Oval Office interview with the President and he has said so many things that are by normal political standards pretty sometimes provocative, wild, things other politicians wouldn`t say.  This interview, he was more careful.  It was more sticking, you know, within the lanes of traditional politics a lot more.  You know, denying he`d done anything wrong in a number of instances, talking about his record.  Trying to make the best case for what he`s done so far, and taking on Nancy Pelosi.  But not in the way he has done in the past. 

You know, I remember going in to see him in July of 2017, for instance, the first time I interviewed him with Maggie and my colleague, Mike Schmidt, and he went off on Jeff Sessions.  It was sort of the beginning of what would become a year and a half of badgering Jeff Sessions until he finally got fired.  That was the first time he had -- we didn`t expect that to be part of the interview, and yet he just sort of introduced it. 

We didn`t have anything quite that surprising today but a lot of the things he said were significant, are important and will be examined, I think, as part of, you know, the understanding of what these investigations are telling us, and where we are with things like the border wall dispute. 

WILLIAMS:  This President still sometimes not used to the scrutiny or everything being shared.  Also seems to wear his feelings on his exterior, like his tell that he`s uncomfortable is often to wrap himself up in his own arms, which your piece notes he did when the subject of Russia came up.  I`ll read an excerpt from your writing tonight with Maggie Haberman.

"President dismissed the importance of the proposed Trump Tower.  His team was seeking to build in Moscow at the height of the election, but he denied his own lawyer`s account, Rudy Giuliani`s account, of how late in the campaign he was still discussing the project.  He also denied that his Twitter messages about former associates who are cooperating with prosecutors amount to witness tampering."  Peter, that`s a lot and I stretch right there.

BAKER:  Well, it is a lie.  And so I think, the first time he`s been asked some of these questions, anyway.  You know, of course, Michael Cohen had been the one orchestrating this possible project in Moscow.  He`s the one who first admitted he`d been lying about when that conversation had actually gone through.  Rather than January 2016, it went all the way through the summer of 2016, he said.  Rudy Giuliani later said it actually could have gone all the way through November.  The President said today, no, that wasn`t the case. 

But you`re right, these tweets about Michael Cohen have been pretty striking.  Michael Cohen has taken them as threatening.  The President said that authorities should look into Michael Cohen`s father-in-law.  We asked him to explain what he meant by that.  And he really wouldn`t.  But he said they did not amount to witness tampering.  He wasn`t trying to, you know, on obstruct justice with them, but, of course, we asked him what he was trying to do, he says well, I just -- everybody has a right to free speech in effect. 

WILLIAMS:  We commended to everyone`s attention who`s watching, but do you remember any other moment that you kind of noted to yourself, well, that`s new.  Or that`s a change. 

BAKER:  Well, a number of things, I think it was interesting to hear him say that Rod Rosenstein had told him or his lawyers, he kind of said it both ways at different points, that he was not target of the investigation.  Now, we don`t exactly know what that means.  That could mean simply that the prosecutor isn`t going to indict him because Justice Department policy is you can`t indict a sitting president.  If that`s the case, then it`s not really that meaningful a reassurance. 

On the other hand, if it`s meant to be that they`re going after people around the President but don`t have any evidence the President, himself, has done anything wrong, that would be a different interpretation.  And of course, it doesn`t stop Congress.  Congress is really going to be the ultimate decider here in terms of accountability for this President, if the Justice Department isn`t capable of indicting a sitting president, the House of Representatives certainly is capable of launching impeachment proceedings and the question would be, will Robert Mueller be referring any kind of information that could ultimately end up in the hands of the House of Representatives for such a trial?  We don`t know for sure, obviously. 

WILLIAMS:  And Peter, the points you raise are exactly why we invited an FBI veteran and a former federal prosecutor to be with us here in New York tonight.  Barrett Berger, I have a couple for you.  Number one, what does it mean?  Do you take it on face value, he`s been told he`s not a target?  Is that possible? 

