BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, things just got worse for the Trump White House as Donald Trump`s inaugural committee has just been handed a subpoena by federal prosecutors in an investigation described as wide- ranging.
Plus, the explosive leak of daily details of the President`s schedule, a revealing look at the staggering amount of so-called executive time built into his day, as we learn new details on what`s being called his willful ignorance on intelligence matters.
And what state will he say our union is in? What will the president say to a tougher room tomorrow night? And a more skeptical audience watching at home with the threat of another shutdown hanging in the air as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Monday night.
Well, good evening once again as we start a new week from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 746 of the Trump administration, the eve, of course, of the President`s second State of the Union Address.
And tonight, the Feds have spoken once again. The branch of the U.S. Justice Department that covers the Southern District of New York has tonight issued what is apparently a wide-ranging subpoena to the Trump inaugural committee. This is a new legal front dating back to before Trump was President Trump. This is more pressure on the Trump legal team, of course, by the Feds. We`ll have all of it covered as we go along the way here tonight.
The Trump White House, don`t forget, was already dealing with the damage done by a huge leak, someone handed over to Axios copies of the President`s private schedule for virtually every day over the past three months. That covers nearly every working day since the midterm elections. They show that trump has spent around 60 percent of his scheduled time over the past three months in what is called, "unstructured executive time."
For example, first schedule from November 7, 2018, day after the midterm elections. This also happened to be the day that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was fired. Turns out Trump spent several hours that day in the aforementioned executive time. His only event was a meeting with his chief of staff.
Axios notes that the President usually spends the first five hours of the day in executive time, and that those hours are rarely spent in the Oval Office. We quote, "Instead, he spends his mornings in the residence watching T.V., reading the papers, and responding to what he sees and reads by phoning aides, members of Congress, friends, administration officials, and informal advisers."
Report does say that not all of the President`s activities show up on the schedules that were leaked in this case. And it says a lot of meetings are spur of the moment, while others appear on a more detailed schedule, guarded by a smaller group of West Wing aides. Nonetheless, Axios says this latest revelation has, "set off internal finger-pointing and speculation more fevered than any since "The New York Times" anonymous op- ed."
White House Press Secretary responded to the report with a statement of her own that says in part, and we quote, "President Trump has a different leadership style than his predecessors and the results speak for themselves. while he spends much of his average day in scheduled meetings, events and calls, there is time to allow for a more creative environment that`s helped make him the most productive president in modern history."
Madeleine Westerhout, the President`s lead assistant who sits right there outside the Oval Office, had a more forceful response. And she wrote, "What a disgraceful breach of trust to leak schedules. What these don`t show are the hundreds of calls and meetings Donald Trump takes every day."
Among those meetings are briefings that trump gets from the nation`s Intel agencies. We`re learning a lot more about those as well. Not all of it good. According to "Time" magazine, and we quote, "intelligence officials say Trump displays what one called willful ignorance when presented with analyses generated by America`s $81 billion a year intelligence services. The officials describe futile attempts to keep his attention by using visual aids, confining some briefing points to two or three sentences and repeating his name and title as frequently as possible. What is most troubling, say these officials, and others in government and on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on the episodes, are Trump`s angry reactions when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds."
John Walcott, author of this piece in "Time" magazine spoke to Lawrence O`Donnell in the previous hour tonight and described a commander in chief increasingly less engaged with his Intelligence Community.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN WALCOTT, TIME.COM CONTRIBUTOR: For the most part, Lawrence, the briefings have stopped. The President doesn`t take them, unlike President Obama, who took home three-inch-thick notebooks at night. The President doesn`t read them. Often doesn`t take them. The National Security Adviser, John Bolton, takes some of them. Vice President Pence has taken some of them. He simply ignores them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Troubling stuff. The gulf between Trump`s beliefs and his intelligence chiefs` assessments became public starkly. Last week after a Senate hearing, the President criticized his intelligence chiefs and accused the media of misrepresenting their televised remarks. Trump was asked about the intelligence assessments during that interview this weekend with CBS News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Your Intel chiefs do say Iran`s abiding by that nuclear deal. I know you think it`s a bad deal, but --
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I disagree with them. By the way --
BRENNAN: You disagree with that assessment?