BERIT BERGER, FMR ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  All right.  So these are really legal terms of art within the Department of Justice.  So there`s sort of three categories that somebody can be and if you are within the scope of an investigation, you can be the most benign level, just a witness, you can be a subject to investigation or you can be a target.  Being a target really means that prosecutors there have evidence or have significant reason to believe that you actually committed crimes in connection with this investigation and it likely means that you`d be indicted. 

If you`re called to testify before a grand jury and the prosecutors think that you are a target of this investigation, they`re obligated to tell you.  But I will say, if these are very fluid categories.  So just because somebody was not a target one week, you could be the subject of an investigation one week, that should give a defendant no comfort that they would not then be a target the next week. 

WILLIAMS:  And when you`re a target, don`t you get a letter to show your friends? 

BERGER:  You can get a target letter, I don`t know if you really want to show your friends, but, again, it would give you no comfort because the minute prosecutors develop additional facts or find other witnesses, you could very easily move from a subject to a target just like that. 

WILLIAMS:  And I have to go back because it landed with a thud, when Roger Stone says he wasn`t Mirandized, did you believe that?  Do you take that on face value?  What should we think of that? 

BERGER:  I do not believe that.  In an investigation of this caliber and with an arrest that`s this important.  It is, frankly, unbelievable that he would not have been Mirandized at some point. 

WILLIAMS:  And law enforcement today, I`m guessing a majority of those officers might have had body cams on, so there might be some evidence. 

BERGER:  Absolutely.  They may or may not have body cams on, but this is just standard operating procedure.  So I can think of no good reason why, you know, the agents would deviate from what is, you know, a very standard practice in this kind of an arrest. 

WILLIAMS:  Clint Watts, none of us in our newsroom had any idea what a terabyte was today, but it just sounds bad. 

CLINT WATTS, FMR FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Yes. 

WILLIAMS:  It sounds like, in lay parlance, they found a mountain of stuff on this guy. 

WATTS:  Sure.  Tera -- if you look, if you know those towers like at the Apple store, that`s a 2 terabyte tower which was store multiple computers, multiple hard drives if you wanted to.  It`s a lot of data, multiple cell phones, multiple files.  It sounds like there`s a ton of things there, which just begs the question, why is there so much of that stuff?  This is a guy who basically brags of being the godfather of dirty tricks. 

You know, he talks about, you know, what his cases are?  He essentially is building cases on other people.  He`s communicating or trying to communicate through surrogates with WikiLeaks.  I mean, who knows what all is in there.  And this has always been the danger of these investigations is other crimes can be discovered in the course of that investigation or could inform multiple different cases, who knows. 

I don`t believe anything really that the President, Rudy Giuliani, or Roger Stone say at this point because they`ve always backtracked back and forth against each other, so same with the Miranda rights or any of these things that are going on.  I think this is a show that Roger Stone wants.  I think it`s a fight that Roger Stone wants and he is going about this trial in exactly the way he was probably prepared to go about it. 

WILLIAMS:  Berit, last night sitting where you are right now was Governor Chris Christie who hopped on this line of reasoning that they want to have the FBI`s practices, predawn, Fort Lauderdale, looked into, that everything didn`t look to be on the up and up.  That it was overwhelming force.  I want to play this exchange.  We`ll talk about it on the other side. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FMR NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR:  One of the first things that has made me uncomfortable about the Mueller thing was the Stone arrest.

WILLIAMS:  Why is that?  Now, you have carried out arrests as a U.S. attorney.

CHRISTIE:  Many times.

WILLIAMS:  You know standards and practices.

CHRISTIE:  Standards and practices on that is if there`s not evidence of imminent destruction of evidence.

WILLIAMS:  Which we don`t know.