TRUMP: I have Intel people, that doesn`t mean I have to agree.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Again, this is all emerging as Trump prepares to speak to the nation about his agenda, his priorities. The "Washington Post" reports right now Trump is at a cross roads at his White House, as it tries to deal with multiple threats to its own existence."
Phil Rucker is joining us in just a moment as one of three journalists sharing byline for this piece. And they write, "The challenges mount at a moment when Trump is as unchecked and isolated as ever. Inside the White House, aides describe a chaotic free-wheeling atmosphere reminiscent of the early weeks of Trump`s presidency."
With that, let`s bring in our leadoff panel, shall we, on a Monday night? A.B. Stoddard back with us, Veteran Journalist, Columnist, Associate Editor at Real Clear Politics. The aforementioned Phil Rucker returns as well. Pulitzer Prize winning White House bureau chief for the "Washington Post." We also welcome back Robert Costa, National Political Reporter, also with the "Washington Post." Big night for that newspaper. He`s also moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.
Phil Rucker, your reporting, no other way to put it, shows a disconnect between president and presidency. How has this happened or was it inevitable?
PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Brian, I think it was inevitable and it`s not entirely new, to be honest. You know, this is how President Trump has decided to conduct his presidency and conduct his time in office. He has a very different routine during the day than his predecessors. He treats the intelligence services as you just got into very differently than his predecessors. And at this point, he`s unrestrained.
He has a new chief of staff, acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who does not have the same control over the President and over his decision making process that John Kelly did, the retired Four-Star Marine Corps general who was ousted at the end of last year. And the President is increasingly turning to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser in the White House who in many respects is functioning as the chief of staff and making a lot of these decisions as it pertains to the government shutdown and the border security debate.
And you know, I have to point on that intelligence issue regarding the president`s intelligence briefings, I interviewed him a couple months ago in the Oval Office. And one thing he said really stuck out to my colleague, Josh Dawsey and I. And it is that he said, "Look, I have a gut, and my gut tells me a lot more than anybody else`s brain can tell me." And that`s how he views the advice that he`s getting from within the government and within the administration including from his own political appointees. He has incredible faith in his own beliefs and his own core instincts.
WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, you are always talking to the Hill so it`s in that spirit that I ask, what has this leak revealed? If not surprise, is there any kind of embarrassment?
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: There is not surprise because most Republican law makers who have a relationship with the President are often calling Madeline Westerhout, the President`s assistant outside the Oval Office. They know that it`s often best to go through the President directly through the Oval Office, not through the acting chief of staff or through other senior advisers unlike so many previous White Houses.
At the same time, Republicans are alarmed that in divided government, this is a President who still has a free-wheeling style. It worked a little better, they tell me, when republicans had control of the government across Congress. But now with Democrats in the Senate and all these different issues laying before the President that fill detailed so well, you have a President who`s challenged and making a lot of calls and a party that`s worried that maybe he`s not getting the best advice because the White House is not coherent as it once was.
WILLIAMS: A.B., do i have your permission to call you an institutionalist? Is that OK still?
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOC. EDITOR AND COLUMNIST: Yes.
WILLIAMS: Having said that, having established that, you were shaking your head when we were talking about the portion of our lead story, dealing with these intelligence briefings.
STODDARD: Well, all nations seek to influence and find leverage over every administration. A year ago, we learned that four nations believed our Intelligence Community had concluded that they had ways to leverage and influence Jared Kushner. He was given a wide foreign policy portfolio. So much so that the first secretary of state really felt that he was on competition with him.
As Phil points out, Mick Mulvaney has taken his hands off of the wheel so that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and President Trump can do what they wanted to do before John Kelly implemented a more structured environment. The concern here is that if only Senators Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham who are opposite on the spectrum in terms of foreign policy, national security, were just giving their best advice to the President all morning in unstructured time, that would be fine.
The fear is by shunning intelligence and his own advisers and the facts, he is seeking input from T.V. anchors and old buddies in real estate, and, therefore, could end up on his unsecured phone line, be influenced by people who have agendas through foreign actors because there`s no longer a check either from General Kelly or a regular briefing by the intelligence officials and experts who he actually is engaged with. He`s just turned it off.
WILLIAMS: Well, I got no problem with the T.V. anchor part of that.
Let`s look at it the opposite way. Let`s look at the brain equity that he has to call on across the Intelligence Community. These desk officers, civil servants and more who have devoted their lives, nonpartisan, they stay in they`re jobs from administration to administration, studying Iran to name one. That`s brainpower. That`s advice. That`s part of what comes with the job.
STODDARD: But he has openly, just like he said in that interview, and he told Phil openly, he doesn`t believe them. He doesn`t need to believe them. He goes on his gut. Kellyanne Conway said it`s not that he doesn`t -- that he distrusts them, he doesn`t believe them.
He has a fixed notion about what`s going on with Iran right now, what`s going on with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, North Korea. We know that Mike Pompeo -- that Kim Jong-un in a love letter says he doesn`t want to deal with secretary of state, he wants to deal directly with the President. Why? Because he -- Kim Jong-un knows that he`s not taking his intelligence briefings and engaging with the intelligence presented to him. He is acting on his guts. He`s pretty open about it.
WILLIMS: Phil Rucker, our friends over at Monmouth University are out with another poll. All the caveats apply. It`s two years out.
WILLIAMS: A week is a year in politics, but here you have it. Should he be re-elected in 2020, yes, 38, no, 57, that`s way underwater for where a President would like to be right about now. And I`m guessing there`s a pretty solid base of recognition for this in the West Wing.
RUCKER: Yes, Brian, this is not news to those who are helping guide the President`s re-election campaign. They know that they have to do things to get those poll numbers back on in a more comfortable space. And, you know, the instinct from President Trump and from some of his closest political advisers has been to focus on the base.
To energize, mobilize, galvanize, those core supporters, but there`s a growing recognition that in order to win back, again, a second time those industrial midwestern states that he carried in 2016, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, to be sure that he wins Florida again for example. To try to be competitive if some of these other swing states like North Carolina. He`s going to have to expand beyond the base.
And what we`ve not seen yet from the President in these last few months since the midterm election defeat is an expansion of his appeal. It`s an attempt to reach out to people who are not onboard, the Trump train today, and get them onboard for November of 2020.
We`ll see if in the State of the Union he tries to do that. He has talked about delivering a unifying message tomorrow night. But the focus on the border wall and immigration and the government shutdown is really geared at the base and Trump`s going to need to go beyond the base to win re- election.
WILLIAMS: Robert, right there, we`ll take Phil`s point and that is this message about unity. If worst case tomorrow night is that we get a broiler plate paragraph about unity, and starting in the limousine over to the White House, he is tweeting about the idiot Democrats, if that`s worse case, what is best case for this President at this time in history walking into that chamber tomorrow night?
COSTA: There`s going to be the image tomorrow night of the president, and he`ll be cheered by Republicans. Put aside the divide, the obvious divide with Democrats, there are real tensions on the Republican side.
Outside of the Senate today, Republicans are telling the "Washington Post" they`re very worried about the President possibly declaring a national emergency at the border and going against what they see as norms of conservatism that they would not like to see messed with. And they have a president who still has the party`s base in his grip, but the pageantry and the pomp and circumstance of Tuesday night will not tell you about all the tensions that are really there in the GOP as well as elsewhere.
WILLIAMS: And A.B., with 30 seconds remaining, not to scare anybody or foment anything, you and I were talking about the energy in the air right now that will be in the air in that chamber tomorrow night, especially since there`s a whole slew of new Democrats in there for the first time.
STODDARD: Right. I think the fighting spirit of the freshman Democrats will have to be kept in check, and they should give him -- they should take the high road and give him a nice welcome, let him say his piece. What if he does say something unifying? And then they can have the response which is going to be given by Stacey Abrams and they can chat it up the following day. But I think they should act like they`re the majority and leading the House of Representatives tomorrow night.
WILLIAMS: Always the optimist. A.B. Stoddard, Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, our thanks to the three of you for starting off a new week here. We really appreciate it.
And coming up, as we`ve been reporting, Donald Trump`s legal troubles just got worse on another front, especially here in New York tonight. Tonight, what the Feds here would like to know.