CHRISTIE:  Well, he said that there wasn`t and that there were no weapons.  Now, whenever I did a raid like that as U.S. attorney, it was because of weapons.  If we knew through our investigation that someone had even a weapon in their house, a firearm, then we sent the people in that way for two reasons.  One, to make sure that our FBI agents were not harmed, and two, to try to make sure that the person didn`t harm himself.  So you try to go in with that kind of force to be able to do that.  I don`t see evidence of either one of those things here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  So Berit, when you learn we have a couple terabytes, which we now learn is not a wound left behind by a dinosaur, but a whole lot of data, can you infer that maybe there was a risk of destruction of evidence?

BERGER:  Certainly.  I think there`s a few points to this.  First of all, Roger Stone knew he was under investigation.  So he had known he was both a subject and a target of this investigation for quite some time.  I think this actually adds to the risk factor when you`re looking into going to in effect an arrest warrant.

This is somebody who was, you know, prepared for this.  He had had threats of violence as the basis of some of the charges to this.  So, you know, Governor Christie saying well, we`d only do this if, you know, we knew that there was going to be a weapon.  First of all, that`s one factor.  It`s not the end of the discussion.

But also, somebody who knows that stuff may be coming to a head who`s been prepared for this, and who has made threats of violence in connection with your case, I don`t think you can just take the risk that, like, we`re pretty sure there`s no weapons in the house.  I think they have to play it very cautiously.  And one of the ways you play it cautiously is by having a lot of agents, by doing a predawn, you know, court-ordered arrest.

WILLIAMS:  You`re nodding vigorously.

WATTS:  It`s not even just about the weapons, it`s also a bout the public hysteria around this case.  I mean, Roger Stone is someone who`s prolifically gone out, been combative both in terms of the FBI, this investigation, witch hunt.  You don`t know what his followers are like.  You don`t know what his supporters are like.  That is as much to protect the public, to protect the scene and to be able to control that situation.  You would have to bring in more people to do that.

Governor Christie, you know, talking about, oh, standard practice with firearms, hey, how many standard practice investigations have you done where it`s an associate connected to the President`s campaign that`s been a national case for almost two years?  I mean, this is a major scene that needs to be controlled.  It`s as much about the public as it is about the person.

WILLIAMS:  Wish you`d been here with us last night in the studio.

WATTS:  I do too.

WILLIAMS:  And a word about Peter Baker whose day included a conversation in the Oval Office, went back to the office, oh, by the way, posted this piece with Maggie Haberman and thought enough of our broadcast to join us at the end of a very long day.  So with that, our thanks to Peter Baker, to Clint Watts, to Berit Berger for being with us.

And coming up for us on a Thursday night, Trump claims the media misquoted and distorted the testimony of his intelligence chiefs.  We`ll play the tape.  We`ll let you decide what`s fake and what`s right after this.

And later, the four-letter word Democrats say will not be part of any immigration deal.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on yet another consequential Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you still have confidence in Gina Haspel and Dan Coats to give you good advice?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I disagree with certain things that they said.  I think I`m right.  Time will prove that from -- time will prove me right, probably.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  This is about the President`s own feud with his own intelligence agencies.  It reached a new level today.  He`s lashing out after the directors of CIA, FBI, national intelligence, contradicted their boss` views about national security.  In stark terms, right there in front of Congress and the American public, yesterday, the President ridiculed them as passive and naive and suggested they go back to school.

Trump met with those same intelligence chiefs in the Oval Office today.  What must that have been like?  To express his displeasure in person, we presume, about the conversation according to tonight`s "New York Times" interview, "Mr. Trump said the intelligence chiefs told him their presentation was misinterpreted.  They said, sir, our testimony was totally mischaracterized, Mr. Trump said."  Here`s how the President described the meeting a few hours earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, did you talk to your intelligence chiefs today about the displeasure you had with their testimony?