And later, the audience in front of this President, again, is going to look very different tomorrow night, not to mention how the view will be different right behind him over his shoulder as well. A preview of his second State of the Union ahead as we`re just getting under way on THE 11TH HOUR on a Wednesday night.
WILLIAMS: We`re back. Some would argue it was wishful thinking that led me to call tonight, Wednesday night right before the break. I`ll cop to that, it is Monday night. Forgive the error.
Back to the other lead story we`re covering tonight, however. This was brief but urgent. Earlier this evening when the "Associated Press" reported the following, federal prosecutors in New York issue subpoena seeking documents from Donald Trump`s inaugural committee.
"The New York Times" reporting it out this way, "A lawyer working with the inaugural committee received a subpoena on Monday evening seeking documents related to all of the committee`s donors and event attendees." And that "Prosecutors also showed interest in whether any foreigners illegally donated to the committee as well as whether committee staff knew that such donations were illegal."
And there`s more as the man on T.V. says. the "Washington Post" adds these critical details and we quote, "The document indicates that prosecutors are investigating crimes related to conspiracy to defraud the United States, mail fraud, false statements, wire fraud, and money laundering." This is a big escalation of the investigation.
It`s already been wildly reported that the inaugural event guest list included a number of politically connected Russians. "The Wall Street Journal" first reported back in December the Southern District of New York, "is examining whether some of the committee`s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions."
The investigation was launched after that April 2017 FBI raid on Trump`s lawyer`s home and office. We know that Michael Cohen has been cooperating with prosecutors.
A trump presidential inaugural committee spokesperson had this response tonight, "We have just received a subpoena for documents. While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry."
Well, it`s a good night to have with us Elliot Williams, former Federal Prosecutor, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General during the Obama years. He also worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee. And our friend, Robert Costa, of the "Washington Post" has agreed to remain with us.
Elliot, I have to start with some legal 101 for all us lay folks just getting the story. Run through it again. These are the Feds. Is there any relationship with the Mueller investigation writ large, and why is this coming out of the Southern District of New York?
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, DEP. ASSISTANT ATTY. GEN. UNDER PRES. OBAMA: Now, remember, this all stems from that search of Michael Cohen`s house. Now, the investigation started with the Special Prosecutor, that`s Robert Mueller. But then ultimately, the Southern District of New York, the prosecutor in Manhattan that you mentioned had a case, and I`m not -- it`s not -- it`s entirely clear how they got it, either it was passed on to them by the Special Prosecutor or it was just an investigation that they were doing independently. Either way, they were investigating Michael Cohen.
The prosecutors in New York, in a search of his house, found the tapes that led to these questions about the inaugural committee. What this all shows is the tremendous peril that Michael Cohen poses to the President of the United States because what you`ve got is an individual with 30 years of background with the President, and the tapes and the bank receipts and the texts and the e-mails. Even as much as the President tries to, you know, place to distance between himself and Michael Cohen, you`re going to keep seeing things like this happening.
And with Cohen going to testify before Congress later this week or next week and beyond before he goes on to jail, anything he says before Congress could, you know, could touch on some of this relationships he had with Donald Trump over the years. And so, I think this is just -- yes, it`s a campaign finance thing, but like Freud would say, sometimes a campaign finance allegation isn`t just a campaign finance allegation and there`s going to be more and they may not be things you can charge the President with criminally, but when your fixer is turning over tapes of conversations he had, you`re just going to find out more.
WILLIAS: I want to play this from a let`s call him a former U.S. attorney from New Jersey who was a guest on Chris Hayes tonight who seems to concur with your view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I`ve always thought that that was the bigger problem for two reasons. One, because the Southern District of New York has no restrictions on their purview. All right, Bob Mueller has a task. It`s Russian interference and potential collusion in the 2016 election. Southern District of New York is whatever the heck you want. And if you got Michael Cohen, the president`s former lawyer, as a tour guide, that means you can go anywhere.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Robert Costa, thanks to Elliot and now Chris Christie, we`ve established that this is an area of high peril for this President. I need you to take us back to that time. How did the crowd around Donald Trump view the inauguration?
COSTA: It`s an important thing to step back and look at history. Michael Cohen was not only a -- could be a tour guide for the prosecutors in New York, but he was a tour guide for so many people in a presidential transition in late 2016, early 2017 when the president-elect decided to get rid of Governor Christie as the person running the transition. It lead to a whole new group of people who had a lot of access to planning this inaugural committee and the inauguration.
I remember many interviews with Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist to the President, cringing almost as he recalled how big the inaugural committee got over the few months before that January inauguration and how it really should have just been much more simple and that there are a lot of points of entry. And with many points of entry for this inaugural committee, there are also potential problems.
And Michael Cohen is someone who was a confidant to the President who was seen as someone you went to if you wanted to get access to the president- elect. Now that he`s cooperating, there are certainly people inside of the President`s circle who are a tad concerned.
WILLIAMS: And Robert, back to you on the subject of rigor and tradition, did they work with anyone who had done this with for Bush or the previous Bush or Reagan or was this one of those we can do this, let`s not consult on how it was done before?
COSTA: There were people with experience involved, Brian. You had Reince Priebus coming in as chief of staff who was running the Republican National Committee. Veteran hands of past administrations were involved.
The problem was, as a reporter, I saw it up close, was that President Trump was such an outsider. His inner circle was so isolated from the mainstream of the Republican Party and the usual apparatus that was involved in planning that. Even though some organizations became involved because it was the presidency, they may not even know Trump but they wanted to get involved. It was still President Trump and his inner circle, his friends, his business associates, who were making decisions and that has led to a lot of things happening that could be under legal scrutiny.
WILLIAMS: Back to Elliot, Counselor, so you`re sitting there, I don`t think there`s any structure left of something called the Trump inaugural committee, though, they have someone serving as a spokesperson. Is this subpoena, this lands with a thud, is this looking for what`s the expression, all papers, affects, and records, and do most people, you think, respect that and know the penalties for lying to the Feds?
E. WILLIAMS: I think they do. And if you notice, this is the first time that anyone connected to the Trump administration has gotten a subpoena and not immediately gone and done a press conference saying this is a fraud, this is a hoax, this is a witch hunt and I`m not going to comply with it. You know, it seems right they do have an interesting complying.
What is interesting is that now, this is the second time we`ve heard of a major investigation into the Trump inaugural committee. As you said at the beginning, Brian, in December, there was reporting that the Special Counsel had been investigating these, you know, the Saudi and Emirati businessmen who are paying to play and, you know, get their -- weasel their way into the Trump administration.
And now what we`re seeing is an investigation that seems more domestically focused, even though they can also look into the foreigners as well. And so both the prosecutors in Manhattan, which as you know, is the most powerful and probably most prestigious prosecutor`s office in the United States, of really good folks that I worked with and I know well. Both they and the Special Counsel`s office seem to be approaching this campaign finance and also public corruption question from two different angles.
WILLIAMS: Elliot, in 15 seconds or less, is it only jealousy or professional respect that leads others in the law to refer to them behind their backs as the sovereign district of New York?
E. WILLIAMS: I think it`s fear, just fear, like, that they don`t come after me, I think that`s it.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to both of you gentlemen. I am certain we`ll invite you back, probably on this same topic, if not before. To Robert Costa, the "Washington Post," for sticking around. For Elliot, for having the superb taste and a perfect last name. Counselor, thank you very much for coming back on our broadcast.
And coming up, a big reason why it`s anyone`s guess what we might expect come tomorrow night, when we come back.
WILLIAMS: As we`ve been saying here, tomorrow night, President Trump will deliver his second State of the Union address on Capitol Hill, as we`ve mentioned. Following the recent shutdown and while the fight over his border wall continues, the President and the people around him say, they insist, he`s going to talk about unity.
Last week, President Trump officially accepted House Speaker Pelosi`s invitation to address Congress writing her, "We have a great story to tell, and yet, great goals to achieve!" and listen to what the President has said just in the past few days when asked to preview what we might expect come tomorrow night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the tone for your speak, sir, can you tell us how - -
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think its unification. I think its industry. We`ve had incredible Republican support. The problem is the Democrats, when they say we don`t want to build, as an example, we don`t want to build the wall because it doesn`t work, or because it`s immoral.