TRUMP:  I did and they said that they were totally misquoted and they were totally -- it was taken out of context.  What I do is I`d suggest that you call them.  They said it was fake news, so, which frankly didn`t surprise me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, we just read exactly what they said to Congress --

TRUMP:  Excuse me.  Excuse me.  It didn`t surprise me at all, but we`re here to talk right now about China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  Worth repeating we watched those top intel officials, experts in their fields, in their own words, offer their professional assessments in live televised testimony.  On top of that, the 42 pages of written testimony they submitted.  Here`s a reminder of what the directors had to say about the threats that Trump has declared neutralized.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  The Kremlin is stepping up its campaign to divide western political and security institutions and undermine the Post-World War II international order.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR:  Not only the Russians continued to do it in 2018, but we`ve seen indication that they`re continuing to adapt their model and that other countries are taking a very interested eye in that approach.

GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR:  All of us at this table would agree that it`s very important that we maintain pressure on the terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  None of that was fake news.  None of them misquoted.  No representatives from any of those officials have retracted any of their remarks.

With us for more tonight, Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon, former counsel to the House Intel Committee.

Jeremy, those intel chiefs weren`t misquoted.  They were unambiguous.  What is going on here?

JEREMY BASH, FMR CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  And they weren`t winging it, Brian.  I`ve worked on those threat intelligence briefings from the executive branch.  I`ve also sat on the other side of the dais as counsel to committee receiving those briefings.  That is a carefully orchestrated 42- page thoroughly vetted and clear statement, a consensus statement by all 17 intelligence components.  It`s submitted to the chairman and the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

It`s delivered live on television in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Congress, and the entire planet.  There`s no way that they were misquoted, in fact, the President, I think, was just caught in a horrible lie when he was asked about it in the Oval Office.  And it`s a dangerous lie, Brian, because it undermines the intelligence community`s efforts to collect, analyze, and report on developments that affect everything the President`s working on.

So if the President doesn`t listen to them or take their word with respect to North Korea, he could cut a very bad deal for the United States.  Same with Iran.  If he underestimates ISIS, the same holds true.  Of course, with respect to Russia, he`s been refuting the intelligence community`s assessments ever since that Seminole January 2017 intelligence community assessment that said that Russia interfered in favor of Donald Trump.  I think since then the President has distrusted his intelligence chiefs and has become to the detriment of our intelligence effort worldwide.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, if you`re Kim or if you`re Putin, this one just went through the uprights.  This is Christmas morning.  You can`t believe your good fortune.  The American president is publicly with the whole world watching doubting his intelligence chiefs.  Gina Haspel at the CIA is marking 34 years of government service this month.

BASH:  Yes, I think combined at that dais, you had 180 years of combined intelligence, the expertise that the President dismissed with the back of his hand saying they`re passive, they`re naive, they should go back to school.  Again, it`s highly insulting.  It`s not that there`s bad morale at the agencies because they have some very cool missions.  And the people I talk to there love their work and love their job and, of course, love the country they serve.

But it is dangerous because it undermines their word, it undermines their credibility.  So when those intelligence officers go out to liaisons, other allies, and they talk about reports that they`re working on together, how is another agency or another country to believe our professionals if our own President doesn`t?

And as you noted, nothing delights Vladimir Putin more than to see two things.  Number one, is that the NATO alliance is undermined.  And number two, is that the U.S. intelligence community is under fire because both of those, in effect, can constrain Russian malign activity around the globe.

WILLIAMS:  If you`re sitting in London and Paris, any number of our big important allies, do you get it, do you understand what you`re seeing may not be real?

BASH:  Yes.  Look, I think fundamentally in the U.K. and among our other key allies in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the world, they know at the professional level that the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, still are doing their job in a professional manner.  And their work can be counted upon.  Except again when you have the President not listening to them, boy, it`s a very dangerous situation because what would he do in a real no-kidding crisis?

We happen to be largely at peacetime, of course, we have troops deployed in several war zones around the world.  We have a number of hotspots and a number of challenges we`re dealing with.  But if heaven forbid, Brian, we find ourselves in a true shooting crisis, if you will, a true threat posed to the homeland or to the United States.  And the President does not listen to his intelligence committee, does not accept facts, I don`t know how we navigate out of that crisis.  I don`t think anybody does.