Well, it`s also immoral the people that come into our country that shouldn`t be here and kill people. That`s immoral, too. That`s a lot more immoral. So, but I really think it`s going to be a speech that`s going to cover a lot of territory, but part of it`s going to be unity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying now you expect to declare a national --
TRUMP: I don`t want to say, but you`ll hear the State of the Union and then you`ll see what happens right after the state of the union. OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you saying that you will -- that we should be prepared for you to announce at the State of the Union what you are going to do?
TRUMP: Well, I`m saying listen closely to the State of the Union. I think you`ll find it very exciting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us some of the thin themes that are important to you in the State of the Union speech?
TRUMP: I think, most of the themes you would know. Economic development and it success. I mean, no country had the success we`ve had over the last two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So we`ll be here in this studio listening carefully. We hope you`ll be with us as well.
And coming up, new reporting on a topic that is certain to come up in the President`s speech tomorrow.
WILLIAMS: There is an update tonight on the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents at the southern border. Under the Trump administration`s much talked about zero tolerance policy that started in the spring of last year, over 2,500 children have been pulled apart from their families, but this weekend, the administration admitted in court documents that thousands more, thousands more, may have been separated before any official accounting was required by the court.
And the office of refugee resettlement said in those documents that reuniting the remaining children may be out of, "The realm of the possible." because of a lack of resources. In other words, they can`t afford to do it.
During tomorrow`s state of the union address, you probably won`t hear President Trump mention these children, but it`s probably quite likely he`ll talk about what he calls the crisis at our southern border. And he could declare, as you know, a national emergency.
However, several Republicans are now urging him not to do that, and notably, they include Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of only four states that actually borders Mexico.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think it`s a dangerous step. One, because of the precedent it sets. Two, the president`s going to get sued and it won`t succeed in accomplishing his goal. And third, because I think Ms. Pelosi may well introduce her resolution of disapproval that will pass the House, and then come over here and divide Republicans. So, to me, it strikes me as not a good strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Cornyn`s comments right there are really important as well because he`s in management. He`s number two to Mitch McConnell in the Senate Republican majority. A majority that holds, for now, in the Senate, while Democrats have taken control of the House.
And remember this, that means an important visual in the House Chamber tomorrow night. Watch that man on the right. No more Paul Ryan, we`ve chosen to give her a smile, Nancy Pelosi will sit alongside the vice president and will be looking over Donald Trump`s shoulder during the speech.
Our friend, Jeremy Peters, is back with us, political reporter for "The New York Times" and we welcome back Andrew -- oh, my god, I knew it was going to happen. Restuccia. Andrew, you`ve always been so kind and patient with me. I`m so sorry. Andrew Restuccia is back with us, White House reporter for POLITICO.
Jeremy, which Donald Trump shows up in the chamber tomorrow night? Maybe we should attack it that way.
JEREMEY PETERS, THE NEW YORK TIMES, POLITICAL REPORTER: Since the night of his election, President Trump has been really unable to express any type of bipartisan sentiment, any type of ability to bring the nation together on that night he said I`m the president for all of America, not the president for just Republicans.
That, we saw, end pretty quickly because instantly, as soon as he started governing, as soon as he started actually selecting his cabinet during the transition process, we knew that was not the case. So there are Republicans in the senior officials in the administration including Vice President Pence who are urging the President to offer some type of olive branch, some type of grace note in the speech, to Nancy Pelosi. He doesn`t want to do it.
We saw in the interview that he did with Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman where he said she`s bad for the country.
WILLIAMS: That`s not a grace note.
PETERS: How do you go from bad to the country to madam speaker, will you hold my hand and we can sing bipartisan notes of grace? I just don`t see it happening.
WILLIAMS: Andrew, with public polling showing 60-40 against the construction of any further border wall, you got to wonder who the real constituency is for this remaining in that chamber. What can he say on the topic of the wall, for that matter, what can he say about any of this?
ANDREW RESTUCCIA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, I mean, I think Jeremy is right here. I mean, he`s going to be trying to, at least his aides want him to project a message of unity. They want this to be a conventional speech. But the reality is Washington is anything but unified right now.