WILLIAMS:  Knocking on wood as we speak.  Jeremy Bash, we really wanted to be able to talk to you tonight.  Thank you for making it happen.

BASH:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  Thanks for coming back on the broadcast.

And coming up for us, the President`s insistence that plenty of new wall is already being built.  He says if Congress won`t give him more, he won`t even look at what lawmakers come up with.  The latest on efforts to avoid, would you believe yet another shutdown, when we come back.

 (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  On February 15th, the committee will come back and if they don`t have a wall, I don`t even want to waste my time reading what they have because it`s a waste of time because the only thing that works for security and safety for our country is a wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  With negotiations to avoid another government shutdown appearing stalled, President today took Democrats to task for blocking his wall, as you heard, predicted Congress would fail at their negotiations and claimed the wall is already a reality, all if a span of just a few minutes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I don`t think they`re going to make a deal.  I see what`s happening.  If there`s no wall, it doesn`t work, and we`re building the wall right now.  I mean, a lot of people don`t know that, but we have a lot of wall under construction.  We`ve given out a lot of contracts over the last three, four weeks.  Good contracts.  A lot of wall is soon going to be under construction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  NBC News has fact checked that claim.  Just to be clear here, "This is false.  The White House has not yet built any new section of border fencing or wall."  Then there`s Trump`s choice of words.  This is Trump in recent weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  The only thing that`s going to stop that is great border security.  With a wall or a slat fence or whatever you want to call it.  And we`ll call it a barrier instead of a wall.  And I`m OK with that, too.  I don`t care what you call it, but it`s got to be there.

The wall, the barrier, whatever you want to call it is OK with me.  They can name it whatever they can -- they can name it peaches.  I don`t care what they name it, but we need money for that barrier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  But this was Trump on Twitter today and we quote, "Let`s just call them walls.  From now on and stop playing political games.  A wall is a wall" whatever you want to call it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi maintains a wall is a nonstarter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  There`s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Now, regarding his relationship with Pelosi, this is what Trump told "The New York Times" tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I think Nancy Pelosi`s hurting our country very badly by doing what she`s doing.  And, ultimately, I think I`ve set the table very nicely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  He went on to say, "I`ve actually always gotten along with her, but now I don`t think I will anymore."  It`s a lot to talk about tonight.

But we have two professionals to do that.  Jackie Alemany is with us, political reporter for the "Washington Post." author of paper`s morning newsletter "Power Up."  And Alan Gomez is back with us, "USA Today" immigration reporter.

Jackie, I was going to do due diligence and asked you what your reporting is regarding the conference committee, whether they`re optimistic that they`re doing their jobs.  Now we hear it`s a waste of time.  Where do you put the state of play?

JACQUELINE ALEMANY, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, the part of Maggie and Peter`s fantastic interview with the President that I really honed in on was the President saying we may or may not declare this national emergency because that is what he is suggesting that he`s leaning into, right?

If there is no deal, that he`s going to sign that the committee can put together, he says that there is still going to be a wall.  So what other way he`s going to get that wall?  He is suggesting that he`s going to declare a national emergency, but I was -- as soon as that article broke, I was literally on the phone with a source from the hill.

Who would said that, the red line even for Republicans is increasingly becoming the declaration of a national emergency.  This is something that even those on the far right flank are increasingly against because of the abuse of power that it shows.

What is a few sources inside the White House and on the hill both said that, what is to stop Democrats in the future from going forward from using this national emergency declaration as a model of the way that they would govern when it came to, a mass shooting or Medicare or other various issues that Democrats could potentially, mimic Trump`s national security claims and say this is a national security problem, people, we`re going to, use this abuse of power.