The wall is a great example. It`s a device of policy. Certainly Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that she has no interest in giving him any money for that wall. What can he say that`s really going to change anything? It`s a great question.
And frankly, what can he say that he hasn`t already said? I mean, this is a President who communicates very regularly with the American people. The State of the Union speech is used to be a moment where the public could actually, get a sense of what the President is thinking. Everyone knows what this President is thinking. It`s just not a surprise at this point.
WILLIAMS: And Jeremy, when you lose Cornyn, that was critical what he said and he said it publicly and on the record.
PETERS: For a while now, for the past year and a half or two years of the Trump presidency, we have been expecting, anticipating, predicting, these moments of rupture between Trump and the Republican Party.
They have yet to come because Trump has existed in this world that is separate from consequence. Really kind of separate from reality when it comes to just the rules of political gravity. This is different. This feels very different because what happened last week with the vote on Syria and Afghanistan, where the Republican Senate voted to rebuke this President --
WILLIAMS: Yes, didn`t get much coverage, actually.
PETERS: It didn`t, but people should have paid attention to it because it was Mitch McConnell`s way of sending a signal to President Trump saying, we are not afraid of you. We will do this to you again and they will do it certainly if there is this declaration of national emergency by the President.
That will be tricky, though, because you already have people like Lindsey Graham who are saying, we need to get behind this President, so where does the party come out at the end of the day, if there is a vote to rebuke him on the wall in the national emergency? I don`t know, but it`s not going to be pretty.
WILLIAMS: Andrew, to put this in "Private Ryan" terms, I think what Cornyn was doing there was offering suppressing fire for his boss, Mitch McConnell, by delivering those three points as he did calmly and directly. McConnell now doesn`t have to make the further argument that says publicly, don`t you dare declare a national emergency.
Also, Andrew, we have two complications. This national emergency we`ve been mulling over, talking about for over a month, how emergency is that? How is it also an emergency if your Intel chiefs on the hill last week don`t list it in their priorities, don`t mention it at all unless asked about it?
RESTUCCIA: That`s exactly right. I mean, Republicans that we`ve been speaking to over the last few days are, really feel like the President has sort of painted himself into a corner on the wall, and they, frankly, don`t see a clean way out of this at this point. I mean, this is -- the President has made this his signature issue.
And it`s, frankly, it`s unclear how he`s going to get the money to build it. And at the same time, I think, you`re looking just an incredibly divided Republican caucus. You have the Lindsey Grahams of the world out there who are basically saying, we need to do what the President wants.
And you`re having, rank and file serious members of the Republican Party including leadership basically questioning that approach. So I think the next few days are going to be a bit of a mess to say the least.
WILLIAMS: Both these gentlemen, Jeremy and Andrew have agreed to stay with us.
After the break when we comeback, is executive time the euphemism we`re being led to believe it is? When we come back.
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TRUMP: I went to the best schools. I`m, like a very smart person. Is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I`m like a smart person.
I love to read. Actually, I`m looking at a book, I`m reading a book. I`m trying to get started. China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump`s very, very large brain. When my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is, if you don`t mind, I`m going to just go by my own counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Just ask him and you will learn that pretty much no matter the room, President Trump is the smartest guy in it. It would be one justification for executive time, wouldn`t it, allowing the President to be alone with his thoughts, and with his phone and his extended pals on Fox News. Andrew Restuccia, Jeremy Peters remained with us.
Hey, Andrew, the loyalty premium of Donald Trump certainly collides against the narrative of this dreadnought of a leak that our friends over at Axios have come across.
RESTUCCIA: Yes, that`s exactly right. I mean, this President demands loyalty from everyone around him, but clearly he often doesn`t get it. I mean, setting aside the substance of the leak which is notable and interesting, the very fact of the leak itself is -- says a lot about the people that the President is surrounding himself with. And this has caused quite a bit of consternation in the White House over the last 24 hours.
To put it bluntly, I mean, somebody out there gave that to Axios with the intention of embarrassing the President, and revealing publicly that the huge amount of time that he`s spending in "Executive time", which is this unstructured, sometimes goes up to five hours of time where he`s reading the newspaper, watching cable news, calling friends and allies.
And he does hold some meetings at that time, the White House insists. But it doesn`t look good for this President.