So it`s, it`s not just Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats here.  There are problems that the President is facing within his own party, with the actions that he`s taking.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Alan, you get the fun part.  The crass political theory is what may be going on here is President declares a national emergency, it`s stopped instantly by the courts, it`s hung up in litigation, perhaps exceeding his time in office, he is able to say to the base, I got stopped by the swamp, it`s in court, I tried for the wall, we`ll get what we can get.  Alan, we`re never above good, crass politics on this broadcast.  Do you put credence in that?

ALAN GOMEZ, IMMIGRATION REPORTER, USA TODAY:  I do because I think one of the things that the Trump base likes as much as the wall is trashing the judicial system.  The 9th circuit court of appeals out in the west is one of Trump`s favorite targets.  He`s criticized judges left and right every time they rule against him or his foundations or his university.

And so if he can just stand up there and say, hey, look, I tried, but these activist judges did it again, they held us up, that, I think, is enough for him.  I mean, they -- it`s really hard to overcome that.  That legal process will take some time because as we`ve said so many times in this Trump administration, trying to declare a national emergency to build the wall is something we have never seen before.

So that will get tied up in legislation.  And there are argument on both sides, and it really hasn`t been tested were something like this, so it could get tired up for the entirety of his presidency, but that does kind of give him the cover that he needs and in a way could kind of get us to move on to really working on a broader immigration bill that actually deals with some of the issues that need to be dealt with.

WILLIAMS:  Jackie, next Tuesday night, the speaker of the house is going to be looking over the President`s shoulder standing behind him, sitting behind him, as he delivers the State of the Union address.  Also an interesting exchange with the President in that interview tonight about Nancy Pelosi, and I know this is a relationship you`ve been watching.

ALEMANY:  Yes.  And the President has expressed admiration and reverence of Nancy Pelosi privately and publicly.  And I think he`s always felt this, perhaps, imagined kinship with her and has been impressed by her political maneuverings and the strength she exhibits.

But, I think that Pelosi actually did provide the President with cover today.  That he`s not necessarily realized yet.  Another senior hill aide that I spoke to said that the second that Nancy Pelosi said we will not give you a dime for the wall is what Trump should have picked up on.

And that gives him the cover to say, OK, you`re not going to give me a dime, well then what about, so you won`t give me $5.7 billion, but what about $1 billion for border security for or the wall?  And that way he can go tout a win, he can go to the State of the Union on Tuesday, say, look, everyone, I proved Nancy Pelosi wrong, I extracted more than a dime from her.

And so I think there are a little -- a lot of different ways out here.  If the President isn`t just so stuck on the term, "The Wall."

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Alan, Rick Wilson on Twitter has been saying the President may have to settle for a freedom ditch.  Back to reality, the President seems to have driven by steel slats and is back on a wall.  Do you think he is alone on that standing?

GOMEZ:  I mean, this reminds me a lot of the early months of his administration when we were all, his administration was screaming at all of us for calling it a travel ban at the time, and it took them a couple of months before he finally declared, you know what, fine, call it a travel ban.  We`ve been going through this now for a couple of months now.  What do we call it?  Are they slats, are they walls?

That part doesn`t really interest me all that much.  It`s a barrier of some kind whether its vehicle fencing or pedestrian fencing, those are two very different things.  We can get into those kinds of nuances and I wish we could a little bit more often.

Pelosi today was throwing out the idea of Normandy barriers, which is something that if you`ve been along the border, you`ve seen some of this.  So what we call it, I`m not that concerned with, but it`s whether he gets how many miles of whatever he calls it, whether he gets it is the most important thing.

WILLIAMS:  Two reporters on the beat, we`re fortunate to have them with us tonight.  Jackie Alemany and Alan Gomez, thank you both so much for joining us.

ALEMANY:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up for us, 21 months until Election Day 2020.  Can you believe it?  President is facing serious challenges on several fronts.  Bill Kristol, a veteran of past Republican presidencies, on what Donald Trump should worry about the most tonight.

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WILLIAMS:  We are back.  Forty-four minutes after the hour, and we are thrilled to have with us again from D.C. tonight, Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, director of defending Democracy together.  And editor-at-large of a new product on the web called "The Bulwark".

Bill, I have to read you a quote from the President in "The New York Times" interview tonight, that some, just kidding, will find so evocative to FDR.

"I lost massive amounts of money doing this job," he said.  This is not the money.  This is one of the great losers of all-time.  You know, fortunately, I don`t need money.  This is one of the great losers of all time.  But they say that somebody from country stayed at a hotel.  And I`ll say, yes, but I lose, I mean, the numbers are incredible."  Bill, your reaction?

BILL KRISTOL, "THE BULWARK", EDITOR-AT-LARGE:  I really weeping tears for him, and the great losses he`s taking.  If he`s losing so much, maybe he should just tell foreign visitors not to stay at the Trump hotels and so forth.  Look, I do think he`s in a sort of weak position here and I think we should lose sight of that in the midst of all the bluster.

He shut down the government to try get the funding for the wall.  What he`s basically saying now is he understands the Congress is going to pass the other appropriations bills by big majorities in both Houses, veto-proof majorities to keep the government open.  The one that`s in conference is the Homeland Security appropriation.

I think he`s acknowledging now that that is going to be conferenced and that the two Houses will agree on legislation on appropriations that will not include funding for the wall.  That might well also pass by veto-proof majorities.

So he`s lost the fight to use the leverage of shutting down part or all of the government to get the wall.  So then he`s left with the emergency declaration.  But that Congress can overturn.  I think Nancy Pelosi will do that in the House.  The Democrats in the House will.  It will go to the Senate.

Are there 50 votes to overturn it in the Senate?  I don`t know.  It`s privilege.  You can`t filibuster it.  Trump can veto that.  I think he`s got more -- but as someone reported on the last segment, I think Jacqueline, right, that the Republicans in the Senate not entirely on board with Trump anymore.  I`m not so sure they`re an automatic vote to uphold what they regard as a questionable use of the emergency power.

One that -- what does the emergency power do?  It takes money from other projects and gives it to building the wall.  Who appropriated the money for these other projects?  The Congress of the United States.  You know, this isn`t -- so there`s a little bit of a, gee, we thought the money should go to buying and building a military base here.  We thought the money should go to this program there.

And suddenly Trump`s just decided to use it for the wall.  Not having won any actual fights in Congress to get the money appropriated for that.  So I think the notion that Trump`s just going to pull off this emergency declaration and Congress is going to passively accept it, I don`t buy that.  And I do think it`s important to remember that the whole reason he`s looking at the emergency declaration is that he lost the basic fight, the basic showdown, with Congress, over using the leverage he had to get the wall.

WILLIAMS:  Bill, don`t move an inch.  We`re going to fit in a break.  Our conversation with Bill Kristol is going to continue on the other side.

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WILLIAMS:  We`re back.  This "New York Times" interview by Baker and Haberman tonight with the President is the gift that keeps on giving.  We give you another section.  This is about politics. 

President dismissed any speculation that he might not run for re-election next year.  "I love this job," he said.  And he said he did not think he would face a challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, even though several candidates are mulling a race.  Mr. Trump said, the opposition party has really drifted far-left and he derided Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as damaged.

"I would say the best opening so far would be Kamala Harris," he said, pronouncing it Kameela.  "I would say in terms of the opening act, I would say would be her".  He added, "A better crowd, better crowd, better enthusiasm."

Bill Kristol remains with us.  Bill, note what got to him there, she turned out 20,000 people in Oakland, California.

KRISTOL:  Yes.  Maybe he realizes that it`s not going to be quite so easy that -- I mean, he`s trailing right now if you just look at the polls, if you look at what happened a few months ago in the election in a possible general election match up.  It`s interesting that he dismissed the notion of a Republican challenger but felt it`s important to say that he had all that support in the party.

The polls show that some of that support declining.  He still has a large approval rating, high approval ratings in the party.  But he`s aware that more serious people like Governor Hogan of Maryland are seriously thinking of running.  And I think he`s smart enough to know that if you think ahead about the economy possibly not being so strong, the Mueller report, other things.