WILLIAMS: Jeremy, I was -- I love presidential history, I was reminded today how much is passed down between presidents. LBJ is the one who said to Nixon, "Dick, you`re going to want to use these recordings that I have set up. I`ve got them in the Oval Office and on the phone in the residence."
JFK always talked about how refreshing it was to take an afternoon nap. LBJ started it. And both guys as president, went up to the residents one to two hours in the middle of the afternoon, jammies the whole nine yards, darkened room, slept for one to two hours, showered, second shift started, and both of them worked well into the evening.
That was presidential rigor at work. I`m not sure they had as much unstructured, unscheduled time as this President.
PETERS: Right. Well, those were the days when a two-martini lunch was considered acceptable, right?
WILLIAMS: Yes, that`s true.
PETERS: You would need a nap after that.
WILLIAMS: Yes, like you and I don`t engage in that, no.
PETERS: But -- so there is the just unstructured nature of who Donald Trump is, right? Like as long as I`ve covered the guy and been around him in his office. I`ve seen him on the phone constantly taking calls, making calls, bringing people in. So there is the fact that he is just -- not somebody who ever sticks by a regimented schedule.
WILLIAMS: Like the family office at Trump Tower not far from here.
PETERS: Yes, exactly. I mean, it was always like that, whenever you would go into his office. It was a carousel of a cast of characters rotating in and out. Some of whom are now indicted. But you also had a fact that they don`t want to put things on the schedule because they don`t want people, like whoever it was that leaked the schedule, to find out, and leak it to the press.
I think what this leak says is more about what the culture at the White House is, and what the people who work for this President think of him.
And that is not much. Because this is just the latest in a string of incidents, whether it`s books, whether it is an op-ed written, about the level of mistrust that his senior staff has for him, another step, another incident here where you have people who work for the President saying, "We don`t trust you. We do not think you`re an effective leader. We do not think your responsible human being and you don`t deserve to be president. So we are going to undermine you as much as we can."
WILLIAMS: Hey, Andrew, one more note, I`m going to ask you publicly, if you come across anything tomorrow night, feel free to call in to our coverage because we`re going to be looking for your byline as you file. We`re going to have this studio filled with all our anchors and contributors.
And for now, thank you so much for being a part of our coverage tonight because of what you cover every day, Andrew Restuccia, Jeremy Peters of the New York Times. Thank you gentlemen, both of you, very much.
And coming up, be ready for a night heavy in symbolism. And that`s just the folks in the audience. We`ll help you be ready with a viewer`s guide, when we come back.
WILLIAMS: And we promised you a viewer`s guide. Last thing before we go here tonight is, one more reminder that when we see you tomorrow evening, it will be for, what will be in effect, our post-game coverage of the State of the Union address. And several things again will be different going into tomorrow evening.
As we said, the most striking visual for the home audience, is going to be the new Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, up there to the right over the shoulder of Donald Trump and along side the Vice President. Another big change in the chamber, most of the lawmakers sitting there, the combined Senate and House, are Democrats. Even though the Senate is Republican-controlled, the House Chamber is vastly larger than the Senate, and they get to host.
Symbolism will be visible on television. Many of the women on the Democratic side are expected to wear white for the Suffrage and Women`s Rights Movement, while many of the men will wear white lapel ribbons. Each member of Congress is entitled to bring one guest, and many have chosen to bring someone meaningful and visible as a form of protest.
Several Democrats are bringing federal workers, for example, others are bringing victims of violence. Another four are bringing transgender service members, including a current lieutenant commander in the Navy, and yet another and undocumented immigrant who worked at a Trump property.
Of course, inviting a guest works both ways, and the White House gets to invite several guests. Many this year are on border or crime or economy- related basis. One of the President`s guest relates to the first lady`s anti-bullying campaign. This kid is a sixth-grader from Delaware who says he`s bullied in school because of his name. Joshua Trump will be in the President`s box tomorrow night.
That`s our broadcast for this Monday night as we start off a new week. We`ll see you for all that coverage tomorrow evening.
For now, thank you for being here with us. Good night from our NBC News Headquarters here in New York.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Rachel has the night off but she will be back tomorrow.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END