He`s in a tricky political position.  He must know that the combination of the November election, Secretary Mattis his resignation, the loss in the shutdown, Senate Republicans beginning to get much less automatically supportive of him, all that shows a weaker president than he was three months ago.

WILLIAMS:  Let`s stipulate you`re not on the Hogan payroll, but give us 30 seconds for our audience around the country doesn`t know Governor Hogan.  Why is he of interest to you?

KRISTOL:  Elected and re-elected governor of Maryland, a tough state to be a Republican governor in.  A conservative, but a moderate conservative who`s governed across the aisle with its strong -- hugely, overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, but I think conservative enough to be acceptable to an awful lot of conservative Republican primary voters while showing the kind of bipartisan governing ability that people also would like to see.

So I think people who have supported Trump in the general election can tell themselves, look, I wanted some disruption, he gave it to me.  Maybe some of it was useful but it`s too much.  It`s too risky going forward.  Hogan is a better Republican to carry the banner forward, both for electoral purposes given the erosion of Trump`s general popularity and for governing purposes.

WILLIAMS:  All right, we`ll hold you to that.  Now, I need the 45-second version of what message Trump can possibly give in the State of the Union Tuesday.  He, with a straight face today, said he`s going to talk about unity.

KRISTOL:  Yes.  I mean, Trump is Trump, so I suppose we shouldn`t put it beyond him to do something maybe a little dramatic and propose some big immigration deal.  I guess I would -- I`m not in the business of advising Trump much as you know.  But, yes, why not say I`m going to convene of the best, you know, 12 people from Congress and some outside of the experts who really are going to go for the big immigration deal everyone wants.

I`ll do the greatly wall with emergency declaration and we can have a straightforward deal on DACA and on the other aspects of border security and people with TPS status and so forth.  Something like that, I think, would change for him.  Does he know he has to change the momentum or does he think he can just keep going to the wall with the same kinds of appeals?  I think those are just proving to have diminishing results.

WILLIAMS:  It is always a pleasure to have you on.  We appreciate yet another chance to talk to Bill Kristol from our Washington studios.  Thank you, Bill.

KRISTOL:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And when we come right back on this Thursday night, before anybody talks about another possible government shutdown, they should see the pictures we`re about to show you in our next segment.

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WILLIAMS:  Hey, last thing before we go here tonight is something the President and both political parties should think about on top of the personal impact on our citizens the next time they cavalierly mention another possible government shutdown.

This is Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, one of the most starkly beautiful places on the planet.  With none of the federal employees around who usually care for the place, one retired ranger estimated that the damage done to the park during the shutdown could take 200 to 300 years to grow back.

And the visible damage ranges from namesake trees that were knocked down to spray painted graffiti to all kinds of four wheel drive tire tracks in the naturally formed hard crust in that desert park.  That is nature`s work and it can`t just be put together again.

An advocate for the park said this on social media, "I don`t care if you`re a Democrat or Republican, what`s going on at Joshua Tree National Park is a travesty to this nation.  True Americans don`t destroy and trash our national parks just because no one`s looking, only thugs and criminals do."

Of course, everyone`s different.  And it`s probably fair to say without any political bias that our current President isn`t the outdoorsy type, though he does like the kind with 18 holes in it.  He may even be aware, however, of our national parks as being part of our sacred inheritance as Americans, and that we have two cousins named Roosevelt to thank for a lot of it.

He may not be aware that some of this inheritance once damaged or destroyed is gone forever, a loss to all of us that can never be brought back, no matter how much we miss it, no matter how hard we try.  What takes thousands of years to create can be destroyed forever, over a 35-day period during a government shutdown.

Again, just something to think about, in addition to our fellow citizens not being able to support their families, the next time you hear anybody talking about another potential government shutdown.

That for us is our broadcast on a Thursday night.  We thank you for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News Headquarters here in New York.

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